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Thread: Roots // PG-13

  1. #251
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    Thanks. Your fanfic was 2 days about a coupe hours each; I read The Unova Chrinicles in 3 hours flat. I am not a huge reviever so dont expect long ones. Keep writing!

    Grav out.
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    I love Serebii, but can't be on much anymore. After June, I might be more active. You can still PM me if you need me.

  2. #252
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    Hey everyone. I have a big chapter for you today... both in length and in content. The battle scene you will read is going to be the last one for a while, so I spared the length cutbacks. I think it deserves its own few pages. xP

    Other than that, this chapter speaks for itself. There is be a slightly higher-than-usual concentration of swearing in the second post, but not to a great degree.

    Read on...


    3.0

    The next day, at 1:30, Michael was sitting at a bench in the Gym lobby, his back bent, elbows resting on his knees. It was battle day, but he wasn’t thinking about battling. In fact, he was hardly thinking at all—just staring down at the floor, stealing glances at the clock periodically to see if his hour was up yet.


    1:40.



    1:59.



    2:15.




    In another room somewhere, Henry was battling Lona. Was he winning? Did he open with Clefable like they discussed, or was her team so powerful that it warranted a change of strategy? And perhaps most importantly of all, what would the boy say when he turned up?


    Michael watched inattentively as the other trainers moved past him, going about their daily duties. Their voices were distant to him, as if separated by a pane of glass. All he wanted to think about was strategy—and indeed, in the past hour, he had gone over so many scenarios that his head had begun to ache. For some reason, all of them involved Lona whipping out a powerhouse of some sort and giving his team a clean sweep—or, even worse, all of her pokémon being so powerful that he wouldn’t even be able to faint one.

    Distracting himself, he glanced up at the clock again. The minute hand had jumped—this time by a whole five-minute increment. (He had much experience with doing this in school, especially during classes that seemed to drag on for ages. The trick was to memorize the minute hand’s position, zone out for a while, then look back at the clock and see how much it had moved.) But this time, he was going for the opposite effect. Rather than speeding through time, he wanted to slow it down, to make each minute linger as long as possible. Through it all, he looked periodically at the left doorway, where Henry had disappeared earlier, and for better or worse, would soon emerge.



    At last, a familiar pair of sneakers appeared amongst the others. Henry stepped warily into the lobby, glanced around the room, and when his eyes locked on Michael, he hurried over. One hand was still holding his last pokéball. The other hung stiff at his side, clenched tightly.

    Michael stood from the bench as the boy approached. “Well?” he said. “What happened?”

    For a moment, Henry was silent. Then, he lifted his free hand and opened it to reveal the Cobal badge.

    “I won,” he said. “But she’s tough. Be careful.”

    Michael didn’t know what to make of these words. He and Henry swapped places—the boy sitting down, Michael hoisting his backpack over his shoulder and turning for the front desk. Despite his victory, Henry’s face retained a detached, pondering look, as if there was still something that he couldn’t figure out.

    After signing him in, the attendant pointed Michael to the same hallway, and he went off. He followed the numbers on the doors to the very last one in the lineup—Room 99.


    He stopped before the closed door, and after a brief pause, pushed it open.


    The Gym leader’s battle room was larger than the others, nearly three times as big as a regular one. Wooden shades were draped over the windows, providing light in lined segments along the floor.

    Lona herself stood on the far end of the room, in between two back doors. She held a brown pokéball pouch, but other than that, had no other items on hand. She nodded once as Michael entered, stepping off the hard floor and onto the shifty surface of the mats. Involuntarily, his gaze began to wander — he noticed that the cushions which had appeared clean before were scarred and dented in many places, and if he squinted, he could even make out what he thought to be a footprint in the center of the field, belonging to a big, heavy creature.

    “Welcome,” Lona said. Despite the distance between them, her voice carried over as if she had been standing only a foot away. “Today you will prove to me your worth of the Cobal Badge. Be advised that the rules of partner and staff battles do not apply here. You may switch pokémon as many times as you wish, or keep the same battler, or do anything else provided that it’s within the boundaries of the League rules. That being said, I give out the badge on a discretionary basis. Winning does not guarantee that you’ll earn it, nor does a loss have to be the end for you if you fought skillfully.” She removed a pokéball from her pouch and held it out in front of her. “When you are ready, you may begin.”

    She twisted open the capsule, and out came a burst of light, materializing into a Hitmonchan that landed on its feet in front of her. The pokémon’s body was lean and chiseled with muscle, though by far the most striking detail was its fists—big and heavy, hanging past its knees, covered with red fabric like boxer’s gloves. The creature lifted them with ease, though each one was comparable to the size of its own head, and held them in a defensive position at its chest.

    Michael sent out Goldeen, who slid onto the field atop a stream of water. Once she had pulled all the liquid into a ball beneath her, he gave his command: “Use Psybeam!”

    Goldeen lowered her horn like a lance, and the sound of crackling static filled the room. Seconds later, a thick, pink beam blasted out from the tip, shooting across the field at her opponent. But before it could make contact, the Hitmonchan raised its gloves over its face, and the ray of energy broke against the barrier, dissipating into a thousand tiny wisps in the air. In the same breath, the pokémon’s body swayed forward, like a spear of grass pushed by the wind, and fell into a sprint. Its feet sailed soundlessly over the mats, crossing the distance between them in a matter of seconds. Upon reaching Goldeen, the Hitmonchan leaned back, curling its fist to aim a punch.

    “Dodge!” Michael called.

    Goldeen swerved aside just in time, the stream trailing around her like an elongated tail, and the Hitmonchan’s fist plunged through empty water. She twisted around to strike from behind, but the Hitmonchan proved just as quick—it spun around to face her again, and began to punch at the tail of water, its fists striking so rapidly that they formed a blur of splashes. The punches edged with increasing proximity to Goldeen’s tail, who tried in vain to outrun them, till finally one of them hit true. Hitmonchan’s fist struck Goldeen squarely in the side, knocking her to the floor like a missing tooth.

    The spiral of water collapsed, but the Hitmonchan paid it no mind, letting it slosh over the mats while it caught Goldeen with its foot. Before the fish could wiggle away, the Hitmonchan tossed her aloft, and punched her back against the mats, making her bounce.

    “Get the water back! Get it back!” Michael said.

    But Goldeen’s flails amounted to little. Each time she hit the floor, the Hitmonlee scooped her back up with its foot and tossed her up again, giving no time for an escape. After the umpteenth toss, the Hitmonchan pulled back its fist and punched harder than ever, throwing her like a shimmering ball halfway across the room.


    Lona hadn’t said a single word.


    Goldeen landed with a thump onto the mats and rolled a while before stopping. A second later she flipped over—and a pink Psybeam blasted from her horn, striking Hitmonchan square in the chest. The pokémon stumbled back, ousting a cry.

    Michael grinned. “Again! Do it again!”

    Goldeen shuffled to the side to make a fresh aim, but before she could launch the attack, the Hitmonchan was on top of her, kicking at her side in an attempt to lift her. But this time Goldeen was able to ground herself, retaliating with Pecks whenever the Hitmonchan’s foot came too close. The fighter’s face contorted with pain at onslaught of Flying moves, and his kicks abated, becoming more like struggles for balance as he hopped from one foot to another, trying to evade Goldeen’s beak. But with his tiny feet no longer the center of balance, the Hitmonchan began to teeter, pulled down by the weight of his oversized fists.

    For a split second, it seemed that the pokémon would fall. The Hitmonchan had leaned back on one foot at a sharp angle, its arms groping at the air. But at the last minute, he managed to place a sturdy foot behind him, and lunged forward. In a swift motion, he kicked Goldeen up into the air and prepared to punch. But the fish was faster—still aloft, she spun around, and before the Himonchan could reach for her, a burst of pink light exploded from her horn. The force of the Psybeam blasted the Hitmonchan back, knocking it to the floor. Goldeen landed on her belly just a few feet away.

    “Get the water!” Michael said, slapping his knees with impatience. “Get it back! Hurry!”

    Goldeen spun around to where the puddle of water lay, slowly seeping into the cracks between the cushions. While the Hitmonchan got to his feet, she jumped over to it and pulled what was left of it beneath her. Michael’s shoulders drooped with relief as she rose into the air once more, supported by a stable column of water.

    A short distance away, the Hitmonchan drew itself upright, eyes locking on its target. With a cry, he bolted forward.

    “Water Pulse!” Michael commanded.

    Goldeen sailed over to meet the Hitmonchan, riding atop a rolling wave. Just as she reached him, she jumped, letting the water crash over his head. She sailed over the pokémon’s stooping frame, skillfully pulling the water back beneath her, and performed the maneuver from behind—not giving the Hitmonchan even a second to recuperate. The wave of Water Pulse struck it a second time from behind, and the Hitmonchan fell to its knees, fists dangling at its sides like wrecking balls.

    “Not finish it off! Psybeam!”

    Goldeen rose on a billowing wave, her horn blazing. She launched the Psybeam at the Hitmonchan, who fell without protest, collapsing on his belly with an exhausted oomph.

    Lona lifted a hand and snapped her fingers twice. The Hitmonchan did not move. Pulling open the pokéball pouch, she called it back inside, swapping it for her second pokémon. Michael’s bewildered joy faded into puzzlement as he once more became aware of the Gym leader’s pervading silence. She hadn’t given a single command, and yet her pokémon had moved with steadfast resolution, as if it had been given a script of actions to follow. But at the same time, all of Hitmonchan’s decisions had been its own, as if it wasn’t reacting to the will of its trainer, but to the battle itself.

    Guide them, not command them… All of a sudden, those words seemed to take on a whole new meaning. They lingered in Michael’s mind as Lona sent out her second pokémon—a Hitmonlee. Right off the bat, he knew what he had to do.

    “Goldeen, return.” He called the fish back inside and sent out Caterpie. He unlocked the pokéball and held it out as far as he could, dropping the Bug pokémon onto the center of the field. It was her third day in metamorphosis, and the cocoon had hardened and darkened around her.

    Michael didn’t give the command for String Shot right away. He waited, like Lona waited, and gradually the Hitmonlee began to move away from its trainer, scanning the territory for danger. When it came close enough to Caterpie, Michael smiled. “Now!”

    At once, the cocoon began to shoot out mounds of silvery string, which wrapped and tangled around her opponent’s feet. Once the Hitmonlee realized what was happening, it jumped back in shock—but found that its ankles were already bound by a sticky white band. The Hitmonlee tried in vain to pull its feet apart, jerking its torso from side to side while Caterpie tightened the binds. When she hopped off, the Hitmonlee was left standing like a statue, its arms swiping in a vain attempt to capture her. Unlike the Hitmonchan, however, the Hitmonlee’s stance was completely sturdy. Michael knew that it would take much more to make this one fall.

    Nodding in acknowledgment to Caterpie, he sent her back, and swapped her for his next battler.

    A white bullet burst forth from the pokéball, shooting a brilliant arc through the air like a comet. It morphed into a pair of wings, and upon escaping the cloak of light, Ringo’s black head emerged, claws bared with relish as he out a ringing screech. “LONA LONA DRY AS BONE-A — SLEEPING, STANDING, LIKE A DRONE-A —”

    As Ringo sang, he began to circle around the Hitmonlee, and gleefully planted himself on its head. The Hitmonlee’s arms shot upward in an attempt to capture him, but Ringo slipped away, fluttering instead to the pokémon’s shoulder, pecking and clawing the whole while at its bare skin. Upon Michael’s command, Ringo used Aerial Ace twice, two rapid slashes to the back that caused the Hitmonlee to teeter, but still not topple.

    Frustrated, Ringo pestered more, perching on Hitmonlee’s head and beating his wings. The Hitmonlee swayed to and fro like a reed, eyes wrinkled under the blows, trying to shake off its bothersome new hat. Meanwhile, Michael noticed that the binds around its feet had begun to loosen. Ringo seemed to sense this as well, and the more wiggle room Hitmonlee gained, the more desperate the bird became. Leaning forward, Ringo pulled his feet over the Hitmonlee’s eyes to shut them, and right then, Michael heard a loud snap. Something small and brown knocked Ringo out of his perch, and the bird fell like an autumn leaf, slumping to the floor.

    Michael blinked, unable to fathom what had just happened. The silver rope had snapped, and Himtonlee’s leg had shot upward like a boneless appendage, bending all the way over its head to hit Ringo. It was now lying flat against its face like a spaghetti noodle, bending with the curve of its head.

    With hair-raising fluidity, the leg straightened and lowered itself to the ground. Ringo, meanwhile, was rolling over onto his feet, head spinning in an attempt to discern up from down. He managed to take off again, but with his opponent on the loose, he could not go far. In a couple of swift strides, the Hitmonlee had gained on him—and the tip of its foot shot up towards the ceiling, striking Ringo in the underbelly. Ringo flapped harder, managing to propel himself higher, but the Hitmonlee kicked again, and the bird was knocked in a downward ‘C’ towards the floor. No matter which direction Ringo tried to escape, the Hitmonlee always adapted, its legs stretching like rubber to accommodate any angle. Ringo quickly tired from the repeated blows. His flight grew labored, and his head began to droop towards the ground. Not wanting to risk a fainting, Michael sent him back.

    He rushed over to his backpack, and after a brief impasse, brought out Turtwig. His starter was dropped with a clunk onto the field, shaking himself awake from a light slumber. He turned around, looking up at his trainer’s face, and Michael pointed down. “Shell! Now!”

    Grunting in understanding, Turtwig withdrew, leaving the round, limbless shell glinting temptingly in the light. Hitmonlee approached and gave it a kick, and Turtwig skidded towards the wall.

    “Stay in, stay in!” Michael called.

    Turtwig managed to hold his own for several minutes, curled up in safety while Hitmonlee kicked his shell about, trying to make him emerge. The kicks increased in frequency, and at times, the speed with which the shell skidded across the mats and clashed with the walls made Michael afraid that it would shatter into a million pieces. But miraculously, it didn’t. He was waiting for a specific moment, when Hitmonlee kicked at a specific angle, too blinded by its preoccupation to calculate its moves.

    At last, it happened. The shell was lying in the center of the room, and Hitmonlee lunged for it with a running start, kicking it in a broad arc towards the wall.

    But just before the shell made contact, a pair of stubby legs emerged and pushed off against the wall, with a momentum so great that the shell smacked Hitmonlee back in the face. The pokémon staggered back, eyes puckering.

    “Now, Razor Leaf!”

    Turtwig’s head and limbs popped out of the shell, and a second later, a storm of leaves whipped through the air, hitting the Himtonlee’s flat face like a windshield. They left behind bloody gashes. Landing on his feet, Turtwig attacked again and again, then when the Hitmonlee was sufficiently distracted, ran forward and gave the teetering pokémon an extra push. Hitmonlee fell without resistance, collapsing on its belly.

    Lona waited several seconds, but the Hitmonlee lay still. Silent as ever, she called it back, and sent out her third battler. The light from her pokéball had barely faded before its inhabitant—a small, blue-bodied creature—fled its place of deposit. A dark bullet zipped around the perimeter of the room, too fast for the eye to see, its dash stirring up a light wind. It circled the room twice, then broke free of the walls, rolling itself over into the center point of the battlefield. It was Croagunk.

    The blue frog amounted to little more than the height of Michael’s knee. It stood on its hind legs with its back slightly hunched, its lips spread out into a perpetual, clown-like grin. Seeing Michael, the Croagunk tittered softly, a nasty sound that reminded him of human laughter.

    Michael swapped Turtwig for Goldeen. The fish emerged atop a crashing wave, stopping right in front of her opponent. “Use Psybeam!” he said.

    Goldeen lowered her in preparation to launch the blast. But Croagunk was already gone—the frog had fled for the walls, and was now making a circle across the room, running to take Goldeen from behind.

    “Watch out!” Michael called.

    Goldeen looked askance just in time to dodge a stubby arm, which had appeared at her side only moments prior. She made a clumsy forward jump, pulling all the water with her, and Croagunk landed on its knees from its failed attack. Michael noticed that the fingers of one hand were oozing a thick, purple fluid.

    Poison Jab… shit.

    He knew that there was no hope in using Caterpie, for the Croagunk would be impossible to pin down with String Shot. He would have to win with sheer persistence.

    “Goldeen, confuse it! Peck it, Psybeam it!” Michael paused. “Don’t worry if it hits you!”

    Goldeen did as she was told, though a part of him sensed that she knew her own fate. The Croagunk evaded direct combat, dancing around the pink rays of Psybeam and jets of water she shot at him. He never attacked until he could reach her from behind, and got her with a few Poison Jabs which she was too slow to counter. After hardly two minutes of being out in the field, Goldeen’s body was almost entirely covered by splotches of toxic slime, which trickled into her source of water and mixed around with the current. Already, Michael could see its effects setting in—the fish became less coordinated than before, and had to exert more force than before to keep the water together around her body. But the more time she spent submerged, the more the Croagunk’s venom could circulate around her open cuts, poisoning her further. Michael felt a brief pity, but knew that they had to act soon, or else she would faint.

    Meanwhile, Croagunk was preparing for a new offensive. He had slunk off to a safe spot to the side where he watched Goldeen’s demise, tittering softly behind his palms. It began to tap its feet in a circle across the mats, doing the slow, familiar dance of Taunt.

    Goldeen began to flap her fins in anger, churning the water faster beneath her. Despite her weakness, she managed to rise a little from the ground, and lowered her horn in preparation to attack.

    With a gleeful shriek, the Croagunk lunged, the claws of both hands bared and gleaming.

    “Psybeam!” Michael shouted.

    The tip of Goldeen’s horn blazed with a hot, pink light—and just as the Croagunk sprang for the final blow, a searing blast escaped from it. The frog was swallowed whole by a torrent of light, and dropped fainted on the floor, its spark extinguished by the super-effective combination. Michael smiled in relief, feeling a macabre satisfaction that the Croagunk’s Taunt had come back to bite it.

    He was about to turn to Goldeen, when he noticed to his surprise that she had fallen slack, was letting the water rock her away towards the floor.

    “No!” he said. “Goldeen, get up!”

    But it was no use. The fish continued to sink, and out of necessity to save the water, he sent her back. Returning to his backpack, Michael dropped pokéball in with the others.

    Lona, meanwhile, returned her Croagunk, and brought out her final pokémon. Michael noticed her step back, casting her gaze briefly to the ceiling, and twist open the capsule. The pokéball released a screen of searing light that blocked her entirely from view, expanding into a shapeless mass that towered almost halfway to the ceiling. Gradually, the light assumed a human shape, fading to reveal the Machoke.

    This pokémon was neither big-fisted like Hitmonchan, nor long-legged like Hitmonlee. It had a body that surpassed the musculature of any human being, and stood nearly four heads above its trainer. Its skin was blue, rippling with red veins, packed with muscle from head to toe. The belt it wore shone with a metal gleam from the center of its waist, loaded with all sorts of buttons and grooves. The device was thick and heavy-looking, and seemed to press into the pokémon’s very flesh. Michael sincerely hoped it wasn’t broken.

    As he held out his pokéball, he couldn’t help but glance up and meet the Machoke’s gaze. Its eyes were tiny, but fierce.

    Tightening his resolve, Michael opened the capsule and sent out Machop. The fighter tumbled out onto the floor and sprang to his feet, standing up straight like a gymnast. Upon locking eyes with the Machoke, Machop’s eyes widened, lips parting in curiosity. At the same time, something in Machoke’s face softened, possibly humored at the sight of its lower evolution.

    Slowly, the giant lumbered over, swinging forward its arms, and lifted the smaller pokémon by the waist. Its hands were so big that they wrapped completely around Machop’s torso. Machop remained obediently slack, peering up at his captor. Michael cracked a smile.

    The Machoke remained still at first, as if in thought. Then, it lifted its hands over its head and threw Machop across the room. The small pokémon went flying like a broken toy, hitting the wall behind Michael and sliding headfirst to the floor. When Machop got to his feet, all traces of brotherly awe had vanished from his face. His eyes had narrowed into slits, and he began to curl his fists, jaw clenched.

    Michael clapped his hands. “Go get him!”

    With a cry, Machop lunged forward, dashing across the mats and aimed a flying kick at Machoke’s belly. The larger pokémon hunched its back, shielding itself with its forearms, and Machop bounced off as if he had hit a block of lead. Still unfazed, Machop got up and tried again, this time seeking a weak spot from behind. But he might as well have been trying to dent a boulder—no matter where he kicked, the Machoke would not budge, or otherwise indicate that it had even felt the blow to begin with. Physical overpowering, Michael realized, would be impossible. But with Goldeen gone, he would no longer be able to strike from a distance. His only hope lay in speed, and on the slim possibility that the Machoke would somehow tire out.

    But it didn’t.

    Machop raced around his opponent for a whole minute, jabbing and kicking with hardly a second’s pause in between. But the Machoke stood its ground. It soon woke from its idleness, and began to seek Machop with its gaze, turning as if in preparation to catch him. Sensing that his efforts were in vain, Machop scurried away, and began to race around the room in panic.

    Machoke set about in pursuit, patiently trudging along as a parent would after child. Despite the smaller pokémon’s speed, the Machoke was able to catch up in only a few strides, and every so often helped Machop reach his destination more quickly — whether it was the floor, or the top of the window frame. The Machoke began to knock its prey around the room, much like Hitmonlee had, hitting him against any flat surface its eyes alighted upon.

    The more time Michael spent thinking, the worse Machop’s situation became. Soon, the fighter began to spend more time flying than running, touching the walls more frequently than the floor. At one point, the Machoke stepped away to let Machop get to his feet—Michael saw that the smaller pokémon was stumbling around in confusion, eyes blinking rapidly. At one point, Machop seemed to steady himself, and rose awkwardly to his feet. He lifted a foot to take a step, but midway he paused, swiveling to the side like an old signpost. And without a moment’s resistance, he collapsed. Fainted.

    Dammit. Michael curled his fist around the pokéball and sent Machop back. He watched his pokémon fade away into the light, and silently cursed his ineptness. The Machoke had managed to faint his first counter in a matter of a few throws. And Michael, being too slow to make sense of things, had let it.

    Think faster… think faster… He repeated the mantra in his mind as he searched his backpack for a replacement. Finally, he selected Turtwig. He knew that it wasn’t a particularly good match, but figured that he should do as much damage as he could. Coming back to his place on the battlefield, Michael unscrewed the pokéball, and released his starter onto the mats.

    “Razor Leaf! Quickly!”

    Turtwig obeyed, flicking his head from side to side, and launched a flurry of sharp leaves speeding towards the Machoke. The giant stepped through them as if they were pieces of paper—the majority of them bounced right off its skin, with only a few leaving behind red marks, the same color of the veins that bulged from its neck and arms. Nevertheless, Turtwig kept firing, even as the Machoke kept advancing, till it had dwarfed the turtle in the center of its huge shadow.

    “Run!” Michael shouted. “Move! Don’t stand there!”

    Leaning down, the Machoke clapped his hands over the spot where Turtwig was standing. But the turtle had managed to slip away, escaping through the gap in between Machoke’s legs. Turtwig ran without looking forward, firing leaves in a frenzy behind him, no longer concerned with taking proper aim. The leaves scraped past the Machoke’s body, and the pokémon swerved around, seething with rage. Michael saw that its back was covered with cuts, many of which were now oozing. The Machoke heaved itself at Turtwig, who slipped away yet again, shooting leaves in defense at every chance he got. The giant’s breathing soon grew ragged from exhaustion.

    “Keep doing it!” Michael shouted. But his giddiness was short-lived. Machoke had gained on Turtwig again, and before he could escape, the giant grasped him by the shell with a single beefy hand. Bending back its arm, the Machoke hurled the shell across the room, sending it skittering like a hockey puck towards the wall. Once the shell came to a stop, it moved no more.

    Michael swapped pokéballs almost mechanically. He sent Turtwig back, dropped the capsule into his backpack with the others, and sent out Caterpie.

    The pokéball deposited her in the dead middle of the battlefield, like an offering to the raged, growling beast who flexed his fists nearby. But the Machoke was no longer as ferocious as it had been before—its energy seemed drained, clearly the work of the power belt, which buzzed and blinked as its mysterious function kicked in. The Machoke now stood with its shoulders slouched, its chest rising with rapid breaths. But its warrior’s spirit was unquenched. It looked at the Caterpie with a twisted grimace, and approached in eagerness of playing with its new toy.

    Michael cupped his hands around his mouth. “Use String Shot!” he said. “Make as much as you can!”

    At once, the cocoon began to shudder. A faint, rapid whirring arose from inside, and moments later, it began spitting out globs of white string from its front end. Caterpie no longer cared to dispense it neatly—she seemed to sense the danger too, and by the time Machoke got to her, she had spun out a sizable mound that lay like a lump of spaghetti in front of her. But before she could sever the string with her pincers, the Machoke lifted her and hurled her across the room. A segment of string broke off and followed her trail, wrapping around her as she fell. The cocoon touched the wall and slid down, clattering dryly on the floor. Five seconds passed, and it appeared that Caterpie had been scared into silence.

    Michael was beginning to feel a bitter taste as he returned Caterpie. Dropping the pokéball into his backpack, he took out his last—Ringo. A brief panic gripped him as he held the capsule in his hands. What if he lost? No doubt, Lona would banish him to the lowest trough of partner battles, immersing him in the murky gloom, forcing him to crawl his way to the light all over again. By the time he’d get to staff battles, half the summer would be gone.

    No.

    Michael steeled himself. It would not end like this.

    He sent out the bird, upon seeing Ringo aloft once more, he pointed straight at Machoke’s face: “Get him, Ringo! Make that flake sorry he ever crossed us! Use Aerial Ace!”

    Ringo dove forward with a screech, swiping his claws across the Machoke’s cheek. The pokémon’s beefy hands flew after him, but Ringo was far too fast—he swiped again from behind, this time coming back and perching on Machoke’s head.

    “Bang—bang—Ma-choke silver hammer!”

    He began to peck in rhythm, piping loudly the fragments of a song, all the while clawing at Machoke’s head and shoulders. Whenever the pokémon tried to snatch him, he quickly jumped to the other side, and began to sing even louder. The Flying attacks took their toll quickly—Machoke’s gestures became slow, its footsteps heavy and swaying. The giant seemed to have finally reached the end of its string, no longer holding itself in form, wanting only to shut off the bird-boombox.

    Right then, Michael tore his eyes away from the struggle and noticed the pile of webbing sprawled on the mats. His heart skipped a beat.

    “Ringo, the string! Get the string!”

    Tearing his attention away from his captive, Ringo flew off Machoke’s shoulder and followed the direction of Michael’s finger. He grasped the edge of the string with his beak and flew off towards Machoke, letting the webbing trail behind him. He flew in a tight spiral around the Machoke’s legs, winding the string around them, suppressing the pokémon’s attempts at escape. Ringo worked his way upwards, dodging Machoke’s flying fists, binding the pokémon’s torso, and one of its enormous arms against its side. When the string was all gone, Machoke resembled a standing mummy, and could do little but swing at the air with his remaining arm in an attempt to regain balance. Swooping in for the kill, Ringo pushed the Machoke with his claws, and the pokémon toppled like a boulder.

    It writhed and rolled around on the floor, snarling with rage, but Caterpie’s binds held strong. Ringo perched himself atop Machoke’s shoulder and pecked twice at the string. “Stay!” he growled.

    By some invisible trigger, the Machoke obeyed. The pokémon slackened, breathing rapidly from exhaustion, its eyes drifting half-closed.


    The room fell silent.




    From across the battlefield, Lona closed her eyes and inclined her head. “Very good. You have grasped the meaning of listening.”

    She lifted her pokéball, and the Machoke vanished like a bad dream, fleeing in a beam of white light to the opened capsule. The string collapsed onto thin air where its body had been, and Ringo took off, piping fragmented phrases of “Walker!” and “Boss!” in jubilation. He flew a circle over the field, then came back and fluttered over to Michael’s shoulder.


    Noticing the boy’s utter bewilderment, Lona closed the pokéball pouch, and almost slyly, lifted an eyebrow. “I never expect anyone to faint Machoke. Usually it’s enough to keep him out for a couple minutes so I can see someone’s strategy take form. You lasted eight. I’m impressed.”


    Michael gave a weak nod. He looked askance at Ringo, whose gaze was as stern and piercing as ever, and gave a laugh of relief. He let the bird nibble his finger, then sent him back, zipping him up with the rest of his team in his backpack. As Michael turned back around, he saw Lona step forward, and unconsciously, he mirrored her motions. The two met at the center of the room.

    Lona looked down at him, and the corners of her mouth lifted slightly. “My staff have reported your improvements. I’m glad to see you have learned.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small coin. White, slender hands placed the badge into his. “Be mindful of your tactics…” she said, “and also remember your purpose for challenging the League. Whatever it is, make sure it’s strong enough to guide you till the very end. That’s the only advice I have left to give.”

    Her eyes lingered on him a moment longer, and he saw them flash with a brief cheer he hadn’t noticed before. Then she backed away, arms falling of their own accord into their folded position in front of her. “You may collect your monetary reward at the front desk,” she added. “Goodbye.”


    Michael looked down at the badge in his hands, sinking his gaze into the pattern of lines etched across its surface. Wasting no time, he hoisted his backpack on his shoulders and hurried out of the room.









    //////
    Last edited by Mrs. Lovett; 25th November 2012 at 12:44 AM.

  3. #253
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    //////





    The hallway outside was empty, quiet save for the scattered sounds of battling from distant rooms. With much of the early crowd gone, the Gym was like a vast, hollow shell, even the subtlest motion stirring soft echoes within its walls. Michael walked at a fast tempo, his steps falling in rhythm with the pounding of his heart. He was clutching the badge ever tighter in his hand, feeling the joy of the metal digging into his palm, the relief of its subtle weight as he swung it by his side.

    Towards the end of the hallway, a boy was leaning against the wall, arms crossed. As Michael approached, the kid turned his head, and upon seeing Michael, his face lit up. It took him a few seconds to realize it was Rick.

    “Hey Mike. What’s up?”

    Michael slowed to a stop, and Rick rushed forward to meet him.

    “I’ve been trying to get a hold of you,” he said. “Some idiots went and ratted on me, and now they’ve got all the staff looking for the guy who started the petition. Some of the trainers, too. I swear… it’s like everyone became a Lona spy overnight. We’ll have to be more careful.” Rick paused, and after making sure no one else was around, he lowered his voice. “Listen, I need you to meet me in the mail room tonight. It’ll have to be when no one’s awake, like three or so. I want to type up the next batch of letters. I figured we’d get a lot more people on our side if we told them the truth about Lona—who she is, and what she’s really like when no one’s looking. We’ll get it done much faster if it’s the two of us.”

    After a brief delay, Michael nodded.

    “I’ve already got down the main points, but you can add to the list if you want,” Rick continued. “One of the things I’m gonna put are the hours. Did you know that this Gym has the longest workday out of all of them? It goes from six in the morning to eight in the evening.” He shook his head in exasperation. “Oh, speaking of that… what are you doing here so late? I asked the people at the front desk if you were still here, and they said that you were. Staff battles don’t go this long unless you do really badly.”

    In response to Rick’s questioning look, Michael held up the badge. “I got it.” He grinned. “Swellest feeling in the world, man.”

    Rick’s eyebrows climbed, to the point where they vanished behind his tangled bangs, and his face adopted the look of a betrayed puppy. “You got the badge? No freaking way!”

    Michael nodded. “Yep.” But his smile quickly faded when he realized that Rick wasn’t joking. The boy took a step back, grabbing both sides of his head and took long, rapid breaths.

    “I knew it… my God… this shit just keeps happening over and over again… Everyone—every-freaking-one has gotten the badge but me! I’m still here after four freaking weeks! What the fuck is wrong with me?”

    Michael rolled his eyes. “Don’t be a wimp. There’s nothing wrong with you. Did you do the counter thing I told you about?”

    In a snap, Rick tore his hands away from his face and dropped them against his sides. His face was beet red. “Yeah, like that’s gonna help me. Just because something works for you doesn’t mean it works for everyone. Don’t you get it? That skag Lona hates me! You think that’ll change just because I show up with a pretty team? I’ve tried everything already! Trading, items… everything but petitioning the League Office, that is, and reporting the bitch like she deserves. So if you don’t mind, that’s what I’m gonna do now. Bye, Michael.” Rick lifted his sports bag and turned for the lobby.

    Without knowing why, Michael reached for the boy’s shoulder and pulled him back.

    “Just listen to me!” he said. “I can show you how to beat her!”

    “No you can’t!” Rick pulled against Michael’s grip. “And get off me! I was in this alone from the start, and that’s how it’s gonna be till the end. Why would you want to help me? You have the badge already, now leave!”

    The sound of clacking heels advanced over the carpet, just barely audible over the struggle. Michael was too caught up in a rage to notice. He gritted his teeth and looked at Rick, jerking him by the shoulders as if to snap him out of a stupor. “Did you hear a word I just said? I know how to beat her! Lona is a complete joke! Whatever else she says is just a scare tactic to make you feel helpless. Look—” He dropped his backpack onto the carpet and took out his notebook, holding it out between them. “I have everything right here. I’ve been taking notes on her Gym this whole time. I know Lona’s team, and I’ve found out how she battles. All that stuff about being motivated is a lie—all you have to do is match your pokémon’s types against hers and make sure yours are better counters! Don’t listen to the shit she tells you, dammit!”

    All of a sudden, a hand reached into his field of vision and snatched Rick by the collar. Before Michael could understand what was happening, claw-like nails gripped him by the shoulder and spun him around, and he found himself face-to-face with Lona. Her eyes were blazing.

    In a single stroke, she pulled the boys apart, standing them helpless on either side of her, and turned to cast the full beam of her glare at Rick.

    “So,” she said. “This is how you’ve been preparing. This is how you strive to succeed. By stomping around and demanding that others hinder their own progress to help you. It would be nice if that was really how it worked in life, wouldn’t it? But unfortunately, it’s not. You were a decent trainer for the first week, but now I see that rather than improving yourself, your main goal seems to be trying to change everything else around you to suit your needs. Now I see that you have no understanding of the meaning of effort, of how to act towards your peers, or what help is when it’s given to you!”

    She shoved Rick away with such force that he would have stumbled, had he not stopped himself with his heel and advanced back towards her.

    “But you never help!” Rick shouted. “All you do is scream at me and kick me around like I’m your fucking toy! All your other staff at least know what constructive criticism is, and they know battling better than you! Anybody knows battling better than you! And, they know how to recognize it when someone improves! I’m winning in partner battles, but all you’re doing is keeping me in one place!”

    Lona lifted her eyebrows. “Oh? And has it ever occurred to you that maybe I don’t care whether someone wins or not? Have you ever bothered to think that maybe the reason I don’t promote a trainer is because I see, week after week, that he lacks the character his peers possess?”

    “Character?” Rick scoffed. “Look in a mirror! I have more character than you ever will, Miss Walker. Because I, unlike you, don’t try to shove my opinions down other people’s throats! It would help if we actually learned something useful here, but we don’t. All you care about are your stupid papers, your stupid point records, which have nothing to do with the real League we’re supposed to be preparing for. You don’t even train—you just hide in that stupid office all day and act like you’re better than us. What the hell do you know?”

    Lona narrowed her eyes. “Quite a lot, actually. For one thing, I know it’s not an accident that the people who don’t appreciate the opportunities they’re given here are the same ones I see complaining. I also know that there are some people in this Gym who, for the life of me I don’t know why, think that the proper way to beat a Gym is to beg for its leader to be fired. And thirdly, I know that the boy standing in front of me has been lying to me in every word since he came here!”

    Rick froze with a questioning glare.

    “Yes, I found out about the petition,” Lona said. “A group of trainers came to me yesterday and told me their suspicions. I was skeptical at first, but now I see that their facts are confirmed.” She smiled dryly. “Let me guess… you decided that you had finally had enough. You decided that this Gym only exists to make you miserable, that you were the only one who ever got held back in it, and, what more, that I was doing it because I had some special grudge against you. So you, deprived of your last wits, decide that there’s nothing left to do but rebel and exact revenge on the people you don’t like. I must say, that is an interesting concept of success and failure. Spreading lies about myself and my staff, who have done nothing but devote their attention to you and help you correct your mistakes, while putting up with your cheek and disrespect—which you display even towards your fellow trainers when they call you out on it. And then you take it a step further and type a document that, in a nutshell, undermines the efforts of all the people here who ever helped you, both staff and trainers alike. That shows me that you care nothing for those around you, and seek only to manipulate them into getting what you want. You have quite some nerve.”

    At that point, her gaze flickered over to Michael.

    “As for you… I expected better,” she said. “Especially after all you and Henry were doing to prepare. I don’t think he would be particularly pleased with you right now, if he saw this. Or was he a part of your grand scheme too? Funny… because for a moment, it seemed that you two were working hard, that you were really putting forth the effort to improve your battling. But it appears that I was wrong. Turns out you really can’t be sure who’s who until you catch them red-handed.” Lona’s eyes locked on the notebook in his hands, and a shadow fell over her brow. “And to think… for a moment, I almost believed what Miss Herrida had told me.”

    She looked away, and Michael felt a stinging heat bloom inside of him. For once, he had seen something in Lona’s face that he hated even more than anger—her disappointment. He looked down at the red carpet, trying to lose himself in the pattern of gold lines, but nothing he did could erase her expression from his mind.

    “They are in on the scheme!” Rick piped up. “Everyone is! Just wait—when I tell them the truth about you, I’ll get all the trainers on my side! And you know it, because you have nothing to back yourself up!”

    “Stop talking!” Lona shouted. Rick flinched back. “Don’t you dare try to justify yourself in front of me! If I had a wisp less of pity than I do now, then I’d have sent the both of you packing home! As a matter of fact, I should have sent you home the moment you turned up your nose and showed me who you really were—a grumbling, lazy child who rages at problems in life instead of solving them. But I was foolish; I decided to wait, to see if you would change your attitude. Now I see that that’s impossible. Do you think that, honestly, if I were gone, the Gym leader who replaced me wouldn’t eventually notice the same things I did? Do you really think that this is the attitude that will lead you to success in the Elite Four tournament? In anything?”

    Rick clenched his jaw. “You don’t get it!” he blurted. “You don’t get anything! All you want is to be a fucking dictator! You don’t care about anything but your stupid selfish goals, and I was the only one who saw it from the start! I bet it just bothers you that I’m not scared of you—that I unlike everyone else here, realize that you’re a lie! You think that just because Mommy was Champion, that makes you the greatest Gym leader in the world, but it doesn’t. You’re just a bloodsucking freak who’s stuck in the past and wants to turn us all into the trainers you want us to be. But that League’s gone now—Mommy’s gone, and nothing you try to do is ever gonna bring it back. Because no one wants it back. No one wants to make pokémon the whole focus of their life. No one cares about catching all the ones that there are, or traveling the world with them, or going to trainer conventions, holding community tournaments, or anything. You know why all that stuff’s gone? Because no one needs it anymore. And no one needs you! If you dropped off the face of the earth tomorrow, we’d all be happy. But you just can’t accept that. You gotta be the boss. You gotta be the queen of the world—always so mannered, so proper—but all you’re doing is showing everyone how fake you are.”

    At this, something flitted behind Lona’s eyes, though her face remained as placid as ever. The hand that was still holding Michael’s sleeve had slackened. He might as well have turned invisible—Rick and Lona were now standing face-to-face, both of them wearing such similar expressions of fury that it was hard, for a second, to tell them apart.

    “Beneath that shell of yours, you’re just a lonely freak,” Rick chided. “You don’t have a life, you don’t have a family, and you don’t have any friends. And you never will. Know why? ‘Cause you act like a damn princess! You’re always up on your high horse and demand respect from people, but you don’t give it back. You treat everyone like dirt. And you treat me like dirt. You always shout, you always push me around, and you act like I’m a freaking baby!”

    Lona leaned forward. “Then maybe you should stop whining like one, start listening to the shit I tell you, and work on your skills! And if you don’t want to, then leave!“

    “Fine, I will!” Rick grabbed the plastic wristband that was wrapped around his left arm and pulled it off, smacking it against the ground. He grabbed his sports bag and turned for the exit, dragging his feet so they wrinkled the carpet. “I quit the League!”


    Michael stared in dumb shock as Rick stormed down the hallway. Before he could come to his senses, he felt a sudden weight lift from his right shoulder. He turned, looking just in time to see Lona turn her back to him, arms stiffening at her sides.



    “If you have nothing else to add, then you may proceed to the lobby and sign out,” she said. “Congratulations...”




    And just like that, she was gone.






    Lona fled down the hallway till she reached her office, slamming the door so loudly that it trembled on its hinges. From the other direction, Rick’s footsteps faded away into the distance, followed by a loud bang as the front doors closed behind him. Silence rushed back in, leaving Michael alone in the corridor, standing like a pillar and unable to move. Only now did he become aware that his hands had gone cold from shock, and that he was clutching the notebook ever tighter under his arm, as if in fear that it would be taken away. But Lona hadn’t even touched it.



    Unconsciously, Michael’s eyes found the wristband that lay on the floor, and he reached to pick it up, examining its smooth surface. His face was reflected in it as a smudge, colored and distorted by the plastic.


    Rick's words were still buzzing around in his ears, like remnants from a jarring explosion. As he pictured his face, Michael felt a returning spite kindle within him. In a heartbeat, the boy had ruined his own work, had turned away from the door that would have led him to his goal. And it was all because he had been careless, too blindly obsessed with getting revenge on a single person, to see a way out when it was staring him in the face.

    Stupid… Michael thought. His forehead creased in a frown. That’s what you get for hanging out with dweebs… now everything’s ruined. He could’ve listened to me, but no, he just had to run his stupid mouth.

    He closed his palm around the band, and looked back in the direction of Lona’s office. She had vanished there like a mirage, throwing their end of the hallway into a deathly stillness. She could be reporting him this very minute, jotting notes on his Gym record, perhaps declaring his badge null and void. His curiosity began to gnaw at his judgment.

    Stifling his breath, Michael crept up to the office door and pressed his ear against it.



    From behind, he heard a rustle of papers, and the creak of a chair.


    “… yes, Ann, this is Lona. Do me a favor and take Rick Emaldo off the roster for next week… he’s decided not… not to continue… No, I don’t want to hear about that petition! I don’t care who started it! Let them march right up to the League Office if they please. If that’s how they like to solve their problems, then so be it. Tell everyone to stop searching... It’s not fair to the ones who weren’t at fault. And if there’s anyone else left who hates it here that badly, then tell them that they can just go ahead and leave! What do I c-care?”


    A telephone was slammed back into its holder. More papers shuffled. Michael stood facing the closed door, torn between running and staying. His heart was hammering. Any minute, Lona could open the door and catch him—and perhaps he would never lay eyes on the outside world again. But as he listened further, he heard little else. A strange quiet had settled over the room.

    Michael started to turn the doorknob, and to his surprise found it was open. He gave it a light push, and the door swung back to reveal the interior of Lona’s office, quaint and sunny. He stepped inside, still keeping to the door in case he had to run. But Lona didn’t seem to notice. She was sitting behind the desk, her face buried in her arms, the sounds of her sobbing rising from within. The pink jacket was balled up on a table behind her, as if she had tossed it off in a rage, finally tired of its presence.



    Michael didn’t know what he felt as he approached the desk. Shock faded into silence, blotting out everything from his awareness but the single figure in front of him, no longer terrible or imposing, but strangely small against the surroundings. Lona was crying, he realized—really crying—and the sound of it was both sad and frightening, filling his head with such a mess of thoughts that, for an instant, he could barely think. He knew there was a part of him that would have been happy, and not so long ago, would have even strived to bring that moment about — to tear down a deserving foe, like he had done to so many others before.

    But suddenly, that part of him was gone. The Lona Walker who had haunted his mind before had vanished — fallen away like the fragments of a shell, leaving behind the shattered remains of its keeper. And right then, everything clicked. The glares. The whispers. Everything they said had been hidden away inside of her, piling over memories from years past, fueling the storm that was consuming her from within. The timidity had been there the whole time, but it was crushed under layers of scorn, till no one—perhaps not even Lona herself—could sense it. It had emerged in a single moment when Ted had been there, blossoming almost to its former state, but then it slipped from her grasp again, like a tiny light lost amid the raging darkness.

    Rick had been one of many to sustain her downward spiral. He had been a mirror of the person she had turned into—retaliating with the same tactics, toying with her gloom, like so many others who had spoken those same words before. Each encounter only pulled her down further, driving her closer and closer to her own destruction.

    But in the end, it was Michael who had broken her. And oddly enough, he did it without uttering a single word in her direction. It was because she had counted on him, because he had been one of the few to give her hope—catching on to things she herself had lost touch with long ago. But then he took it away. In a matter of seconds, he had wrecked yet another person’s care for him, had ruined yet another thing that he could have done right. And the more Michael thought about it, the more he realized it was all he had ever been good at.





    He stood in place for what felt like hours, numb with indecision, wanting to run but unable to leave. In a sudden, feeble burst, he remembered that he was still holding Rick’s wristband—and felt its slight firmness as he tightened his grip around it. Desperate for something to do, he opened his hand and began to fiddle around with the plastic button, deciding for God-knows-what reason to snap it closed. At last, he did, and a sharp click pierced the air.


    Lona stilled.


    As if sensing that someone was in the room with her, she grew quiet, and after a hanging pause, she lifted her head. A pair of red, puffy eyes emerged from the tips of her arms and locked on Michael’s own—then almost immediately, she hid them away.

    Michael’s blood chilled.

    Lona didn’t let out another peep, but he could feel it as she tensed, and even more so, could feel his own heart pounding, reaffirming his presence with every jarring beat. He had done it. He had fallen into the death-grip of her stare, had plunged past the point of no return, where he would lose everything—his work, his hopes, his sanity.

    His mind began to scramble. The watchful eyes were gone, but Lona was still there, waiting, teetering on the verge of another outburst. Numbly, Michael approached the desk and placed the wristband down in front of her.


    “Sorry,” he mumbled, and stepped back.


    After a minute more of silence, he became assured that she hadn’t heard him, and turned to leave. But right then, he heard a sniff, and a faint rustle as Lona lifted her head from the table.


    “Wait.”


    Michael stopped. He turned around, just as Lona grabbed a tissue to blow her nose, opening her reddened eyes. She rummaged about her desk and lifted a brown folder, to which a white envelope was clipped.

    “Give this to Bertha,” she said. “It’s my letter of support. Tell her—” She was cut short by a loud sneeze. Covering her nose with the tissue, Lona proffered the folder with her free hand. “Tell her… good luck…”


    After a brief pause, Michael took the parcel. Lona brushed her hair away from her face, and their gazes met for an instant. All traces of the former coldness had washed away from her eyes, leaving them soft and patient. They could have been anyone’s.


    For a minute, he thought of saying something else, but found himself at a loss for words. As he backed away, Lona exhaled slowly and lowered her forehead into her hands. But for the time being, she seemed to have calmed.


    Michael left the office in a daze, unable to fathom what had just happened.

















    His mind was still spinning as he walked down the hallway, his footsteps resounding in the silence. Muffled noises of battle fled past his ears, alternating in trance-like synchrony with the silence of empty rooms. He walked at a solemn, deadbeat pace, when a sudden yip-yip tore him out of his thoughts. He stopped in his tracks and looked down—just as a Stunky poked out its nose from one of the empty battle rooms, following a trail of scent.

    The pokémon’s dark fur stood up in tidy bristles, brushing against the edge of the half-door, pushing it out slightly as it emerged. Upon seeing him, the Stunky looked up, its ears flicking.

    Michael stared dumbly at it for a few seconds, till in a half-hearted burst, he recognized it as his own. He might have made a snide remark at it, but right then, he wasn’t in the mood. He continued on his way, not noticing the Stunky patter along in diligent pursuit. Michael passed through the lobby without a wayward glance, forgetting all about the prize money and his wristband, proceeding right by the front desk to the exit.


    A warm, humid wind rushed over him as he pushed open the door, with such force that he had to narrow his eyes. The sun had retreated behind a thick sheet of clouds, casting a gray gloom over the entire town. To the south, a rainstorm was gathering.

    Bertha and Henry stood on the Gym’s front lawn, observing the changing weather. The wind stirred the grass around them, rippling the edges of their clothing. As Michael approached, they turned, and Henry ran forward with a smile.

    “Hey! How’d it go? Did you—”

    The boy stopped short when he noticed the look of blank shock on Michael’s face. His gaze fell to the Stunky, who was running to catch up, and his lips parted. “Michael! You didn’t… you didn’t lose, did you?”

    Michael shook his head. “No.” He held up the badge, and Henry relaxed somewhat.

    “Oh. But then what—”

    Whatever he was about to say was cut off as Bertha came over. “Hey kid. What happened?” Her gaze fell to the folder in Michael’s hands, and she frowned in puzzlement. “What’ve you got there?”

    “It’s Lona’s letter. She signed your petition.” Michael held it out to her.

    Bertha blinked in surprise. “Just now? You mean she told you during the battle?”

    “No, it was after… she just gave me the envelope. She must’ve had it earlier.”

    Bertha looked at him for a few seconds without replying. Then she took the folder and unclipped the envelope, gently peeling off the seal. She removed a typed letter and scanned through it without comment, though her eyebrows lifted.

    She was about to put it back when she noticed a second piece of paper still folded inside the envelope. Michael and Henry came to look as she opened it. It was a written note.


    Miss Herrida,

    I’m glad we were able to come to an understanding. I hope that in the future you will continue to look out for the League’s well-being, and perhaps encourage others to do the same. You have encouraged me.

    -LW



    Bertha lowered the letter. “Huh. I guess I did change her mind, then…” She placed both papers back, and after a brief paused, looked up at the boys and sighed. “Well, that’s about it for this place. I guess it’s time to head over to Pastoria for the next Gym. I don’t know about you two, but I’ve got all my things. Are you ready to leave today?”

    Henry nodded. “Yep! We don’t have much to pack.”

    Bertha looked at Michael. “How about you?” Noticing his strange silence, she frowned. “What’s the matter? Did something happen back there?”

    Michael shook his head. ”No. Why?”

    “You look like you just saw your ghost.” Bertha smiled at her own joke. Somewhat belatedly, Michael returned the gesture.






    But in a way, he had.








    //////







    The boys finished packing in less than an hour, and after turning their keys in to the front desk, they left with Bertha to the rail station. The clouds continued to thicken overhead.

    At the reception counter, Bertha purchased their tickets, while the boys waited in the seating area, amid the shifting, chattering crowds. Since Pastoria City was nearly three hours away, they would be taking an over-ground train, whose tracks would traverse the bogs between the Great Marsh and Lake Valor. All in all, the journey would amount to 500 miles, and would take them to the very edge of Sinnoh’s southeastern shore.



    A short while later, Michael found himself sitting at the window seat of a thin train, looking out at the darkening plains. For the first time, the excitement of leaving was lost upon him. It had numbed, much like the world he saw through the glass, its sounds reduced to a blurry thrum in the pervading silence of his mind. He didn’t feel anything now—not relief, or joy, or sadness.


    Rather, as he stared at the dreary town, part of him wanted nothing more than to go home, shut the door to his room, and forget everything that had happened to him.










    Little did he know, someone far away was thinking the exact same thing.
    Last edited by Mrs. Lovett; 29th March 2014 at 2:23 AM.


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  4. #254
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    Love it. That was your best battle scene yet. Who is the far away person ? Will we ever know?
    Are you going to have any of Micheal's team evolve soon? I'd love to see his reaction to Grotle or Seaking."Oh. Has it changed type? Let's find out! Ringo, Aerial Ace! (dink) Ringo!"
    Formerly Grav.

    I love Serebii, but can't be on much anymore. After June, I might be more active. You can still PM me if you need me.

  5. #255
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    Thank you! I worked very hard on it. Length and effort wise, it was like two of my regular battle scenes put together.

    And yes, I will definitely have Michael's pokemon evolve, and in fact, I've been hinting at Turtwig's approaching evolution for a few chapters now. (The ones with battle scenes, at any rate. Michael has noticed that Turtwig's been getting bulkier and sturdier.) It won't be an explosive evolution like Clefable's, unfortunately, because the Turtwig line evolves through growth. However, there's a certain point that Turtwig must pass before he becomes Grotle. When he passes it, I'll mention it outright.

    As for the far-away person, I thought it would be obvious you will find out next chapter. Stay tuned. xP

    Thanks for reading!


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  6. #256
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    Hello again. It's been quite a long time, but I wanted to drop in and let you know that yes, I am still reading this, and I've enjoyed every minute of it.

    I thought this chapter was beautifully done. It seems all the work you put into it paid off. : ) The intensity and pacing of the Gym battle was just right, and I could really feel Michael's emotions coming through the whole time. Your descriptions were spot-on as well - I pictured everything clearly as if it were happening right before my eyes. Nicely done.

    I also want to thank you for completely changing my views about Lona (and Michael to some degree). Part of the reason this chapter was so successful, I thought, was because of all the buildup from the previous chapters, from seeing Michael and Henry's growth in their battling styles to finding out Lona's true beliefs and motivations behind her actions. And her philosophy of putting in honest effort to reap true success (which was a theme I appreciated seeing throughout the Solaceon arc, by the way) just hit with full force when she confronted Rick. I actually sympathized with her for once, especially when she was just sitting there crying at the end. It showed that she's a real human being, too, and you did a great job getting me invested in her character.

    I noticed one small typo towards the end of the battle scene:

    Michael was beginning to feel a bitter taste as he returned Caterpie. Dropping the pokéball into his backpack, he took out his last—Ringo. A brief panic gripped him as he held the capsule in his hands. What if he lost? No doubt, Lona would banish him to the lowest trough of partner battles, immersing him in the murky gloom, forcing him to crawl his way to the light all over again. By the time he’d get to staff battles, half the summer would be gone.

    No.

    Michael steeled himself. It was not end like this.
    I think there's a word missing here - "it was not to end," maybe?

    Anyway, wonderful job, and I will do my best to keep up with each chapter from now on. Thanks for the great read!

    ~Crimson Penguin

    P.S. Loving the new avatar. : )

    Friend Safari - Bug with Butterfree/Volbeat/Vivillon - PM me for my FC!
        Spoiler:- Current endeavors:


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    Hey, Crimson Penguin! It's good to see you back again. Glad you enjoyed the chapter.

    Quote Originally Posted by Crimson Penguin View Post
    I also want to thank you for completely changing my views about Lona (and Michael to some degree). Part of the reason this chapter was so successful, I thought, was because of all the buildup from the previous chapters, from seeing Michael and Henry's growth in their battling styles to finding out Lona's true beliefs and motivations behind her actions. And her philosophy of putting in honest effort to reap true success (which was a theme I appreciated seeing throughout the Solaceon arc, by the way) just hit with full force when she confronted Rick. I actually sympathized with her for once, especially when she was just sitting there crying at the end. It showed that she's a real human being, too, and you did a great job getting me invested in her character.
    Yay, you hit the point :) Yes, the main thing that I wanted to get across in Solaceon was the fact that Michael isn't the same person he was at the beginning of the story. He's starting to see things in a different way, and that's changed his attitude towards the people around him. (Food for thought: did Lona change, or did Michael? hehe.) Now all that's left is to move forward and see what he makes of it all...

    Quote Originally Posted by Crimson Penguin View Post
    Michael was beginning to feel a bitter taste as he returned Caterpie. Dropping the pokéball into his backpack, he took out his last—Ringo. A brief panic gripped him as he held the capsule in his hands. What if he lost? No doubt, Lona would banish him to the lowest trough of partner battles, immersing him in the murky gloom, forcing him to crawl his way to the light all over again. By the time he’d get to staff battles, half the summer would be gone.

    No.

    Michael steeled himself. It was not end like this.
    I think there's a word missing here - "it was not to end," maybe?
    It was actually supposed to be "It would not end like this," which I remember correcting in one of the earlier versions of this chapter... But once again, my writer's memory has led me to post something completely different than what I typed. xP I'll just go ahead and fix it now.

    Thanks for the review! (And thanks for liking my avatar :P)


    The story of Professor Rowan - Chapter 39 is up!

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    3.1


    They say what goes around comes around.







    No one knew it better than Patricia Rowan.






    In the days that followed her son’s departure, the once cozy, enviable home of the Rowans had declined into a disorderly den, cluttered with the fragments of something that her hands hadn’t been quick enough to mend.

    She did not know what exactly had happened the night that Michael left. She had been in her room, doing something or other, when a sudden loud banging in the kitchen had roused her from her comatose state. She had gone downstairs, and found the traces of what looked like a struggle—a broken vase on the floor, papers scattered all over the rug, and a front door that stood slightly ajar, as if it had been slammed only moments before. It wasn’t hard to put two and two together — Michael had done this. He was somewhere outside now, probably off to a friend’s house, or anywhere that she wasn’t.

    Fine, Patricia remembered thinking, caught in a brewing storm of anger. Let him go. We’ll see how he likes it with those precious hooligans of his.

    And then, without a backward glance, she had gone up to her room, thinking that when he had blown off enough steam, Michael would come to his senses and return.


    But he didn’t.


    The next morning, Patricia woke up to find the house in the exact same state as before—broken vase, rumpled pillows, scattered papers. She went outside, but Michael wasn’t sprawled out on the porch with a sleeping bag, or crouched behind a bush. She remembered phoning his friends’ parents, but they only returned her queries with surprise. No, Michael hadn’t showed up at their doorstep the previous night. No, he wasn’t having breakfast with them that very moment, not wanting to speak to her. Neither Cory nor Brendan had heard from their friend since he had visited them the previous Saturday.

    Patricia tried to ask others. She phoned her next-door neighbors, neighbors across the street, neighbors five doors down. By the end of the hour, she had telephoned the entire community, it seemed, but each voice that answered her only told her the same thing: “I’m sorry, miss, but we haven’t seen him.”

    Patricia sat home for the entire day, not knowing what to do. Betty Arlington, an old family friend, stopped by at noon and offered to start a neighborhood investigation. Patricia accepted. She was slumped on the old leather couch, her head tilted down, her hands resting uselessly in the lap of her skirt. She remembered looking at her hands.

    What have I done? Patricia had mulled, picking her cuticles. What could I have done?

    Those two questions swirled around and around in her mind, pestering her constantly, giving her no rest. She couldn’t pinpoint what exactly had set Michael off that night, and as the shock of his absence escalated into a panic, the memory became all the more muddled in her mind. Eventually, Patricia decided that it didn’t matter what had caused her son to leave. She wanted him back. Promptly.

    The neighborhood search team assembled in her driveway the following day, consisting of over thirty people—both friends and friends of friends, some of whom Patricia barely knew. The hunt wore on for three days that seemed like weeks. They checked houses, the neighborhood park, and other remote areas, but found nothing. There was no sign of Michael Rowan’s presence or departure, almost as if he had never been among them at all.

    Patricia’s patience quickly wore thin. As a last resort, on the morning of June 1st, she got into her car and drove to Jubilife City. She stopped by the police station and filed a request for a city-wide search, giving the officer a recent school picture of Michael’s to identify him by.

    “Name?” asked the officer, taking a clipboard from his desk.

    “Michael Rowan,” Patricia replied. As soon as those words left her, her heart seemed to sink.

    “Age?”

    “Thirteen.”

    “Where do you live in the city?”

    “In the suburbs,” she said. “My address is 984, Old Bay Road.”

    “When did he run away?”

    Patricia paused briefly, without meaning to. “He left on May 28th in the evening. I didn’t know what he was up to at first, and it wasn’t until the next morning that I realized he was gone.”

    “Do you know if he took anything with him that could reveal his identity? A credit card? Pokémon?”

    Patricia froze, then flushed with shame. She had been so immersed in her worries that she hadn’t even bothered to check Michael’s room to see what he had taken. “I don’t know,” she said at last. “He couldn’t have taken a wallet… I have all my things right here.” She touched the purse that hung from her shoulder.

    The officer nodded. “And pokémon? Is your son a trainer?”

    Patricia was silent in her mulling for a while. Finally, she let out a breath. “No. He’s not a trainer. I don’t think he has any pokémon with him.”

    The officer finished writing the last bits of what she had told him. When he clipped his pen back to the edge of the board, he looked up at her. “Okay. Thank you, Miss Rowan. I’ll dispatch a search party and we’ll begin a city-wide investigation. I’ll let you know if we get any leads.”

    “And if not?” she asked.

    The officer’s gaze hung on her hers for a moment, placid and grave. “We’ll let you know.”

    After leaving her address and telephone number with the office, Patricia went home. She pulled the car into the driveway and rushed inside, slamming the door behind her. A part of her still hoped that Michael would reappear somewhere, like a lost shoe, from behind the lamp or inside a closet. Patricia spent a whole ten minutes pacing the house, but it was empty. And not for the first time.

    Days passed. The Jubilife Police posted notices around the city, even resorting to the old milk carton headline that, up until that point, Patricia had thought to be an effort in vain. No one ever looked at the milk cartons. They just took out the milk when they needed it, let it rest on the table for the duration of a meal, then put it back, ignoring all the advertisements that tried to wheedle into the serenity of their day. But now that she was on the losing side of the game, Patricia was gripped by a desperate sort of anger. It couldn’t be her son in that picture. Maybe someone else’s, but not hers. (Soon, she stopped drinking milk entirely, since she couldn’t bear to see the face that stared back at her, gray and lifeless.)

    The investigation office updated her twice a week, but so far, nothing had come up. In the meantime, Patricia’s previous attachment to order and cleanliness had utterly dissolved. Wherein the days before Michael’s departure, the only mar to the otherwise clean home had been a few empty take-out boxes scattered over the counter, now the house was a disaster. Dirty laundry and half-washed dishes accumulated in the areas that Patricia frequented, while dust settled over the barren wood furnishings. Meals had lost all ceremony and significance to her. In the first few days, Patricia had been content to cook something new every evening, but as time wore on, she stopped doing even that. Her leftovers remained for over four days, which she spooned out gradually till the pot or skillet was completely clean. Then she would set it aside and cook on a fresh one, repeating the process.

    Days grew into weeks, and eventually, Patricia had severed all ties with the woman she once was. She no longer bothered to put on makeup in the mornings, and often strolled around in her nightgown well into the afternoon. Phone calls and visitors became less frequent, as her friends probably realized that she didn’t want or need their comforting words. The only people she was interested in talking to were those from the police office, though over time she grew to suspect that they were just as inept as everyone else.

    On the morning of June 17th, more than two weeks after Michael’s disappearance, Patricia reached her all-time low. Stepping into her home, a former friend would have been appalled at its appearance, even more so at the ghost of a woman who skulked inside.

    Patricia was curled up on an armchair in the living room, where she had fallen asleep the previous evening without bothering to turn off the TV. The muted set was still playing, flashing bright pictures and colors into her sore eyes. A cup of coffee stood on the table beside her, cold and forgotten. With a grunt, Patricia leaned forward, pushing herself out of the chair to kneel beside the quacking box. She turned it off with the jamb of a thumb, and the flashing lights vanished, as did the false-white smiles, and the stupid-happy commercials. The picture dissipated into a screen of black, and Patricia was able to see her face in the reflection, against the backdrop of the room.

    She looked no better than the house did. Her eyes had narrowed into slits, and were weighed down with heavy bags from lack of sleep. The corner of her mouth were drooped into a permanent downward ‘C’, and her hair was a frazzled brown mop.

    Is this what I’ve become? she wondered. But there was no question about it.

    Slowly, Patricia rose to her feet, grimacing at the pain that flared in her legs and back, from all the slouching and sitting. She lumbered over to the kitchen, which after days of incremental dishwashing, looked as if it had hosted a dinner party for twelve. The table and counter were littered with empty tea cups, crumbs, and utensils of all sorts. Every pot and pan she owned was in use, resting at various points on the counter and table, containing meals from previous days. Patricia grabbed a clean plate from the sink and began to snoop around the buffet, looking for a source of breakfast. She paced the whole kitchen twice, lifting lid after lid, but to her surprise, all the pots were empty. She checked the fridge, but was met with a similar situation—the eggs were all gone, as were the vegetables and dairy. It was as if a hungry monster had ransacked her food supply, scraping out all the containers, clearing the shelves and drawers.

    As Patricia’s frenzied eyes swept over the inside of the fridge, they alighted upon a crumpled candy wrapper that lay on the third shelf, right under her nose. A Hershey bar. No doubt, it had been someone’s midnight snack, and that someone had been so careless and ravenous that they hadn’t even bothered with proper disposal, just taking out the chocolate and leaving the package to rot in 38 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Feeling her heart sink, Patricia pressed a hand to her belly. The other hand was leaning against the cold wall of the refrigerator, supporting her slack weight.

    She had finally run out of food.

    After keeping her gaze locked on the candy wrapper for a good minute, Patricia’s face darkened. She backed away from the fridge and let the door swing shut as she turned away. Hands on hips, she began to pace the kitchen again, her hunger at odds with the laziness that wrapped her like a too-warm blanket.

    Gazing up at the wall, Patricia let out a frustrated sigh. I guess I just won’t eat today, then.

    She sighed again, with finality, and went back to the living room to turn on the TV. But she stopped midway. Was she really going to spend the next five hours watching the same reruns of Jukebox? There was nothing good on the news, and there were only so many times that one could watch the same commercials over and over again before their brains fried. She already had one foot in the couch potato camp, and if she broke down and placed in the other, there would be no turning back.

    A fresh, passing anger clouded Patricia’s face again. She wouldn’t watch TV either. But then what would she do?

    Walking around the house with that question in her mind, Patricia visited her room and skimmed the bookshelf, perhaps to occupy herself with reading. But none of the books she had at that moment interested her. Avoiding the mirror on her vanity, she steered herself out. She went into Brian’s old room, which had remained untouched, and therefore protected from degradation. Michael, obviously, had never had any use for it, and in the years after Brian’s departure to boarding school, neither had she. Patricia only visited it to clean at least twice a month, but she left the furniture and decorations mainly as they were. Brian’s bed was smooth and dormant, patiently awaiting his return, and the swivel chair at his desk was turned slightly to the side, as if he had stood up to leave only moments ago.

    His books and albums were still in place, as were the photos framed on the wall. Patricia looked at them. There was Brian, side-by-side with her. Brian and Richard. Brian and Michael. Brian, Michael, Andrew, and Richard.

    Richard had left too. The burning she felt in her stomach only intensified at the memory. He was her son. He had no right. Was he happy, now that he had torn apart their family, and her heart along with it? She could answer that question too — of course he was. After Andrew’s death, Richard’s life in the household had been nothing short of miserable. She could have helped him, but he didn’t let her. He had grown distant in the last few weeks, more so than usual. And then?

    Patricia frowned.

    What had he said that night at dinner?


    She wracked her brain for almost a minute, then suddenly, the curt, placid face of her middle son appeared before her.



    "And when was the last time you were happy for either of us?"



    Patricia smiled, more at the fact that she had remembered than at the words that had pierced her like a knife. And they were still hurting to this very day. How could she, the mother of three boys, not care equally for every one of them? How could she have succumbed to such a sick form of favoritism, treating her sons like trophies when they were all that anchored her to sanity? Andrew had been the love of her life. They hadn’t always gotten along, but they were happy together for a long while. When Brian and Richard were added to the picture, however, their differences were made all the more striking.

    She and Andrew had always been good at keeping their arguments hidden from the boys, and at the time it seemed like the proper thing to do. Why spoil a child’s fun at the park or day home from school with angry glares and reprimands? It seemed like a much better solution to keep apart for the time being, instead devoting their energies solely to the young boys. But as Patricia was only starting to realize now, that had been a grave mistake. While she and Andrew gave each other the cold shoulder, whichever boy happened to be at Patricia’s side would be the one she would see for most of the day, and talk to, and play with. That boy was Brian. He was surprisingly similar to her, and they enjoyed many of the same things. Likewise, Richard grew to be more like Andrew, both in character and in attitude. Relationships across this boundary were amiable, but not wholly loving, even when everything was all right between the parents. By the time Patricia realized what was happening, it was too late. Instead of their children patching up the tensions between her and her husband, she and Andrew had used them to pull themselves further apart.

    Michael had been her last child. At the time of his birth and early childhood, it seemed that Patricia and Andrew had survived enough time together to put their problems behind them. For once, they tried to balance their work schedules so that both of them could have equal time with the kids, but the damage had already been done. Richard and Brian viewed their mother and father in two different lights, and Michael soon caught on to the pattern. Patricia loathed to see her young, innocent boy be degraded by something so frivolous as parental competition, and in her blind anger, she had associated his habits with his father. She tried to pull Michael away from him, but he, of course, saw this as an attack, and distanced himself even more.

    By the time Andrew fell ill, he and Patricia were barely speaking. Richard and Michael, who loved him more than they loved her, were especially attentive to their father’s needs, and treated Patricia as if she had been at fault. Brian was the only one who tried to comfort her, and for that, she probably loved him more at that point too.

    All stupid… so stupid. Patricia bit her lip. He face began to heat up, her vision clouding.

    Maybe Michael was right to leave, she thought. I’m a monster. I could’ve changed things early on, but I didn’t. I just had to hang on to that stupid hate, those stupid fights… Whatever came over me… I’m sorry.

    Patricia swallowed. Pretty soon, the tears began to stream down her cheeks with a force that she was powerless to stop. Her knees buckled, and she collapsed against the bed, burying her face in her arms. The sound of her wails echoed through the silent house. It was all over. All the people she cared about had left her, and for good measure, too. There was no going back. She had made a mess of her life, and now the only thing left to do was die, to plunge into the bottomless depths of darkness and wait for her misery to come to an end. She would never see any of their faces again, never get the chance to see her family all around the table, happy, talking. Life had given her countless opportunities to change her ways — but she had thrown them all aside, clinging to the conviction that she was right, and as a result, her family had split before her very eyes. First Andrew had gone, then Richard, now Michael. Slipped through her fingers like sand, and she had done nothing to stop it. All those times she had seen the faces of her three sons, she had not once tried to get them together, to mutually comfort them after the death of their father. No, she had adhered to the old boundaries… she had kept up the old game, and she had paid for it. She had paid dearly.







    A few hours later, Patricia stumbled out of the room, her cheeks wet, her eyes red and puffy. She took a look around the house, at the sunlight that was subtly streaming from the blinds in the living room, and felt the silence return—oh, it was dreadful, that silence. It was the silence of solitude, the kind that pervaded everything, pressing down upon her with an almost tangible weight.

    But for the first time in a while, her head was clear.


    Setting her hands on her hips, Patricia walked down the rest of the hallway and turned into Michael’s room. She hadn’t set foot in it since he had left, and was briefly disoriented by its reappearance, for it didn’t look quite the same as she remembered it. The bed was smooth like a slab of stone, clear of all objects save for a single pillow. The writing desk with its lamp askew stood in its usual spot by the door, containing what appeared to be the same assortment of objects that had lain there for months. Michael had never been a desk-worker. He always preferred to see things for himself, writing down only what he thought was important, regardless of what an assignment demanded. And so the desk became just another flat surface, on which he would throw old papers, pencils, coins, and records that weren’t in use. It always drove her crazy.

    Now, however, Patricia looked upon the mess with an odd wonder, as if seeing it for the first time. The assortment of items seemed to be the same as it always was, but for some reason it still looked different, just like everything else in the room, changed on some level deeper than appearance. The bookshelves, although dusty, seemed emptier, as if their contents had been hastily rearranged. Opening the doors to the closet, Patricia saw that it had been sorted through as well, though (as always) the person who did it had forgotten to straighten the shirts that hung in the middle. Patricia let out an exasperated sort of sigh, and fixed a sleeve that had slipped off the edge of a hanger, then proceeded to turn all the hooks in the same direction.

    Once she was done, she stepped back and allowed herself a faint smile. There. At least that’s done.

    As her gaze swept over the closet, she alighted upon the inner shelves, where other articles of clothing were balled up in Michael fashion. Patricia swiped her finger across the bottom surface of one, and found to her surprise that it was covered in dust. She was stricken by a momentary appall.

    When was the last time I cleaned here?

    She stood still for a moment, eyes scanning the room, then made a firm turn for the door and went down to the kitchen. A few moments later, she came back up with a rag, and began to clean the room, skimming over all the surfaces and wiping off anything that looked dusty. It was more of a memory ritual than an attempt at cleaning—she left all the items where they were, and did not venture anywhere she couldn’t immediately reach, so in the end, the room remained in the same state as before. But it was a start.

    Over the course of the next few days, Patricia worked her way through the rest of the bedrooms, overcoming her stagnancy to snoop around. This time, she devoted her energies to a full overhaul: she vacuumed the carpet, cleaned the blinds, and wiped every surface she could reach. Patricia emptied entire closets, throwing nothing away, but setting aside anything that needed to be cleaned and putting the rest back where it belonged. Soon, she amassed a heap of dirty laundry from all four rooms, which afterwards she washed in segments, leaving the washer and dryer machines rumbling for the whole day. When she was done she moved on to the living room, straightening the decorations and cleaning the furniture, then proceeded to the kitchen, where she scrubbed off the grime from her dishes, washing away the remnants of her decline under the powerful faucet stream.

    Within a week, the house had risen back to its former state of order—and this time, along with it, so had Patricia. During the time she spent sorting through the house, digging layer by layer through years of history, something had reawakened within her. It was a change that had come about with the suddenness of a lightning strike, something that she hadn’t felt for what seemed like an eternity. She felt better.




    The shadows of her past would always be with her, she knew, but it was up to her to learn from them and make the best of what she had. It wouldn’t honor her husband’s memory to keep alive the old torment, and let it seep into their children’s lives. Rather, Patricia took the hardest step of all—to overcome it for their sake, and hope that one day they’d be free of it too.

    And though she knew that Brian and Richard had moved on in their lives without her, she still had one more son to watch over and support. And from now on, she would.








    //////







    “So why’s she calling us now?”

    “I ain’t got a clue, man, stop asking me!”


    The hushed whispers of two boys rose out from the empty streets of the neighborhood, a tiny stir of life beneath the vast canopy of trees. Cory and Brendan were walking down the sidewalk together, keeping a slightly quickened pace, passing rows of houses on their way to Michael’s.

    As usual, their clothing was loose and plain, the ‘badass’ trademark that they were known for at school. There was no strict uniform, but students were nevertheless expected to show up prim and tidy, which the two boys almost never did. While the obedient kids wore pretty shirts and shiny belts, Cory and Brendan dressed functionally, avoiding collars so that their teachers had nothing to yank them by, and wearing shorts with lots of pockets to hold notes, coins, and homework answers.

    Today, the edges of their shoes were coated with a layer of mud, for they had been exploring the area beyond the neighborhood, near Route 202. They had left that morning without a single comment from their parents, but when they returned, they had found Brendan’s mother waiting for them by her porch, who told them that Patricia Rowan wanted to see the both of them immediately. The boys had exchanged surprised glances, though there was really little to be surprised about. Ever since Michael had disappeared, all they would hear about from their parents and friends of their parents was the investigation in Jubilife, the one that wasn’t turning up jack, as Cory liked to say.

    Their friend’s leave had affected the boys perhaps the most out of anyone else, but in a way that the adults in their lives didn’t understand. While the parents scurried about, exchanging apologies and offers to help, Cory was consumed by a philosophical sort of silence, which Brendan imitated of his own accord. They rarely shared more than a few words about Michael, though he remained in their minds at all times, like a guardian angel who watched over them from some place up in the sky.

    Over the days, the boys watched as the people from their neighborhood and even their school were visited by the police, and asked for anything that they knew about Michael Rowan and his whereabouts. Cory and Brendan had escaped much of the scrutiny that plagued others. After an initial few questions from their parents, and a brief routine visit from the police, they were left to their own devices, as the investigators probably realized that they had no useful information. That was the way it always was, and Cory and Brendan were used to it. They were the black sheep, the spare parts, the ones who were always overlooked by the rosier members of society. But over the years, that had become their strength. They answered to no one, and followed the path they thought was right, rather than the one prescribed to them by others. Michael had been a kindred spirit, and often displayed such an embodiment of that goal that Cory and Brendan found themselves learning from him. When it was just the three of them, no one else mattered.

    And then, coming out of the blue, Patricia’s call to them had caught them unawares—both by the fact that no one during the search had ever called them anywhere, and from the fact that she wanted to do it privately, rather than going through the police. Michael’s mother had never gone to great lengths to mask her dislike for Cory and Brendan, and the boys had never gone to great lengths to care. Even when Michael had been there, Patricia liked to act as if the two boys didn’t exist, letting her son settle his own arrangements. She never said anything to them outright, but they knew at the back of their minds that she didn’t think highly of them, much less believe that they had anything worthwhile to say to anyone.

    Normally, this didn’t bother the boys, and they were perfectly happy to hang out with their friend without the parental cling that weighed down other aspects of their lives. But now Patricia had as good as invited them over. Which, if their experience with her enigmatic nature had taught them anything, wasn’t necessarily a gesture of friendship.

    As they made their way over to the house, Brendan was eager to voice his speculations, but Cory preferred to just go with the flow and wait to see what would happen.

    “But don’t you think it’s kinda weird, all of a sudden like that?” Brendan was continuing. “I thought we already said everything we knew.”

    “We did.”

    “So why’s she asking us? It’s like she suspects us or something. Maybe she wants us to frame ourselves for the police.”

    “Look, I don’t know! Just shut up and we’ll find out a few feet from now.”

    To the left, the familiar roof of the Rowan house emerged from behind the trees. Cory and Brendan stepped up to the front porch and rang the doorbell, and waited side-by-side for Michael’s mother to open it.

    A minute later, Patricia Rowan appeared. She stepped out in a dress, as usual, and had pulled back her hair away from her face and shoulders. Her face was completely smooth, devoid of emotion, but when she laid eyes on the boys she smiled softly. Cory didn’t like the look it brought to her face. It made her look knowing, and slightly dangerous. He stared back at her silently, letting his face reflect the utter calm he felt on the inside. Brendan did the same.

    “Hello boys,” Patricia said. “Just come right in here.” She stepped back to allow them in, leading them straight to the kitchen. The house looked as if it had been put through a speedy cleanup. The dining table was clear, save for a cup of tea and a spoon. Patricia sat down at the spot, and motion for Cory and Brendan to the empty chairs.

    Patricia waited for them to get settled. She took a few sips of her tea, keeping her gaze fixed on the window behind them, as if searching for something beyond the hedges along the road. Then, she leaned back and finally turned her gaze to the boys that sat side-by-side in front of her, their slouched shoulders nearly touching.

    “Okay, fellas. Here’s the deal.” Patricia let go of the cup and folded her hands on the table. “Michael’s gone. I want you to tell me, honestly, if you know where he is. The police have been searching Jubilife for weeks, and from what they’ve told me, it seems that he’s no longer there. He must’ve moved on to someplace else.” She paused, shifting her gaze from one boy’s face to the next. “I know you two are his closest friends. And I know that there’s a whole bunch of things that Michael told you that he wouldn’t tell me or anyone else. All I’m asking for is the truth. Tell me anything and everything that you know about all this.”

    After a short silence, Cory was the first to respond. “We don’t know where he is. Honest. I mean, he’d tell us if he was planning on going somewhere, but neither of us heard anything about it from him. Right?” He looked over to Brendan, who nodded in agreement.

    Patricia sighed, and began to stir her tea. “Well, suppose that he did tell you that he was about to run away. Where would he go? The three of you spend entire days together running off to all sorts of places—don’t tell me that you’ve never, not even once, made some crazy plan to go somewhere far away.”

    “Well…” Brendan cast his gaze up at the ceiling. “There was one time we wanted to sneak aboard a ship to Iron Island.”

    Cory began to crack up.

    “We heard there were lots of jewels and stuff there, and we wanted to get some to bring home.” A smile tugged at the corners of Brendan’s lips, which he fought to restrain under Patricia’s gaze. She looked somewhat irked at this development, as if part of her was still appalled at the things thirteen-year-olds got themselves into, but she quickly overrode it with a nod.

    “And?”

    Brendan shrugged. “Well, we couldn’t get tickets. Plus we had exams that week, so we had to put it on hold so we could, um…”

    “Study,” Cory put in.

    Patricia ran her fingers through her hair. “Okay… well, I doubt Michael ran away so that he could go treasure hunting. Maybe I should put this to you another way: Did anything Michael say to you, or did any ideas that he share with you, indicate that he was serious about leaving?”

    The two boys began to ponder. After a minute of silence, Patricia intervened.

    “Maybe this will help. What did the three of you do when you last saw each other?”

    At once, Cory and Brendan seemed to jolt awake, and faced each other with wide eyes.

    “We… well, we met up at my house,” Cory began. “And we watched the Space Race.”

    “Uh-huh…” Patricia narrowed her eyes. “And, is that all you do together?”

    “No.”

    “What else do you like to do, then? What kinds of things does Michael show an interest for that he might not say to me?”

    The boys shrugged in unison. Their facial expression were so synchronous that it was almost comical. In a flash of rage and disbelief, Patricia slapped the table. “Did you two know him at all?”

    Brendan shook his head. “I’m sorry Miss Rowan, but we don’t know. We’re sorry.”

    It seemed that Patricia wanted to say more, but at the last minute, she waved her hand. “Okay. You two can go. Thank you.”

    Nodding their heads, the boys got up and left.

    Stepping down from the Rowans’ front porch, Cory and Brendan set off together down the sidewalk. They walked in silence for a few moments, then stopped when they reached the edge of the block. Brendan turned to his friend, eyes narrowed against the glare of the afternoon sun. “I can’t believe this, man. Michael was always the guy with the big ideas, but I never expected him to do this. Weird that he didn’t tell us, too.”

    Cory hooked his thumbs into his pockets and let out a long, slow breath. “Nah, I don’t blame him. What’s the point in telling? If his mind was set, nuthin’ we would’ve said could’ve stopped him anyway. I bet our old pal just got sick of this place and decided to move on.”

    “But still,” said Brendan. “We could’ve gone with him. It could’ve been the three of us out there, surviving, exploring... I don’t get why he had to be such a jerk about it and not tell us.”

    Cory scowled. “Shut up. Michael ain’t no jerk. Kid’s smarter than the both of us put together, and unlike us, he knows what he’s doing. Maybe he didn’t want us to come with him. Maybe he knew he had to make the trip alone, to find himself or get away from something in his life. It doesn’t matter. Point is, it ain’t our business. And that’s what these parents don’t get. They want to read everything that’s going on in our minds, because the minute they stop getting us, they get scared we’ll tear away from them. But sometimes, that’s exactly what you gotta do.” He looked down at a rock that lay on the side of the road and kicked it with one dirty shoe, watching it skitter into a gutter. “Kid’ll go places. Just wait.”

    “And what about us?” Brendan said.

    Cory looked at him and shrugged. “Well, we’re still here, aren’t we?”

    Brendan’s frown lingered a moment longer, then he lowered his shoulders in resignation. The boys fell into silence. They looked up at the sky, which was a stained sheet of yellow and orange above them.

    “Wherever he is, I just hope he’s okay,” said Brendan, finally. “Wish he’d come back soon.”

    It was a while before Cory responded. “He’ll come back,” he said, and smiled. “Exactly when he wants to.”


    By some magnetic pull, a smile tugged at the corners of Brendan’s lips. The two boys stared at the clouds, not speaking, for — in the space of those brief few words— all the questions had been answered between them.
    Last edited by Mrs. Lovett; 6th December 2012 at 10:10 PM.


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  9. #259
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    I very much liked this quote, "Point is, it ain’t our business. And that’s what these parents don’t get. They want to read everything that’s going on in our minds, because the minute they stop getting us, they get scared we’ll tear away from them. But sometimes, that’s exactly what you gotta do” and the entirety of chapter 31 for that matter

    Btw, you can take "Pokemon and DBZ son" off of the PM list if you want. That's another name of mine.
    Last edited by PokemonAndDBZ; 15th December 2012 at 6:41 PM.


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    You can interpret that line however you want, but either way, there is definitely more to Cory and Brendan than what they might seem. :P Part of that scene's purpose was to give them a much-needed time to shine.

    Glad you enjoyed the chapter! I'll update the PM list right away...


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    Well, congratulations, you actually got someone (me) to sign up because of one of your stories! Give yourself a pat on the back.

    All I can think of right now is that this story is amazing. Most characters each have their own quirks and distinctions, and hearing Michael make all of these revolutionary discoveries is awesome and brings a smile to my face. I find myself wondering exactly how Patricia will act upon their eventual meeting as well...and Michael's list is getting less secret by the day. When can we expect type match-ups to be publicly revealed or accepted? Or would that be spoiling the story?

    Either way, you've got yourself a very interested reader. Slip me into that PM list, would ya?

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    Hey there. And welcome to the forums. :P I'm both surprised and honored that my story caused you to join. We have a good fanfiction section, so I do hope you stay!

    In a nutshell, type match-ups is something that pokemon trainers are somewhat aware of, but haven't utilized to their full advantage. Unlike 'today', a trainer in 1963 would have no qualms about sending out a Marill against a Bellsprout, or a Hondour against a Goldeen, and even using type-disadvantageous attacks against their opponents. The reason is that 1963 trainers have a more holistic concept of battling and training. They measure their success by how all-around powerful their pokemon are, rather than how capable their teams are of fending off various types. And then here comes Michael, who plays his cards carefully, and prioritizes type advantages above power when trying to win a battle. (Think of it like the difference between someone who's concerned with EVs and EV training, as opposed to someone who measures their pokemon's progress solely by Experience Points and levels.) Few trainers operate the way Michael does, since the status-quo is currently set towards power and guts, rather than versatility and strategic planning. In fact, it's simply easier, because (as you've seen), Michael has had to stop in his tracks a few times and take time to catch a counter pokemon before a Gym battle. Most trainers would want to just stick with the pokemon they have and keep raising them up, rather than catching a bunch of new ones and having to train 'from scratch'.

    Michael's discoveries aren't so much about him uncovering something totally new, but rather finding uncommonly-known information about pokemon and applying it to improve his training. There could very well be trainers out there who have noticed type match-ups and have utilized them, but Michael is the first one to take it a step further and challenge the Pokemon League with an approach entirely different than what's popular. And to top it all off, he's writing articles publishing his findings. :P Needless to say, someone is bound to notice this breaking of convention... and it all comes down to whether they see it at something good, or something bad.


    As for Michael's and Patricia's eventual meeting... now that would be a bit of a spoiler. Hehe. Of course there's always the question as to when and how. I won't leave you completely in the dark as to what might happen, but you won't hear any definite answers from me until much later. Stay tuned, and I'll add you to the PM list right now...

    Thanks for stopping by!


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    I don't mean to be pushy, and I know the holidays are coming up. I'm sure you have much to do, but when can we expect the next chapter? If yah don't mind me asking.


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    My bad for not updating. >.< Sorry!

    Chapter 32 is done, but I'm touching it up for better description and a smoother flow. I will post it before the end of December, perhaps by the end of the week.


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    3.2


    […] Skim past the central mountains… glide over miles of forest that cover Sinnoh’s southeastern shore, and you reach a land of water and grass, where the summer humidity brings rain to the bogs below. Long before there were roads, there were marshlands—which grace the fringes of human civilization, their beauty fragile and preserved. Wherever you look, you see water: to the south, the sea; to the east, the blue gem of Lake Valor; and in the surrounding land, endless routes of rivers and mud.

    This is the land that gave birth to Pastoria City, a province that still holds a prominent place in Sinnoh culture. It began as a small port town, receiving ships from neighboring parts of the continent, and eventually flourished into a beacon of innovation. Poets and scholars flocked to the natural setting, mesmerized by the rich land that surrounded them, and letting it inspire their work. Schools were built, as well as research centers, where scientists performed their studies in the midst of an untamed environment. Over time, the city became host to a thriving intellectual community for which it is still known today. Here the first advancements in aircraft were made, and later on, in jet-propulsion technology—an era from which many relics remain, both in stories and in objects. Old buildings and production centers dot the modern roadways, some of which have been converted to other purposes, and others which were revived as historical monuments, their stolid forms etched seamlessly into the landscape.

    Today, the city has shed all remnants of its humble past—smooth roads and towering buildings gleam against the backdrop of the marshlands, which dominate the surroundings, permeating the metropolis with warm, clean air.

    As the city grew throughout the years, it eventually acquired a second claim to fame. During the early 1890s, Pastoria became a hotspot for pokémon trainers, who founded a battling club near the Valor Lakefront. When the League reformed, the facility became an official Gym, which brought the splendor of national recognition to Pastoria’s gates. To minimize trainers’ travel and time expenses, the Gym was given its own special place in the city layout—an isolated plaza exclusive to traveling trainers and League employees—within whose bounds all League proceedings could be carried out. To this day, the plaza remains the unique feature that sets the Pastoria Gym apart from the others.

    Sinnoh Travel Guide



    Trainers, come one come all! All trainers welcome at Pastoria’s Pokémon Village! Surrounded by miles of beautiful nature, this self-sustaining community is located at a midpoint between thriving city life, and the calm, upscale atmosphere of Valor Lakefront. Enjoy time away from the bustling city crowds and be immersed in a casual, pokémon-friendly environment! The Plaza features the Gym, a Pokémon Center, and a PokéMart—as well as other League buildings and services—all within walking distance! Never again drag your exhausted pokémon halfway across town—in Pastoria, you will be able to experience the full range of our services, right outside of your hotel door!

    For your recreational pleasure, picnic huts and tables are stationed at various points in our vast courtyard. You may inquire anytime about our free tours, which take you on a one-of-a-kind journey through our city’s most famous locations. Pastoria’s natural environment features many exotic plants and pokémon that can’t be found anywhere else in the world, so you’re guaranteed to make wonderful memories.

    Broaden your knowledge of our world, and of yourself, at the Pastoria Pokémon Village!

    Advertisement in the Pokémon League Weekly, February 1963 edition



    Without doubt, Pastoria City can be considered to be the birthplace of Sinnoh’s space program, and one of the most important early sites of space research in the world. During the early 30s, it played host to a number of conferences and exhibitions which guided the nation’s early steps towards space exploration, and for a time in the late 40s, the space engineering department at the Marsh University prospered well beyond the that of Lilycove University in Hoenn.

    A particularly striking moment in history occurred with the founding of The Galaxy Corps, the now-dissolved company which was known for formally initiating the space program in Sinnoh, as well as applying its developed technologies to society’s daily needs.

    The company was responsible for many advancements and inventions, among them the modern capsule-containment system, which is employed in the design of pokéballs.

    Sinnoh in Space: A History



    […] The towering building stands desolate and alone, a relic of past times, abandoned for almost twenty years. It was built in the 1930s originally as a laboratory, then in 1948, became the headquarters of TGC, the predecessor to the modern Sinnoh space company, whose research centered upon fuel and propulsion. However, the facility was mysteriously abandoned a short while later, and remains empty to this day, disturbed only by the occasional camera flash from the passing tourist.

    The building has since been made property of the city, and plans are underway to convert it to a museum dedicated to the Pastoria Pokémon Gym. And, given the building’s history, this provides an interesting juxtaposition…


    Pastorian Landmarks—A Tourist’s Catalogue, 1960 edition




    May 26, 1963

    - P A S T O R I A . L O C A L . G A Z E T T E -

    MUSEUM OPENS DOWNTOWN—CITY CELEBRATES

    Just four years after the commencement of the project, the mayor has finally announced the opening of Pastoria’s very own Museum of Pokémon Training, which has been highly anticipated and discussed since early March. In its completion, the grand, three-story building dominates the eastern half of Ashton Blvd, designed in an old-fashioned style with towering pillars and elegant roof trimmings. Inside, the museum hosts nearly 1,000 exhibits pertaining to the past, present, and future of pokémon training—including symbols and artifacts which have been graciously donated from various countries. A special wing on the ground floor is dedicated to history of Sinnoh’s very first Gym town, Pastoria City itself, and how the years have molded it to its wonderful present image.

    “It’s really a wonder to behold,” one passerby commented. “I can’t wait to see it!”

    The museum was officially inaugurated yesterday morning, in an elaborate red-ribbon ceremony whose cheer echoed throughout the whole of the city center. Aside from a sea of townspeople, who flocked to the streets alongside reporters, the celebration featured dozens of sponsors from around the country, whose investments and support made the museum project possible. But perhaps the largest contribution was made by the Pastoria Pokémon Gym, whose three-year fundraising campaign resulted in a sum of $70,000.

    The ceremony brought a curious clash of events for the Gym—for it was also the day that marked the facility’s 100th year in operation, which its leader, Marie Wickham, celebrated in style. She joined the mayor at the head of a large parade, which traveled around the downtown, at the end of which she cut the red ribbon and declared the museum open to the public.

    Then, in true Pastoria fashion, the ceremony culminated with a round of speeches from city officials. Last to enter the podium was Mrs. Wickham herself, who accepted the Award of Service on behalf of her Gym, and promised that there will be many great years for the city ahead.




    In those summer months, life in Pastoria was as thriving as ever. Following the museum’s opening, which had stirred a wave of activity for a short period of time, the tide of events continued its relentless push forward. Several other stories swept through the news from time to time, such as the opening of a renovated park, or a business scandal. The atmosphere of large societies seemed to be such that no topic would linger in the air for long; it was always replaced by something new, something different. And in such a large city, something always seemed to be happening.

    The month of June dawned on Pastoria like any other—humid and vibrant. The city felt little strain from the influx of trainers, or from the greater-than-ever tide of tourists rushing in to see the marshlands. Business went on as usual.




    But for the Pastorians, the greatest was yet to come.






    //////




    On the day of June 29th, a silver Cadillac De Ville pulled up to the parking lot beside a run-down convenience store, somewhere in the outskirts of town. The air outside was warm, and as customary in the afternoons, a clump of storm clouds was fast approaching the city, smudging sun behind a gray cover. Wind was stirring the trees beside the road, bringing the scent of coming rain.

    A man in a suit and hat stepped out of the car, and looked up to survey the sky as he closed the door. He was dressed primly, not arrogantly, but possessed a businesslike manner which looked out-of-place in the drab surroundings. The Cadillac was neither new nor old, neither clean nor dusty, the sort that would blend right in with the rest of the road. Aside from two other models, worn-down and dusty, the lot was empty.

    The man stood still for a moment, eyes scanning the gathering clouds, then he lowered his head and crossed over to the store. The only other person inside was a cashier, who looked up automatically as the door opened. The man stepped inside and began to pace around the vacant aisles, selecting various items. When he finished, he approached the register, and turned his gaze to the rack of newspapers that stood by the door. A brief smile lifted his face, and he took the topmost issue of The Hearthome Times and added it to the pile.

    The cashier perked an eyebrow as he read the headline: League Game Corner Closed Down; Others Under Scrutiny.

    “Seems like they’ll have something to answer for,” he muttered.

    The man gave a silent nod. He took out his wallet to pay, and by chance, the cashier’s eyes alighted on the keychain that was still clutched in his hands—one of the keys sparkled gold, and was engraved with the emblem ‘GL’. The cashier seemed taken aback, but didn’t say anything.

    “It’s all in a day’s work for the press,” the man mused in the meantime. “Scandals, mysteries… so much that it’s hard to separate the true from the false.” Looking up, he noticed the cashier’s lingering stare. He rattled the keys and placed them into his pocket. “You don’t happen to know how far the Grand Lake Hotel is from here, do you?”

    The cashier chuckled. “Well, you’re certainly wasting your time here. It’s nowhere near the downtown. Grand Lake’s on the far east, right by the Lakefront. It’s mostly foreigners who stay there, or people who have money. Mighty nice. I’ve only seen it once, but once was enough.”

    The man nodded. “Thank you.” He gathered his purchases into a plastic bag, and a minute later, the silver Cadillac sped away down the road.



    //////



    Around that time, the 5:00 train from Solaceon Town was speeding across Pastoria’s northern marshlands. Michael and Henry were both leaning against the window, trying to see as far as they could past the rows of trees, catching fleeting glimpses of mud, grass, and occasionally buildings. Bertha was in the row across the aisle and had a window of her own to look from, but occasionally craned her head over to see from the boys’ side.

    For a good hour, the view remained the same. Once the rolling hills of Solaceon had vanished behind a scrim of thick forest, the passengers of the train saw little more than a running strip of leaves and branches. Then, the forest thinned, exposing soggy, muddy grass that lay in pools around the trees’ roots. Ponds appeared, flat as glass, reflecting the blue of the sky. Then the forest vanished entirely, fleeing off into the distance, revealing an utterly flat landscape—islands of green grass clumping atop a bed of water, like a patterned carpet, stretching without bounds towards the barren horizon. And then, they saw the most marvelous sight of all—the outline of a sprawling city emerging over the bogs, standing like a looming guardian, its buildings gleaming in the waning light.

    The Pastoria Rail Terminal was located on the edge of the Valor Lakefront, a sparsely-populated area reserved for lavish gardens and large homes. As the train slowed, its passengers were able to glimpse the main shopping square. It was filled with color and movement, and was designed with an uptight glamour that reminded Michael of a summer resort. The buildings were white and square, adorned with matching blue shades that hung above the windows. Plants stood in pots alongside their walls, or in neat patches of soil beside benches. The sidewalks were paved with multicolored stones, all chiseled to fit every curve and corner, and the people who walked upon them were dressed simply and elegantly.

    Once the passengers had emerged onto the terminal, Bertha quickly found the information desk and formulated a plan of action. She would rent a taxi to the hotel, where she and the boys would spend the rest of the evening and make arrangements to visit the Gym. Depending on how far away it was, and on the availability of the leader, Bertha would either accompany the boys the next day, or send them to book their battles alone.

    While Bertha talked with the attendant at the desk, Michael’s gaze began to wander, and by chance, he alighted upon a large picture that was framed on a nearby wall. It featured a plump lady in her late fifties, who stood in the foreground hugging a Marill, gazing out at the viewer with a breezy smile. Behind her was a large, brown building surrounded by a lush meadow, though the image was slightly blurred, making it hard to see the details. A strip of text ran across the top: “Pastoria City Gym—A Water Wonderland.”

    Beneath the picture was a small table with a stack of brochures. Michael took one and opened it up, scanning through the text. “Her name’s Marie Wickham… She’s been the leader here for twenty years, and she’s done all sorts of things for the League before that. And it looks like her type’s Water.” He glanced back up at the grey-haired lady, and shrugged. “I guess that was easy.”

    Beside him, Henry crossed his arms. “Well, she sure looks nicer than Lona.”

    Michael let out a laugh. “Yep.” But his heart wasn’t really in it.



    After calling their cab, Bertha took the boys out for a walk around the square, which was even more breathtaking up close. It was here that Michael truly realized how far he had strayed from his home in Jubilife. All signs of the city culture and mannerisms he was familiar with were lost. There were no posters, or advertisements, or blaring music that drifted from open doors. Unlike city streets, which were designed for mass accommodation and seemed pasted together solely for convenience, the lakefront was designed with every curve in mind. Smooth roads looped around elegant flowerbeds and sculptures, with ample room left for pedestrians. Groups of ladies strolled around with big hats, hiding in the shade of their parasols. Men wore crisp jackets, and escorted their dates by the arm in the fashion of an earlier era. Aside from Skitties or Glameows on leashes, there were no pokémon.

    As the trio wandered further into the square, a wide building with a flat roof emerged into view from across the street, towering several floors above the rest. The building bore the same colors and design as its neighbors, but the shades over the windows were trimmed with gold, and a huge revolving door stood at the entrance. The property was enclosed by a low stone wall, which terminated at the front for a large circular driveway. Coming closer, Michael was able to read the thin cursive that stood out on the face of its sign: “Hotel Grand Lake.” It was clearly a popular place, for the driveway was nearly filled to the brim with expensive cars, forcing others to park beside the road.

    “Whoa…” Henry gazed at the building in wonder, mouth agape. “Bertha, can we stay there?”

    “Keep dreaming, kid.” Bertha gave a chuckle.

    “Hmph.” Henry crossed his arms. “It sure must be nice there… Can we at least take a look inside?”

    It seemed that Bertha was about to voice her doubts, but a second later she seemed to rethink them, gaining a touch of humor. “Well, why not? Let’s go.”

    They quickly crossed the street, slipping through crowds of prim-and-tidy passersby, and pushed through the revolving wooden doors into an enormous lobby. The interior of the hotel resembled that of an expensive museum—the ceiling arched high overhead, covered with a pattern of soft golden swirls. Three chandeliers were spaced along its length, filling the room with a warm glow that was reflected in wet smudges on the marble floor. Amidst the dominating surroundings, the movements of the guests seemed hushed and peaceful.

    Stopping at the doorway, Bertha gave the boys a gentle push forward. “Run along, you two. But don’t go far. I’m going to see if this place has a map.”

    “Right.” Henry nodded, then without a backward glance, he rushed off.

    After a brief pause, Michael started forward, following the sound of the boy’s fading footsteps. His feet moved of their own accord, though he didn’t know where he was going, or why. He let the lobby flee by him in its brilliance, passing huge paintings framed on the walls, glass-encased information racks, and hotel staff, who were often better dressed than the guests themselves. He didn’t give any of it a second look, but kept walking towards some unknown destination, his mind drowning out everything but that one object of its concentration, which he himself couldn’t pry out of its darkness.

    Finally, Michael’s eyes locked on a small door hidden behind a corner, all the way on the opposite side of the room. He turned towards it, not bothering to check if anyone was watching, and in the same continuous motion, he pushed it open. He was met by a cool whistling breeze, and found that he had reached an outdoor veranda, looking out at the hidden half of Valor Lakefront. Beyond the railing, he could see the rest of the land laid out beneath him, a valley of color beneath the stained sky. The ledge of flat land on which the hotel stood terminated suddenly, sloping down at a steep angle to a depth of land some miles below. Houses and swimming pools were wedged along the cliffside, poking out from between the treetops, lying on various levels like steps on a staircase. Even from his position, Michael could make out the patterns of their roofs, and lavish backyards with gardens and walkways.

    Beyond the cluster of homes, the land continued, rolling out towards the horizon before ending in a large stripe of water. It was a lake of unimaginable size, stretching as far and wide as the eye could see, its smooth waves reflecting the shimmer of the sun.

    It was the sort of picture that could appear only in a painting, or in someone’s dream. As he watched, suddenly, Michael wanted to approach—to lean down over the railing, to throw his gaze out to the farthest point he could see, and lose himself in the color, the sounds, the breeze…





    But there was already someone standing there.





    A girl.




    Michael stopped his move forward as his vision registered her form. She stood with her back to him a little ways to the side, one hand laid over the bar, the other raised slightly, as if to grasp something in the air. The breeze rippled the skirt of her white dress, and strands of long, blonde hair.

    The girl didn’t appear to notice his arrival. She was pacing around the deck, lost in her own thoughts, searching for something in the vicinity. Then, noticing him, she looked up, widening her eyes. There was something familiar in their stare…



    “Oh. Hi.”



    She smiled politely. Then, she pursed her lips. “You didn’t happen to see a suite key lying around somewhere, did you? I’ve gone and lost mine again…”


    Michael shook his head. The girl kept thinking, tapping her chin.



    The face. The eyes.



    As he looked at her, suddenly, he remembered where he had seen them before. She had been the girl he had met in Jubilife, the one he had amazingly run into outside a diner and talked with for hardly a minute. But that was nearly a month ago. Why did he still remember? And did she remember him? (Michael’s heart skipped a beat at the prospect.) She had said that he had resembled someone, but never told him who it was…




    The girl continued to pace in the meantime, and Michael cleared his throat, trying to think of something to say. “Well uh… where did you see it last?” he offered.

    She stopped. “Hmm… I know I had it this morning, but I guess I must’ve dropped it somewhere here, because I didn’t leave the hotel today.”

    “At all?”

    She shook her head. “I went for a walk on the lakefront for a few hours, but I know I had the key when I came back because I used it to enter the pool deck. I stayed there for a bit, then I went to eat… and when I went back to my room, I realized I didn’t have the key anymore.”

    “Let’s check by the pool, then.”

    The girl smiled wryly. “If only we could get in. You need the key to open the gate. I’ve asked the staff to look, but they didn’t see it anywhere. I’d borrow one from someone if I could, but people here aren’t that talkative… I guess I was too nervous to ask.”

    Michael paused, and unconsciously, his face adopted a look of naďve determination. “We’ll figure something out. Can you show me the way?”

    “You want to help?” The girl looked relieved. “Oh, I can’t thank you enough! Follow me.”

    Beckoning, she led him down the veranda, and rounded a corner to reach a back door. They entered an inner wing of the hotel, where the girl made a series of twists and turns, then pushed open a door leading to a grassy outdoor space. Much of the pool was obscured by a tall white picket fence, though which Michael could glimpse rows of lounge chairs, and a poolside bar. The entrance to the pool appeared to be from the other side, where guests were coming in and out through the gates. Coming closer, Michael stood on his toes and peered as high as he could over the fence, trying to see what was going on beyond it.

    The pool itself was nearly empty; most of the people were roaming about on the deck, strolling about with drinks in hand, or resting on lounge chairs, trying to absorb a last inkling of warmth before the sun went out. But his view was imperfect, and Michael had to reposition himself several times as a large group passed, or when a tall lady stood up in a sunhat.

    The girl soon joined him in his search, following along as Michael made his way around the perimeter of the deck. At last, she gave a cry of delight, and pointed towards a row of empty chairs on the other side. “There! I think that’s it!”

    Michael’s gaze flicked to the place she indicated, and he saw something tiny and golden sparkle from a deep corner. “Yep, it’s gotta be,” he said.

    “But it’s so far away,” said the girl. “How are we going to get it? Should we ask someone?”

    Still staring at the keys, Michael felt a smile cross his face. “I have a better idea.”

    He let go of the fence and backed away several paces, drawing a pokéball from his backpack. He held open the capsule and unleashed a brilliant burst of light, which materialized seconds later into his Chatot. Ringo dove into the air, circling twice over their heads, then came down to perch on Michael’s arm.

    Michael brought the bird over to the fence and pointed forward. “See those, Ringo? The keys behind the chairs?”

    Ringo gave a curt nod, eyes narrowed.

    “I need you to get them for me. But be quick—if the staff start giving you a hard time, tell them Michael Rowan sent you, and he don’t play no games.”

    The girl began to giggle. Ringo shifted his stance, ruffling his feathers, then took off in for the pool, soaring over the people’s heads like a paper glider. The reaction of the resort community was almost immediate. Seconds after the bird’s appearance, the pool deck erupted in a series of gasps and yelps. Through the fence’s tiny slits, Michael saw people duck and cover as Ringo swooped past, his claws gleaming. Several disembodied hands sprang into the air, waving fans and books in an attempt to swat the bird away.

    Ringo played along with the taunts, pecking at people’s heads, and plucking objects from their hands. Several times, the bird dipped low out of sight, but from the sharp clinking of glass, and the chorus of angry voices, Michael could tell that he was causing a commotion.

    At last, Ringo’s bright colors reappeared over the fence, amid a final tide of shooing hands, a set of golden keys dangling from his beak.

    With the bird’s disappearance, the deck sank back to its former calm, though Michael heard bits of rapid chatter from the frazzled crowd. He went back to the fence and saw that Ringo had indeed made his mark. Guests were now scooting their chairs away from the trees, lifting fallen magazines, and muttering to their companions in annoyance. One woman’s hat had fallen into the water, and was drifting there like a lily pad.

    Turning back to the girl, Michael saw that she was clutching her belly, her face flushed from laughter.

    “People don’t like pokémon here much,” she explained. “We’re not allowed to have them out here, unless they’re small and ‘properly restrained.’ But honestly, I think that takes the fun out of things.”

    Michael handed her the keys, and she smiled in gratitude. “I can’t thank you enough. Honestly… if it had been just one more day, I would’ve gone crazy.” She shook her head. After placing the keys back into her purse, she took a look at Ringo and smiled. “Can I pet him?”

    “Sure.” Michael held out his arm, and Ringo instinctively backed away a couple steps, sensing a foreign hand draw near. But gradually, he warmed up, and allowed the girl to stroke his feathers. A smile tugged at the corners of her lips.

    “He’s so handsome…” she said. She held up her finger to the bird’s beak, and giggled as he nibbled at it. Her eyes found Michael’s again, wide with curiosity. “Are you a trainer?”

    “Yeah.”

    The eyes smiled again. But in that instant, they seemed to flash with recognition. “Hang on…” Her lips parted. “I remember you. I think I’ve met you before… back in Jubilife, wasn’t it?” The girl looked at him more intently, and suddenly, her face brightened. “Michael! It’s you, isn’t it?”

    Michael smiled. “Yeah. I remember you too.” He paused. “What’s your name?”

    “Shella. It’s nice to see you again.”

    Michael nodded. “Nice to see you again too.” But his thoughts weren’t nearly as calm as his voice was. Shella. She had given him his name. Shella. From Slateport. He repeated the name several times in his head, and made sure that he would never forget it.

    “It’s really funny that we met here,” Shella continued. “This part of Pastoria is pretty specific.”

    Michael was able to break away from his thoughts just in time to process what she had said. “What do you mean?”

    “I guess the people, the culture… the price range. Heh. But it’s the Sinnoh experience, still.” She gave a shrug. “So what brings you to Hotel Grand Lake?”

    “I’m not staying here,” Michael replied. “I’m just… uh, passing through.”

    “Oh, I see. Because you’re a trainer, you’re probably doing the League. You guys have your own hotels and stuff, right?”

    Michael nodded.

    “We have trainer hotels in Hoenn too. But they’re bigger, and you can find them in pretty much any big city—not just the ones with Gyms. Contest Coordinators stay there too, and so do people who want to do the Battle Frontier.”

    “Battle Frontier?” Michael put on a look of puzzlement. He hated to have to hang on to her words, but for lack of a clever statement, he had to make do with what he had.

    “It’s this thing that we have. It was funded by our Elite Four, actually. They recognized that not all trainers wanted to challenge the Tournament, or were strong enough for it. So they created this island where people could just battle without having to worry about money or badges.”

    “Cool.”

    Shella gave a laugh. “I’m not a trainer, so I don’t pay much attention to that sort of stuff… But I do admire how motivated some people are.” At this, she turned her gaze to him. “So what about you?”

    Michael blinked to clear his haze. “… Me?”

    “Yes, you.” She smiled. “What’s it like doing the League? Do you travel a lot?”

    “Well, yeah. It’s pretty sweet—you know, seeing all the towns and stuff. But it’s not just battling; there’s a lot of history involved too. Like, you can learn about the Gyms, the culture of the Gym towns… they can even give you free tours.”

    Shella nodded slowly. “That’s really nice. I’d love to go on a tour. Especially in Pastoria. I’ve only been here for a week and I’m absolutely lost! I’m on a budget, so I can’t stay here for too long, but I haven’t even seen the Great Marsh yet. I’m too busy trying to figure out how everything works around here. It’s so different.”

    Her shoulders drooped slightly, and Michael felt a glimmer of opportunity.

    “Well, you know… I could always help you. Like if you need directions or anything.” Almost instinctively, he lifted his hands to show that they were empty—there was no cage dragging him down this time.

    Shella responded with a giggle. “That’s so nice of you. I’d really appreciate it.”

    Michael felt his breath pause. Was this really happening?

    “Maybe… we can meet up tomorrow at the Lakefront,” Shella continued. “Just if you happen to be free. I know you must be busy and all…”

    But before she could rethink herself, Michael gave an affirmative nod. “Yeah, I’ll be free.” It didn’t matter what the time was; he would find a way.

    Shella smiled. “Okay. That’s great.”

    Michael nodded. “So… I’ll see you then, I guess.” Before his mustered calm could begin to falter, he quickly turned and started to walk away. But right then, a shout broke him out of his thoughts.

    “Wait!” Shella called. “I didn’t even give you my number yet!”

    Michael turned around, unsure if it had been a hallucination. But no… Shella had opened her purse, and was writing something on a torn piece of note paper. But he couldn’t get himself to move. His feet were stuck to the ground, his only anchors to reality. A moment later, Shella approached and handed him the paper. It was a phone number.

    “That’s the number of the hotel, and the extension to my room,” she said. “You can call it anytime. If I’m gone, they’ll leave a message.”

    Michael nodded. “Okay. Thanks.”

    Shella looked befuddled. “I should be thanking you!”

    They eyed each other for another split second, then awkwardly exchanged goodbyes. Michael stumbled his way back to the lobby, feeling as if he had emerged from a trance.

    When he reached the front doors of the hotel, he found that Bertha and Henry were already waiting for him, stiff and impatient. As soon as they saw Michael, their faces grew visibly relaxed, and Bertha let out a sigh.

    “Kid, you sure have a way of running off. We were just about to have the staff go looking for you!”

    Michael nodded an apology, though he was too busy stuffing away Shella’s note to answer. In the meantime, Bertha’s eyes found the Chatot, who was looking over Michael’s shoulder, clacking his beak. “Why do you have Ringo out?” she asked.

    The bird began to pipe a reply.

    “I wanna hold your haaaaaand—I wanna hold your haaaa—”

    Before he could finish, Michael hastily aimed the pokéball, and Ringo fled back into the capsule mid-breath. Looking up at Bertha and Henry, he felt a slight sting pass over his face. “Nothing. Just getting some air.”

    Bertha lifted an eyebrow. But the explanation seemed to suit her. She waited for him to get his things in order, then led the boys out of the hotel and started briskly towards the rail terminal.

    “Our cab will be here soon,” she said to them. “We’ll meet our driver in the station. It won’t be a long ride from here to the hotel, but I want to make sure I have down the locations of other important places. I got a map of the city just now, and I’m telling you, this place is huge. It’s got over two thousand miles of subway tracks, and the downtown is like a city on its own…”

    Henry followed Bertha’s words with keen interest, but Michael made no effort to pay attention. An odd sense of slowness had overcome him. He bent his head back to look up at the sky, then let his gaze trail down to the trees, admiring how the candlelight from the street lamps made their branches gleam.

    When they returned to the terminal, the trio settled down in a waiting area, choosing seats facing the window. Henry sat on his hands as he watched the moving crowds, and as was his custom, began to tap the toes of his sneakers together.

    “Pastoria is a really pretty place,” he said, after a while. “I like it here already.”

    Michael nodded in reply, but only when he was struck by the perfection of the moment did he let a chuckle escape him. “Me too...”





    //////




    Some minutes later, their taxi driver appeared from the rest of the crowd, dressed in casual city attire, and holding up a card with Bertha’s name on it. After greeting them, he helped Bertha with her new luggage bag and led them outside to the car.

    The ride from the Valor Lakefront to the trainer hotel would take about half an hour, but fortunately, it would only be a one-time trip. As the man explained, the Gym and hotel would be in walking distance from each other, secluded in their own special area independent from the city. He assured them that they wouldn’t need to have a cab cart them along anywhere, unless they wanted to go sightseeing.

    Together, the four of them went to the curb beside the road, where a white taxi was parked. Beyond it, cars were moving about in either direction, forming two stripes of color along the roadway. Stopping beside the car, Bertha and the man began to talk, discussing routes, times, and destinations.

    After placing their things in the trunk, Michael and Henry stood by the curb, looking around, listening to the driver’s deep, laid-back voice mix in with Bertha’s.

    “Pastoria’s got a lot, though it might seem overwhelming to a tourist at first. The roads are rather complicated, but I know a lot of quick detours that’ll get you there faster…”

    The drawl of their voices kept Michael occupied for some time. He continued to casually scan his surroundings, when in the corner of his eye, he saw Henry’s head snap suddenly to another direction.

    Instinctively, he turned to the spot the boy was looking at, and saw that a second car had pulled up behind theirs, sleek and silver. The door opened, and out stepped a man in a jacket and tie. He removed a suitcase from the backseat, just as a well-dressed valet appeared from the side to take his keys. Upon stepping up to the curb, the man turned to close the car door, and his face flashed for a single lucid moment in Michael’s vision. And for the second time that day, a shock of recognition hit Michael with full force. It was the man from Hearthome, he realized, the one with the glasses — who had shut down the Game Corner and vanished as mysteriously as he had arrived. In these new surroundings, the man seemed almost foreign, but still he maintained an air of purpose, as if part of his business was still unfinished.

    Michael tore his gaze away to look at Henry, whose face was marked with shock. The boy met his gaze, eyes wide. “What’s he doing in Pastoria?” he whispered.

    Michael shook his head. They watched in silence as the man turned away from them, and without so much as glancing in a stray direction, proceeded directly towards the Grand Lake Hotel. His form was soon lost in the trickling crowds, whose figures were illuminated by the lamplight.

    “Whoever he is, he’s got a fancy agenda,” Michael murmured.

    Behind them, Bertha shifted her gaze away from the taxi driver, evidently noticing the boys’ exchange. Her eyes searched the square, then alighted upon the man’s figure as the hotel door swooshed closed behind him.


    “You’ll like it,” the driver continued, unaware that all three of his listeners had zoned out and were turned away from him. He tossed Bertha’s things into the trunk and slammed the door closed. “They don’t call it the trainer village for nothing. It’s all you really need—not too loud, not too crowded… Has a shop or two, since it’s right by the suburbs. But there’s one thing unique ‘bout this city, and that’s word spreads fast. Mark my words, you’ll never feel like you’re disconnected there. It’s just how folk around here talk, and move. You could never set a single foot in the downtown, but in a matter of days, you’ll feel like you know everything that’s goin’ on, everywhere. People call it the Marsh City, but I’d place my bet that it’s really the Talk City… heh…”





    It would only be a short while till they realized the truth of those words.


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  16. #266
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    Ohoho, Michael...I had to actually go back and scan previous chapters to find out who this girl was, 'cause I'd completely forgotten about her. I guess she finally has some significance. Really, I just can't wait to see who the rest of his travelling party will react to seeing her... xD

    Also, you're...really fond of foreshadowing, aren't you? I just noticed you seem to favor ending certain paragraphs and sections with that sort of thing. Not that I'm complaining, it certainly allows for speculation, and based on the relative inactivity in recent chapters, that's exactly what's needed to keep readers hooked.

    It worked for me, at least. Good luck on the next one! I'm expecting some interesting developments, considering the set-up provided here.

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    Usually I try to keep blatant foreshadowing to a minimum, because when it's overused it loses its impact. But we're at that stage in the plot where it becomes necessary, so I've been using it with a higher frequency than before. I use foreshadowing to focus your attention on important things, and keep you on the lookout for details. In addition, there's also back-shadowing and sideways-shadowing, which if those make any sense at all, are also scattered around here and there, and help me loads. (Honestly, if someone's following the development close enough to appreciate the meaning of my one-liners, I consider that a tremendous expression of interest in and of itself, which I'm grateful for. :P)

    I'm afraid that for the time being, you'll have to put up with me providing you with more questions than answers, but rest assured that the answers will come... Eventually.

    And yes, I'm aware that there was a 26-chapter gap between Shella's first appearance and her most recent one. xP That was a blunder of mine, but now that I'm writing through her interaction with Michael, I see it works better this way. Hopefully the way I've written her in Chapter 33 onwards will make sense. (You'll have to trust me when I say that there was no earlier point where I could have introduced her, so she had to wait up until Pastoria. But I won't get upset if you have to look back to Chapter 5 to refresh your memory.)

    And speaking of Chapter 33, no I haven't forgotten about it; yes, I am working diligently on the rough draft, which should be done in a couple days. After that, I'll edit it up, and hopefully I'll be able to get it to everyone if not by the end of this week, then by the beginning of next one for sure.

    Stay tuned!


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  18. #268
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    Well, I've just finished reading every single chapter up until now, and I find your interpretation of mini-Rowan rather interesting, especially his curiosity on type advantages/disadvantages and evolution - research that he'll be famous for in the future.

    Seeing the character change and grow is what makes this story entertaining for me.

    Well, is there any chance you could add me to the PM List? I am eagerly awaiting your next chapter.
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  19. #269
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    Hey there! I'm glad you're enjoying Michael's character, since his development is the backbone for this entire story. Thanks for reading, and I'll add you to the PM list right away...

    Speaking of the next chapter, I should give you all a heads-up on Chapter 33. Unfortunately, these past few days haven't yielded much in writing, since I've been occupied with something else irl that's been demanding most of my attention. I've finished the draft completely, but I'd say it's still at the stage where it needs lots of editing. I'll be working on it little by little over the week, and if all goes as planned I should be able to post it before the end of the month.


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  20. #270
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    I guess it's high time this chapter passed from my scrutinous gaze to yours. xP

    Sorry it's formatted so weirdly. It's another long one (surprise surprise), but I couldn't define a midway point where I could split it. As a result, I had to make this post really short, and the next one really long.

    Hope you like it!



    3.3

    By next morning, the sheet of storm clouds that hung over Pastoria City had cleared, bathing the steel-clad urban center in sunlight.


    Down below, beneath the towering buildings, the roads were abuzz with chatter and wails of fleeting cars. The usual morning crowds moved like rivers down the sidewalks, filling the streets with flocks of moving color. That day, there was an unusual concentration of people near the center of town, all of whom seemed to be held up in their travels, crowded on walkways or backed-up on slow-moving roads. A major avenue had been closed off from public access, initiating the jam, forcing commuters to reroute along a complicated network of detours. Nevertheless, the crowd of pedestrians seemed unwilling to stir from the vicinity, their motions hushed, their rapid voices exchanging tones of interest and awe. For, just a short while earlier, the city had paid host to some unexpected visitors, word of whom was hot upon the cool morning wind.

    A few hours past dawn, a procession of black cars had departed from the airport and began to snake through the main roads of the city, stirring up a tide of curious gazes in its wake. The cars were all sleek and identical, their windows specially darkened so that no one could see who was inside. As if by instinct, the Pastorians parted rank for them, gliding their vehicles to the side of the roadways to let the newcomers pass. Wherever the black line went, the stares of the people followed, some who went as far as to stop and watch as the cars cruised by—all sleek bumpers and stainless frames that shone with a pristine gleam, like spaceships that had descended from an alien planet. Gradually, they were joined by several police cars who flanked them on either end, throwing up a barrier of silent flashing lights.

    In this fashion, the cars proceeded through the city, remaining the center of attention for a whole ten minutes. In that time, teams of workers set up signs and traffic cones, clearing all the roadways that the procession would cross. The Pastorians all watched from a distance, hanging in curious silence, before the cars made an abrupt turn and vanished down an obscure road of trees.




    By then, the whole city was talking.




    Over by the suburbs, which were immersed in relative quiet, the news hadn’t yet broken. With the city-wide networks still stirring themselves awake, the story of the mysterious black cars was still confined to the spoken word. Nevertheless, there was a certain energy in the air, which though some inexplicable means had permeated the entire city, giving the summer day a curious thrill.







    Upon waking that morning in his hotel room, Michael was briefly disoriented by his new surroundings. Everything was polished clean, wiped of all traces of previous inhabitants, leaving minimalistic decorations and empty cabinets. Though the layout of the hotels didn’t change much from town to town, the rooms varied slightly to match each town’s individual theme. The Pastoria hotel was dominated by green and wood, with elegantly-carved bookshelves and gently swaying curtains. The light that sifted through the windows was bright and soft, bringing a shine to the walls.

    That previous evening, he and Henry had scattered their things without much thought, leaving their half-emptied backpacks slumped together by the beds. The hotel had admitted them without delay, and had even given Bertha the room next to theirs when they found out that she was a fellow Gym leader. After throwing off their unneeded weight, the three of them had proceeded immediately to get dinner, for they were too hungry and too tired to think about anything else.

    Unlike its predecessors, the Pastoria Trainer hotel was not cramped in the middle of a busy street. Rather, as their chauffeur from the previous day had promised, it was located on a plot of land all to itself—along with the Gym, a Pokémon Center, and a PokéMart, which together provided all the necessities of a trainer’s existence. The four buildings were spaced apart in a large arc, fenced by lampposts and paved with sidewalks, forming a scenic courtyard that resembled a city square. Trainers strolled about in their colorful attire, in groups with their friends and pokémon, sporting varying degrees of League spirit and gadgetry. Many wild pokémon had made their homes here as well, like the Shinx who scurried between flowering bushes, or the Starlies whose heads poked out of nearby trees. Apart from the four main League buildings, there were other, smaller huts positioned in between, serving various purposes from snack bars to trading houses, and even conventional souvenir shops. Much like on the Valor Lakefront, the buildings all had similar color schemes that matched the surrounding environment—dark, wood-patterned walls, and gray roofs.

    When Michael had arrived at the plaza the previous evening, he had made little out of the shadows that stood beyond their little island of light, which in itself had been difficult to absorb at first. But upon stepping outside that morning, he saw that they were surrounded by nature on all sides, which provided a startlingly empty backdrop that was breathtaking in its beauty. Beyond the border of the buildings, the paved square terminated for what looked like miles of grassy land, which rolled out in large, blunt hills towards a horizon of forest. Huts and picnic tables dotted the vicinity, where Michael could see trainers congregating, playing and battling like kids at recess hour. To the west was the main road, which snaked like a lone river all the way to the city, splitting off here and there for a smaller bus route. Even from here, Michael could make out the buildings that stood in the city center, which loomed like pillars in the distant haze.


    But what was clearly the plaza’s focal point of interest, and also the most uniquely designed of its neighbors, was the Gym. It consisted of a main office building, behind which stood a large complex of battle rooms, whose roofs were conjoined in a pattern that reminded Michael of choppy waves. There were several other buildings that were fenced within the property, which from bits of conversation the previous day, Michael gathered had survived from the Gym’s days as a public battling house. Now, they had been converted to other purposes, ranging from healing rooms to multifunctional studios, which were often rented out to local clubs or gatherings. As he soon discovered, the Gym was visited even by average city-dwellers, to whom it was an integral part of Pastorian life, and evidently a hotspot for news and activities.

    The lobby of the Gym consisted of a reception desk, and a side lounge where trainers sat and socialized. There was a game area, where people played pool and cards, as well as a bookshelf, and a rack for newspapers and magazines on various subjects. A large bulletin board dominated the wall, tacked several times over with clippings of all sorts, many pertaining to local topics and events. Staff members roamed freely about the lobby, occupied by miscellaneous errands, and used the counter only as a home base for stapling papers or making phone calls.

    All in all, it resembled more of a community center than a Gym, and looking around, Michael saw none of the ads or commercial gadgetry that cluttered most other League establishments. On the rare occasion that he did see some sort of reference to the League, it somehow blended so well with the background that it was almost nonchalant—seeming just like a part of everyday business.

    Bertha’s eyes searched the room for a face that didn’t look busy, and finally she approached a tall, red-haired woman who had stopped by the front desk to grab a box of paper clips. Bertha introduced herself, and after a brief conversation, the staff lady welcomed them all, and led them through the lounge to a back door. She opened it to reveal a small room with typewriters and file cabinets, where she introduced them to the woman who was standing inside, busily removing paper from a mimeograph copying machine.

    Marie Wickham looked just as she did in her picture. The same smile was there, along with the smooth, daintily cared-for curls that formed a soft gray halo around her head. She was one of those middle-aged ladies who, rather than spending their time trying to look young, embraced her years with feminine flair, and displayed a classy, snappy character that could only be possessed by someone of her experience. She dressed in calm, simple hues, though she often liked to add something extra to give her outfit an unexpected turn. Today, it took the form of a large jeweled clip, resembling a blue flower, which gleamed like a shock of water against her plain blazer.

    Upon their first meeting, Michael immediately caught on to her second peculiarity, for before Bertha could do so much as make a sound, Marie was already shaking her hand.

    “No need to explain anything to me!” she said. “I’ve heard it all from Jerry Bradford! Fine fellow, that he is, always knows everything about everyone. I bet he has dossiers on all of us in those cabinets of his, what with all the connections he has… And you! I’ve waited months to meet you! Who would’ve thought, the Gym leader of Eterna Town suddenly rises up and manages to do something that the rest of us have been thinking about doing for years? Well, some of us at least. Can’t say I’ve heard too much from the folks in Canalave or Sunyshore. I know Harvey’s still doing his thing in Canalave, but I don’t know about the new guy they brought over to the electric Gym. Apparently he came in last year—well, who knew?” Marie gave a shrug. “Shame how slowly word spreads. I bet if they put all eight of us in a room together, we wouldn’t even recognize each other. Harvey I know. Mr. Bradford—well, he knows everyone, so naturally we’ve talked! I know Miss Walker, and I’ve met her mother. But beyond that, it’s just names and locations. Why, I didn’t even know the Gym leader of Eterna—and now I see a beautiful young lady standing in front of me! By the way, I’m terribly sorry about what happened. Why if it were my town those Galactics tried to invade, I’d march right in and burn that factory down myself! Forget finding a diplomatic solution; I’d be angry! But did you let that stop you? No—you moved forward! You took the incentive for all of us! I’m proud!” She clapped her hands together. Bertha, who had been poised for a professional discussion only moments ago, was left with a sheepish smile.

    Marie quickly stepped away from the mimeograph and handed the attendant a stack of pink fliers that she had just finished printing. “Lace, I need you to hang some of these around the place; just a few around the battle and healing rooms will do. The rest we’ll save for the PokeMart and the hotel.”

    The woman nodded and swiftly departed on her assignment. Marie quickly finished up what she had been doing before, taking several folders from a table and clutching them in her arm. Then, she turned back to Bertha. “We’re starting a two-week promotion for the Great Marsh,” she said. “This June is our Gym’s 100th anniversary, and I decided it would be nice to give the kids an incentive to do something educational. Just a little discount, you know, nothing major. But how about that? A hundred years. It just blows your mind, doesn’t it?”

    Bertha nodded. “It does.”

    Marie gave a chuckle. “Of course, I wasn’t the only leader here for those hundred years, but I think it’s safe to say I’ve been here long enough to know what’s going on. I was born and raised right here in the city, and I finished the Sunyshore Biotechnical Academy in 1939. I was an avid trainer back then—I went to those battle houses and conventions at every chance I got—but I never thought about turning it into a serious career until years later. League reformed in, what was it, ‘52? By then, I had become one of the regulars at the Pastoria Battling Club, so when they announced that they were looking for a single leader to head the new Gym, I applied.” She smiled. “If you had seen the state of it in those last years, you would’ve been appalled. Building was practically in ruins. Hardly anyone came anymore, so its leaders saw no need to renovate it. The ones who did come just used the place to their own benefit, not cleaning up or taking care of it. The government saved it, literally, from collapse. They brought in their own people, did their money-magic… and it was like heaven reborn. But at the same time, I won’t deny that they introduced their own, shall we say, diseases.” At this last word, she perked an eyebrow matter-of-factly, and Bertha nodded in understanding. Right then, Marie seemed to notice the boys who were standing behind Bertha’s shoulder, and tilted her head over to look at them. “Ah, I see you’ve brought me some fresh talent for molding. Splendid! I’m afraid I don’t take bribes, but I appreciate the offer. Heh!” She smiled at the joke, and stepped over to the boys. “What are your names?”

    “Michael.”

    “Henry.”

    Marie beamed. “Splendid! You’ll be my special trainers, then. I’m not going to give you that whole League speech, as I’m sure you’ve had it drilled into your heads hundreds of times before. I’ll just cut to the chase. You want a battle? You’ll get it! But first I want to make sure you prepare. What I do is I have all my trainers battle one of my staff first, then come back whenever they feel they’re ready, and battle me. If you win, you get the badge. If not, you can try again. Deal?”

    The boys nodded.

    “Great! Now, you’re encouraged to battle on your own as much as possible. We have free battle rooms at the Gym where you can practice with anyone you’d like—excluding me, of course. I don’t know about the battle rooms at those hotels, though. They keep changing their policies. Some of them are for pay, others no; it’s a mess. The League just can’t make up its mind, can it? Why if I were a trainer now, instead of a hundred years ago, I’d love for my Gym to provide me with free battle room. But for some reason, people today think that just because something’s for pay, it’s automatically better than what’s for free. I don’t get it.” She shook her head. “Now. You boys can pop by for your preliminary battles tomorrow. There’s no sign-up involved—just come up to the front desk, give them your trainers cards, and they’ll pair you up with someone. After that, you stay as long as you have to! If it takes you a week to prepare for me, so be it. If it takes you a day, that’s fine too. But by now, I hope you know what works for you and what doesn’t. The Gym before mine should’ve given you plenty of an idea of how the last four leaders do business. We don’t kid around.” She winked. Michael and Henry nodded in response, and Marie turned to look at Bertha.

    “Now! You must have come here to get my signature. Consider it yours! I’ll get a letter typed up right away. But just for informational purposes, I’d like to read over your document. That we can do right now, since I see you’ve done a wonderful job of coming prepared. And if there’s ever anything else you need, you can drop by my office whenever’s convenient for you. Nine times out of ten, I’ll be there. I know it isn’t the most comfortable feeling to face a closed door, but don’t worry, I don’t bite! I get lots of people, especially younger trainers, poking their heads in with those giant eyes, like they’re scared to death, and I tell them every time—there’s no need! Barge right on in! The worst thing that’ll happen is that I won’t be in and then you’ll have to come back later.”

    Bertha nodded. “That’s wonderful. I have everything we need right here.” She tapped her briefcase.

    “Good,” said Marie. “Now if you’ll just wait a bit, I’ll get some tea for us and we can begin…” She stepped through the doorway towards the lounge. Bertha and the boys followed her as she turned into a small snack area, complete with tables and a half-emptied buffet. Marie went to a small kitchen in the back and a minute later, came out with a tray and two hot cups of tea.

    “You boys can run along; this may take a while,” Marie said to Michael and Henry. “Unless, of course, you’d rather listen to two Gym leaders exchange League jargon for two hours, in which case you’re more than welcome to stay!” She chuckled.

    Before Henry had the chance to respond, Michael took a step towards the door. “Actually, we’ll be going,” he said. “We have lots of practicing to do.”

    “All right then. See you soon!” Marie smiled, and walked off. Bertha went after her, and gave the boys a quick glance before she departed.

    “I’ll see you two back at the hotel, okay? Stick together!”

    Henry nodded. “Right."

    With that, Bertha turned away, and the two women disappeared into the lounge. Michael and Henry wandered around the main building for a bit, checking out its various rooms, then gradually their interests spilled out onto the square, where they spent the rest of the morning exploring its various attractions. Michael kept careful tabs on the time throughout, allowing only one thought to dominate his mind: when he would get himself over to the Great Marsh, and how. But the answer was slow in the coming, and every hour that tolled on the plaza’s outdoor clock reminded him of the fast-approaching meeting.

    After a quick lunch, they visited the souvenir shop, where Henry busied himself with the section of trainer gear, and Michael, still unsure of where to begin his search, plucked a handful of maps from a rack beside the wall.

    He unrolled a full map of Pastoria City, and found—to his dismay—that it was enormous. There was the downtown, which formed the largest part of the city, consisting of an intricate network of roads and subway routes that wound through and about each other like veins. The Great Marsh was a dark green splotch located along the upper border of the town, its tendrils reaching as far as the suburbs. The public entrance was marked a little ways into the downtown, where from a tiny red dot Michael deduced that there was a subway station close by, probably specialized for quick access from the city.

    Easy, he thought. All I have to do is get to the nearest subway station and go from there.

    His finger traced the rail pathways, which snaked and split in every possible direction, often meeting at large points of activity, such as the station by the city center. Smaller stations were colored white, dotting the map’s face like freckles. Finally, his eyes locked on the ones that appeared closest to the Gym. It was placed at the tip of a branch that extended all the way out from the downtown, like a lone strand that had broken free of the web. The station was located beside a suburban shopping center, which was only a few miles away.

    Being a Jubilive native, Michael was fully prepared to walk the distance, but he stopped himself when he realized how strange it would look if he, a lone hitchhiker who was supposed to have everything he needed right here, suddenly set off down the road in a wayward direction. He would have to find a bus.


    “Hey, Michael!”


    A sudden voice tore him out of his concentration. Michael turned, and saw Henry approach him with a pokéball belt clipped around his waist.

    “Do you think this looks good? I think it’ll make switching pokémon easier.” The boy lifted his arms and turned around in a circle, displaying a series of claw-like latches that protruded like spider’s legs from the metal contraption.

    “It looks fine,” Michael said, and returned to his reading. A state of deep thought immediately overcame him, for he realized that he would also have to do everything without Henry noticing. But with Bertha gone, the two of them were essentially left alone for the whole day, which meant that he and Henry would once more have to roam around together, with nothing to rely on but the company of the other. Normally Michael wouldn’t have minded, but now, all of a sudden, the boy’s presence seemed like a cinderblock chained to his ankle. He would need some sort of distraction to keep Henry busy, or at least a cover explanation for his solitary departure.

    Michael began to think of excuses, which ranged from simple to bizarre, like stating that it was Bertha’s birthday and going on an impromptu shopping journey to buy her a present. He continued to scan the map in the meantime, and when a moment later his eyes locked on a large marker in the downtown area, and he realized that there could be a much, much simpler way of doing things.

    After formulating the outline of his plan, Michael rolled up the map with a smile, and went to find Henry. The boy was standing in front of a full-length mirror and examining the utility belt from various angles. Michael tapped him on the shoulder with the tube of paper.

    “If you’re gonna buy it, buy it. I have to go somewhere.”

    Henry turned around with a questioning look. “Huh? What do you mean?”

    Michael unfurled the map and pointed to the location he had memorized. “See that? That’s the Museum of Pokémon Training. I just found out about it—this city has a whole museum dedicated to the League and Gyms and stuff, and they say it’s the biggest collection in the world.”

    Henry’s eyes widened. “Whoa… really? Why didn’t anyone tell us that before? We should go see it!”

    Michael nodded. “Yeah, but I’m thinking about Bertha too. I think she needs a day off, honestly. She’s been so busy with her petition lately that she probably forgot how to have fun. I think we should take her to the museum for a day. She’s a Gym leader and everything, so I’m sure she’ll like it. And it would be a lot better for her to go with the both of us than to go alone, right?”

    “I guess.”

    “Right. So, here’s what I’m thinking. We should give her a little surprise. While she’s talking with Marie, I’m gonna take the subway really quick and get us passes to visit tonight.”

    Henry frowned. “But what about me?”

    “Your job’s important. You’re gonna stay here and cover for me in case she comes back early.”

    Henry put his hands on his hips and cast his gaze to the ceiling, as he often did when thinking something over. “I don’t know… Wouldn’t it be better if the both of us went to the museum? What if you get lost?”

    Michael let out a laugh. “Cat, you have no idea who you’re talking to. I come from Jubilife. People there take the subway more often than walking. I’ll be fine. Plus, what if Bertha comes back before we do? She’ll get worried, and it’ll take away from the surprise if she’s mad at us. Just hang around here, and when she comes back, tell her that we have a present for her and I’ve gone off to get it. It’ll be two hours, tops.”

    Henry let out a slow breath. “Well, if you say so.” He looked down at his belt. “Anyway, I think I’ll buy it. It’ll be a big help later on.”

    Michael nodded, already backing away towards the door. “All right, whatever you say. Be back in a bit.” Before Henry could reply, he bolted out of the store.
    Last edited by Mrs. Lovett; 22nd February 2013 at 6:32 PM.

  21. #271
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    Michael ran back to the hotel and quickly got himself ready, changing into a more tidy, suitable outfit and emptying his backpack of the clutter it had accumulated during his travels. He kept only his wallet, notebook, and badges. This would be his first rendezvous with a girl in three months, and the fact that he didn’t yet know Shella personally made it all the more important to be presentable. He ran a comb through his hair before leaving, and after taking a single deep breath, stepped out of the hotel room.

    With the map in hand, Michael left the Gym plaza and walked down the road till he reached a nearby bus station. He waited there with his backpack resting on his knees, and minutes later, boarded a bus that took him into the throes of downtown.

    The city was teeming, enormous. As always, Michael was taken aback by the dynamics of the unfamiliar city, and gazed intently out the window at the buildings that fled by. The bus shook and snorted like a stirring beast, passing from cramped alleyways to sudden, glorious prospects, which seemed to embrace the whole scope of the earth, strewn with people from every possible direction. Every few minutes, they stopped to let new passengers board, who carried shopping bags and books, baskets and briefcases. Every time they made a stop, Michael hastened to grab a seat in front of him, so that he would be as close as possible to the door when he reached his stop.

    Finally, the bus screeched to a halt beside a subway station, and Michael stepped out into the bustling crowds. He pushed his way through the doors to the building, and found himself in the midst of the afternoon rush-hour. People carried shopping bags, waving tickets and coins in the air, passing through beeping machines on their way up and down the escalators. Michael purchased several tokens and found his way to his platform, after which he spent the next half hour leaning against the shaky walls of subway trains, staring at lights that flitted through the darkness, working through a seemingly endless web of routes to find his way to the Great Marsh.

    After what seemed like hours of coming and going, of passing through one swishing door after another while the intercom blared its voice into his sore ears, Michael’s eyes locked on the sign that he had been looking for—Marshland.

    He emerged from the station, and found himself on a relatively empty street, with sparse, low-lying buildings and fewer cars. Beneath the open sky, Michael could see an enormous white structure stand out immediately in front of him, located in a secluded area before a large, grassy courtyard. There was ample space for people to roam, dotted with benches and picnic tables.

    Michael crossed the street, feeling his breath quicken as he neared the Marsh complex. Inside, the lobby was tall and spacious. A staircase led to a small observation deck, where people stood before a large window, looking through binoculars to see what was going on on the other side. Michael scanned the lobby several times, and was stricken by a momentary panic, thinking he had been stood up. But no… Searching again, his gaze met with that of a blonde girl’s, who stood by the balcony in a breezy pink dress. Shella’s hair was down again, but this time she had adorned it with a glittering clip that resembled a butterfly. She gave him a smile, then descended down the stairs, turning in his direction.

    “Hi Michael.”

    Michael lifted his hand in return. “Hey.”

    Shella looked even more stunning than before. Her dress was frilly and youthful, and toned down their age difference by a slight degree. She wore a white cardigan that complimented her amber eyes, dusted with glitter that shone faintly in the light.

    “You look nice,” he complimented.

    Shella smiled. “Thanks. You do too.” Her gaze lingered on his for a moment, then trailed over to the counter. “The staff said there was a fee for groups... I can pitch in if you want. Or we could split the cost.”

    “I’ll figure it out,” Michael said. He turned to the counter, where he hailed one of the available attendants and leaned over to speak. “Hey. What’s the price for two here?”

    The man pointed to a massive chart on the wall behind him. “Thirty per person.”

    Michael felt himself pale. “Thirty?”

    The man lifted an eyebrow, not without a trace of humor. “We feature an exclusive selection of pokémon that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Their habitat has remained untouched by human hands since the day they were dropped onto the good green Earth. I think thirty is quite a reasonable stopping point.” He gave an apologetic shrug. But right then, he seemed to notice something, and creased his forehead in a frown. “Hang on… Are you a trainer?”

    Michael nodded. “Yeah.”

    “Oh! My bad. Sorry.” The man shook his head and ducked down behind the counter, coming up moments later with a small laminated card. “We’re currently running a special promotion, in addition to our regular discount for trainers, as a courtesy of Mrs. Wickham for the Gym’s 100th anniversary. So right now our price for you would be ten dollars.”

    Michael felt a flood of relief.

    “Just give me your trainer card, and I’ll run it through the scanner.”

    Elated, Michael began to dig through his backpack. Shella approached as he gave his trainer card to the attendant.

    “Is she a trainer too?” the man asked.

    Shella smiled. “Nope.”

    “Well, all right, then your total for this evening will be forty…” The man swiveled his chair to a table behind him, where a bulky machine stood on a wooden table. He pressed a sequence of buttons, then inserted the trainer card into the slot of the scanner, which began to beep as it processed the input.

    Beside him, Michael felt Shella nudge him by the elbow. “Don’t worry, I can pay for myself,” she said.

    Michael nodded, still unable to believe his luck. He looked back at the man, who was still working with the scanner, rubbing his chin.

    “So… is it done?” Michael asked.

    “Hold on a sec,” the attendant replied. The card came back out of the slot he had slid it into, and despite his efforts to repeat the scan, the machine didn’t appear willing to respond. “Hmm… this doesn’t seem to be working.”

    Michael stepped forward. “Why not? What’s wrong?”

    The man turned around and placed the card onto the counter. “Your I.D. isn’t going through for some reason.”

    Michael took the proffered card, feeling his shoulders sink. “But you know it’s a trainer card,” he said. “Isn’t that proof enough?”

    The man gave a faint smile. “No. Unfortunately, it’s League policy. Can’t do anything about it. The promotion’s a one-time thing, and the card has to be scanned to they can record your visit and make sure you’re not abusing the privilege. It’s this new system the League’s trying out. It’s the oddest thing—they’ve found a way to use magnets to scan cards. All the new trainer cards have magnetized strips, which the scanner senses, and decodes some sort of pattern that’s unique to yours. So this way, the visit can get associated with your name. And once that happens, you’re given credit towards a trainer card upgrade. I know, it blows my mind too. At the rate we’re going, we’ll probably wake up tomorrow and find out that they’ve found a way to make cars fly.” The man began to chuckle.

    Michael stared at him in disbelief. From the onset of those spare few words, he felt the gates of light which had pulled open before him suddenly slam closed, right in his face, trapping him on all sides in the darkness. He was gripped by an irrational panic, which only intensified as he tried to reason his way out.

    “But… why wouldn’t my trainer card work?” Michael said. “There’s nothing wrong with it. It has a black bar and a code and everything, just like everyone else’s. There can’t be anything wrong.” In desperation, he began to turn it over in his hands, scrutinizing the surface for the slightest crack or scrape.

    But the man behind the counter only shrugged. “It might be a problem with the scanner. We just got this thing a month ago. It hasn’t broken down yet, but given that it was only built for a trial run, it could be a little glitchy. Sorry, again, but it’s like I said… I can’t do anything if the card doesn’t go through.”

    Fighting the futility of his position, Michael was about to voice another protest, when he felt a cool hand touch his arm. “It’s fine,” Shella cut in, stepping up to the clerk. “I’ll pay.” She unzipped her handbag and took out a clump of bills. Michael hastily pitched in, and they ended up splitting the sum thirty-thirty.

    Satisfied, the clerk tore out two tickets from a large roll and handed them over. “All right then. Entrance is over there, down the hallway. There are guides stationed at several points along the trail. Stick to the path and ask them if you need any help or information. Have a good time!”

    Ignoring the clerk’s cheery wave, Michael and Shella turned towards the exit and stepped outside. A rush of cool evening air escaped through the doors, enveloping Michael in silent darkness. They were walking down a spacious boardwalk, elevated a short height from the ground, where the crowns of trees clumped like bushes beyond the railing. The sky was dim and clear, hued with the colors of the sunset, providing what Michael would normally have appreciated as a romantic backdrop. But he had gotten off to a clumsy start, and could still feel a twinge of unsettlement as they walked away from the building.

    As if reading his thoughts, Shella cast her gaze down at him and smiled. “Don’t worry about the card. I’m sure it’s nothing. I was going to pay for myself anyway.”

    After a moment, Michael let out a breath. “It’s all right.”

    They continued down the boardwalk, which eventually led them into a dense forest that enveloped them in silence. The sky was partially blocked from view by the trees, and stood out here and there in colorful patches. There were no signs of marshlands yet, and when Michael looked down over the railing, all he could see was soggy underbrush, matted with dark grass and cut through by an occasional stream. He tried to see past the trunks into the depths of the forest, but could discern only vague shapes and colors. Shella’s eyes eagerly swept the landscape, shifting first from the wood of the railing, to the rough bark on the trees, then to the veil of branches that arched overhead.

    “This place is beautiful…” she said. “The air is so clean. It’s just what I imagined Sinnoh to be like. Calm and quiet... The cities are nice, but really, they’re not much different from cities in Hoenn. My dad always said that a building’s a building no matter what side of the globe you’re on. But nature always changes, wherever you go.”

    Michael gave a chuckle. “Not much I can say about that… I never traveled much.”

    “Before you joined the League?”

    “Yeah.”

    Shella nodded. “Mmm… So is that why you joined? You wanted to travel?”

    “Yeah, something like that.” Michael looked down at his shoes. “But there’s nothing special about it. Your surroundings change, but deep down everything’s still the same. People. The world.”

    Shella smiled in agreement. Above them, a Starly took off from its perch, and an Aipom scurried up a branch.

    “I understand that. I always thought that going abroad would change everything, but really, it didn’t. You’d think that by leaving home you’d forget everything you left behind, but the more time I spend away, the more I keep being reminded of places I already know. But Sinnoh has a lot of its own things that I like… The pokémon, of course, are adorable.” After a moment, Shella turned to him. “You’re close to them, aren’t you?”

    “To who?”

    “Your pokémon. I can tell that you are… being a trainer and all. I like that. I like people who are more relaxed when it comes to those things. I think it’s the more natural way to go.” A playful smile crossed Shella’s face. “A lot of people I know hate to go near them. Once, a Zigzagoon tried to crawl up my friend’s shoulder. We were hanging out in the park, and we brought some food to have a picnic. I guess that poor little guy just wanted a bite of something, but the minute my friend saw it, she went crazy. She screamed, then tried to flick it off, and it was a mess.” She giggled.

    Michael frowned. “So… what’s it like in Hoenn?” he said. “I’m just curious. If you guys have everything that we do, pretty much, then what makes it so different from this place?”

    Shella tilted her head to the side. “It’s hard to explain. I guess we just always put our own Hoenn spin on things. People are more laid-back overall, and the news focuses a lot on things like society and nature, not just cover stories. There’s even this legend that Hoenn formed long ago when two ancient pokémon, of the land and of the sea, were quarreling. Then a third pokémon, the pokémon of the sky, came down and put an end to it. And so, instead of being all land or all sea, Hoenn’s half and half. We’ve got towns like Lavaridge by Mt. Chimney, and Mossdeep City, which is right in the middle of the ocean. From what I’ve seen, cities there are more spread-out than Sinnoh’s… but of course, I can’t say I’m completely right, because I haven’t been to all of them. Come to think of it, it’s impossible unless you’re a real travel bug.”

    Michael chuckled. “Well, then tell me about the places you have been to.”

    “Well let’s see… I always used to go to Fallarbor Town with my family. That’s way up north, past the mountains. You have to see it to believe how pretty it is. There’s this huge dormant volcano that blows its ashes into the routes surrounding it. The grass, the trees, everything would be covered in soot. Then, the rain comes and washes it all away. Then there’s Sootopolis City. My grandparents live there, so we always used to go at least once every two years to visit them. The city’s in this huge white crater, with a giant lake in the center. There are these really deep underwater routes all around it, and people say that you can go all the way to Mossdeep through an underwater passageway. Trainers like to cross it using this technique called Dive. But personally, I think that’s a fine place to draw the line!”

    “Heh. Yeah.” Michael stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Yeah… I’ve been to some pretty neat places too. Like… the Jubilife Amphitheater.”

    Shella paused, still smiling. “Really?”

    “Yep. And it ain’t fun and games. Once my friends and I went for a concert over the weekend. Nothing big, just some city band that was playing. We didn’t have the front row, but the auditorium is slanted, so you can see the stage from every angle. It was pretty cool. Every two years, they have a music festival where people come from all over the country to play. I’ve been to it once. It’s mostly the same bands that come, so everyone’s heard of them, and the whole crowd sings along to their music.” Michael tilted his gaze upwards. “It would’ve been sweet if some big, popular band came to visit, though. People come all the time to Jubilife, but I’ve never been to one of those really big events.”

    “Neither have I,” Shella said. “I don’t know how it is in Sinnoh, but in Hoenn, the concerts are a mess. There’s no seating in a lot of the theaters, and sometimes the crowds are so big that it’s hard to even hear the music. But I think it would be fun just to go… just to be a part of something that could be historical twenty years from now.”

    “Yeah..."

    They walked on, and as they did they kept talking. As the daylight began to dim, rows of lampposts that lined the boardwalk suddenly lit up, illuminating the path with an orange glow. By then, Michael had grown accustomed to Shella’s presence by his side. He no longer felt cautious around her like before, having to carefully process his words before saying them in the hopes of impressing her. He simply said whatever was on his mind, and to his surprise, found that she was doing the same.

    During the span of time that they were together, they shared miscellaneous stories and information, by which they gleaned hazy pictures of each other’s lives. Michael glossed over the usual, his home and his friends, but occasionally found himself venturing into things he rarely pondered about, like school and hobbies. He told her about his former passion for sports, which had eventually given way to academics due to pressures from his mother. But he found that he had adapted to it quite well, and wouldn’t have wanted to risk it by trying to get through the system relying solely on athletics.

    In return, Shella told him more about her own life. She had spent most of her childhood in Mauville City, and had moved only recently to Slateport after her father had switched jobs. The move had been hard on her, since she had left behind everyone she knew in the process, but a short while later she gained a friend who had helped her along, and with whom she was still very close.

    Visiting Sinnoh had been a long-time dream of hers, but upon arriving, Shella had been caught off-guard by the country’s complexity. Whereas, in her view, Hoenners were more open and cheery, Sinnoh imposed a stoic presence, majestic yet unknowable, which made it hard to adjust for someone who was used to living simply. For all his help in pointing the way, Shella’s cousin was limited in options, and couldn’t stray far from Jubilife to accompany her in travel. Shella had been so eager to visit Pastoria that she had gone alone, which in retrospect, she humorously regretted. Despite her calm, collected appearance, Michael discovered that she felt just as uncertain as he did sometimes, questioning her actions and wondering whether she was really in the place where she belonged. In that sense, he could identify with her.

    In this manner of conversation, they strolled well past dark, sometimes passing through areas so dense with trees that they could distinguish their surroundings only by the flickering glow of the lanterns. Other times, they reached areas of relative emptiness, where flat lands overgrown with grass stretched out to the horizon, strewn with pools of water that mirrored the moonlit sky. They often crossed paths with other people who were strolling along the boardwalk, their faces blurred by the darkness, their voices hushed so as not to disturb the marsh’s serenity. The wild pokémon weren’t as courteous. Wild Croagunk scampered through the bushes, the sounds of their tittering rising above the rustle of leaves. The breeze whistled with the flute-like melody of Kricketune, which Michael often saw taking shelter in the trees. He saw Noctowls hanging upside-down from branches, and Carnivines peering out from the darkness with their reddened eyes.

    He and Shella didn’t adhere to any particular trail. Every time they saw a signpost indicating a new area, they followed it, enjoying the surprises it brought. At a certain point, they stopped to rest, leaning over the railing to observe the goings-on down below. The zone they had reached was lit by lanterns from the ground, and was etched with walkways made to accommodate people. The observation deck of the main building was in sight up ahead, its giant windows glowing white.

    Faded bits of conversation rose up from below. Michael peered over the railing, and saw three figures separate themselves from the darkness, their forms growing steadily pronounced as they advanced through the underbrush. One of them was a Marsh staff, distinguished by his green-and-black uniform. The other was a light-haired woman, and the third, a young trainer. Michael watched them idly as they stopped before a gate that closed off a section of tall grass, just a short distance from the elevated boardwalk where he and Shella were standing. The trainer’s face emerged into the light of the lanterns, and with a jolt, Michael recognized Henry. He blinked again, and saw that it was indeed the boy—his tote bag was hanging dutifully at his side, and his hat was clutched in one hand. The woman beside him could only be Bertha, who had dressed in a more functional fashion, wearing pants and sneakers.

    They stood facing the park attendant, who had evidently been explaining something to them only moments before.

    “So what’s the challenge all about?” Henry piped up, glancing towards the bushes behind them.

    “We start the timer, and you have ten minutes to catch a night pokémon. If you make it in five, then you get to keep what you caught. If you make it in less than three, then you get a free weekly pass to the park. But be careful—you’re not allowed to use your own pokémon to weaken them. You gotta go by your own instinct. Here are some Safari Balls.”

    He brought forth a pouch of pokéballs, proffering them not to Henry, but to Bertha. She nodded in response.

    “Hmm. That seems interesting. I’ll give it a shot.”

    As she took the drawstring pouch, Michael felt his pulse quicken. What were they doing here? And how had they reacted to his absence? He thought back to what he had told Henry in the gift shop, and it suddenly occurred to him that he must have been gone much longer than he had anticipated. There was no telling what Henry had done in the meantime, or what Bertha had managed to make him tell.

    As the three figures began to shift their places, Michael began to look around in search of a place to hide, for he couldn’t begin to imagine the mess he would have to wheedle out of if they saw him. But he remained where he was for Shella’s sake. For now, he would have to hope that neither Bertha nor Henry would be tempted to look up.

    Shella seemed not to have noticed Michael’s reaction. She approached the railing, leaned her elbows against the bar, and smiled. “That looks interesting. Let’s watch.”

    Michael nodded. He let his wariness pass into the back of his mind, and took the opportunity to stand next to her. They both watched as the park guide unlocked the gate and gestured for Bertha to proceed. Bertha tied the strings of the pouch around her wrist and handed Henry her purse.

    “If I see anything interesting, I’ll let you know,” she said.

    Beside Henry, the park guide held up a stopwatch. “On your mark!”

    Henry began to clap. “Woo! Go Bertha!”

    “Get set… go!”

    With the speed of a lightning bolt, Bertha rushed into the underbrush and let the darkness swallow her.

    Michael tried to follow her path with his gaze, but he couldn’t make out much in the darkened field. Electric lamps were dotted around the perimeter every couple yards, but their light was purposely dimmed, cloaking the tall grass in half-shadow. Occasionally, he caught glimpses of flying hair, and heard a chorus of croaks and hisses as the grass-dwelling pokémon stirred lazily from their dens. Henry began to skip around the fence, jumping on his toes in an attempt to see what was going on. But his efforts appeared to be in vain, for he soon stopped and settled to watch in place, leaning forward as far as the fence would allow.

    Meanwhile, Bertha continued to run, seemingly never in the same spot twice. She combed through the entire front section, apparently finding nothing, then proceeded further in, where the grass grew denser. Twice, Michael heard the sound of an activating pokéball, but the park balls appeared to be designed in such a manner that their white glow was negated. Both attempts at capture seemed to have failed, for Bertha kept running, twisting and lunging as the object she was following tried to evade her.

    “Six minutes!” called the attendant. “You have six minutes left!”

    Berth’s jog grew into a frenzied run, and she drew another Safari Ball from the pouch. She fell into a sprint in the direction of the fence, one hand holding the capsule out in front of her. Finally, she threw. At the same time, Michael saw a tiny body spring from the darkness, just as the light tore into it, blotting it completely from view. The pokéball fell into the grass, and Bertha picked it up, dusting off crumbs of dirt.

    “I got something,” she said, weighing the capsule in her hand. “It was small, but it sure was fast.” She met the park guide by the fence and let out a breath. “How long did I take?”

    “You spent four minutes, thirty-nine seconds. Good going! That means you can keep whatever you caught.”

    “Let’s see what it is then…” Bertha twisted open the capsule, and out came a tiny blue body, bouncing off the ground and landing a few feet away. Instantly, her expression twisted into a surprised sort of smile.

    “It’s a Wooper! Heh. I didn’t know you had those here.” She lifted the pokémon into her arms for a closer look. Michael couldn’t see the details, but the creature seemed no bigger than his Turtwig, and had a pair of pink, branch-like antennae growing from the sides of its head.

    Henry came over to Bertha’s side. “Whoa! I’ve never seen one of those before. What are they?”

    “They’re Water types, if I remember right.”

    “Water and Ground, actually,” the guide corrected. “Their highest period of activity is in the nighttime, when it’s coolest, and least dangerous to search for food. During the day, they like to spend time in the mud. That one’s a girl. You can tell because she has one rib branch sprouting from the main body of the antennae, not two.”

    Bertha chuckled as the Wooper tried to wriggle away, reaching for her neck and shoulders with its stubby arms. Its skin must have been slimy, for when they brushed near her face, she let out a surprised yell and quickly pulled the Wooper away. Henry began to laugh. Despite the fact that the front of her shirt was now covered in splotches, Bertha managed a strained smile, and held the Wooper out to Henry.

    “Do you want her, kiddo? I bet she’d be good for your team… she seems pretty upbeat.”

    Henry shook his head. “No, you keep her, Bertha! You caught her. Plus, you could raise her for your Gym.”

    “My Gym’s Grass,” Bertha said. “I can’t bend the rules on that one. It would’ve been great if she were half grass, at least, but I guess we can’t do anything about it now.” She frowned for a moment, then passed it off with a shrug. “Ah, but why should it matter? I’m on leave anyway… I can still raise her even if she’s not a part of my battling team. Come to think of it, three pokémon seems kind of lacking, especially since most trainers these days walk around with five or six.”

    Henry smiled in satisfaction. “So I guess it’s settled.”

    Bertha held the Wooper up to eye level. “I don’t know what to name you yet, but I’m sure it’ll come to me eventually. For now, enjoy your new home.” She twisted open the knob on the Safari Ball and watched the Wooper flee inside with the light.

    The park attendant clapped his hands. “Well done! Now, how about a challenge for the young trainer?” He leaned over to Henry. “If you can catch a different pokémon in less than five minutes, I’ll let you keep it, plus you can earn up to one week of free visits.”

    Bertha shook her head. “Sorry, but I think that’s enough for today. We came on pretty short notice, and I don’t want to be away from the Plaza for too long without having told anyone I was gone. We should be getting back to the hotel.” She looked down at Henry. “Sorry, again. If you want, I can take you boys on another day.”

    Henry bit his lip. “Okay. Sure.”

    With that, the three of them turned for the main building. As their figures grew smaller down the path, Shella leaned forward in evident interest. “That woman’s a Gym leader?”

    Michael nodded.

    “That means you must’ve battled her, right?” Shella turned to him. “Or is she the Gym leader here, in Pastoria?”

    “No, she’s the Gym leader in Eterna. I’ve battled her.” Michael paused. “Strange I’d see her here…”

    Shella shrugged. “Well, I guess the marsh must be a popular tourist spot.” She smiled, and with a casual turn, stepped away from the railing. “Come on, Michael. We should get going. I don’t think we’ve seen Areas Six and Seven yet, and it’s getting dark.”

    Michael responded after a brief pause. “Right.” He picked up his pace to catch up with her, and together they moved on.

    They crossed through the remaining two zones in about half an hour, though to Michael it seemed much longer. He and Shella continued to talk throughout, sharing jokes and stories, until finally they reached the end of the trail, which led to a side entrance on the opposite side from where they had begun. They had made a full, clumsy circle around the marsh, and though they had skipped the various adjacent routes which trickled out form the main path, it seemed they had seen enough to last a long while.

    They parted outside by the building’s front doors, where they stood facing each other for a couple moments.

    “Thanks again for coming here with me,” said Shella. “I had fun.”

    Michael nodded. “Me too.” He meant it.

    Shella’s face was slightly blurred in the darkness, but he could see her cheeks lift as she smiled. “You’re really quite funny. And nice. I know we probably won’t see each other again after I leave for home, but I’ll always remember this as part of my trip. Good luck with your journey… If you ever do beat the tournament, well, I wouldn’t be surprised!”

    Michael smiled in thanks, but her words still left a sad impression on him. After a brief pause, he spoke. “How long are you going to be in the city?”

    “Probably another week, if I can find anything else that’s worth seeing. I still haven’t paid a visit to the downtown, which I plan on doing.” Right then, Shella perked an eyebrow. “You don’t happen to be familiar with this place too, do you?”

    Michael let out a laugh. “I just got here too, so… not really. But that makes it twice the fun.”

    “That’s what I think too.” Shella beamed. “So… maybe we can meet up again sometime? I don’t know… just give me a call when you’re free. We can take the subway to the downtown.”

    “Sure.” Michael’s eyes flickered over to the road, where the subway station’s glimmering lights shone just a short while away. He was instantly reminded of Bertha and Henry, and his heart skipped a beat. “I better get going. Sorry. I’ll, uh, give you a call when I can.”

    Shella nodded. “Okay. See you soon!’

    They exchanged waves, and Michael turned away, setting off briskly for the subway station. It took him another fifteen minutes to retrace his steps through the city network before he finally reached the edge of its farthest-reaching branch. Too distracted by his thoughts to worry about time, he waited for a bus, and was soon speeding out in the direction of the Gym plaza.

    Minutes later, he trudged up the steps that lead to his hotel room, and opened the door with the spare key he had brought. To his surprise, Bertha and Henry were inside, sitting around a board game, plates of take-out food laid out beside them. Bertha had the Wooper in her lap, and Henry Clefable, who watched them play while the TV droned quietly in the background.

    Upon Michael’s arrival, the both of them turned. Bertha smiled in surprise. “Hey there. What took you so long? Henry told me you left to get something.”

    “Yep. Everything’s fine.” Michael looked down at Wooper and hastily switched the subject. “Where did you get that?”

    Bertha looked down. “Oh, Wooper? Henry and I went to the Great Marsh while you were away, and I caught her. We would’ve waited for you if we knew where you were, but what’s done is done I guess. We can go together sometime later.” She lifted the Wooper, who seemed to have already warmed up to her and let out a playful squeal. Bertha’s expression softened, and she gently touched her nose to the Wooper’s forehead. “Aw, look at you, you’re so cute…”

    “Too bad it’s not a Grass type,” Michael said, echoing her words from before. “You could’ve used it for your Gym.”

    Bertha gave a one-shoulder shrug. “Eh, it doesn’t matter to me. Just because she’s not going to be a part of my team doesn’t mean I can’t spend time with her. And besides, if I’m going to take a break from my Gym duties, why not take a break from my type restriction too?”

    Michael nodded. He looked to Henry, who met his gaze steadily, eyebrows slightly driven together. Evidently, he still had a good deal of self-explaining left to do. But right then, it didn’t matter.

    After setting down his things, Michael joined Bertha and Henry, and the three of them spent the rest of the evening playing and talking. But nearly all Michael could think about was how lucky he had been.




    //////



    Hundreds of miles away, that very same evening, Nancy Bryan sat in her stuffy hotel room, scanning the newspaper over a cup of tea. Unlike Michael, she didn’t feel lucky at all—more like exhausted, for it had been over three weeks since their arrival in the city, and their progress so far amounted to zilch.

    A few days prior, Nancy did some pride-swallowing and got herself to type up the Contest story she had promised the two coordinators a while ago. To her surprise, the local Hearthome newspaper had grabbed it, since apparently the next month would be a deciding period for the preliminary rounds. This forged a temporary alliance between Nancy’s team and the Hearthome Press Office, which granted them temporary reporter privileges in exchange for continued Contest coverage. But in terms of finding a story for SNN, so far they were at a loss.

    Beside her, Ned and Bobby occupied the tiny round table by the window, finishing a meager dinner. Only Tom was absent—he had left for the press office nearly four hours ago to search through their archives, and still hadn’t returned.

    Television had long ceased to function as a source of entertainment for them, so in its stead, the team passed time by scanning the headlines to see what kinds of things people were writing about. Nancy was currently reading the paper on the armchair and periodically calling out headlines that seemed most interesting.

    “Hey, I got another one,” she called out, breaking a lengthy silence.

    “Let’s hear it,” said Ned

    “A shop’s been closed down on Tenth Street,” Nancy murmured. “Making fake driver’s licenses, right under everyone’s nose…”

    Bobby looked over. “What’s that all about?”

    Nancy continued to scan through the page. “Some guy was running a small store downtown. He was selling fake IDs and licenses, but he disguised it by selling League merchandise alongside it. It says that after the Game Corner was closed, the cops started to check the other League-related establishments in the area… and I guess they landed right on that place. It wasn’t even a licensed vendor. He just had the pokéball logo on his window.

    Bobby began to laugh. “Man…”

    “How do they know the difference, anyway?” Ned piped up.

    Nancy responded with a shrug. “Apparently to sell League stuff you have to have a special certificate of approval for your store. This guy had nothing—and to top it all off, he tried to sell trainer cards too, which gave him away on the spot. League rules say you’re not supposed to do that, ever. You can only get them by writing to the League itself and having them mail it to you, or by going to a local League office and getting one there. Not even Gyms can sell them.”

    Nancy had begun to read the text in more detail, when suddenly, the door burst open, and a frazzled Tom stumbled into the room, his coat askew, still panting as if from a long run. One hand was clutching a folder, thin and rumpled.

    “Guys, I have something… take a look…”

    Nancy felt a flicker of panic as she rose from her chair. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

    “The discovery! Deoxys was actually discovered in January—months before they announced it! Look, it says so right here—” Tom slapped the folder onto the table where Ned and Bobby were seated, and began to leaf through its contents at a frantic pace. Nancy came over just in time as his finger landed on a seemingly random point, amid a tall, dense column that seemed packed to the brim with words. The by-line was blank.

    “’Team Rocket officials had originally confirmed the detection of an unknown signal by their spacecraft on November 12th, 1962, after which all normal procedures for R-109, the moon mission, were suspended, and investigations of the signal commenced. This date corresponds with an atypical shift in procedure by Team Galactic, who launched a spacecraft shortly after on December 21st, 1962. This mission was not reported to the public of either Hoenn or Sinnoh, who instead continued to receive updates of Team Rocket’s discoveries on the moon, which had been made months prior as well. The year of 1963 began with Team Galactic’s launching of Galaxie, which was supposed to search the moon for possible landing sites. But in fact, as mission logs reveal, the spacecraft had a different purpose entirely—namely that of carrying specialized radio equipment designed to facilitate the communication between two spacecraft in the same field of orbit. Interestingly, Hoenn launched a spacecraft on that very same date, only an hour later. This was thought by the public to be a simple coincidence, but deeper investigation shows that such a feat is in fact nearly impossible to achieve without an extraordinary measure of preparation and planning. Unpublished records reveal a link of communication between the Veilstone headquarters and Team Rocket’s base in Mossdeep City. The two organizations exchanged trajectory plans, equipment status, and as the system reports show, took evident care to ensure that the two spacecraft were constantly aware of each other.
    ‘In light of these records, it becomes apparent that neither team was aiming for the moon at all, but rather following a specific path in the search of a specific object…’
    Don’t you see?” Tom tapped the paper in emphasis. “It’s like they’re working together! First they got hold of that signal, and a few weeks later they deduced it was coming from a moving object! They found that pokémon when it was heading right towards them. Hoenn’s ship got it on camera, so obviously they’d put it in their papers first. But that’s not the point. The point is, they were hiding it all along! There was something about Deoxys that they didn’t want to share with us right off the bat, and now they’re helping each other keep quiet!”

    Ned looked up from the paper and frowned. “Where did you get this?”

    “I was looking through the archives at the city press office,” Tom said. “I wanted to bring back some things from previous months so we’d have a reference to look off of, but I couldn’t find anything. Then, a minute later, a guy came up to me and asked if I was a journalist. I guess he recognized me by my badge. I told him I was looking for a story to publish, and he looked interested all of a sudden. We talked for a few minutes, and before leaving he handed me this. Said he wrote it himself, but was worried that a big news company would misinterpret it, so he wanted to give it to a smaller one.”

    Ned’s puzzled frown gave way for an incredulous stare. Bobby mimicked the expression, lifting an eyebrow.

    “I don’t know… it seems like there might be a catch,” Bobby said. “I mean, what are the odds? You go out looking for a story, and by some miracle a guy shows up in a hat and trenchcoat and hands you the key to your success. For all we know, he could be a quack or something.”

    Tom rolled his eyes. “He wasn’t wearing a trenchcoat, Bobby. And he didn’t give the article to me right away; I told him who I was, that I was from Sinnoh Now, and everything.”

    “But he didn’t tell you who he was, did he?” said Ned.

    Tom thought for a moment, searching his memory. “He told me his name… Alfonso something… Said that he worked for a hardware production company, but that was pretty much it.”

    “So, he might not even have written it.”

    “Ned, it doesn’t matter. What matters is this!” Tom lifted the paper in front of him. “Whoever wrote this had access to official telegrams and reports from both Team Galactic and the Rockets! Don’t look at me like I’m five; I know how to analyze reference notes. And his were perfectly valid. I checked, and all the journals he used exist. All the names and dates and missions he cites are facts, and some are stored on classified databases, so I couldn’t access them. He must’ve been someone way up top to get his hands on information like that, which explains why he wouldn’t want a big-name company to publish it, because he doesn’t want to attract attention to himself. And look, it all makes sense! First, we saw pictures of that rocket—”

    “Sssh!” said Bobby. “We’re not supposed to talk about that, remember?”

    “We have to talk about it, guys! Something’s not right, I can feel it. If Galactic was building another rocket, then that must mean they’re planning another mission. And I’m willing to bet that it has something to do with Deoxys. There’s something about it that they’re not telling us on the news, and if it’s something bad, then soon it might be too late.”

    Nancy shook her head. “Tom, stop it! Were you not there in Eterna with us? We can’t get tangled up in these conspiracies again! If we make one bad move, one step in the wrong direction, then it’s over!”

    Tom stared quizzically at his companions, who all met his gaze with similar expressions—calm and unyielding. Realizing the futility of his case, he backed away from the table, lowering the article by his side.

    “Fine… fine. But you’ll see. I’m telling you, there’s something not right about this.” He turned to leave, but a moment later he stopped himself and spun back around. “And you know, for a change, I think we should stop chasing SNN’s goal for us and think about our own future. We’ve been all over the place these past few months, but if there’s one thing I’ve never been more sure of this whole time, it’s that we hit something really deep in Eterna that while back. Something that goes way beyond what SNN’s capable of digging up. I know it’s not something they’d want us to do, but lately I’ve come to realize that that might be the point. Just forget, for a moment, that we’re on a deadline. Forget what SNN’s promised us, and forget our assignment. We’re reporters, and our duty to the public should take priority over our duty to those corporate heads. We might have a chance right now to change the course of history, and inform the public of something they really need to know about. If we won’t, then no one else will. Not a single radio station is going to talk about what I’ve just read to you until the time’s long past for people to start caring. Think about that.”

    And without a second to spare, Tom left the room.

    The team members that remained gradually drifted apart, settling in separate corners of the room and immersing themselves in their own thoughts.


    Outside, rain pattered against the window.
    Last edited by Mrs. Lovett; 12th September 2013 at 12:11 AM.


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  22. #272
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    Just out of curiosity, how long is this story?

    I'm a big fan by the way and I love how the story is progressing.
    Last edited by PokemonAndDBZ; 30th March 2013 at 5:20 AM.


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  23. #273
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    My outline as of now amounts to 52 chapters. Of course, even the best-laid plans can go wrong, so depending on how the story unfolds as I'm writing it, the number may change drastically, or not at all.

    Glad you're enjoying the story!


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  24. #274
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    Hey everyone. Sorry for the unannounced hiatus, but I had to take one... My mind was dancing between a million other things, including other pesky story ideas, and it was a while before I could delve into this again.

    But the good news is, I've written a fair bit in advance. I have outlines and scenes for the rest of the Pastoria chapters scrawled in my notebook, which will shorten the time they spend in the purgatory of my computer files before they get posted. xP This chapter is fairly short and low-key, but we are on the verge (finally!) of something big.

    Read on!

    3.4

    The next day, Michael was sitting alone at his desk, light streaming around the room through the windows spaced along the walls. Laid out in front of him was a modest view of open grassland, a slice of the vast lot that bordered the plaza. It was on all accounts a beautiful day, but Michael was so occupied with writing notes that he hardly noticed it. The focus of his attention was Turtwig, who stood beside him on the desk, doing his best to keep still while his trainer worked.

    The pokémon was now roughly the size of Michael’s backpack, and outweighed a small stack of textbooks. The tiny branch that once sprouted from his head like an antennae had snapped off, leaving behind a withering stump, bare of its usual growth of leaves. Turtwig’s shell was beginning to creep up his neck to cover the spot, and in a matter of days, would envelop his entire head like a helmet.

    Michael had been keeping a casual eye on Turtwig’s growth over the days, noticing the branch grow thinner and darker. But it wasn’t until that morning, when it had snapped off like a dry twig during morning feeding, that Michael finally decided it was time to take note of the pokémon’s evolution. Turtwig’s odd coloring, which differed from that of all other Turtwigs Michael had seen during his journey, remained as strikingly different as before—only now it was, if possible, even more embarrassing. With onset of Turtwig’s latest growth spurt, his skin had changed like the autumn leaves, fading from blue-green to livid yellow, while the cuffs around his paws had adopted the blue. His shell, which was supposed to be a light shade of brown, was hued a deep aquamarine, and gave off a taut, rubbery gleam when it caught the light. Turtwig now looked like he had been hastily repainted by a toddler, who might as well have colored the sun green or the grass purple.

    All this, however, was entirely lost upon the pokémon. Oblivious to his laughable condition, Turtwig happily watched as Michael continued to record his observations, complying with his prods and nudges, and turning around in the direction his trainer indicated. The other pokémon, who had also been released in the meantime, were resting at various points of the room, nibbling their leftover breakfasts. Ringo was perched on the vanity mirror that stood by the desk, clicking his beak as he watched Michael work. Beneath the tune of his thoughts, Michael was faintly aware of the sound of music and voices coming from somewhere outside, which had persisted throughout the morning. But his concentration remained unbroken, until, for the third time that day, the silence in the room was broken by a loud, ringing screech.

    Michael gave a jolt of surprise, involuntarily tracing a thick line across his paper, and closed his eyes with a groan. “Shut up, Ringo,” he mumbled.

    Ringo seemed delighted to reply. “Shut up, shut up!”

    Ignoring the bird, Michael bent back over the paper and kept writing. Another minute passed, then the front door slammed closed, and Michael looked up to see Henry enter. The boy had left a while ago to retrieve a schedule for Marie’s Gym, and was now lowering his tote bag beside the wall.

    “Hey,” said Henry. “I was just downstairs. Bertha and Marie are doing some sort of event outside by the Gym. Everyone’s talking about it. We should go check it out.” Henry looked over to Michael, who hadn’t shifted an inch from his position since he had left, and knit his eyebrows. “What are you doing?”

    “Tracking his growth,” Michael said. “Look at this—he’s completely changed color.” He lifted Turtwig up by the sides and held him out to Henry. The boy, too, had noticed Turtwig’s gradual transformations, but it was only then that the absurdity of the situation seemed to strike him. He was too polite to smile, but even so, he could not hide his surprise at Turtwig’s startlingly-yellow skin, which he was almost certain had been closer to green just a day ago. Henry looked the pokémon over from various angles, tracing his fingers over the bumps on his shell, and the stump where his head-stem had been.

    “That’s really weird…” he said. “The color’s still different. I thought Grotles were supposed to be green.”

    “I guess it‘s not something you grow out of, then.” Michael sighed, and looked down at Turtwig. “Great. Here I am, about to battle a Gym leader, and you cop out on me.” The pokémon cocked his head. Michael surveyed the grooves that lined the back of his shell, and noticed tips of stems beginning to poke through the outer layer. “He’s going to grow a pair of shrubs here,” he said to Henry. “I guess that’ll solve the Razor Leaf problem…”

    “But do you think he’ll have enough by the time you battle Marie?”

    “No clue. But considering that this Gym is Water, I hope for his sake that this’ll be over soon.” Michael looked down at Turtwig, who returned his stare with a contented blink, and set the pokémon down on the floor. Right then, an afterthought flickered though his mind, compelling him to smile. “If anything... I’ll just use some fertilizer.”

    Henry looked up from the tips of his shoes. “Huh?”

    “Nothing.” Michael shook his head, still chuckling at the memory, and rose from the chair. “Now let’s go. If there’s a party like you said, I’m sure as hell not gonna miss it.”

    “Right.”

    With that, they straightened out the room as best they could, cleaning up the leftovers of their pokémon’s food and putting away their belongings for the room service staff. They sent back all their pokémon except for Ringo, who fluttered down from the vanity mirror as the boys headed for the door. “Let’s go!” he clucked.

    The boys decided to go unburdened, leaving everything behind save for their keys and wallets. Michael waited for Ringo to get situated on his shoulder, then followed Henry down to the lobby.



    //////



    That day, a large crowd had gathered on the lawn of the Gym, in an outdoor party that attracted people from all ends of the plaza. The event resembled a large summer barbecue, complete with food, games, and music, which wafted into the surrounding vicinity in bright, jovial tunes. The Gym was surrounded by what seemed like a sea of tables, all draped with patterned tablecloth that rippled with the wind, like tiny islands among the moving currents of people. Somewhere among them sat Bertha and Marie, enclosed by a border of tables, surrounded by papers and boxes. Their area was clearly the focal point of interest, and had attracted the largest gathering of people, both young and old alike. Copies of Bertha’s petition were being passed around them like wildfire, populating the scene with pink, orange, and yellow papers. A steady line had formed to the side where Bertha sat, handling a huge roster of contacts, which people stepped up one by one to sign.

    Despite the slow, casual atmosphere around them, the two Gym leaders were busy at work, rising from their chairs to distribute pencils and shake proffered hands. They both wore matching floral headbands, which were wrapped around their heads in colorful knots, with long strands of ribbon left to sway with them as they moved. Bertha had grown used to the ribbons after a while, letting them tangle with the rest of her hair, but Marie never seemed to be at ease with them; she often paused in her rhythmic pace to adjust her headband, first tightening the knot, then pushing it aside to wipe her forehead.

    She tired more quickly than the younger Bertha, who seemed to handle their multitude of tasks with ease, and so after what seemed like an eternity of standing and turning, Marie finally sat down for a moment’s break. With a decisive sigh, she tilted her face upwards and squinted at the clouds. “Whew! Only an hour in this sun and already I’m drying up like a prune…” She looked over to a stack of flyers at her side and busied herself with an unruly staple, which had snagged itself in one of the paper packets, ruining the corners she loved to keep smooth. When Marie finally pulled it free with her nails, she gave a pleased smile, and stapled it anew.

    Bertha looked over her shoulder at her, and smiled. “Well it sure beats the office.”

    “Aha, that’s true.” Marie held up the mended copy and flipped through the pages. The packet contained the full text of Bertha’s petition, along with a summary, which was accompanied by a call to action for the greater community. The previous day, the two women had produced well over five-hundred of them, with the help of Marie’s typewriters and mimeograph machine. The text on the paper was straight and legible, not smudged in the slightest, and now Marie looked over her handiwork with sunny pride.

    “I can’t tell you enough how easier things have gotten since I got that old copier,” she said to Bertha. “It used to take me three days to make just two-hundred flyers—and that’s for small stuff like weekly Pokémart promotions and whatnot. My poor staff had to work with me in shifts if I couldn’t do it all by myself. But now look at me—I can whip up fifty of those little buggers, send June to copy them, while I make fifty more. It’s a breeze! Harvey likes to brag that he has one of those new high-tech photocopiers. They came out a few months ago, and they cost a fortune. He just loves it.” Marie rolled her eyes, and the gesture was so comical that Bertha chuckled. “He sends me those perfectly-made certificates and notices… copies of documents that I don’t have anymore… It’s like he knows that I can’t make myself.” She shook her head. “Well, I’m fine with what I have, at any rate!”

    With finality, she put the flyer down. She stood up again and turned to Bertha, holding up a finger in instruction.

    “Now, always remember—advertising is key,” she said. “It’s like I always say—if nobody knows, nobody cares. Right now, we’ll focus on spreading the word to Pastorians, and with any luck, they’ll be interested enough to tell their friends, so that when you leave, your message will stay alive. Of course, you have me to look after things here, but when you move on, you’ll have to go to bigger and better places. I’m talking markets, downtowns, public buildings, all of that. Don’t be afraid to ask around and give others information. The worst that can happen is that they’re not interested. And the best thing that can happen is that they’re moved enough to tell someone else.”

    “That seems sound,” Bertha said. “But are you sure you’ll be all right with taking such a big part of the work? I know you’re pretty busy, even for a Gym leader.”

    Marie dismissed Bertha’s concern with a flick of the hand. “Ah, it’s always been like that for me. Truth is, the reason I’m swamped with paperwork all the time is because I keep records for the city and team up on projects with the mayor. I haven’t told you this yet, but this Gym also doubles as the headquarters for all League business in Pastoria. If the city wants to do anything League-related, or if the League wants our help for something or other, the deal goes through me. This way my Gym’s not chained to a subdivision in the city government; it’s an entity all in its own. Back when I was just starting out as the leader, this Gym was a tiny fish in a huge pond. Other Gyms were being taken over by their own cities and hardly got a say in policies that concerned them. I knew I couldn’t go in that direction, because otherwise I’d never get this place back on its feet. I had to give it a purpose that was more than just a single stop on a long journey for trainers. And I did that by making people see that a Gym doesn’t have to be just for trainers. It can be for regular folk too.” At this, she lifted an eyebrow. “But of course, that means that a Gym leader has to be responsible for more than just battling. I’m sure you’ll agree.”

    “Oh, definitely,” Bertha said. “Oddly enough, I never thought about that side of it as a kid. I thought it would be all battling, all excitement. That’s what the entire League was to me, really. I don’t shy away from the business stuff, don’t get me wrong, but in all honesty I think I liked the League better the way I knew it from stories: The pokémon, the battling, the adventures… all the stuff trainers did in the past. That was the reason I wanted to become a Gym leader in the first place; I wanted to battle and see others do it. I don’t think that part of me will ever change, even if the League has turned into an industry.”

    “And that’s all very well,” Marie assured. “I saw that spark in you from day one. You’ve got the right amount of passion for your job, which is important for a Gym leader, especially if you’re young. People who only treat the League as business don’t last too long in it. And that goes for everyone—leaders, trainers, officials…”

    Bertha gave a laugh. “I might have started treating it as business a little too late. If I’d been keen on making connections early on, I don’t think I’d have gotten into that whole mess with the factory. That’s the only thing I regret.”

    “Well, there’s no use in dwelling on that now,” said Marie. “Look forward! At the very least, we’ll make Galactic clean up the mess they made in Eterna. And at the most, we’ll go for the gold. We’ll get the government to hear us, and when they do, we’ll set the League right again. No more scams, no more corporate nonsense sticking its nose in things where it doesn’t belong. Just trainers, Gyms, and battling. Don’t know if I’ll live long enough to see it, but it’s new blood like you who’ll be there bring the change about. No pressure.”

    Marie winked, and turned to a stack of empty boxes which had been piled up over the hours. They had been filled with copies of the packets, but they were being emptied so fast that there was hardly enough time to dispose of them.

    “Bertha, do me a favor and cover for me while I run to the Gym to get these thrown out. And I want to check with Lace about the buffets to make sure there’s still enough food to go around. You know, the worst thing a host can do to their guests is run out of refreshments before the party’s over.”

    “I already talked with her,” said Bertha. “Sorry I didn’t tell you. She had another truck come in half an hour ago. They’re giving out meat dumplings.” Bertha gave a silly sort of laugh and turned her palms out in a confession. “I heard somewhere that it was a Pastoria specialty!”

    Marie stopped to survey Bertha, knitting her brows. “Planned in advance, did you? I must say, I like that. You’ve got energy. Why, you might go farther than me one day!”

    Bertha shook her head jokingly. Marie left the table with the boxes in hand, humming along to the music that was playing, and Bertha turned back to the line of people, greeting them as they waited to sign the roster.



    //////



    By the time Michael and Henry arrived at the Gym, the event was in full swing. It turned out to be a mix between a carnival and an information fair, providing entertainment for children and activities for older trainers. The boys plowed through the crowds at the front lawn, stopping by tables that hosted crafts and games, and food lines with colorful dishes. But the theme of the party was immediately clear. All around, Michael saw colorful flyers taped to lampposts and doors that advertised Bertha’s petition, and indicated areas within the Gym’s grounds where the signing was taking place. In addition, many of Marie’s staff were stationed behind tables with large rosters, where potential signers were given informative packets in exchange for their contact information.

    “I guess Bertha’s finally getting the word around,” said Henry, looking around at the crowd. “She must be getting a lot of signatures.”

    “Yep,” Michael replied.

    They continued walking, when the boy spotted a table and pointed. “Hey Michael, look! They’ve got a marble jar!”

    Michael turned, and saw over a sea of heads a large glass container filled to the brim with tiny marbles. Several children were gathered around it, surveying the container with curious eyes, some trying to count the marbles with their fingers. He let out a laugh. “You want to try?”

    “Yeah, it’s just math, right? You find the volume of the jar and divide by the volume of a marble.”

    “They don’t let you measure anything, smart one. You have to be lucky.”

    “Well I still want to do it,” Henry said.

    Michael shrugged. “Fine, go ahead.” He turned away and let his eyes skim the crowd, when out of the blue, his gaze locked on one face among dozens of others—a girl’s. Her light hair hung in two long braids over her shoulders, and the long skirt she wore stirred elegantly around her as she walked. It was Shella.

    Taking a quick look back at Henry, Michael began to distance himself, inching away towards the table in the distance. But midway into his escape, the boy noticed, and turned.

    “Michael, what is it?”

    Michael jerked his thumb in a general that-way direction and quickened his pace. “Nothing — I just want to check something out… uh, over there. Be right back!” Without another word, he went off, turning so abruptly that Ringo lost his balance and fell from his shoulder. Henry started to chase after him, but stopped when Michael plunged into the crowd and vanished from view. “Wait!” he called out. “Where are you going?”

    Ringo, who had been left alone in midair, flapped over to Henry’s arm and began to chirp to a tune. “All you need is love… love…”

    Henry gave the bird a puzzled look and rolled his eyes.



    //////



    As time passed, the line in front of Bertha’s roster continued to move forward, attracting people from all over the party. Marie had left once more on an errand of her own, leaving Bertha alone to deal with the crowd of potential clients. She managed it well, nevertheless, and was currently immersed in a conversation with a lady from the downtown. The lady soon left, and Bertha’s next guest approached, a man dressed in a crisp collared shirt and pants. Bertha smiled and slid forward the roster.

    “Hello. Will you be signing today?”

    The man lifted one of the flyers from the stack and read it over, eyes narrowing behind his spectacles. “A campaign to return funds to the League, at the expense of Team Galactic… That’s certainly… astute.” He looked away from the paper to study Bertha more intently. “Are you a League official?”

    “Somewhat. My name is Bertha Herrida, and I’m the Gym Leader of Eterna Town. You might have heard in the news what happened to it, but to tell you the truth, I was bent on starting the petition long before that.”

    “Ah, so this is your work?”

    “Yes,” said Bertha. “I put together the main proposal, but I’ve had lots of help and input from my colleagues, which have inspired a few revisions. But now, the document is in its final stage and ready to go.”

    The man nodded. He read the list of terms in more detail, then folded it up and placed it in his pocket. “Well, it’s an interesting endeavor, to say the least,” he said. “I’m afraid I didn’t come prepared to commit myself to something as serious as this, but I’m definitely interested in learning more.” With a respectful tip of the head, he stepped away to make room for others who were thronging behind him, waiting to approach the table. But he did not leave, and stood in an insignificant spot to the side as he continued to read the flyer.



    //////



    Not so far away, Michael was pushing his way through the crowd, dodging trainers and townsfolk while trying to keep Shella in view. She was standing near the makeshift stage, where a band was playing, her eyes skimming over the myriad of signs and decorative tables around them. When Michael’s path was finally unobstructed, he slowed his pace to a calm walk, came up behind her and cleared his throat. “Hey.”

    Shella gave a slight jump as she turned, and upon seeing him, her face lit up. “Michael! I should have expected to see you here. If I had known that this Gym was such a hotspot for city life, then I’d have come ages ago!”

    She seemed utterly enthralled by the event, which after the haughty serenity of Hotel Grand Lake, Michael understood completely. Shella already seemed to know her way around the plaza, and had already participated in several activities at the numerous stations. She had gotten a temporary tattoo of a star painted on her wrist, which matched her colorful skirt.

    “So how did you end up here?” Michael asked her. “Was there a news bulletin at your place or something?”

    Shella nodded. “I went for a walk on the lakefront and saw a bunch of pink and yellow flyers up on the billboard. I was surprised that they made it as far as that; this city must be really well connected. Is it true someone that started a petition?”

    “Yep.”

    “I want to find out more,” she said in earnest. “If it’s something to do with the Pokémon League, then it must be important.” She looked around. “Do you know where the Gym leader is?”

    Michael scanned the area around them, though from the myriad of signs he couldn’t tell where the main table would be situated. “Right this way.” He gestured for her to come along and led her up to Bertha’s table.

    Bertha looked up at Shella and smiled out of reflex. But in the same moment, her gaze fell on Michael, and she narrowed her eyes by the slightest degree. “Well hello there.”

    “Hi,” Shella said. “Are you… the Gym leader of Eterna? My friend Michael is a trainer, and he told me he battled you before.”

    Bertha looked over to Michael. He saw her mouth curl into the slightest of smiles, though this escaped Shella’s notice. “Yes, that would be me—Bertha Herrida. And your name?”

    “Shella. I’m from Hoenn, but I’m here on a vacation.”

    “Ah, that’s interesting. Do you follow the League back at home?”

    “To be honest, not always,” Shella said. “Pokémon were never a big part of my life, but a few of my friends were trainers. I knew one girl who was so bent on joining the League that she got her school to recognize training as an extracurricular activity. I can tell that pokémon training means a lot to people, and in a way, I think it’s helped shape what Hoenn’s become today… and Sinnoh too, probably.” Shella frowned. “This whole space business feels like it’s going to be the next big thing. But I’d be upset if the League went under because of it. I’m not a Sinnoh citizen so I don’t think I can sign, but I’d love to help out while I’m here. I’ll spread the word where I can.”

    Bertha smiled. “I really appreciate that. Thanks.”

    Shella took a business card from a side pile and slipped it into her purse.

    “So what have you been up to, Michael?” said Bertha, now turning to him. “Hope you’re getting ready for your battle. Trust me, it won’t be as easy as it might seem.”

    Michael paused. “Oh, don’t worry. I’ve been practicing. My pokémon are… uh… growing.” He nodded for emphasis.

    Shella nudged him with her elbow. “Oh Michael, I almost forgot to ask. You never showed me your other pokémon besides Ringo. What others do you have?”

    “Oh. Well, I have a Machop that I caught in Oreburgh. He’s pretty swell. My friend and I cornered him ourselves; we didn’t have help or anything. And I have a Goldeen. I taught her this trick where she carries water with her into her pokéball and makes it move around when she comes out. Then I have a Turtwig. He was my starter. But his color’s different from all the others. You know how normal ones have green skin and brown shells? Mine had this mix of green and blue for his skin, and his shell’s this weird brownish-yellow.”

    “Wow, that’s unusual.”

    Michael nodded. “He’s becoming more of a Grotle now, actually, but the color’s still different. Some of the shades have changed, but he still doesn’t look like other Grotles.” At this point, he felt a rush of cynical humor. “Maybe when he becomes a Torterra he’ll be blue with green polka dots.”

    Shella giggled. “Don’t worry, I’m sure he’ll be fine. Come battle time, it won’t matter, right? Strength always wins.”

    “Yeah, I s’pose.” Michael hooked his thumbs through his pockets. “But actually… now that you mention it, I don’t think it’s all about strength anymore,” he said. “I mean look—if a Fire type goes against a Water type with the same strength and speed, the Fire type’s still gonna lose if it gets blasted with Water moves. Just like a Water type will lose if it goes against Grass. Because, you know, water by itself can only help plants.”

    Shella nodded. “True.”

    “And no matter how hard you train your pokémon, you still don’t know how much of a power advantage the other trainer’s pokémon will have. So the first thing you try to find out is their type. If you know their type, then you can guess their weakness… and already you’ll have a leg up.”

    Shella smiled. “I didn’t know you were such an analyst. But it definitely sounds better than going in blind. Come to think of it, there’s an entire field of biology dedicated to these relationships between pokémon. I guess it’s only a matter of time before trainers start using it to their advantage. Maybe then pokémon training will become even more popular, since it’s tied in with science.”

    “Maybe.”

    Michael met Shella’s gaze, and saw that she was eyeing him with a strange twinkle in her eye. She seemed both humored, and impressed.

    A silence stretched between them for a short while after, which Michael broke by clearing his throat. “Well, uh, I guess now we can go walk around. I’m sure they have a bunch of cool stuff at the other tables.”

    “I’m all for it,” Shella said. “Let’s go!” She gave Bertha a parting wave, which the Gym leader acknowledged with a bow of her head, and turned to leave with Michael.

    The pair plunged shoulder-to-shoulder into the crowd and soon vanished down the dirt path. When they were long out of sight, Bertha shook her head. “Kids will be kids,” she murmured to herself. “That Michael is quite a character.”

    She heard a sudden rustling of paper from behind, and remembered the bespectacled man, who had been standing nearby during their conversation. Now he approached, looking off into the direction where Michael and Shella had departed. “For a trainer, he seems quite technical,” he said.

    Bertha responded with a nod. “That he is… I’ve known him longer than most other trainers, so I’ve seen his quirks. He’s definitely one of the smart ones, I’ll tell you that, but he has his moments where he doesn’t think things through.”

    “Don’t we all?” The man smiled. “Still, it’s good to see that pokémon biology isn’t underappreciated by everyone… especially by the young. Contrary to what many people think, it’s actually a very profound field, with its own nuances and rules. Currently, there are more than 390 confirmed species, but researchers are finding more every year, and discovering intricate relationships between them.”

    Bertha looked askance at the man, one eyebrow lifted. “You seem like you really know your stuff. What did you say you do again?”

    “I’m a pokémon researcher by profession,” he replied. “But my work encompasses slightly more than that. Sometimes I take up projects in broader biology, like a recent study that dealt with pokémon habitats and why certain species settle where they do. Is it the way things always were? Or did humans play a role in introducing them?”

    “That’s interesting,” Bertha said. “So which do you think is the reason?”

    The man gave a slight shrug. “It’s a bit of both, really. Though by how much, we still don’t know…. The most light on this issue has been shed only in the past thirty years, and research is still continuing today. The group that’s doing the most to investigate it right now is based in Sinnoh, actually. Their department isn’t the largest of its kind, but it’s very active, and it’s helped the field make some important recent advancements.”

    “Ah.” Bertha nodded, absently twirling the pen in her hand. “Who is it?”

    The man cast away his gaze as he folded up the flyer. “Team Galactic.”




    //////




    On their way back from Bertha’s table, Michael and Shella took a long-winded stroll around the Gym complex, keeping a steady pace with each other. Everywhere, it seemed, the event was in full swing. There were other roster tables scattered about the grounds, manned by Marie’s staff, mixed with food tables and games. They stopped by to admire the bouquets of colorful balloons that bobbed in the wind, tied down with curly strings, and the souvenirs that were on display at countless booths. It surprised Michael how an event like this could be planned in such short notice, but with

    Conversation flowed freely between him and Shella as they walked, and much like it had been on their first evening alone, he never had to forcefully change the subject or think too long about a response. Somehow their thoughts ended up trailing over to the Space Race, and they discussed its history, the discoveries, and the current stalemate between Team Rocket and Team Galactic. Michael, who hadn’t broached the topic in weeks, felt a strange feeling of hollowness where his passion used to be. It seemed like he had more or less forgotten about the Space Race during his travels with Henry, for his interest in it had been overridden by a matter more pressing — his battling the Gyms.

    He did not broach on his opinions, but was content to listen to Shella speak, replying only when he thought was necessary.

    “I never really thought about it as a race, personally,” Shella was saying. “I mean, the fact that they’ve made all these discoveries about space just underlines the fact that we’re all a part of the same planet, surrounded by a world we don’t know anything about yet. Just because one country or another got to the moon first doesn’t mean that the moon belongs to them. And it definitely doesn’t mean that they should treat it like it’s their property.” Right then, she paused in her argument and smiled. “When Allan Knight announced the pictures that Team Rocket’s ship took of the moon, he said ‘Now we can go ahead and copyright them for the textbooks.’“ She giggled. “He’s the head of Team Rocket. He’s really funny. He says all sorts of things when he goes on the news… ”

    Michael smiled. The image of a man swam before his eyes—stout, with thick-rimmed glasses, and a tweed suit. But though he tried, he couldn’t conjure up an image of the Galactic commander—whoever he was, he remained shrouded in darkness.


    He had his thumb hooked in his pocket as he walked, and alternated his gaze from the sky to the ground below, where his gaze trailed after the partygoers who flocked around the buildings of the Gym complex. No longer under the spell of the chilly, fire-lit evening of their first date, Michael no longer felt like he was walking in a daze. Shella’s presence was oddly relaxing, and being with her felt comfortable and natural—almost like reuniting with a long-lost friend. And to his surprise, Michael was perfectly content to have it that way.

    A span of time passed, and their conversation moved on to other casual topics, and soon enough Michael and Shella returned to the spot by the entrance, where he had initially left Henry. Michael looked around, but the boy was nowhere in sight.

    Then, above the general chatter, he heard a sudden voice: “Michael!”

    He turned in the direction of the sound, and with a jolt, glimpsed the side of a beige tote bag, and a head of short brown hair scanning the crowd. He turned back to Shella, his heart hammering.

    “I have to go. My friend’s looking for me. Can we meet sometime later?”

    “Of course,” Shella said. “We still haven’t been to the downtown together yet. I’d love to take a walk by the main prospect. So when you’re free, just give me a call.”

    Michael nodded. “Sounds good. I’ll see you later, then.”

    Shella waved. “Bye!”

    Michael turned back to the place where he had spotted Henry. He wove a complicated path though the mayhem, hoping that his initial location couldn’t be traced, and stopped when he found the boy. Henry was standing beside an empty table, leaning back against it with his hands resting on the surface. Upon seeing Michael he turned to meet him, expression clouded.

    Michael held up a hand in apology. “Sorry,” he said quickly. “Sorry. I just had to get something. If you want, we can go back to the room now. Or train.”

    Henry’s eyes never left the booths on the other side of the path. “Who was that? That girl you were with?”

    Michael felt a brief chill. There was no smile on Henry’s face, but it was hard to tell what the boy was thinking. Seeing no other way out of his predicament, he exhaled. “That’s… Shella.”

    Henry’s eyelids drooped slightly, forming an incredulous expression. He crossed his arms.

    “I met her a while ago,” Michael explained. “Back when I was in Jubilife, actually. And she happened to be in town today, so, you know. I saw her and I wanted to stop by and talk.”

    “Uh-huh... And did she happen to be in town last night too?”

    After a long pause, Michael frowned. “You have some crazy ideas, man. Let’s go. We have a battle to train for.”

    Henry was silent for a moment, then let out a slow breath. “Whatever you say...”

    The boys turned back towards the plaza. Ringo flapped over to them and perched himself on Michael’s head, merrily clucking his tongue as the boys left the Gym.


    The story of Professor Rowan - Chapter 39 is up!

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  25. #275
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    Mar 2011
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    PM List plz, I read this story silently back in March or so. It really is excellently done, and it's good to hear that you will be picking up the pace soon; seeing this story get back up on its feet.

    Waiting for the next chapter!

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