Yes, yes... It's the self-professed "TCQ Month" and I'm five days behind schedule. Words simply can not express my mortification. However, the next four- oops, sorry... seven chapters chronicle the much-foreshadowed Trigello Tournament, and now that I have a co-operating laptop on me and the training department are back in Accra after three weeks away, I had a bit of leeway to pound this out.
However, before this chapter unfurls, a few disclaimers/credits:
1, Josephine Harris, Rachel Savina, Paul Oak and Zurax are intellectual property of Legendarian Mistress on the PokeCommunity forum boards (Darn, it's been ages since I updated there...)
2, Brian and Eaves, who appeared in the early chapters of this fic, are the property of MerlockVonBrian, and old fan of my work.
3, Yadmon Eli Banner (the first :P ) is the OC of Divinity_123 and also makes his first appearance here! True, Daniel Sector is his OFFICIAL OC, but I missed this one and decided to use him here.
Chapter Forty Four: Drawing a Blank
Sapph’s slightly tanned hand pulled away from the phone as the young Trainer’s hesitation began to well up within him. It had been a week since he had left half of his Pokémon in the care of the resident Pokémon professor, Prof. Theodore Yew for check-ups and for the intellectual to further his research on their respective species. Picking up the phone, however was proving to be a task the boy was seemingly not quite up to.
It wasn’t fear, holding him back. Sapph was certainly no coward. It was the uncertainty of missing yet another milestone in his Pokémon’s growth.
Out of his eleven Pokémon, he had only witnessed one’s evolution. The sight of his Leaf Squirrel rising out of the wet mud and glowing with power when they needed it most still remained etched in his mind as a talisman proving what determination could do.
Since then, five more of his companions had evolved, and some to their final forms. One had even obtained the Pokérus virus and become a shiny Pokémon in his absence, and missing that had definitely put a dent in his happy bubble.
His journey through the Corei region was certainly not devoid of adventure so far. He’d been kidnapped, (literally) fallen from great heights multiple times, escaped a domestic fire, been held at gun point, been assaulted by a black cat, living vegetables, a giant cobra, his own jellyfish and an afro buffalo. He had even travelled through space and time once. But most of these things should have happened to a twelve year old boy. The biggest achievements of his career would have been to watch his Pokémon evolve, and grow along with them. But this he was denied. The biggest moments of a normal journey where what was kept from him; it was almost unfair.
Sapph stared at the videophone for a few moments more, the reflection of blue eyes framed by a shaggy mess of dark hair staring back, before a crisp voice broke in on his thoughts, “Have you gotten bad news, Mr. Manson?”
Starting, Sapph looked up to see his friend Tony Parito’s lieutenant Shrader look back at him with a concerned look upon her face. A white shawl was draped over her shoulders and failed to hide the light green pyjamas she wore.
“Did you just call home?” Shrader went on as she tugged the shawl closer to her body and Sapph looked away.
Sighing deeply, a look of reminisce clouded Sapph’s eyes as he said, “Not really, Lieutenant. That ship kind of sailed...”
Entover City Pokémon Centre, three months ago
“Well done, Sapph! You’ve taken your first step to the championships! Have you told your parents?” Mrs. Kent congratulated.
Sapph hesitated for a second then said “Not yet.”
Mrs. Kent seemed to understand.
“Alright, Sapph. But promise me you will, OK?” she said, fixing Sapph with a look he deemed reminiscent of the one his mother used demanding who took the last cookie from the jar without permission when he and Rubin were six.
Sapph’s face darkened a little, but brightened at once. “Um, sure, Mrs. Kent! I’ll tell ‘em!”
Mrs. Kent smiled, “Thank you dear. Now you must get some sleep. I’m about to do the same now. Goodnight! ”
“Goodnight.” Sapph replied, cutting the videophone connection.
I’ll tell ‘em all right, Sapph thought to himself, his new Web Badge held aloft and reflected double in his eyes, but only when I win all eight of these badges!
Well, I don’t have all eight badges, so that would make any boasts redundant... Sapph thought to himself. Maybe I’ll tell them when I qualify for the tournament... they won’t care if I don’t have all eight badges then...
Shrader’s blonde eyebrows contracted slightly as she said, “Sailed?”
“Not important,” Sapph said hurriedly, before the lieutenant asked more questions on the topic. “I wanted to call the Yew Observatory, but...”
“You’re afraid...” Shrader began before Sapph bit back in a bristly voice.
“I am NOT afraid!”
“...of missing another milestone.” Shrader completed her statement as though there was no interruption. “Correct?”
Sapph felt his throat constrict slightly as he realised he’d been totally exposed. Not to mention slightly ashamed of his rude outburst.
Seeing that she had hit the nail on the head, Shrader cleared her throat and said in a gentler voice, “From what the captain has informed me and what I’ve seen, you have missed quite a lot. But you haven’t missed it all, have you? You and your Pokémon have only begun your journey together, there’s an entire lifetime ahead. Trust me,” she added as she gestured herself. “I’d know.”
Looking up at the older woman and smiling despite himself, Sapph said, “Thanks for cheering me up, Lieutenant. How are the bruises?”
“Much less painful now, Mr. Manson,” Shrader replied in a crisp voice. “Thank you for asking.”
“Were you making a call yourself?” Sapph added, looking around at the extra videophones lined up against the walls next to his.
“Yes and no, sir. I was actually looking for you.”
“Looking for me?” Sapph queried, an eyebrow arching upwards.
“And Ms Kent,” Shrader nodded, and Sapph groaned. Smiling at the gesture, she went on, “We’re about an hour away from Southern Isle and the Captain wishes to have a final debrief before we make landfall and go our separate ways.”
“...’Separate ways’?” Sapph echoed in a questioning tone. “You’re not staying until the end of the tournament?”
“Afraid not, Sapph,” Shrader corrected. “Our duties require us to part ways with the Hydro after you disembark at Southern Isle. Sorry, but our destination is classified,” she ended with an apologetic voice when she saw Sapph open his mouth to ask further.
“Should have guessed it’d be,” Sapph said after closing his mouth and sweatdropping.
“Plus I doubt you’d be thrilled to hang around Captain Ridlowski for the festival as well as Ms. Kent...” Shrader added slyly with a knowing smirk.
A dark look arrested Sapph’s face as he said in a dead voice, “Obviously. Why would you even think that I’d like that?”
Shrader let out a laugh and backed out of the communications room. “Excuse me then, Sapph. I’ll need to return to the infirmary. Since I may not be able to see you off the ship, this is goodbye for now.”
Standing up and saluting, Sapph replied, “Goodbye then, Lieutenant. It’s been fun.”
Returning the salute, Shrader closed the door of the communications cabin behind her.
Turning back to stare at the black videophone screen, Sapph gave the mission up as a bad job. Heading towards the door himself, he decided to head for the debriefing first. With his luck, Roni would be there, too. If not, being in the same room with Haley was bound to put him in a sour enough mood to call the professor.
About a short debriefing (Sapph was more relieved than normal when he found that Roni was unable to attend) and a phone call to the Yew Observatory later (Sapph was relieved to find he hadn’t missed anything important and that the test were currently going on without mishap), Sapph and Haley walked down the gangplank of the UAS Hydro and into a sprawling metropolis that seemed to take up every square inch of the large island. Sapph has tied his bright red hoodie at his waist by the arms so as to spare himself the heat of the glaring sun.
“Well, here we are, then,” Sapph said, shielding his eyes as he watched the masses mill around the harbour. “Azura City; capital city of the Trigello Islands, and the site of the Trigello Tournament finals!”
“Sapph,” Haley said irritably, raising a hand to tweak her wide-brimmed ten-gallon hat. “I know where we are. I’m not stupid.”
Turning to stare at the young girl who stood beside him in a red sleeveless top, short white jacket with full sleeves and yellow biker shorts, Sapph’s smile seemed to slide off his face. Coughing slightly, Sapph tried hard to swallow his temper and continued as civilly as possible, “Right. So let’s find the Pokémon Centre and get logged in. Tony did say...”
“Sapph, look around you,” Haley cut Sapph off rudely. Blinking in surprise, Sapph obliged as the girl went on, “I’m willing to bet at least eighty percent of the people here are tourists, here to watch the tournament. The Pokémon Centre’s bound to be full by now. Why don’t you find a hotel somewhere for us to rest,” she said, punctuating the ‘you’ with a firm poke to the chest. “While I find the Pokémon Centre to get some provisions and my team rested for tomorrow?”
Sapph simply gaped at Haley as the girl rolled her grey eyes and saying, “Talk about slow. Must I think of everything?” flounced off towards the busier inner streets of the city.
Closing his opened mouth, Sapph watched the young Coreian march off into the milling crowds around him and gave a deep sigh - half with exasperation, half relief. Looking around his immediate surroundings, Sapph turned to make his way towards a group of burly sailors who were taking a break amongst some crates to ask where the best place to find a hotel was, resolving to ask for two rooms when he found one. He enjoyed his privacy aboard the UAS Hydro too much to share with Haley, least of all now that she was being so... aggravating. Sapph shook his head at her attitude and the fact that he knew such a long word.
A pair of brown eyes watched him go, their intent hidden behind dark glasses and an impassive face. Their owner wore a black lacoste shirt with the top button free and baggy purple cargo trousers and he lounged back slightly in his cafe chair as he noisily slurped some more of his Nomel berry juice. A medium-sized dog with sea-blue fur and a white muzzle lay at his feet, its long tongue out in a pant as the boy raised a device to his mouth and spoke into it, “This is Paul Oak. Target acquired.”
The boy cut the call and, rising up to pull out his wallet and pay for the drinks, his PokéNav rang again. Putting the money down, he answered the call and heard his ‘friend’ Rachel Savina’s brash voice call over the phone, “Oi, nuisance! Where are you?”
“Not around you, thankfully,” Paul muttered back, returning Zurax to his pokéball. Clipping zurax’s pokéball to his belt, he raised his sunglasses and watched Sapph thank the sailors and head inland. “What do you want?”
“Jo and I are done shopping,” Rachel’s voice went on loudly over the noise that accompanied it.
“Well done,” Paul said sardonically. “What do you want, a medal?”
“Zip it,” Rachel replied curtly. “We’re currently looking for the Swablu Nest. Weren’t you meant to make reservations?”
“Me? I thought that was Josephine’s job.”
“Well, it wasn’t,” Rachel said coldly, she and Josephine surrounded by a positive flood of shoppers moving around the girls as they stood outside the mall, laden down with white shopping bags. “We’re heading there now. And there’d better be reservations, Paul Oak. Or you’re gonna get it!”
And with that, Rachel firmly ended the call. Turning to her friend, she exclaimed, “Can you believe that jerk?”
“I’m still trying to ‘believe’ you,” her friend said, tugging slightly at her blue sleeveless top and sweating in the intense sunlight. “Can you and Paul ever get along?”
Putting her phone back into the pocket of her blue shorts and pulling a face of intense thought, Rachel said, “Hmm... no, I don’t think so. Now let’s go. The clerk said the Swablu Nest was this way...”
Shaking her head in mild exasperation, Josephine followed her impulsive friend up the street, while at the docks; Paul did the same and followed Sapph into town. He was too used to Rachel’s threats by now to be remotely scared of them by now.
In a hostel found among the many two-storied houses which housed the city’s middle-class citizens, a young girl stood in front of a mirror and studied her reflection in the full-length mirror fastened to the white door.
“You know, sis, it’s a shame you can’t show off for your boyfriend,” the tall blond boy seated on the chair by the desk said, a cheeky inflection on the word ‘boyfriend’.
The girl’s green eyes narrowed slightly but chose to let the rebuff slide as her pale hands brushed over her red shirt and the large buttons of her blue dungarees, the latter stopping a few inches above her thigh-high white-with-black-trim socks.
“I mean, sure, our intelligence said he docked this afternoon and that the crew of the UAS Hydro are no longer accompanying him,” the boy went on, rolling a shrunken pokéball in between his fingers. “But he has got Ms. Kent watching him like a hawk, and you know how... ah, jealous, she can be...”
The girl continued to ignore the boy’s talking and raised a hand to examine the job the brown hair dye had done to her trimmed crimson locks and eyebrows, which now framed her freckled face; the surplus done up in two pigtails that curled upwards, defying gravity itself.
Watching the young girl carefully, the youth sighed, and closing his eyes, he placed his hands on his knees and pushed himself to his feet. “You’re not listening to a word I’m saying, are you?”
Slipping her white-clad feet into red loafers, the girl merely tapped the toes of each shoe on the ground a few times and said nonchalantly, “No, Gawain. No, I’m not.”
Gawain opened his mouth to retort when a slight beeping interrupted him. He irately plucked the offending device off his belt and glared at the screen impatiently. Whatever he saw seemed to have tamed his temper, the girl noticed out of the corner of her eye as she fussed about with her bangs. Looks like the hair dye wasn’t completely effective, either, she thought to herself. Red ends... at least the blending’s good.
Smirking despite his sister’s earlier “rudeness”, Gawain moved towards the door and said, “Well, either way, just watch out for Ms. Kent. Intelligence says she’s a formidable Trainer, especially when provoked... I’m called back to base.”
At this cryptic note, Gawain closed the door behind him as the girl reached for satchel which she slung over her left shoulder and a white Gatsby, its most prominent features being a very prominent crown and a red ribbon matching her shirt drawn around the tang and tied up in a large bow on the side. Placing the cap on her head and adjusting it for a minute longer, she looked up and studied her reflection one more time.
Satisfied that the hat would hide her face from anyone she didn’t glare directly in the eyes at, Zeta gave her appearance an appreciative nod and reached for a roll of Chap Stick to apply to her lips. Bringing it to her lips, a sudden memory caused her pause as she held it an inch away from application...
White Cliffs, two weeks ago
Zeta was trapped.
Her quarry, Sapph Manson was back from the beach earlier than anticipated. Obviously, his noisy travel companion didn’t hold him up long enough or he didn’t even cross her path (not that Zeta could blame him. She was a case and a half).
However, her sympathies were fixed solidly on herself as she watched the boy come to a crazy, far-fetched explanation as to what she was doing outside of his room.
“Wait a minute,” Sapph said slowly, thinking hard (Zeta’s heart missed a couple of beats at the serious tone of his voice), “I know what’s going on...”
That was enough to start freaking Zeta out. Hoping her panic wasn’t obvious, she clenched her eyes shut as Sapph came to his deductions.
“You like me, don’tcha?”
Those four little words totally threw her off-balance. The answer Sapph had come to was so insane; so ludicrous... there was absolutely no way that was what was going down. Was he that big of an idiot?
Her expression seemed to give her shock away as Sapph assumed a puzzled look in those blue eyes (Legendaries, he had blue eyes... honest, blue eyes) and asked, “What? Am I wrong?”
Zeta was locked in place, her mind a Rapidash on the plains as she struggled to come out of this encounter without incident. She could still save her cover if she distracted him... and the way he said it. That she liked him... even if it wasn’t true, the reciprocal might have been true.
But was it? She couldn’t lie to herself. Sapph was cute... in a gangly, scruffy sort of way. And his journey was showing itself in his physique, plus he said he kinda had a girlfriend. That was either a yes or a no, right?
Argh, too much thought, Zeta scolded herself. Just get out of there!
Grabbing his face and hoping this never happened again, Zeta pulled him in and kissed him. About a few seconds later (to her), she pulled away and opened her eyes to study Sapph’s completely bewildered expression. Satisfied he would completely forget what she was doing there now, she managed to cool her flushed face.
“Something to remember me by,” she said playfully, licking her lips slightly, looking cuter by the second. “You like?”
“Woo-er?” was all Sapph could utter, completely lost and looking like he didn’t mind being there.
Giggling, she slid away from the door and sauntered down the corridor, saying, “See you around, Blue-Eyes.”
‘Something to remember me by’? What a crock, Zeta scolded herself as her face began to grow hot again. Why would I want to see those dark locks, that gentle smile, those blue eyes... oh, dear.
Coming to herself and grateful that Gawain wasn’t in the room to see her reddening cheeks, she applied the Chap Stick quickly and quickly left the room, stuffing the article into her bag.
Untying his red anorak and hitching it higher onto his thin shoulders, Sapph arrived at the sprawling market centre the sailors at the docks directed him to and began to look around for a local to enquire about the local hotels and their locations. The fact that this was the biggest island in the Trigello Islands and that the whole island was this city alone suddenly hit him and he cursed his not getting this information from Tony or Shrader before disembarking.
Wondering what he was going to do, a familiar voice broke in on his thoughts for the second time that day, “Hey, there. You lost or something, Sapph Manson?”
Spinning around, Sapph’s face came close to a sizeable bust clad in a purple and white tank top and he immediately took a couple of steps back, apologizing profusely, his face red as a Tamato berry.
A great tinkling laugh came from the tank topped girl as the voice went on in a sly, seductive tone, “You are an innocent one, aren’t you, Sapph Manson? I like that. It makes you easier to embarrass.”
Taking a look at the tall girl’s purple hair and matching irises looking at him naughtily, Sapph felt like slapping himself for embarrassing himself. “Darn it, Eva! You nearly scared me the heck out!”
As the girl replied with continued laughter, Sapph folded his arms grouchily and said, “So what are you doing here?”
“Believe it or not, Sapph, I live here,” Eva hiccoughed after getting her giggles under control.
“You do? That’s great!” Sapph replied, brightening at once. “Can you help me find a hotel?”
“Hotel? What, you mean a love hotel?” Eva replied with a sly look almost identical to the one Lieutenant Shrader gave him earlier.
“Wh-What? NO!” Sapph, half-yelled, going crimson once more. “I’m staying to watch Haley Kent at the tournament!”
“Hmm, well, I think there may be a vacancy in the lower districts,” Eva said, pretending not to hear Sapph. “But this tournament is quite popular. Almost everywhere is full, even in the slums. You could stay at my place, but whatever would my boyfriend and parents think?” She added, blushing theatrically.
“Oi, are you listening to me?!” Sapph hissed, getting more embarrassed by the minute as people began to stop and stare at Eva’s soliloquy.
“What? Oh, sorry, Sapph,” Eva said, pretending to just notice Sapph’s embarrassment. “Were you saying something?”
“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” Sapph seethed.
“Oh, I guess I can show you to a hotel, then...” Eva relented. Then, with a wicked glint in her eye, she added, “for a kiss.”
Sapph stared aghast at the girl as she leaned in, a blush on her cheeks as she closed her eyes and puckered up.
Stopping a passerby, Sapph asked, “Excuse me, sir, can you direct me to the ‘lower district’?”
Opening her eyes, Eva pouted and grabbing Sapph by the scruff of his t-shirt, frogmarched him away, muttering, “You’re no fun, Sapph Manson.”
After asking around for directions and twenty minutes walking through the busy industrial district of the island city, Haley finally found the Pokémon Centre for the city, which was one of the largest she had seen to date. Easily six stories tall, the building was only dwarfed by the skyscraper standing behind it and the coliseum in which the battles were to take place, which seemed to be a mere five minutes’ walk away.
Walking up to the glass and concrete structure, the doors slid open for her to admit her arrival. Just as Haley was about to enter, a shoulder bumped into her, knocking her slightly off-balance. Barely glancing back and muttering a hurried “Excuse me,” the girl made towards the reception desk where (unless Haley’s eyes were deceiving her) there stood no fewer than half a dozen near-identical, each one showing a single difference that set her apart from the other nurses.
Incensed at the girl’s apparent lack of manners, Haley bristled and reached out with one hand to drag the young woman back and demand an apology. She barely got two paces done before a larger girl with her dirt brown hair done up in a waist length plait and a green half jacket done up over a long black dress crossed her path, and, with a gloating voice and sneer, announced, “Well, look who finally showed up. You took your time, Haley Kent.”
Haley took a step back and looking the girl from head to sandal-clad toes, gave an aggrieved twitch of her head and said disdainfully, “Nicola... surprised to see you here. Didn’t I last see you recovering on Utopia Island?”
“I told you I’d catch up,” Nicola replied smugly. “I already had the Shuriken and Barnyard Emblems before you and Sapph even made it to Utopia Island. Speaking of, where is Sapph?”
“Finding us rooms,” Haley said dismissively with another shake of her head. “Why do you want to know?”
Frowning slightly, Nicola replied, “What business is that of yours? Can’t a friend just say hello?”
Staring the older girl down a couple of minutes longer, Haley gave up the conversation with a facial expression akin to finding a particularly nasty artefact stuck to the underbelly of a lavatory seat, and moved around her. Moving towards the reception desk, Haley looked back and muttered, “I’m just here to heal my Pokémon and wait here for his call. I don’t have time to settle this with you now. The opening ceremony’s tonight anyways...”
Making to follow the Water-type enthusiast, a slight beeping alerted the older girl to a message coming in on her pager. Barely looking back, Haley wend her way through the numerous pink Chansey and Blissey orderlies as they waddled up and down the expansive lobby, tending to the huge crowd amassed inside.
Reaching the desk, Haley handed six small capture spheres to one of the matron, who instead of roseate pink hair braids, had her mop of light brown hair tied in a simple ponytail, which flowed down to the back of her knees. “Can I have these checked up on for tomorrow? I’m competing in the Trigello tournament finals.”
“Name, Pokédex, hometown and emblems, please,” the nurse asked back in a much more mature voice that failed to hide her exhaustion, passing the pokéballs onto one of the chubby Egg Pokémon for her to check them then.
“Haley Kent, Olville Town, Corei,” Haley replied shortly, reaching into her jacket and pulling out three small badges and handing them over to the young woman together with her pink identification device, which also served as a growing encyclopaedia of all things Pokémon and a banking card.
The nurse picked up the Pokédex first and then each badge in turn, passing a handheld scanner of sorts over them, checking each one for authenticity. The scanner giving a slight beep as she passed over each one confirmed that they were the general article. Putting the device away and reaching under the desk for a key card, she passed the Pokédex, badges and the card to her, saying, “They all seem to check out, Ms. Kent. Your room is on the third floor, room seventeen. Would you like me to show you the way?”
“Wait... my room?” Haley replied in a startled voice as another voice, sounding almost like a female Sapph, said, “Well, duh. All the contestants get their own rooms here at the Pokémon Centre. Didn’tcha even know that?!”
Groaning to herself; Haley turned around and looking back at the young girl who had made the statement, said calmly, “Go away, Sky. Can’t you see we’re having a conversation?”
Sky Wingams adjusted the headband that kept her chestnut bangs out of her eyes and said huffily, “Well, excuse you, jardo! That’s the last freebie you get from me! Prepare to lose this tournament!”
Pointing at Haley dramatically, Sky turned her pointing finger into a thumb which she jabbed at her chest, declaring, “The world’s gonna see the pure awesomeness of Flying types win it all this year! Just wait and see!”
Stalking off and out of the Pokémon Centre, Haley watched the girl go impassively. A soft sigh escaped the lips of a purple-haired young man, who had walked over to the desk from a booth. Pinching his large nose in embarrassment, he said, “That Sky Wingams... what on earth does she get from making an embarrassment of herself everywhere she goes? That’s anything but proper.”
“I dunno,” another voice that also sounded distantly familiar to Haley Kent floated through the air from an attractive sixteen year old boy with a serious affinity for black; not only was his neatly-coiffed hair the colour of night itself, his jacket, t-shirt, dirty jeans and trainers were all part of a matching hue. “She seems intensely passionate about her choice of Pokémon to me. She seems like quite the opponent, right, Haley?”
Facing the second boy, Haley’s jaw dropped as she recognised the tall boy and spluttered, “B-B-Brian?!”
Laughing to himself at her reaction, the Kazutan proffered a two-fingered salute and said, “Yo, Haley. How have you and Sapph been?”
The Johton boy’s name triggered something in the young girl, who pulled out her PokéNav and said quickly, “I’ll deal with you in a minute, Brian. I’ve gotta make a call first...”
Before she could dial Sapph’s PokéGear phone number, a second nurse, glancing at the computer screen in front of her, looked up and, coughing slightly, spoke into a small microphone at her station, “Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention for this announcement?”
Haley and the two boys looked up and at the chubby nurse as the general hubbub in the Pokémon Centre died away, all eyes looking in her general direction.
“Corei Meteorology has just announced a low pressure approaching Azura City from the southeast sea,” the nurse continued with her announcement. The proclamation was met by a sound of buzzing as people began talking about the announcement amongst themselves. “It is bringing a summer storm which, at its current speed, will be hitting the entire archipelago within the next two hours. You are all advised not to leave the Pokémon Centre for the remainder of the day as the storm if predicted to last all night long...”
“Aw, man!” Sky exclaimed angrily, literally a footstep away from exiting the Pokémon Centre to go train as the nurse went on.
“...however, if your lodgings are nearby, and you are done waiting for your Pokémon to be healed, we advise you to make your way back to your residences as soon as possible. The Trigello tournament finals opening ceremony will therefore also be postponed until tomorrow morning at nine o’clock sharp,” Several faces seemed disappointed at this announcement, and a few faces, like Sky’s actually showed open dislike for the news. “Thank you for your attention.”
“Well, that’s this evening dampened,” Brian chortled at his choice of words. Turning to the youngest of their group, he added, “Care to join us for a milkshake, Haley?”
Haley looked Brian over and faltering under his charming smile, Haley nodded, and closing her PokéNav again, followed Brian and Slate to the milkshake bar at the far side of the lobby, keen to hear what Brian had been up to since they parted ways in Dinocanyon City.
Sapph wiped some sweat off his brow as he and his guide walked down a street which looked alarmingly like the ones back in Olville Town, only the houses were slightly narrower and thatch-roofed. The houses had nicely manicured lawns and most of the residents (at least those who were home at the time) were senior citizens of varying ages, whiling away the day relaxing in easy chairs by the windows of laying pies out on the windowsill to cool. More than once, Eva beamed and waved at them as she passed, greeting each person she did by name.
“Is this your neighbourhood, Eva?” Sapph asked as they walked past, each house owning a species of canine Pokémon sleeping on the front step or in a small shelter made neatly for them. The occasional house did have a Skitty purring sleepily in the sunlight as they napped on the windowsill.
“My uncle’s,” Eva said, glancing back as they walked on past a small general store. “An additional plus is this convenience store. It’s just about three buildings away from the inn I’m taking you to. Most of the stuff here are much cheaper than at a Pokémon Centre because, well, you’ve seen the demographic here...”
Sapph looked lost at her last word and she quickly explained, “The age group of the people here. People are most on their pensions here, so stuff is made cheaper so they can afford it. It’s also more convenient to shop here than go halfway across the island for a simple loaf of bread.”
Sapph saw the logic and nodded, asking, “Isn’t it a bit unfair to segregate the older generation in one area of the town?”
“No, the people here are very well-cared for by their families and the city council,” Eva said conversationally as they arrived outside of a three-storey building with a wooden signboard hanging off and above a wrought iron doorway reading ‘The Raticate Burrow’. “Besides,” she went on, “half of the residents here are live-in house-sitters for their younger family members who are currently at work. Others sometimes babysit their grandkids for the parents while they’re away on business or just getting away from it all.”
Nodding again, Sapph gave a preoccupied, “Mm-hmm,” as something came to his attention. Noticing another three-storey inn across the road from it, Sapph smirked as Eva’s intentions became clearer to him. Clearing his throat, he asked innocently, “You said the... ‘Raticate Burrow’,” he said purposefully, reading the sign carefully, “was owned by your uncle, right?”
“Yeah, and I could probably get you a discount too,” Eva said with a smirk. “What, you thought I was only bringing you here because I get an advertiser’s bonus or something?”
“I never said you were,” Sapph replied, his grin getting bigger.
Realizing she was caught, Eva reddened for a moment and, grabbing Sapph by the collar again, frogmarched him inside, announcing loudly, “Hey, Uncle Rob! Got another guest for you!”
A middle-aged man with sandy brown hair looked up from the immense ledger he was poring over and noticing his niece, gave a big smile and revealed a grizzled face beneath a receding hairline, “Thanks a lot, Eva!” This is the fourth one today! We’re almost fully-booked for the tournament!”
Thought so, Sapph thought with a smirk as he looked around at the modest furniture, upholstered with deep green flannel, and the whitewashed walls. Various old photographs of Azura City’s hot spots graced the walls and the oaken skirting boards and doorframes looked sturdy.
“Hello, customer! Welcome to the Raticate Burrow!” the man said jovially, clapping his hands cheerily. “We only have two rooms left as of now, each one costing a mere five hundred pokédollars a night! We have a tournament package as well for tourists who are staying only for the Trigello finals at one thousand, two hundred clams a pop for the whole tournament! Can I tempt you?”
Sapph found himself charmed by the receptionist’s charisma, although the prices were causing him disquiet. Turning to Eva, he hissed, “I thought you said you could get me a discount?”
Caught off guard, Eva supposed she owed him that much and relented. Sidling over to the clerk, Eva leaned close to his ear and whispered, “Hey, Uncle. This guy’s a family friend. And with the summer storm coming in and the Swarthy Walrein just across the street, this is actually an opportunity for you! Think you could cut it down a bit further for him? For me?!” She added, battling her eyes at him innocently.
Looking slightly disgruntled, ‘Uncle Rob’ stroked his stubbled chin and muttered back, “I swear, girl... you and your charitable promises will be the death of me!” Sighing once more, the man straightened up and said, “Tell you what, kiddo... take both rooms and I’ll cut the cost down to two thousand pokédollars for the whole tournament, but only if the full amount is paid up front. Can’t do better than that, I’m afraid. This is a business, after all!”
Sapph closed his eyes and pretended to ponder his possibilities. Smiling and opening his blue eyes, which matched the clerk’s, he said, “Deal. I needed the two rooms, anyways. Do you take credits?”
“Off a card?” Uncle Rob said cheerfully, referring to the debit card built into Sapph’s Pokédex that kept track of the boy’s expenditure. “But of course! Let me have my reader brought in so we can sort it out!”
And with that, the man raised his voice to a shout and announced, “Steffi, guests!”
A raven-haired woman Sapph assumed was Eva’s aunt bustled into the room, slightly chubby but with a good-natured smile and bright brown eyes dotting a tanned face, she said, “Why, hello there, Eva! Heard from your sister recently?”
“Hello, Aunt Stephanie!” Eva replied as the woman handed over a handheld reader to her husband and he took Sapph’s Pokédex to assume the payment. “No, not since she called to say she was training for her challenging the Utopia Island Gym!”
“So Zayina’s fighting Herbert Sr. then?” Sapph said with nostalgia as he took back his Pokédex and a couple of keys off the board behind the clerk and his wife. “He’s a tough one, but I’m sure she’ll be fine!”
“So you know little Zayina too, hunh, lad?” Rob said in surprise. “I suppose this is what you meant by a ‘family friend’ then, Eva.”
“Told you,” Eva said with a smirk. “I gotta go now, Uncle Rob, Aunt Stephanie! Take care! Maybe we’ll run into each other while you’re in town, Sapph!”
“That wouldn’t be too bad,” Sapph said with a challenging smile. “Cloude and I still owe you and Atalepom a rematch from last time! Take care!” he said, waving farewell. The older girl returned his challenge with a smile of her own and made her exit.
Smiling a smile of relief at acquiring the last two rooms, Sapph raised his new PokéGear to his mouth and said, “Dial ‘Haley’.”
Marvelling at how convenient the voice command feature of the device was, Sapph waited patiently as the phone rang. After a couple of rings, the PokéNav beeped, signalling that the call had connected.
“Hey, Haley!” Sapph announced brightly. “Got the last two rooms for a decent place called the Raticate’s Burrow! Only fifteen minutes away from the stadium!”
A few seconds’ silence issued from the PokéNav’s speaker before Haley’s voice replied, “Wait... the Raticate’s Burrow? How crappy is it to have a name like that, Sapph?”
Wincing at Haley’s remark, Sapph said defensively, “It isn’t crappy, Haley. Not even a little. It is small, but cosy, too!”
“Well, hurrah for the Raticate Burrow,” Haley said in a dole voice, several Trainers milling around making small talk about or arguing about who would win the upcoming tournament. “I’m happy for it.” A young girl in a large white cap slurped up the last of her Rawst berry milkshake and, sliding out of the next booth, headed out the door swiftly.
“OK, Haley,” Sapph said evenly, trying to play her comments off as a joke. Grateful the receptionist couldn’t hear them, he went on, “This... attitude thing of yours is honestly getting a little old. Ever since we reached Utopia Island, you’ve been even more annoying than normal...”
“’Annoying’?” Haley echoed, her voice rising shrilly over the noise in the Pokémon Centre. Although not as loudly as to warrant curious bystanders. “Is my getting tougher that much of a problem for you, Sha- uhh,” she rectified; horrified that she nearly gave away her suspicions of him in her anger, “I mean, Sapphire Manson?”
Sapph stared in shock at the phone in the lobby. Voice quivering heavily, he went on as calmly as possible, a tic going off near his temple and his right fist spasming, “OK, Haley. Let’s all just calm down. Why don’t you come down here, get your key so we...”
“’We’?” Haley’s voice said with a cold laugh. “Not this time, Mister Manson. I’m staying at the Pokémon Centre. Contestant privilege, you know. You can stay... wherever it is you are...”
“But I just rented two rooms, Haley!” Sapph spluttered into the blue and gold PokéGear. “Two! What am I gonna do with the extra room, then?”
“Heck if I know,” the girl’s voice said over the portable device. “Ask for a refund. Must I always think for you?”
Gritting his voice, his patience all but gone, Sapph snarled into the phone, “I can’t get a refund on the room, Haley. I pretty much paid for these rooms out of my pocket up front to secure them! Are you going to pay me back for the room?”
“Of course not,” Haley seemed to scoff. “Do I look stupid to you?”
“No, but you sound it.”
A moment’s silence rang through the Raticate’s Burrow as Sapph glared at the PokéGear on his wrist, almost as though he were staring at the young female researcher’s face. Haley’s voice finally replied in an icy voice, “I’ve gotta go. Blame your own rotten luck and lack of forethought for this. Good night.”
A slight CLICK told Sapph that the call had been ended on the other side. Were it not for the fact that the PokéGear was a new gift from his family, he would have taken it off and thrown it against the far wall as hard as he could. Instead he gripped the device as hard as he dared, his knuckles turning white as he did so. Taking a couple of steadying breaths, he turned towards the reception to try returning the key to one of the rooms when a finger tapped him lightly on the shoulder tentatively.
Already in a lousy mood, Sapph spun around and was about to verbally lash out in anger when he noticed the girl’s red hair and said, “You know, I’m in a really... wait, I know you! You’re Josephine Harris, right?”
The girl beamed and pulled the sunglasses away from her hazel eyes as she nodded and said, “That sounded intense! Girl trouble?”
Keen not to get into this conversation with another girl that day, Sapph grunted with a non-committal, “Yes and no. If you’re here, then that should mean...”
“You said ‘Haley’ on the phone,” another girl said, appearing on Sapph’s other side and with Josephine effectively flanking him. “You didn’t mean Haley Kent, did you?”
Sapph closed his eyes as though praying for patience and said, “Nice to meet you again too, Rachel. Fancy running into you two here...”
Laughing, Rachel placed an understanding hand on his shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, Sapph. She has that effect on everyone she meets. Are you travelling around with her?”
Closing his eyes in a grimace, Sapph nodded and Rachel sighed, “You have my condolences. Question: did I hear you mention you got an extra room?”
Scratching the back of his head sheepishly, Sapph said in a now-normal voice, smiling to the girl and tutting slightly, “Eavesdropping now, are we?”
“It was kinda hard not to overhear,” Josephine chirped, before Rachel could retort. “I think the entire lobby could hear you.”
Now Sapph’s embarrassment was fast becoming obvious. “My bad,” he said awkwardly. “Have you gotten a place to stay yet?”
“Well, that was the last room in the Raticate’s Burrow,” Josephine said calmly, smiling slightly.
“So, whaddya say, Sapph? You won’t let two pretty girls stay out in the cold, will you?” Rachel said, hugging Sapph’s arm close and batting her eyes at him. Sapph squirmed awkwardly, trying to get free. “How about you give us the extra room? Hunh? Pretty please?”
“Come on, Sapph,” Josephine said, cottoning on and grabbing his other arm tight. “You’re a gentleman... surely you can let us have it?”
“Uhh... erm...” Sapph said, his face reddening from the ‘affections’ being shown. Before he could wrap his mind and tongue around an answer, Rachel snatched one of the keys from him and, letting go, said brightly, “Thanks, Sapph! You’re a pal!”
Sapph blinked foolishly for a few seconds before he heard Josephine’s voice over at the reception desk, “Excuse me, sir, but can we get another bed in this room?”
“Oi, what about me?!” A brusque voice said loudly, its source a boy of Sapph’s height with his auburn hair up in spikes upon his head.
“Oh, hush, Paul,” Rachel said sharply. “You can sleep in the park. Thank you, sir!” She added with an uncharacteristic giggle at the clerk as he reassured Josephine they would indeed be able to add another bed to their room. “Our friend here will cover the cost!”
“Hey!” Paul protested to no avail; Rachel and Josephine were already out of the lobby and halfway down the hallway leading towards their room. “There’s a freaking summer storm on tonight! No way can I sleep out!”
Sapph watched this exchange and shook his head at how low women seemed capable of going. Sighing to himself, he walked up to the receptionist and asked, “Hi, could you make mine a double bedroom too, please?”
As the clerk went to inform the two bellhops about the room rearrangements, Sapph turned to Paul and said, “There you go. I am getting the cash from you la- hey, where did he go?” he asked, whirling around looking for the boy who seemed to have vanished. Frowning, Sapph resolved to have Keynid out of his pokéball just to keep an eye on his curious ‘roommate’.
“Understood,” the voice over Paul’s PokéNav said in a garbled voice. “I’ll have the funds credited to your account. Keep an eye on him.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Paul said unenthusiastically, ending the call. Looking up and seeing the figure of a young girl, her face hidden under a white cap enter the Swarthy Walrein, the young boy sighed to and, walking back into the Raticate’s Burrow, thought, that should be easier than you think...
As the dusk wore on, Azura City’s lights began to flicker to life. People all over the city began to receive word of the incoming storm and sought to find shelter. At a particular public park near a popular bistro, though, a sizeable crowd found themselves mesmerised by a battle unfolding between two male Trainers. The younger one raised a long-fingered hand and pointed it at the opponent’s large pink Pokémon as his opponent continued to sweat under the sandy brown fedora he wore.
“OK, Burner! Finish that thing off with Fire Punch!” he called out in an emotionless voice.
<BLIS-SEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!> A large pink Pokémon shrieked as the large tiger Pokémon under his command slammed into it with a powerful fist wreathed completely in flames. Flight would be the last thing anyone expected of the Normal-typed Pokémon, but it still went soaring twelve feet through the air and slammed down in front of an equally portly, middle-aged man wearing a tan-coloured vest over a red sweater.
“Oh, no, Blissey!” the man exclaimed, his beefy hand going straight for his mouth in horror as his Pokémon passed out from the punishment it had received. The large tiger paid no heed and was bearing down on it to administer even more pain when a snapping of fingers stopped it cold. His opponent, a young looking boy with an utter mess of reddish blond hair and cold grey eyes, sighed theatrically and, lowering his right hand, announced, “So, you were the best at the tournament last year. Are you sure that was your strongest Pokémon? What a disappointment.”
The man began to sweat profusely at the insane strength that this young boy’s Pokémon had displayed. No, ‘strength’ wasn’t the word for it. ‘Outright ruthlessness’ would be more accurate. Not just anyone could topple his Happiness Pokémon, and yet, this youngster’s Volcat had not only done so, but was about inches away from ending her life. However, as he returned his Blissey and looked into the boy’s cold eyes, an involuntary shiver ran down his spine. The boy sparing his Pokémon wasn’t an act of boredom; he merely deemed the act as a waste of his time.
*continued next post*