@IJuggler: I never knew that, about the ellipses. It looks wrong to me not to have a space...
@Aladar: Most of that is intentional. Sticking to just one thing would bore me, whereas this mix is... hopefully... interesting? And shorter updates are my preference because I'd rather do it frequently, rather than write long ones and let this thing idle.
And I know the names are confusing. >.< I still haven't been able to edit the one post on the first page, so Rick is randomly not Rick for that one update. People who were already reading might be thrown off, but I hope (once I figure out how to change that one) new readers are okay.
The room they took him to was dark—completely so; it lacked not just artificial but also natural light, as it had no windows. It was entirely empty, save for a single wooden chair in the center, and a long screen set in opposite wall. They locked the door behind them as they left.
It wasn’t particularly warm, but Archie could feel the sweat beneath his collar. He’d heard stories about one-on-one time with the Boss. None of them were good. The Boss didn’t single people out to heap praise.
He had little doubt as to why this session had been ‘requested’, given the fiasco in Cerulean… and Mt. Moon. Even though he’d only been involved in the former, both operations were technically under his command, and therefore… were his responsibility.
Archie mumbled a curse and wiped at his forehead. He knew that he’d screwed it up. He just wanted the Boss to yell at him and get it over with. But the man seemed to take a sadistic pleasure in watching as those he’d called in squirmed, unable to stand the anticipation—
He jumped, almost knocking over the chair he hadn’t bothered to sit in. The shout had come from the enormous speaker set just below the screen in front of him, which even now flickered to life. It showed an image of… the back of a chair.
The Boss was well-known for never showing his face. In fact, only a trusted few of the organization had ever seen or heard him in person. This didn’t include any of the men and women doing the grunt work; that way, if captured, they wouldn’t know enough to implicate him.
Archie smoothed back his hair. Even if he couldn’t see the Boss, he was almost certain there was more than one camera on him.
“I’m here, sir.”
“Oh good.” Even with static, this sounded sarcastic. “I’ve been dying to find out how the hell you propose to explain what happened in that latest operation of yours.”
Archie licked his lips. Here we go.
“Well, sir, you see—“
“I’m just waiting to understand how in the name of Arceus and all that’s holy you all were taken down by a bunch of kids.”
“That’s not quite—“
“Because, you know, this is a criminal organization. As in, we commit crimes and are generally not something people want to mess with. Though you, apparently, have other ideas?”
“Sir, if you’d just—“
“Are you telling me what to do? I’m the one who gives the orders! That’s why you’re here!”
“I know sir, but—“
“But what? Are you saying you don’t have any explanation?”
“Sir!” Archie finally shouted. “I’m getting to that, if you would let me get a word in edgeways!”
This time, there was no immediate comeback. He winced and wondered how badly the Boss would punish him for interrupting, even if it was justified.
“… Very well,” was the eventual reply. It sounded less angry than the previous ones, which emboldened him slightly.
“With respect, sir, I may have been technically responsible for what happened in Mt. Moon, but I wasn’t even there. I can’t control the fact that the operatives couldn’t win their battle.”
“Were they seriously stupid enough to leave the outcome of everything to a Pokémon duel? Why didn’t they simply overpower them once they’d lost?”
Good question, Archie thought. Aloud, he said, “One of the intruders had an Onix. It’s very difficult to physically fight something that’s so capable of crushing you… or so they say.”
The Boss grunted, but didn’t say anything else.
“As for the Nugget Bridge… all I can say is that the scheme was working perfectly, for some time. You can’t deny that we acquired quite a few Pokémon for a one-man operation.”
“Which shall certainly be put to good use in our other plans, yes… still, you were unable to maintain it for more than a couple of weeks.”
“It’s not an excuse… but I wasn’t expecting a trap,” Archie said slowly. He knew he was on the thinnest ice here. “Once I was discovered, I was facing four-on-one odds. The best course of action was to get away and salvage what I could.”
There was another ominous silence.
“… Very well. You’ve been useful in the past, and I’m willing to overlook your mistakes in this incident,” the Boss finally said. “It would be better, at any rate, to focus on moving forward. We need to know if these pests will continue to prove troublesome, and you are one of the few who’s encountered them.”
Archie let out a silent breath. It was going better than he’d hoped; of course, none of that was due to charity on the part of his employer. He was expecting information.
“Of course, sir.”
“We’ve matched your descriptions with reports from our undercover agents in Cerulean, and as such, determined who these people are. I’ll be bringing what we’ve compiled up on the screen in a moment…”
There was a rapid tapping of keys over the loudspeaker. Abruptly, the image of the back of the Boss’ chair vanished. In its place was a large photo—a young man with a deep tan and messy black hair—together with a dizzying amount of biographical data displayed in neat columns.
Place of birth: Pewter City, Kanto
Known Pokémon: Geodude, Onix
“We’ve got the most information on this one—name’s Brock. He was Leader of the Pewter City Gym until recently. His father was quite the renowned battler, though from what we’ve seen, this kid just doesn’t live up to it.”
Archie shrugged. “He was the one with the Onix, from what I’m told. He doesn’t have to be any good to get in the way, using something like that.”
“… Maybe. In any event, apart from that, he’s unlikely to be a threat. According to the sources, he’s not formally battled once since he left his Gym. He doesn’t look like the type who much cares about becoming more powerful. I think we can safely write him off.”
Fighting isn’t the only way to get Pokémon stronger, Archie thought. But it was pointless arguing with the Boss under any circumstances, let alone about something as trivial as that.
The screen flickered. Brock’s picture was replaced by another—blonde, paler, slightly younger—and the columns of biography shrunk slightly.
Place of birth: Petalburg City, Hoenn
Known Pokémon: Combusken
“Next, this Rick. We’ve all heard of his father, of course—Norman, the famous Trainer. Just young enough to avoid having done time in the War—part of the new generation that’s supposedly running things now, if you listen to the columnists.” From the man’s tone, he didn’t.
That’s right; he must have fought in it. He’s certainly old enough… That explains a lot, Archie thought.
“He caused a bit of a stir in Pewter—first Trainer to defeat the Gym Leader, and all of that—and milked it. Especially friendly with local girls. Sounds like he’s the type who thinks with something other than his brain, if you catch my drift.”
“I wouldn’t know about that,” said Archie slowly, “but from what my team reported, he’s inherited his father’s skills. He took them all on almost single-handedly, with just a single Pokémon, and still won.”
“One to watch, then,” the Boss mused. “At least his particular… vulnerabilities… have been well-documented. We’ll keep that in mind.”
The image changed again; the first thing that became apparent was how much shorter this person was. This time, the accompanying information seemed rather scant.
Place of birth: Pallet Town, Kanto
Known Pokémon: Pikachu, Pidgeotto
“We don’t know much about this one. His name’s Ash Ketchum—“
“Seriously?” Archie interjected. “Is that some sort of alias?”
The Boss laughed slightly. “No, as far as we can tell it’s the real thing. I don’t know who thought it’d be funny to saddle a kid with something like that, but there we go. Sounds like he’s lived his entire life in Pallet Town, which is notable only for that old Professor who set up shop there. So does the mother. We’re not sure who the father is.”
“I can’t add much. He seems to like his Pikachu, but that was about all I noticed.”
“That weak little thing? Moron,” the Boss pronounced. “I very much doubt he’s capable of much on his own.”
The picture on the screen shifted for a final time; the last member of the group appeared to be, what with the rather grainy quality, nothing more than a slightly bigger version of the Ash kid. The biography, meanwhile, had all but disappeared.
Place of birth: Pallet Town, Kanto (?)
Known Pokémon: Treecko, Gyarados
“We really don’t know anything about this last boy, Will. We’re not even sure if he was born in Pallet; there’s no record in the Viridian hospital. We just know he spent his childhood there, and was close to Ash.”
“They look like they could be related,” Archie thought aloud. “As for him… I’m not sure. He showed up to help Rick with his battle, but the operatives didn’t notice much of what he was doing. It certainly wasn’t as splashy an entrance as riding an Onix in.”
“Unfortunate,” the Boss commented. “I don’t like unknowns… But, right now, it seems like these kids just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. They don’t appear to know anything about our organization, or to have contacted the authorities. We’ll have our undercover agents keep a watch in each town, but I’m not expecting a repeat of this incident.”
“Sir, I’m not sure if that’s right. They might not have learned anything damning, but they do know about us. I think it would be best to send a couple people and make them have a little accident. Better yet, use our spies—they can do it quietly.”
“You might. But I don’t.” The voice over the speaker sounded slightly annoyed. “As I’ve told you before, stuff like that is too much of a risk. Those people are more in the know than most of my operatives. When they get caught—yes, I said when—and they talk, it’ll have more consequences than it’s worth. No… leave the kids alone. And count yourself lucky that this really wasn’t serious.”
Archie frowned, unconvinced, but knew better than to protest.
This took longer to update than I'd have liked. You don't even get a noticeably longer post for your wait. I was wrestling with a slight case of writer's block. I got through it, I think--hopefully I won't be so slow in the future.
Of course, having said that, I just jinxed myself...
Norman cracked his knuckles.
In five minutes he’d fight the biggest battle of his career, but strangely, he wasn’t nervous in the slightest. Or perhaps that was to be expected—unlike many past fights, this time he knew exactly what he was getting into.
Harrison (more commonly known as ‘the old guy’) had been Gym Leader of Petalburg City for years and years before the War, and had kept clinging to his title for the twenty years that followed it. As luck would have it, Norman had settled there with Caroline, and spent enough time in and around the Gym to have become something of an expert. Harrison was quite set in his ways, and the next battle in which he did something unpredictable would be the first.
The Gym Leader, it was rumored, was looking to retire. Of course, such rumors had been spreading for the last decade or so, but Norman knew the old man, and could tell almost by sight alone that, this time, there was something to the whispering. Harrison was tired. Doing the same thing day after day had finally broken through even to someone as routine-driven as he.
Nothing was ‘allowed’ or ‘forbidden’ when it came to Leaders, but there were unwritten rules just as strong as the traditions that led to their creation. Resigning out of the blue was simply ‘not done’. You had to be defeated by a challenger who was willing to take the post.
Norman knew that Harrison knew that he wanted his job. He also knew the old man wouldn’t take it easy on him—knew and respected it.
From the noise of the crowd outside, he didn’t have any longer to sit there and reflect. It was time. He slowly mounted the stairs leading towards the top deck of the S.S. Anne.
“Rick! Hey, Rick!”
“I know about it, just shut up about it already,” Rick grumbled, half to himself.
Ash’s victory over a Trainer’s Butterfree had given him a Pidgeotto—the first time one of his Pokémon had evolved. Since then, as was his habit, he’d been chattering nonstop, telling everyone they happened to meet as well as repeating the newsflash to the rest of the group, several times over, even though they’d all been there to see it happen.
Resolving not to budge from the large sofa in the lobby of the Vermillion Pokémon Center, Rick tried to block out Ash’s continuing attempts to get his attention. A sharp poke to his back forced him to pay attention, though, as Brock’s voice came from just above him.
“It’s not the Pidgeotto thing. It’s something on the T.V. you ought to see.”
“Oh. Well, in that case, give me a second.”
Slightly longer than a second later, Rick sat up, stretched, and wandered over towards the Center’s single large T.V. To his surprise, it seemed that everyone currently in the building, including nurses, was gathered around.
I’m guessing it’s not another political ad…
His presumption—not exactly a stretch; nothing would more surely guarantee a change of channel or mute button than the latest dueling between the two parties—was confirmed by the noises currently coming out of the speaker system.
“… Yes, you heard it right, ladies and gentlemen! This is Jim, live on the S.S. Anne, bringing you an official challenge of the Petalburg City Gym Leader. The challenger: Norman, celebrity Trainer from Hoenn! He’s been out of the action for several months, but he’s not starting small with his re-entrance to the battling scene! Has he bitten off more than he can chew? Stay tuned!”
Everyone groaned as the show cut to a commercial—none other than one of the dreaded ads, from Ed Neilson’s campaign. A babble of voices drowned out whatever the candidate was saying, as excited speculation broke forth among the crowd.
“Looks like it’ll be really exciting!” Ash cried. “I mean, I’ve never seen your dad battle! Or any of the Gym Leaders from Hoenn!”
“He’s okay,” Rick allowed, smirking. “Not quite as good as me, but okay.”
The only person who didn’t join in was Will, who had shouldered his way closer to the T.V. and was regarding the ad intently. Rick regarded him incredulously for a long moment before asking the obvious question.
“… Why are you trying to watch that? I mean… nobody cares about politics. We all know who’s going to win.”
“That attitude is exactly why I’m paying such close attention to this race.”
Before he could clarify—if he even intended to, which was uncertain—the commercial spot ended, and the voice of the announcer returned, cutting through the chatter.
“We’re back! And the two Trainers have taken their positions in the arena. The crowd, as I’m sure you can hear from home, is going wild with anticipation. They’re expecting a great match, and so am I.
“We see Harrison sending out his Zangoose—no surprises there. The contestants have agreed to a one-on-one fight, and it’s only natural he’d pick his favorite. And by that logic… yes, it seems Norman will be using his Vigoroth. A clash of two very strong and experienced Pokémon is about to begin!”
Here we go…
Norman studied his opponent through narrowed eyes. The entire match depended on whether the assumption he’d made at the outset would prove correct or not…
“Zangoose, Swords Dance!” Harrison cried.
He tried to hide a grin. Perfect.
On the field, the brown-and-white Pokémon bared its teeth, shook its fur, and extended multiple sharp-looking claws from its paws. Shifting its weight from foot to foot, it scraped them together, slowly at first, then faster, the motions causing the claws to sharpen further still—and grow.
“Vigoroth… sit tight!”
There were a few boos from the crowd. The announcer said slowly, in a very confused tone, “… And to counter Zangoose’s setup, Norman has ordered his Pokémon to do… absolutely nothing.”
Harrison lifted a thick, white eyebrow, the wrinkles in his face becoming more pronounced as he looked across the arena.
“What are you playing at, kid? You know what Swords Dance means…”
“A move used by Pokémon with claws and blades that exponentially increases the attack power of those appendages,” Norman recited, as if from a textbook. “Yes, I know.”
“You still gonna just sit there? Your funeral. Zangoose—Crush Claw!”
With a growl of assent, the Pokémon dropped onto all fours and dashed towards the ape that still stood in place. In a single smooth motion, it leapt onto its hind legs and reared back to strike.
“Endure!” Norman bellowed.
Harrison, and much of the crowd, gasped. The announcer cried, “The challenger’s strategy revealed—Endure allows a Pokémon to weather any hit, no matter how powerful!”
Vigoroth crossed his arms, bracing itself against the claws that came tearing down. A faint golden aura signified the move at work; he stumbled back slightly, obviously hurt, but still standing.
“A clever ploy—but it fails if used in succession! Zangoose—get ready!”
“I have no intention of using it more than once,” said Norman with a grin. “Vigoroth, Reversal!”
“Sheer genius!” the announcer proclaimed. “Reversal—a physical attack that gains power depending on how much damage its user has taken! With the amount inflicted by that powered-up Crush Claw—“
Vigoroth completed the sentiment behind the sentence, springing forward with arm drawn back to strike. This time, the slight glow around he limbs was red in color; he landed a solid blow on the Zangoose that knocked it over with such force that it tumbled and rolled several times before coming to rest a few yards away, facedown and still.
“I can’t quite believe what I just saw! A powerful combination attack has won the match for the challenger—a swift but brutal finish! This is Jim, taking you back to the desk…”
Norman saw his Pokémon grinning happily, flashing it a thumb’s-up. His eyes, however, went quickly to Harrison’s face. The old Gym Leader’s look of shock transformed slowly into resigned appreciation. He beckoned to Norman, and the younger man crossed the arena to stand before him.
“That was… simple. Effective, but simple. I should’ve seen it coming. It’s things like this that make me think it’s time to retire…”
“That’s your prerogative. I think you’ve still got another five years or so in you.”
“Oh, don’t flatter me,” Harrison snorted. “We both know I’ve just been looking for a chance to quit this whole silly business. You beat me fair and square. What do you say? If you want to be Leader, you’ve earned it.”
Norman waved at the camera trained on the pair, putting an arm about the old man in a gesture of genuine affection.
“… I’d like that very much. Thank you.”
The S.S. Anne was the most famous luxury cruise ship in Kanto—and the entire world, for that matter. It was private property, of course, owned by perhaps the richest man in the region: business tycoon Scott Bosworth.
His father had made an inordinate profit running factories during the War, but the son hadn’t been content with merely inheriting a fortune; he’d invested most of it, instead, and chosen well. Start-up companies were a dime a dozen once the fighting had ceased—but only a few would come to anything. Scott’s knack for backing the winners paid off, time and time again.
He was either savvy, or lucky—and many maintained that he was too much of both of these, unnaturally and unfairly so. He was even taken to court over it, though the case was dismissed due to insufficient evidence. The government was not about to step in, either—not when Bosworth-funded industries were providing employment for the majority of the population.
The ship was his latest venture, an idea that originally came to him after hearing a friend complain about the rough seas between Kanto and Johto. He’d realized that leisurely travel by ocean simply wasn’t available to the vast majority of citizens. At the time, there was also no market for it. Had he been an employee, Scott wouldn’t have been able to pitch the idea. As his own master, though… he’d gone ahead and created demand with a clever and calculated advertising campaign.
Five years ago, the S.S. Anne had been the only cruise ship in existence. Today it was one of two or three dozen, constantly upgrading to continue to be the best of the lot. Scott’s love of Pokémon battles meant that he almost always offered free trips to famous Trainers, and hosted tournaments among the passengers. The ship was now famous for this as well…
… All this and more Rick learned, thanks to viewing a semi-mandatory introduction video, and reading between the lines. It was boring, but he consoled himself by thinking that the other three were surely, at this very moment, being subjected to the same thing.
As the movie rambled on about Bosworth Investments, he let his eyelids droop and leaned back in the (admittedly comfortable) armchair in the corner of his small room. Sitting through this was a small price to pay for a free berth on the ship—even if they had no intention of making the voyage, they couldn’t have afforded one if it hadn’t been for Norman.
He’d been famous before, but now that he’d beaten the old Gym Leader from Hoenn on this very ship, in a widely televised battle, he was drawing enormous crowds. Scott Bosworth, arriving personally shortly before Rick and the rest of the group, had made it known that he was to be denied nothing. Which apparently included four free tickets for his son and his son's friends.
Rick was half-asleep by the time the video finally ended. Yawning hugely, he rose and stretched.
New Petalburg Gym Leader, huh, Dad? Good… we’ll fight again, one of these days, and I’ll prove to both of us my victory wasn’t just a fluke…
“Though right now I suppose I’d better go and congratulate him,” he added aloud. Smirking faintly, he closed the door behind him as he left.
Last edited by Super_Nerd; 28th January 2010 at 2:22 AM.
Nice update. It gave a good timeline, which is one of the few things that I felt to be missing from this story so far.
There were two errors, but I only remember the second one;
He’d had been famous before, but now that he’d beaten the old Gym Leader from Hoenn on this very ship, in a widely televised battle, he was drawing such enormous crowds that Scott Bosworth, arriving personally shortly before Rick and the rest of the group, had made it known that he was to be denied nothing.
I also noticed that it's a run-on sentence, now that I've quoted it.
The political part made sense, as well as Will attempting to watch it; I could see him being a politician later on (he's the most manipulative of the four, at least), and that could be some decent forshadowing for it.
Overall, can't wait for the next chapter. Keep up the good work
By the time Rick reached the top deck of the ship, he had to struggle through an entire crowd of people just to spot Norman, and what seemed like two or three more before he was even in earshot.
“Your battle was so intense!”
“Hey mister, would you sign my arm?”
“Excuse me, sir! This is Jim—with PBN—you know, I was just announcing the match. I was wondering if you’d sit for a few questions, shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes—“
Norman resembled a drowning man, with people surging about him, shouting, and trying all manner of ingenious methods to gain his attention. Rick had to elbow several of them to finally reach his father’s side.
“Dad… let’s get out of here. You’ll be stampeded in a minute.”
Saying as much proved to be a mistake a moment later, when the crowd’s multiple attentions shifted to include the both of them.
“Did he just say…?”
“Your son!” cried Jim, practically frothing at the mouth. “Can you give the viewers a statement? Did you teach him everything you know? Which one of you is better? D’you think it’d be possible for us to see a fight between you two? Oh… what’s his name?”
“… Good idea,” Norman muttered. “We’ll go back to my cabin…”
Half an hour later, father and son were safely away from fans, reporters, and other such annoyances, barricaded in Norman’s room. As prisons went, there were certainly worse venues; first-class cabins on the S.S. Anne were about the size of a small house, with every conceivable entertainment device, incredibly comfortable furniture, and a live camera fixed on the corridor outside so that guests could be identified before they’d even knocked.
Rick rummaged in the full-sized refrigerator set in one corner, emerging with a can of soda.
“Sheesh… you get this for free? How obsessed is that Scott guy with Trainers?”
“Pretty obsessed,” Norman agreed. “Battles draw crowds, which means more people on the ship; I get the business angle. But I feel like he’s genuinely a fan. I bet he’d do the same thing even if it meant a net loss.”
“If any more people got on this ship, it’d sink,” Rick declared. “I hear he’s got some more famous people who aren’t Trainers.”
“That’s right. A couple of well-known Pokémon researchers—one based in Johto, and Professor Birch—set up that Lab near Petalburg a little before we left, remember? Oak got an invite, too, but he declined.”
“I can almost see why…”
Before he could add more, there was a sharp burst of static from the big T.V. against the opposite wall. The screen flickered, presenting them with a large but completely empty room. The walls were wood-paneled, and a single Pokéball was engraved upon the one that faced the camera.
Norman frowned. “I thought I turned that off…”
There was a sudden commotion through the speakers—the noise of a door slamming together with muffled curses. Abruptly, the room wasn’t empty any longer; a tall, slender man stumbled into the camera view. Even though there wasn’t much light, he was wearing sunglasses, and his hair was a shade of green so vibrant that dye-makers the world over would have killed to have somebody so famous showcasing their work.
For the man who was currently waving his arms back and forth in a comical attempt to not fall over could not be anyone other than Scott Bosworth. There was nobody else with green hair that anyone paid serious attention to, at least this side of a circus.
“Right!” the famous icon cried as he finally righted his balance. “Sorry to disturb whatever you’re doing, but I’ve got an important message for you. ‘You’ means every guest in one of the first-class cabins, by the way; pretty much just the people I specially invited here.”
“That explains the thing with the T.V… he probably controls all of them remotely,” Norman guessed.
“I’m sure you’ve all heard by now the outcome of the battle that took place here a little while ago—or I’d hope you don’t have your heads in the sand, at least. Mr. Harrison was the main attraction of the ship while it was docked, and it’s going to set off soon now that he’s been defeated—Hoenn-bound, since we’ve got a new Gym Leader needed to get to his post. But before that happens, I had a little idea, you see.
“Most people who set up battles and tournaments—myself included—pay a lot of attention to veteran Trainers. There aren’t a lot of opportunities for rookies to jump in and get the necessary experience. There’s a kind of selective membrane around the whole show.
“I’m hoping to start changing this, and it begins today. I want to invite novice battlers—I know for a fact there are several of you on board, since I did look over the guest list before I sent it—to come up to the top deck and humor me with a little tournament. It’ll be quick—double battles until we’re left with two. It won’t take much time, promise.
“I’ll see you there,” Scott concluded, before moving towards the camera. The T.V. screen went blank again.
Rick was surprised, and more that a little impressed, that the top deck was completely cleared by the time he reached it. He’d have thought a group of people that size was beyond even the ship’s owner, but now it was like they’d never been up here. Only the arena and bleachers along its sides remained, both empty.
He wasn’t surprise to be joined by Will and Ash in quick succession, the latter already talking excitedly about how badly he was going to beat them.
“Know where Brock went?”
Will rolled his eyes. “I left him trying to seduce one of the waitresses in the dining hall.”
“Was he getting anywhere?”
“What do you think?”
“No. Like usual, then,” Rick smirked.
“… and then Pikachu’ll Thundershock it, and…“ Ash’s ramblings broke off abruptly as he started glaring silently at the person who’d just come up the stairs, and was currently sneering in his direction.
“Here for the tournament… loser?” smirked Gary.
“I’m here to win!”
“Not when you’re gonna have to face me, you’re not!”
“Shut up! Why are you here, anyway?”
“Because I’m such an awesome Trainer. Duh.”
“Because you’re Professor Oak’s grandson, more like,” Rick muttered, so that only Will could hear. A smirk acknowledged the bit of truth.
Ash wasn’t quite so imaginative. “You are not!”
Rick shook his head against the sounds of bickering and glanced towards the stairs once more. Ascending them was a young man, probably about Brock’s age. Tall and broad, he wore expensive-looking clothes, but his hair, a dirty blonde, was styled in ‘just rolled out of bed and hasn’t bothered to comb’ fashion. He glanced once in Rick’s direction before slouching over to the rail, looking down with slight interest into the harbor below.
“… Are not!”
“I so am. Wimp.”
There was a muffled thump, and a loud curse. It sounded as if the back-and-forth had devolved into a fistfight. Rick heaved an exhausted sigh and moved several yards away, out of any conceivable range. He watched the stairs again.
The next person to come onto the deck was, once again, both male and a little older than him. This one’s hair was jet black, set in unrealistic spikes that screamed ‘hair gel’. His clothes, roughly the same shade, were unremarkable, save for the fact that he was wearing a cape, billowing impressively (albeit somewhat ludicrously) behind him as he walked. Moving to stand alone, he sized up the competition; his expression showed clearly that he wasn’t all that impressed.
Ash was yelling something about kicking being unfair. Rick sighed and cast a wary look in the direction of the ‘fight’. As he suspected, he’d seen better efforts from schoolboys; both Gary and his opponent seemed to be trying to avoid actual physical contact as much as possible, trash-talking all the while.
“…Not gonna come after me, huh? Chicken…”
“I’m not a chicken! You’re chicken.”
“Your mom’s a chicken.”
“Take it back!”
“Um,” said a faint voice from behind, “What are they doing?”
Rick glanced over his shoulder. A genuine grin spread across his face and he turned, extending a hand to the short, slight boy who was currently blinking in his direction.
“Wally! Haven’t seen you since Dad and I moved. I’d heard Professor Elm was aboard, but I didn’t think that you’d be.”
“Yes, well, mom and dad finally got over their paranoia enough to let me leave Petalburg for once,” Wally said. He took the offered hand briefly, hardly gripping at all, before letting go quickly. “Uncle had to promise he’d keep a close eye on me all the time.”
“They’re no fun,” Rick pronounced.
“Oh, I don’t know. I can’t really blame them, can I? With my… well, I gave them enough scares when I was little.” The boy sniffed, wiping his nose on the arm of his sweater.
“… Let me guess: they told you to wear that and not take it off.”
“Oh, er… Yes. How’d you know?”
“Because it’s about sixty degrees out here.”
“Oh. Yes. It is, isn’t it?” Wally pressed a bony hand to his forehead, as if suddenly aware of how overdressed he was. In a subject-change sort of voice, he asked again, “What are they doing?”
Rick didn’t even look at Gary and Ash. “Seeing which one of them is the biggest sissy. Here for the tournament, then? Been training Ralts?”
“Um… well… mom and dad haven’t really let me. Since I usually got overexcited. To be honest, I don’t think they’d have been happy with me doing this, but Uncle’s busy with the other guests…”
“You’ll be fine.”
“How do you—“
“I just know,” said Rick, with customary confidence. Except he didn’t know what he was talking about. But Wally didn’t need to hear that.
Will glared in Ash’s direction. To be fair, the withering gaze included Gary, but Oak’s grandson was not the boy’s concern. Here was someone everyone knew he was associated with making a complete *** of himself in front of total strangers, soon to include one of the most important men in Kanto.
To take his mind off his unenviable position, Will observed the other, not-childish people assembling on the top deck. There was Rick, conversing with a sickly-looking kid about Ash’s age. There were two strangers, both somewhat odd in appearance, but older; he figured they’d be quite proficient. And…
A red-haired girl had just arrived, and, after a glaring even more frostily than he had at the squabbling boys, had gone to stand alone. Will tilted his head slightly, continuing to watch her. Her treatment of the immaturity had rather impressed him. Maybe…
And suddenly Rick was beside him, and everything was ruined. It only took his friend, far more experienced in the ways of staring at girls, a moment to identify what he’d he was up to.
“… Well she’s sort of cute. That rich guy said double battles, right? Hope I’m paired up with her.”
Will glared at him. Actually… he felt like doing much more than glaring. Various painful things, in shockingly graphic detail, flashed through his mind. He blinked and shook his head slightly.
He’d never felt quite that urge for senseless violence before. There didn’t seem to be any logical reason behind it.
Well. Think. You know what Rick does and/or tries to do with girls he’s called ‘sort of cute’ before.
Granted. But why did he care?
He couldn’t think why. There didn’t seem to be any sensible reason. It was disorienting.
It was a relief when a whistle interrupted everything, and it was announced that the tournament was soon to begin.
So it's been approximately forever since the last post... Real Life (TM) took over hardcore, and THEN the computer I had my first drafts, outlines, etc. on it completely crashed. (As you can imagine, losing all that was a serious blow towards my desire to continue this). Right now I don't even have Word, which also makes it logistically difficult...
I'm not making excuses, because I'm mostly writing this for my own enjoyment, anyway... but /I/ want to finish this, eventually, and so I'm going to press on. This inital post will be short... hopefully I'll get back in the habit...
With great fanfare, Scott Bosworth himself emerged onto the top deck. In his case, it was literal--he'd actually brought two of his employees, apparently just to blow trumpets in annoying fashion. Though they had little to no musical talent, the pair did succeed in drawing everyone's attention to their eccentric host. Behind Scott, the crowd of reporters from earlier fanned out, heading for the bleachers, cameras clicking away.
The tycoon strode regally across the deck, trumpeters in tow. Even Ash and Gary stopped pretending to fight and turned to stare after him. Scott seemed very aware of everyone's attention; they could see him stand straighter as he walked, as if buoyed by it. Upon reaching the far side, he produced a microphone from... somewhere... and rapped it sharply against the railing. The resulting screech of feedback from speakers lined all along the deck made everyone wince.
"Sorry about that," Scott muttered, then cleared his throat. "But... Welcome, to the first-ever S.S.Anne Youth Tournament! I have personally scoured today's field and selected the kids I consider to be rising stars. People to keep an eye on..."
"Or the people who happened to randomly be on your ship when you had the idea," Rick muttered to Will, who snickered.
"... Trainers who will, dare I say, go on to be some of the finest in Kanto, or even--the world!"
Up in the bleachers, Jim from PBN was shouting into a cellphone. "What do you mean you don't have time to air it? Make time! I want to see this footage on my T.V. tonight! ... I don't care that it's totally unexpected, this is going to be gold! It's Scott Bosworth, for Arceus' sake!"
Wally gulped, glancing around at the seven other contestants. "I didn't know this would be such a big deal," he confided to Rick. "I'm not so sure if I want to..."
"There's no backing out now!" Scott yelled. As he spoke, a section of the deck slid back, and a massive screen slowly emerged, like some hibernating creature. The screen was on the opposite side of the deck from the audience, and as it flickered into life, everyone could clearly see an oversized tournament bracket already set up.
"Prototype for the Communication Department's latest T.V.," he explained briefly. "Buy it when it comes out. You'll love it. Anyway! As you can clearly see, I've already used a computer system to randomly pair up our eight young Trainers. Please step forward when you hear your names, etc, etc. Right!"
Rick glanced around. Everyone was craning their necks to get a look at the screen.
"Team number one... Steven, son of the CEO and founder of Hoenn's Devon Corp., Mr. Stone! Fantastic company, almost as good as mine, haha... ahem... and, Lance, a member of the elite Order of Dragon Users in Johto! Wearing the ceremonial battling cape already, I see..."
The young man who'd been slouching at the rail started forward, as did the cape-wearer, who wore an expression of some relief that plainly stated, "you don't look as weak as the others."
"Team number two... Rick, son of Norman, who just today became the newest Gym Leader of the Hoenn region... and Wally, nephew of famed Pokemon researcher, Professor Elm of Johto!"
Wally looked immensely relieved, as well, but clearly for different reasons. As they walked, Rick glanced towards him and grinned. "Just do what I say... we've got this thing in the bag."
"Team number three... Will from Pallet Town, undertaking research on behalf of Professor Oak... and May, daughter of Professor Birch of Hoenn, also a well-known figure!"
Will had felt a surge of hope after Rick had been denied his first choice of partners... now it was realized; here he was, with the one person he'd wanted! Time to say something fantastically interesting so that she'd notice him.
"Uh... hi," he managed weakly. Wait, what was that? Idiot!
Rick glanced over at his friend's pitiful attempts at engaging the girl in conversation, and smirked... but it turned to full-blown laughter as he realized who the remaing pair would have to be. They were coming to that conclusion at about the same time, given the look of utter horror on each's face.
"Annnd team number four... Ash Ketchum, also working for Professor Oak, and Oak's grandson, Gary!"
"I can't battle on HIS side!" yelled Ash.
"I can't battle with such a wimp!" yelled Gary.
"Wimp!? Who are you calling wimp! YOU'RE the wimp!"
"Your mom's a wimp!"
"You're disqualified if you don't take your places on the line," warned Scott, and with much grumbling and evil looks, the pair did just that.
"Very good," said the tycoon, grinning happily. "Let the tournament begin! The first battle... Steven and Lance versus Rick and Wally!"
Part one of two of what I have written... going to try to keep a step ahead for a bit.
Rick mumbled a curse, under his breath. He knew he was going into any match handicapped... Wally was a nice kid, but definitely didn’t have much experience. So he’d been hoping to be lined up against Ash and Gary, who wouldn’t understand teamwork if they were looking at it in the dictionary... but no such luck.
Maybe it was showing on his face... the guy in the cape was smirking at him. Rick shot back a glare, drawing himself up a bit. He wouldn’t go down without giving it his best try, at least.
“They look really tough,” Wally fretted, picking at a nonexistent loose thread on his sweater.
“We’ll be fine. You’ve battled before, right?”
“Um... does a wild Ledyba count?”
“... Just uh, do exactly what I say.”
Lance chuckled derisively as he scanned the opposing team. The kid in the sweater looked like a gentle breeze would knock him over... it couldn’t be more obvious that he was a rookie. As for the taller one, the son of the Gym Leader... he was acting cool, but there’d been that instant of doubt.
“We’ve got this in the bag,” he predicted confidently.
His partner just yawned, pushing ineffectually at his hair. “Sure, whatever you say.”
“Hey, look alive, there! We can’t afford to get complacent!”
Steven smirked faintly. “You were, just a moment ago. Make up your mind, already.”
“... Oh, whatever. Let’s just do this.”
“Each Trainer will select just one Pokémon, and use it throughout the entire tournament,” Scott announced. “Once you’ve done that, we’ll kick off this first match.”
“Not a tough choice,” Rick muttered, beckoning Combusken forward. Hopefully, the power of an evolved Pokémon would compensate for...
“How do you send them out, again?” Wally asked, examining his Pokéball like it was written in a foreign language.
... well, THAT.
“My Dratini should be able to handle anything they throw at us,” Lance proclaimed.
“Uh-huh,” Steven agreed. “Well, I’ll just back you up, then...”
Scott, meanwhile, had caused the deck to undergo yet another change. A series of tiny lights, previously unnoticed, flickered into multicolored life; taken together, they formed a long rectangular arena space, centered between the T.V. screen and the bleachers.
“... I don’t even want to know how much all this cost,” Will muttered to May. To his gratification, she seemed to find it amusing.
“Try to keep the action within these lines, if you please,” the tycoon was saying. “Though I would suggest that our on-deck contestants keep well back... for their own safety. Right, everyone ready? In that case... begin!”
Rick whistled as he glanced across at the opposing team’s Pokémon. The guy with the cape had sent out some snake-like thing, but the other’s... a massive bird, except entirely metallic, with very sharp-looking feathers. By contrast... he was decidedly underwhelmed by Ralts’ physical appearance. The tiny blue creature looked about as frail as its owner, and far more... feminine.
“Isn’t he great?” Wally beamed.
“Wait, that’s a MALE!?”
“Yep! ... why?”
“... Nothing. Tell him nice, uh, hair. So... what kind of moves does it have?”
“Um... let me think...”
“We should probably come up with a plan,” Steven drawled, glancing at his partner.
Lance shook his head. “No, look, those two clowns are still trying to figure out what to do! Now’s our chance to take advantage of their hesitation! Dratini--attack!” he bellowed, cape fluttering magnificently as he stuck a dramatic arm out.
“You keep thinking,” Rick ordered, then looked at Combusken and nodded once.
The Dratini slithered forward, with surprising speed, but was still hampered by the fact that it had no legs... Combusken had no such problem, rushing to meet the opponent’s assault. Before Lance could issue a command, the Fire-type had already delivered a powerful kick that stopped his foe in its tracks.
“Um... Ralts... what was that one move you used, again?” Wally asked, scratching his head.
“Dratini! Use... no, don’t get picked up off the ground! Wait--no, don’t let him tie you in a knot! No, no...” Lance looked pleadingly at his partner. “We’re gonna lose if you don’t do anything!”
“Oh, do you want my help now?” Steven smirked. “We need a plan, do we?” As he spoke, he waved lazily at his Pokemon, which seemed to understand, taking flight (rather effortlessly, considering the fact that its weight would make such a task difficult).
“Yes! ... I guess I underestimated them,” his partner confessed.
“Well, now you know. Skarmory! Steel Wing!”
“Wally, look out!” Rick cried, following the bird Pokémon’s path with his eyes. “Tell Ralts to attack, or dodge, or... something!”
“Um, I think it was Confusion! Use that!”
Ralts waved its tiny arms vaugely, the barest hint of something purple flashing in its eyes. Whatever attack it was attempting to use, however, didn’t materialize. Skarmory dived, clipping the Psychic-type with an outstretched wing. Given the speed of its descent, the impact was powerful enough to knock Ralts completely over, for all the world like a bowling ball striking a pin.
“Uh... sorry!” Wally called. His Pokémon didn’t stir.
Combusken, meanwhile, had left Dratini immobile and limp. He didn’t need Rick’s hurried shout to realize what had happened to Ralts--or that Skarmory in the air once more, heading for him. He blasted several Embers into the air, attempting to predict the Steel-type’s pattern, but Skarmory was too quick and too random in his pattern.
“Steel Wing!” Steven barked.
His Pokémon dove again, seeking to repeat its maneuver. At the last possible moment, Combusken threw himself into a roll, the attack passing mere inches above his top feathers. By the time he landed on his feet once more, Skarmory was beyond the reach of his fists.
Steven looked over at Rick, smirked, and lifted his voice. “... Shall we dance?”
Dive after dive met with the same result; neither Pokemon showed signs of slowing; the Fire-type could never manage to hit his opponent with an Ember. As the seconds became a minute, perhaps two, the crowd started to grow restless.
“Booooring! I want to see some action!” Gary yelled.
Steven seemed immune to peer pressure, beckoning for his Pokémon to fly near, and lowering his voice to speak to it quietly. Before Combusken could fire launch another Ember, Skarmory took flight again. Once more, he circled near and dove; once more, the Fire-type rolled; but this time, the bird Pokémon did not correct itself, continuing in free-fall. Its Trainer’s intentions became clear when the full weight of the Steel-type collided forcefully into he back of Combusken’s head. Nothing would have been able to get back up after such a blow.
Scott waited about ten seconds, just to be sure of it, before yelling into the microphone. “Annnd... we have a winner! Lance and Steven will be advancing to the next round!”
“Aww... we lost.” Wally scuffed the deck with his shoe. “... I’m sorry. It was all my fault.”
Rick started to protest, but the words caught in his mouth; he’d never been good at holding back criticism when he felt it was deserved. “They were good. That Steven guy was good, at least. He outsmarted me, easily.”
“But we’d have had a better chance if I wasn’t so terrible,” the younger boy said quietly. “You don’t have to dance around it. Just... just know, that the next time, I’ll be stronger.” He lifted his chin, a look of determination in his eyes.
“... I believe it.”
Lance recalled his Dratini and tossed it towards one of the trumpeters, who’d set down his instrument and rigged up a healing machine, instead. Steven followed suit more leisurely; then, while his partner rushed towards the cameras to strike a pose, he meandered towards the rail again.
Rick glanced once in the direction of his friends, unable, for the moment, to face Ash’s look of bewilderment or Will’s attempts at sympathy. Instead, he strode along the deck until he stood beside the Trainer who’d beaten him.
“Good match,” he said, almost aggressively.
“Thanks.” Steven turned to look at him, lifting an eyebrow slowly. “I didn’t peg you as a good loser. Thought you’d be more like Lance over there.” He nodded towards the cameras.
“... I guess I usually am,” Rick confessed. “I like to think I’m honest enough to recognize when someone deserves my admiration, though... you were great.”
“... Thanks,” the older boy repeated. A rare grin slowly spread across his face. “Funny, huh? He’s the one who should be thanking me--but isn’t.”
“Yeah, well. Your Skarmory was impressive.”
“I know,” said Steven. “Know why? He can’t evolve. His maximum potential is less than that of, say, your Combusken, but right now, he’s more comfortable with what power he has... your Pokémon is still trying to figure out its own abilities. But unless I’m very wrong, by the time we meet again, you’ll have become much more of a threat...”
Last edited by Super_Nerd; 21st July 2010 at 1:58 AM.
“It’s time for the next round!” Scott announced. “Ash and Gary versus Will and May! The winner of this match will face our current leaders in the final.”
“We’re going to win this match,” Will murmured as the contestants took their places.
She looked bemused. “How can you know that? You don’t know anything about how good I am.”
“You could be the worst Trainer in the world,” he said with a smirk, “And we’d still come out on top, without having to lift a finger. Just look over there...”
She couldn’t fail to notice what he meant. Ash and Gary were already in heated argument... something about which one of them should stand where. The broader point was the sense of dislike and disunity that seemed to hover between them.
“Their Pokémon aren’t any better,” Will explained. “When this battle starts, I’ll have Treecko concentrate on turning them against each other. Whatever you’re using, they should be easy pickings...”
“Begin!” yelled Scott.
“C’mon, Pikachu! Show them you’re the best!”
“Pfft, w’ever. Croconaw, you know you’re WAY better than that dweeb’s rat!”
“He’s not a rat! He’s Pikachu!”
“... looks like a rat to me. ‘Bout as strong as one, too.”
“... I see what you meant,” May said, glancing to her partner. “I didn’t think it’d quite so... blatant, though.” Her Pokémon, a squat blue Mudkip, titled its head in confusion. Croconaw and Pikachu were glaring at each other, not making any move to attack.
“I’m always right about these things,” said Will with utter lack of modesty. “Treecko, you know what to do! May... have yours just circle around, if you don’t mind; we’ll give it an opening.”
“Her. But that’s fine with me.”
Treecko nodded once, sprinting forward. Before Croconaw and Pikachu even realized what was happening, he’d leapt onto the Water-type’s back, beginning his favored Absorb attack.
Gary, in the midst of insulting someone’s mother, started and glanced over. “Huh!? Wait, what? Hey, get that thing off you, moron!”
“Pikachu, now’s your time to shine!” Ash cried. “Use Thundershock!”
“Wait, you idiot...!”
But it was far too late. Croconaw’s wild swiping hadn’t succeeded in dislodging him, but as soon as he saw the Electric-type charging up its attack, he leapt off, somersaulting and landing neatly on his feet. The Thundershock struck Gary’s Pokémon forcefully. Combined with the super-effective Absorb, it left Croconaw so weak it could barely stand. Treecko finished the job with a well-timed dash.
“Look what you did! Moron!” Gary glared at his partner.
“Pikachu’s good enough to take them /both/ down, no worries!” Ash actually seemed to believe himself. “Charge up another Thundershock!”
“That’s ineffective on Grass-types, you dunce!”
“Whatever! Pikachu’s so strong, it won’t even matter!”
Treecko didn’t make himself easy to hit, resistance or not, making good use of his speed to dodge the electricity again and again--keeping both Ash and his Pokémon so intent on trying to strike him that Mudkip went completely unnoticed. This proved to be a fatal mistake. Biding its time carefully, the Water-type waited until Pikachu’s form was free of electricity, then pounced, landing a solid tackle. With his attack pattern broken, he was no match for a combined physical assault from Treecko and Mudkip... and soon fainted.
“The winners of this match--Will and May!” announced Scott. “Now we know who will take the field for our final match... which will take place just as soon as we’ve given the triumphant Pokémon a quick checkup...!”
Brock was mildly depressed. He’d been chatting up one of the waitresses, and it had been going really well... but when he asked her if she’d want to “take a walk” back to his cabin, she turned him down.
“I’m afraid I’ll be late for the tournament final,” she explained. “I’ve already missed the first two matches!”
“... Tournament? What tournament?”
She giggled. “Why, Mr. Scott’s youth trainer tournament! He issued special invitations to every rising star on the ship!”
“... I didn’t get one...”
The girl nodded. “Yeah, well. Who are you, anyway?”
Brock felt a vein pulsing near his temple. “Only the former Gym Leader of Pewter City! Sure I don’t like battling, but how can anyone have a tournament and not invite a former Gym Leader!?”
“Well, hmm. You look pretty weak. I can see why someone would forget to invite you...”
“B-but... okay, that’s enough! I’m going to this Scott guy right now, and I’m gonna demand he let me into this tournament!”
In a righteous fury, Brock stomped up flights of stairs until he emerged, still fuming, onto the top deck... just in time to see Steven’s Skarmory striking Will’s Treecko so forcefully that, had the former Gym Leader not hit the deck, he’d have been struck in the face.
“... and we have our champion team!” boomed some guy with green hair and sunglasses. “Steven and Lance are triumphant!”
Wait... these guys... they beat Ash, Gary, Will, and even Rick?
Brock swallowed, and muttered, “... on second thought, I’m gonna sit this one out. Wouldn’t want to embarrass myself. You know. Worse than I usually do.”
“There’s just one more thing we need to do today,” said Scott, once a final round of pictures had been taken (eagerly by one member of the winning team, reluctantly by the other). “I designed this tournament to take place in double battles mostly for the sake of saving time. But really, what glory is there in a shared championship?”
“None!” yelled Ash.
“That was a rhetorical question,” muttered Will, rubbing his forehead.
“... a what now?”
“None!” Scott answered himself, obliviously. “None at all. So we’re going to have one last battle, between the two best Trainers here today. Steven and Lance... take your places!”
“All right! I was really hoping it’d come to this!” Lance cried. “Now we’ll see who’s the strongest!”
Steven yawned. “Mmm... why does it matter so much? Didn’t we win by working as a team? Isn’t that something to be proud of!’
“It’s not enough! I have to know which one of us is better!’
His former partner didn’t respond, but flicked a hand in vague direction to Skarmory. The Steel-type took to the air once more, out of reach, circling for what, by now, was its familiar diving attack.
“I thought you’d try that!” Lance said, smirking. “But I used our battles not just to scope out our opponents, but also you! You’re complacent and predictable... Steel Wing won’t work on me! Dratini--Twister!”
Rick watched in astonishment as the snake-like Pokémon--which he hadn’t seen do anything too impressive in his own match--twisted its body, over and over again. At first, it appeared to be doing virtually nothing; but a curious green flame flickered at its mouth, and soon--all over its body.
“Dratini is a Dragon-type!” its owner was crowing. “The most legendary, most powerful kind of Pokémon in this world! I’m from the Order... a mere Trainer has no chance against me!”
He jabbed his finger into the air. Dratini uncoiled. The green fire burst into the air, took the form of a whirlwind, materializing in the middle of the arena with such force that wind whippd at the spectators, and that Scott had to clutch his sunglasses to keep them on his face.
Only one person didn’t seem entirely awed... Steven.
“Man, you really have something to prove. Are all those in the Dragon Order this insecure, or is it just you?”
Lance ground his teeth. “You’re one to talk! Look, you’ve yet to give an order--and the Twister is about to blow your Skarmory out of the sky!”
“I doubt that,” Steven said, yawning. “You see, like all those who insist that they’re using the “strongest type” you’ve forgotten one of the basic rules of battling: there isn’t one. That all Pokémon are weaker against some and stronger against others. You’re right that Dragons are rare, and few types resist their attacks well, but there’s one that does: Steel.”
The crowd seemed entranced, which was odd for them. Usually they’d be yelling at him to attack already, but his calm explanation held their attention for whatever reason.
“I could let that Twister hit Skarmory; it wouldn’t do much. But I’m not even going to do that. Because you’re wrong on another point: that I’m just using the same strategy I’ve been this whole time. Your Dratini’s attack was so flashy that nobody’s been paying him any attention, but he hasn’t just been sitting there. He’s been using Agility, sharply increasing his speed. Look!”
Everyone obeyed, just in time to see that the bulky Steel-type had, indeed, become much faster without them even noticing. The Twister looked like a Slowpoke in comparison as Skarmory spread his wings and flew himself through the air--and downwards. Dratini didn’t even have time to look up before talons seized him in an iron grip, and the Pokémon bore it upwards.
“The last thing you’ve forgotten,” said Steven casually, “is the rule of a double-edged sword. Dragon attacks are, overwhelmingly, most effective on other Dragons.”
He waved his arm, and Skarmory dropped his prey into the raging Twister. The Dragon-type gave a kind of squeal before its own mystical fire buffeted it to and fro. By the time he hit the ground again, he was unconscious.
“Steven wins!” Scott yelled into his microphone. “A master’s store of knowledge sets him apart in this duel!”
Rick’s eyes went, not to the winner, but to Lance. The Dragon-user had clearly been caught completely off-guard by the ease with which he’d been defeated. Red with humiliation, he returned his Pokémon and, ignoring Steven’s outstretched hand, stormed across the deck and down the stairs.
“What are you smirking at?” Will asked him a moment later.
“Nothing. Just... that’s one smart Trainer,” he answered, nodding towards the victor. “I’m gonna look forward to battling him again. Finally... someone I’m not sure if I can win against.”
Last edited by Super_Nerd; 27th July 2010 at 9:33 PM.
Scott, as it turned out, was just as obsessed with Trainers as Rick had guessed he’d be.
Every one of the eight participants in the tournament, with one exception was subjected to what seemed to be an endless series of pictures with the tycoon himself, as a group and individually; they were given only the brief explanation that “the dining hall could use some better decoration.” The exception was Lance; not even the security detail had been able to find him after he’d fled the scene of his defeat.
Next, they were dragged over to the studio Scott had used to make his initial annoucement of the contest, told they’d shortly be interviewed by the PBN, and left alone, at least for few minutes. To pass the time, they were able to listen to Brock’s indignant attempts to argue with the guards outside the door, who were firmly refusing to let him in.
“Sheesh, this Scott guy is really in to publicity,” Rick complained.
He sat in a corner seat, next to Will, who, oddly enough, seemed the most talkative person in the room. Steven was dozing, Ash and Gary were glaring silently at each other; Wally and May were exchanging anecdotes about their professor relatives. Rick had expected his friend to interrupt that, but either he was trying to be subtle or didn’t see Elm’s nephew as any kind of threat.
Which is probably a fair assumption.
“I guess he really wants Pokémon fans to visit the ship and buy his company’s stuff.”
“That’s true...” Will trailed off, looking thoughtful.
“I think there’s more to it,” the boy said slowly. “I don’t know how much attention you pay to politics...”
Rick rolled his eyes. “Like everyone else. Very little.”
Will smirked faintly. “Naturally. Anyway, the election is coming up in just a month, and it’s going to be... interesting, this time.”
Dim memories of the school days he’d often slept through tugged at his memory. “It’s what... the sixth ‘modern’ one? And all the ones up ‘til now were just blowouts.”
“That’s right. The Libertarians have had free reign since the formation of the current government. I’m sure you can guess why... everyone can. But that’s changing, now. Look at the elections to the House two years ago.”
“You look at ‘em... nobody bothered to vote, because it doesn’t matter.”
“Well, not nobody. But near enough--five percent. But something very interesting happened in those elections; the Federalists gained a few seats. Oh, not enough to matter--the Libs still have a super-majority--but it’s never happened before now. I don’t know if it’s a flash in the pan or a trend... but the presidential one, coming up, might tell us.”
Rick scratched his neck. “You think the Fed guy has a chance?”
Will nodded slowly. “I do. The Libertarian Party has gotten complacent. They’ve interpreted what happened two years ago as a defeat for their rivals, not a threat to their monopoly. And, this year, they’ve made the ultimate mistake.”
“... Which is?”
“They’re running a non-Trainer as their candidate.”
“Er... why’s that such a bad move?”
Before Will could answer, the door burst open. Without warning, Scott and a PBN crew flooded into the studio. Before the contestants realized what was happening, they’d been carted off into individual waiting rooms, to be dragged before the camera and Jim, the reporter, one by one.
Luckily for Rick’s sanity throughout the endeavor, his room was equipped with a T.V. streaming the footage from each interview.
“How do you feel about putting on such a terrible preformance?” was the first question thrown at Ash.
His answer, in a tone of choking indignation: “It wasn’t my fault! That dumb Gary wouldn’t get his Pokémon out of the way!”
Gary’s response to the same: “You can see what happened; his Pikachu attacked my poor Crocanaw. You ask me, I think he just couldn’t handle the idea of me winning the tournament.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, perhaps the most dysfunctional team in tournament history,” Jim explained after both parties had left. “A prime example of what not to do.”
Rick’s turn came next; he squared his shoulders and emerged to field questions ranging from what Wally had been like back in Hoenn, to his opinion on the latest Boswroth Industries product he’d never heard of. There was only one that remained with him afterwards.
“What’s your goal for your future career?”
He sat straighter, unconsciously, facing the camera directly. “To beat everyone who’s strong--Gym Leaders, and Trainers like Steven--until I’m the best there is.”
Then he was back in his room, half-dozing through Wally and Will’s sessions; he knew them well enough to predict what they’d say, no matter the question. May’s was little better; she sounded pretty boring, helping her father with all his research and... whatever. He wasn’t quite sure what had attracted his friend to her so much; he just knew she wasn’t his type.
But he opened his eyes and leaned forward when Jim announced the final interview “due to our inability to get in touch with Mr. Lance.”
Steven slouched as he sat, the collar of his shirt undone. It evidently wasn’t the first time he’d been subjected to media attention; there was no trace of nervousness or over-excitement in his expression, as there had been on almost all the other faces before his. And...
“I’ll answer the ones you’re about to ask,” he stated, before Jim had a chance to so much as open his mouth. “I’m Steven Stone. Yes, Stone as in the CEO of Devon Corporation--his son, rather. No, I’m not that close with my dad. Yes, he was always too busy to pay me much attention. Yes, I got in to battling because I had no desire to work for the company; yeah, it’s what he wanted me to do; yeah, he gave me my first Pokémon, and he supports me--in the sense that he wants to cash in on his son in ads for Devon. No... I won’t be doing one of those, anytime soon. Now, if you’ve got anything halfway original to ask, I’ll answer that.”
“Uh...” was all the reporter could manage.
Back in his room, Rick laughed aloud.
The interviews turned out to be worth it--at least in Rick’s not-so-humble opinion--for one reason: Scott threw an enormous party afterwards. Anyone and everyone was invited--quite literally; the S.S. Anne, at least for a few hours, was open to every passerby who wanted to climb aboard. The staff, used to dealing with the cream of society, were not pleased... though they brightened considerably when the tycoon made it known they’d be receiving triple their normal wages for the duration.
And parties meant two things: lots to drink, and lots of girls. This was the Rick in its natural habitat. Granted, he’d have done better if he’d actually been the tournament winner--but was content enough picking up those females who broke against the ice of Steven’s silence and came back on the prowl. Many trips to darkened corners of the deck ensued.
In-between, he amused himself watching Brock and Gary trying and failing to do the same thing... and wondered where Will was. He really needed to give that kid some advice. Leaving May alone at a party full of guys... bad move, bad move.
“I see you’re temporarily not dragging some poor girl out of the crowd,” someone said near his ear. Rick jumped slightly, turning to see Steven, standing behind him with a smirk.
“Oh... have I been that obvious?”
“Yes, and we both know it. Advertising what you’re doing so interested parties can seek you out. Don’t worry, they’re seeing it.”
“Only thanks to you,” Rick grinned. “They wouldn’t look twice at me if you were putting yourself out there. But I’m fine with second on the list.”
“... Are you?”
Something in Steven’s expression made Rick pause, lifting an eyebrow. “... What?”
“Oh, nothing. I wanted to learn something about you. I’ve learned it.”
The Steel-user walked away, leaving one particularly mystified boy in his wake.
Will leaned on the rail, unconsciously mirroring the tournament’s champion. Behind him, the party went on. Once in a while, he turned to look in disgust at Rick’s antics. He didn’t want to admit that most of the feeling was aimed at himself... for not having the courage to so much as talk to May.
It was on once such occasion that his roving gaze happened to light on someone else, a few yards down the deck, at a different part of the rail. He stood very still, unable to believe who he was seeing... and the next thing he knew, he was at the man’s side.
The man turned to look at him. Under the shade of an old-fashioned hat’s brim, Will saw a famous face... an knew he hadn’t been mistaken.
“May I help you?” said the Federalist candidate for president, George Carini.
The boy was struck dumb for a long moment. Eventually he recovered enough to croak, “Sorry to bother you, Mr. Carini... I just saw you and...”
The man smiled warmly, placing a hand on Will’s shoulder. “Call me George, please. And there’s no need to apologize. I’m a politician, you know. We feast off the autographs and the pausing for pictures with little old ladies.”
The voice was everything it had been in the ads--friendly in a way that made you want to confess your deepest secrets to this man you’d never met before. It was charisma, to an extent that was rarely seen or rivaled, even in government.
“Don’t you have better things to do than show up at some party on a cruise ship?” was all Will could come up with next.
Carini grinned. It was an infectious expression; he made it feel as if there was some grand joke only the two of them were in on. “In truth, yes, but one needs a break from the campaign trail once in a while. I heard about this, same as anyone, and thought I’d drop by. Left my bodyguards outside--they’re not happy, but I’m perfectly safe, with my friends here.” He patted the Pokéballs at his belt.
“You don’t need to campaign, Mr. Car--George,” said the boy with sudden assurance. “You’re going to win the election, all the same.”
The politician lifted an eyebrow, chuckling. “I’ve got scores of pollsters and analysts working for me, and none of them feel confident enough to tell me that. You’ll have to explain how you’re so sure...”
“It’s got nothing to do with issues or anti-establishment feeling or any of the things they’d actually look at,” Will answered slowly. “But it’s really very simple. You’re a trainer; Neilson’s not. Nobody cares about politics--no offense--but it’s true. What people care about, here, is Pokémon. You’ve got this in the bag; he can’t fight on your terms. Don’t run ads about the issues; people don’t care about the issues. Just vauge statements about improving thinks... only make sure there’s one of your Pokémon in every shot that counts. Make people feel that, hey, George is just like you and me... I can vote for a guy like that, I’d have him over for a beer, any day.”
Carini brought his hands together in a single, sharp clap, smiling broadly. “How old are you, kid? And--oh, that’s rude of me--what’s your name?”
“Will... and, sixteen.”
“You’ve just seen what nobody in government or politics has even thought of. My hat’s off to you.” Apparently he met it literally, sweeping the object from his head briefly. Will had time to glimpse the pale baldness beneath before it was replaced.
“Say...” Carini spoke slowly, as if still considering what he was saying. “Do you want a job on my staff, Will?”
The boy started. “Huh? You don’t mean...”
“Oh, I’m completely serious. The election’s very soon, you know. We can always use an extra hand around the offices. The work’s not glamarous, but if I win, I can secure jobs in government for my supporters... you’re too young for anything too important, but there’s no restriction or age limit on my team of advisors. You’re a smart boy. I could use your opinion.”
Will stood still and silent, for a very long time. It was difficult to realize what he was feeling, until he suddenly stumbled across it: This is what I want. He’d agreed to Oak’s request for a combination of reasons, all good ones, but the research wasn’t his passion... not the way this would be.
And because he wanted more than anything in the world to accept, he knew what his answer would have to be.
“... I’m sorry, Mr. Carini,” he said, voice stiffly formal. “I can’t accept. Not yet.”
The politician seemed taken aback. “... What do you mean?”
“I promised Professor Oak,” Will explained, “that I’d do something for him. Oh, I don’t mean that I don’t know he’d release me of any burden if I only asked--but you see, it’s my cousin. Ash. I agreed to it mostly to keep an eye on him, and I don’t think he’s ready to go it alone. At least for now... that’s why I say, not yet. I want to say yes, very badly, but now’s not the time... not until I feel as if I’m not abandoning my.... friends.”
Carini lifted an eyebrow, disbelief briefly flashing into his expression, though he soon smiled once more. “I understand entirely. The offer will remain open indefinately; whenever you want to have a hand in changing Kanto for the better, come and find me.”
“Thank you, sir. I’d wish you good luck... but when you win, it won’t have been luck.”
The next two posts would ordinarily be the same 'chapter', but I've taken an interesting direction with Surge and couldn't resist the temptation to leave a bit of a cliffhanger. Besides, it'll serve as a brief time-skip.
“What do you mean, you’re skipping the Gym?” Ash’s face looked as if someone had just informed him that his mother had died.
Rick, far less concerned, scratched his chin. “Part of being an amazing battler is knowing when you shouldn’t even try. Lt. Surge is so far out of any of our leagues right now, it’s not funny. His Raichu’s a final stage; it’s much stronger than anything we have, outside of Gyarados... and he’s not doing much besides rolling over and dying, with his typing. I’d rather move on and come back when I’ve had a chance to do some more training.”
The younger boy set his jaw. “I can’t believe you’d all just give up. I don’t care how good you all think that guy is... nobody thought I could win at the Pewter Gym, did they!?”
“That’s because you didn’t, actually,” Will said, but his cousin was in no mood to hear him.
“We have to at least try, “ Ash insisted. “And if you’re all afraid, fine! I’m gonna go in there and battle him! What’s the worst that could happen?”
The Gym assistant, a distinguished-looking elderly man, did double-take upon seeing the four walk inside. His expression went from shock to worry in the space of a few moments, and he rushed over, speaking in a low voice.
“Get out of here! Don’t you know what you’re playing with, walking in here?”
“Sure I do!” said Ash, several hundred decibels louder. “I’m gonna challenge--”
“Shut up, for Arceus’ sake!” the old man hissed, so fervently that the boy actually did, for once. “Where do you think you are?”
The entire... feel of this place was all wrong. Rick leaned forward, interested, whispering a question. “It looks like a Gym, to me. What’s with all this...?”
The old man drew back, sounding incredulous. “What, haven’t you noticed anything odd about this place, yet?”
“Besides you--” started Brock, but he was interrupted by Will, who lifted a finger. “I knew it,” he said slowly. “Or, I thought something weird was going on... usually, there’s a lot of talk about Gyms, but people here don’t seem to bring it up, ever.” He looked at the assistant. “Why is that?”
But he never got an answer. At that moment, a back door burst open, pushed with such force that it slammed into the opposite wall. An enormous man stomped into the room, dressed in faded camouflage pants and an undershirt. Sunglasses hid his eyes, making the true nature of the grin across his face difficult to decipher.
“I heard someone wants to challenge me!” he boomed, his voice just as loud as they’d expected it’d be.
“Yeah, I sure do!” cried Ash, ignoring the look of horror on the old man’s face. He followed blithely in Surge’s wake as the Gym Leader beckoned him towards the other room, into what was presumably the arena. Brock followed swiftly, with the air of a protective mother.
Rick and Will exchanged glances, then looked to the assistant.
“What’s going to...?”
He cut them off, shaking his head mournfully and walking towards the open door as well. “.... You’ll see. But you won’t be able to say I didn’t warn your friend.”
“You’re a fool to come here, kid,” Lt. Surge called, surveying the arena below them from his platform on the far side. “I’m more powerful than anything you can imagine. You should follow the example of those other wimpy Trainers, and just not try!”
Ash gritted his teeth. “I’m not a wimp! Me and Pikachu can take down anyone!”
The Gym Leader threw back his head and laughed. It wasn’t a pleasant sound, harsh and challenging more than amused. “You think so, huh? That’s rich... just rich. Throw down, kid... let’s see what you’re made of!”
“You’ve got this, Pikachu,” the boy whispered, as his Pokémon scampered into the arena. He didn’t like the way Surge was eyeing him... like he was merely prey.
“Bring it down--Raichu!”
Ash gasped as the Leader’s Pokéball opened to reveal something that looked an awfully lot like his Pikachu, only bigger... way bigger. Surge’s Raichu was also a deeper shade than most, and scars could be seen all along its body.
Rick and Will, in the stands, exchanged glances yet again. None of this was looking good.
“That’s right!” Surge crowed. “Raichu is the evolved form of Pikachu! You think you can beat me with a weaker version of my own Pokémon? Not gonna happen!”
“I can still try!” Ash protested, but the Leader didn’t intend to give him a chance, bellowing, “Thunder!” His Raichu crouched for a moment, electricity building up in its body, to the point that the boy could feel the hairs on his arm standing on end.
Pikachu gulped and started to back away.
“Don’t Electric-types resist their own attacks?” Will muttered.
“With this much of a power gap, I don’t think it’ll matter,” Rick replied quietly. “Poor little guy...”
Surge’s Pokémon abruptly stood, and all the power it’d been accumulating burst from it, almost too fast for the humans’ eyes to follow. Several bolts of lightning arced into the sky, then began to rain down upon the unfortunate Pikachu. He did his best to dodge, but the attack was moving so swiftly that this was practically impossible. Many of the bolts scored direct hits, leaving the small Pokémon reeling, barely able to keep its footing.
“Mega Punch!” the Leader yelled.
Raichu sprang forward, and before its opponent had even regained his balance, jabbed sharply between its eyes with one fist. Pikachu let out a tiny squeal and toppled over, not moving.
“That took about thirty seconds,” Rick said, making to stand. “I wonder--”
“Wait!” Will cried, catching at his arm. “Look!”
Raichu hadn’t let up. Even though its foe was in no state to hit back, it didn’t stop pummeling him with a flurry of punches and kicks. Ash gasped, utterly dumbfounded.
“Hey, you won already! Stop it! You’re hurting Pikachu!”
Surge ignored him completely, jabbing a finger towards the one-sided brawl... and laughing again. This time, there was no doubt of it; the sound was utterly joyless. In light of what was happening, this was fairly scary. He made no move to control his Pokémon.
Brock set his teeth, hurling a Pokéball out into the arena. His Onix burst forth, scything tail catching the Raichu a heavy blow that knocked it back. “Call Pikachu back, Ash!” the former Leader yelled. “This guy’s crazy. We’re getting outta here.”
The elderly assistant, meanwhile, had frowned deeply, then started rushing up the stairs towards Surge. As soon as he got close enough, he took the man by the shoulders and started shaking him, yelling hoarsely, “Let up, sir! Please!”
“Unhand me, Simmons!” Surge barked. “I fight my own way!”
His assistant hung on grimly. “It’s just a match, sir...”
The Gym Leader stiffened at that, and stood very still for a long moment. Then, with the barest movement of his arm, he brushed the older man aside; slowly, he reached for the Pokéball at his belt and returned his Raichu, still dazed from Onix’s attack.
Everyone was looking at him as he spoke, eyes still hidden by the sunglasses, voice sounding very tired. “It’s not a game, this. Raichu saved my life in the War... we’ll never forget it, either of us, or what we learned there. Never let up. Never stop fighting until your enemy’s finished. They call it battling for a reason. Until you learn it, don’t let me see you in here again.”
Surge turned his back on them all, and walked out.
“... I don’t understand...”
Ash sat with his head in his hands, on the steps outside the Vermilion Pokémon Center. The nurses inside had told him it might be several hours before Pikachu was fully healed, but nothing his friends said could convince him to give up his vigil.
“What kind of match was that?” the boy asked, lip trembling.
“He told us, back there,” Rick pointed out. “He doesn’t believe in holding back, I guess. Well, this explains why the town’s ashamed to talk about it... no other Gym Leaders get quite so carried away, from what I’ve heard.”
“... but why?”
“He told us that, too,” Will muttered. “The war...”
Ash looked to his cousin in confusion. “What war? They didn’t teach us anything ‘bout it in school... I think. Maybe I skipped that day.”
“No... there wouldn’t have been a day for it. There’s actually a law... it can’t be part of any curriculum... and most parents don’t go out of their way to bring it up, either.”
“Norman did,” said Rick slowly. “He was just young enough to avoid being caught in all of it... thank Arceus... but... well, I had an uncle, once, before I was born.”
“My dad wasn’t so lucky,” Brock commented, but didn’t volunteer any further information.
“It’s wrong of them to cover it up,” Will stated firmly, “even if they had good intentions. A fresh start was a noble ideal... but without knowledge of the past, how can we avoid repeating it in the future? And it’s government policy to not recognize the war, so they can’t very well spend anything on veterans, even though...”
The boy cut himself off, standing abruptly. “Now I know why Surge acts the way he does. I have to go find someone...” He glanced over his shoulder to Ash, offering a rare grin. “Don’t win that badge before I’m back, mind...”
“... Win?” the younger cousin asked in surprise, as Will walked away without a further word of explanation. “Pikachu and I have no chance against that...”
“Nonsense,” Rick said. He didn’t know what his friend was getting up to, but he knew what he could do to help. “Once they’re done with Pikachu, you and I are going to train so hard, taking down his Raichu will be a piece of cake, all right?”
As Ash perked up, he stepped over to Brock and muttered, “As for you... see if that assistant, Simmons, is willing to talk any. He might be able to give us some clue as to what’s up with his boss.”
Lifting his voice, he added, “Don’t worry... we’ll take Surge down a notch, together!”
The much longer part two! In which we get some answers as to why Surge is the way he is.
As for questions that deal with plot points, I'll only say, just keep reading. They will be answered eventually.
Pikachu hit the ground, face-first. As heattempted to scramble up, he found himself pinned down by a clawed foot.
“I win again,” Combuksen stated, leaning down. “You’re... really helpless without using electric attacks, aren’t you?”
“I’m really good at them,” he grumbled, squirming in a vain attempt to break free. “I could beat you so easily if you’d let me use my Thundershock!”
“You’d have a better chance, sure, but that’s not why I’m training you,” the Fire-type said. “Your electric attacks are much weaker than Raichu’s; you can’t fight him on those grounds... if you want to win, you have to do it with physical attacks.”
“... Only, he’s much stronger and faster than I am,” Pikachu said glumly.
Combusken, not one to mince words, nodded. “Yes. He is. And that’s why we’re going to keep trying until you manage to figure out how to fight. Over to Trapinch, now!”
Pikachu grumbled. As a Ground-type, Rick’s second Pokémon was totally ammune to his electric attacks, so there was absolutely no doubt that he’d be forced to fight in other ways... and, the thing’s jaws really hurt, especially when they closed on its tail. Trapinch’s sarcastic comments didn’t make the process any more bearable, either.
Today wasn’t quite as bad as his previous encounters, however. The Ground-type could only move so quickly on its stubby legs, and Pikachu found that speed was a huge advantage for him; Trapinch couldn’t land a hit, and multiple quick jabs slowly wore him down.
“Not as terrible as usual,” was Combusken’s only praise. “Now see what you can do against Onix.”
“... wait, what?”
Geodude, who’d been watching the sparring, blanched. “That’s... not a great idea,” he said, glancing at the Fire-type. “Not only are we immune to electricity... normal attacks won’t be enough to penetrate our skin. There’s absolutely no way for Pikachu to win.”
“Exactly.” Combusken beckoned both Pokémon forward. Luckily, the place he’d picked for the training was outside the Vermilion city limits, because the Rock-type probably would’ve smashed a few buildings on his way over.
“So you get that this is a bad idea?”
“Nope,” the Fire-type replied, waving for Onix to attack. Pikachu was just barely able to doge a swipe from his spiked tail.
Geodude blanched. “No offense to the big guy--he’s my friend and all--but he... has a bit of a problem with taking fights way too seriously. I really wouldn’t...”
“I would,” said Combusken, watching the fight intently.
Pikachu flattened himself as Onix’s tail nearly took his head off. The next moment, he was forced to scamper aside as the Rock-type threw itself forward in a vicious tackle. He took off, sprinting as hard as he could to get away, but his opponent was just fast enough to keep up wherever he tried to hide. The Electric-type cast a pleading glance at Combusken, but his self-appointed trainer’s eyes held no mercy.
Oh, why did my partner have to be stupid enough to trust me to these guys?
He flinched as the spike from Onix’s head whistled by, missing him by mere inches.
... These two are nuts! They’re really trying to hurt me!
He had to escape... but there was nowhere to hide. He could only run--but he wasn’t fast enough. Not enough to get away.
I need more... more speed... more speed...
But was it even worth it? Why shouldn’t he just give up? Tell Combusken where to stick all his brutal training methods? It wasn’t like he particularly wanted to beat that Raichu. He’d felt sorry for the guy, even.
No... he didn’t really want to fight, but it was worth it and there was a reason--his partner. Ash. Surge had humiliated the boy. That was what he’d be paying back, if he...
... A little faster...
“Look!” Geodude cried, stretching out one arm. “What’s that pink haze all around Pikachu?”
Combusken threw back his head and laughed, dancing from foot to foot, as he did when particularly excited. “You weren’t there back on the ship--that’s how that Skarmory beat me, and everyone else. It gradually makes the one using it faster, and if it goes uniterrupted, soon they’re practically untouchable. The humans called it ‘Agility!””
The Electric-type hadn’t realized what was happening, putting it down to the fact that Onix was getting tired and slowing down in its attacks. Only at Combusken’s shout did he pause to ponder the fact that he was moving very quickly... literally running rings around the rock snake. Pikachu grinned, twitching his tail as he sped along. A short hop was enough to propel him to Onix’s tail segment, from which he dashed up the length of the Rock-type’s body, perching on his head.
“Look what I can do!” he called, triumphantly. “Nothing can match that speed!”
“We’re done here,” the Fire-type agreed, and lowered his voice to murmur to Geodude. “... now we’ll see if it’s enough.”
Ash hadn’t exactly been looking forward to Rick’s confident announcement that Pikachu was ready for a second go at Surge’s Raichu... mainly because he didn’t feel like he was. His self-confidence wasn’t helped when Brock returned, reporting that Simmons had clammed up the moment he’d been asked about the Gym Leader’s peculiar behavior.
“So we have no idea if he’ll go off again?” the boy squeaked as he was dragged towards the Gym, suspended between both his friends.
“Nope,” Rick admitted, “but if you win, you won’t have to worry about it so much. And besides, we’ll be much readier to intervene if things get hairy.”
“And there’s always Will... wherever the heck he went,” Brock added.
“We can’t really count on his plan, since we don’t even know what it is,” the other argued. “Ash will just have to win the match. That’s all there is to it. Surge’s problems aren’t really our problem.”
“Um, okay...” The Trainer himself looked less than certain.
Simmons met them at the door. As usual, he looked anxious.
“You have to--”
“Don’t start,” Rick interrupted. “We know we shouldn’t be here, yeah, but we’re gonna challenge him anyway.”
“... No, I mean, you really have to go,” the aide stated, unabashed. “It’s not--”
Further explanation became entirely unnecessary as Lt. Surge himself emerged from the arena room, manhandling the door just as severely as the first time they’d seen him. There was only one major difference: the man swayed as he walked, leaning heavily against the wall whenever a chance presented itself. When he drew close enough that they were able to catch a whiff of his breath, they realized why.
“You’re drunk!” Ash exclaimed in a tone of shocked indignation. He can’t even take my challenge seriously?
The Gym Leader blinked, turning unfocused eyes to the boy’s general direction. “Shure I am,” he drawled. “Why the hell not? What’s the point? To anything?”
“What about your job? Being Leader, it’s--”
“A load of crap!” Surge barked. “I used to be a leader. Back in the War. Worked my way up from nothing, see? I earned my rank! By blood and sweat and... and...” He lost his train of thought, which just seemed to make him more angry. “And for what? To come back to my home, the place I’d spent years fighting for--risking my own hide--and do you think any of them stopped to thank me? Oh, they were glad the War was over, all right, praising the wisdom and courage of their politicans--the same *******s who’d gotten us into the mess, in the first place... oh, they were just fine with sending us all off to die, but they dropped us once everything was over. D’you know why I ended up in this Arceus-damned Gym? Not pity, oh, no. They wanted to keep me quiet! They thought they could buy me off with a nice job and a decent living. They thought I’d forget! But they can’t keep me down... I’ll never forget, or forgive!”
He concluded his rant by producing a nearly-empty bottle from some deceptively large pocket, taking an enormous swig, and hurling it against the opposite wall. The breaking glass was all that could be heard in the Gym for one long moment. Rick’s first glance was not to Surge, but to Simmons. The Gym assistant’s eyes were pleading, though to whom or what was unclear.
Brock made to speak, but Ash silenced him with a gesture, stepping forward. The boy took a deep breath, adjusting his cap.
“I don’t really understand what you’re talking about, and I won’t pretend to,” he said slowly. “I’m sorry you feel the way you do, Lt. Surge, but you’re still sitting between me and this Gym badge. I challenge you... if you’re up to it.”
The Leader chuckled. Once again, it was entirely joyless. “Up for it? I remember you, punk. I don’t even need to be awake to take you down, never mind sober. Fine, fine... if it’ll get you to leave...”
“C’mon, Pikachu! Show us what you’ve got!”
“Raichu, just go out there and finish it....” Surge yawned and rubbed at his eyes. “So I can get back to what I really want to be doing.”
Without more specific direction, his Pokémon reverted to its favorite method of attacking, and began charging for what promised to be a devastating Thunder.
That was exactly what Ash had been waiting for.
“Now’s your chance! Agility!” the boy called. Pikachu threw himself into the move almost before he’d been ordered to, dropping to all fours and sprinting in a wide circle around his opponent. The bolts of lightning from Raichu’s attack were just barely too slow, each one arcing and striking the ground a few inches behind the running Pokémon.
Confused but not altering its strategy, Raichu knelt, gathering more power. Up on the platform above, Surge didn’t appear to realize what was happening, waving for his Pokémon to keep attacking. Ash, meanwhile, gripped the restraining bar tightly, and whispered, “C’mon...”
The second Thunder lagged even more badly than the first, due to Pikachu’s gradual increase in speed. Raichu blinked, finally realizing what was happening. Casting a single glance towards his owner to confirm that the Leader was still effectively out of it, he watched the yellow blur that was his smaller foe, then ran forward, drawing back a fist.
Pikachu grinned, exultant. The two failed Thunders had given him all the time he needed to get up his speed; the bigger Electric-type looked like he was moving in slow motion. Ducking under the punch, Pikachu gave Raichu a sharp rap in the stomach before darting away again. Several more blows followed, each a counter to the Leader’s Pokémon’s attempted attacks.
It took Surge a couple of minutes to realize he hadn’t won yet. Rubbing his eyes as he glanced down at at arena, his mouth twisted into a perplexed frown. The alcohol in his system wasn’t helping him think of what had gone wrong.
“How’d that little rat get so fast...?” he wondered aloud. He’d probably intended it as a mutter, but it came out a lot louder. Ash bit back an explanation, contenting himself with a grin and a thumb’s up towards Pikachu.
“Doesn’t matter,” Surge soon decided, even more audibly, instincts taking over through the haze. “If you can’t keep up in speed, we’ll find a way to compensate with superior power! Raichu, I know it’ll hurt, but use Volt Tackle!”
“... That doesn’t sound good,” Rick said, leaning forward to watch with great interest.
The Leader’s Pokémon stopped attempting to hit Pikachu, and knelt. Whatever move he was using, it appeared at first to be yet another Thunder, as he gathered electricity around his form... however, instead of releasing it, Raichu simply continued to hold it there, with a concentrated effort that left him gritting his teeth.
Ash stared in bewilderment, then yelled, “Don’t touch him, Pikachu!”
But his Pokémon was moving too quickly... The Trainer had barely spoken before Pikachu darted forward to deliver another jab to his foe.
The effect was immediate and spectacular. The moment his tiny fist made contact with Raichu’s body, he became merely a conduit for all of the electricity forecefully repressed to run along the bigger Pokémon’s form. A bright flash momentarily blinded everyone in the room, during which all they could hear was an eerie sizzling noise.
Pikachu’s first thought was an unprintable curse at Combusken.
So much for not having to work on my electricity. Oooh... ouch...
Whatever attack Raichu had just used hurt worse--far worse--than even his Thunder had. If he didn’t do something, Pikachu knew the pain alone would knock him out in a matter of moments. He’d lost again, and let Ash down. There was nothing he could do...
... no, wait a minute. There’s always something.
He closed his eyes, partly out of pain, partly to concentrate. The attack was the same typing as himself, after all. He could feel the path of the electricity through his body... perhaps he could block it off and redirect it?
There was only one way to find out. He had to try it.
When the humans could see again, they saw the two Electric-types standing frozen where they’d been moments before. Both Pokémon had their eyes tight shut, and a series of sparks running all along their forms--seemingly the result of Raichu’s attack. As far as could be determined, both of them were effectively incapacitated.
“So that’s Volt Tackle,” Rick murmured. “It appears to be almost as damaging to the user as the one being attacked... a very risky move.”
“They’re both out of it,” Brock commented. “Who won?”
“According to Gym regulations, in the event of a draw, no Badge is conferred,” said Simmons in a shaky voice, as if he were unable to believe what he’d just seen. “So, unless the challenger’s Pokémon is able to recover in the next sixty seconds...”
“I knew it,” Surge boasted, producing yet another bottle from Arceus knew where. “Raichu and I, we went through the War. Saved my life countless times, he did. They made me evolve him right away, because they needed power, and boy did they get it! We’ve seen it all. Your little rat has potential, but until you find a good Thunderstone--”
“Look!” his assistant interrupted, stretching a finger towards the arena.
Pikachu was stirring, its tail twitching slightly. As all the humans watched in utter silence, the Pokémon slowly lifted both arms. All at once, the multiple sparks coalesced into a single tiny ball, right between his ears. Pikachu let out a tiny cry, and the ball dissapated, becoming a multi-pronged bolt of lightning that leapt into the air and arced back down, striking the arena well away from the two contestants. With his system purged, the Electric-type rubbed at its eyes, looking suddenly very weary.
“I don’t believe it,” Surge growled. “A textbook Thunderbolt? How could something that wimpy manage to pull off such a high-level attack?”
“Well-played,” said the man who had just entered the arena.
Everyone whirled to face him. Two people recognized him; the other three knew the boy who stood quietly at the newcomer’s side.
“Will!” Ash cried.
“... George?” Surge whispered, looking very much like he’d just seen a ghost.
“Yes,” the man answered, stepping further into the light. They could recognize him now, of course: he was one of the two candidates all over the news lately. His voice was just what it was in his ads: deep, and utterly mesmerizing.
For some reason, his presence accomplished what nobody’s ever had, to date: it caused the Gym Leader to stuff his bottle out of sight, and appear almost shame-faced. “... How long have you been there?” he asked slowly, taking care to pronounce each word properly.
The politician stepped forward slowly, mounting the stairs to the arena. “Not long enough to see you do anything embrassing...”
“I didn’t need to. I heard about all of your antics in town,” Carini clarified.
“... Oh. Well then.”
“I’m not judging you. I know only too well how you feel, Vince... you know that.”
At the airing of his first name, Surge’s rancor returned, all in a rush. “Oh yeah, you know,” the Leader said sarcastically. “Because your life has just been so terrible since we got back. Because people have spit in your face, and called you a murderer--”
“Yes they have,” Carini said without raising his voice. “They did it to all of us.”
“Not that it mattered to you!” the Leader raged. “You’re a damn traitor, that’s what you are! You’ve joined them! The ones who declared the War to sake their own greed, and made you and me and everyone else they forced to the front lines pay for it! I ought to--”
“Be quiet,” the politician said abruptly, and even though it still wasn’t anything near a shout, Surge’s rant was choked off. All eyes were on the man, even Pikachu, who couldn’t possibly all the dynamics in play.
“It’s cynicism like yours, old friend, that’s a symptom of Kanto’s decline,” Carini continued. “And you do me a disservice by suggesting I’ve somehow turned my back on you. Why do you think I chose the career I did? I was just as angry as you are that the Libertarians refused to acknowledge what we soldiers had been through. The War had torn families apart, crippled and injured youg men... but to preserve a collective illusion that it hadn’t happened, they chose to spend nothing, to leave those whose lives they destroyed adrift and alone. You chose to draw back from everything and everyone you had loved, to eke out your days here in misery and the company of drink, taking it out on your challengers. I did not. I decided that things had to change... that I was the one to change them. The difference between you and me is not that I’m a traitor, but that I haven’t lost hope.”
Slowly, the boys’ heads turned to Surge. The Gym Leader’s face looked frozen, halfway between a snarl and a frown.
“But it’s not too late,” the politician said quietly. “The Federalists have a real chance for the first time. I could win the election. I could change the way veterans are treated. I can’t erase the past twenty years, but I can try my best to make it right. And... I could use your help, and all of our old friends’.”
“Make it right...?”
“The chief executive does have a little influence on government policy,” said Carini with a slight smirk. “I think I could force through a tiny tax increase for a proper Veteran’s Affairs department... something to take care of our former soldiers.”
Something flared in Surge’s eyes, but just as quickly died again. “... Assuming you win. The Libertarians have had a monopoly all this time.”
“That can change. It won’t be easy, but it can.”
The Gym Leader sighed, glancing once at the bottle that had somehow returned to his hand. With a contemptuous shrug, he smashed it against the platform he stood on, and drew himself up. The boys could see, faintly, the bearing of an officer, buried under two decades of self-destruction.
“You said you could use my help. What can I do?”
“How did you mange that, back there?” Rick asked Will in an indredulous tone.
Surge and Carini had both disappeared to talk privately. Simmons, invited to join in, had trailed along obediently, visibly relaxed and relieved by his boss’ change in attitude.
“Simple research,” the boy responded with a grin. “I already knew that Carini had been through the War from the biographies floating around everywhere. It only took a little checking to verify that he and Surge were in the same unit. I figured if anyone could get through to him...”
“Well, it worked pretty well, I’d say,” Brock interjected. “I mean, I never thought I’d see him apologize to Ash... and I heard him planning to go apologize to some woman.”
“I’m just that good,” said Will immodestly. “Anyway, how’d the actual fight go? Did Pikachu actually... win?”
“It wasn’t even close, up until that Volt Tackle,” Rick commented. “I’m pretty impressed. Didn’t think the kid had it in him. Pretty soon, he might not even need my help...”
“He’s already done well without your help,” argued Brock. “You told him not to worry about upping Pikachu’s electric attacks, but that ended up being the decisive factor of the match.”
I didn’t expect it, Will admitted to himself. Perhaps I underestimated what Ash is capable of. Does that mean... I might be able to go work for Mr. Carini, after all?
Vincent Surge was alone in his Gym, Simmons finally having gone home for the night. His former Sergeant had acted fifteen years younger all that day, so overjoyed that his boss was out of his slump.
I guess he has a point, the Leader reflected, not for the first time. I was... kind of a jerk.
His old fellow-officer’s words had lfted a veil of pain and rage from around him, turned all of his negative feeling into a faint and tender hope. George had always been good at that, of course... Surge’s often reckless bravery had inspired the men to first charges, but it was the other man’s rhetoric that kept them moving forward when obstacles made them falter.
He’d told Ash he was sorry; he’d apologized to Raichu... but Vincent’s eyes kept returning to the telephone mounted in the corner. The one person whose forgiveness he needed to ask most of all was one call away... but what an effort to pick it up and dial.
But the healing would never truly begin unless he summoned the effort. Surge grabbed the phone, sharply jabbing the series of numbers that he’d never forgotten.
The rings--five of them--seemed to drag on forever, before someone finally picked up. “Hello?”
In a panic, he realized he couldn’t even remember the sound of his voice. Maybe she’d moved away a long time ago. Maybe he’d never find her. Maybe--
“Is this... is this Delia Ketchum?” Surge croaked.
There was total silence on the other end for an agonizing minute. Then:
“... Vince? Is that you?”
He found a chair and sat, leaning back, a slight smile flickering briefly onto his face. “Yeah. Yeah, it’s me. I know it’s a lot to ask, but if you could hear me out for an hour or two... I think we have a lot to talk about.”
Apologies for the delay. I knew I'd be busy in September, and planned to finish a chapter beforehand to post sometime. However, I didn't finish it to my satisfaction.
“I’m not so sure if I’m down with the idea of that Carini guy coming with us,” said Rick slowly. “I don’t want to be dragged in to all this election stuff...”
“Neither does he,” Will argued. “That’s why he’s skipping the obvious route to Celadon, the main road, and taking the shortcut through Rock Tunnel--to slip away from all the reporters and analysts for a while. It’s home to some Pokémon we haven’t encountered yet, so Ash and I at least ought to take a look. It’s also pretty treacherous--so all of us could use each others’ help to get through in one piece.”
The older boy grunted. “Plus you’re in love with the guy.”
“No I’m not! Just because I admire his politics--”
“Let’s not talk about politics,” Rick interrupted. “Fine, fine, he can tag along, but I’m ditching him the moment we get out of that cave, and let me tell you, you’re gonna have to make a choice.”
“Why’d you take me back here?” Ash asked slowly, glancing around. Pikachu was digging into his shoulders with its hands and feet, on edge.
The source of the Electric-type’s unease seemed to be a line of curious yellow stones than lined a back shelf in the Gym’s storage closet. Surge and Raichu went over; the Leader gave the nearest of the objects an affectionate pat.
“These are Thunderstones, developed by the Silph Company,” the man explained. “Raw electric power packed into a container, essentially. When released, it’s enough to completely overwhelm any Pokémon.”
“That sounds dangerous!”
Surge chuckled. “Not for Electric-types. If they’re capable of breaking down and redirecting the power in the stone, they won’t only be unharmed, but they’ll evolve. That’s how I got my Raichu, long ago, and, by the way it dealt with that Volt Tackle, I’d say your Pikachu is more than ready.”
Ash furrowed his brow. “You want me... to evolve him?”
“Sure!” the Leader said. “That’s one strong Pokémon, but it could become an even more fearsome battler if it had the power of a Raichu. I respect you both, kid, which is why I want to give you the chance to get even better than I did.”
The boy glanced at the Thunderstones, frowning slightly, then craned his neck back to look at Pikachu, now positively trembling with obvious fright.
“No... no, I don’t think I can do it,” he said quietly, glancing at Surge. “He doesn’t want to. And I don’t want to force him... even if I’ll get more powerful. That’s not who I am.”
The man nodded slowly, then abruptly grinned. “Usually, I say anyone who doesn’t evolve their Pokémon as soon as possible is crazy, but... I can’t really argue with that. Raichu wasn’t ready, and I wasn’t given a choice, all those years ago. As you know, it’s cost the both of us. If I could go back and change it... but I can’t, of course.”
They were silent for the short trek out of the Gym, back into the daylight. Ash waved towards his friends and the politician guy, standing on the road.
“I want you to have something,” said Surge abruptly, pulling a Pokéball from his belt and pressing the release button on the side. The boy peered closely at the Pokémon that emerged, expecting some sort of Electric-type; however, this creature was blue-green, back dominated by a shell and a long tail that looked almost like a wave.
“It’s Squirtle, a Water Pokémon,” the Gym Leader explained. “He belonged to... to someone I liked very much; but I haven’t used him in my battling. You’re definitely the right person to have him, instead, and I know she--uh, they--would agree.”
“Wow, awesome!” Ash exclaimed, bending to pat the Squirtle on the head. “I can use him to counter any Ground-types Pikachu can’t handle! Thanks!”
Surge waited for the boy to take the ball from him, then smiled. A more observant person might’ve noted the peculiar sadness in it as he looked down at the pair.
“Take care of old George, will you? He’s a good friend of mine. And, take care of yourself. I’m sure I’ll keep hearing about high you climb.”
“You bet!” Ash said, nodding several times. “I’ll protect the old guy for you, to pay you back!” He lifted one hand in a wave before rushing towards the group, leaving Surge looking after him.
“What was that all about?” Rick asked, glancing back at the Gym as they all started to walk towards the northern city limits. “I didn’t take him for the touchy-feely type.”
“Me neither, but he was super-nice. He offered to give me a Thunderstone! And then he gave me this great Squirtle--it looks really strong!”
Will lifted an eyebrow, glancing towards Carini, but the man merely shrugged. “It’s not like him either, and I’ve known him for years. He’s really taken a liking to your friend for some reason...”
“Well, anyway, let’s get going!” Ash cried, waving the group onwards. The only person to benefit from Surge’s uncharacteristic behavior also seemed to care the least.
They kept a fast pace all the way to Cerulean City, spurred by Carini’s desire not to stay in one place long enough to be recognized. His cell phone kept ringing constantly, however, until he eventually turned it to vibrate.
“My handlers,” he explained briefly. “They think I should be hitting the campaign trail, but really, overexposure is going to sink Neilson...”
This and other bits of political talk usually ended in irritated glances from Rick, and eventually the man fell silent. Conversation turned to more casual topics as they skirted Cerulean and headed west, battling past some tangled bushes and trees that blocked a poorly maintained road which lead towards the Rock Tunnel.
“Need to add in more money for infrastructure,” Carini mumbled as a branch whipped him across the face, leaving a long, shallow cut in its wake. Luckily, nobody heard him.
Somewhat on the plus side, the route appeared deserted. This was probably due to the fact that nobody in their right mind would go through Rock Tunnel when they could just stick to the main roads... or so Brock kept saying.
“They’ve got Onix in there,” he usually added. “And as someone who’s fought one of those things in the wild, let me tell you, they are nasty.”
“Oh, we’ll be fine,” said Rick blithely. “We all took down yours easy enough, right?”
“... well yes, but--”
Brock found himself speaking to thin air, the group having walked right past him.
“I’ve been through here before, and let me tell you, it’s probably the darkest cave you’ll ever see. There’s no natural light whatsoever,” Carini was saying. “There’s a Center right by the entrance, just waiting to scalp you alive with its prices on flashlights...”
“Sounds kind of like Mt. Moon.”
“Except worse,” the man stated. “But, there might be another way. I remember that Vince and I had to come through this place once, and he had his Raichu constantly charge a weak Electric attack. It created a large amount of light. We ended up calling it Flash.”
“Hey, I bet Pikachu can pull it off!” Ash exclaimed. “Great!”
“It probably isn’t a good idea to introduce that much light when the native Pokémon aren’t used to it!” Brock shouted. But nobody was listening to him.
“You know, it probably wasn’t a good idea to shine so brightly when all of these guys don’t like it,” Geodude commented.
The party had been in Rock Tunnel for perhaps three hours. In that time, what seemed like every wild Pokémon inside the cave had been disturbed and subsequently attacked; by now, the humans were forced to send out everything they’d had on them. A solid Rhydon had been Carini’s sole contribution; the essential dynamics of the group, however, remained unchanged.
“Who cares? They’re all weaklings! Just like you wimps!” Gyarados roared.
“Oh, shut up. And don’t you dare knock the Machop into me next time,” Treecko groused.
“Can we just hurry up and get out of here? I’m hungry,” Charmander complained.
“... and I’m tired,” Pidgeotto whined.
“... and I don’t know how long I can keep this Flash up,” Pikachu added.
“Just stay focused on moving forward, guys,” Combusken encouraged. “The sooner we get out of here, the sooner we don’t have to deal with any of this.”
“Assuming we survive that long,” Trapinch muttered.
“It’s so hard to get accurate data on things that insist on attacking you over and over again,” Will grumbled.
“Maybe, but you are learning how they fight, which is the most important bit, really,” Rick offered, whilst narrowly ducking beneath a chunk of rock hurled by an irritated wild Geodude.
“I’m afraid the fighting is gonna break this thing.” Ash eventually shook his head, and stuffed his Pokédex back into his pack.
“If I was petty, I would be saying ‘I told you so’ right about now,” Brock said, clearing his throat for emphasis.
“I do have to apologize for all this.” Carini glanced around, frowning faintly. “The denizens were much less restless when Vince and I came through the last time. This time I underestimated them, and neglected to bring my full team...”
“Just get us out of here, and you’re forgiven,” all four of them said, more or less at once.
An hour later, Carini halted and squinted. “I think this is the last turn. Then there’s just a straight shot to the exit.”
“And we haven’t had any trouble at all,” Rick offered, grinning at Brock. “So much for your dire predictions, huh?”
At that exact moment, as life itself would seem to demand, there was a grating sound, stone against stone, from just ahead. Something rounded the corner--an Onix, but a tiny specimen, relatively, no longer than five feet. It almost ran straight into the group, before it halted, drawing itself up slightly.
“What in the heck...?” someone started to ask.
Their Pokémon, on edge from constant sniping, acted without hesitation. Gyarados, closest to the intruder, bulled forward, coils closing around the rock snake. The pair thrashed and wriggled, forcing the rest of the party to stand clear.
“Oh no. Oh no. This is NOT good,” Brock said.
“A tiny Onix is bad news?” asked Rick, puzzled.
“It’s about the worst thing that can happen to people in a cave,” the former Gym Leader answered, beckoning frantically. “That was a newborn.”
Carini grasped the implications quicker than the boys, mouth dropping open. “Oh, Arceus...”
Pieces of the cave’s ceiling and wall chipped and fell under the force of what felt like a sudden earthquake. An immense cloud of dust billowed up, obscuring most of the passage. There was a familiar roar, though this time it held a pained note; Gyarados was flung back by something, coming back into view briefly before crashing into cave’s wall. Very painfully.
As the dust began to settle, the cause of the Water-type’s condition became abundantly, frighteningly clear. No less than six full-length Onix towered before the group, and from the roars around the corner, these weren’t the only ones.
“... Mating season,” Brock whispered. “They’ll kill anything that even gets near their young. And we’ve done even worse...”
“If we get out of here alive, I’m never ignoring you again,” Rick mumbled.
“We’ve got to run for it!” shouted Carini. “See if our Pokémon can hold them off or clear a path! We’ll be crushed if we just stand around!”
“Let’s just hope,” Will whispered, grabbing at Ash’s arm.
“And we’re the ones stuck risking our necks, as usual,” Trapinch grumbled. “I wish I could just run away and yell at someone else to do all my fighting for me.”
“These guys will probably eat you if you try to waddle away, as slow as you are,” Treecko smirked. “So you’ve really only got one option, yeah?”
“We might be outnumbered—and outsized—but we can still put this off!” shouted Combusken, trying to sound more sure than he felt. This wasn’t too difficult, considering that he was pretty certain they were all about to die.
“They’re Rock-types, right?” he continued, fairly desperately. “Blast them with water and grass attacks! It should weaken them enough for the rest of us to get the advantage!”
“… but I have to be touching them for Absorb to work.”
“… I don’t think my Water Gun is gonna cut it,” Squirtle added.
While they were equivocating, the Onix-clan struck. The fact that their targets were, for the most part, cowering in fear didn’t make it too difficult. By the time the dust cleared, the humans’ Pokémon were either knocked flat or hiding in corners.
Combusken, floored by a rouge piece of rock, staggered to his feet, clutching his head. At first he thought he was hallucinating—there were flashes of red light all around the tunnel, and his comrades were vanishing before his eyes. When he realized what was going on, he cursed.
Our partners think we’re in danger, and they’re calling us back! But they’re not far enough away yet—the Onix will catch them, and…
Things were different in his case, though. He knew that the Pokéballs had certain settings, and that the one binding him to his was weak. When the beam came for him, he refused its call. Someone had to buy time.
“Hey! Yeah, that’s right, you!” Combusken bellowed, waving his arms frantically. “It’s me you should be chasing after! I’m the one that wants to attack your young!”
A complete lie, of course—and it was probably more his dancing than his words that got their attention. Either way, with perfect hive-mind, all the Onix turned to face him.
Accepting that discretion was the better part of valor, the Fire-type immediately turned tail and ran down the tunnel. There was no way to fight that many. He could only hope to lose them somehow, and double back to rejoin his friends.
He was just craning his neck for side-passages when the rocks began to fly. One chunk struck him squarely in the back of the head, and he stumbled.
It was a fatal mistake. In the next moment, the Onix were on him.
When Combusken regained consciousness, there was sun in his eyes. Blinking slowly, he took a look around, taking inventory of the familiar and concerned faces.
“If I’m dead, this is kind of a letdown,” he muttered. “You’re all here too.”
“You’re not,” came a voice from behind. “And… you’re welcome.”
Craning his neck, the Fire-type located the speaker: a green Pokémon, with leaves jutting from its arms, legs, and the very top of its head, that was leaning against a tree, arms folded, chewing on a long blade of grass.
The aloof attitude was quite familiar.
“Sort of,” the other smirked. “Grovyle, now. I kind of had to evolve if I was gonna be fast enough to save your sorry neck.”
Combusken blinked, thinking back. “They’d caught up to me when I passed out… I thought I was a goner.”
“You almost were,” the Grass-type agreed. “But I resisted being called back, too, and played dead for just a bit. Once they’d barreled off after you, I didn’t have too much trouble slipping under their guard. It was a bit hairy carrying you all the way back down the tunnel, but I was quick enough to pull it off.”
Leaning down, Grovyle prodded him on the forehead. “No way I’m gonna let you die until I’ve proven I’m better than you are. And don’t you forget it, hear?”
Combusken laughed, closing his eyes again. “Got it.”