Barry just blinked, staring blankly at the cute little Pokémon that was designated his Staraptor's competitor. The fact that Smoochum by both her types was superior to Staraptor went right over his head as he couldn't believe he was facing something that looked so docile. The fact that Conway mentioned "debut" made it obvious that this was Smoochum's first battle against a trainer.
Conway was confident, knowing the advantage was on his side in spite of Smoochum's lack of experience. He was ready to make Barry regret that the two had ever met and he would do so in the most embarrassing way possible: by beating him with an unseasoned battler in Smoochum.
Smoochum was too eager at the prospect of battle to figure out what was going on in her trainer's head, but was ready to fight nonetheless.
"You're fighting me with that?" Barry asked Conway before slowly growing angry. "Wait, what… what is this, are you trying to insult me?"
"In the midst of battle? What a rude thing to do," Conway remarked, very amused. "But try and focus on the battle now. Smoochum, Confusion!"
Barry's reaction time was clearly lacking as he was far too late to give Staraptor a command before it was caught in the Psychic-type trap, only able to move as Smoochum wished it to. "Huh…? Staraptor!"
"Display the power of gravity before our guest, please," Conway calmly commanded; his smile widening as Staraptor swiftly hit the ground, and hard. Smoochum couldn't hold Confusion any longer, but looked happy at her early success.
"Gah!" Barry cried out, flailing in panic over a fierce first blow. He knew this wasn't the time to be joking around now; Conway apparently was a legitimate threat to him now. "You're not getting away with that! Come on, Staraptor!"
"I prefer Staraptor when they stand still," Conway suddenly said, somewhat randomly. "It's easier to admire their frightful beauty that way. Smoochum, Powder Snow!"
Of course, his aim was to confound his human opponent with vague words while his Pokémon took advantage of the break in the battle to attack preemptively. But this time, Smoochum was far too slow to effectively freeze Staraptor in time, as it broke free with ease and was soon high in the sky once again, circling over the Kiss Pokémon.
"Just for trying that, you're getting a mega-fine!" Barry cried out, well in the midst of another tantrum. "Staraptor, take that girly thing down with Steel Wing!"
Conway didn't even want to guess what a "mega-fine" would be, but he had to quickly think of a plan for Smoochum to brace herself against this attack. Inexperienced as she was, it would be difficult for her to match Staraptor in a direct clash.
"Sing!" Conway commanded, hoping Smoochum would get that much out before the clash, but Staraptor swept in and slammed into the poor, young Pokémon full-force. Being super-effective, Smoochum was already in bad shape as her defenses were absolutely pitiful. Seeing this firsthand left Conway horrified as Barry looked disappointed.
"Geez, it's still able to battle?" Barry complained. "Alright, whatever. Staraptor, Close Combat!"
"No…!" Even with neutral damage, Close Combat was a devastating move that was far beyond Smoochum's abilities to withstand. A few stiff kicks from Staraptor's talons knocked the baby Pokémon unconscious.
"That's more like it!" Barry celebrated, pumping his fist into the air victoriously. "Hah, so much for type advantage! At this rate we'll be out of here within the next minute, Staraptor!"
Insane as Barry was, at least he loved his Pokémon, unlike a certain former companion of Conway's, which was in a way refreshing. Still, exchanging the inability to care for a lack of sanity and common sense seemed in more ways than one an unfair trade in his eyes. After a sigh of acceptance that he had been defeated, Conway recalled Smoochum back into her Pokéball and looked to it sadly.
"I was in a little over my head, I suppose," Conway admitted quietly. "My apologies. I won't let it be at your expense in the future…" Glaring at Barry, who was still as smug (and impatient) as ever, greatly fueled his drive to compete. It was hard to explain, but something about Barry greatly livened up Conway's competitive drive. As a result, he felt a stronger desire to win this battle. "So you're not a complete imbecile," Conway somewhat complimented, which only made Barry frown back. "Good to know. This may not be such a waste of time after all."
"Bring it!" Barry challenged, shaking his fists. "And make it quick; I didn't battle just to hear you talk to yourself!"
Conway narrowed his eyes at this, unable to forget for even a moment why he wanted to defeat this guy so soundly. It wasn't going to be a complete shut-out, but Conway knew it was still early enough to make an impression, and the best way to pull that off would be to use his strongest, most reliable player on hand. "Come forth and conquer, Slowking…!"
Like Conway's previous Pokémon, Barry couldn't help but stare on, dumbfounded at his opponent's choice. "Wow, your taste in Pokémon is kind of… terrible, you know?"
"Famous last words," Conway replied with a smirk. "Slowking, Psychic!"
The much more powerful rendition of the Confusion attack was just as (and probably more) effective keeping Staraptor's movements completely controlled. Oddly, Conway wasn't doing anything other than keeping Staraptor in place for the first few moments, prompting Barry to complain again.
"Oh, come on!" he cried out. "This is an obvious stall-off! What, are your Pokémon just like you and too weak to throw a punch?"
Conway preferred to think of it as he was too "mature" to be throwing punches, but what was the difference? He made it no secret that he was more inclined to special attacks. "Strategic mental combat is an effective battling strategy, believe it or not," he claimed, unafraid to spill his own strategy out at a time like this because Conway had a feeling Barry would just forget it three seconds later and go off on a completely unrelated tangent. "Now, I just submitted you to the laws of gravity moments earlier… at this time, I would like to show you firsthand the laws of friction with objects in motion."
"Aw, I should've figured!" Barry grumbled. "A nerd would submit me to the most boring stuff in the world right in the middle of a battle… they're the worst!"
Conway couldn't help but be amused with this. "Believe me when I say this will be anything but boring. Now, pay attention: the laws of friction are largely irrelevant when the object – in this case, your Staraptor – is under the control of Psychic. This means I can make it move much faster than it can naturally on its own. Observe."
After a signal to Slowking, Staraptor, still helpless in Psychic's power, moved several times faster than it could naturally as it shot up and down like a rocket in the sky and past a tree, where several leaves were shaken from their limbs once Staraptor zoomed past. Barry watched both in horror and awe, as this was rather interesting to watch.
"Now, say I put a huge rock in Staraptor's way," Conway hypothesized. "Do you think Staraptor will be stopped by the rock, or is its friction plus its mass even stronger than that and will blast right through the rock?"
Barry grasped at his hair after hearing that. "Either way, that's not going to end well with Staraptor…!"
"Indeed," Conway agreed, as he gleefully planned for this all along. "Slowking, Power Gem!"
A large, golden rock formed in the air as Barry looked on helplessly. "You wouldn't…!"
"You've been quite a pain today," Conway admitted, sounding almost helpless himself about the matter. "But trust me; this will be fun. You wouldn't believe how much it pays off to train a Pokémon to handle two attacks at once. Slowking?"
The Royal Pokémon nodded, knowing this was its cue. At the very last second, it released its Psychic hold on Staraptor in order to focus on forcing it back with the Power Gem attack. Staraptor was completely helpless all this time and had no way to make a difference even with its freedom back mere moments before it smashed into the massive, sparkling rock.
There was an explosion that followed this; trails of glitter from the rock rained down over the trainers as they watched on to see the result of this catastrophe. Staraptor did manage to force its way a short distance into the rock, but that was it. What remained of the rock smashed Staraptor ruthlessly into the ground, and needless to say it was going to be out of commission for quite a while.
Barry gaped at the sight for a while before coming to his senses and recalling Staraptor back to its Pokéball. Apparently he didn't handle defeat with even half the grace of Conway. "… Staraptor… I'm gonna avenge you! I'll make that nerd pay in more ways than one and win this for both of us!"
"Then go ahead; show us what you've got next," Conway invited. "Slowking here barely broke a sweat."
"I'll make you sorry for what you did!" Barry promised as he threw his next Pokéball. "Roserade, gimme a hand here…!"
This was an interesting choice, as the type advantages and disadvantages were even. Conway could use his Psychic-type attacks to exploit Roserade's vulnerability in its Poison-type while its Grass-type could critically injure Slowking's partial Water-type identity if Barry played his cards right. He was realizing by now that Conway wasn't only inclined towards special attacks; his opponent was also keen on keeping his Pokémon well-defended even without directly using defensive moves. So far most of Conway's blows have been aided by Psychic or Confusion. While Barry had more of a melee strategy, Conway clearly preferred alternative options… which made him quite a threat, much to Barry's surprise. By being comparatively passive compared to Barry's battling prowess, Conway successfully created an air of mystery around himself by mostly hanging in the background without doing too much. He was clearly one frightful contender, and even Conway didn't give himself enough credit in that regard.
After some consideration, Conway decided to keep Slowking in this round. "Very well; I'll stick with Slowking. By all means, take the initiative.
Asking Barry to attack was already suspicious, but Barry really had no other choice. He tried to shove his concerns aside and focus on the match. "It's your funeral, then!" A funny choice of words considering what Conway recently went through. "Roserade, Poison Jab!"
A bum rush strategy could succeed or fail depending on the situation. Barry wisely decided to overwhelm Conway with a never-ending stream of physical attacks which would force Conway to fight back by traditional means.
"Protect!" Conway called out, wondering why Barry didn't just call for a Grass-type attack instead. He was fully expecting something like Grass Knot or Energy Ball; certainly not Poison Jab. Slowking successfully surrounded itself in a protective barrier of light, blocking the first wave of Poison Jabs.
"Poison Jab, Poison Jab, Poison Jab!" Barry repeated, shouting at the top of his lungs. "Protect's not going to hold out forever! We'll force Slowking out and beat it into submission! Go for it, Roserade!"
Conway frowned at this, hoping Roserade would back off with a recharge and then finally use a Grass-type attack like a sensible trainer would call for. What Barry said was true; Slowking's Protect barrier would soon break and Protect had a good chance of failing when called for a second time consecutively.
All he could think of for the moment was to attempt to hold Roserade off until it tired itself out, making it child's play to defeat. It wasn't very likely it would work out as Conway wanted it to, but it didn't stop him from trying his best. Fast-paced as battles were, Conway knew it was best to stick to his plan, as improvising was very risky for players like him.
"Keep defending, Slowking," Conway ordered. "You can outlast a Roserade easily."
"Doesn't that pink thing just make you mad, Roserade?" Barry asked his partner, smirking. "I know it makes me mad, and we're gonna make it go down no matter what! So just keep using Poison Jab! That geeky trainer doesn't know about the true power we've got inside!"
"True power?" Conway wondered out loud. "Are you just tossing out a red herring for me or are you going somewhere with this?"
Barry just pouted for a moment, putting his hands on his hips. "What, you claim to be smart and you don't even know who my dad is?"
"How is your father's identity even relevant to your own strength?" Conway asked him, looking skeptical. Father topics were never fun to talk about. "You're not your father; you're your own person and you make your own destiny."
"My dad's one of the strongest trainers in the world!" Barry proudly proclaimed. "I've got his genes and people say I fight like him all the time! Flattering, really. You know what the Battle Frontier is, right?"
Conway's jaw nearly dropped when he heard the words "battle" and "frontier" used together. "You're implying that your father is a Frontier Brain?"
"Who's implying?" Barry shot back. "It's the truth! My dad's Tower Tycoon Palmer of Sinnoh's Battle Frontier!"
To this revelation, Conway gasped. Since the Sinnoh Battle Frontier was relatively new, Conway wasn't as privy to all its dirty little secrets like he was with the longstanding Kanto Battle Frontier. But now it suddenly made sense why Conway was so pumped and ready to take Barry on… while vastly different, Barry had a special way of getting underneath Conway's skin; a way only pulled off by Paul in the past. Both were sons of the most powerful Frontier Brains of their respective chapters… it was hard to say it was just a coincidence now.
"Man, you must've been living under a rock to not know that," Barry mocked. "Everyone knows me and loves me!"
Conway had a very hard time believing that; maybe it was also a personality clash, but Conway couldn't figure out how Barry was by any means tolerable to the general public. He wasn't coldhearted and antisocial like Paul, but Barry made up for that by being outrageously obnoxious and possibly even haughtier than Paul himself is. Conway also wasn't exactly keeping up to date with everything considering what he had been through in the past month. Taking care of Paul was a full-day job in itself and life had been nothing but sheer disaster for him since the two split ways.
"What is it with these Frontier Brain children?" Conway muttered. "I swear, Reggie's the only sane one and he's emotionally unstable…"
"Hey, what's with the mumbling?!" Barry complained. "We're in the middle of a battle; why do I even have to tell you all of this?"
Conway just rolled his eyes, looking back at the fight where Roserade was still spamming Poison Jab at Slowking, who was clearly struggling to keep up its defensive barrier any longer. "Why in the world are you only using one move? And a Poison-type move, at that!"
"One move's all I need to beat you!" Barry replied. "You think you're so special with all your training and you think Roserade's gonna tire out… well, think again!"
Barry had a point: for all the minutes that had passed since this round's beginning, Roserade really didn't look all that burdened by the sheer amounts of energy it was putting into every single punch. "No Psychic tricks this time; we're gonna force you to fight!"
Conway was about to retort until he heard a piercing sound of something shattering; namely Slowking's barrier. Unprotected, Slowking was forced to take in these blows directly without being given much of a chance to counterattack. "Curses," Conway quietly grumbled, watching the battle closely. "I can't get Slowking to focus on a Psychic attack if Roserade keeps hammering at him. If he can't get out of there, we're sunk…"
"We've got 'im now, Roserade!" Barry victoriously proclaimed. "Just keep Poison Jabbing till there's nothing left!"
Cheap as this strategy was, it was genius against a trainer like Conway, who had no reliable method of countering it without possibly sacrificing his own Pokémon.
It was making Conway seriously consider a kamikaze move just to throw Barry off the trail. This opponent left much to be desired in regards to personality and brainpower, but otherwise was indeed more than the average trainer… the progeny of Frontier Brains seemed to be in a league of their own.
When it came right down to it, Conway was honestly out of options. Slowking needed to focus in order to truly use its power and it was impossible to do so while getting endlessly Poison Jabbed. A move that would take them both down would be abrupt and wouldn't require much time at all to execute.
"Guess we'll just have to shove back after all," Conway decided. "Time to let loose a bit, Slowking. Water Pulse!"
By sacrificing the control of its power, Slowking had a tendency to be unstable. This wasn't a strategy Conway often resorted to, but it was a desperation measure nonetheless. It at least allowed Slowking to conjure up power more quickly, and hence was able to haphazardly hurl Water Pulse straight into Roserade… which of course wasn't enough to keep Roserade down by a long shot, but it gave Slowking ample time to surround itself in a barrier of pure Psychic energy. While looking similar, this was nothing like Protect. A point blank ranged hit from Water Pulse at least knocked Roserade back considerably, but both it and Barry stared in shock as Slowking was no longer calm and collected.
"This is it!" Conway called out, pointing directly at Roserade. "Fire!"
Slowking was anything but slow on the uptake as it zoomed across the gap between its opponent in a split second and attached itself to Roserade, letting the built-up psychic energy loose, resulting in a massive explosion.
As the dust and smoke settled, the nerve-wracked Barry and Conway squinted at the battle site, seeing pretty much what Conway expected: Slowking and Roserade were unable to battle.
"I-… I swear, your Pokémon are all the same!" Barry spat out as he recalled Roserade. "Psychic this! Psychic that! A-and that was cheap!"
"No more cheap than your own strategy, thank you," Conway corrected as he much more calmly recalled Slowking, glad to have the odds evened out again. The final round would have both sides' Pokémon at full health and energy, which hopefully would conclude well. "Well, the next round should definitely decide the battle overall."
Barry growled and shook his fists. "Don't talk about what's obvious! What are you gonna have, another Psychic-type for me to smash?"
"Guess you'll just have to find out," Conway replied with a smirk, taking out his last Pokéball. "I'm rather interested in what you have in store for me as well."
"Like I'd tell you before you send yours out!" Barry barked back. He looked very stubborn about this minor detail.
To that, Conway nodded. "Understandable. Perhaps we should just send out our Pokémon simultaneously so we'll both be surprised."
"You're on!" Barry agreed, looking down at his Pokétch. "Alright then, in five! Four! Three! Two…!"
Conway nodded and threw his Pokéball. "Let's come forth…!"
Barry followed a couple of beats later. "It's your turn…!"
There were several moments of awkward silence after this; after all, it was rather unexpected on both sides that they would actually have the same species of Pokémon.
"Wh-what's this all about?!" Barry cried out in confusion. "What are you, a witch?! How could you know that I was going to send out Heracross next?!"
That was by far the most bizarre accusation that was ever directed at Conway. "… Oh, you were serious?" he asked Barry after a pause. "I had no idea that you had a Heracross."
"Well, one of us has to switch out!" Barry declared. "There's no way we can keep up the battle when our Pokémon look exactly the same!"
Conway hated to admit it, but Barry was right. "Well, you could tie your scarf around yours and that would solve the problem…"
"Not unless you tie something to your Heracross, too!" Barry protested. "That would be giving my Heracross an unfair weight handicap!"
"Well, unfortunately, I don't have anything to tie around my Heracross," Conway pointed out with a sigh. "It's also not fair if one of us switches out because we'll have the strategic advantage over each other. We would both have to switch our Pokémon…"
Barry was not satisfied with this at all. "What are you doing with a Heracross, anyway? That's totally unlike you!"
Never mind that Barry only just met Conway today… what would he know? "You said you wanted something different," Conway reminded him. "So I chose Heracross. What in the world are you complaining about?"
"I wanna see what your strategy is with something that's not gonna stall me or trap my Pokémon with Psychic!" Barry explained, still rather whiny. "And I've already decided on my strategy and I'm not gonna change my mind!"
"You're behaving like a petulant child," Conway grumbled. "You're insisting the match stays as it is? Our Heracross are even the same gender… what are the odds?"
Said Heracross looked at their trainers' bickering back and forth; both rather annoyed that their trainers were unable to tell the difference between them. Though visually, for humans it was rather difficult most of the time, many Pokémon species were offended regardless of the typical "All Heracross look alike"… disregarding the gender differences, of course, but that wasn't even relevant in this case.
"You're the immature one!" Barry claimed, pointing at Conway. "You oughta be honored to battle somebody like me! It's not every day you run into the son of a Frontier Brain!"
"Well, you ran into me, first of all," Conway corrected for him, very annoyed at how Barry could be as astonishingly wrong about his conclusions as he could be right. He couldn't help but notice the irony of what Barry was saying… for being a fan of Paul to this extent, Conway found it surprising that Barry apparently was unaware of the fact that his idol was also a Frontier Brain's son. "Second… your background remains irrelevant even now. So please stop wasting your breath and don't bring it up again. I only need to be told these things once." If even that.
"So even after learning that, you treat me like I'm not a threat?" Barry argued. "Like I'm below you or something?"
Conway was baffled at where Barry's mind must be at this time. "Er… what? I've never even implied that, much less ever said such a thing-"
"There you go, on the defense again!" Barry complained tiredly, not caring that he interrupted Conway at all.
"Because you keep accusing me of things that aren't true!" Conway barked back, about to lose his cool with this guy… he definitely stood out from Paul. Paul really never got Conway this flustered by himself. Barry was single-handedly driving him mad with his insanity. "Of course I'll defend myself against your lies!"
Barry just rolled his eyes and waved Conway off. "Whatever; you've so got issues. Let's just get this battle over with before I start sending you bills every week!"
"Fine by me," Conway stiffly agreed. "Now, let's…"
Something was wrong… very wrong. The second Conway refocused on the battlefield, he realized neither Heracross were present. He looked around frantically before finally looking up, seeing them both high up in the sky, flying away. "Oh no…!"
"What the heck is this?!" Barry cried out as he realized what was going on. "Where are they going?! Why?!"
"I have a feeling we may have offended them," Conway supposed, looking on thoughtfully. "All this time, we've been arguing and completely ignoring them… and maybe they wanted to battle after all."
"Heracross, you get back here!" Barry cried out, aiming his Pokéball into the sky. "Return, now!" Though he attempted to recall Heracross, it failed as the laser from the Pokéball simply couldn't go out that far.
Conway shook his head, knowing it would be hopeless to get them back unless they chased after their Pokémon to wherever they were headed. "We're out of range to get them back so easily," he told Barry. "We'll need to go after them."
"Then let's book it!" Barry decided immediately, forgetting about everything he had left on the ground. "Before they get too far away to catch up with…!"
Conway just gaped at how speedy Barry was and groaned when he realized he'd have to push his limits just to keep up with the guy. Physical endurance was definitely something Conway struggled with, but he just had to grin and bear it in order to reach his Heracross.
Barry was both disappointed and unsurprised about this weakness. Just as he considered complimenting Conway, he decided against it once he saw how pathetic Conway looked just by trying to match his pace. "Come on, get the lead out, nerd! We're losing them!"
Conway just coughed and moaned in response, wondering if this was what cardiac arrest felt like. Eventually, the pair did lose track of the Heracross and petered out… Conway especially, as they stopped at a road to catch their breath.
"I'm blaming you for this completely!" Barry breathed out. "You're such dead weight!"
"S-sorry," Conway quietly said in a rather pathetic tone. He was laying flat on his back on the ground. "I've really neglected improving my own physical endurance…"
"Well, we're lost and we don't have any idea where our Heracross went," Barry grumbled, kicking a rock. "Great, just great!"
While Conway was catching his breath, he cautiously watched the sun, realizing (without needing a watch to check) that it was late afternoon heading into evening. With that, he was able to at least tell which direction was west. "Well, we were both heading for Hearthome City," he mentioned. "And it looks like our Heracross went off directly east from our position. I wonder if they smelled a source heavy with tree sap or honey… they do tend to act on their own when that happens."
"Hold on; since when were you going to Hearthome City?" Barry asked him, sounding suspicious. "You can't be heading there… I am!"
"I was heading there long before you ran into me," Conway explained. "It has nothing to do with you. I'll be challenging Fantina."
"But not until I'm done with her!" Barry shouted defiantly. "Sorry, but I've got a score to settle with that lady. You'll just have to wait your turn, and since I'm a lot faster than you, I'm definitely going to reach her before you."
Conway shrugged, because he honestly didn't care who got there first. "Whatever you say. But this really isn't what we should be dwelling on right this second."
Barry blinked before it all came back to him. "Oh! Right, Heracross… uh, what are we going to do about that again?"
"We need to predict where our Pokémon are before we start the chase again," Conway instructed. "We won't find them if we run around haphazardly. How well do you know this area, Barry?"
"Uh, depends on what we're talking about," Barry answered, unsure of what Conway wanted from him.
Conway looked around, not expecting Barry to be of much help here. "Is there a forest or garden or a city nearby? To be flying off that quickly, they must have smelled something sweet."
"Well, let's see," Barry mumbled as he remembered his Pokétch had a map function that could make it easier to tell where they were. "If we're southeast of Hearthome City and north of the swamps, then the closest place from where we are would be… Angel Grove City. I think this road leads straight to it."
"Anything notable about it?" Conway asked.
Barry looked up and tried to think. "I know they've got a really big juice bar called Ernie's but that's about it."
Juice… yeah, that sealed the deal. "That's all we need to know," Conway assured, getting up and dragging Barry by the road immediately. "Come on! There's still time!"
Though taken off-guard from Conway's sudden revival, he followed along steadily. Mismatched as they were, they still were able to work together towards a common goal whenever necessary. They eventually made it to Angel Grove City by evening and were quickly directed to Ernie's Juice Bar, as it seemed their Pokémon had caused quite a commotion since arriving.
When Barry and Conway entered the juice bar, they were aghast at what they saw. Innocent civilians, what few still remained in the establishment after all this time, were backed up against the wall in horror as two ferociously hungry Heracross had torn the place apart to suck up every drop of juice they could find. Apparently they were very adept at scaring people off in order to have a monopoly on the juice and were very much enjoying their reward until they heard a loud, indignant "Heracross!" from both their trainers at once.
"How dare you be so rude!" Barry scolded, promptly taking out Heracross' Pokéball and managed to successfully recall it. "Good to see you're okay, but we're going to have a talk about this tomorrow; you better believe it!"
Conway just shook his head with disappointment as he recalled his own Heracross. "We didn't mean to hurt your feelings, but really, you're usually above this sort of nonsense."
While it was a relief to have their Heracross back, Conway and Barry both felt uneasy when they sensed a taller figure looming over them. Judging by the apron, bowtie and especially nametag, it looked like this was the bar's owner himself, Ernie.
"Ah, crap!" Barry cursed before turning around and bowing a bit, scratching his head. "Okay, right. We didn't mean for all this to happen. We're really sorry about your place, believe me! You'd believe the son of Tower Tycoon Palmer, right?"
At that attempt to pull rank, Ernie showed them both a bill with an outrageous price to pay… obviously for all of the damage and juice consumption.
"Ack!" Barry cried out. "Are you kidding me? What kid has that kind of money, I ask you? What, are you gonna make us work off the bill?"
The smirk and nod on Ernie's part indicated that… yes, if it came to that, he would go that far.
Barry brought his hands together, looking up at Ernie with fear overcoming him as he tried to beg for mercy. "Oh, have a heart! Just put it on my dad's tab, okay? Come on, please…?"
Conway sighed, bumping Barry aside to get Ernie's attention, which he did very well considering he was holding quite the flashy credit card in his hand. "I'll cover the damages," he offered. "You take cards, right?"
Without a word, Ernie took Conway's credit card and made his way over to where the register was. It seems that was enough to sway him. "Be sure to count both of us!" Conway reminded. "I don't mind covering for him!"
At first, Barry was baffled that Conway would be carrying credit cards of all things and was even more bewildered in regards to his offer to pull him out of the fire that was this mess when all Barry had done was antagonize him all day. At the same time, Barry was finally beginning to feel a bit of respect for Conway as a person. After doubting his integrity all day, the creepy guy went out of his way to save both of them with no benefit for himself to reap. It was very… noble, oddly enough. More importantly, it was something Barry couldn't ignore.
"But that bill… that bill was huge!" Barry exclaimed. "Conway, you didn't have to…"
Conway smirked and shook his head. "Nice to see you calling me by my name rather than "nerd". But still, you're just as innocent as I am; there's no reason to make you needlessly suffer a punishment you don't deserve."
Barry blinked at that statement. "But if it were the other way around, I totally would've ditched you…"
That made Conway just stare at Barry; the look clearly said that he wished he could be surprised by this. "Well, I at least appreciate your honesty," he said flatly, clearly annoyed by the mere thought. "Don't worry about it. You should be happy I'm actually paying considering how much you fined me all day."
"Hey, yeah!" Barry smiled, very content with that answer. "What goes around comes around, huh?"
"Uh, sure… let's go with that," Conway awkwardly concurred. "Too bad we're losing daylight now. I may as well stay the night in the city."
"Count me in!" Barry cheered, practically inviting himself along. "We're both going to the same place anyway."
Conway wasn't sure what to make of this. "That doesn't mean you have to stick by me or anything," he assured. "No need to feel obligated."
"Nope; made up my mind," Barry said, obstinacy coming to the fore. "You're clearly a trainer I've gotta look out for and I've been bored out of my mind by myself, so that's that. You're coming with me."
As a traveling companion… Conway wasn't sure if he wanted to go through that again. While it would be immensely useful to have an ally close by him, it was… Barry. Conway could make do with the hard-to-get-along-with Paul, but Barry flat out annoyed Conway most of the time. It was hard to explain, still.
Then again, Conway figured a different spin on a traveling companion might do him some good when it came to getting over the Paul thing. He'd keep himself from getting too emotionally invested this time… and with someone as flaky as Barry, it would be best to not take his partnership to heart to begin with. Through this, Conway would learn from his previous mistakes, and who knows? Perhaps this would even enlighten him on how to appeal to Paul again someday. Even now, Conway didn't like the thought of never seeing Paul again, and as crazy as Barry was over the guy, it was obvious that Conway wouldn't have an easy time getting Paul off his mind as it was.
"I suppose it would be a fulfilling experiment," Conway conceded, trying to remain open-minded about this. "So long as you behave, that is."
"Well, you'd better behave too," Barry warned. "I've still got my eyes on you, and if you try anything, I'll fine you and your kids and your grandkids and your great-"
Conway cut him off right there. "I get the point. We'll both behave."
"So that's settled," Barry decided, extending a hand. "Glad to have you aboard, Conway!"
Paul never did anything like this… for once, Conway wished he would have. After smiling sincerely, Conway accepted and shook Barry's hand. "Here's to wishing for many happy days by tomorrow, Barry."
This was not something Conway expected to come up in his journey, and he was almost certain that he and Barry would be parting ways in the near future for whatever reason… most importantly, Conway didn't want to get Barry too involved with his problems. Obnoxious as he tended to be, Barry was still a relatively stand-up guy and didn't deserve to have his life put on the line because of Conway's issues with Saturn.
Still, in a way, it was a pleasant surprise… and Conway was willing to take any opportunity to be lighthearted and fun-loving as he freely used to be on this long and depressing journey of his.
The chase had taken a lot out of both trainers, thus once all dues were paid for in full, Conway directed Barry to the finest hotel Angel Grove City had to offer for a relaxing night of expensive pampering.
"Magmar, Flamethrower one last time!"
The Spitfire Pokémon fired off what must have been the twentieth attempt at a widespread Flamethrower attack under the command of Paul, who, in order to last in the cold in spite of his weakened condition, finally caved and contacted Maylene briefly to bring out his Fire-type (exchanging Weavile to do so) for support against the weather. As Paul's newest Pokémon, Magmar needed all the training it could get, anyway.
The end of the third day since Paul's ultimatum was nigh as the sun started to set under the horizon. Upon noticing this, Paul sighed and held up a hand to Magmar. "That'll do for today," he called out. "It's been three days now… this should be enough," he determined. "This strategy will crush Candice."
He recalled Magmar back into its Pokéball and started to head for Snowpoint City, which was only a small distance away from where Paul was training. "It's not too late," he realized. "She's probably still at the Gym… if I could get this over with today…"
Then it would finally allow Paul to move on from this dreadfully frigid place and allow him to clear his mind of all the terrible things that have happened just by trying to reach Snowpoint City. Paul desperately wanted the ability to leave, and his strong desires would only fuel his drive to battle and defeat Candice properly. There's no time like the present, after all.
After resting up his Pokémon at the Pokémon Center for a few moments, Paul walked briskly towards the accursed establishment that revealed his true weaknesses to both the Gym Leader and a sizable crowd of local children. That was all in the past now… it wasn't easy, but Paul finally managed to push it in the back of his mind in favor of conquering the Gym he spent nearly a month trying to reach.
As he approached the Snowpoint Gym, he heard some commotion from a distance near the building, which proved that Candice was still there and available. However, Paul slowed to a stop as he got a good look at who was making the noise… who else would annoy him so badly (other than Conway)?
Ash Ketchum and his friends; all decked out in winter gear suitable for the climate (though it seemed Dawn still had something against wearing pants as her legs remained just as bare as they were in her normal outfit). Ash was all hyped up to the point where he forgot to put his coat back on once he was back outside, which Dawn gladly handed over to him. Candice was carrying a case of sorts… also present was a girl with short, spiky red hair. This was a new one for Paul as he was pretty sure he never met this friend of Ash and friends, but at this time he really didn't care.
But this was the kind of mindset Paul wanted to avoid; the mere presence of Ash alone would not deter him from accomplishing this task. Knowing it was too late to exit without making a scene, Paul took a deep breath of mental preparation before closing in on the group. The only sound coming from Paul was the sound of snow being crunched underneath his shoes, which was enough to alert the group of his presence.
"Paul…!" Ash called out with surprise, not expecting to run into him in a place like this.
Paul tuned it out completely and looked directly at Candice instead. The way his eyes pierced into hers was jarring… this was her first time seeing Paul this clearly and it wasn't really even hitting her yet. Still, her instincts told her to just play along for now until her memories would remind her of what this was exactly about. After a hard battle, she was understandably weary and therefore vulnerable to Paul's intense focus.
"So you must be Candice, the Gym Leader?" he asked politely, but the tone in his voice made it obvious that he was forcing it out… mainly due to his irritation that Ash was present now of all times.
"Y-yes," Candice uneasily forced out her reply, still a bit shaken by this young man's presence. Despite his question there was a feeling of inherent knowledge within him… as if he weren't really asking a question at all. It was perplexing to be caught off-guard like this.
Paul figured he might as well be straightforward with his intentions here and now. Getting his point across as soon as possible was priority one right now. Within that Gym laid dark memories of the weaknesses that Paul was now using everything in the fiber of his being to hide. He kept a strong tone in his voice as if to tell the world… "No, there really isn't anything wrong with me after all." It simply wasn't true no matter how convincing Paul could make the statement sound… but it was the impression that counted.
"I challenge you to a Gym Battle."
( TBC )