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Thread: Roots // PG-13

  1. #226
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    I apologize for the brief review this time, but rest assured I did attentively read it all.

    The bulk of the chapter was dedicated to Ted, the Move Tutor. Dedicating much of a chapter to a concept from the games that usually gets little attention can be a great way to stand out, but it can also be challenging to do successfully. You pulled it off very effectively, in fact. The way you depicted Ted teaching the Pokémon new moves, while not the method I'd probably use, was quite creative. It was also very entertaining to see the personalities of the different Pokémon react to this method; obviously, Ringo stole the show again there, but they all got good time. I do kind of wish that the Psychic moves had gotten more time, though.

    The later parts of the chapter really took a whiplash in terms of mood. Obviously something happened to upset Bertha, and I get the feeling that the disappearance of the Space Race news and the apparent Galactic whistleblower are connected.

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  2. #227
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    It's perfectly fine. Brief reviews mean quick replies. :P

    I'm glad you liked Ted's part. I was worried for a bit that it took up too much of the chapter, but it was already pushing the character limit, and I didn't want to elaborate on much else in the beginning. I'll go into more detail later on the individual moves that the pokemon have learned.

    The later parts of the chapter really took a whiplash in terms of mood. Obviously something happened to upset Bertha, and I get the feeling that the disappearance of the Space Race news and the apparent Galactic whistleblower are connected.
    It shouldn't be hard to guess what's upsetting Bertha right now, and unfortunately, there will be more of it in the coming chapters...

    And yes. They are. In a subtle, yet big way.

    It will all be made clear soon enough... but for now, thanks for reading!


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  3. #228
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    Hey everyone. With the posting of this chapter, I have an announcement to make: I will be gone from June 22nd to around the 17th of July. That means Roots will have to be put on a brief hiatus (though this chapter took longer than that to get here :x) and likewise, my internet activity will be zero. I figured it would be a bit of a low blow if I didn't post till I came back, because you waited long enough for this one. I'll be here to respond to any reviews up to the 22nd, but after that, I can't guarantee I'll be able to make it online too often, if at all. So if I don't respond to you around then, don't think I'm ignoring you. xP

    Goodbye for now, and I'll bring back lots of new chapters and plot developments!



    2.6

    “Chimchar, use Flamethrower!”

    A small, monkey-like pokémon let out a screech as it hopped from one foot to another. Clutching its belly with its hands, it shot a jet of flames from its mouth into the air, where Ringo was flapping madly, trying to evade the attacks.

    "Fire! Help! Fire!" the bird was screeching. With every inferno blast he dodged, Ringo grew more and more agitated, till he forgot his plan of attack completely and started flying aimlessly in circles.

    Michael stood at the far edge of the battlefield, clenching his fist while he watched the relay. His opponent that day was putting up a good fight—he had lost his Caterpie to the boy’s Staravia, and then had his Goldeen faint right after bringing it down. The boy had sent out his Chimchar to open the second round, and Michael had retaliated with Ringo, but even so he was beginning to feel the strain.

    “Ringo, use Peck! Dodge the fire and go!” he shouted.

    Ringo continued to circle over the Chimchar’s head, eyes closed reflexively against the blinding fire-flashes. Hearing him, the bird risked a low plunge, baring his claws, and grabbed hold of the tuft of hair on the monkey’s head.

    "Ember this!" Ringo began to peck at the Chimchar, making it squeal like a baby. Its reedy arms reached up in an attempt to block the attacks, but Ringo was relentless. Finally, the Chimchar collapsed, letting out a sigh of exhaustion.

    “Ver’y good!” came a female voice. Betty, their referee, stepped out of the sidelines, dimples creasing her face as she smiled. “Dan still has one point, and if Michael can catch up th’s last time, then it’ll be a tie! Go!” The lady snapped her fingers, and Michael’s opponent sent back the fainted Chimchar, swapping its pokéball for another.

    “I choose you—ENIGMA!”

    The pokéball opened to release a flood of white light, and a tiny body took form in the air. At first, Michael thought it would be a Bronzor, but when the light faded, he saw that it was something else entirely— a tiny black thing with a huge white eye, staring ahead with blank passivity like a cartoon drawing. The rest of the creature’s body seemed to be made of wire, and twisted into a circular letter ‘O’ around it.

    The pokémon made no sound as it hovered in the air, blinking periodically. Their referee began to giggle.

    “Aww, how cute! You ‘ave an Unown!”

    Dan smiled. “I went to the Solaceon Ruins in my spare time,” he said, glancing over to Michael. “They’re all over the place there. And they’ve got a cool power too. Watch!” He pointed up at Ringo. “Enigma, use Hidden Power!”

    A blue flare lit up the Unown’s eye from within, and a glowing aura spread around its entire body. There was a brief flash—Michael caught a split second’s glimpse of a band of light whipping out from around the pokémon—and then Ringo was tumbling back through the air like a windblown leaf. Ringo flapped his wings for balance, and settled onto Michael’s head for support, his sharp claws entangling themselves in his hair.

    "Yowp! Yow! Ow!"

    Michael narrowed his eyes, groaning as Ringo’s wings thumped against the sides of his face. He swatted the bird aside, and Ringo rose back into the air, though it was clear that his ego had taken a blow. As Ringo circled his end of the battlefield, he began to mutter something under his breath which Michael couldn’t fully hear, and was glad that no one else could either. As he looked up at the Unown, a sense of firm conviction arose inside of him. That thing had to fall.

    “Ringo, use Peck!” Michael said to the bird. “And claw its eye!”

    Ringo flew forward, relishing the prospect of revenge, but just as he was about to grip the Unown with his claws, another light-whip smacked him back, making him fall. Michael gritted his teeth as he watched the bird flutter weakly, slumping into a heap on the ground.

    “Get up, Ringo!” he called.

    The bird croaked weakly in response. “Ringo in the sky with diamonds…” With that, his head lolled over to the side, tongue drooping. Betty looked at the bird with an expression of pity. “Michael, I think he’s—”

    “Yeah, I know,” Michael said. He didn’t want to hear her say ‘fainted’. He returned Ringo to his capsule and went over to his backpack by the side wall. He sat there for a moment, pondering.

    The only way I can get that thing is through special attacks. I have to find a way to knock it out of the air so I can stomp it. Seeing no other way to go about it, he placed Ringo’s pokéball back and quickly swept his gaze over the ones that remained. He had marked each capsule with the letter of its pokémon’s name in permanent marker, not wanting to spend $2.95 on a pack of stickers. Now, at least he didn’t have to worry about which pokémon he had placed where. After thinking for a brief period, Michael made his choice — Turtwig.

    He came back to the battlefield and released the pokémon without preamble. Once Turtwig had emerged, Michael gave his command — “Turtwig, use Razor Leaf!”

    Turtwig, who had long grown accustomed to being sent out into the nick of battle, raised his head to look at the Unown. He spent some time gauging distance and angle, then began to flick his head from side to side, dislodging tiny leaves that whipped like razors through the air. But it was as if an invisible shield blocked the Unown from contact — just before they reached their target, the leaves hit a block in midair and fell against it, like rain against a windshield. They drifted towards the floor, harmless. Michael ordered Turtwig to attack again, but to no avail. The Unown was untouchable.

    A state of deep thought overcame him, mixed with a twinge of irritation. Michael stared up at the floating pokemon, rocking on the balls of his feet. Dan, who must have taken it as a gesture of futility, crossed his arms and smiled. “Well? Want to try again?”

    Michael pursed his lips. “Why don’t you go? I’m open.” He spread out his arms, indicating the defenseless Turtwig. He knew he wasn’t in the best position to push his luck, but he would rather risk Turtwig taking a couple hits if only to catch a glimpse of what attacks the Unown knew.

    Betty looked over to Dan in agreement, tapping her manicured fingernails against the clipboard. “Yeah, why don’t you go ‘head an’ give it a try? Your Un’own hasn’t atack’d yet.”

    Dan’s expression clouded. “Fine, but you’re gonna regret it! Enigma, use Hidden Power!”

    The black pupil vanished in a neon-blue glow, and Michael heard the clap of expanding air as the band of light lashed out at the Unown’s surroundings. Turtwig was pushed back, though the force that hit him was noticeably weaker, no more than a gust of strong wind at a park. Turtwig righted himself and shook his head, making the leaves on his head wobble.

    Michael blinked. That must be all it can do! he realized. It must be good at non-contact moves, and be really bad at physical ones.

    As he thought this, a smile crept over his face. The beginnings of a battle plan sketched themselves in his mind. Opening the Turtwig’s pokéball, he called the pokémon back and went to swap him for another.

    “Go!” Michael unlocked the new capsule, which released his Machop. After several days of practicing Ted’s meditating exercises, the pokémon had grown calmer and more energetic. He no longer stalled as much in battle, and had a more even temper throughout the day, which Michael considered an improvement in and of itself. As he was released from the capsule, the pokémon landed on all fours on the tumble mats, then straightened to look up at the Unown, whose glittering silhouette hung right about the windows.

    “Hey, over here.” Michael snapped his fingers, and Machop turned. “Come here. I need a big favor from you.”

    The wide eyes blinked, and Machop put on a childlike expression of interest. He approached Michael, who knelt down so that his face and the pokémon’s were level.

    “I need you to be brave for me,” he said. “Can you do that?”

    Machop gave an affirmative nod, and Michael smiled. “Good.” He leaned closer, lowering his voice to a whisper so that no one else could hear him. “Now. You see the Unown up there? That’s your opponent. It’s really tough when it’s up there in the air, so we have to pull it down. All you need to do is jump really high to reach it. It’ll be tough, but you’re the only one who’s got the speed and power to make it work. Just keep going at it and don’t stop no matter how many of those shockwaves it shoots at you. Once you bring it down, it’s yours for playing. Sound like a deal?”

    Machop nodded again, putting on a can-do frown of determination. Michael got to his feet and spun the pokémon around to face his opponent. “Go!”

    Machop stood still for a couple of seconds, shifting his weight from one leg to another as he pondered over his approach. Then, he broke into a sprint, dashing across the mats and taking a leap into the air. The tip of his outstretched hand came a foot away from reaching the Unown, then Machop fell back down, tumbling towards the wall.

    Michael sighed. “Try again!”

    Dan grinned. “Enigma, use Hidden Power!”

    Machop prepared to make a second jump. This time he ran to the farthest corner of the room and settled into a runner’s lunge. He rocketed forward, becoming a blue-green blur of motion, and sprang upwards when he reached the middle of the battlefield. The Unown’s shockwave caught him while he was still in the air, and smacked him back as if he had hit a wall. Machop let out a yelp, and crashed down onto the mats. Meanwhile, the Unown retreated higher into the air, till it was almost grazing the ceiling. With a jolt, Michael realized it was afraid.

    It has no physical capabilities! That’s why it stays on the defensive. No doubt, the pokémon's body would shatter the minute Machop set his foot down on it. The prospect renewed Michael’s hope. He looked down at the Machop, who was still sitting on the floor, his expression torn somewhere between an angry snarl and a whimper. Exaggerating another sigh, Michael snapped his fingers like a football coach. “Come on, get up. You’re not gonna get anywhere if you sit around. That thing has the strength of a floating cracker. It’s trying to scare you away, but you gotta be tougher than that. I want you to get up, pull it down, and stomp on it like there’s no tomorrow! Hear me?”

    Spurred by goading of his trainer, Machop got to his feet, brushing off his knees. Feeling unusually energetic, Michael clapped his hands. “Now get him!”

    From across the room, Dan’s frown lines deepened. “Enigma, use Hidden Power!”

    Letting out a strange screeching sound, the Unown reluctantly lowered itself, till it was back to its former height. Machop lunged forward without a moment’s hesitation, but this time he did not stop midway for a jump—he kept going until he reached the wall, then he made a jump, pushing off the vertical surface to propel himself into the air. Machop’s outstretched hands grabbed the Unown’s outer ring like a steering wheel, carrying it down to the floor.

    “Now stomp!” Michael said.

    Teeth bared in an angry snarl, Machop raised his foot and smashed it against the Unown’s frame. The pokémon let out a metallic screech as its wiring snapped like a twig, its single black pupil spinning frantically in its socket. The eye immediately drifted closed.

    Dan’s mouth dropped open. “What?! That’s impossible!” He looked over to Michael with utter disbelief, who responded with a wink.

    “Never begin a battle with a special attack.” A sneer spread over Michael’s face, but it froze when he realized whose words he was echoing. A chill crept down his spine.

    Machop gathered the fragmented remains of the Unown and handed them over to Dan with a smug smile. The trainer looked crestfallen.

    “Wow, that was quite a finish!” said their referee. “Michael and Dan are now tied with one point each. Great work, fellas!”

    “But what about my Unown? What am I supposed to do with it?” said Dan, looking down at the splintered mess in his arms.

    Betty tilted her head to the side. “Oh, don’t wor’y. It doesn’t hurt them when their bodies break like that. As a matter of fact, they can be pieced back togeth’r. Just visit the Pokémon Center and they’ll show you what to do.” She marked down the battle’s results, then looked up at Dan again. “Though I would advise against using them in battle. They’r mighty cute, but they don’t fare well in physical combat, as you’ve seen.”

    Dan grumbled. He and Michael packed their things and left the battle room. Even as he reached the lobby, Michael was unable to shake away his stupor at what had happened. Unconsciously, he had used Lona’s advice. And it had worked.

    He exchanged a parting nod with Dan, then watched the boy scurry out of the building in the direction of the Pokémon Center. Looking around, Michael didn’t see Henry anywhere among the crowd, so he found a place to stand over to the side and dropped his backpack.

    A minute later, he felt a tap on his shoulder, and a voice rose out from behind him. “Hey.”

    Michael turned. Rick had approached from the hallway door, the duffel bag slung over his shoulder. Michael smiled. “Hey. How goes it?”

    “Pretty good.” Rick shrugged. “I saw you walk out and I decided to catch up with you. You didn’t have Lona again, did you?”

    Michael snorted. “Thankfully not.”

    “Oh. ‘Cause I saw her go into one of the rooms in our hallway earlier th’s morning. She must be refereeing for the left wing of the Gym this week.”

    “But there must be only a one-in-fifty chance of getting her,” Michael said. “With all those rooms to choose from.”

    Rick shook his head. “Nuh-uh. I’ve had her five times, once on two consecut’ve days. I’m pretty sure she gets to pick who she wants. And we both know that I’m the one she likes to yell at.”

    Michael chuckled. “Can’t argue with that. So how did your battle go?”

    “Pretty good,” Rick replied. “My partner used all dual-types, so we actually had a normal battle, for once. You know, with special moves.”

    Michael nodded.

    “And yours?”

    “It was all right,” Michael said. “I won.”

    “Cool.”

    With nothing else to say between them, the boys sank into silence, tuning back into the noise of the lobby. Rick lowered his duffel bag beside Michael’s and leaned against the wall, crossing his arms. At that moment, the door to the left hallway swung open, and Lona Walker emerged, her feet gliding gracefully over the wooden floor. Michael followed her with his gaze as she approached the front desk and leaned over to exchange a word with one of her attendants. While her back was turned, he took a moment to study her—annoyingly perfect posture, skirt below the knees, prim shoes… and jacket. It was the color of wilting roses, of Contest ribbons, of faded pastel sketches. Michael hated the hue from the bottom of his heart, but he couldn’t stop looking at it, and stood helpless as it burned into his skull. Only when Lona turned around did he finally snap out of his trance, dropping his gaze to the floor to pretend that he had not noticed her.

    The Gym leader stalked back over to the door, and cast a brief, sharp glance in their direction before she disappeared. Michael heard a grumble beside him.

    “She thinks she’s so cool…” said Rick. He had also lowered his head when Lona had passed, and now looked up with a shadow cast over his face. “Walks around like she’s queen of the world. I wish someone would put her in her place, for once.”

    Michael made a hmh of agreement, but did not respond.

    “…and if that someone’s gotta be me, then I’ll do it.” Rick straightened, smoothing the edges of his shirt. “I’ll talk to you later, Michael. I gotta make a run to the PokéMart ‘cause I ordered some pokéball seals.”

    “All right,” Michael said, and lifted his hand. “Easy, man.”

    “Yeah. You too.” Rick waved his hand in return, and went off.

    Before Michael could drift back into his thoughts, he heard the door slam again and turned to see Henry approach him, looking tired, but upbeat. Henry stepped over to him, smiling. “Hey Michael.” His gaze trailed over to the double doors, where Rick had left moments ago. “Who was that?”

    “Just a kid I met,” Michael said.

    Henry tapped his chin. “I think I’ve seen him before… he was one of the kids who went into my hallway the other day.”

    “Yeah, he’s been here for a while,” Michael said. “Lona’s been holding him back. He’s been here for four whole weeks and he still hasn’t been moved up to the staff rank.”

    Henry’s face fell. “Oh. That’s too bad… but I guess Lona has a reason for it. She has to, doesn’t she?”

    Michael let out a laugh. “Yeah, you’re saying that now. But what if the same thing happens to us?”

    “I don’t think it will,” Henry said, with an odd, quiet certainty in his voice. “I mean, I’ve never had Lona as my referee before, but she doesn’t sound like she wants to keep us down. She probably wants us to learn something. And I have. You know, my referees have shown me a lot of cool stuff that I never knew about battling before. So…” He finished with a shrug.

    Michael rolled his eyes jokingly, but let the subject drop. They left the Gym together, and as they stepped outside, Michael instinctively turned left away from the direction of the hotel. Henry stopped him midway. “Wait, where are you going?”

    “We have to see Ted, don’t we? It’s been three days. We’ve been practicing just like he said, and I don’t know about you, but my pokémon have learned the move sequences front and back.”

    Henry giggled. “Yeah. Mine too.”

    “So let’s go then.”

    With that, they set off for the town’s suburban area.

    After their first meeting with the Move Tutor, both of them had diligently gone about learning the prescribed techniques with their pokémon. Their stay in Solaceon soon grew to resemble a session of boot camp, as each morning, they went to the Gym for their battles, then returned immediately to the hotel’s patio area to practice the move sequences. Michael and Henry isolated a shady patch of grass as their favorite spot, where Golden, Machop, Ringo, Starly, Burmy, and Clefable would follow along with their trainers’ instructions like a yoga group.

    Michael had jotted down the steps on a piece of paper, and whenever one of his pokémon forgot something, he would step in to remind them, often resorting to doing a bad imitation of the move himself. (Thankfully for him, few were around to see.) In the span of those days, Michael spent more time with his pokémon than in all the years of his life put together. And, unsuspectingly, he was enjoying it.

    The only member of their collective party that did not accompany them in their day-to-day excursions was the Stunky. After Henry had released it, Michael had seen it only a spare few times around town. He always recognized it, for it was one of the few Stunkies in their part of Solaceon, and always lurked around the same areas—the Gym, the streets around the hotel, and the diner that had likely become its favorite source of food. On occasion, Michael would look up from whatever he was doing and see a pair of yellow eyes blink out at him from behind a fence, or a purple tail frisk back and forth beside a bush. A part of him didn’t understand why the Stunky didn’t just cut and run for the hills; clearly, captivity had never been to its liking, and here it had all the freedom its little Stunky heart could ever want. But for whatever reason, it chose to stay. He didn’t concern himself overmuch with it, and let the Stunky-sightings become a simply part of a routine day.

    They arrived at the Move Tutor’s house in a matter of minutes. Ted opened the door for them at the right moment this time, pushing it out slowly before peeking out from behind it. “Ah, welcome,” he said, smiling when he saw the boys. “Come on in. You’ll be happy to see that I’ve done a lot of cleaning since you two were here.”

    Michael stepped inside the house, and saw that it was indeed in a better state than before. A large portion of the mess in Ted’s library had been cleared. Many of the boxes that had littered the floor were gone, and the books they contained had now found a home on the shelves. The curtains were pulled open behind the TV, letting dusty sunlight sift into the room.

    Ted had cleaned himself up as well, and looked more vibrant than usual. His hair was combed, and he had substituted his jeans for nicer-looking pants. His glasses were perched squarely on his nose, the frames twinkling in the light. He closed the door behind the boys and led them towards the workroom. “Come on back and send out your pokémon. I want to see how you’ve been practicing.”

    Michael and Henry sent out their pokémon and made their way to the back room, where they all gathered around the table. Ted brought out the same move manuals as before to look off of for reference. The first pokémon to go was Clefable. Henry lifted her onto the table and rubbed the tuft of fur at the top of her head. “Let’s show them what you learned,” he said. “Use Psychic!”

    Clefable closed her eyes, as she had a habit of doing to focus her thoughts. Her move sequence was more of a strength exercise, in which she would be given a pebble or small object, and would have to lift it using only her mental energy. Ted had given her a series of stretches to help relax her body, similar to Machop’s meditation. Over the days the boys had been practicing, she had graduated from pebbles to pencils, and other medium-size objects. But for a rather challenging touch, Ted placed the Psychic manual in front of her and smiled. “Let’s see how she does with this one.”

    Clefable closed her eyes, wrinkling her tiny nose, creases forming along her brow line. The book wobbled from its place, and rose a few inches into the air.

    “Wonderful,” said Ted. “I’d say a few more days of practice, and she’ll be able to penetrate another pokémon’s mind.”

    “How will I know for sure?” asked Henry.

    “You’ll have to test her out in battle. But I think when she’s able to hold a book in the air for at least thirty seconds, she’ll be ready.”

    Ted looked back at Clefable, who was struggling to keep the manual aloft. The book began to spin as her concentration wavered, and plopped down onto the table. Clefable let out a breath of exhaustion, and shook her head to clear it. Henry lifted her from the table and brought up Burmy, who quickly fled into his pink-coated shell. Ted tapped the shell with a pencil, and to Michael’s surprise, it produced a light metallic sound.

    “Hear that? That means he’s hardening it. And by a fair amount, actually, considering the short time span you had. Good work.” He handed the pokémon back to Henry.

    Next came Starly and Ringo. Both birds had made advancements, thanks to an insatiable urge to test out their new skills on each other. Whenever they were sent out, Michael and Henry’s practice sessions in the courtyard would be filled with bickering and squabbling, as each bird would try to one-up the other by displaying a fragmented series of air-slices or wing maneuvers. This time, the boys sent them out separately, so each bird could demonstrate its skill without the temptation of its nemesis. (Though Ringo still turned around in place, scanning the room with a suspicious gaze.)

    Last to go was Machop. His technique was by far the simplest. When Michael set him down on the table, the pokémon settled into the same meditative pose he had assumed on the battlefield. He closed his eyes and placed his hands on his knees, becoming as still as a statue. Ted nodded, visibly impressed.

    “This fella’s really making progress.”

    Michael gave a half-smile. “You should’ve seen him when we battled the Gym in Oreburgh. He was insane.”

    “How is he in battle now?” asked Ted. “Is he more focused?”

    Michael nodded. “Yeah.”

    Henry, who stood beside Michael with his arms crossed, cracked a smile. “Heh. I guess that’s why they call it pokémon training. It’s like we help them do things they can’t do on their own.”

    Ted’s eyes lit up. “Exactly. That’s exactly what pokémon training is. We help our pokémon achieve a higher state of being by getting them to realize the full potential of their powers. And they help us too, in a different way.”

    Michael turned up the corners of his mouth in amusement. He reached out towards Machop and snapped his fingers. The pokémon turned out of reflex, his large eyes blinking. This elicited a smile from Michael. Right then, he had remembered the words of his mother: “Pokémon training teaches you responsibility!” But the more he thought about it, the more it seemed like he had done more teaching to them.

    I wonder where they’d all be without me, he thought. If he hadn’t left home, then he would have never gotten any of his current team members, save for Turtwig. Machop would likely still be frolicking in the meadow by Oreburgh City, Ringo would be dropping nuts on passerby trainers’ heads, and Goldeen and Caterpie would still be with their former owners. But by some stroke of fate, he had come along and assembled them into a single unit. And for better or worse, they were here to stay.


    There was no tea this time, but after they finished, Ted led the boys back into the living room and let them hang around while he continued to sort through the books. As their conversation wore on, he eventually began to hand the boys books and they automatically phased into helping him. And thus, Michael spent his afternoon shelving books in a home library, of all places.

    The box Ted gave him was full of encyclopedias—or rather, volumes of an encyclopedia that he was trying to sort into chronological order. As his hand traveled from the box to the shelf, Michael would frequently pause to look through the books. They were about pokémon anatomy, a subject that both grossed him out and fascinated him. Each volume was roughly two inches thick, and was filled with pictures of skeletal cross-sections and organ structures. The text was set in an old-style font that was smudged in some places, where Ted had scribbled notes in pen.

    Michael looked aside from time to time to see what Henry was doing. The boy had emptied a small box of books, and had proceeded to a second one that lay beside him. He pulled it open, and from where he was standing, Michael saw that it was filled with thin folders. Each one was bound with brass rings, and had a lengthy title of dates and numbers.

    “What are those?” he asked.

    “Those would be my journals,” came Ted’s voice from across the room. “I collect articles on all sorts of topics. Most of them are pokémon-related, anyhow.”

    As he said this, Henry’s reached into the box and pulled one out. He frowned as he read the title. “Storage System Two.”

    Ted came over to where Henry was standing. “Ah. That’s one of my most prized journals. It’s about a new design for the pokéball, actually the latest one that you’re using right now. It was published in 1947.”

    “Whoa. How’d you get it?” Henry said.

    Ted chuckled. “I got lucky. I lived in Floaroma for a while, and a family in my neighborhood was getting ready to move out, so they had a yard sale. They brought down a bunch of stuff they had up in their attic, and I found this issue, along with a bunch of other ones, in a box they said they never opened. I guess whoever lived in that house before was an avid researcher, or collector. And it must have been a stroke of fate that those journals ended up in the hands of another avid researcher and collector.”

    Michael went to stand by Henry’s side as he flipped through the journal, page after page displaying perfectly even columns of tiny, printed text. “Wow…"

    “You can read it if you want,” Ted replied. “Just be careful with it."

    Michael looked over at the paper’s heading.


    Storage System 2 — A proposal for improved capsule design
    Michael Borman, Alfonso Helfer, Stephen Adams, et al.


    “Hey, that’s it!” said Henry suddenly, jabbing his finger at the list of names. “That’s the guy who invented the modern pokéball! Or, I guess, it was him and his team. Look, Michael. He has the same name as you.”

    Michael’s mouth spread into a half-smile. “Yeah, maybe there’s a Henry in there too somewhere. Let’s keep reading.”

    Henry turned the cover. The article was nearly ten pages long, and detailed what seemed to be an experiment, followed by a critical analysis and conclusion. As far as Michael could gather, the scientists were testing new capsule designs that were based upon advanced physical concepts, something that clearly had never been done before. A diagram took up nearly an entire page, comparing the designs of the new and old pokéball. The old one was larger and had a snap lock at the center in place of a knob, and on the inside, was an almost unrecognizable mess of tiny valves and widgets. In contrast, the new one had a sleek metal interior, with soldered wires stemming out from the center point like the sun’s rays. Michael tried to read through the article to find out how the two differed in terms of technology, but found so many unintelligible acronyms and jargon that his mind was twisted in circles. Henry seemed equally befuddled.

    “Whoever these guys were, they were smart,” said the boy, letting out a breath.

    “That’s right,” said Ted. “They use a lot of technical terminology that the layman wouldn’t understand, but this journal wasn’t written for the layman. In a nutshell, what they did was apply the properties of white dwarfs to improve the storing of pokémon.”

    “White dwarfs?” Henry looked up at Ted in confusion, and Michael mimicked the motion.

    Ted bowed his head. “I’m no astronomy whiz, but I do happen to know that a white dwarf is a type of star. They’re one of the most dense objects in the universe—they have all the mass of a regular star concentrated into a sphere that’s about the size of Earth. If you had one teaspoon of the stuff that a white dwarf is made of, it would weigh tons. Basically, through one method or another, those scientists managed to find a way to make living creatures condense into a small space just like the white dwarfs do, without harming themselves, and without adding unnecessary weight to the capsule.” He spread his arms out wide, chuckling. “I have no idea how they did it. But I’m glad they did. All of the old pokéball models were based on the properties of the ancient ones. They did their job well enough, but they got very heavy after you put the pokémon inside, and you couldn’t reuse them if, say the pokémon broke out.”

    “Then how’d the trainers get by?” Michael asked, unable to suppress a laugh.

    “Well, there were fewer trainers back then. And those who were trainers were very… ah, dedicated.” Ted smiled.

    Henry flipped through the article some more, then slid it into its proper place on the shelf. He shelved the rest of the journals in a matter of minutes, then looked down at the empty box at his feet. “Ted, I’m all done,” he said, lifting it with one hand. “Where should I put this?”

    Ted, who was dusting a bookshelf of his own, responded with a grunt. “Just put it up top. I want to clear as much floor space as possible because I have to clean that too… but make sure there’s room first.”

    Henry nodded. “Okay.” He pulled over a tall stool and stepped up towards the bookcase with the box in hand. Even on his tiptoes, the boy’s head barely grazed the topmost shelf. He lifted the box with both hands and tried to find a place to put it, but the top of the shelf was so cluttered that every push elicited a chorus of clangs and rustles. After a minute of fruitless probing, Henry lowered the box with a sigh, shaking his head. “My arms hurt,” he said. “I can’t do it.”

    Michael rolled his eyes. “Here. Give it to me.” He took the box and stepped up onto the stool. Being the taller of the two, Michael could see exactly what was taking up so much space—even here, there was an endless supply of folders, papers, and miscellaneous knickknacks. His eyes swept over the mess in bewilderment. “Ted, you’ve got a lot of stuff up here. Mind if I move some of it?” He lifted a stack of paperclipped documents and started to hand them down to Henry.

    “Wait, hold on,” came Ted’s voice from behind. “I’ve got a lot of papers up there, but the ones I don’t need are mixed in with important ones. Do you mind reading out what you get?”

    “Sure.” Michael flipped through the stack, peering at the headings one by one. “One’s a subscription form for Science Editor’s Monthly. Then you have a letter from the Chairman of the Pokémon Fan Club…”

    “Keep the letter, throw out the subscription form,” Ted said. “That magazine was no good anyway.”

    Michael handed down the subscription form to Henry and kept reading. “Then you have a note… hang on.” He paused to look at a small slip of notebook paper that had appeared beneath the letter. The handwriting was tiny and straight, nothing like the slanted scribble that had been in the encyclopedia margins. The note was short and unsigned.


    You left this in the Daycare Center the other day. I couldn’t catch up with you in time, but the clerk gave me your address so I could return it. I hope all your papers and bookmarks are still in there; I kept them from falling out as best as I could.

    I must say, you have a good taste in books.



    Michael looked up at Ted, frowning. “What’s this?”

    Ted lowered the washcloth and looked over his shoulder. “What?”

    Michael held the paper up, and Ted lifted his glasses to get a better look. When he saw the paper, his face turned the slightest shade of pink. “Oh. That… Yeah, keep it.” He pushed his glasses back on and turned back to the shelf.

    “What is it? Who’s it from?” Michael asked.

    Ted did not immediately respond, but began to dust at a slightly faster pace than before. “Well… uh, a few days ago, I went to a pokémon daycare center to drop off some books as a donation. Stuff like species diversity, basic training techniques, things I didn’t really need anymore. But I accidentally put an important book into the pile—one I really needed for my projects. I had notes and everything in there, but I had no idea that I put it in the wrong box. And, well, one of the people at the center must have noticed and was nice enough to return it.”

    “So if you got the book back, then why are you keeping the note?” Michael said.

    Ted shrugged, and the gesture was so sheepish and innocent that, for a moment, it made him seem childlike. He shifted his gaze from Michael to Henry, who were both staring at him in silence, their expressions betraying a growing interest. After a minute, something seemed to give inside of him, and Ted let out a sigh. “Okay, fine. I know who it’s from. But she’s not my—I mean, I don’t know her or anything. She’s just a lady I see around town sometimes.”

    A smile tugged at Michael’s lips. “What’s her name?”

    “I don’t know… We’ve never talked.”

    “What does she look like?” Henry piped up.

    Ted shrugged again. “She always has her hair up, so I can’t see much of it... last time I saw her she was wearing a hat, a skirt, a white cardigan, and red heels.” He paused, for a moment appearing shocked that he had remembered so much. Ted scratched his head. “They could have been red. I‘m not sure.” Flustered, he turned back to the bookshelf.

    Michael looked down at the note and gave a businesslike nod. “Well, whoever she is, she definitely likes your subject preference. Maybe she’s a resident-move tutor too.” He locked eyes with Henry and perked his eyebrows. The boy suppressed a giggle.

    Ted continued to clean as he did before, though he appeared lost in thoughts of his own, only partially aware of the boys’ presence. As he swept the cloth across the spines of his books, he gave a small smile. “Maybe… But no, I don’t think she’s from here. At least, not as far as I can tell. She doesn’t dress like most people in Solaceon. Not that it’s a bad thing…” He fell silent again, this time looking over to the boys almost reluctantly, as if to see whether they had anything else to ask him. When he saw that they were both standing quietly, he smiled. “Ah, don’t worry about me. You’re too young to have to worry about a fool’s life problems. Enjoy youth. Enjoy the chance to be free.”

    With that, he stepped down from the stool and turned his attention to a photograph that was framed beside the window. Biting his lip, he began to clean it, wiping off a layer of dust from the glass.

    Michael could feel him slipping away again, but felt compelled to speak. “Well, maybe you’ll see her again one day and find out,” he finally said.

    But Ted didn’t say anything else. He kept right on polishing, smiling as he did it, that odd lover’s look cast over his face, making it appear vibrant and childlike. When he was done, he swiped his fingers across the surface of the photograph and leaned back to admire it. It was a vase of pink tulips, their petals glimmering with water droplets as if from a spell of summer rain. None of his pictures had people.

    When he finished cleaning, Ted stepped down from the stool and tossed the washcloth around his shoulder, whistling in a familiar way. There was a confident flair to his manner, but at the same time a fragility, which hadn’t been so apparent before. To Michael, who had never pondered greatly on such things, the sudden clarity with which he saw this was startling. It was somehow centered around the note he held in his hands. There was something special in that note, something in the way Ted’s gaze trailed off at times, following the free reign of his thoughts.

    He was a man at peace with himself, but at the same time he longed for something more, something that he might have been on the cusp of at one point, but never attained. Or perhaps he had lost it a long time ago, like a seashell buried in depths of sand, forever awaiting the return of something that in the end would never come.




    Just like Andrew Rowan.





    //////





    It was only her first week in Solaceon, and already, Bertha Herrida had a schedule.

    Morning: Breakfast. Take her pokémon out for a walk, possibly go downtown and visit the pastures. See the herds of grazing pokémon, possibly stop to watch young children scurry about with buckets or piles of hay.

    Two o’clock. Check the hotel’s mail room, navigate through hundreds of tiny compartments in search of the one reserved in her name. Answer telegrams, collect support letters (there were few), and immerse herself in the goings-on of the outside world. Have lunch.


    Eight o’clock, evening. Conference with Lona Walker.


    As Bertha had learned over the days, time was one of the few things Lona hated to lose. She could lose a pen, or an important piece of paper, and quickly retrace her steps to find it. She could lose her temper, close her eyes for a moment, and regain her former calm. But there was no taking back time, and as much as she might have disliked it, she had to play by life’s rules too.

    Each Monday and Wednesday evening was set aside especially for petition business, no earlier and no later than the designated time. Each woman knew her role, and by unspoken agreement, set out to follow it. Every meeting, Bertha would arrive right on time, her purse slung over her shoulder, the briefcase clutched in her other hand. She would proceed to Lona’s office in the right hallway, open the door, and find the Gym leader sitting behind her desk, the office glowing with orange light from a lamp that stood in the corner. Sometimes Lona would be drinking tea, and a cup would be set aside on Bertha’s end of the table—an empty formality. Other times, she would just be sitting there, arms resting on the table, eyes fixed squarely ahead as Bertha took her seat.

    Their conversations would begin one of two ways. Either Bertha would open her briefcase and take out her files, embarking on a different avenue of argument, or Lona would begin with a question of her own. The latter was usually a prelude to a tedious, angered debate, something that Bertha could only describe as a bull-session.

    Today was looking to be like one of those days.

    Closing the door to the office, Bertha approached Lona’s desk and sat down. The stale, orange light that pervaded the room was something she could never get used to. One half of the room seemed to blaze, and the other was plunged in thin, slanted shadows. Lona was writing again, as she always seemed to be. Her chair was caught midway between light and darkness, and her arm was moving quickly and methodically over the memo pad that kept her constant companionship. She did not look up as Bertha entered, and allowed the woman to take her seat with silent acknowledgment. Only when Lona had finished her notes and stowed the memo pad away in the drawer did she lift her head and fold her hands in her lap. A smile lifted the corners of her face, and without preamble, she began.

    “Tell me, Miss Herrida, how is it you are planning to restore the League?”

    After many days of such back-and-forth banter, the questions no longer caught Bertha off-guard. She didn’t bat an eye. “I’m not planning on restoring it,” she said. “At least, not yet. My goal is to enable it to restore itself.”

    For some reason, Lona seemed to find this funny. She twirled a strand of hair around her finger and tilted her head to the side. “And what makes you so sure that the other League officials will want to do the same? You have an entire different concept of ‘restoration’ than they do.”

    “Oh? And in what way?”

    “That is what I plan on examining today. Your petition is attempting to give the League more money. And yes, it’s true that the League wants more money. But it’s for an entirely different reason.”

    Bertha lifted her eyebrows. “And that would be?”

    “I think you’ve already seen it for yourself,” Lona said. “You’ve been to Hearthome. You’ve seen how everywhere you turn, there’s the pokéball logo, or some other League-sponsored item?”

    “You mean the advertising? Sorry to say, but that’s to be expected. The League needs to make money. I won’t deny that some of its methods are questionable—those Game Corners are nothing but scams—but they are the direct result of the League’ s decline.”

    Lona shook her head, still keeping a quiet, measured tone. “No. They are the direct cause of it.”

    Bertha paused out of surprise, which mixed itself with puzzlement. This seemed to be what Lona was aiming for. The woman smiled, and continued. “The League has an enormous sphere of influence. The Space Program is like a flea in comparison. The League can get anything it wants, even right now, though it may seem like the tables are turned against us.”

    “They are,” Bertha said. “You just haven’t realized it. The League is global, yes, but so is the Space Program. It’s growing at a rapid pace, faster than the League has ever grown in history. It might not be as prominent as the League is right now, but it soon will be. You think I don’t know where you’re coming from? I do. I had the exact same frame of mind as you do right now.”

    The smile faded from Lona’s face, replaced by a twitch of frustration. “And then? You saw a factory get put up in your backyard and you decided that the whole world had turned upside-down?”

    “If you don’t believe me, then why don’t you take a look at these?” Bertha pulled out a stack of papers from her briefcase and slapped them on the table. “I prepared these just for you, Miss Walker. They’re charts that detail the respective incomes of the Sinnoh and Hoenn space programs, compared to those of the League divisions in both countries. If you’ll notice, while one item increases, the other plummets. Granted, I don’t know how the Hoenn League is handling it, but they sure seem to be in a similar situation, don’t you think? The government and the public are paying more attention to the Space Program, and as a result, less money gets to us. You can twist that all you want, but the fact remains the same—less attention means less opportunity for change.”

    “And? You want the government to pay one-hundred percent of its attention to us again? It’s impossible!”

    “I’m not asking for a hundred,” Bertha said. “I’m asking for at least fifty, even forty for the time being. Like I said before—by all means, I think that the League and the Space Program should coexist. But someone has to put in the effort to make it happen. The government hasn’t. The Space Program hasn’t. So it’s up to us. And if we don’t do anything, then for the next few years, we’ll be sitting in our little Gym offices, counting pennies, watching the buildings crumble around us. For those who have offices, that is.”

    “There’s still a flaw in your plan, Miss Herrida! You have the start planned, but you’ve completely ignored the finish!”

    Feeling an exhilarated rush, Bertha rose from her seat. “Finish? I’ll tell you what the finish is!” She held out her palms in midair and mimicked an explosion. “Picture for a moment, Miss Walker, that you’re walking in the meadow. Solaceon has lots of pretty meadows. All those hills and trees and grazing pokémon… Now, imagine it cut off by a metal fence, the trees cut down, and a big tall factory be put in its place. That factory pollutes the air. It keeps the whole half of your neighborhood on edge with its constant noise, which lasts through day and night. It turns your town into a pit stop for hundreds of Galactic workers who swarm around their territory, driving their trucks through your streets, and what more—relying on a share of your town’s money to fund security and maintenance. And they call it a partnership. Meanwhile, less money gets to you, the Gym leader, and little by little, you see your funding from the town dwindle. You soon have to rely on the League’s federal funds or pay out of your own pocket. The League might not be a big help, though, because the same exact thing is happening to it, only on a larger scale. And it’s happening because the government allows it to. My goal is to make that stop.”

    Lona was silent, and for the entire duration of Bertha’s tirade, sat with one elbow rested on the table’s surface, supporting her chin. Her face was clouded, and she seemed lost in thought.

    “Galactic will never come to Solaceon…” she said, almost whispering.

    Bertha tilted her head to the side, softening her face into an imitation of her interlocutor. “And if it does?”

    “It won’t!” With a sudden burst of anger that seemed to come from nowhere, Lona rose from her seat to look Bertha in the eye. “You think I don’t know what you’re doing? Trying to convince me by drawing a parallel with Eterna? You are wrong! Galactic will never put up a factory here because I won’t allow it, because I know how to wield my power as a Gym leader to ensure the best for my facility and my trainers!”

    Bertha’s eyes flashed. “You’re saying I don’t?”

    “I’m saying that you have no idea what you’re doing!”

    The shout seemed to drain some of Lona’s energy. She clenched her fists in visible frustration, and a second later opened her mouth to say more. But Bertha didn’t need to hear it.

    Without a word, she snapped her briefcase shut and turned for the door, leaving Lona by the desk, leaning forward in anticipation of proving a point. But whatever she was about to say was drowned out by the pounding of Bertha’s heels, and her anger soon turned to desperation as she fumbled helplessly for words.

    The door to the office swung open, and Lona beckoned for it to stop, flinging out a cry: “Money is dangerous in the League’s hands!”


    But it was too late. Bertha had slammed the door.
    Last edited by Mrs. Lovett; 25th November 2012 at 9:49 PM.


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  4. #229
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    Hello, former closet reader here. I've been wanting to review this fic for a while now, so here I am!

    I love this story. Clearly, you're a very talented writer, and you've come up with such a compelling and vivid re-imagining of the Sinnoh region. Since you're a ways into the fic already, I'll just give my general impressions of everything so far, with more specific reviews starting with the next chapter (hope you don't mind).

    Your characterization so far is great. Everyone has their own unique personalities, and their actions and attitudes towards everything around them are quite realistic in my opinion. I never would have imagined Rowan to be such a brat in his early days, but his rebellious nature really works in this fic, and his interest in finding out more about the Pokemon world comes through very nicely. I'm also really liking Henry - he's a lot like myself with his more reserved nature and wanting to do things the "right" way. Good job on creating two main characters with such differing outlooks on life but who also have a lot in common and come together in unexpected ways (wow, that sounds awkward...).

    I think it's interesting that you've chosen Bertha to be a main character as well. We don't have much information on her from the games, but I think you've developed her character into what seems to be a very realistic portrayal of a Gym Leader. Also interesting is the fact that she uses Grass-types in this fic, but eventually develops a preference for Ground-types later on - both types can be seen as a strong connection to the land, which seems to be something that's very important to her. I guess she goes back to her "roots" later on? /lame joke

    Speaking of the Gym Leaders, I enjoyed seeing Byron during his days in Oreburgh, and Jerry was also as professional as I think a big-city Gym Leader would be. And Lona is a real b****, isn't she? You've conveyed her uptight nature very well - I get more tense myself during her scenes. I do like the concept of her Gym, though - it's a refreshing change from what we normally see of Gyms (even if it resembles a concentration camp). Also, her resistance towards Bertha's plan seems suspicious to me. I can't help but wonder if she's somehow working for Team Galactic in secret... (By the way, the Space Race is something I think you've pulled off well. Love the competition between Teams Rocket and Galactic.)

    Lastly, I think you have great skill at writing Pokemon battles. Every one of them has been exciting and interesting in its own right, and you've described the scenes well enough to the point where I can see everything going on in my head. In addition, I've enjoyed the unique strategies the characters have used (such as Goldeen's water techniques).

    Now, for the nitpicks. Generally, your grammar is excellent, but there are a few places that I wanted to point out. For example, in Chapter 22, I noticed this:

    "I want to hear you, Abigail. A soft voice belies soft will."
    "Belie" actually means "to contradict," so I think you may have meant something else in place of it. "Imply," perhaps?

    Also, I'm sorry to say that I found many more errors in this chapter than in previous (most of them are just tiny little typos, but I just thought I'd point them out).

    He had marked each capsule with the letter of its pokémon’s name in permanent marker, not wanting to spent $2.95 on a pack of stickers.
    Should be "spend."

    Michael turned up the corners of his mouth in amusement. He reached out towards Machop and snapped his fingers. The pokémon turned out of reflex, his large eyes blinking. This elicited a smile from Michael. Right then, he had remembered the words of his mother: “Pokémon training teaches you responsibility!” But the more he thought about it, the more it seemed like he had done more teaching to them.
    is fingers. The pokémon turned out of reflex, his large eyes blinking. This elicited a smile from Michael. Right then, he had remembered the words of his mother: “Pokémon training teaches you responsibility!” But the more he thought about it, the more it seemed like he had done more teaching to them.
    Accidental doubling of the passage right here.

    Ted chuckled. “I got lucky. I lived in Floraoma for a while,
    I think you meant "Floaroma."

    Michael went to stand by Henry’s side as he flipped through the journal, page after page displaying perfectly even columns of tiny, printed text. “Wow…

    “You can read it if you want,” Ted replied. “Just be careful with it.
    Forgot the second set of quotation marks on the end of both sentences.

    I'm sorry if I seemed harsh with those nitpicks (I'm a self-proclaimed grammar Nazi, I can't help it).

    The last thing I wanted to bring up is related to Pokemon moves; I noticed certain inconsistencies between some of the moves used by Pokemon in this fic and their actual movesets in-game. For example, during the Oreburgh Gym battle, you had a Geodude using Mach Punch, and during the Eterna battle, Michael's Turtwig got Leech Seeded by a Budew (at least, I think it was a Budew. Sorry, I haven't read through the earlier chapters lately). In the games, Geodude can't learn Mach Punch legitimately, and Leech Seed doesn't work on Grass-types. (Also, I think you once had a Yanma using Fly, when it technically doesn't learn that move, but I don't believe you were referring to the actual move, just that it was flying up into the air; at least, that was my impression.) If these were intentional, then please disregard; however, I just wanted to bring them up for future reference.

    Overall, though, this is a wonderful fic, and one of my favorites on this site. Have a great break, and I'll be looking forward to the next chapter!

    ~Crimson Penguin

    Friend Safari - Bug with Butterfree/Volbeat/Vivillon - PM me for my FC!
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  5. #230
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    Hey there! I'm glad you're liking the story. And you've caught on to some important things, which also makes me glad. I like it when readers just write out in broad terms how they feel about the story, even if I'm twenty chapters ahead of them and they're talking about the very beginning. It helps me on a different level than a specific review. But I also appreciate the latter. Bottom line is, I appreciate everything. :)

    I think it's interesting that you've chosen Bertha to be a main character as well. We don't have much information on her from the games, but I think you've developed her character into what seems to be a very realistic portrayal of a Gym Leader. Also interesting is the fact that she uses Grass-types in this fic, but eventually develops a preference for Ground-types later on - both types can be seen as a strong connection to the land, which seems to be something that's very important to her. I guess she goes back to her "roots" later on? /lame joke
    Land is definitely important to Bertha, and it's (a big) part of the reason why she decided to get involved in this Team Galactic business.

    Also, her resistance towards Bertha's plan seems suspicious to me. I can't help but wonder if she's somehow working for Team Galactic in secret...
    I've gotten that observation before. No, Lona isn't working for Team Galactic, but she does have a good reason for thinking the way she does. I haven't mentioned it outright, but in the coming chapters you'll get a definite idea of what it is. I did some foreshadowing at the end of 26, but apart from that, you're on your own in terms of interpretation. For now. Hehe.

    "I want to hear you, Abigail. A soft voice belies soft will."
    "Belie" actually means "to contradict," so I think you may have meant something else in place of it. "Imply," perhaps?
    I was pretty sure that 'belie' could be used in the same way as 'betray' here... What I was saying is that a soft voice betrays soft will. But I guess I could switch words to eliminate confusion.

    He had marked each capsule with the letter of its pokémon’s name in permanent marker, not wanting to spent $2.95 on a pack of stickers.
    Should be "spend."
    The sad part is I vividly remember writing 'spend'. xP

    Michael turned up the corners of his mouth in amusement. He reached out towards Machop and snapped his fingers. The pokémon turned out of reflex, his large eyes blinking. This elicited a smile from Michael. Right then, he had remembered the words of his mother: “Pokémon training teaches you responsibility!” But the more he thought about it, the more it seemed like he had done more teaching to them.
    is fingers. The pokémon turned out of reflex, his large eyes blinking. This elicited a smile from Michael. Right then, he had remembered the words of his mother: “Pokémon training teaches you responsibility!” But the more he thought about it, the more it seemed like he had done more teaching to them.
    Accidental doubling of the passage right here.
    That's odd. I guess it must have happened when I was copy/pasting paragraphs into Notepad for formatting. (I have a habit of rewriting chunks at a time like that.)

    I'll fix the other typos right away. Thanks for pointing them out!

    The last thing I wanted to bring up is related to Pokemon moves; I noticed certain inconsistencies between some of the moves used by Pokemon in this fic and their actual movesets in-game. For example, during the Oreburgh Gym battle, you had a Geodude using Mach Punch, and during the Eterna battle, Michael's Turtwig got Leech Seeded by a Budew (at least, I think it was a Budew. Sorry, I haven't read through the earlier chapters lately). In the games, Geodude can't learn Mach Punch legitimately, and Leech Seed doesn't work on Grass-types. (Also, I think you once had a Yanma using Fly, when it technically doesn't learn that move, but I don't believe you were referring to the actual move, just that it was flying up into the air; at least, that was my impression.) If these were intentional, then please disregard; however, I just wanted to bring them up for future reference.
    I decided not to limit myself to in-game move restrictions here, because some moves seem universal to me. Like Mach Punch. I imagine it as just a supercharged punch, and since Geodude has the fists and momentum to do it, I didn't see a reason for it not to be able to. Of course, I'll try to stay within the range of feasibility. (I wouldn't give Jerry's Mr. Mime the ability, for example.)

    The Leech-Seeding pokemon was Bertha's Cherrim. That was also something I took a liberty with, as it seemed more plausible to me to just treat it as any other Grass type attack. Since Turtwig is a Grass type, Leech Seed wouldn't be too effective on him, but I saw no reason for it to have no effect whatsoever. (Its purpose is to drain energy, like the in-game HP, which all pokemon have regardless of type.) The reason it made Turtwig faint was because he was already worn out and Bertha wanted to make it a quick finish. If Turtwig had been at full energy, the move wouldn't have done much, since Turtwig's partial immunity to the seeds would be more pronounced.

    As for Yanma, it didn't actually use the move Fly; it just flew really high into the air. In the same way, I wouldn't call every bite, kick, and scratch in a battle an actual Bite, Double Kick, or Scratch.

    With that said, thanks a bunch for the review! I think I've addressed all your points to completion. Unfortunately, I'll have to make you (and everyone else) wait some time for the next chapter, during which I will admittedly and shamelessly be doing things other than writing. xP See you next time!


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  6. #231
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    Hello again! Thought I'd make a quick reply before you go off on your wild adventures. ; )

    And you've caught on to some important things, which also makes me glad.
    Oh, good. I always feel like I don't analyze writing on a deep enough level, so I'm relieved to see that's not completely the case here.

    I've gotten that observation before. No, Lona isn't working for Team Galactic, but she does have a good reason for thinking the way she does. I haven't mentioned it outright, but in the coming chapters you'll get a definite idea of what it is.
    Hmm, I thought for sure she was involved with that whole space business. Her comments about the League were interesting, though. I guess I'll just have to wait and see.

    I was pretty sure that 'belie' could be used in the same way as 'betray' here... What I was saying is that a soft voice betrays soft will. But I guess I could switch words to eliminate confusion.
    I looked it up, and they're not quite the same thing, but I can definitely see where you're coming from. Ah, the joys of English...

    I'll fix the other typos right away. Thanks for pointing them out!
    No problem, that's what I do best. ; )

    Regarding the moveset thing, I fully understand your decision. Some things in the games don't make a whole lot of sense, especially when trying to portray them in a fic (after all, in real life, weeds get their energy by choking and sapping other plants, so the reason why Leech Seed doesn't affect Grass-types is a bit of a mystery). As I explained to another person whose fic I reviewed, I tend to expect fics to follow game mechanics pretty strictly, which I should really learn to break. As long as there's a valid reason for going outside the in-game realm (which you have), and not being completely implausible with it (like giving a Charizard Ice Beam, for example), then it's fine with me.

    As for Yanma, it didn't actually use the move Fly; it just flew really high into the air. In the same way, I wouldn't call every bite, kick, and scratch in a battle an actual Bite, Double Kick, or Scratch.
    I figured that's what it was, but I wanted to double-check.

    With that said, thanks a bunch for the review!
    You're very welcome! Have fun on your vacation/whatever else it is that you're doing. : )

    Oh, and if it's not too much trouble, would you mind adding me to the PM list?

    I shall await the next chapter (don't worry, I'm patient)!

    ~Crimson Penguin

    Friend Safari - Bug with Butterfree/Volbeat/Vivillon - PM me for my FC!
        Spoiler:- Shiny hunting stuff:


  7. #232
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    Great chapter once again, Mrs. Lovett! Roots is my favorite fanfic on Serebii!


    ARBOK
    4
    EVER


  8. #233
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mrs. Lovett View Post
    2.6

    “Chimchar, use Flamethrower!”

    A small, monkey-like pokémon let out a screech as it hopped from one foot to another. Clutching its belly with its hands, it shot a jet of flames from its mouth into the air, where Ringo was flapping madly, trying to evade the attacks.
    I get the feeling that using "The" instead of "A" might have been a better way to start that first sentence, because as it is, it reads in a rather vague way.

    "Fire! Help! Fire!" the bird was screeching. With every inferno blast he dodged, Ringo grew more and more agitated, till he forgot his plan of attack completely and started flying aimlessly in circles.
    Ah, good old Ringo. I missed him.

    Michael stood at the far edge of the battlefield, clenching his fist while he watched the relay. His opponent that day was putting up a good fight—he had lost his Caterpie to the boy’s Staravia, and then had his Goldeen faint right after bringing it down. The boy had sent out his Chimchar to open the second round, and Michael had retaliated with Ringo, but even so he was beginning to feel the strain.

    “Ringo, use Peck! Dodge the fire and go!” he shouted.

    Ringo continued to circle over the Chimchar’s head, eyes closed reflexively against the blinding fire-flashes. Hearing him, the bird risked a low plunge, baring his claws, and grabbed hold of the tuft of hair on the monkey’s head.

    "Ember this!" Ringo began to peck at the Chimchar, making it squeal like a baby. Its reedy arms reached up in an attempt to block the attacks, but Ringo was relentless. Finally, the Chimchar collapsed, letting out a sigh of exhaustion.
    Good bit of action here, boosted by Ringo's personality. It works very well.

    “Ver’y good!” came a female voice. Betty, their referee, stepped out of the sidelines, dimples creasing her face as she smiled. “Dan still has one point, and if Michael can catch up th’s last time, then it’ll be a tie! Go!” The lady snapped her fingers, and Michael’s opponent sent back the fainted Chimchar, swapping its pokéball for another.

    “I choose you—ENIGMA!”

    The pokéball opened to release a flood of white light, and a tiny body took form in the air. At first, Michael thought it would be a Bronzor, but when the light faded, he saw that it was something else entirely— a tiny black thing with a huge white eye, staring ahead with blank passivity like a cartoon drawing. The rest of the creature’s body seemed to be made of wire, and twisted into a circular letter ‘O’ around it.

    The pokémon made no sound as it hovered in the air, blinking periodically. Their referee began to giggle.

    “Aww, how cute! You ‘ave an Unown!”
    I don't think that they should be underestimating Unown here, just saying.

    Dan smiled. “I went to the Solaceon Ruins in my spare time,” he said, glancing over to Michael. “They’re all over the place there. And they’ve got a cool power too. Watch!” He pointed up at Ringo. “Enigma, use Hidden Power!”
    Question: is Hidden Power well known at this point in history? I could see its research becoming another important part of Michael's work if not.

    A blue flare lit up the Unown’s eye from within, and a glowing aura spread around its entire body. There was a brief flash—Michael caught a split second’s glimpse of a band of light whipping out from around the pokémon—and then Ringo was tumbling back through the air like a windblown leaf. Ringo flapped his wings for balance, and settled onto Michael’s head for support, his sharp claws entangling themselves in his hair.

    "Yowp! Yow! Ow!"

    Michael narrowed his eyes, groaning as Ringo’s wings thumped against the sides of his face. He swatted the bird aside, and Ringo rose back into the air, though it was clear that his ego had taken a blow. As Ringo circled his end of the battlefield, he began to mutter something under his breath which Michael couldn’t fully hear, and was glad that no one else could either. As he looked up at the Unown, a sense of firm conviction arose inside of him. That thing had to fall.

    “Ringo, use Peck!” Michael said to the bird. “And claw its eye!”

    Ringo flew forward, relishing the prospect of revenge, but just as he was about to grip the Unown with his claws, another light-whip smacked him back, making him fall. Michael gritted his teeth as he watched the bird flutter weakly, slumping into a heap on the ground.

    “Get up, Ringo!” he called.

    The bird croaked weakly in response. “Ringo in the sky with diamonds…” With that, his head lolled over to the side, tongue drooping. Betty looked at the bird with an expression of pity. “Michael, I think he’s—”
    Michael showed some good tactical thinking here. Too bad it just wasn't enough, but at least yet another one-liner from Ringo made up for it.

    “Yeah, I know,” Michael said. He didn’t want to hear her say ‘fainted’. He returned Ringo to his capsule and went over to his backpack by the side wall. He sat there for a moment, pondering.

    The only way I can get that thing is through special attacks. I have to find a way to knock it out of the air so I can stomp it. Seeing no other way to go about it, he placed Ringo’s pokéball back and quickly swept his gaze over the ones that remained. He had marked each capsule with the letter of its pokémon’s name in permanent marker, not wanting to spend $2.95 on a pack of stickers. Now, at least he didn’t have to worry about which pokémon he had placed where. After thinking for a brief period, Michael made his choice — Turtwig.

    He came back to the battlefield and released the pokémon without preamble. Once Turtwig had emerged, Michael gave his command — “Turtwig, use Razor Leaf!”

    Turtwig, who had long grown accustomed to being sent out into the nick of battle, raised his head to look at the Unown. He spent some time gauging distance and angle, then began to flick his head from side to side, dislodging tiny leaves that whipped like razors through the air. But it was as if an invisible shield blocked the Unown from contact — just before they reached their target, the leaves hit a block in midair and fell against it, like rain against a windshield. They drifted towards the floor, harmless. Michael ordered Turtwig to attack again, but to no avail. The Unown was untouchable.
    I'm not sure I get the expression "the nick of battle." I mean, I know what you mean by it, but I've never heard it put in those words.

    I wonder why Unown is so tough for Michael to even touch. This is unusual, I think...

    A state of deep thought overcame him, mixed with a twinge of irritation. Michael stared up at the floating pokemon, rocking on the balls of his feet. Dan, who must have taken it as a gesture of futility, crossed his arms and smiled. “Well? Want to try again?”

    Michael pursed his lips. “Why don’t you go? I’m open.” He spread out his arms, indicating the defenseless Turtwig. He knew he wasn’t in the best position to push his luck, but he would rather risk Turtwig taking a couple hits if only to catch a glimpse of what attacks the Unown knew.

    Betty looked over to Dan in agreement, tapping her manicured fingernails against the clipboard. “Yeah, why don’t you go ‘head an’ give it a try? Your Un’own hasn’t atack’d yet.”

    Dan’s expression clouded. “Fine, but you’re gonna regret it! Enigma, use Hidden Power!”

    The black pupil vanished in a neon-blue glow, and Michael heard the clap of expanding air as the band of light lashed out at the Unown’s surroundings. Turtwig was pushed back, though the force that hit him was noticeably weaker, no more than a gust of strong wind at a park. Turtwig righted himself and shook his head, making the leaves on his head wobble.

    Michael blinked. That must be all it can do! he realized. It must be good at non-contact moves, and be really bad at physical ones.

    As he thought this, a smile crept over his face. The beginnings of a battle plan sketched themselves in his mind. Opening the Turtwig’s pokéball, he called the pokémon back and went to swap him for another.
    Definitely really liking how Michael thinks on his feet. I think I'm picking up on a growth in his character; early on, he didn't really understand much about battling and went mostly on rash instinct. Now, though, he's clearly thinking through what he's doing, even if he still has to learn by trial. It's very good for any writer to be able to show subtle but effective character growth like this.

    “Go!” Michael unlocked the new capsule, which released his Machop. After several days of practicing Ted’s meditating exercises, the pokémon had grown calmer and more energetic. He no longer stalled as much in battle, and had a more even temper throughout the day, which Michael considered an improvement in and of itself. As he was released from the capsule, the pokémon landed on all fours on the tumble mats, then straightened to look up at the Unown, whose glittering silhouette hung right about the windows.

    “Hey, over here.” Michael snapped his fingers, and Machop turned. “Come here. I need a big favor from you.”

    The wide eyes blinked, and Machop put on a childlike expression of interest. He approached Michael, who knelt down so that his face and the pokémon’s were level.

    “I need you to be brave for me,” he said. “Can you do that?”

    Machop gave an affirmative nod, and Michael smiled. “Good.” He leaned closer, lowering his voice to a whisper so that no one else could hear him. “Now. You see the Unown up there? That’s your opponent. It’s really tough when it’s up there in the air, so we have to pull it down. All you need to do is jump really high to reach it. It’ll be tough, but you’re the only one who’s got the speed and power to make it work. Just keep going at it and don’t stop no matter how many of those shockwaves it shoots at you. Once you bring it down, it’s yours for playing. Sound like a deal?”

    Machop nodded again, putting on a can-do frown of determination. Michael got to his feet and spun the pokémon around to face his opponent. “Go!”
    These two have cute interaction.

    In fact, I think I like how all of Michael's Pokemon interact with him. Turtwig appears to be similar to his trainer, while Michael has a straightman-type role to Ringo and seems to be buddies with Machop. It's a nice variety of personalities.

    Machop stood still for a couple of seconds, shifting his weight from one leg to another as he pondered over his approach. Then, he broke into a sprint, dashing across the mats and taking a leap into the air. The tip of his outstretched hand came a foot away from reaching the Unown, then Machop fell back down, tumbling towards the wall.

    Michael sighed. “Try again!”

    Dan grinned. “Enigma, use Hidden Power!”

    Machop prepared to make a second jump. This time he ran to the farthest corner of the room and settled into a runner’s lunge. He rocketed forward, becoming a blue-green blur of motion, and sprang upwards when he reached the middle of the battlefield. The Unown’s shockwave caught him while he was still in the air, and smacked him back as if he had hit a wall. Machop let out a yelp, and crashed down onto the mats. Meanwhile, the Unown retreated higher into the air, till it was almost grazing the ceiling. With a jolt, Michael realized it was afraid.

    It has no physical capabilities! That’s why it stays on the defensive. No doubt, the pokémon's body would shatter the minute Machop set his foot down on it. The prospect renewed Michael’s hope. He looked down at the Machop, who was still sitting on the floor, his expression torn somewhere between an angry snarl and a whimper. Exaggerating another sigh, Michael snapped his fingers like a football coach. “Come on, get up. You’re not gonna get anywhere if you sit around. That thing has the strength of a floating cracker. It’s trying to scare you away, but you gotta be tougher than that. I want you to get up, pull it down, and stomp on it like there’s no tomorrow! Hear me?”

    Spurred by goading of his trainer, Machop got to his feet, brushing off his knees. Feeling unusually energetic, Michael clapped his hands. “Now get him!”

    From across the room, Dan’s frown lines deepened. “Enigma, use Hidden Power!”
    I will say that Unown is putting up a good fight, but I wonder how much of that is Michael learning on the fly how to deal with it.

    You're writing the action sequences exceptionally well. Like, maybe I'm just in the right mood today, but they seem better than usual overall in this chapter.

    Letting out a strange screeching sound, the Unown reluctantly lowered itself, till it was back to its former height. Machop lunged forward without a moment’s hesitation, but this time he did not stop midway for a jump—he kept going until he reached the wall, then he made a jump, pushing off the vertical surface to propel himself into the air. Machop’s outstretched hands grabbed the Unown’s outer ring like a steering wheel, carrying it down to the floor.

    “Now stomp!” Michael said.

    Teeth bared in an angry snarl, Machop raised his foot and smashed it against the Unown’s frame. The pokémon let out a metallic screech as its wiring snapped like a twig, its single black pupil spinning frantically in its socket. The eye immediately drifted closed.

    Dan’s mouth dropped open. “What?! That’s impossible!” He looked over to Michael with utter disbelief, who responded with a wink.

    “Never begin a battle with a special attack.” A sneer spread over Michael’s face, but it froze when he realized whose words he was echoing. A chill crept down his spine.

    Machop gathered the fragmented remains of the Unown and handed them over to Dan with a smug smile. The trainer looked crestfallen.
    Did he faint that Unown or kill it?

    Feels like a little bit of overkill, doesn't it?

    “Wow, that was quite a finish!” said their referee. “Michael and Dan are now tied with one point each. Great work, fellas!”
    I still have a little trouble understanding the scoring system here. Could you please explain it again.

    “But what about my Unown? What am I supposed to do with it?” said Dan, looking down at the splintered mess in his arms.

    Betty tilted her head to the side. “Oh, don’t wor’y. It doesn’t hurt them when their bodies break like that. As a matter of fact, they can be pieced back togeth’r. Just visit the Pokémon Center and they’ll show you what to do.” She marked down the battle’s results, then looked up at Dan again. “Though I would advise against using them in battle. They’r mighty cute, but they don’t fare well against Fighting moves, as you’ve seen.”
    That wasn't a Fighting-type move, though. Unless I'm missing another thing that they don't yet know about types? A Fighting-type move would be not very effective against the Psychic-type Unown.

    Dan grumbled. He and Michael packed their things and left the battle room. Even as he reached the lobby, Michael was unable to shake away his stupor at what had happened. Unconsciously, he had used Lona’s advice. And it had worked.

    He exchanged a parting nod with Dan, then watched the boy scurry out of the building in the direction of the Pokémon Center. Looking around, Michael didn’t see Henry anywhere among the crowd, so he found a place to stand over to the side and dropped his backpack.

    A minute later, he felt a tap on his shoulder, and a voice rose out from behind him. “Hey.”

    Michael turned. Rick had approached from the hallway door, the duffel bag slung over his shoulder. Michael smiled. “Hey. How goes it?”

    “Pretty good.” Rick shrugged. “I saw you walk out and I decided to catch up with you. You didn’t have Lona again, did you?”

    Michael snorted. “Thankfully not.”

    “Oh. ‘Cause I saw her go into one of the rooms in our hallway earlier th’s morning. She must be refereeing for the left wing of the Gym this week.”

    “But there must be only a one-in-fifty chance of getting her,” Michael said. “With all those rooms to choose from.”
    I didn't realize how big this Gym must be.

    Rick shook his head. “Nuh-uh. I’ve had her five times, once on two consecut’ve days. I’m pretty sure she gets to pick who she wants. And we both know that I’m the one she likes to yell at.”

    Michael chuckled. “Can’t argue with that. So how did your battle go?”

    “Pretty good,” Rick replied. “My partner used all dual-types, so we actually had a normal battle, for once. You know, with special moves.”

    Michael nodded.

    “And yours?”

    “It was all right,” Michael said. “I won.”

    “Cool.”

    With nothing else to say between them, the boys sank into silence, tuning back into the noise of the lobby. Rick lowered his duffel bag beside Michael’s and leaned against the wall, crossing his arms. At that moment, the door to the left hallway swung open, and Lona Walker emerged, her feet gliding gracefully over the wooden floor. Michael followed her with his gaze as she approached the front desk and leaned over to exchange a word with one of her attendants. While her back was turned, he took a moment to study her—annoyingly perfect posture, skirt below the knees, prim shoes… and jacket. It was the color of wilting roses, of Contest ribbons, of faded pastel sketches. Michael hated the hue from the bottom of his heart, but he couldn’t stop looking at it, and stood helpless as it burned into his skull. Only when Lona turned around did he finally snap out of his trance, dropping his gaze to the floor to pretend that he had not noticed her.

    The Gym leader stalked back over to the door, and cast a brief, sharp glance in their direction before she disappeared. Michael heard a grumble beside him.

    “She thinks she’s so cool…” said Rick. He had also lowered his head when Lona had passed, and now looked up with a shadow cast over his face. “Walks around like she’s queen of the world. I wish someone would put her in her place, for once.”
    I get the feeling that someone will indeed be putting her in her place soon.

    Michael made a hmh of agreement, but did not respond.

    “…and if that someone’s gotta be me, then I’ll do it.” Rick straightened, smoothing the edges of his shirt. “I’ll talk to you later, Michael. I gotta make a run to the PokéMart ‘cause I ordered some pokéball seals.”

    “All right,” Michael said, and lifted his hand. “Easy, man.”

    “Yeah. You too.” Rick waved his hand in return, and went off.

    Before Michael could drift back into his thoughts, he heard the door slam again and turned to see Henry approach him, looking tired, but upbeat. Henry stepped over to him, smiling. “Hey Michael.” His gaze trailed over to the double doors, where Rick had left moments ago. “Who was that?”

    “Just a kid I met,” Michael said.

    Henry tapped his chin. “I think I’ve seen him before… he was one of the kids who went into my hallway the other day.”

    “Yeah, he’s been here for a while,” Michael said. “Lona’s been holding him back. He’s been here for four whole weeks and he still hasn’t been moved up to the staff rank.”

    Henry’s face fell. “Oh. That’s too bad… but I guess Lona has a reason for it. She has to, doesn’t she?”

    Michael let out a laugh. “Yeah, you’re saying that now. But what if the same thing happens to us?”

    “I don’t think it will,” Henry said, with an odd, quiet certainty in his voice. “I mean, I’ve never had Lona as my referee before, but she doesn’t sound like she wants to keep us down. She probably wants us to learn something. And I have. You know, my referees have shown me a lot of cool stuff that I never knew about battling before. So…” He finished with a shrug.
    Henry is so idealistic, isn't he? Of course, he's probably right, but still.

    Michael rolled his eyes jokingly, but let the subject drop. They left the Gym together, and as they stepped outside, Michael instinctively turned left away from the direction of the hotel. Henry stopped him midway. “Wait, where are you going?”

    “We have to see Ted, don’t we? It’s been three days. We’ve been practicing just like he said, and I don’t know about you, but my pokémon have learned the move sequences front and back.”

    Henry giggled. “Yeah. Mine too.”

    “So let’s go then.”

    With that, they set off for the town’s suburban area.

    After their first meeting with the Move Tutor, both of them had diligently gone about learning the prescribed techniques with their pokémon. Their stay in Solaceon soon grew to resemble a session of boot camp, as each morning, they went to the Gym for their battles, then returned immediately to the hotel’s patio area to practice the move sequences. Michael and Henry isolated a shady patch of grass as their favorite spot, where Golden, Machop, Ringo, Starly, Burmy, and Clefable would follow along with their trainers’ instructions like a yoga group.

    Michael had jotted down the steps on a piece of paper, and whenever one of his pokémon forgot something, he would step in to remind them, often resorting to doing a bad imitation of the move himself. (Thankfully for him, few were around to see.) In the span of those days, Michael spent more time with his pokémon than in all the years of his life put together. And, unsuspectingly, he was enjoying it.

    The only member of their collective party that did not accompany them in their day-to-day excursions was the Stunky. After Henry had released it, Michael had seen it only a spare few times around town. He always recognized it, for it was one of the few Stunkies in their part of Solaceon, and always lurked around the same areas—the Gym, the streets around the hotel, and the diner that had likely become its favorite source of food. On occasion, Michael would look up from whatever he was doing and see a pair of yellow eyes blink out at him from behind a fence, or a purple tail frisk back and forth beside a bush. A part of him didn’t understand why the Stunky didn’t just cut and run for the hills; clearly, captivity had never been to its liking, and here it had all the freedom its little Stunky heart could ever want. But for whatever reason, it chose to stay. He didn’t concern himself overmuch with it, and let the Stunky-sightings become a simply part of a routine day.
    Good job fitting in a bit of exposition for what happened during the three days between this chapter and the last one. It can be hard to fit in explanations like this without having them come out as clunky and forced, but this one fits neatly right into the narrative.

    They arrived at the Move Tutor’s house in a matter of minutes. Ted opened the door for them at the right moment this time, pushing it out slowly before peeking out from behind it. “Ah, welcome,” he said, smiling when he saw the boys. “Come on in. You’ll be happy to see that I’ve done a lot of cleaning since you two were here.”

    Michael stepped inside the house, and saw that it was indeed in a better state than before. A large portion of the mess in Ted’s library had been cleared. Many of the boxes that had littered the floor were gone, and the books they contained had now found a home on the shelves. The curtains were pulled open behind the TV, letting dusty sunlight sift into the room.

    Ted had cleaned himself up as well, and looked more vibrant than usual. His hair was combed, and he had substituted his jeans for nicer-looking pants. His glasses were perched squarely on his nose, the frames twinkling in the light. He closed the door behind the boys and led them towards the workroom. “Come on back and send out your pokémon. I want to see how you’ve been practicing.”

    Michael and Henry sent out their pokémon and made their way to the back room, where they all gathered around the table. Ted brought out the same move manuals as before to look off of for reference. The first pokémon to go was Clefable. Henry lifted her onto the table and rubbed the tuft of fur at the top of her head. “Let’s show them what you learned,” he said. “Use Psychic!”

    Clefable closed her eyes, as she had a habit of doing to focus her thoughts. Her move sequence was more of a strength exercise, in which she would be given a pebble or small object, and would have to lift it using only her mental energy. Ted had given her a series of stretches to help relax her body, similar to Machop’s meditation. Over the days the boys had been practicing, she had graduated from pebbles to pencils, and other medium-size objects. But for a rather challenging touch, Ted placed the Psychic manual in front of her and smiled. “Let’s see how she does with this one.”
    Ooh, clever setup. This one would have stumped me.

    Michael turned up the corners of his mouth in amusement. He reached out towards Machop and snapped his fingers. The pokémon turned out of reflex, his large eyes blinking. This elicited a smile from Michael. Right then, he had remembered the words of his mother: “Pokémon training teaches you responsibility!” But the more he thought about it, the more it seemed like he had done more teaching to them.

    I wonder where they’d all be without me, he thought. If he hadn’t left home, then he would have never gotten any of his current team members, save for Turtwig. Machop would likely still be frolicking in the meadow by Oreburgh City, Ringo would be dropping nuts on passerby trainers’ heads, and Goldeen and Caterpie would still be with their former owners. But by some stroke of fate, he had come along and assembled them into a single unit. And for better or worse, they were here to stay.
    I like this nice little moment of reflection.

    Michael looked over at the paper’s heading.


    Storage System 2 — A proposal for improved capsule design
    Michael Borman, Alfonso Helfer, Stephen Adams


    “Hey, that’s it!” said Henry suddenly, jabbing his finger at the list of names. “That’s the guy who invented the modern pokéball! Or, I guess, it was him and his team. Look, Michael. He has the same name as you.”

    Michael’s mouth spread into a half-smile. “Yeah, maybe there’s a Henry in there too somewhere. Let’s keep reading.”

    Henry turned the cover. The article was nearly ten pages long, and detailed what seemed to be an experiment, followed by a critical analysis and conclusion. As far as Michael could gather, the scientists were testing new capsule designs that were based upon advanced physical concepts, something that clearly had never been done before. A diagram took up nearly an entire page, comparing the designs of the new and old pokéball. The old one was larger and had a snap lock at the center in place of a knob, and on the inside, was an almost unrecognizable mess of tiny valves and widgets. In contrast, the new one had a sleek metal interior, with soldered wires stemming out from the center point like the sun’s rays. Michael tried to read through the article to find out how the two differed in terms of technology, but found so many unintelligible acronyms and jargon that his mind was twisted in circles. Henry seemed equally befuddled.
    I have to say, while this kind of information doesn't really have much bearing on the story itself, I like it because it establishes even more about the world in which these events are taking place. I love stuff like this.

    “Whoever these guys were, they were smart,” said the boy, letting out a breath.

    “That’s right,” said Ted. “They use a lot of technical terminology that the layman wouldn’t understand, but this journal wasn’t written for the layman. In a nutshell, what they did was apply the properties of white dwarfs to improve the storing of pokémon.”

    “White dwarfs?” Henry looked up at Ted in confusion, and Michael mimicked the motion.

    Ted bowed his head. “I’m no astronomy whiz, but I do happen to know that a white dwarf is a type of star. They’re one of the most dense objects in the universe—they have all the mass of a regular star concentrated into a sphere that’s about the size of Earth. If you had one teaspoon of the stuff that a white dwarf is made of, it would weigh tons. Basically, through one method or another, those scientists managed to find a way to make living creatures condense into a small space just like the white dwarfs do, without harming themselves, and without adding unnecessary weight to the capsule.” He spread his arms out wide, chuckling. “I have no idea how they did it. But I’m glad they did. All of the old pokéball models were based on the properties of the ancient ones. They did their job well enough, but they got very heavy after you put the pokémon inside, and you couldn’t reuse them if, say the pokémon broke out.”
    Now this is something I would never have thought of. Major props for creativeness.

    “What is it? Who’s it from?” Michael asked.

    Ted did not immediately respond, but began to dust at a slightly faster pace than before. “Well… uh, a few days ago, I went to a pokémon daycare center to drop off some books as a donation. Stuff like species diversity, basic training techniques, things I didn’t really need anymore. But I accidentally put an important book into the pile—one I really needed for my projects. I had notes and everything in there, but I had no idea that I put it in the wrong box. And, well, one of the people at the center must have noticed and was nice enough to return it.”

    “So if you got the book back, then why are you keeping the note?” Michael said.

    Ted shrugged, and the gesture was so sheepish and innocent that, for a moment, it made him seem childlike. He shifted his gaze from Michael to Henry, who were both staring at him in silence, their expressions betraying a growing interest. After a minute, something seemed to give inside of him, and Ted let out a sigh. “Okay, fine. I know who it’s from. But she’s not my—I mean, I don’t know her or anything. She’s just a lady I see around town sometimes.”

    A smile tugged at Michael’s lips. “What’s her name?”

    “I don’t know… We’ve never talked.”

    “What does she look like?” Henry piped up.

    Ted shrugged again. “She always has her hair up, so I can’t see much of it... last time I saw her she was wearing a hat, a skirt, a white cardigan, and red heels.” He paused, for a moment appearing shocked that he had remembered so much. Ted scratched his head. “They could have been red. I‘m not sure.” Flustered, he turned back to the bookshelf.

    Michael looked down at the note and gave a businesslike nod. “Well, whoever she is, she definitely likes your subject preference. Maybe she’s a resident-move tutor too.” He locked eyes with Henry and perked his eyebrows. The boy suppressed a giggle.
    Cute. I laughed.

    When he finished cleaning, Ted stepped down from the stool and tossed the washcloth around his shoulder, whistling in a familiar way. There was a confident flair to his manner, but at the same time a fragility, which hadn’t been so apparent before. To Michael, who had never pondered greatly on such things, the sudden clarity with which he saw this was startling. It was somehow centered around the note he held in his hands. There was something special in that note, something in the way Ted’s gaze trailed off at times, following the free reign of his thoughts.

    He was a man at peace with himself, but at the same time he longed for something more, something that he might have been on the cusp of at one point, but never attained. Or perhaps he had lost it a long time ago, like a seashell buried in depths of sand, forever awaiting the return of something that in the end would never come.




    Just like Andrew Rowan.
    Beautiful wording here.

    //////





    It was only her first week in Solaceon, and already, Bertha Herrida had a schedule.

    Morning: Breakfast. Take her pokémon out for a walk, possibly go downtown and visit the pastures. See the herds of grazing pokémon, possibly stop to watch young children scurry about with buckets or piles of hay.

    Two o’clock. Check the hotel’s mail room, navigate through hundreds of tiny compartments in search of the one reserved in her name. Answer telegrams, collect support letters (there were few), and immerse herself in the goings-on of the outside world. Have lunch.


    Eight o’clock, evening. Conference with Lona Walker.


    As Bertha had learned over the days, time was one of the few things Lona hated to lose. She could lose a pen, or an important piece of paper, and quickly retrace her steps to find it. She could lose her temper, close her eyes for a moment, and regain her former calm. But there was no taking back time, and as much as she might have disliked it, she had to play by life’s rules too.
    Interesting little piece of philosophy, that "there's no taking back time" thing...

    Each Monday and Wednesday evening was set aside especially for petition business, no earlier and no later than the designated time. Each woman knew her role, and by unspoken agreement, set out to follow it. Every meeting, Bertha would arrive right on time, her purse slung over her shoulder, the briefcase clutched in her other hand. She would proceed to Lona’s office in the right hallway, open the door, and find the Gym leader sitting behind her desk, the office glowing with orange light from a lamp that stood in the corner. Sometimes Lona would be drinking tea, and a cup would be set aside on Bertha’s end of the table—an empty formality. Other times, she would just be sitting there, arms resting on the table, eyes fixed squarely ahead as Bertha took her seat.

    Their conversations would begin one of two ways. Either Bertha would open her briefcase and take out her files, embarking on a different avenue of argument, or Lona would begin with a question of her own. The latter was usually a prelude to a tedious, angered debate, something that Bertha could only describe as a bull-session.

    Today was looking to be like one of those days.
    I'll be honest. At this point, I don't know how long Lona and Bertha arguing is going to maintain my interest. I hope something develops from it soon.

    Closing the door to the office, Bertha approached Lona’s desk and sat down. The stale, orange light that pervaded the room was something she could never get used to. One half of the room seemed to blaze, and the other was plunged in thin, slanted shadows. Lona was writing again, as she always seemed to be. Her chair was caught midway between light and darkness, and her arm was moving quickly and methodically over the memo pad that kept her constant companionship. She did not look up as Bertha entered, and allowed the woman to take her seat with silent acknowledgment. Only when Lona had finished her notes and stowed the memo pad away in the drawer did she lift her head and fold her hands in her lap. A smile lifted the corners of her face, and without preamble, she began.

    “Tell me, Miss Walker, how is it you are planning to restore the League?”

    After many days of such back-and-forth banter, the questions no longer caught Bertha off-guard. She didn’t bat an eye. “I’m not planning on restoring it,” she said. “At least, not yet. My goal is to enable it to restore itself.”
    Wait, who asked the question? Isn't Walker Lona's surname?

    For some reason, Lona seemed to find this funny. She twirled a strand of hair around her finger and tilted her head to the side. “And what makes you so sure that the other League officials will want to do the same? You have an entire different concept of ‘restoration’ than they do.”

    “Oh? And in what way?”

    “That is what I plan on examining today. Your petition is attempting to give the League more money. And yes, it’s true that the League wants more money. But it’s for an entirely different reason.”

    Bertha lifted her eyebrows. “And that would be?”

    “I think you’ve already seen it for yourself,” Lona said. “You’ve been to Hearthome. You’ve seen how everywhere you turn, there’s the pokéball logo, or some other League-sponsored item?”

    “You mean the advertising? Sorry to say, but that’s to be expected. The League needs to make money. I won’t deny that some of its methods are questionable—those Game Corners are nothing but scams—but they are the direct result of the League’ s decline.”

    Lona shook her head, still keeping a quiet, measured tone. “No. They are the direct cause of it.”

    Bertha paused out of surprise, which mixed itself with puzzlement. This seemed to be what Lona was aiming for. The woman smiled, and continued. “The League has an enormous sphere of influence. The Space Program is like a flea in comparison. The League can get anything it wants, even right now, though it may seem like the tables are turned against us.”
    Is this some possible corruption on the part of the League I'm seeing? Now this is certainly intriguing...

    “I’m not asking for a hundred,” Bertha said. “I’m asking for at least fifty, even forty for the time being. Like I said before—by all means, I think that the League and the Space Program should coexist. But someone has to put in the effort to make it happen. The government hasn’t. The Space Program hasn’t. So it’s up to us. And if we don’t do anything, then for the next few years, we’ll be sitting in our little Gym offices, counting pennies, watching the buildings crumble around us. For those who have offices, that is.”

    “There’s still a flaw in your plan, Miss Herrida! You have the start planned, but you’ve completely ignored the finish!”

    Feeling an exhilarated rush, Bertha rose from her seat. “Finish? I’ll tell you what the finish is!” She held out her palms in midair and mimicked an explosion. “Picture for a moment, Miss Walker, that you’re walking in the meadow. Solaceon has lots of pretty meadows. All those hills and trees and grazing pokémon… Now, imagine it cut off by a metal fence, the trees cut down, and a big tall factory be put in its place. That factory pollutes the air. It keeps the whole half of your neighborhood on edge with its constant noise, which lasts through day and night. It turns your town into a pit stop for hundreds of Galactic workers who swarm around their territory, driving their trucks through your streets, and what more—relying on a share of your town’s money to fund security and maintenance. And they call it a partnership. Meanwhile, less money gets to you, the Gym leader, and little by little, you see your funding from the town dwindle. You soon have to rely on the League’s federal funds or pay out of your own pocket. The League might not be a big help, though, because the same exact thing is happening to it, only on a larger scale. And it’s happening because the government allows it to. My goal is to make that stop.”

    Lona was silent, and for the entire duration of Bertha’s tirade, sat with one elbow rested on the table’s surface, supporting her chin. Her face was clouded, and she seemed lost in thought.

    “Galactic will never come to Solaceon…” she said, almost whispering.

    Bertha tilted her head to the side, softening her face into an imitation of her interlocutor. “And if it does?”

    “It won’t!” With a sudden burst of anger that seemed to come from nowhere, Lona rose from her seat to look Bertha in the eye. “You think I don’t know what you’re doing? Trying to convince me by drawing a parallel with Eterna? You are wrong! Galactic will never put up a factory here because I won’t allow it, because I know how to wield my power as a Gym leader to ensure the best for my facility and my trainers!”

    Bertha’s eyes flashed. “You’re saying I don’t?”

    “I’m saying that you have no idea what you’re doing!”
    That's it, I just lost all sympathy for Lona. I kind of hope she gets put in exactly that position of Galactic coming in and taking over now, just to show her that Bertha was right.

    The shout seemed to drain some of Lona’s energy. She clenched her fists in visible frustration, and a second later opened her mouth to say more. But Bertha didn’t need to hear it.

    Without a word, she snapped her briefcase shut and turned for the door, leaving Lona by the desk, leaning forward in anticipation of proving a point. But whatever she was about to say was drowned out by the pounding of Bertha’s heels, and her anger soon turned to desperation as she fumbled helplessly for words.

    The door to the office swung open, and Lona beckoned for it to stop, flinging out a cry: “Money is dangerous in the League’s hands!”


    But it was too late. Bertha had slammed the door.
    I'm not sure I even care to know what she wants to say anymore.

    Anyway, a pretty solid chapter all around. You had some very well-written action scenes in the beginning, which were coupled with small details about the progressing Gym challenge and Michael and Henry's training. That action faded into a sort of easygoing, mellow tone in the middle while they were with Ted, but then it picked up again and got intense in a different way at the end. I was interested the whole way through.

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  9. #234
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    I'm back, everyone! Unfortunately, I don't have a chapter for you today, but I want to make this post to let you know that I'm up and running again, and should be back to my old semi-productive self very soon. During the next few days I'll be digging through my computer files and story notes to get the next chapter going, as well as getting myself in order after these past few weeks. I will try to get Chapter 27 posted in early August, and if I can, post 28 that month too.

    And now it's time to respond to some reviews...



    Arbok4Ever: I never thought I'd be anyone's favorite fic... ever. :P Thanks for reading!


    The Great Butler:

    Quote Originally Posted by The Great Butler View Post
    I get the feeling that using "The" instead of "A" might have been a better way to start that first sentence, because as it is, it reads in a rather vague way.
    I didn't want to use 'the' at the very start of a chapter because I didn't introduce the pokemon by appearance yet. I figured using 'a' would make a better transition to the immediate action of the battle.

    Quote Originally Posted by The Great Butler View Post
    Dan smiled. “I went to the Solaceon Ruins in my spare time,” he said, glancing over to Michael. “They’re all over the place there. And they’ve got a cool power too. Watch!” He pointed up at Ringo. “Enigma, use Hidden Power!”
    Question: is Hidden Power well known at this point in history? I could see its research becoming another important part of Michael's work if not.
    I didn't attach any special significance to Hidden Power when writing this. It's just a move that the Unown are known for in Solaceon, and due to the townspeople's close proximity with them, they've noticed that different Unown have different expressions of it. (What we would call HP types.) But the matter is a complicated one -- since different Unown have different HP types, the only way to determine which type an Unown has is to test it on a large number of opponents. Differences in HP types are something that Michael wouldn't be able to deduce at this point in time, since he knows nothing about the move and doesn't have the time or resources to investigate it. So here, Hidden Power is just the 'special' ability that makes the Unown popular amongst the townspeople.

    But that doesn't rule out the chance that Hidden Power might crop up again somewhere... we'll have to see how the story goes. But it'll probably be a side quirk of sorts, not a crucial, plot-twisting issue. Because there are enough of those as is. :P


    Quote Originally Posted by The Great Butler View Post
    Letting out a strange screeching sound, the Unown reluctantly lowered itself, till it was back to its former height. Machop lunged forward without a moment’s hesitation, but this time he did not stop midway for a jump—he kept going until he reached the wall, then he made a jump, pushing off the vertical surface to propel himself into the air. Machop’s outstretched hands grabbed the Unown’s outer ring like a steering wheel, carrying it down to the floor.

    “Now stomp!” Michael said.

    Teeth bared in an angry snarl, Machop raised his foot and smashed it against the Unown’s frame. The pokémon let out a metallic screech as its wiring snapped like a twig, its single black pupil spinning frantically in its socket. The eye immediately drifted closed.

    Dan’s mouth dropped open. “What?! That’s impossible!” He looked over to Michael with utter disbelief, who responded with a wink.

    “Never begin a battle with a special attack.” A sneer spread over Michael’s face, but it froze when he realized whose words he was echoing. A chill crept down his spine.

    Machop gathered the fragmented remains of the Unown and handed them over to Dan with a smug smile. The trainer looked crestfallen.
    Did he faint that Unown or kill it?

    Feels like a little bit of overkill, doesn't it?
    The Unown isn't dead... imagine it as having its entire psychic power/life force concentrated in the area where its eye is, and the rest of its body being just a brittle extension with sparse sensory nerves. (The Unown doesn't need sensitive skin because it can sense its bodily position using only Psychic powers.) The few peripheral nerves that the Unown does have are there so that the pokemon can sense the rest of its body as a living attachment, rather than dead weight. A break would cause the Unown to briefly faint from shock, but it poses no danger to its life. As I explained later on in that scene, if the Unown is taken to a Pokemon Center, then the nurses can reattach the broken pieces and, after an hour to so, the Unown will be able to reunite itself using its psychic energy.

    Don't worry, this story is 100% Pro-Pokemon Rights, so there will be a cruelty-free explanation for any unusual circumstance. It has the Patricia Rowan No Cruelty stamp of approval. xP

    Speaking of the Unown, I was really hoping to add in a little segment about them, maybe even have Michael and Henry visit the Solaceon Ruins. But eventually I amassed so many plot-relevant things to add into chapters that I had to cut all the extra stuff out when writing outlines. Of course, I won't extend the Solaceon series just to have Michael and Henry visit all the cool places and learn all the stuff I have in mind, but I'm going to keep in mind everything that I don't post to see if I can work it into the story later on.

    Quote Originally Posted by The Great Butler View Post
    “Wow, that was quite a finish!” said their referee. “Michael and Dan are now tied with one point each. Great work, fellas!”
    I still have a little trouble understanding the scoring system here. Could you please explain it again.
    Each battle in a battle session involves four of each trainer's pokemon. (It's assumed that by now, all the trainers have captured at least that much.) In a battle, there are two rounds, with two pokemon battling per round. If one trainer manages to faint both of his opponent's pokemon and have at least one of his own battlers standing, then he wins the round and earns one point. If the battle ends with the trainers defeating each other simultaneously, then the round is counted as a tie and both trainers get a point. Once the round has a winner, it's considered over, and both trainers send out new pokemon. (They do this to be fair, so that no one is starting out with exhausted pokemon, and no trainer is able to sweep through with one powerhouse and leave out his/her other team members. Lona hopes this will encourage people to be well-rounded.)

    I didn't show the full battle between Michael and Dan, but this is how it went: In the first round, Dan sent out a Staravia, which fainted Michael's Caterpie. Michael sent out Goldeen as his second battler, and both Goldeen and Staravia fainted at the same time. Since Dan had one unused pokemon left, he was declared the winner and earned a point. (Remember, the points count the number of rounds a trainer wins, not the number of pokemon they've defeated.) The second round began, and Dan sent out Chimchar. Chimchar fainted Ringo, and Michael sent out Machop. Machop fainted Chimchar, and then the Unown, which earned Michael a victory for that round. And so they were tied.

    Hope that clears it up!


    Quote Originally Posted by The Great Butler View Post
    “But what about my Unown? What am I supposed to do with it?” said Dan, looking down at the splintered mess in his arms.

    Betty tilted her head to the side. “Oh, don’t wor’y. It doesn’t hurt them when their bodies break like that. As a matter of fact, they can be pieced back togeth’r. Just visit the Pokémon Center and they’ll show you what to do.” She marked down the battle’s results, then looked up at Dan again. “Though I would advise against using them in battle. They’r mighty cute, but they don’t fare well against Fighting moves, as you’ve seen.”
    That wasn't a Fighting-type move, though. Unless I'm missing another thing that they don't yet know about types? A Fighting-type move would be not very effective against the Psychic-type Unown.
    Looking back at this now, I think I should have changed 'Fighting' to 'physical'. What I meant here was that the Unown don't do well when it comes to physical combat. Their strength is that they can hurt a foe from a distance, but if that foe manages to get a hold of them, then they won't be able to wrench themselves free, or fight back physically, etc. Betty's comment pertained more to the individual abilities of the Unown; it wasn't a broad statement about types. Fighting moves still aren't effective against them in theory, but the reason Machop was able to defeat the Unown was because he broke the its frame, which, as I mentioned above, caused it to faint from shock.

    Quote Originally Posted by The Great Butler View Post
    Closing the door to the office, Bertha approached Lona’s desk and sat down. The stale, orange light that pervaded the room was something she could never get used to. One half of the room seemed to blaze, and the other was plunged in thin, slanted shadows. Lona was writing again, as she always seemed to be. Her chair was caught midway between light and darkness, and her arm was moving quickly and methodically over the memo pad that kept her constant companionship. She did not look up as Bertha entered, and allowed the woman to take her seat with silent acknowledgment. Only when Lona had finished her notes and stowed the memo pad away in the drawer did she lift her head and fold her hands in her lap. A smile lifted the corners of her face, and without preamble, she began.

    “Tell me, Miss Walker, how is it you are planning to restore the League?”

    After many days of such back-and-forth banter, the questions no longer caught Bertha off-guard. She didn’t bat an eye. “I’m not planning on restoring it,” she said. “At least, not yet. My goal is to enable it to restore itself.”
    Wait, who asked the question? Isn't Walker Lona's surname?
    That was a mistake which I had the misfortune to notice only now, three or so weeks after posting the chapter. :P It was supposed to be "Tell me, Miss Herrida."

    *goes to fix*


    And don't give up hope yet... there's one more Bertha-Lona conversation that we'll have to survive, and it's the most important one. It's not in the next chapter, though, so you'll get a breather. There are plenty of other interesting things I've planned for next time, so you'll get your money's worth. (So to speak :P)

    As of now, Chapter 27 is completely unwritten. I have the outline, and I'll be working on it in the coming days. As I've said before, I'll try to get it posted next month. I'm afraid the end of July is too close for me to be able to make it... but as always, we'll see.

    Thank you both for stopping by!


    The story of Professor Rowan - Chapter 42 is up!

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  10. #235
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    2.7

    Days passed quickly in the countryside, and before Michael knew it, he was well into his second week in Solaceon.

    The Gym became his second home of sorts, and he was soon able to memorize the names and faces of most of the staff. He never got Lona as his referee again, though as she had seemed to promise from the start, he never got it off easy. His losses soon balanced out with his wins, and the very sidewalk seemed to grow worn from all the times he ran back and forth from the Pokémon Center. He healed after battle sessions, and after practicing with Henry, so much that healing soon became a tiring ordeal.

    Nevertheless, the experience came to his benefit. His chart continued to grow as he amassed data from his battles and Henry’s. Michael began to think ahead of time, and compiled a separate sheet of strategies for each of Lona’s pokémon. In addition, he was able to glean some things about the Gym from listening in on trainers’ conversations. From what he gathered, the staff battles were on an entirely different level than the regular ones. Not only did victories count, but the way they were achieved would also be taken into consideration. Henry often relayed to Michael stories he had heard, though it was hard to separate the bogus from the plausible. Too often the boy would come running to him with his fists gripping his hair, breathlessly sputtering that a rule had been enacted saying that each time your pokémon faints, you lose points. Or, that the staff use pokémon specially bred by the Daycare to possess super strength. Those rumors Michael discarded without much thought, but there were plenty of others that sounded perfectly logical, and caused him more than a slight worry. Was it true that they would only be allowed to switch pokémon three times? Did the staff really keep records of their battling style and pass them on to the next one in line, to see if they could poke holes in the trainer’s strategy?

    Such questions bounced around in Michael’s mind for the whole second week. His concentration on the Gym was broken only by the routine practice-sessions with his pokémon, who after their sixth day, finally mastered the moves Ted had taught them. The Move Tutor inspected them one last time, and congratulated the boys on a job well done.

    “Well, there’s not much else I can say,” Ted told them. “You boys are good to go.”

    After exchanging some brief pleasantries, he went with them to the front door to see them off. As they started to leave, Henry turned back.

    “Wait,” he said. “What if we need to teach more moves in the future? Who will we go to?”

    Ted shrugged. “I’m sure there are other move tutors out there. You’ll just have to ask around. If you want to do the teaching yourself, I guess there’s no harm in it, since you’ve already seen the basics of what I do. There are plenty of do-it-yourself books out there. Just make sure you get a really detailed one. But keep in mind, I’m only talking stuff like Whirlpool, or Razor Leaf. Don’t bother with the complicated techniques, because you’re likely to get it wrong, and God forbid, get your pokémon to hurt itself or you in the process. If you’re going to try with the books, at least get advice from someone who knows the field.”

    Henry nodded. “Gotcha.”

    Ted looked over to Michael and inclined his head. “Take care.” His eyes lingered on Michael’s a second longer, then he closed the door.

    Michael stood on the doorstep for a few moments, staring at the wood’s glossy finish. Ted’s parting expression had been kind… but also the tiniest bit nervous, as if he still remembered their conversation from all those days ago. Clearly, Ted felt that he had told them too much, and wanted to take back his words. Michael found it amusing, but also felt a slight pity.

    As the days of battling continued, Michael put the Move Tutor out of his mind, and devoted his full attention to attaining an advancement. Finally, on June 24th, his efforts paid off.

    After concluding yet another battle day and meeting Henry in the lobby, the boys went over to the counter to sign out. The attendant looked over their files and lowered the folders with a smile. “Congratulations,” she said. “You both have been promoted to the staff battles. Miss Walker and her colleagues have assessed your p’rformance and deemed you worthy of moving on.”

    The boys exchanged a glance and smiled.

    “This means that you have a new schedule to abide by,” the lady continued, handing them each a piece of paper. “Starting t'morrow, you’ll arrive here at 2:00 in the afternoon. During a three-day per'yd, you will face two staff members per day, with a short healing break in between sessions. Your opponents f’r each day will evaluate your p'rformance. Be advised that demotion is possible, so make sure you do as best as you can.” At the end of her recitation, she offered them a wink. “Congrats, boys.”


    When they left the building, Michael breathed a sigh of relief. “Finally! No more waking up God-knows-when in the dark and having breakfast at noon… this just made my freaking day.” As he stepped down the stairs, he kissed the paper like an A+ essay and waved it around in the air. (At his school, legend had it that if you did this with the very first test of the year, you would get As on all the others.) Henry giggled and waved his copy as well. Once they had left the Gym’s premises, they folded up the papers and set off down the street.

    “Now at least we know we’re doing something right,” said Henry, patting his pocket. “We don’t have to worry about changing our strategy. All we have to do is keep doing what we’re doing, and we’ll be set!

    “Man, forget about that stuff—what counts is that it’s almost over! Three more days, then it’s battle with Lona, and then we’re free!” Michael spread out his arms, feeling the breeze, expressing with his every step the relief he felt. The feeling soon caught on to Henry as well, and the boy began to laugh, clutching his stomach.

    For the first time in a long while, they had a free day. After healing their pokémon, they stalled in getting back to their room, instead letting their curiosity tug them on an excursion through town. They passed shop windows and open booths, which sold a variety of things from flowers to ice cream. Grocery stores were in abundance, overwhelming almost everything else with a flavorful assortment of fruits and vegetables. The dominant products were milk-derived, to which there seemed to be no shortage.

    As they walked down the street, Michael’s eye landed on a small newsstand that stood by the road. It consisted of a large wooden desk with a clerk standing behind it, and on either side of him, racks displaying newspapers on various topics. Many of them were specialized, devoted to subsets of the population who farmed, knitted, or were just looking for a local news source. Most of the big-name papers were also present, among them The Lakefront Eye, and of course, Sinnoh Post. After a bit of searching, Michael’s eye finally landed upon a thin stack of The Hearthome Times. He grabbed the topmost issue and unfurled it, almost unthinkingly, to the Arts and Recreation section. And there it was, printed plain for all to see: “Item Evolution, by Michael Rowan.”

    He read through the article a couple times, his smile growing ever wider. The words he had written almost two weeks before now seemed strange and imperfect to him, but for precisely that reason, he had no trouble mistaking them for his own. Some parts even stood out to him as ingenious, and he replayed the words in his mind, enjoying the melody in his former thoughts. Jumping towards the end of the article, he read over the brief paragraph Nancy had written as coverage, introducing him and his subject.

    “Michael Rowan, a boy of thirteen, is one of many trainers challenging the Pokémon Gym circuit this year. In his travels, he has remained highly observant — taking note of pokémon and strategies that catch his eye. These and many other experiences have given rise to a new, academic interpretation of pokémon training, which noticeably contrasts with the hotheaded, passionate methods of trainers in the past. By coolly thinking through their moves, and doing their homework before challenging the Gyms, Michael and others of his kind may well play a deciding role in the future of the Pokémon League.”

    At the last sentence, Michael felt a chuckle escaped him. Michael Rowan, he thought to himself. The trainer of the future. The title was strangely fitting.


    Rolling up the paper, he turned to the salesman, who was waiting for him patiently, and handed over some coins. The man bowed his head in return.

    “I am going to keep this until the day I die,” Michael said to Henry as they left the newsstand. “It’s going up on my wall, right over the huge desk I’ll have in my future mansion.”

    Henry rolled his eyes jokingly, and Michael waggled his finger in the air. “You’ll see.”

    They took the long way back to the hotel, pausing by stores to window-shop. When they arrived at their destination, it was well into lunchtime, which meant that the cafeteria was buzzing with activity—trainers moving about with metal trays, chairs scraping against the floor, and sounds of clattering tools from the kitchen. The boys immediately joined the food line and sat down to eat. While Michael ate peaceably, Henry kept lowering his fork every so often to look around the room, in search of something.

    “Where’s Bertha?” he said at last. “She usually comes by here.”

    “Probably busy somewhere else. I gotta hand it to her—she really has drive. If I were in her position, I’d just forge Lona’s signature and call it a day.”

    Henry searched some more, then went back to eating, clearly unsatisfied. Some minutes later, Michael heard the clang of a tray beside them, followed by a familiar voice: “Hey!”

    Michael turned to see that Leroy had come by. He was wearing plain clothes, and his backpack was dutifully handing from his shoulder. Michael nodded at him. “Hey. How’s it going?”

    “Pretty good,” Leroy said. “They pushed my shift back into the evening today, so I have time off.”

    “What does the Gym do in the evening?”

    “Keep records, mostly. Clean up—that sort of stuff. It’s actually pretty cool. With the crowd gone, it’s really calm and quiet. A few kids come in who make appointments, and they get additional battling lessons from the staff.”

    At this, Henry looked up. “Hey, that’s cool! I didn’t know the Gym did that.”

    Leroy chuckled. “Well, yeah. A lot of people say it’s a pain, but it does do stuff that other Gyms don’t. I’m glad there’s at least one that gives you a little help, ‘cause the League’s not easy. People drop out all the time, I’ve heard, especially in the higher Gyms. I’ve met people who’re on their way back from Pastoria and Sunyshore. It’s not the Gyms themselves that are hard, I think—it’s because of what comes next that most people realize they don’t want to go through it.” With that, he turned down to his tray and began to eat, letting his words trail off into silence.

    But Michael had forgotten his hunger for the time being. He kept looking at Leroy, his elbows resting on the table. “And what comes next?”

    Leroy paused to meet his gaze. “You don’t know?”

    Henry turned to Michael with a similar curious look, though he did more to hide it, since he knew the reason. The boy cleared his throat. “Well, we know the basics of it, right?” he said to Leroy. “When you beat all the Gyms you’re officially qualified for the League Tournament. They do them once every two years, and once you’re qualified, all you have to do is register two months before the next one. There’s a tournament this year, one in 1965… and yeah.”

    “Okay but how does this tournament actually work?” Michael asked. “Do you just battle the Elite Four to see if you win?”

    Leroy began to laugh. “I’d start reading up on that if I were you,” he said. “Nearly all the trainers I’ve met know it front and back, and they say that it’s nothing like the Gym circuit. For one thing, the Elite Four tournament is when you battle trainers. It’s the League’s way of filtering out the bad competition. Basically, when the tournament rolls around, Sinnoh gets divided into districts, with each Gym being responsible for its own section of the country. So wherever you live, the Gym nearest you is the one you’d go to for the event. They set up a huge arena, and you battle the trainers in your district in a double-knockout tournament. There are five finalists per district, so that makes forty from all over Sinnoh. Once the preliminary rounds are over in all the cities, the finalists go to this special island off the Eastern coast and have another tournament. This time, there’s only one winner. One winner for all of Sinnoh—that’s the one who gets to challenge the Elite Four.”

    “What happens if they lose?” Michael asked.

    “Then their name just gets put down in the records as ‘Tournament Winner.’ The privilege doesn’t trickle over to the runner-up, if that’s what you mean.” Seeing Michael’s look of puzzlement, Leroy smiled. “Yep. That’s how it is. The good part is that if you lose the tournament, you still have your badges. So you can train up and register again next time. Most people in the finals are typically older, like seventeen or eighteen. They usually spend a few years after the Gyms to prepare for the Elite Four. Come to think of it, I don’t get why they let people as young as nine get badges. A lot of the young kids don’t really know what they’re doing, and they always end up stalling at some point or another because they lose interest or aren’t able to train their teams well enough. I’d put the mark at eleven, at least.”

    Henry breathed a sigh of relief.

    “They probably do it to push people into getting a new hobby…” Michael murmured.

    “It wasn’t like that all the time, though,” Leroy said. “Before Ricky Sheldon, all the Champions before were in their 30s. Some were even older.”

    Henry began to count off the tips of his fingers. “It’s true!” he said. “There was Bob Gordon, thirty-three. Then Alexia Chambers, thirty-one, Barry Thornburg thirty-four, Lydia Hodnett, thirty… they were all adults. This nine-years-old rule must be pretty new, then.”

    Leroy nodded. “It is. Lona’s staff say it got put into effect around ten years ago. They say that that was when everything changed.”

    Michael’s eyes found Leroy again. “Changed?”

    “Yeah. The staff know a lot about it, actually. Some of them have been into the League for a long time, and they say that twenty years ago, it was way different. The League wasn’t as widespread as it is now, but it was way harder. The Gyms were like battling clubs that served as training grounds for the tournament; you didn’t have to beat the leader or anything to advance. Badges were more like medals that you’d earn for demonstrating your skills. You could enter competitions without them, but the more you had, the more recognition it gave you. The one that people wanted most of all, of course, was the badge you’d get for beating the Elite Four.” Leroy paused, then as if remembering something, added, “Oh, and back then, the League was its own identity. The government didn’t need to pay for any of its events because it organized them all on its own. But I guess somewhere along the way, the League decided to let the government step in and take charge.” He shrugged.

    There was a brief lapse in conversation as Michael absorbed these last few words. They didn’t carry any special meaning to him, but even so, he wondered offhand what they would have meant to Bertha.

    After the boys were done eating, they emptied their trays and left the cafeteria. Leroy stuck around as they ventured down the hall, and they stopped by the lobby to form a triangle.

    “So what are you guys gonna do today?” Leroy asked. “I don’t have to go to work anytime soon, so we could hang out.”

    “How about we practice?” Henry offered.

    Michael responded with a scowl. “Pshaw. Practice?” He began to snicker. Leroy joined in with a restrained smile, and Henry’s flushed with irritation.

    “I mean it, guys!” he said. “We start staff battles tomorrow, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be held back another week because I lost my first time. Or were you missing the way that Lona yelled at you, Michael?” Henry crossed his arms with a smirk.

    Michael’s laughter subsided, and he stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Yeah, I guess you have a point. But let’s make it quick, okay? No four-hour sessions like last week.”

    “Fine.”

    With Henry leading the way, the boys went out to the backyard. Much like in the other hotels, there was ample space for trainers to roam and socialize. Grass and trees dominated the area, with little islands of pavement set aside for picnic tables. Henry stopped at their usual spot by an oak tree, and the three of them set down their stuff. Once his arms were free, Michael swung them around and clapped his hands together.

    “So what do you want to do?” he asked Henry. “Practice the moves again? Check counters? Squirt people with Water Gun?”

    Henry giggled. “No. I was thinking we could have a battle.”

    “A battle?” Michael perked an eyebrow.

    “Yes, a battle. Come on, we’ve never battled before. And now that our pokémon are more powerful, we should test them out.”

    “I’m cool with that,” said Leroy. “If you guys want, I could be like your referee. I know the staff are pretty big on rules, so I could tell you what you’re allowed to do and whatnot.”

    “Sounds good,” Michael said.

    Pulling their backpacks along, he and Henry stepped a distance of several feet away from each other. Leroy knelt down in the shade of a nearby tree.

    As he took out his first pokéball, Michael looked over to Henry and gave the boy a smirk. “Are you sure you want to do this?”

    “Yes,” Henry replied, with a returning smile.

    “You know I’ll win.”

    “Well, it’s worth a try, isn’t it? Plus we have to check how well our pokémon learned those moves.”

    Michael let out a laugh. “Whatever you say…” He twisted open the capsule and sent out his first pokémon. “Go, Turtwig!”

    Turwtig emerged from a flash of light, fully healed and without a single cut or bruise on his body. When he saw Henry, the pokémon clicked his jaws.

    Henry was kneeling beside his tote bag, one hand grasping the pokéball he had chosen. But upon seeing Turtwig, he dropped the capsule and switched for another one. “Go, Starly!”

    The jet of light from the pokéball shot out into the air and materialized into the screeching black bird. Michael pursed his lips, watching Starly flap in circles above them. He looked down at Turtwig and called him back, fetching another capsule. “Go, Ringo!”

    The Chatot emerged, his colored wings flashing, and climbed to Starly’s height in the air. Ringo began to hum as he followed the other bird, sensing the chance to attack. Henry’s smile fell into a determined pout. “Starly, return!” The black bird was plucked out of the air, and moments later another capsule burst to release its replacement.

    “Go, Pachirisu!”

    The white squirrel landed in the grass, static crackling around its cheeks, and began to scamper towards its opponent. Michael jumped forward with two pokéballs, releasing two beams of light—one going upward, recalling Ringo, and the other carrying a tiny body into the grass. “Go, Caterpie!”

    The Bug pokémon had barely emerged from the capsule before the air was split by the sound of two more: “Go, Clefable!”

    Pachirisu vanished like a mirage, swallowed by a burning torrent of light. When it cleared away, Clefable landed in his place, right in front of Caterpie. Michael gritted his teeth. “Go, Machop!”

    He thrust forth his last, unopened capsule and was about to unlock it before Leroy’s voice rang above the din: “Guys, stop!”

    Michael and Henry turned in unison to their companion. Leroy ran over to them with his arms outstretched. “Guys, you can’t battle like this!”

    “Who says I can’t?” Michael said. “He counters, I counter back.”

    Leroy sighed, letting his arms plop against his sides. “Yeah, but then you’ll never get to the actual battle. And that’s kind of important too, you know.” He swept his gaze over the mess of pokéballs that littered the battlefield. “Send them back.”

    The boys complied, and their pokémon vanished. Leroy put his hands on his hips. “Now give all of them to me. I’ll pick out the ones you’ll use.”

    Michael and Henry gathered all the capsules into their arms and dropped them into the shady grass. Leroy mixed them around and picked two at random: “Caterpie and Starly.”

    Michael drew back out of reflex. “No!”

    “Yes.” Leroy handed Michael the silver pokéball, and Henry his. “Look at it this way—chances are, not all of the staff’s pokémon will be type-weak to yours. You might have to face one that has the advantage. They take note of every time you switch battlers, and if they see you do it too much, it gets counted against you.” Leroy leaned back against the trunk of the tree and crossed his arms with a smirk. “I’m waaiiting.”

    Neither Michael nor Henry could dispute Leroy’s point, so without a word, they took their places on the field and sent out their pokémon. Caterpie landed in the grass, displacing the blades with a whisper, and vanished into the green carpet. Starly dove into the air, fanning out his wings as he tested the air currents, and settled into a circular flight around the two boys. His sharp black eyes scanned the field, searching for his would-be prey. But Caterpie’s coloring blended so well with the grass that even from where he stood, Michael could only discern her by her red pincers, which clicked periodically as she adjusted her position. This gave him an idea.

    Michael tore his gaze briefly to the Starly. “Caterpie, come up!” he said.

    Caterpie emerged slowly into the light, latching onto a blade of grass for support. Starly’s eyes found her immediately, and he dove forward, kicking up a gust of wind in his descent.

    “Peck, Starly!” came Henry’s shout.

    Starly folded his wings against his body and plunged into a deadly free-fall, his orange beak gleaming like a spear. Caterpie vanished in an instant, popping back into the shade and scurrying away as fast as her legs would allow. A second too late, Starly realized that his prey was gone. Unable to stop in time, he tumbled into the empty patch, and rolled several times before sweeping his belly off the ground again. He gained height, dirt sprinkling from his flapping wings.

    “Again!” Michael called to the grass, eagerly sweeping his gaze across the unmoving lawn. He had no idea where Caterpie was, and as it seemed, neither did Starly. The bird pokémon flicked back and forth across the battlefield, keeping as low as possible to the ground while it scanned the underlayer. By luck, Caterpie’s head poked out just a few feet away, clicking her pincers tauntingly. Starly pounced, but Caterpie ducked out of the way just in time, and his beak plunged into empty ground. Michael smiled.

    Across from him, Henry watched with frustration, his fingers curling and uncurling around the silver pokéball. For a while he said nothing. A look of thoughtful determination came over Henry’s face as his gaze trailed over to Michael. Michael responded with a playful wave. He was determined to let the game continue until Starly wore out, then finish with String Shot to bind him in place. But rather than smirking back, Henry’s frown only deepened. The boy looked down at Starly, then all of a sudden he seemed to reach a conclusion. His eyes flashed.

    “Starly, use Wing Attack!” he said. “Sweep it over the ground!”

    The strange command caught Michael unawares at first, but a second later the logic of Henry’s plan fell into place. Starly began to beat his wings, generating a gust of wind that flattened the grass beneath him. The blades twisted and tangled, and from within, Caterpie reappeared, sailing over their tops like a windblown leaf. The wind tossed her up into the air, and Starly dove, opening his beak to catch her.

    “No—String Shot!”

    Michael took a step forward, forgetting the rules in his excitement. Caterpie tumbled down into Starly’s waiting mouth, leaving behind a trail of silvery webbing that she had just begun to spin in a frenzy. The string wrapped around Starly’s wings just as he caught her with his beak, and they both fell into the grass.

    Leroy began to clap. “Woo! Now that’s how you battle. And you thought you’d lose!” he said to Michael. “I’m telling you, that Caterpie’s a fighter. Great work, both of you.”

    Michael and Henry untangled the pokémon and called them back. Leroy rummaged through his pile and held out two more. “Machop and Pachirisu!”

    He tossed them two new pokéballs, and the battle continued.

    From the start, it became clear that the long days of partner battles hadn’t been a waste on Henry. The boy had picked up some tricks, and his pokémon were both nimbler and more confident than they had been before. More than once, Michael found himself on the losing end of the rally: Machop would aim a Focus Punch right at Pachirisu’s nose, only to find that the tiny squirrel had slipped away and was now scampering over his back and shoulders, zapping at the exposed skin. Occasionally Machop dealt a good blow, but his reflexes couldn’t match the squirrel’s speed, and his struggles soon deteriorated into a mindless chase after Pachirisu’s tail. Michael’s good-humored outlook soon vanished, replacing Henry’s face with the face of the nameless enemy. Henry changed likewise, and soon the boys stopped making eye contact, following the pokémon with their unwavering gazes. Pachirisu’s teasing continued until Machop became sufficiently irritated, then Henry dealt the final blow: “Use Spark!”

    That static that was cracking around Pachirisu’s cheeks suddenly intensified, and the squirrel’s body was consumed by a yellow glow. The shockwave transferred by contact, and Machop let out a yowl as the electricity seared through him. He collapsed, fingers twitching.

    Michael gritted his teeth. “This isn’t over!”

    From the side, Leroy held up the next pair. “Burmy and Turtwig!”

    Michael hastily switched pokéballs, too caught up in the battle to care that Leroy had given them a Grass-Grass combination. Turtwig emerged, the not-quite-green colors of his body standing out against the rest of the field. Over the weeks, the pokémon had visibly grown in size. Where before, he had been no bigger than a playground ball, the tip of his stem now skimmed just above Michael’s knee. The pads of Turtwig’s feet were rounder and bigger, which made him sturdier.

    Burmy landed in front of him a few seconds later, his pink skin immediately vanishing as he pulled over a cloak of leaves. Two yellow eyes peeked out of the pile, blinking at Turtwig with blank wonder. Michael knew that at any moment, Burmy could use Protect, and flee into an impenetrable shell of leaves that could last for whole minutes. He immediately tossed out Razor Leaf as an option, and decided to stick with physical moves.

    Turtwig advanced towards Burmy slowly, crouching like a Glameow about to pounce. Burmy remained still, his limbs inching ever so slightly in to the folds of his cloak. Michael could sense the command on the tip of Henry’s tongue, and knew that Burmy could swiftly follow. Michael let Turtwig advance some more, until the two pokémon were only a foot away from each other.

    They waited.

    Finally, Henry broke the silence: “Burmy, use Bug Bite!”

    “Turtwig, Tackle!”

    The pokémon collided and began to wrestle, growling and scratching. Their struggle traced a slow, laborious path across the field, resembling a game of tug-o-war. Turtwig had ducked his head and was pushing at Burmy with all his might, and Burmy pushed back with his stubby arms, trying to grasp his opponent’s head. Suddenly the formation broke, and the pokémon collapsed onto each other, Turtwig kicking and butting with his head, and Burmy hopping around the blows, stealing occasional nips at Turtwig’s skin. With Burmy on the offensive, Turtwig had the chance to attack as much as possible without fearing Protect, though with Bug Bite on Henry’s side, Michael knew they didn’t have much time. He sensed an impending loss, but he pushed forward without knowing why, trying to uphold Turtwig’s stamina as much as possible. He avoided long pauses between commands, which had been his downfall many times before, and instead kept an active mental involvement. He shuffled around his side of the field, moving whenever his view of Turtwig was obstructed, commanding with his hands as well as his voice.

    “Knock him down!” he called, slapping his hand through the air. Turtwig, whose head was turned to the side in defense, suddenly lashed out at Burmy and knocked him back.

    “Don’t take that!” Henry replied, hands on his knees. Like Michael, his cheeks were pink and he had shouted himself hoarse. “You got this! Use Bug Bite!”

    “Headbutt!”

    Michael’s command came a second too late—Burmy pushed himself at Turtwig, making them both fall, and began to bite with greater rapidity than ever. Turtwig withdrew into his shell for safety, flinching aside whenever he felt a jolt from Burmy. Michael let out a groan.

    “Don’t quit, dammit! Get up! Kick him, get him off you!”

    Burmy began to pound the shell like a nut, though he wasn’t strong enough to move it, and tried to scare Turtwig into coming out again. Michael began to tap his foot in exaggeration.

    “I said—HEADBUTT!”

    Right then, Michael saw the tip of Turtwig’s head poke out from its hole. It was followed by the rest of his four limbs, and his tiny tail. The pokémon’s eyes were narrowed, though Michael could tell that Turtwig was nearing the end of his string.

    “Now end it!” he growled.

    It turned out, that was all he needed to say.

    As Burmy made a final lunge from behind, Turtwig swiveled around and met him with his head, butting Burmy back towards the ground. Turtwig hopped after him and began to knock him around. The pokémon had gone through nearly ten minutes of nonstop battling, and were both equally exhausted. The winning blow, it seemed, could be struck by either one.

    Finally, Henry’s focus seemed to snap. He stood up straight and moved to the side, so that he could keep Burmy in full view. “Use Protect!”

    Burmy eagerly withdrew, just as Turtwig had done, into his cloak. The leaves hardened, flattening against each other and molding into a smooth, egg-shaped shell. Turtwig stopped kicking and stood still, sitting back on his hind legs. Henry’s face was lifted by a hopeful smile. “Burmy, come out!”

    At first, nothing happened. Then the green shell began to totter, as if pushed by a brief gust of wind, and fell softly to the side. It did not move again. Henry’s arms fell against his sides in dismay. Michael was unable to fathom what had happened. He beamed, then began to laugh, clapping his hands.

    “Woo! Now that’s what I’m talking about! Ha!”

    Henry’s face fell into a pout. Before he could say anything, Leroy held up the final two pokéballs. “This is gonna be a good one,” he said. “Ringo and Clefable!”

    The boys’ eyes widened in unison. They returned their pokémon and switched for the new set, holding the pokéballs out at arm’s length.

    “Ready when you are,” Henry said.

    Michael grinned in return. “Go!”

    Ringo dove out of the capsule, soaring into the sky as the last traces of light faded from his body. At the same time, Clefable emerged onto solid ground, one arm touching the ground for balance, and straightened to look up at the sky.

    “Clefable, use Gravity!”

    Michael countered: “Ringo, distract her!”

    As Clefable closed her eyes, Ringo flew forward, talons bared. The rest was a blur of feathers and claws, arms and wings grappling to gain the upper hand. Michael soon felt the familiar weight from Gravity set in, pressing down on his shoulders. Ringo’s flight became sluggish and labored, but the bird managed to stay aloft, his head craned down, eyelids half-lowered in irritation. But due to the battlers’ close proximity, the force affected Clefable as well, slowing down her motions. The more she tried to increase the downward pull, the closer Ringo came to her, until his pestering caused her to lose concentration. Clefable altered between releasing her hold on Gravity entirely, or making the weight so strong that she could barely move.

    Seeing Gravity’s futility, Henry sacrificed it to take the offense. Clefable used a string of Psybeams, which plunged Ringo into an alternate reality. He began to flap in circles, chasing his own tail feathers, murmuring unintelligible suspicions. Michael tried to calm him, resorting to the strategy he had learned from Rick.

    “Ringo!” he called, looking up at the bird. “Do you hear me? Listen! I’m Michael. I’m your friend. We help our friends. I want you to use Aerial Ace. Fight back and use Aerial Ace!”

    After a minute of goading, during which Gravity had pulled the bird down a great deal, Ringo finally came to. He locked his eyes on Clefable, recognizing her a the source of his torment, and lashed out with a raged screech. He shot forward like a bullet, wings flat against his sides, and made a sharp swoop overhead slashed at her with his claws. He made a loop in the air and slashed again, making Clefable totter.

    Henry curled a fist. “No, Clefable! Use Psychic!”

    Clefable steadied herself and closed her eyes. Over the days, Michael had learned to recognize her when she was in deep focus. He knew he had the chance to attack again, but part of him wanted to see what she had made of Jerry’s technique.

    After a few silent seconds, Clefable opened her eyes. They were a blazing pink. A wind kicked up around her feet, stirring the grass, rippling the comma of hair on her head.

    Ringo was circling madly through the air, sensing an impending danger, but not knowing where it would strike. All of a sudden, the grass beneath him began to stir, crumbs of dirt and leaves kicked up by the twister. Ringo’s outline began to glow with pink light, and the bird’s motions halted. He began to bob freely through the air, not flying, but held aloft by Clefable’s psychic energy. If Michael had come to his senses right then to give a command, it would have been in vain. A sharp pulse ripped across the invisible connection between the two pokémon, and reached Ringo’s body. The bird let out a yelp, then suddenly the connection was severed, and he fell to the ground like a dropped toy. He plopped into the grass and did not move.

    The color faded from Clefable’s eyes, and she wobbled on her feet, dizzy from the sudden loss of energy. Michael did not make a move to return Ringo. He simply stood, watching the bird, a part of him still believing that something else would happen. Henry, who must have felt the same, waited as well.

    Then, slowly, the lump of feathers let out a growl. Ringo rose to his feet, ruffling his plumage, feathers sticking out at odd ends.

    Like a bolt of lightning, too quick for the eye to see, Ringo lunged at Clefable and began to peck and scratch with vicious speed, thwacking her from side to side. After a brief lapse in concentration, Clefable realized what was happening and began to fight back, though her exhausted blows soon fell out of rhythm with her foe’s. When the bird had pestered her past her breaking point, she collapsed, her back rising with rapid breaths.

    Still frazzled, Ringo flew back to Michael and perched on his shoulder, digging his claws into his trainer’s skin.

    “Fine, I’m sorry." Michael laughed. “It won’t happen again.” Ringo snorted in response, sounding strangely like Michael himself.

    There was clear relief on Henry’s face as he and Michael sent back their pokémon. With the battle no longer weighing on his mind, the boy’s face lost that curious look of deep thought it had previously assumed, and was one more bright and Henry-like.

    “Wow, I didn’t think it would get that intense!” he said. “Ringo did really well—no, all of your team did!”

    “Thanks,” Michael said. “You did pretty good too.”

    Off to the side, Leroy stood up and wiped his forehead. “Man, that was some battle! Really impressive, both of you.” He handed the pokéballs back, and the boys put them away.

    “I guess it’s true what they say about battling your friends,” said Leroy, crossing his arms.

    Michael turned to him. “And what’s that?”

    “They bring out the best in each other.”




    //////



    After leaving the field, Michael and Henry healed their teams and went with Leroy on a walk through town. They wandered well into the afternoon, until the time came for Leroy’s next shift, and he ran off to the hotel to get changed. Michael and Henry were left alone, pacing down a busy street, not following any clear-cut plan of direction. The sun was beginning to set, bathing the town in orange light. To their left was an area of flat, empty land bordered by a low fence. To their right, the street rolled out all the way to the horizon, ferrying cars and wagons on its back.

    Henry was eating an ice cream cone that he had purchased at one of the roadside shops, holding napkins in both hands to keep the melting cream from dripping. Michael had purchased a bag of sweets, and the two of them strolled amiably along, enjoying their snacks.

    “I’m really glad we did this today,” said Henry, breaking the stretched silence.

    “Did what?” Michael replied.

    “The battle. Walking around and stuff. It was a lot of fun.”

    “Yep.” Michael nodded in agreement. “Think you’re ready for the staff battles?”

    Henry shrugged. “I don’t know. I hope so.” He looked up at Michael. “You?”

    “Same.” Spilling the last few chocolates into his palm, Michael crumpled the empty bag and dropped it into a waste bin. “Listen, don’t let all the stuff people say get to your head. I bet the staff battles are just like the regular ones, only against more tactical people. And judging by our battle earlier, I’d say we’re good to go.”

    “Me too.” Henry smiled. “I’m really glad we met Ted,” he said. “If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think I would have done nearly as well in my battles. Protect came in handy loads of times. So did Psychic.”

    “Yeah…” Michael looked up at the trees that dotted the pastures. “Still kinda feel sorry for the guy, though.”

    “Why?”

    “Come on, look at the facts—he sits in his house all day dusting his encyclopedias. The guy needs a new hobby; something that’ll get him into town, actually talking with people.” Suddenly, an idea came to him. Michael snapped his fingers and turned to Henry with a grin. “You know what we should do? We should find that lady he was talking about and hook them up for a date.”

    Henry’s eyebrows climbed to the tip of his forehead. “A date?” He pronounced the word slowly, like it was something foreign and strange to him. Michael nodded.

    “Yes. A date. Don’t tell me you didn’t notice anything in the way he talked that other day. He obviously saw a girl he liked—and not for the first time, either—and now he wants to see her again. But he’s trying to be sly about it, partly because he wants to save face in front of us, but also because he either hasn’t felt this way about a girl in a long time, or at all. That’s why he keeps her letters at the top of his shelf like that. He doesn’t want to throw them away, because they’re from her, for Pete’s sake, but it still feels strange to read them; it’s like every time he thinks about it, he goes down the same train of thought a thousand times, and it leaves him feeling even worse than when he started out. So he finally decides that it’s all a waste of time, that a girl like that would never look at him anyway, and shoves the letter aside. He lets it sit on the shelf for a few days, then when he’s got nothing to do and feels lonely, he goes back through his papers and ‘accidentally’ comes across the letter again. Then he goes through the same cycle as before. Meanwhile, that girl’s out there somewhere, living her life, happily forgetting all about the guy who met her some weeks ago. She might even like him back, but she’s confused as to why she never sees him, and why he always takes off like a bullet the minute that she does. There’s no progress at all. We can’t just sit and do nothing about it.” Michael turned to Henry with a steely, resolute expression. What he found was that the boy was staring at him in utter amazement.

    “How do you know so much?” the boy asked. His eyes looked like they could swallow him whole.

    Michael patted his chest. “I’m an expert.”

    Henry was silent for a moment, watching the ground. Then he looked up. “Have you had a girlfriend before?”

    Michael began to laugh. “That’s like asking a fish if it’s ever seen water. Of course.” Then the smile faded, and he let out a sigh. “Well, technically speaking, I’ve only had two. Two that I’d call ‘official’, like going out and being alone and stuff. Before that, everyone’s a kid, and you know, you never really take it outside of school.” He paused. Henry was silent, but he appeared to be listening. “I had one last year,” Michael continued. “Her name was Rebecca.”

    Henry smiled. “Was she pretty?”

    "Hell yes. It didn't go too well in the end, though. She ended up moving to a different city.”

    "Why?"

    Michael scowled. "Her dad got transferred, and her parents wanted her to go to a different school. She said it was to get a better education. Apparently the people at our school were too much of a ‘bad influence’. Hmph. She said she'd keep in touch, but I haven't talked to her since." He turned away, casting his gaze over to the neatly-cobbled border that lined the road.

    Henry was silent for a moment. "I'm sorry," he said.

    "S'okay I guess." Michael shrugged. “At any rate, it’s not the first time I’ve been called a hooligan. I know she probably wasn’t thinking of me when she said that, but her parents sure as hell were. That’s all adults can think of me. They see me hanging out with my friends and they think we’re getting wasted or something, when we’re not. They see us run out of a store and they assume we stole something, when we didn’t. I skip class once in three weeks, and I get half that time’s worth of punishment. When I get a bad grade they want me to get a good one, and when I do get a good one they assume I cheated. They think a freaking closed door means it’s the end of the world.”

    “Well, that can’t be true. I close my door sometimes and my mom allows it… as long as I don’t lock it.”

    Michael smiled darkly. “Yeah, you get it off easy. But where I come from, you can be one of two things—a perfect little angel, or an unfixable mess. And for some reason, I’m always on the bad end. Always have been, always will be.”

    “So make them see you as something else,” Henry offered.

    “You don’t get it. There’s no point. To them, I’ll never be anything but a lump in a chair, that kid who’s letting his life pass by right under his nose. They try to help me, but what they don’t get is that I don’t need their help. And I don’t want it.” Feeling an urge to stretch his spine, Michael straightened, looking squarely ahead. “I know exactly where I’m going. And if I ever forget, I’ll find my way again. I don’t need anyone to do anything for me.”

    “Yeah…” came Henry’s sigh. His voice was quiet. “I wish I could be like you.”

    Michael rolled his eyes. “Stop it with the ‘me’ stuff. Just be Henry. He’s not that bad a cat… when he doesn’t complain.”

    Henry giggled. “I bet that’s true.”

    They continued walking, falling silent just as they passed by the marketplace. The plaza was teeming with people, some who rushed between the indoor shops, and others who floated around the tables and baskets that stood in the open air. The boys stopped for a moment, and suddenly, Michael felt Henry grab his arm.

    “Michael, wait!” Henry said, pulling him back with a gasp.

    “What? What is it?” Michael began to jerk his head around, looking for the source of the boy’s panic. Then his eyes landed on Henry, who was standing with one hand loosely curled into a fist, as if on the threshold of a monumental revelation.

    “Didn’t Ted say that he kept seeing that lady in the marketplace?”

    “Yeah.”

    Henry glanced over to the crowd. “What did she look like?”

    Michael bent his head back as he tried to remember. “Uh… what was it… red heels, cardigan, hat, and skirt.” He looked over to Henry, who was tapping his chin, still not tearing his eyes away from the outdoor tents. “Why, what is it?”

    “I think I just saw her,” Henry said. “The hat and heels, I mean. No one else is wearing them.”

    Michael opened his eyes all the way, bringing himself to full attention. “Where is she?”

    “Hang on… I just lost her.” Henry’s eyes swept across the scene, following a random path of movement, as if trying to locate a fly. Then, his face lit up, and he pointed. “There! Over by the fountain!”

    Michael’s eyes landed on a column of gushing water that spurted from a stone bowl in the center of the plaza. A fleeting pair of red heels flew across the pavement, though the body attached to them was constantly flitting in and out of view from behind people and objects. The boys immediately ran in pursuit, keeping the shoes in view as they zipped through the sea of moving bodies, cutting a beeline through the outdoor stands. As Michael neared the figure, he began to discern the details—the brim of a skirt that skimmed past the knees, a blouse of some sort, and a white denim cardigan, where at once an arm came into view, balancing a small purse.

    The woman came to a stop beside a basket of apples. She leaned over to examine them, but the sunhat kept much of her shoulder area hidden from view. Nevertheless, Michael became certain at that moment that they had found the right person. He and Henry scampered over to a slim tree and hid behind it, peering out from separate sides of the trunk.

    “Can you see who it is?” Henry said.

    Michael squinted. “I can’t tell. She still won’t turn around.” He craned his neck left and right, but no matter how he repositioned himself, he still couldn’t see any part of the lady’s face. From afar, the plain, classy style of her clothing stood out from the dressy frills of the other women, exactly like a city person would stand out in the country. “It’s definitely her, though,” Michael said. “Man, we must have some serious luck…”

    “I wonder where she’s from,” Henry said. “If she doesn’t live in Solaceon like Ted said, then what if she’s on a business trip or something? She's probably really busy during the day, so she leaves her pokémon at the Daycare Center, which would explain why he saw her there."

    Michael thought for a moment, then suddenly he snapped his fingers. “Bertha!”

    “What?” Henry turned. He caught on a second later, and his eyes grew wide. “You don’t think… you don’t think it’s her, do you?”

    “What if it is?” said Michael. “Come on, it makes perfect sense! Look—Ted said himself that he doesn’t think she’s from here. And Bertha isn’t. Ted said that she dresses differently from how other people dress in Solaceon. And Bertha does! She wears heels and hats, doesn’t she? I never saw the other stuff before, but I bet she just bought them in her spare time!” Michael let out a laugh, slapping the trunk of the tree. The utter perfection of the moment astounded him. The pieces had fallen together in the best possible way, and now all that was left was to somehow get the two of them together.

    “This is amazing,” Michael said, unable to contain a smile. “We gotta talk to her. Let’s go.”

    He came out from behind the tree, but just as he was about to approach her, the lady stepped away from the baskets and turned around. The breeze caught her midway as she did, making her skirt ripple, and the sunhat tilt away from her head, revealing a pretty, smiling face. And right then Michael understood that the reason he couldn’t see the woman’s hair was because it wasn’t long enough to dip past the brim of her hat, that the reason Ted mistook her for a foreigner was because she had spent the bulk of her time studying and training somewhere else, and that the reason her figure looked so familiar to him from behind was because he had spent the last two weeks spotting it from every angle and distance, hearing it described with anger and awe by a thousand different voices, to the point where the sound of her name stirred dread within his very heart.




    It was Lona Walker.



    In that instant, an electric shock seemed to course through Michael's body. He stumbled back in breathless shock, eyes bulging, unaware that he was keeping an iron grip on Henry’s shoulder and pulling the boy back by the shirtsleeve. Henry mirrored his reaction, mouth agape, and the boys grabbed at each other’s arms in an attempt to regain their balance. Once they were on their feet, they turned tail and ran away as fast as they could, before the Gym leader could notice them.

    Michael ran like the wind, sailing past a blur of shops and signs, their colors winking past him with lightning speed. He continued up the block as far as his legs would allow, till he found a tree that stood alone by the sidewalk and skid to a stop beside it. He leaned one arm against the trunk, gasping for air. Henry appeared beside him moments later, his momentum so great that he fell with his knees onto the pavement. For a minute, both boys were too out of breath to speak. Still shaking, Michael and Henry turned to exchange mute, horrified glances.




    A moment later, they burst into laughter.
    Last edited by Mrs. Lovett; 27th July 2013 at 1:06 AM.


    The story of Professor Rowan - Chapter 42 is up!

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  11. #236
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mrs. Lovett View Post
    2.7

    Days passed quickly in the countryside, and before Michael knew it, he was well into his second week in Solaceon.

    The Gym became his second home of sorts, and he was soon able to memorize the names and faces of most of the staff. He never got Lona as his referee again, though as she had seemed to promise from the start, he never got it off easy. His losses soon balanced out with his wins, and the very sidewalk seemed to grow worn from all the times he ran back and forth from the Pokémon Center.
    Seems a little unusual that a Gym so geared toward intensive training doesn't have a Pokemon Center within itself, wouldn't you think?

    Nevertheless, the experience came to his benefit. His chart continued to grow as he amassed data from his battles and Henry’s. Michael began to think ahead of time, and compiled a separate sheet of strategies for each of Lona’s pokémon. In addition, he was able to glean some things about the Gym from listening in on trainers’ conversations. From what he gathered, the staff battles were on an entirely different level than the regular ones. Not only did victories count, but the way they were achieved would also be taken into consideration. Henry often relayed to Michael stories he had heard, though it was hard to separate the bogus from the plausible. Too often the boy would come running to him with his fists gripping his hair, breathlessly sputtering that a rule had been enacted saying that each time your pokémon faints, you lose points. Or, that the staff use pokémon specially bred by the Daycare to possess super strength. Those rumors Michael discarded without much thought, but there were plenty of others that sounded perfectly logical, and caused him more than a slight worry. Was it true that they would only be allowed to switch pokémon three times? Did the staff really keep records of their battling style and pass them on to the next one in line, to see if they could poke holes in the trainer’s strategy?

    Such questions bounced around in Michael’s mind for the whole second week. His concentration on the Gym was broken only by the routine practice-sessions with his pokémon, who after their sixth day, finally mastered the moves Ted had taught them. The Move Tutor inspected them one last time, and congratulated the boys on a job well done.
    Really got a good look into Michael's thoughts in these two paragraphs. Good job.

    “Well, there’s not much else I can say,” Ted told them. “You boys are good to go.”

    After exchanging some brief pleasantries, he went with them to the front door to see them off. As they started to leave, Henry turned back.

    “Wait,” he said. “What if we need to teach more moves in the future? Who will we go to?”

    Ted shrugged. “I’m sure there are other move tutors out there. You’ll just have to ask around. If you want to do the teaching yourself, I guess there’s no harm in it, since you’ve already seen the basics of what I do. There are plenty of do-it-yourself books out there. Just make sure you get a really detailed one. But keep in mind, I’m only talking stuff like Whirlpool, or Razor Leaf. Don’t bother with the complicated techniques, because you’re likely to get it wrong, and God forbid, get your pokémon to hurt itself or you in the process. If you’re going to try with the books, at least get advice from someone who knows the field.”
    This is very realistic, I think. It reflects the reality of the times that they'd have to teach their Pokemon more moves from a book while keeping it simple.

    Henry nodded. “Gotcha.”

    Ted looked over to Michael and inclined his head. “Take care.” His eyes lingered on Michael’s a second longer, then he closed the door.

    Michael stood on the doorstep for a few moments, staring at the wood’s glossy finish. Ted’s parting expression had been kind… but also the tiniest bit nervous, as if he still remembered their conversation from all those days ago. Clearly, Ted felt that he had told them too much, and wanted to take back his words. Michael found it amusing, but also felt a slight pity.

    As the days of battling continued, Michael put the Move Tutor out of his mind, and devoted his full attention to attaining an advancement. Finally, on June 24th, his efforts paid off.

    After concluding yet another battle day and meeting Henry in the lobby, the boys went over to the counter to sign out. The attendant looked over their files and lowered the folders with a smile. “Congratulations,” she said. “You both have been promoted to the staff battles. Miss Walker and her colleagues have assessed your p’rformance and deemed you worthy of moving on.”

    The boys exchanged a glance and smiled.

    “This means that you have a new schedule to abide by,” the lady continued, handing them each a piece of paper. “Starting tomor’ow, you’ll arrive here at 2:00 in the afternoon. During a three-day per’iod, you will face two staff members per day, with a short healing break in between sessions. Your opponents f’r each day will evaluate your performance. Be advised that demotion is possible, so make sure you do as best as you can.” At the end of her recitation, she offered them a wink. “Cong’rats, boys.”


    When they left the building, Michael breathed a sigh of relief. “Finally! No more waking up God-knows-when in the dark and having breakfast at noon… this just made my freaking day.” As he stepped down the stairs, he kissed the paper like an A+ essay and waved it around in the air. (At his school, legend had it that if you did this with the very first test of the year, you would get As on all the others.) Henry giggled and waved his copy as well. Once they had left the Gym’s premises, they folded up the papers and set off down the street.
    I could literally feel the relief they had when they realized they no longer had to get up early.

    “Now at least we know we’re doing something right,” said Henry, patting his pocket. “We don’t have to worry about changing our strategy. All we have to do is keep doing what we’re doing, and we’ll be set!

    “Man, forget about that stuff—what counts is that it’s almost over! Three more days, then it’s battle with Lona, and then we’re free!” Michael spread out his arms, feeling the breeze, expressing with his every step the relief he felt. The feeling soon caught on to Henry as well, and the boy began to laugh, clutching his stomach.
    Again, you can really feel the same emotions they do, which is excellent.

    For the first time in a long while, they had a free day. After healing their pokémon, they stalled in getting back to their room, instead letting their curiosity tug them on an excursion through town. They passed shop windows and open booths, which sold a variety of things from flowers to ice cream. Grocery stores were in abundance, overwhelming almost everything else with a flavorful assortment of fruits and vegetables. The dominant products were milk-derived, to which there seemed to be no shortage.

    As they walked down the street, Michael’s eye landed on a small newsstand that stood by the road. It consisted of a large wooden desk with a clerk standing behind it, and on either side of him, racks displaying newspapers on various topics. Many of them were specialized, devoted to subsets of the population who farmed, knitted, or were just looking for a local news source. Most of the big-name papers were also present, among them The Lakefront Eye, and of course, Sinnoh Post. After a bit of searching, Michael’s eye finally landed upon a thin stack of The Hearthome Times. He grabbed the topmost issue and unfurled it, almost unthinkingly, to the Arts and Recreation section. And there it was, printed plain for all to see: “Item Evolution, by Michael Rowan.”

    He read through the article a couple times, his smile growing ever wider. The words he had written almost two weeks before now seemed strange and imperfect to him, but for precisely that reason, he had no trouble mistaking them for his own. Some parts even stood out to him as ingenious, and he replayed the words in his mind, enjoying the melody in his former thoughts. Jumping towards the end of the article, he read over the brief paragraph Nancy had written as coverage, introducing him and his subject.

    “Michael Rowan, a boy of thirteen, is one of many trainers challenging the Pokémon Gym circuit this year. In his travels, he has remained highly observant — taking note of pokémon and strategies that catch his eye. These and many other experiences have given rise to a new, academic interpretation of pokémon training, which noticeably contrasts with the hotheaded, passionate methods of trainers in the past. By coolly thinking through their moves, and doing their homework before challenging the Gyms, Michael and others of his kind may well play a deciding role in the future of the Pokémon League.”

    At the last sentence, Michael felt a chuckle escaped him. Michael Rowan, he thought to himself. The trainer of the future. The title was strangely fitting.


    Rolling up the paper, he turned to the salesman, who was waiting for him patiently, and handed over some coins. The man bowed his head in return.

    “I am going to keep this until the day I die,” Michael said to Henry as they left the newsstand. “It’s going up on my wall, right over the huge desk I’ll have in my future mansion.”
    I can't really put my finger on exactly why, but I just loved reading this part. It put a smile on my face.

    Henry rolled his eyes jokingly, and Michael waggled his finger in the air. “You’ll see.”

    They took the long way back to the hotel, pausing by stores to window-shop. When they arrived at their destination, it was well into lunchtime, which meant that the cafeteria was buzzing with activity—trainers moving about with metal trays, chairs scraping against the floor, and sounds of clattering tools from the kitchen. The boys immediately joined the food line and sat down to eat. While Michael ate peaceably, Henry kept lowering his fork every so often to look around the room, in search of something.

    “Where’s Bertha?” he said at last. “She usually comes by here.”

    “Probably busy somewhere else. I gotta hand it to her—she really has drive. If I were in her position, I’d just forge Lona’s signature and call it a day.”
    I'll laugh if Bertha ends up actually doing that.

    Leroy paused to meet his gaze. “You don’t know?”

    Henry turned to Michael with a similar curious look, though he did more to hide it, since he knew the reason. The boy cleared his throat. “Well, we know the basics of it, right?” he said to Leroy. “When you beat all the Gyms you’re officially qualified for the League Tournament. They do them once every two years, and once you’re qualified, all you have to do is register two months before the next one. There’s a tournament this year, one in 1965… and yeah.”

    “Okay but how does this tournament actually work?” Michael asked. “Do you just battle the Elite Four to see if you win?”

    Leroy began to laugh. “I’d start reading up on that if I were you,” he said. “Nearly all the trainers I’ve met know it front and back, and they say that it’s nothing like the Gym circuit. For one thing, the Elite Four tournament is when you battle trainers. It’s the League’s way of filtering out the bad competition. Basically, when the tournament rolls around, Sinnoh gets divided into districts, with each Gym being responsible for its own section of the country. So wherever you live, the Gym nearest you is the one you’d go to for the event. They set up a huge arena, and you battle the trainers in your district in a double-knockout tournament. There are five finalists per district, so that makes forty from all over Sinnoh. Once the preliminary rounds are over in all the cities, the finalists go to this special island off the Eastern coast and have another tournament. This time, there’s only one winner. One winner for all of Sinnoh—that’s the one who gets to challenge the Elite Four.”
    This is complicated, but it works. I think it's also a pretty original arrangement for a League tournament, so I look forward to seeing it develop more.

    “What happens if they lose?” Michael asked.

    “Then their name just gets put down in the records as ‘Tournament Winner.’ The privilege doesn’t trickle over to the runner-up, if that’s what you mean.” Seeing Michael’s look of puzzlement, Leroy smiled. “Yep. That’s how it is. The good part is that if you lose the tournament, you still have your badges. So you can train up and register again next time. Most people in the finals are typically older, like seventeen or eighteen. They usually spend a few years after the Gyms to prepare for the Elite Four. Come to think of it, I don’t get why they let people as young as nine get badges. A lot of the young kids don’t really know what they’re doing, and they always end up stalling at some point or another because they lose interest or aren’t able to train their teams well enough. I’d put the mark at eleven, at least.”
    As young as nine? Was the ten-year-old rule not in effect then?

    “They probably do it to push people into getting a new hobby…” Michael murmured.

    “It wasn’t like that all the time, though,” Leroy said. “Before Ricky Sheldon, all the Champions before were in their 30s. Some were even older.”

    Henry began to count off the tips of his fingers. “It’s true!” he said. “There was Bob Gordon, thirty-three. Then Alexia Chambers, thirty-one, Barry Thornburg thirty-four, Lydia Hodnett, thirty… they were all adults. This nine-years-old rule must be pretty new, then.”

    Leroy nodded. “It is. Lona’s staff say it got put into effect around ten years ago. They say that that was when everything changed.”

    Michael’s eyes found Leroy again. “Changed?”

    “Yeah. The staff know a lot about it, actually. Some of them have been into the League for a long time, and they say that twenty years ago, it was way different. The League wasn’t as widespread as it is now, but it was way harder. The Gyms were like battling clubs that served as training grounds for the tournament; you didn’t have to beat the leader or anything to advance. Badges were more like medals that you’d earn for demonstrating your skills. You could enter competitions without them, but the more you had, the more recognition it gave you. The one that people wanted most of all, of course, was the badge you’d get for beating the Elite Four.” Leroy paused, then as if remembering something, added, “Oh, and back then, the League was its own identity. The government didn’t need to pay for any of its events because it organized them all on its own. But I guess somewhere along the way, the League decided to let the government step in and take charge.” He shrugged.
    Is this a nod to the Pokemon Adventures manga to some degree? The concept of not having to get all the Badges to enter the League was used there.

    Excellent history lesson, either way.

    With Henry leading the way, the boys went out to the backyard. Much like in the other hotels, there was ample space for trainers to roam and socialize. Grass and trees dominated the area, with little islands of pavement set aside for picnic tables. Henry stopped at their usual spot by an oak tree, and the three of them set down their stuff. Once his arms were free, Michael swung them around and clapped his hands together.

    “So what do you want to do?” he asked Henry. “Practice the moves again? Check counters? Squirt people with Water Gun?”

    Henry giggled. “No. I was thinking we could have a battle.”

    “A battle?” Michael perked an eyebrow.

    “Yes, a battle. Come on, we’ve never battled before. And now that our pokémon are more powerful, we should test them out.”

    “I’m cool with that,” said Leroy. “If you guys want, I could be like your referee. I know the staff are pretty big on rules, so I could tell you what you’re allowed to do and whatnot.”

    “Sounds good,” Michael said.

    Pulling their backpacks along, he and Henry stepped a distance of several feet away from each other. Leroy knelt down in the shade of a nearby tree.
    This ought to be promising. A protagonist facing another protagonist isn't a common event, and even though I think I can guess who will win, it should be interesting.

    As he took out his first pokéball, Michael looked over to Henry and gave the boy a smirk. “Are you sure you want to do this?”

    “Yes,” Henry replied, with a returning smile.

    “You know I’ll win.”

    “Well, it’s worth a try, isn’t it? Plus we have to check how well our pokémon learned those moves.”

    Michael let out a laugh. “Whatever you say…” He twisted open the capsule and sent out his first pokémon. “Go, Turtwig!”

    Turwtig emerged from a flash of light, fully healed and without a single cut or bruise on his body. When he saw Henry, the pokémon clicked his jaws.

    Henry was kneeling beside his tote bag, one hand grasping the pokéball he had chosen. But upon seeing Turtwig, he dropped the capsule and switched for another one. “Go, Starly!”

    The jet of light from the pokéball shot out into the air and materialized into the screeching black bird. Michael pursed his lips, watching Starly flap in circles above them. He looked down at Turtwig and called him back, fetching another capsule. “Go, Ringo!”
    This isn't going to become an endless recall loop, is it?

    The Chatot emerged, his colored wings flashing, and climbed to Starly’s height in the air. Ringo began to hum as he followed the other bird, sensing the chance to attack. Henry’s smile fell into a determined pout. “Starly, return!” The black bird was plucked out of the air, and moments later another capsule burst to release its replacement.

    “Go, Pachirisu!”

    The white squirrel landed in the grass, static crackling around its cheeks, and began to scamper towards its opponent. Michael jumped forward with two pokéballs, releasing two beams of light—one going upward, recalling Ringo, and the other carrying a tiny body into the grass. “Go, Caterpie!”

    The Bug pokémon had barely emerged from the capsule before the air was split by the sound of two more: “Go, Clefable!”

    Pachirisu vanished like a mirage, swallowed by a burning torrent of light. When it cleared away, Clefable landed in his place, right in front of Caterpie. Michael gritted his teeth. “Go, Machop!”

    He thrust forth his last, unopened capsule and was about to unlock it before Leroy’s voice rang above the din: “Guys, stop!”

    Michael and Henry turned in unison to their companion. Leroy ran over to them with his arms outstretched. “Guys, you can’t battle like this!”
    Thank you for putting a stop to that, Leroy.

    “Who says I can’t?” Michael said. “He counters, I counter back.”

    Leroy sighed, letting his arms plop against his sides. “Yeah, but then you’ll never get to the actual battle. And that’s kind of important too, you know.” He swept his gaze over the mess of pokéballs that littered the battlefield. “Send them back.”

    The boys complied, and their pokémon vanished. Leroy put his hands on his hips. “Now give all of them to me. I’ll pick out the ones you’ll use.”

    Michael and Henry gathered all the capsules into their arms and dropped them into the shady grass. Leroy mixed them around and picked two at random: “Caterpie and Starly.”

    Michael drew back in appall. “No!”

    “Yes.” Leroy handed Michael the silver pokéball, and Henry his. “Look at it this way—chances are, not all of the staff’s pokémon will be type-weak to yours. You might have to face one that has the advantage. They take note of every time you switch battlers, and if they see you do it too much, it gets counted against you.” Leroy leaned back against the trunk of the tree and crossed his arms with a smirk. “I’m waaiiting.”
    Now this is a curious arrangement. Leroy's training idea is pretty logical, though, if what he says about the staff monitoring recalls is true.

    Neither Michael nor Henry could dispute Leroy’s point, so without a word, they took their places on the field and sent out their pokémon. Caterpie landed in the grass, displacing the blades with a whisper, and vanished into the green carpet. Starly dove into the air, fanning out his wings as he tested the air currents, and settled into a circular flight around the two boys. His sharp black eyes scanned the field, searching for his would-be prey. But Caterpie’s coloring blended so well with the grass that even from where he stood, Michael could only discern her by her red pincers, which clicked periodically as she adjusted her position. This gave him an idea.
    Nitpick: Caterpie has antennae, not pincers.

    Michael tore his gaze briefly to the Starly. “Caterpie, come up!” he said.

    Caterpie emerged slowly into the light, latching onto a blade of grass for support. Starly’s eyes found her immediately, and he dove forward, kicking up a gust of wind in his descent.

    “Peck, Starly!” came Henry’s shout.

    Starly folded his wings against his body and plunged into a deadly free-fall, his orange beak gleaming like a spear. Caterpie vanished in an instant, popping back into the shade and scurrying away as fast as her legs would allow. A second too late, Starly realized that his prey was gone. Unable to stop in time, he tumbled into the empty patch, and rolled several times before sweeping his belly off the ground again. He gained height, dirt sprinkling from his flapping wings.

    “Again!” Michael called to the grass, eagerly sweeping his gaze across the unmoving lawn. He had no idea where Caterpie was, and as it seemed, neither did Starly. The bird pokémon flicked back and forth across the battlefield, keeping as low as possible to the ground while it scanned the underlayer. By luck, Caterpie’s head poked out just a few feet away, her eyes alit with a taunting gleam. Starly pounced, but Caterpie ducked out of the way just in time, and his beak plunged into empty ground. Michael smiled.

    Across from him, Henry watched with frustration, his fingers curling and uncurling around the silver pokéball. For a while he said nothing. A look of thoughtful determination came over Henry’s face as his gaze trailed over to Michael. Michael responded with a playful wave. He was determined to let the game continue until Starly wore out, then finish with String Shot to bind him in place. But rather than smirking back, Henry’s frown only deepened. The boy looked down at Starly, then all of a sudden he seemed to reach a conclusion. His eyes flashed.
    I wonder what Michael is planning exactly...

    “Starly, use Wing Attack!” he said. “Sweep it over the ground!”

    The strange command caught Michael unawares at first, but a second later the logic of Henry’s plan fell into place. Starly began to beat his wings, generating a gust of wind that flattened the grass beneath him. The blades twisted and tangled, and from within, Caterpie reappeared, sailing over their tops like a windblown leaf. The wind tossed her up into the air, and Starly dove, opening his beak to catch her.

    “No—String Shot!”

    Michael took a step forward, forgetting the rules in his excitement. Caterpie tumbled down into Starly’s waiting mouth, leaving behind a trail of silvery webbing that she had just begun to spin in a frenzy. The string wrapped around Starly’s wings just as he caught her with his beak, and they both fell into the grass.

    Leroy began to clap. “Woo! Now that’s how you battle. And you thought you’d lose!” he said to Michael. “I’m telling you, that Caterpie’s a fighter. Great work, both of you.”
    A tie, then?

    Michael and Henry untangled the pokémon and called them back. Leroy rummaged through his pile and held out two more. “Machop and Pachirisu!”

    He tossed them two new pokéballs, and the battle continued.

    From the start, it became clear that the long days of partner battles hadn’t been a waste on Henry. The boy had picked up some tricks, and his pokémon were both nimbler and more confident than they had been before. More than once, Michael found himself on the losing end of the rally: Machop would aim a Focus Punch right at Pachirisu’s nose, only to find that the tiny squirrel had slipped away and was now scampering over his back and shoulders, zapping at the exposed skin. Occasionally Machop dealt a good blow, but his reflexes couldn’t match the squirrel’s speed, and his struggles soon deteriorated into a mindless chase after Pachirisu’s tail. Michael’s good-humored outlook soon vanished, replacing Henry’s face with the face of the nameless enemy. Henry changed likewise—the boys no longer made eye contact, following the pokémon with their unwavering gazes. Pachirisu’s teasing continued until Machop became sufficiently irritated, then Henry dealt the final blow: “Use Spark!”

    That static that was cracking around Pachirisu’s cheeks suddenly intensified, and the squirrel’s body was consumed by a yellow glow. The shockwave transferred by contact, and Machop let out a yowl as the electricity seared through him. He collapsed, fingers twitching.
    That really was excellent description of their mindsets in battle.

    One question, though, is that "shockwave" as in a general shock wave or "Shock Wave" the attack?

    Michael gritted his teeth. “This isn’t over!” he said.

    From the side, Leroy held up the next pair. “Burmy and Turtwig!”

    Michael hastily switched pokéballs, too caught up in the battle to care that Leroy had given them a Grass-Grass combination. Turtwig emerged, the not-quite-green colors of his body standing out against the rest of the field. Over the weeks, the pokémon had visibly grown in size. Where before, he had been no bigger than a playground ball, the tip of his stem now skimmed just above Michael’s knee. The pads of Turtwig’s feet were rounder and bigger, which made him sturdier.
    Grass VS. Bug actually. Unless this is corrected later in the chapter, it's a pretty major error.

    Finally, Henry’s focus seemed to snap. He stood up straight and moved to the side, so that he could keep Burmy in full view. “Use Protect!”

    Burmy eagerly withdrew, just as Turtwig had done, into his cloak. The leaves hardened, flattening against each other and molding into a smooth, egg-shaped shell. Turtwig stopped kicking and stood still, sitting back on his hind legs. Henry’s face was lifted by a hopeful smile. “Burmy, come out!”

    At first, nothing happened. Then the green shell began to totter, as if pushed by a brief gust of wind, and fell softly to the side. It did not move again. Henry’s arms fell against his sides in dismay. Michael was unable to fathom what had happened. He beamed, then began to laugh, clapping his hands.

    “Woo! Now that’s what I’m talking about! Ha!”

    Henry’s face fell into a pout. Before he could say anything, Leroy held up the final two pokéballs. “This is gonna be a good one,” he said. “Ringo and Clefable!”
    Ringo VS. Clefable?

    "Good one" is an understatement.

    The boys’ eyes widened in unison. They returned their pokémon and switched for the new set, holding the pokéballs out at arm’s length.

    “Ready when you are,” Henry said.

    Michael grinned in return. “Go!”

    Ringo dove out of the capsule, soaring into the sky as the last traces of light faded from his body. At the same time, Clefable emerged onto solid ground, one arm touching the ground for balance, and straightened to look up at the sky.

    “Clefable, use Gravity!”

    Michael countered: “Ringo, distract her!”

    As Clefable closed her eyes, Ringo flew forward, talons bared. The rest was a blur of feathers and claws, arms and wings grappling to gain the upper hand. Michael soon felt the familiar weight from Gravity set in, pressing down on his shoulders. Ringo’s flight became sluggish and labored, but the bird managed to stay aloft, his head craned down, eyelids half-lowered in irritation. But due to the battlers’ close proximity, the force affected Clefable as well, slowing down her motions. The more she tried to increase the downward pull, the closer Ringo came to her, until his pestering caused her to lose concentration. Clefable altered between releasing her hold on Gravity entirely, or making the weight so strong that she could barely move.
    I suppose this is an interesting enough way to handle what Gravity does. It does stretch the game standard a little but it still works.

    Seeing Gravity’s futility, Henry sacrificed it to take the offense. Clefable used a string of Psybeams, which plunged Ringo into an alternate reality. He began to flap in circles, chasing his own tail feathers, murmuring unintelligible suspicions. Michael tried to calm him, resorting to the strategy he had learned from Rick.

    “Ringo!” he called, looking up at the bird. “Do you hear me? Listen! I’m Michael. I’m your friend. We help our friends. I want you to use Aerial Ace. Fight back and use Aerial Ace!”

    After a minute of goading, during which Gravity had pulled the bird down a great deal, Ringo finally came to. He locked his eyes on Clefable, recognizing her a the source of his torment, and lashed out with a raged screech. He shot forward like a bullet, wings flat against his sides, and made a sharp swoop overhead slashed at her with his claws. He made a loop in the air and slashed again, making Clefable totter.
    That's a creative way to break confusion.

    Henry curled a fist. “No, Clefable! Use Psychic!”

    Clefable steadied herself and closed her eyes. Over the days, Michael had learned to recognize her when she was in deep focus. He knew he had the chance to attack again, but part of him wanted to see what she had made of Jerry’s technique.

    After a few silent seconds, Clefable opened her eyes. They were a blazing pink. A wind kicked up around her feet, stirring the grass, rippling the comma of hair on her head.

    Ringo was circling madly through the air, sensing an impending danger, but not knowing where it would strike. All of a sudden, the grass beneath him began to stir, crumbs of dirt and leaves kicked up by the twister. Ringo’s outline began to glow with pink light, and the bird’s motions halted. He began to bob freely through the air, not flying, but held aloft by Clefable’s psychic energy. If Michael had come to his senses right then to give a command, it would have been in vain. A sharp pulse ripped across the invisible connection between the two pokémon, and reached Ringo’s body. The bird let out a yelp, then suddenly the connection was severed, and he fell to the ground like a dropped toy. He plopped into the grass and did not move.
    I have to say, portraying Psychic is a difficult one to pull off, but you did it well.

    The color faded from Clefable’s eyes, and she wobbled on her feet, dizzy from the sudden loss of energy. Michael did not make a move to return Ringo. He simply stood, watching the bird, a part of him still believing that something else would happen. Henry, who must have felt the same, waited as well.

    Then, slowly, the lump of feathers let out a growl. Ringo rose to his feet, ruffling his plumage, feathers sticking out at odd ends.

    Like a bolt of lightning, too quick for the eye to see, Ringo lunged at Clefable and began to peck and scratch with vicious speed, thwacking her from side to side. After a brief lapse in concentration, Clefable realized what was happening and began to fight back, though her exhausted blows soon fell out of rhythm with her foe’s. When the bird had pestered her past her breaking point, she collapsed, her back rising with rapid breaths.
    Whoa, what just happened?

    Still frazzled, Ringo flew back to Michael and perched on his shoulder, digging his claws into his trainer’s skin.

    “Fine, I’m sorry,” he laughed. “It won’t happen again.” Ringo snorted in response, sounding strangely like Michael himself.

    There was clear relief on Henry’s face as he and Michael sent back their pokémon. With the battle no longer weighing on his mind, the boy’s face lost that curious look of deep thought it had previously assumed, and was one more bright and Henry-like.

    “Wow, I didn’t think it would get that intense!” he said. “Ringo did really well—no, all of your team did!”

    “Thanks,” Michael said . “You did pretty good too.”

    Hey went over to Leroy, who stood up and wiped his forehead. “Man, that was some battle! Really impressive, both of you.” He handed the pokéballs back, and the boys put them away.

    “I guess it’s true what they say about battling your friends,” said Leroy, crossing his arms.

    Michael turned to him. “And what’s that?”

    “They bring out the best in each other.”
    That's actually surprisingly astute and true. I like it.

    After leaving the field, Michael and Henry healed their teams and went with Leroy on a walk through town. They wandered well into the afternoon, until the time came for Leroy’s next shift, and he ran off to the hotel to get changed. Michael and Henry were left alone, pacing down a busy street, not following any clear-cut plan of direction. The sun was beginning to set, bathing the town in orange light. To their left was an area of flat, empty land bordered by a low fence. To their right, the street rolled out all the way to the horizon, ferrying cars and wagons on its back.

    Henry was eating an ice cream cone that he had purchased at one of the roadside shops, holding napkins in both hands to keep the melting cream from dripping. Michael had purchased a bag of sweets, and the two of them strolled amiably along, enjoying their snacks.

    “I’m really glad we did this today,” said Henry, breaking the stretched silence.

    “Did what?” Michael replied.

    “The battle. Walking around and stuff. It was a lot of fun.”

    “Yep.” Michael nodded in agreement. “Think you’re ready for the staff battles?”

    Henry shrugged. “I don’t know. I hope so.” He looked up at Michael. “You?”

    “Same.” Spilling the last few chocolates into his palm, Michael crumpled the empty bag and dropped it into a waste bin. “Listen, don’t let all the stuff people say get to your head. I bet the staff battles are just like the regular ones, only against more tactical people. And judging by our battle earlier, I’d say we’re good to go.”

    “Me too.” Henry smiled. “I’m really glad we met Ted,” he said. “If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think I would have done nearly as well in my battles. Protect came in handy loads of times. So did Psychic.”
    This is nice. I mean, just seeing them taking it easy and having a slower, more relaxed pace for a bit feels more comfortable.

    “Yeah…” Michael looked up at the trees that dotted the pastures. “Still kinda feel sorry for the guy, though.”

    “Why?”

    “Come on, look at the facts—he sits in his house all day dusting his encyclopedias. The guy needs a new hobby; something that’ll get him into town, actually talking with people.” Suddenly, an idea came to him. Michael snapped his fingers and turned to Henry with a grin. “You know what we should do? We should find that lady he was talking about and hook them up for a date.”

    Henry’s eyebrows climbed to the tip of his forehead. “A date?” He pronounced the word slowly, like it was something foreign and strange to him. Michael nodded.

    “Yes. A date. Don’t tell me you didn’t notice anything in the way he talked that other day. He obviously saw a girl he liked—and not for the first time, either—and now he wants to see her again. But he’s trying to be sly about it, partly because he wants to save face in front of us, but also because he either hasn’t felt this way about a girl in a long time, or at all. That’s why he keeps her letters at the top of his shelf like that. He doesn’t want to throw them away, because they’re from her, for Pete’s sake, but it still feels strange to read them; it’s like every time he thinks about it, he goes down the same train of thought a thousand times, and it leaves him feeling even worse than when he started out. So he finally decides that it’s all a waste of time, that a girl like that would never look at him anyway, and shoves the letter aside. He lets it sit on the shelf for a few days, then when he’s got nothing to do and feels lonely, he goes back through his papers and ‘accidentally’ comes across the letter again. Then he goes through the same cycle as before. Meanwhile, that girl’s out there somewhere, living her life, happily forgetting all about the guy who met her some weeks ago. She might even like him back, but she’s confused as to why she never sees him, and why he always takes off like a bullet the minute that she does. There’s no progress at all. We can’t just sit and do nothing about it.” Michael turned to Henry with a steely, resolute expression. What he found was that the boy was staring at him in utter amazement.

    “How do you know so much?” the boy asked. His eyes looked like they could swallow him whole.

    Michael patted his chest. “I’m an expert.”
    Michael's got a point, but this line - "I'm an expert" - just made me laugh.

    Henry was silent for a moment, watching the ground. Then he looked up. “Have you had a girlfriend before?”

    Michael began to laugh. “That’s like asking a fish if it’s ever seen water. Of course.” Then the smile faded, and he let out a sigh. “Well, technically speaking, I’ve only had two. Two that I’d call ‘official’, like going out and being alone and stuff. Before that, everyone’s a kid, and you know, you never really take it outside of school.” He paused. Henry was silent, but he appeared to be listening. “I had one last year,” Michael continued. “Her name was Rebecca.”

    Henry smiled. “Was she pretty?”

    "Hell yes. It didn't go too well in the end, though. She ended up moving to a different city.”

    "Why?"

    Michael scowled. "Her dad got transferred, and her parents wanted her to go to a different school. She said it was to get a better education. Apparently the people at our school were too much of a ‘bad influence’. Hmph. She said she'd keep in touch, but I haven't talked to her since." He turned away, casting his gaze over to the neatly-cobbled border that lined the road.

    Henry was silent for a moment. "I'm sorry," he said.

    "S'okay I guess." Michael shrugged. “At any rate, it’s not the first time I’ve been called a hooligan. I know she probably wasn’t thinking of me when she said that, but her parents sure as hell were. That’s all adults can think of me. They see me hanging out with my friends and they think we’re getting wasted or something, when we’re not. They see us run out of a store and they assume we stole something, when we didn’t. I skip class once in three weeks, and I get half that time’s worth of punishment. When I get a bad grade they want me to get a good one, and when I do get a good one they assume I cheated. They think a freaking closed door means it’s the end of the world.”

    “Well, that can’t be true. I close my door sometimes and my mom allows it… as long as I don’t lock it.”

    Michael smiled darkly. “Yeah, you get it off easy. But where I come from, you can be one of two things—a perfect little angel, or an unfixable mess. And for some reason, I’m always on the bad end. Always have been, always will be.”

    “So make them see you as something else,” Henry offered.

    “You don’t get it. There’s no point. To them, I’ll never be anything but a lump in a chair, that kid who’s letting his life pass by right under his nose. They try to help me, but what they don’t get is that I don’t need their help. And I don’t want it.” Feeling an urge to stretch his spine, Michael straightened, looking squarely ahead. “I know exactly where I’m going. And if I ever forget, I’ll find my way again. I don’t need anyone to do anything for me.”
    That was surprisingly profound and bittersweet. I really feel more of an emotional connection to Michael now after that.

    Michael opened his eyes all the way, bringing himself to full attention. “Where is she?”

    “Hang on… I just lost her.” Henry’s eyes swept across the scene, following a random path of movement, as if trying to locate a fly. Then, his face lit up, and he pointed. “There! Over by the fountain!”

    Michael’s eyes landed on a column of gushing water that spurted from a stone bowl in the center of the plaza. A fleeting pair of red heels flew across the pavement, though the body attached to them was constantly flitting in and out of view from behind people and objects. The boys immediately ran in pursuit, keeping the shoes in view as they zipped through the sea of moving bodies, cutting a beeline through the outdoor stands. As Michael neared the figure, he began to discern the details—the brim of a skirt that skimmed past the knees, a blouse of some sort, and a white denim cardigan, where at once an arm came into view, balancing a small purse.

    The woman came to a stop beside a basket of apples. She leaned over to examine them, but the sunhat kept much of her shoulder area hidden from view. Nevertheless, Michael became certain at that moment that they had found the right person. He and Henry scampered over to a slim tree and hid behind it, peering out from separate sides of the trunk.

    “Can you see who it is?” Henry said.

    Michael squinted. “I can’t tell. She still won’t turn around.” He craned his neck left and right, but no matter how he repositioned himself, he still couldn’t see any part of the lady’s face. From afar, the plain, classy style of her clothing stood out from the dressy frills of the other women, exactly like a city person would stand out in the country. “It’s definitely her, though,” Michael said. “Man, we must have some serious luck…”

    “I wonder where she’s from,” Henry said. “If she doesn’t live in Solaceon like Ted said, then what if she’s on a business trip or something? She's probably really busy during the day, so she leaves her pokémon at the Daycare Center, which would explain why he saw her there."

    Michael thought for a moment, then suddenly he snapped his fingers. “Bertha!”

    “What?” Henry turned. He caught on a second later, and his eyes grew wide. “You don’t think… you don’t think it’s her, do you?”

    “What if it is?” said Michael. “Come on, it makes perfect sense! Look—Ted said himself that he doesn’t think she’s from here. And Bertha isn’t. Ted said that she dresses differently from how other people dress in Solaceon. And Bertha does! She wears heels and hats, doesn’t she? I never saw the other stuff before, but I bet she just bought them in her spare time!” Michael let out a laugh, slapping the trunk of the tree. The utter perfection of the moment astounded him. The pieces had fallen together in the best possible way, and now all that was left was to somehow get the two of them together.
    If I hadn't seen the end of the chapter already, I still would have said that Bertha was too obvious a suggestion.

    “This is amazing,” Michael said, unable to contain a smile. “We gotta talk to her. Let’s go.”

    He came out from behind the tree, but just as he was about to approach her, the lady stepped away from the baskets and turned around. The breeze caught her midway as she did, making her skirt ripple, and the sunhat tilt away from her head, revealing a pretty, smiling face. And right then Michael understood that the reason he couldn’t see the woman’s hair was because it wasn’t long enough to dip past the brim of her hat, that the reason Ted mistook her for a foreigner was because she had spent the bulk of her time studying and training somewhere else, and that the reason her figure looked so familiar to him from behind was because he had spent the last two weeks spotting it from every angle and distance, hearing it described with anger and awe by a thousand different voices, to the point where the sound of her name stirred dread within his very heart.




    It was Lona Walker.



    In that instant, an electric shock seemed to course through Michael's body. He stumbled back in breathless shock, eyes bulging, unaware that he was keeping an iron grip on Henry’s shoulder and pulling the boy back by the shirtsleeve. Henry mirrored his reaction, mouth agape, and the boys grabbed at each other’s arms in an attempt to regain their balance. Once they were on their feet, they turned tail and ran away as fast as they could, before the Gym leader could notice them.

    Michael ran like the wind, sailing past a blur of shops and signs, their colors winking past him with lightning speed. He continued up the block as far as his legs would allow, till he found a tree that stood alone by the sidewalk and skid to a stop beside it. He leaned one arm against the trunk, gasping for air. Henry appeared beside him moments later, his momentum so great that he fell with his knees onto the pavement. For a minute, both boys were too out of breath to speak. Still shaking, Michael and Henry turned to exchange mute, horrified glances.




    A moment later, they burst into laughter.
    I burst into laughter too, but underneath that, I think it actually might give us some more development for Lona, too. I mean, think about what implications it could have for her character.

    Very good chapter. Sorry I haven't got more to say, but I don't think it's necessary anyway.

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  12. #237
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    Seems a little unusual that a Gym so geared toward intensive training doesn't have a Pokemon Center within itself, wouldn't you think?
    It has healing rooms (which I'll get into more when we get to the staff battles), but Michael doesn't need them much right now. He arrives at the Gym for a single battle session, then leaves right away and heals his pokemon when he gets the chance at the regular Center. The healing rooms are for people who either didn't have time to heal their pokemon before coming, for whatever reason, or battle at the Gym for prolonged periods of time.

    By "running back and forth from the Pokemon Center," I meant going in general (after the Gym and during the day, etc.), not that Michael was literally leaving the Gym to heal his team and then coming back.

    I guess I should clarify it, either way.

    As young as nine? Was the ten-year-old rule not in effect then?
    Nope. I hinted at this way back in the first chapter when Mrs. Maxwell said "It's that time of year again -- nine-year-olds from all over Sinnoh will be going to get their badges..."

    It's custom, but not a requirement, to send one's child to battle Gyms. A great number of parents encourage it as a pastime, almost like a summer camp, to build character. Few kids that young take training seriously, though, since they're still in school and are expected to keep education on the highest priority. That's why Leroy observes most of the kids goofing off, or not working as hard as the older ones.

    There will be more League history lessons next chapter. Stay tuned...

    Is this a nod to the Pokemon Adventures manga to some degree? The concept of not having to get all the Badges to enter the League was used there.
    Really? That's interesting. I didn't use any outside sources when reimagining the old League, but I'm not surprised my ideas are similar to something else. I checked the Bulbapedia article on the Pokemon League, and found out that the anime League is organized in a similar way to mine. :P

    Michael gritted his teeth. “This isn’t over!” he said.

    From the side, Leroy held up the next pair. “Burmy and Turtwig!”

    Michael hastily switched pokéballs, too caught up in the battle to care that Leroy had given them a Grass-Grass combination. Turtwig emerged, the not-quite-green colors of his body standing out against the rest of the field. Over the weeks, the pokémon had visibly grown in size. Where before, he had been no bigger than a playground ball, the tip of his stem now skimmed just above Michael’s knee. The pads of Turtwig’s feet were rounder and bigger, which made him sturdier.
    Grass VS. Bug actually. Unless this is corrected later in the chapter, it's a pretty major error.
    ... My bad for completely forgetting that Burmy was a Bug type. xD
    Hopefully the way I wrote the battle still makes sense. Bug Bite was still super effective against Turtwig, and Turtwig stuck with physical attacks so as not to waste time with Razor Leaf.


    The color faded from Clefable’s eyes, and she wobbled on her feet, dizzy from the sudden loss of energy. Michael did not make a move to return Ringo. He simply stood, watching the bird, a part of him still believing that something else would happen. Henry, who must have felt the same, waited as well.

    Then, slowly, the lump of feathers let out a growl. Ringo rose to his feet, ruffling his plumage, feathers sticking out at odd ends.

    Like a bolt of lightning, too quick for the eye to see, Ringo lunged at Clefable and began to peck and scratch with vicious speed, thwacking her from side to side. After a brief lapse in concentration, Clefable realized what was happening and began to fight back, though her exhausted blows soon fell out of rhythm with her foe’s. When the bird had pestered her past her breaking point, she collapsed, her back rising with rapid breaths.
    Whoa, what just happened?
    Was this an exclamation of surprise or confusion? Basically, Ringo got really annoyed and went all-out on Clefable. :P Then, of course, he expressed his displeasure to Michael.

    By the way, the 'shockwave' that Clefable transmitted wasn't an actual Shock Wave. It was just a burst of psychic energy she produced to zap Ringo. Psychic was a challenging move to describe, so I'm glad my interpretation made sense.

    As for the battle's result... I guess you could call it a tie. The score wasn't important to me, because I wanted to focus on the battling itself.

    If I hadn't seen the end of the chapter already, I still would have said that Bertha was too obvious a suggestion.
    Originally, I wasn't going to use Bertha to lay a false trail, but towards the end I realized how neatly it worked out. But, as it so often happens, the most obvious option isn't always the correct one...

    You'll get to see how everything plays out later on. Fortunately, we're getting close to departing from Solaceon. Three chapters left, and I'm almost done with the rough draft of the next one. It'll be shorter, so I might be able to post it before the end of this month.

    I'll fix the nitpicks you pointed out. Thanks for stopping by!


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  13. #238
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    2.8

    At two o’clock the next day, the Solaceon Gym was empty. The crowd from the morning rush-hour had cleared, and the facility entered its second phase of operation. Staff members emerged from various doorways and roamed the halls with their pokéball pouches, chatting as they cleaned up and locked vacant battle rooms.

    Gradually, a small amount of trainers sifted in to replace the old crowd. These were the newly-promoted trainers, some starting their very first day of staff battles, and others setting out to complete their third. Their footsteps were slow and hushed on the hallway carpet as they sought out their assigned rooms, each trainer lost in their own focused thoughts, acting out whatever mindset they had set for themselves. Some walked with their eyes fixed firmly ahead, avoiding contact with others, mulling over the taxing few hours they were about to face. Others expressed evident relief at their achievement, striding with confidence, rearranging the pokéballs clipped to their belts in anticipation of battle.

    Michael and Henry were among a handful that had arrived early, and sat at the lobby benches waiting for their names to be called. Admissions would be staggered—first the trainers awaiting their final battle day would be called, then those awaiting their second, and finally the first. The trainers filled the neighboring lobby benches, sitting in their own tightly-knit groups and whispering. Michael and Henry had isolated themselves in a corner as far from the front desk as possible, their heads bent over Michael’s notebook.

    “… okay, so remember—Flying moves against Hitmonchan and Hitmonlee, because those have to reach us to be able to hurt us. I don’t want to risk it with Croagunk, because they’re supposed to be poisonous, so we’ll use Psychic moves for that one. All non-contact stuff.”

    As Michael traced his finger down the compiled list, Henry followed along, nodding. “Okay, but what about Machoke?”

    “I doubt the staff will have a Machoke,” Michael replied. “You heard what Leroy said—you can only battle with them if you have a special license. Plus, I think that Lona would want to keep him to herself, like a secret weapon she’d pull out to catch people off-guard.”

    Henry nodded. “Yeah, that makes sense… but that leaves us with only Hitmonchan, Hitmonlee, and Croagunk. That can’t be the only pokémon that the staff use. Or do they all have the same teams or something?”

    “No, that would make it too easy. They probably have other pokémon too, for the sake of contrast. All of them should be at least partially a Fighting type, though, so in any case, we should be fine with the counters we have.”

    Absorbing this, Henry nodded.

    There being nothing else to review, both boys eventually settled back and let their gazes trail off into space. Henry, who seemed to be in deep thought, broke the silence with a whisper.

    “You know what I don’t get?” he asked, turning to Michael. “Why is it that she looked so different that other day? I know she wasn’t in uniform, but still… it’s like it wasn’t her.”

    Michael did not respond to Henry’s inquiry, but they both knew that they were thinking about the exact same thing.

    Michael had not immediately comprehended what he had seen when he had locked eyes with Lona the previous day. Neither, it seemed, had Henry, and only now did the full meaning of their encounter come to Michael’s awareness. Ted was in love, unknowingly, with the Gym leader from hell. But even stranger was the fact that the lady in the marketplace looked almost nothing like Lona—in dress or demeanor. The placid, impenetrable expression she often wore was gone, replaced by a liberated calm—almost a cheerfulness. Without the jacket’s accompanying weight, she walked swiftly, as if carried by the wind, seeming like just another lady off on her own business.


    She was normal.





    And it was wrong.



    Wrong like seeing his least-favorite teacher shopping for groceries, or catching the prim-and-tidy school nurse munching on a box of French Fries. But whatever alarm Michael might have felt in such situations of the past, it was nothing compared to now. At first, he had been ready to accept any possibility—that it had been Lona’s less-evil twin; that it was just a trick of the light that he had seen her face—anything but the fact that it was Lona herself. But as time passed, he realized that it was the only plausible option. The more he thought about it, the more inevitable it seemed, until finally Michael was washed over with morbid acceptance.


    But beneath that, he was also the tiniest bit curious.

    The feeling had permeated his mind ever since the encounter, even in the times when he wasn’t thinking about it. Michael couldn’t give it a name, but the feeling was that of incompleteness, akin to what a scientist would feel when discovering that a whole chunk of the iceberg was underwater. Its mysteries were hidden away in the depths, just out of reach, but at the same time he had to find them. And for a reason he couldn’t fathom, he felt that the truth would impact everything.

    These and other thoughts swirled in Michael’s mind as he looked first around the lobby, then down at his notebook, rereading the penciled text. A minute passed, and the reflective state of mind began to fade, replaced once again by the anxious buzz of battle day.

    “So what if they do decide to use dual-types?” said Henry, turning to the chart anew. “They might want to test our skills with special moves, after all.”

    “But then it’ll be just like partner battles again,” Michael replied. “The staff should be different; I think they’d want to stick more to their theme, especially since they’re closer to Lona.”

    “And if they don’t?”

    Michael shrugged. “Well, we have counter moves for Fighting, Fire, Water, Grass, Psychic, Ground, Rock… I think that as far as pokémon types go, we’ve got them all covered. What we have to worry about is the physical aspect... Like, if those Hitmonchans are on drugs to make them super powerful.”

    Henry burst into laughter, which he fought to restrain, covering his mouth with his hand. “Yeah, and if Hitmonlee decides to run rampage and kick down the walls.”

    “He’ll use Burmy as a football.”

    “And Machop as a doormat.”

    “And everyone will run screaming from the Gym shouting ‘Help! Hitmonlees on the loose!’”

    The laughter eventually won over them both, and the boys began to crack up, heads ducked to hide their shudders. It was right then, without warning, that a third voice sounded above them:

    “What Hitmonlee?”

    The boys jumped. Michael looked up to see Bertha standing before them, leaning slightly on one hip, arms crossed. Blood drained from his face. He hadn’t noticed her approach, and had no way of telling how long she had been standing there. Michael fumbled for words, quickly skating over the mistake. “I—uh… nothing. We were just… talking about a battle Henry had a few days ago. The trainer used a Hitmonlee, and it was really… powerful.”

    Henry nodded in agreement. “I lost two to nothing.”

    Bertha lifted an eyebrow. The story was a flop and Michael knew it, but he did his best to keep a straight face, knowing that he had no choice but to stick with it. For a while, Bertha’s expression did not change. She looked at them, eyes slightly narrowed, shifting her gaze from one boy’s face to the next.

    “Well, that must have been some trainer,” she said, crossing her arms. “It’s not too often I see a kid with a Hitmonlee… I hope none of your pokémon got hurt too bad, Henry.”

    “Oh, they’re fine! They’re all fine,” Henry replied.

    Before Bertha could say anything else, Michael cut in. “So what are you doing here? How come we never see you anymore?”

    This seemed to pull Bertha out of whatever she had been thinking before. Her eyes drifted closed for a moment, and she shook her head. “I’m here to meet with Lona again. I can only see her on certain days and times; the rest I spend at the hotel, or just walking around. And Lona… well, I don’t know what she does, but she always seems to be busy. Schedules, schedules—that’s all she can live by.” Bertha let her arms fall to her sides, and her stance relaxed somewhat. “I was surprised to see you two here, actually. Did your morning battles go all right?”

    “We didn’t have them today.” Henry said. “We got moved up to the staff rank.”

    “Huh. Well that’s good to hear. I knew you boys could do it.” Bertha returned a tired smile. “But don’t relax just yet; you still have a Leader battle to prepare for. I want you two to make me proud.”

    “We will,” said Michael, desperately wishing for the conversation to end. And it did—Bertha did not ask them any more questions after that. She settled into a comfortable pose against the wall, looking out at the rest of the lobby. Michael relaxed somewhat, though in his mind he still scolded himself for letting down his guard. Looking down, he saw his notebook, which was lying closed in his lap, his arms covering it protectively. Had it been like that when Bertha saw them? Or had he snapped it shut out of reflex when she approached?

    The possibilities were endless. As his brain scrambled to replay the sequence of events, Michael stole frequent glances at his backpack, wanting to quickly slip the notebook away. But he dared not make a move with Bertha so close by, for if she had seen it, then hiding it would only amplify his guilt. So Michael waited, his back leaned against the wall, tapping his foot against the floor. Henry was silent beside him, staring ahead with blank eyes.

    After a length of time had passed, the attendant at the front desk stood up from her chair. “Michael Rowan, Henry McPherson!” she called.

    The boys sprang up, and with a slightly hurried pace, went over to the desk.

    “Wristbands, please,” the lady said.

    They held out their arms, and one by one, the lady marked them down.

    “If you need to heal y’r pokémon, go to Room 14 in the right wing. If not, then you can immediately go to y’r battle rooms—Michael, Room 22; Henry, Room 36.”

    Nodding in thanks, the boys turned towards the right hallway. As he passed by the benches, Michael stole a glance at Bertha. The Gym leader met his gaze and gave them a thumbs-up.

    Maybe I just imagined it. Maybe she didn’t hear anything at all. No—of course she didn’t. All she heard was us talking about Hitmonlee. It could be anyone’s.

    Feeling the return of his resolve, Michael squared his shoulders and put the encounter out of his mind. He had a battle to win.

    Moments later, they arrived at the healing room, where there were eight heating chambers lined up against the walls like soda machines. The boys had practiced lightly that day, practicing commands and acting out scenarios, but nevertheless saw fit to freshen up their teams.

    One by one, Michael and Henry released their pokémon after they finished with the heating chamber to check up on them. All of them were looking good, and reasonably prepared. Caterpie’s pokéball was the last to leave the tray. After putting away the others into his backpack, Michael grabbed the remaining capsule and twisted it open. Something hard and green clattered onto the floor. Michael looked down at his feet, and did a double-take — first blind with shock, then filled with rushing dread when he realized what it was.

    “Oh no…”

    Henry, who was already waiting by the door, came over. “What? What happened?” The boy looked down at the cocoon and balked. “Oh, Michael, it’s okay! She’s only—”

    “I know what it is!” Michael said. “But dammit… Now, of all times…”

    “It only lasts for a week,” said Henry, trying to calm him down. “I’ve seen them evolve before.”

    “You don’t get it—what am I going to do now?”

    “Caterpie doesn’t know any Flying or Psychic moves. You won’t need her anyway.”

    “Yeah, but what if all my counters faint and it’s down to just her? I’ll be done for!”

    Henry shook his head. “No you won’t. Look, it’ll be fine. Just… don’t panic, and… it’ll be fine.” The boy nodded in affirmation, though words had failed him, still hoping to transmit his confidence.

    Michael returned the Caterpie-cocoon to its pokéball, feeling a nagging uneasiness settle in. Caterpie was small, but her sudden absence left a gaping hole in his team’s formation.

    Packing away the pokéball, Michael left the healing room and parted ways with Henry. He found Room 27 and stepped inside. His opponent for the day was a guy—fairly tall, with a neutral countenance. When the man saw Michael walk in, he smiled.

    “Hey there.” He lifted his clipboard and read off the paper. “Michael Rowan?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Great. Let’s g’t started. Name’s Paul.” Paul began to flip through Michael’s past records. “So you were promoted yesterday, and this is y’r first staff battle. Right. You’ve had some good reviews in partner battles so far, but also some bad ones. The staff have taken note that you’re a pretty tactical thinker, which is good, but early on, you had a tendency to rush. You didn’t think your moves all the way through, and as a result, you passed by many opportunities to strengthen your position. Battling is all about grabbing opportunities, because if you don’t then you can bet that your opponent will. Today we’ll see how well you’ve learned.” He placed the clipboard aside and pulled out a pokéball. “Go, Meditite!”

    The capsule burst open to reveal a small, thin-bodied creature vaguely resembling a human form. Its head was capped by a mound of white hair, which partially hid its unblinking eyes.

    Psychic and Fighting, Michael thought at once. So they did use double-types after all. Taking no chances, he sent out Ringo.

    The Meditite turned out to be a pokémon of average strength. Michael had battled a couple of them in partner rounds, and as far as he could tell, this one showed no sign of being stronger in any way. The pokémon attempted a few Focus Punches and a Confusion, but was easily knocked down by Ringo and Aerial Ace. The Chatot’s swift, precise speed allowed him to evade the Meditite, whose attacks were slow and extravagant, making for a short battle. In a matter of minutes, the Meditite collapsed on its belly, and Ringo swooped over his prey, jostling it to make sure it was fainted.

    Smiling in amusement, Paul lifted the pokéball to return Meditite, and Ringo flew away satisfied. Michael’s heart began to pound. So far so good.

    The next pokémon to emerge was a Riolu—a small, floppy-eared pup that stood on its hind legs. Its eyes were narrowed beneath a cunning smile.

    Fighting and… what else? Steel? Michael hesitated in mental debate, noticing the tiny metal spikes protruding from each of the pokémon’s wrists. Finally, he looked up at Ringo, who was flapping overhead.

    “Ringo, use Aerial Ace!”

    Paul countered back: “Riolu, Jump Kick!”

    The Riolu was tiny but fast—as Ringo swooped down, it sprang up to meet him, delivering a firm kick to the bird’s chest. Ringo was knocked off-course, but in his struggles to regain balance, he managed to grasp the Riolu’s ear and drag the pokémon with him. As Ringo flew, he shook the Riolu around, throwing it up into the air and catching it.

    “Riolu, use Revenge!”

    Still dangling from Ringo’s beak, the Riolu swung itself upward and kicked the bird in the neck. Ringo gasped, his beak falling open in surprise, and dropped Riolu onto the mats. The blue pup scampered away.

    “No, don’t lose him!” Michael shouted. “Peck!”

    As Riolu fled across the mats, Ringo hobbled along in pursuit, snapping at its heels. When he gained enough momentum, the bird pounced, pinning Riolu down with his claws, and began to peck. The Riolu squirmed to free itself, but Ringo’s grip held fast, leaving little to do but flinch under the sharp, stabbing beak. But the little Riolu was surprisingly resilient. Long after Ringo became bored of pecking, the pup was still hanging on to its wits. Eventually Ringo stopped, and began to knock the Riolu around with his claws, seeking new ways of dealing damage. Paul had time to give several more commands, attacks which seemed to serve no purpose aside from tiring Ringo out. The Riolu frequently slipped from his grasp, and zipped over behind the bird to deal a kick. When Ringo finally managed to deal the killing blow—a well-aimed Aerial Ace that had caught the Riolu in the middle of a Jump Kick—the bird was so exhausted that he teetered, and had to sit down.

    As Paul switched pokémon, Michael tapped his own pokéball, debating on whether or not to send Ringo back. But when he saw Paul release a Machop, he decided against it.

    “Come on, Ringo, get up,” he said. “One more and I’ll leave you alone.”

    Ringo lifted his head at the Machop and growled in disdain. He ruffled his feathers and took off into the air again. He was able to hit Machop twice with Aerial Ace, but eventually gave in to exhaustion and succumbed to his opponent’s battering. Paul’s Machop wasn’t as fast as Michael’s, but was an ounce more decisive, and was able to knock down the bird with a flying kick. While Ringo scrambled to his feet, Machop aimed a series of rapid punches, which toppled the bird for good.

    Michael returned him and sent out Goldeen. The fish emerged in a rush of cascading water, which she immediately pooled into a swirling ball beneath her. Not a single drop sloshed away from the mass—a profound improvement from their first tentative experiments in Hearthome. Michael pointed to the Machop.

    “Goldeen, use Psybeam!”

    Goldeen flapped her fins, and the water churned faster around her. Her horn began to glow a bright pink, intensifying at the tip, and with a bang, released a beam of psychic energy that hit Machop in the chest. The pokémon stumbled back, hands covering the burned area.

    “Now!” Michael called.

    Before Machop had time to recover, Goldeen sprang forward, carried by her own wave, and swept the Machop off the ground. Pursing her thick lips, Goldeen began to peck at its skin, leaving tiny indentations. All the while, she carried it across the battlefield, knocking Machop against the walls and floor, till the pokémon was dazed and blubbering. Dropping the Machop onto the mats again, Goldeen finished off with another Psybeam, and the pokémon collapsed.

    Paul whistled. “A’right, one more to go… This one should give you a peek at what’s to come.” He switched pokéballs. “Go, Hitmonlee!”

    All the jokes and speculation Michael had gone through over the days about Lona’s team made him forget that he had never actually faced a Hitmonlee in real life. It was a tall, leathery-brown creature whose whole body consisted of a torso, supported by two disproportionately long legs. Its arms, in comparison, were reedy and feeble. Instead of a face, two large eyes peered out from the flat plane of its body.

    In battle, it demonstrated a calculated combination of stealth and grace, and was both faster and more powerful than any of Paul’s other pokémon. As if recognizing the threat, Goldeen immediately lowered her horn and blasted out a Psybeam, before Michael even had the chance to give the command. The Hitmonlee leaned out of the way, letting the beam hit the opposite wall, and sprang forward. It reached Goldeen in a few swift steps and dealt a kick, tossing the fish into the air like a rubber ball. The water around her began to lose its form, dripping down to the mats.

    “Get it back!” Michael shouted. “Use Psybeam!”

    “Hitmonlee, Double Kick!”

    Goldeen began to fall, but before she had time to gather up the water she had lost, Hitmonlee’s foot knocked her away into the corner. The floating pool collapsed, spilling into a puddle on the floor.

    Michael clenched his fist. “Get it back! Get the water back!”

    Hitmonlee approached for another kick, its arms spreading out at its sides in preparation to shift its weight. Goldeen made a final exertion, and the water rose into the air, sweeping past Hitmonlee’s ankles and pooling into a sphere around her. Michael immediately unscrewed the pokéball and sent her back inside.

    I have to immobilize that thing somehow… he thought. Going back to his backpack, Michael looked over the capsules that remained and mulled over what to do. Going by what the PokéDex had told him, the only way he could damage Hitmonlee was if he bound its legs together first. As he stared at the pile of pokéballs, a gradual feeling of inevitability sank over him. He had only one option.

    Taking Caterpie’s pokéball, Michael held his breath and sent her out. The cocoon fell onto the mats like a tube of dead leaves. The Hitmonlee turned away from the corner and looked down at its new opponent. It suddenly struck Michael that he didn’t even know if Metapods could see.

    “Use String Shot,” he mumbled.

    The cocoon did not move. But right then, Michael heard a faint swirling noise, and knew that somewhere inside, Caterpie was spinning her thread. Seconds later, the silvery strand emerged—but instead of shooting out at Hitmonlee, it lay flat on the floor, piling into a sticky glob as it unfurled. Michael’s shoulders sank.

    But the sight of the motionless Metapod clouded Paul’s face. He pondered briefly, then addressed his pokémon: “Hitmonlee, use Vacuum Wave!”

    The Hitmonlee bent over the cocoon and began to whirl its fists in a rapid circle, churning up a gust of air. The cocoon rolled over onto its side, but due to the strings weighing it down, remained put. Hitmonlee approached from a different angle, but to no avail—the current generated by Vacuum Wave only tangled the silver webbing further, wrapping it around the cocoon. Seeing no other option, the Hitmonlee gave up hope and kicked back its leg, preparing a kick to sweep the cocoon off the ground. Caterpie went flying, bouncing off the ceiling, the webbing unraveling around her. Hitmonlee continued to kick her around the room, and where Caterpie flew, a trail of white followed, sticking to the walls and the wooden window frames. The cocoon was utterly indifferent to the Hitmonlee’s battering, which only angered the pokémon further, and it continued its rampage across the room, unaware that it was getting itself entangled in the process. The webbing looped around the Himonlee’s ankles and arms, tightening as the pokémon tried to wriggle free. Michael smiled. It was a messy solution, but it worked.

    He returned Caterpie and replaced her with Machop. Being the more cautious, Machop quickly skipped over the stray webbing, and engaged Hitmonlee in an impressive rally. With its motions hindered by the string, the Hitmonlee quickly succumbed to Machop’s blows, and fell back. It collapsed in a heap, squirming to free itself from the sticky mess that coated it. Michael immediately switched in Goldeen to deal the final blow. The Psybeam blasted from the fish’s horn and pierced the fallen Hitmonlee between the eyes, after which the pokémon went slack.


    Once the standard five seconds had passed, Paul sent back the fainted Hitmonlee and cracked a smile. “Good work,” he said to Michael. “You’ve learned to turn the tides to your advantage. But you could still use some tightn’ing up—you’ll want to make your decisions a bit faster in the future.”

    Michael nodded. He could still feel the frantic beat of his heart, and scarcely believed what he had done.

    “You can now head out to the healing r’m for a fifteen-minute break,” Paul continued. “Don’t worry ‘bout the walls—we have stuff to clean that up. Just come right back here when you’re done, and y’r second opponent for the day will be waiting for you. Good luck!”

    Michel left the battle room and found a healing corner nearby, where he started up a vacant machine and healed his team. There were four other trainers in the room with him. One was still using the machine; the others were seated by the tables against the wall, eating chips, stealing glances at the clock.

    Not wanting to spend his time with such somber company, Michael emerged into the hallway and began to pace around. He went all the way to the back of the wing and happened upon a dead end, where a single battle room door stood on the opposite wall. A boy stepped out of it moments later, his back to Michael, a duffel bag hanging from his shoulder. It was Rick.

    Seeing Michael, the boy stopped in his tracks. “Oh. Hey.” Suddenly, Rick frowned, lifting his chin. “What are you doing here so late?”

    “Staff battles,” said Michael, unable to hide a smirk.

    Rick winced. “Oh. Well I’m still in partner battles. Week five and counting. My referee made me stay late to do another round.”

    Michael let out a snort. “They rejected you again? Did they at least tell you why?”

    “They say I lose too much,” Rick said. “Either that or I don’t win the right way. Same stuff they say every time, really.”

    “Well, why did you lose?”

    Rick shrugged. “How should I know?”

    Michael was about to reply, when a sudden thought occurred to him. He paused. “Let me see your team.”

    “Why?”

    “Just do it. Come on, let’s go in there.” Michael pointed to the door behind Rick.

    The boy hesitated for a moment, then pulled it open. Michael followed him into the empty battle room and made sure they were alone before continuing.

    “Okay. Now show me your team."

    Rick dropped his duffel bag and began to remove pokéballs, eying Michael incredulously throughout. He sent out the members of his party one by one: Shieldon, Luxio, Bonsly, Glameow, Piplup, and Beautifly. The pokémon were all sluggish from exhaustion, some fainted.

    Michael paced around the team, arms crossed like a specialist’s. When he was done looking, he shook his head slowly. “No wonder you’re losing, man. You gotta learn your types.”

    Rick tilted his head. “Huh?”

    “Well, look—” Michael pointed. “—you have three pokémon that are weak to Fighting. Shieldon is Rock and Steel, Bonsly is Rock, and you’ve got Glameow, which is Normal. All those types are weak to Fighting moves. Luxio, Piplup, and Beautifly are your only safe defenses, but even with that, they’re not good counters. You have to catch a Flying or Psychic type, ‘cause those are the only good moves against Fighting types. It’s obvious why they don’t let you move on—they see you doing well against pokémon of different types, but when you go up against Fighting, you lose.”

    Rick shook his head. “No, you don’t get it… cat, you don’t get it at all. That stuff’s not gonna help me. Don’t you see? She’s rigged the game against me! I’ve seen loads of people with Rock or Normal types and they do just fine!”

    “Then you use too many special moves,” Michael said. “The staff have told me that before, so all I did was use them less. Just give them what they want; it’s not that hard.”

    “Yeah, right. Except they don’t always want what you think they do. Just when you think you’ve got it right—bam, they prove you wrong. You think I don’t know? Trust me, I do. When Lona locks ‘er eyes on you, it’s over. Nothing’s gonna change her mind. If she wants you gone, she’ll get it done.” Suddenly, Rick brightened. “You know what? I’ve been thinking of getting back at her. Lona’s had her way for far too long. She needs to know what it’s like to have all her hard work be shoved back in ‘er face. I’ve talked to a bunch of people and they agree with me. She keeps us here for way too long, and on top of that, she forces us to battle in a non-League-standard way. Technically, as a Gym leader, she has to cooperate with League policy. And she doesn’t. I checked.” He paused, looking at Michael more intently than ever. “Think about this, Mike. Tons of trainers who’re still starting out haven’t made it to this Gym yet. They’re in Hearthome and Oreburgh, battling all-out, spending their time and money to get to the top. But when they get here, what’ya think is gonna happen? They’ll be stomped flat! Those Gym leaders don’t get how it feels, ‘cause they already went through all that. They’ve already won all the battles they needed to win. But we haven’t. Lots of us won’t get to see the gates of the Elite Four Island. Hell, some of us pro’lly won’t even get to hold all eight badges in our hands. And it’s all because of people like her. People who think that they can promise us one thing, then flip it around and make it something else. These Gym leaders think we’re stupid. They think that we have nothing better to than chase their lies. It’s time that changed. The League should be for trainers, not freaking tyrants who think that just because they have the authority, they can do whatever they want with our efforts and the pokémon we caught with our own hands.”

    At that point, Rick’s face took on a steely expression, burdened with duty.

    "I want to start a petition,” he said. “I’ll get as many signatures as I can — a thousand, maybe two or three— and send it to the League Office to get Lona fired. Someone needs to do something about this. And if I don’t then there’ll be lots of more people like me. People who’re stuck, can’t get anywhere, and feel like life’s run them into a sinkhole.” He paused. “So how about it? Would you help?”


    For the duration of Rick’s tirade, Michael had been looking at the window, shifting his gaze from one side of the boy’s head to the other, never meeting his gaze. But now, their eyes locked. Rick extended his hand towards him, fingers slightly curled, waiting to grasp his.



    Michael looked at it, and paused.






    The fact that he paused unsettled him.



    A month ago, he would have accepted no doubt. He would have jumped at the first opportunity to be a part of a grand scheme, to put a deserving adult in their place. He imagined it now—taking Rick’s hand, clasping it like a brother’s, and for the next few days, sneaking around the Gym in between battle sessions, collecting signatures in secret… possibly even stalling his battle with Lona as an act of protest. And then, imagining the look of frustrated loss on Lona’s face when she received her letter of replacement, telling her to get lost, to find a job opening at the nearest fast-food restaurant. Feeling his chest swell with pride when he realized he had made a difference.

    These thoughts brought Michael an inward smile. But enjoyed them only insofar as one would enjoy a movie—something that carried no meaning to a person’s life, but served only as a pastime, something to enjoy and forget about. The reel of images quickly faded, as did their pleasure for him, and once again Michael saw the waiting face of the boy in front of him—standing against a room of light, yet still with a perpetual gloom that lurked deep within. It bore no expression, but even so, he could feel Rick teetering between hope and letdown, just as ready to name Michael his enemy as his friend. The burden to decide which had fallen on his shoulders.


    Michael searched Rick’s face for a while, but the thing he had seen in it some weeks before was gone. The kid he had identified with during his first battle day had vanished, leaving behind someone who was alien and strange to him.





    Michael felt a twinge of annoyance.







    He stepped away, silently swinging his backpack behind him. Rick followed him with an unwavering gaze, jaw clenching.


    But right before he reached the door, Michael stopped, and turned back with a smile.


    “I’ll do it.”


    The boy visibly relaxed. “Great. I’ll, uh… keep you posted, then.” He lowered his hand and rubbed together his palms, like a nervous doctor before an operation.

    Michael did not reply. He nodded, smiling slightly, and left to return to his battle room.




    //////



    Late that evening, Lona’s office was dim and quiet. The curtains were pulled down over the windows, bathed in orange light from the floor lamp. The Gym leader sat with her back against the chair, holding a small coffee tray in her lap. She was turned to the far left corner of the room, where the small television set was turned on, blaring a muffled broadcast. Over the years, her use of the TV had drastically declined due to work she took upon herself, and so the box eventually acquired a worn-out look, as well as the insignificant placing it occupied today.

    The program she was watching was a rerun of news clips from previous weeks, recaps of announcements she had missed on live broadcast. Lona kept her eyes locked on the screen, her face placid as she listened to the anchorman’s words.


    “… and due to the high-security nature of the establishment, little information could, at first, be gleaned from the management of the Eterna Factory. On the thirteenth of June, a statement was released from a factory spokesperson, confirming that the explosion had indeed been an accident, quelling widespread rumors about criminal activity. But the question of what, exactly, the factory had been producing remains a mystery…

    … In the weeks following the accident, clean-up efforts have been on the rise, as surrounding towns and even ones far away make donations to support the cause. Chemical reports are gradually being made public, helping us paint a more comprehensive image of the town’s status. While the smoke from the event cleared in a matter of days, it has been confirmed that over 40,000 gallons of liquid chemicals have been spilled as a result of the explosion. While much of this amount has already been removed, surveyors still fear that the chemicals may contaminate nearby water sources. Travel through Cycling Road and Route 211 has been prohibited while cleanup continues. The Eterna government remains optimistic that much of the toxic waste will be cleared by the end of November, however it is uncertain how soon, if at all, the locality will be made habitable again. Significant damage to wildlife has been reported. Rescue efforts are underway to save as many pokémon from the area as possible…”



    Lona’s musing was interrupted by a loud knock on the door. She quickly sprang from her chair, shut off the TV, and placed the tray aside.

    “Come in.”

    The door opened, and Bertha stepped in, carrying her usual articles. Without uttering a word, she pulled out the empty chair and sat down, placing her hands in her lap.

    The second unspoken rule of their meetings was that no matter how bad things got, there would always be a second day.

    Bertha did not open her briefcase this time, or make any move to take the fresh mug of coffee that Lona placed before her. Bertha lifted her gaze and looked directly ahead at the other woman.

    “I don’t understand why you insist on remaining blind to the facts. The only way to make any sort of change in League policy is to have money at our disposal. Without that, there’s nothing to build off of.”

    Sitting down, Lona shook her head. “You don’t understand. The change that I want—the change that needs to be made—is something completely different from money.” She paused, flipped through a page in her memo pad, and switched the subject. “The boys. Michael and Henry. They will be battling me soon. But I assume that after they leave you will be staying?”

    “No,” said Bertha. “I’ll be leaving with them regardless. I have a schedule. And they have a schedule.”

    Lona chuckled to herself. “Schedules… that’s all I ever hear from trainers these days. They’re all so eager, so confident… but they have no—no idea what the world is really like…”

    Bertha frowned. “Then you really must have no idea how times have changed. Kids do know what’s going on. And they often understand it better than we do.”

    Right then, something within Lona seemed to snap. She jerked forward in her seat and slapped the table with her palm. “Better?!”

    Bertha jumped, and the coffee sloshed in the mug. A drop spilled out and landed on the surface of the table, but Lona didn’t seem to care. She was livid. “You told me a story last time, Miss Herrida. Now let me tell you something!”

    She pushed herself back into her chair, and all of a sudden, her face clouded over, till it seemed that she was looking not at Bertha, but at something in the distant past. “My mother was a pokémon trainer,” she said. “When she was young, the Pokémon League was an organic competition. A goal to strive for. If you weren’t cut out for it, you were either sent home or didn’t try in the first place. Gym leaders didn’t just give badges. They gave lessons. Trainers had to work for their rewards, and if they didn’t, then they’d get beaten to a pulp by the ones who did. My mother raised our family with the same morale she learned as a child. She told us that we had to be ready for the day when we would leave her house and face the world, and that the only person responsible for our success is ourselves. She didn’t expect us all to become trainers, but she expected us to learn from their example, because back then, trainers weren’t just admired—they were respected. They carried themselves with the rightful dignity that they earned through years of discipline and self-teaching. They were a symbol of honor and dedication, and wherever they went, their message followed. They were the pride of their hometowns. The glory of their country. They inspired thousands to follow in their footsteps, if not in career, then in character. And what do I see now? What do I see, in this golden age of technology and supposed progress? I see what was once a symbol of honor to the Sinnoh people be crushed and degraded into an industry! A happy generator of logos and merchandise, clinging to its oh-so-sacred national uniformity, as if without it, the whole country will be torn apart!”

    As Lona spoke, she leaned farther forward, till her hands were gripping the edge of the table, and Bertha was leaning back, her eyes frozen in a deadpan stare that was locked on the other woman’s face.

    “I had to work for everything in my life!” Lona said. “It was either that or be stuck with nothing! And now I have to watch nine-and ten-year-old children breeze through my Gym, carrying more pocket money than I saw in a month, passing by opportunities as if they grew on trees! They have no discipline. They have no culture, no manners, no sense of guilt when they insult their elders—no sense of the world around them! They put on a hat and backpack and suddenly they’re on top of the world—they can romp around wherever they please; they’ve got Pokémon Centers and hotels bowing to their every whim; the League Heads constantly thinking of new ways of improving their experience… Meanwhile, they have no desire to return anything to the community that raised them up! They don’t understand that those badges they earn mean nothing if they can’t be backed up by skill!”

    At this, Lona stood and opened a drawer in her desk. “Let me show you a real badge, Miss Herrida.” And she opened her palm to show Bertha a tiny gold medal attached to a piece of ribbon. Bertha recognized it immediately. It bore the old insignia of the Pokémon League, a Charizard with its wings outstretched and hands clasping pieces of scroll. “This was the badge my mother earned when she defeated the Elite Four in 1941. Her name was Lydia Hodnett. It was the only medal she ever earned in her life, but she didn’t hang it up on her wall like a trophy to boast about. After she beat the League she went right back to training, and later took the next step in raising a family. We all knew that she had been the Champion, but when I found out about the medal and asked her why she never displayed it as proof, she told me that the proof was already all around me. It was in her pokémon, who withstood trial and hardship with her and now had the strength of character to show it. And it was in us—myself and my sisters—from whom she expected no less.” Lona closed her palm with a smirk. “I have yet to see a single trainer who expressed the desire to give rather than take; to be, rather than have.”

    She tossed the medal back into the drawer and closed it.

    “Do you think it was an accident that after the League became federal property in 1952, it began to exhibit the pattern you noticed today?” Lona continued. “I’m sure you’ve done that research as well—you tell me why the Sinnoh Pokémon League, which used to be the most prominent entity in the 30s and 40s, suddenly decided of its own free will to merge itself with the government.” She put her hands on her hips and gestured for Bertha to speak.

    “The League merged with the government because its funds were low,” Bertha said. “People stopped participating and donating, and so to survive, the League had to ask the government to take it under its wing.”

    “And do you know what happened?” Lona said.

    “The government gave it funding!”

    “Oh yes. It gave funding all right. So much funding, in fact, that we drowned in it.” Lona dug around in another desk drawer and pulled out a handful of Cobal badges. She let them spill from her hand like a shower of coins, all identical, clanging against the wood of the table.

    “This is what I have to do,” she whispered, sweeping her gaze over the gleaming puddle. “I have to give out these badges to people who beat me in a battle—and I’m not allowed to be too hard on them because it wouldn’t be fair—so that they can move on to the next luxury suite in the next Gym town and do the same. And the next one, and the next one. There’s no challenge anymore, just another pastime like Contests. The League doesn’t mean anything now—not to its proprietors in Snowpoint, or to its trainers. They all see it as some sort of game… a hobby of sorts to demonstrate to the world how special they are, how many trophies they can earn. To them, there’s no meaning behind the battles they win. The other people around them serve no purpose aside from being rungs on a ladder. The pokémon, too. The trainers think that the key to winning is to have the most powerful moves, the best assembled teams, and completely forget the other half which lies in a pokémon’s heart—and their own. They’re a shadow of their predecessors. They think that they’re bigger than everything, that nothing can tear them down. But they’re wrong.” A shadow crept over Lona’s brow. “I’ll show them what a real Gym is like. I’ll show them what the real League should be like. What it would be like if it didn’t spend all its money on useless decorations and pampering!” Flaring up again, she turned her eye on Bertha. “You say that the lack of money is causing our decline? I say it’s too much money! Money that makes those League heads think it’s okay to gorge themselves and their trainers with luxuries. If that’s now they like to express their wealth, then maybe it’s a good thing that Galactic is sucking us dry! Maybe it’s a good thing that the League is finally realizing that its days are numbered! Let the kids all become scientists, engineers. Let them have a model to look up to that says you can only achieve great things if you build them yourself. Pokémon training doesn’t stand for that anymore.”


    With that, Lona turned her chair away from Bertha, swiveling towards the side wall. She lowered her head in resignation and closed her eyes. “I know you need my signature, Miss Herrida. But I will not give it to you unless you can prove to me that your petition will put my Gym in a better state than it is right now.”




    Bertha sat without speaking. For a while, neither of them moved. Bertha thought of countering back, but the more time that passed, the more she noticed Lona drifting away from her and from the world. She sat with her shoulders down, staring at her bookshelves with an angered, sorrowful expression. One hand kept picking idly at the hem of her jacket.


    Lona was so absorbed in her thoughts that she didn’t notice the other woman leave. Bertha stood, gently sliding the empty chair back into its place, and turned for the door. Simultaneously, Lona swiveled towards the back window, covering her face with her hands.

    For once, they ended in silence.
    Last edited by Mrs. Lovett; 13th September 2012 at 4:19 AM.


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  14. #239
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mrs. Lovett View Post
    2.8

    At two o’clock the next day, the Solaceon Gym was empty. The crowd from the morning rush-hour had cleared, and the facility entered its second phase of operation. Staff members emerged from various doorways and roamed the halls with their pokéball pouches, chatting as they cleaned up and locked vacant battle rooms.
    I'll tell you right now, I'm looking forward to seeing how that amazing nugget of knowledge we picked up about Lona at the end of the last chapter is going to be used here. So many possibilities...

    Gradually, a small amount of trainers sifted in to replace the old crowd. These were the newly-promoted trainers, some starting their very first day of staff battles, and others setting out to complete their third. Their footsteps were slow and hushed on the hallway carpet as they sought out their assigned rooms, each trainer lost in their own focused thoughts, acting out whatever mindset they had set for themselves. Some walked with their eyes fixed firmly ahead, avoiding contact with others, mulling over the taxing few hours they were about to face. Others expressed evident relief at their achievement, striding with confidence, rearranging the pokéballs clipped to their belts in anticipation of battle.

    Michael and Henry were among a handful that had arrived early, and sat at the lobby benches waiting for their names to be called. Admissions would be staggered—first the trainers awaiting their final battle day would be called, then those awaiting their second, and finally the first. The trainers filled the neighboring lobby benches, sitting in their own tightly-knit groups and whispering. Michael and Henry had isolated themselves in a corner as far from the front desk as possible, their heads bent over Michael’s notebook.

    “… okay, so remember—Flying moves against Hitmonchan and Hitmonlee, because those have to reach us to be able to hurt us. I don’t want to risk it with Croagunk, because they’re supposed to be poisonous, so we’ll use Psychic moves for that one. All non-contact stuff.”
    Ah, good, more basics. This is one of the things I really like about this story.

    As Michael traced his finger down the compiled list, Henry followed along, nodding. “Okay, but what about Machoke?”

    “I doubt the staff will have a Machoke,” Michael replied. “You heard what Leroy said—you can only battle with them if you have a special license. Plus, I think that Lona would want to keep him to herself, like a secret weapon she’d pull out to catch people off-guard.”
    I'd say that Michael's theory is most likely right. If anyone has Machoke, Lona does. It wouldn't surprise me completely to see others with them, though.


    There being nothing else to review, both boys eventually settled back and let their gazes trail off into space. Henry, who seemed to be in deep thought, broke the silence with a whisper.

    “You know what I don’t get?” he asked, turning to Michael. “Why is it that she looked so different that other day? I know she wasn’t in uniform, but still… it’s like it wasn’t her.”

    Michael did not respond to Henry’s inquiry, but they both knew that they were thinking about the exact same thing.

    Michael had not immediately comprehended what he had seen when he had locked eyes with Lona the previous day. Neither, it seemed, had Henry, and only now did the full meaning of their encounter come to Michael’s awareness. Ted was in love, unknowingly, with the Gym leader from hell. But even stranger was the fact that the lady in the marketplace looked almost nothing like Lona—in dress or demeanor. The placid, impenetrable expression she often wore was gone, replaced by a liberated calm—almost a cheerfulness. Without the jacket’s accompanying weight, she walked swiftly, as if carried by the wind, seeming like just another lady off on her own business.
    I wonder if her change in attitude and change in appearance are actually related. Like, as in, when she doesn't have to worry about being recognized as Lona the Gym Leader, she's calm and cheerful.


    She was normal.





    And it was wrong.



    Wrong like seeing his least-favorite teacher shopping for groceries, or catching the prim-and-tidy school nurse munching on a box of French Fries. But whatever alarm Michael might have felt in such situations of the past, it was nothing compared to now. At first, he had been ready to accept any possibility—that it had been Lona’s less-evil twin; that it was just a trick of the light that he had seen her face—anything but the fact that it was Lona herself. But as time passed, he realized that it was the only plausible option. The more he thought about it, the more inevitable it seemed, until finally Michael was washed over with morbid acceptance.


    But beneath that, he was also the tiniest bit curious.

    The feeling had permeated his mind ever since the encounter, even in the times when he wasn’t thinking about it. Michael couldn’t give it a name, but the feeling was that of incompleteness, akin to what a scientist would feel when discovering that a whole chunk of the iceberg was underwater. Its mysteries were hidden away in the depths, just out of reach, but at the same time he had to find them. And for a reason he couldn’t fathom, he felt that the truth would impact everything.
    I'm not meaning this as a complaint, but I do hope that Lona's outside-the-Gym persona ends up being important, because that's quite a number of words to dedicate to talking about something if it is not important.

    These and other thoughts swirled in Michael’s mind as he looked first around the lobby, then down at his notebook, rereading the penciled text. A minute passed, and the reflective state of mind began to fade, replaced once again by the anxious buzz of battle day.

    “So what if they do decide to use dual-types?” said Henry, turning to the chart anew. “They might want to test our skills with special moves, after all.”

    “But then it’ll be just like partner battles again,” Michael replied. “The staff should be different; I think they’d want to stick more to their theme, especially since they’re closer to Lona.”

    “And if they don’t?”

    Michael shrugged. “Well, we have counter moves for Fighting, Fire, Water, Grass, Psychic, Ground, Rock… I think that as far as pokémon types go, we’ve got them all covered. What we have to worry about is the physical aspect... Like, if those Hitmonchans are on drugs to make them super powerful.”
    I feel like Michael might be tempting fate here, though. He's so dismissive toward the idea of facing dual-types that it seems inevitable he will have to face them.

    [b]EDIT:/b]

    Henry burst into laughter, which he fought to restrain, covering his mouth with his hand. “Yeah, and if Hitmonlee decides to run rampage and kick down the walls.”

    “He’ll use Burmy as a football.”

    “And Machop as a doormat.”

    “And everyone will run screaming from the Gym shouting ‘Help! Hitmonlees on the loose!’”
    This is funny, though it surprises me a little bit to be coming from Michael.

    The laughter eventually won over them both, and the boys began to crack up, heads ducked to hide their shudders. It was right then, without warning, that a third voice sounded above them:

    “What Hitmonlee?”

    The boys jumped. Michael looked up to see Bertha standing before them, leaning slightly on one hip, arms crossed. Blood drained from his face. He hadn’t noticed her approach, and had no way of telling how long she had been standing there. Michael fumbled for words, quickly skating over the mistake. “I—uh… nothing. We were just… talking about a battle Henry had a few days ago. The trainer used a Hitmonlee, and it was really… powerful.”

    Henry nodded in agreement. “I lost two to nothing.”

    Bertha lifted an eyebrow. The story was a flop and Michael knew it, but he did his best to keep a straight face, knowing that he had no choice but to stick with it. For a while, Bertha’s expression did not change. She looked at them, eyes slightly narrowed, shifting her gaze from one boy’s face to the next.

    “Well, that must have been some trainer,” she said, crossing her arms. “It’s not too often I see a kid with a Hitmonlee… I hope none of your pokémon got hurt too bad, Henry.”
    I'm trying to remember - did they see something they weren't supposed to? I can't remember if they saw someone with a Hitmonlee before...

    “Oh, they’re fine! They’re all fine,” Henry replied.

    Before Bertha could say anything else, Michael cut in. “So what are you doing here? How come we never see you anymore?”
    That's a good point. Bertha hasn't actually played too much of a role lately.

    “We will,” said Michael, desperately wishing for the conversation to end. And it did—Bertha did not ask them any more questions after that. She settled into a comfortable pose against the wall, looking out at the rest of the lobby. Michael relaxed somewhat, though in his mind he still scolded himself for letting down his guard. Looking down, he saw his notebook, which was lying closed in his lap, his arms covering it protectively. Had it been like that when Bertha saw them? Or had he snapped it shut out of reflex when she approached?

    The possibilities were endless. As his brain scrambled to replay the sequence of events, Michael stole frequent glances at his backpack, wanting to quickly slip the notebook away. But he dared not make a move with Bertha so close by, for if she had seen it, then hiding it would only amplify his guilt. So Michael waited, his back leaned against the wall, tapping his foot against the floor. Henry was silent beside him, staring ahead with blank eyes.
    My gut feeling is that she knows about the notebook, and has possibly known about it for some time.

    After a length of time had passed, the attendant at the front desk stood up from her chair. “Michael Rowan, Henry McPherson!” she called.

    The boys sprang up, and with a slightly hurried pace, went over to the desk.

    “Wristbands, please,” the lady said.

    They held out their arms, and one by one, the lady marked them down.

    “If you need to heal y’r pokémon, go to Room 14 in the right wing. If not, then you can immediately go to y’r battle rooms—Michael, Room 22; Henry, Room 36.”

    Nodding in thanks, the boys turned towards the right hallway. As he passed by the benches, Michael stole a glance at Bertha. The Gym leader met his gaze and gave them a thumbs-up.

    Maybe I just imagined it. Maybe she didn’t hear anything at all. No—of course she didn’t. All she heard was us talking about Hitmonlee. It could be anyone’s.
    Yeah, I really have a feeling Bertha knows something.

    Anyway, I like the structure that this Gym shows, at least when it comes to running its day-to-day battles.

    Feeling the return of his resolve, Michael squared his shoulders and put the encounter out of his mind. He had a battle to win.

    Moments later, they arrived at the healing room, where there were eight heating chambers lined up against the walls like soda machines. The boys had practiced lightly that day, practicing commands and acting out scenarios, but nevertheless saw fit to freshen up their teams.
    This is a nice visual, but shouldn't that say "healing chambers?"

    One by one, Michael and Henry released their pokémon after they finished with the heating chamber to check up on them. All of them were looking good, and reasonably prepared. Caterpie’s pokéball was the last to leave the tray. After putting away the others into his backpack, Michael grabbed the remaining capsule and twisted it open. Something hard and green clattered onto the floor. Michael looked down at his feet, and did a double-take — first blind with shock, then filled with rushing dread when he realized what it was.

    “Oh no…”

    Henry, who was already waiting by the door, came over. “What? What happened?” The boy looked down at the cocoon and balked. “Oh, Michael, it’s okay! She’s only—”

    “I know what it is!” Michael said. “But dammit… Now, of all times…”

    “It only lasts for a week,” said Henry, trying to calm him down. “I’ve seen them evolve before.”

    “You don’t get it—what am I going to do now?”

    “Caterpie doesn’t know any Flying or Psychic moves. You won’t need her anyway.”

    “Yeah, but what if all my counters faint and it’s down to just her? I’ll be done for!”

    Henry shook his head. “No you won’t. Look, it’ll be fine. Just… don’t panic, and… it’ll be fine.” The boy nodded in affirmation, though words had failed him, still hoping to transmit his confidence.
    Somehow I get the feeling Metapod is going to prove important in the upcoming battle. Otherwise there wouldn't be such attention given to it.

    “Great. Let’s g’t started. Name’s Paul.” Paul began to flip through Michael’s past records. “So you were promoted yesterday, and this is y’r first staff battle. Right. You’ve had some good reviews in partner battles so far, but also some bad ones. The staff have taken note that you’re a pretty tactical thinker, which is good, but early on, you had a tendency to rush. You didn’t think your moves all the way through, and as a result, you passed by many opportunities to strengthen your position. Battling is all about grabbing opportunities, because if you don’t then you can bet that your opponent will. Today we’ll see how well you’ve learned.” He placed the clipboard aside and pulled out a pokéball. “Go, Meditite!”
    This wasn't bad, but it did feel a little bit like an info dump. I'm not really complaining, though. It's not that big a deal.

    The capsule burst open to reveal a small, thin-bodied creature vaguely resembling a human form. Its head was capped by a mound of white hair, which partially hid its unblinking eyes.

    Psychic and Fighting, Michael thought at once. So they did use double-types after all. Taking no chances, he sent out Ringo.
    I knew he'd end up facing dual-types.

    The Meditite turned out to be a pokémon of average strength. Michael had battled a couple of them in partner rounds, and as far as he could tell, this one showed no sign of being stronger in any way. The pokémon attempted a few Focus Punches and a Confusion, but was easily knocked down by Ringo and Aerial Ace. The Chatot’s swift, precise speed allowed him to evade the Meditite, whose attacks were slow and extravagant, making for a short battle. In a matter of minutes, the Meditite collapsed on its belly, and Ringo swooped over his prey, jostling it to make sure it was fainted.

    Smiling in amusement, Paul lifted the pokéball to return Meditite, and Ringo flew away satisfied. Michael’s heart began to pound. So far so good.
    I kind of get why you did this, but just summarizing the match between Ringo and Meditite feels a little rushed.

    The next pokémon to emerge was a Riolu—a small, floppy-eared pup that stood on its hind legs. Its eyes were narrowed beneath a cunning smile.

    Fighting and… what else? Steel? Michael hesitated in mental debate, noticing the tiny metal spikes protruding from each of the pokémon’s wrists. Finally, he looked up at Ringo, who was flapping overhead.

    “Ringo, use Aerial Ace!”

    Paul countered back: “Riolu, Jump Kick!”

    The Riolu was tiny but fast—as Ringo swooped down, it sprang up to meet him, delivering a firm kick to the bird’s chest. Ringo was knocked off-course, but in his struggles to regain balance, he managed to grasp the Riolu’s ear and drag the pokémon with him. As Ringo flew, he shook the Riolu around, throwing it up into the air and catching it.

    “Riolu, use Revenge!”

    Still dangling from Ringo’s beak, the Riolu swung itself upward and kicked the bird in the neck. Ringo gasped, his beak falling open in surprise, and dropped Riolu onto the mats. The blue pup scampered away.
    Now this is more like it, a good, competitive fight. I do think that using "pup" twice in relatively rapid succession should be avoided, though.

    “No, don’t lose him!” Michael shouted. “Peck!”

    As Riolu fled across the mats, Ringo hobbled along in pursuit, snapping at its heels. When he gained enough momentum, the bird pounced, pinning Riolu down with his claws, and began to peck. The Riolu squirmed to free itself, but Ringo’s grip held fast, leaving little to do but flinch under the sharp, stabbing beak. But the little Riolu was surprisingly resilient. Long after Ringo became bored of pecking, the pup was still hanging on to its wits. Eventually Ringo stopped, and began to knock the Riolu around with his claws, seeking new ways of dealing damage. Paul had time to give several more commands, attacks which seemed to serve no purpose aside from tiring Ringo out. The Riolu frequently slipped from his grasp, and zipped over behind the bird to deal a kick. When Ringo finally managed to deal the killing blow—a well-aimed Aerial Ace that had caught the Riolu in the middle of a Jump Kick—the bird was so exhausted that he teetered, and had to sit down.
    There we go. Ringo really is a capable Pokemon when he gets a chance to shine.

    Again, using "pup" so many times is a little bit of a bother.

    As Paul switched pokémon, Michael tapped his own pokéball, debating on whether or not to send Ringo back. But when he saw Paul release a Machop, he decided against it.

    “Come on, Ringo, get up,” he said. “One more and I’ll leave you alone.”

    Ringo lifted his head at the Machop and growled in disdain. He ruffled his feathers and took off into the air again. He was able to hit Machop twice with Aerial Ace, but eventually gave in to exhaustion and succumbed to his opponent’s battering. Paul’s Machop wasn’t as fast as Michael’s, but was an ounce more decisive, and was able to knock down the bird with a flying kick. While Ringo scrambled to his feet, Machop aimed a series of rapid punches, which toppled the bird for good.

    Michael returned him and sent out Goldeen. The fish emerged in a rush of cascading water, which she immediately pooled into a swirling ball beneath her. Not a single drop sloshed away from the mass—a profound improvement from their first tentative experiments in Hearthome. Michael pointed to the Machop.

    “Goldeen, use Psybeam!”

    Goldeen flapped her fins, and the water churned faster around her. Her horn began to glow a bright pink, intensifying at the tip, and with a bang, released a beam of psychic energy that hit Machop in the chest. The pokémon stumbled back, hands covering the burned area.

    “Now!” Michael called.

    Before Machop had time to recover, Goldeen sprang forward, carried by her own wave, and swept the Machop off the ground. Pursing her thick lips, Goldeen began to peck at its skin, leaving tiny indentations. All the while, she carried it across the battlefield, knocking Machop against the walls and floor, till the pokémon was dazed and blubbering. Dropping the Machop onto the mats again, Goldeen finished off with another Psybeam, and the pokémon collapsed.
    I think the end of Ringo's run felt a little rushed, but once Goldeen came out, it slowed down and became a bit better. The battle is still fast paced, but it's working.

    Good to see that Goldeen's technique has made progress.

    Paul whistled. “A’right, one more to go… This one should give you a peek at what’s to come.” He switched pokéballs. “Go, Hitmonlee!”
    Oh boy, here we go.

    All the jokes and speculation Michael had gone through over the days about Lona’s team made him forget that he had never actually faced a Hitmonlee in real life. It was a tall, leathery-brown creature whose whole body consisted of a torso, supported by two disproportionately long legs. Its arms, in comparison, were reedy and feeble. Instead of a face, two large eyes peered out from the flat plane of its body.

    In battle, it demonstrated a calculated combination of stealth and grace, and was both faster and more powerful than any of Paul’s other pokémon. As if recognizing the threat, Goldeen immediately lowered her horn and blasted out a Psybeam, before Michael even had the chance to give the command. The Hitmonlee leaned out of the way, letting the beam hit the opposite wall, and sprang forward. It reached Goldeen in a few swift steps and dealt a kick, tossing the fish into the air like a rubber ball. The water around her began to lose its form, dripping down to the mats.

    “Get it back!” Michael shouted. “Use Psybeam!”

    “Hitmonlee, Double Kick!”

    Goldeen began to fall, but before she had time to gather up the water she had lost, Hitmonlee’s foot knocked her away into the corner. The floating pool collapsed, spilling into a puddle on the floor.

    Michael clenched his fist. “Get it back! Get the water back!”

    Hitmonlee approached for another kick, its arms spreading out at its sides in preparation to shift its weight. Goldeen made a final exertion, and the water rose into the air, sweeping past Hitmonlee’s ankles and pooling into a sphere around her. Michael immediately unscrewed the pokéball and sent her back inside.
    So far, this is what I expected. I anticipated Hitmonlee to be tougher than the others and he is not disappointing. He beat Goldeen down pretty brutally.

    I have to immobilize that thing somehow… he thought. Going back to his backpack, Michael looked over the capsules that remained and mulled over what to do. Going by what the PokéDex had told him, the only way he could damage Hitmonlee was if he bound its legs together first. As he stared at the pile of pokéballs, a gradual feeling of inevitability sank over him. He had only one option.

    Taking Caterpie’s pokéball, Michael held his breath and sent her out. The cocoon fell onto the mats like a tube of dead leaves. The Hitmonlee turned away from the corner and looked down at its new opponent. It suddenly struck Michael that he didn’t even know if Metapods could see.

    “Use String Shot,” he mumbled.

    The cocoon did not move. But right then, Michael heard a faint swirling noise, and knew that somewhere inside, Caterpie was spinning her thread. Seconds later, the silvery strand emerged—but instead of shooting out at Hitmonlee, it lay flat on the floor, piling into a sticky glob as it unfurled. Michael’s shoulders sank.
    I still believe in you, Metapod.

    But the sight of the motionless Metapod clouded Paul’s face. He pondered briefly, then addressed his pokémon: “Hitmonlee, use Vacuum Wave!”

    The Hitmonlee bent over the cocoon and began to whirl its fists in a rapid circle, churning up a gust of air. The cocoon rolled over onto its side, but due to the strings weighing it down, remained put. Hitmonlee approached from a different angle, but to no avail—the current generated by Vacuum Wave only tangled the silver webbing further, wrapping it around the cocoon. Seeing no other option, the Hitmonlee gave up hope and kicked back its leg, preparing a kick to sweep the cocoon off the ground. Caterpie went flying, bouncing off the ceiling, the webbing unraveling around her. Hitmonlee continued to kick her around the room, and where Caterpie flew, a trail of white followed, sticking to the walls and the wooden window frames. The cocoon was utterly indifferent to the Hitmonlee’s battering, which only angered the pokémon further, and it continued its rampage across the room, unaware that it was getting itself entangled in the process. The webbing looped around the Himonlee’s ankles and arms, tightening as the pokémon tried to wriggle free. Michael smiled. It was a messy solution, but it worked.
    Well then, that'll work too.

    He returned Caterpie and replaced her with Machop. Being the more cautious, Machop quickly skipped over the stray webbing, and engaged Hitmonlee in an impressive rally. With its motions hindered by the string, the Hitmonlee quickly succumbed to Machop’s blows, and fell back. It collapsed in a heap, squirming to free itself from the sticky mess that coated it. Michael immediately switched in Goldeen to deal the final blow. The Psybeam blasted from the fish’s horn and pierced the fallen Hitmonlee between the eyes, after which the pokémon went slack.
    I feel that this ending was a bit rushed. Hitmonlee was an important fight, but it just kinda ended.

    Once the standard five seconds had passed, Paul sent back the fainted Hitmonlee and cracked a smile. “Good work,” he said to Michael. “You’ve learned to turn the tides to your advantage. But you could still use some tightn’ing up—you’ll want to make your decisions a bit faster in the future.”

    Michael nodded. He could still feel the frantic beat of his heart, and scarcely believed what he had done.

    “You can now head out to the healing r’m for a fifteen-minute break,” Paul continued. “Don’t worry ‘bout the walls—we have stuff to clean that up. Just come right back here when you’re done, and y’r second opponent for the day will be waiting for you. Good luck!”
    Boy, he's got to do it again? I hope his luck holds out.

    Michel left the battle room and found a healing corner nearby, where he started up a vacant machine and healed his team. There were four other trainers in the room with him. One was still using the machine; the others were seated by the tables against the wall, eating chips, stealing glances at the clock.

    Not wanting to spend his time with such somber company, Michael emerged into the hallway and began to pace around. He went all the way to the back of the wing and happened upon a dead end, where a single battle room door stood on the opposite wall. A boy stepped out of it moments later, his back to Michael, a duffel bag hanging from his shoulder. It was Rick.

    Seeing Michael, the boy stopped in his tracks. “Oh. Hey.” Suddenly, Rick frowned, lifting his chin. “What are you doing here so late?”

    “Staff battles,” said Michael, unable to hide a smirk.

    Rick winced. “Oh. Well I’m still in partner battles. Week five and counting. My referee made me stay late to do another round.”

    Michael let out a snort. “They rejected you again? Did they at least tell you why?”

    “They say I lose too much,” Rick said. “Either that or I don’t win the right way. Same stuff they say every time, really.”

    “Well, why did you lose?”

    Rick shrugged. “How should I know?”
    Rick's not going to get much of anywhere with that attitude.

    Michael was about to reply, when a sudden thought occurred to him. He paused. “Let me see your team.”

    “Why?”

    “Just do it. Come on, let’s go in there.” Michael pointed to the door behind Rick.

    The boy hesitated for a moment, then pulled it open. Michael followed him into the empty battle room and made sure they were alone before continuing.

    “Okay. Now show me your team."

    Rick dropped his duffel bag and began to remove pokéballs, eying Michael incredulously throughout. He sent out the members of his party one by one: Shieldon, Luxio, Bonsly, Glameow, Piplup, and Beautifly. The pokémon were all sluggish from exhaustion, some fainted.

    Michael paced around the team, arms crossed like a specialist’s. When he was done looking, he shook his head slowly. “No wonder you’re losing, man. You gotta learn your types.”

    Rick tilted his head. “Huh?”

    “Well, look—” Michael pointed. “—you have three pokémon that are weak to Fighting. Shieldon is Rock and Steel, Bonsly is Rock, and you’ve got Glameow, which is Normal. All those types are weak to Fighting moves. Luxio, Piplup, and Beautifly are your only safe defenses, but even with that, they’re not good counters. You have to catch a Flying or Psychic type, ‘cause those are the only good moves against Fighting types. It’s obvious why they don’t let you move on—they see you doing well against pokémon of different types, but when you go up against Fighting, you lose.”
    Um... I kind of have a feeling that Michael might be making a mistake by letting Rick in on the secret. I think Rick is going to tell others.

    Rick shook his head. “No, you don’t get it… cat, you don’t get it at all. That stuff’s not gonna help me. Don’t you see? She’s rigged the game against me! I’ve seen loads of people with Rock or Normal types and they do just fine!”

    “Then you use too many special moves,” Michael said. “The staff have told me that before, so all I did was use them less. Just give them what they want; it’s not that hard.”

    “Yeah, right. Except they don’t always want what you think they do. Just when you think you’ve got it right—bam, they prove you wrong. You think I don’t know? Trust me, I do. When Lona locks ‘er eyes on you, it’s over. Nothing’s gonna change her mind. If she wants you gone, she’ll get it done.” Suddenly, Rick brightened. “You know what? I’ve been thinking of getting back at her. Lona’s had her way for far too long. She needs to know what it’s like to have all her hard work be shoved back in ‘er face. I’ve talked to a bunch of people and they agree with me. She keeps us here for way too long, and on top of that, she forces us to battle in a non-League-standard way. Technically, as a Gym leader, she has to cooperate with League policy. And she doesn’t. I checked.” He paused, looking at Michael more intently than ever. “Think about this, Mike. Tons of trainers who’re still starting out haven’t made it to this Gym yet. They’re in Hearthome and Oreburgh, battling all-out, spending their time and money to get to the top. But when they get here, what’ya think is gonna happen? They’ll be stomped flat! Those Gym leaders don’t get how it feels, ‘cause they already went through all that. They’ve already won all the battles they needed to win. But we haven’t. Lots of us won’t get to see the gates of the Elite Four Island. Hell, some of us pro’lly won’t even get to hold all eight badges in our hands. And it’s all because of people like her. People who think that they can promise us one thing, then flip it around and make it something else. These Gym leaders think we’re stupid. They think that we have nothing better to than chase their lies. It’s time that changed. The League should be for trainers, not freaking tyrants who think that just because they have the authority, they can do whatever they want with our efforts and the pokémon we caught with our own hands.”

    At that point, Rick’s face took on a steely expression, burdened with duty.

    "I want to start a petition,” he said. “I’ll get as many signatures as I can — a thousand, maybe two or three— and send it to the League Office to get Lona fired. Someone needs to do something about this. And if I don’t then there’ll be lots of more people like me. People who’re stuck, can’t get anywhere, and feel like life’s run them into a sinkhole.” He paused. “So how about it? Would you help?”
    Seems like everyone's got a petition these days, eh? To some degree, I kind of agree with Rick though - Lona's not exactly making her badge accessible for a lot of trainers.

    For the duration of Rick’s tirade, Michael had been looking at the window, shifting his gaze from one side of the boy’s head to the other, never meeting his gaze. But now, their eyes locked. Rick extended his hand towards him, fingers slightly curled, waiting to grasp his.



    Michael looked at it, and paused.






    The fact that he paused unsettled him.



    A month ago, he would have accepted no doubt. He would have jumped at the first opportunity to be a part of a grand scheme, to put a deserving adult in their place. He imagined it now—taking Rick’s hand, clasping it like a brother’s, and for the next few days, sneaking around the Gym in between battle sessions, collecting signatures in secret… possibly even stalling his battle with Lona as an act of protest. And then, imagining the look of frustrated loss on Lona’s face when she received her letter of replacement, telling her to get lost, to find a job opening at the nearest fast-food restaurant. Feeling his chest swell with pride when he realized he had made a difference.

    These thoughts brought Michael an inward smile. But enjoyed them only insofar as one would enjoy a movie—something that carried no meaning to a person’s life, but served only as a pastime, something to enjoy and forget about. The reel of images quickly faded, as did their pleasure for him, and once again Michael saw the waiting face of the boy in front of him—standing against a room of light, yet still with a perpetual gloom that lurked deep within. It bore no expression, but even so, he could feel Rick teetering between hope and letdown, just as ready to name Michael his enemy as his friend. The burden to decide which had fallen on his shoulders.


    Michael searched Rick’s face for a while, but the thing he had seen in it some weeks before was gone. The kid he had identified with during his first battle day had vanished, leaving behind someone who was alien and strange to him.





    Michael felt a twinge of annoyance.







    He stepped away, silently swinging his backpack behind him. Rick followed him with an unwavering gaze, jaw clenching.


    But right before he reached the door, Michael stopped, and turned back with a smile.


    “I’ll do it.”
    Had me scared there for a minute.

    Interesting way to point out the growth in Michael's character, though. It certainly shows how he's changed since the beginning of all this.

    Late that evening, Lona’s office was dim and quiet. The curtains were pulled down over the windows, bathed in orange light from the floor lamp. The Gym leader sat with her back against the chair, holding a small coffee tray in her lap. She was turned to the far left corner of the room, where the small television set was turned on, blaring a muffled broadcast. Over the years, her use of the TV had drastically declined due to work she took upon herself, and so the box eventually acquired a worn-out look, as well as the insignificant placing it occupied today.
    This office reflects Lona's personality, if you think about it. It's understated, very official, bare of much beyond necessities and somewhat neglected.

    The program she was watching was a rerun of news clips from previous weeks, recaps of announcements she had missed on live broadcast. Lona kept her eyes locked on the screen, her face placid as she listened to the anchorman’s words.


    “… and due to the high-security nature of the establishment, little information could, at first, be gleaned from the management of the Eterna Factory. On the thirteenth of June, a statement was released from a factory spokesperson, confirming that the explosion had indeed been an accident, quelling widespread rumors about criminal activity. But the question of what, exactly, the factory had been producing remains a mystery…

    … In the weeks following the accident, clean-up efforts have been on the rise, as surrounding towns and even ones far away make donations to support the cause. Chemical reports are gradually being made public, helping us paint a more comprehensive image of the town’s status. While the smoke from the event cleared in a matter of days, it has been confirmed that over 40,000 gallons of liquid chemicals have been spilled as a result of the explosion. While much of this amount has already been removed, surveyors still fear that the chemicals may contaminate nearby water sources. Travel through Cycling Road and Route 211 has been prohibited while cleanup continues. The Eterna government remains optimistic that much of the toxic waste will be cleared by the end of November, however it is uncertain how soon, if at all, the locality will be made habitable again. Significant damage to wildlife has been reported. Rescue efforts are underway to save as many pokémon from the area as possible…”
    The scary part is that I can't tell exactly how much of this is coverup.

    Lona chuckled to herself. “Schedules… that’s all I ever hear from trainers these days. They’re all so eager, so confident… but they have no—no idea what the world is really like…”

    Bertha frowned. “Then you really must have no idea how times have changed. Kids do know what’s going on. And they often understand it better than we do.”

    Right then, something within Lona seemed to snap. She jerked forward in her seat and slapped the table with her palm. “Better?!”

    Bertha jumped, and the coffee sloshed in the mug. A drop spilled out and landed on the surface of the table, but Lona didn’t seem to care. She was livid. “You told me a story last time, Miss Herrida. Now let me tell you something!”

    She pushed herself back into her chair, and all of a sudden, her face clouded over, till it seemed that she was looking not at Bertha, but at something in the distant past. “My mother was a pokémon trainer,” she said. “When she was young, the Pokémon League was an organic competition. A goal to strive for. If you weren’t cut out for it, you were either sent home or didn’t try in the first place. Gym leaders didn’t just give badges. They gave lessons. Trainers had to work for their rewards, and if they didn’t, then they’d get beaten to a pulp by the ones who did. My mother raised our family with the same morale she learned as a child. She told us that we had to be ready for the day when we would leave her house and face the world, and that the only person responsible for our success is ourselves. She didn’t expect us all to become trainers, but she expected us to learn from their example, because back then, trainers weren’t just admired—they were respected. They carried themselves with the rightful dignity that they earned through years of discipline and self-teaching. They were a symbol of honor and dedication, and wherever they went, their message followed. They were the pride of their hometowns. The glory of their country. They inspired thousands to follow in their footsteps, if not in career, then in character. And what do I see now? What do I see, in this golden age of technology and supposed progress? I see what was once a symbol of honor to the Sinnoh people be crushed and degraded into an industry! A happy generator of logos and merchandise, clinging to its oh-so-sacred national uniformity, as if without it, the whole country will be torn apart!”

    As Lona spoke, she leaned farther forward, till her hands were gripping the edge of the table, and Bertha was leaning back, her eyes frozen in a deadpan stare that was locked on the other woman’s face.

    “I had to work for everything in my life!” Lona said. “It was either that or be stuck with nothing! And now I have to watch nine-and ten-year-old children breeze through my Gym, carrying more pocket money than I saw in a month, passing by opportunities as if they grew on trees! They have no discipline. They have no culture, no manners, no sense of guilt when they insult their elders—no sense of the world around them! They put on a hat and backpack and suddenly they’re on top of the world—they can romp around wherever they please; they’ve got Pokémon Centers and hotels bowing to their every whim; the League Heads constantly thinking of new ways of improving their experience… Meanwhile, they have no desire to return anything to the community that raised them up! They don’t understand that those badges they earn mean nothing if they can’t be backed up by skill!”

    At this, Lona stood and opened a drawer in her desk. “Let me show you a real badge, Miss Herrida.” And she opened her palm to show Bertha a tiny gold medal attached to a piece of ribbon. Bertha recognized it immediately. It bore the old insignia of the Pokémon League, a Charizard with its wings outstretched and hands clasping pieces of scroll. “This was the badge my mother earned when she defeated the Elite Four in 1941. Her name was Lydia Hodnett. It was the only medal she ever earned in her life, but she didn’t hang it up on her wall like a trophy to boast about. After she beat the League she went right back to training, and later took the next step in raising a family. We all knew that she had been the Champion, but when I found out about the medal and asked her why she never displayed it as proof, she told me that the proof was already all around me. It was in her pokémon, who withstood trial and hardship with her and now had the strength of character to show it. And it was in us—myself and my sisters—from whom she expected no less.” Lona closed her palm with a smirk. “I have yet to see a single trainer who expressed the desire to give rather than take; to be, rather than have.”

    She tossed the medal back into the drawer and closed it.

    “Do you think it was an accident that after the League became federal property in 1952, it began to exhibit the pattern you noticed today?” Lona continued. “I’m sure you’ve done that research as well—you tell me why the Sinnoh Pokémon League, which used to be the most prominent entity in the 30s and 40s, suddenly decided of its own free will to merge itself with the government.” She put her hands on her hips and gestured for Bertha to speak.
    You know what?

    I'm sorry, but I'm out of patience with Lona. I see the message you're trying to send and all, but quite frankly, I'm tired of hearing Lona whining. She sounds like a cranky old man who wants the local kids to get off his lawn. On the flipside, having a message doesn't always automatically validate a character.

    She's been testing my patience for a while now, but I've been sticking it out with hope for her because I was hoping to see some more depth and dimension to her as a character. I suppose one could argue that this constitutes those things, but in my mind all I see now is a bitter, angry old woman who wants everyone else to be as miserable as she is, and therefore I can't care about her at all.

    “The League merged with the government because its funds were low,” Bertha said. “People stopped participating and donating, and so to survive, the League had to ask the government to take it under its wing.”

    “And do you know what happened?” Lona said.

    “The government gave it funding!”

    “Oh yes. It gave funding all right. So much funding, in fact, that we drowned in it.” Lona dug around in another desk drawer and pulled out a handful of Cobal badges. She let them spill from her hand like a shower of coins, all identical, clanging against the wood of the table.
    Is she saying that she would rather there be no League?

    “This is what I have to do,” she whispered, sweeping her gaze over the gleaming puddle. “I have to give out these badges to people who beat me in a battle—and I’m not allowed to be too hard on them because it wouldn’t be fair—so that they can move on to the next luxury suite in the next Gym town and do the same. And the next one, and the next one. There’s no challenge anymore, just another pastime like Contests. The League doesn’t mean anything now—not to its proprietors in Snowpoint, or to its trainers. They all see it as some sort of game… a hobby of sorts to demonstrate to the world how special they are, how many trophies they can earn. To them, there’s no meaning behind the battles they win. The other people around them serve no purpose aside from being rungs on a ladder. The pokémon, too. The trainers think that the key to winning is to have the most powerful moves, the best assembled teams, and completely forget the other half which lies in a pokémon’s heart—and their own. They’re a shadow of their predecessors. They think that they’re bigger than everything, that nothing can tear them down. But they’re wrong.” A shadow crept over Lona’s brow. “I’ll show them what a real Gym is like. I’ll show them what the real League should be like. What it would be like if it didn’t spend all its money on useless decorations and pampering!” Flaring up again, she turned her eye on Bertha. “You say that the lack of money is causing our decline? I say it’s too much money! Money that makes those League heads think it’s okay to gorge themselves and their trainers with luxuries. If that’s now they like to express their wealth, then maybe it’s a good thing that Galactic is sucking us dry! Maybe it’s a good thing that the League is finally realizing that its days are numbered! Let the kids all become scientists, engineers. Let them have a model to look up to that says you can only achieve great things if you build them yourself. Pokémon training doesn’t stand for that anymore.”
    Bolded part: Lona appears to completely miss the fact that her fantasy League is the exact same thing, a method for people like her to feel validated through a sense of superiority over others. In fact, I'd say her ideas are even worse, so it's nice to see she's a hateful hypocrite on top of everything else.

    With that, Lona turned her chair away from Bertha, swiveling towards the side wall. She lowered her head in resignation and closed her eyes. “I know you need my signature, Miss Herrida. But I will not give it to you unless you can prove to me that your petition will put my Gym in a better state than it is right now.”
    If I was Bertha I would tell Lona to enjoy having her town blown away by Team Galactic, leave, and never go to Solaceon again. I'm really going to lose a lot of faith in Bertha if she gives in to this miserable person's attitude.

    Bertha sat without speaking. For a while, neither of them moved. Bertha thought of countering back, but the more time that passed, the more she noticed Lona drifting away from her and from the world. She sat with her shoulders down, staring at her bookshelves with an angered, sorrowful expression. One hand kept picking idly at the hem of her jacket.

    Lona was so absorbed in her thoughts that she didn’t notice the other woman leave. Bertha stood, gently sliding the empty chair back into its place, and turned for the door. Simultaneously, Lona swiveled towards the back window, covering her forehead with her hands.

    For once, they ended in silence.
    Good. I hope Bertha completely gives up on her and finds another way to get the petition through.

    I'll be honest, I was enjoying this chapter up until the true colors of Lona Walker came out. She singlehandedly ruined it for me by being a bitter, angry hypocrite who wishes only to inflict the same misery she suffers on children she doesn't even know out of spite because modern children aren't as 'special' as her. I don't even care about what the story with her on the outside of the Gym is anymore - there is almost no chance I'll be able to see any redemption. I don't think I've despised any character that's not obviously a villain this much in a long time.

    I'm sorry if that makes this a harshly negative review.
    Last edited by The Great Butler; 11th September 2012 at 10:25 AM.

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  15. #240
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    I'm trying to remember - did they see something they weren't supposed to? I can't remember if they saw someone with a Hitmonlee before...
    Nope; they've never seen a kid with a Hitmonlee. But Bertha certainly heard something she wasn't supposed to...

    I didn't want to extend the battle that much because, conversely, I was worried it would be too long, and wanted to cut to the chase. I'll reread it, though, and see if I could touch it up to even out the pacing.

    I wonder if her change in attitude and change in appearance are actually related. Like, as in, when she doesn't have to worry about being recognized as Lona the Gym Leader, she's calm and cheerful.
    Somewhat, but not in a 'by day, normal, by night Gym Leader' sort of thing. Her being doesn't change with her costume, but rather with her environment/circumstances.


    Speaking of Lona, I think an explanation is in order...


    To begin with, I guess I was walking on pretty thin ice when writing her character. I had to portray a personality with an unlikable personality, but still give readers a hint that she might have something to say. I suspected I'd make some readers dislike her in the process, but I didn't intend for it to get out of hand, to the point where they stopped caring for her completely. There is a development-related reason why I made her like the way she is, but the only way I can reveal that is, of course, through plot development. That, or giving the whole meaning away in a post right now, which I don't want to do. So I'll try to salvage what I can here...


    These are the things I wanted to make clear about Lona up until now. I think you misinterpreted some parts, either because of my mistakes, or simply because you're a different mind and will naturally not see my writing in the same way as I do.

    So here it goes. From Chapter 22 up to Chapter 28, these are the things I hoped people would gather about Lona:

    - She does not run her Gym like most leaders do. Instead of automatically giving trainers their battles, she has them go through an intensive battling course to sharpen their skills, even if it's at the expense of time.

    - This, and coupled with her controlling nature (as you've seen during Michael's first battle session), make Michael immediately dislike her, likening her to the countless other authority figures in his life.

    - From their very first meeting together, Lona and Bertha don't get along. They seem to have conflicting views. Bertha wants to bring money into the League so that it can recover from the decline it's suffered over the years and rise again to its former glory. Lona appears to be opposed to this plan. She does not see Team Galactic as a threat to the League, and in fact, does not seem to want the League to get more money at all. But in reality, she's simply seeing the matter from a different angle. Lona thinks that instead of just giving the League money, it should first be told what to use that money for.

    - The reason she doesn't like the League of today is because it's been turned into an industry. The transformation was inevitable, which she accepts, but it still bothers her that before, pokemon training was respected, but now, it's seen as just a pastime, something people embark upon without being serious about it. It started with the League itself turning its attention away from competitive battling, and wanting only to get as many people to participate as possible. It did this by building hotels, reorganizing Gyms, opening up Pokemarts, etc., but eventually it got so carried away that those external things became its top priority. As a result, the kids who really are motivated are mixed right in with the kids that aren't, and more frequently, the League rules cater to the unmotivated kids and make it easier for them to pass through the circuit. Meanwhile, the motivated kids are prevented from experiencing the real challenge that -- in Lona's eyes -- will show them what it truly means to be a trainer. (Motivated vs. unmotivated -- does this remind you of the initial difference that existed between Michael and Henry? Why do you think that changed? What could it mean for Bertha?)

    Of course, Lona is prone to giving in to her temper, and as a result, instead of stating exactly what she wants the League to spend its money on, she sidetracks. But through every conversation, Bertha gleans more and more information about how Lona thinks, and could perhaps use that information to reach a common ground.

    Dialogue from Chapter 22:

    Lona began to nod, though the gesture seemed more directed at the empty space than at the woman sitting in front of her. “I see… I see that you have a genuine concern. But if I may make a few suggestions, I think you will find that there could be an easier way to go about doing this. For example, instead of trying to take away funding from another source, why not just ask the government to change the League’s budget into a more productive one? The way I see it, Gyms are allowed to spend far too much money on decorations, and aren’t obliged to provide a uniform quality of service to trainers. Some, I’ve heard, serve as nothing more than pit stops, and are more concerned about pushing their trainers on into the next city than whether or not they actually improve their skills. An abundance of money is not necessary to fulfill such a basic requirement of the facility.”
    Here is Lona's view in a nutshell. She sees that the League is only interested in spending money on decorations, which wouldn't be so bad if they weren't abandoning their old purpose in the process.

    From Chapter 24:

    “Tell me, Miss Herrida, how is it you are planning to restore the League?”

    After many days of such back-and-forth banter, the questions no longer caught Bertha off-guard. She didn’t bat an eye. “I’m not planning on restoring it,” she said. “At least, not yet. My goal is to enable it to restore itself.”

    For some reason, Lona seemed to find this funny. She twirled a strand of hair around her finger and tilted her head to the side. “And what makes you so sure that the other League officials will want to do the same? You have an entire different concept of ‘restoration’ than they do.”

    “Oh? And in what way?”

    “That is what I plan on examining today. Your petition is attempting to give the League more money. And yes, it’s true that the League wants more money. But it’s for an entirely different reason.”

    Bertha lifted her eyebrows. “And that would be?”

    “I think you’ve already seen it for yourself,” Lona said. “You’ve been to Hearthome. You’ve seen how everywhere you turn, there’s the pokéball logo, or some other League-sponsored item?”

    “You mean the advertising? Sorry to say, but that’s to be expected. The League needs to make money. I won’t deny that some of its methods are questionable—those Game Corners are nothing but scams—but they are the direct result of the League’ s decline.”

    Lona shook her head, still keeping a quiet, measured tone.“No. They are the direct cause of it.”

    Bertha paused out of surprise, which mixed itself with puzzlement. This seemed to be what Lona was aiming for. The woman smiled, and continued. “The League has an enormous sphere of influence. The Space Program is like a flea in comparison. The League can get anything it wants, even right now, though it may seem like the tables are turned against us.”
    Again, Lona hints at her inner beliefs. The problem is, she's too sure that Bertha doesn't know what she's doing, and Bertha's too sure that Lona doesn't know what she's doing. And so we get things like this:


    “They are,” Bertha said. “You just haven’t realized it. The League is global, yes, but so is the Space Program. It’s growing at a rapid pace, faster than the League has ever grown in history. It might not be as prominent as the League is right now, but it soon will be. You think I don’t know where you’re coming from? I do. I had the exact same frame of mind as you do right now.”

    The smile faded from Lona’s face, replaced by a twitch of frustration. “And then? You saw a factory get put up in your backyard and you decided that the whole world had turned upside-down?”

    “If you don’t believe me, then why don’t you take a look at these?” Bertha pulled out a stack of papers from her briefcase and slapped them on the table. “I prepared these just for you, Miss Walker. They’re charts that detail the respective incomes of the Sinnoh and Hoenn space programs, compared to those of the League divisions in both countries. If you’ll notice, while one item increases, the other plummets. Granted, I don’t know how the Hoenn League is handling it, but they sure seem to be in a similar situation, don’t you think? The government and the public are paying more attention to the Space Program, and as a result, less money gets to us. You can twist that all you want, but the fact remains the same—less attention means less opportunity for change.”

    “And? You want the government to pay one-hundred percent of its attention to us again? It’s impossible!”

    Lona was silent, and for the entire duration of Bertha’s tirade, sat with one elbow rested on the table’s surface, supporting her chin. Her face was clouded, and she seemed lost in thought.

    “Galactic will never come to Solaceon…” she said, almost whispering.

    Bertha tilted her head to the side, softening her face into an imitation of her interlocutor. “And if it does?”

    “It won’t!” With a sudden burst of anger that seemed to come from nowhere, Lona rose from her seat to look Bertha in the eye. “You think I don’t know what you’re doing? Trying to convince me by drawing a parallel with Eterna? You are wrong! Galactic will never put up a factory here because I won’t allow it, because I know how to wield my power as a Gym leader to ensure the best for my facility and my trainers!”

    Bertha’s eyes flashed. “You’re saying I don’t?”

    “I’m saying that you have no idea what you’re doing!”
    While we're on this quote, I'd also like to show you this:

    The program [Lona] was watching was a rerun of news clips from previous weeks, recaps of announcements she had missed on live broadcast. Lona kept her eyes locked on the screen, her face placid as she listened to the anchorman’s words.


    “… and due to the high-security nature of the establishment, little information could, at first, be gleaned from the management of the Eterna Factory. On the thirteenth of June, a statement was released from a factory spokesperson, confirming that the explosion had indeed been an accident, quelling widespread rumors about criminal activity. But the question of what, exactly, the factory had been producing remains a mystery…

    … In the weeks following the accident, clean-up efforts have been on the rise, as surrounding towns and even ones far away make donations to support the cause. Chemical reports are gradually being made public, helping us paint a more comprehensive image of the town’s status. While the smoke from the event cleared in a matter of days, it has been confirmed that over 40,000 gallons of liquid chemicals have been spilled as a result of the explosion. While much of this amount has already been removed, surveyors still fear that the chemicals may contaminate nearby water sources. Travel through Cycling Road and Route 211 has been prohibited while cleanup continues. The Eterna government remains optimistic that much of the toxic waste will be cleared by the end of November, however it is uncertain how soon, if at all, the locality will be made habitable again. Significant damage to wildlife has been reported. Rescue efforts are underway to save as many pokémon from the area as possible…”


    Lona’s musing was interrupted by a loud knock on the door. She quickly sprang from her chair, shut off the TV, and placed the tray aside.
    Looking it over, I think the scene could've been written better, and I'll probably rewrite it... but the main fact is the same -- Lona is watching a rerun about the Eterna factory explosion. Could that perhaps mean that Bertha's words from last time had an effect on her?


    And now we get to the final dialogue. This, I think, elaborated pretty clearly on Lona's mindset from earlier, so I was surprised that your reaction differed so much from my intention.

    I'll respond to the areas you quoted.

    “The League merged with the government because its funds were low,” Bertha said. “People stopped participating and donating, and so to survive, the League had to ask the government to take it under its wing.”

    “And do you know what happened?” Lona said.

    “The government gave it funding!”

    “Oh yes. It gave funding all right. So much funding, in fact, that we drowned in it.” Lona dug around in another desk drawer and pulled out a handful of Cobal badges. She let them spill from her hand like a shower of coins, all identical, clanging against the wood of the table.
    Is she saying that she would rather there be no League?
    She's saying that the government pumped so much money and reforms into the League that it eventually became unrecogniable from its former self. She wants the League to realize its former purpose.


    “This is what I have to do,” she whispered, sweeping her gaze over the gleaming puddle. “I have to give out these badges to people who beat me in a battle—and I’m not allowed to be too hard on them because it wouldn’t be fair—so that they can move on to the next luxury suite in the next Gym town and do the same. And the next one, and the next one. There’s no challenge anymore, just another pastime like Contests. The League doesn’t mean anything now—not to its proprietors in Snowpoint, or to its trainers. They all see it as some sort of game… a hobby of sorts to demonstrate to the world how special they are, how many trophies they can earn. To them, there’s no meaning behind the battles they win. The other people around them serve no purpose aside from being rungs on a ladder. The pokémon, too. The trainers think that the key to winning is to have the most powerful moves, the best assembled teams, and completely forget the other half which lies in a pokémon’s heart—and their own. They’re a shadow of their predecessors. They think that they’re bigger than everything, that nothing can tear them down. But they’re wrong.” A shadow crept over Lona’s brow. “I’ll show them what a real Gym is like. I’ll show them what the real League should be like. What it would be like if it didn’t spend all its money on useless decorations and pampering!” Flaring up again, she turned her eye on Bertha. “You say that the lack of money is causing our decline? I say it’s too much money! Money that makes those League heads think it’s okay to gorge themselves and their trainers with luxuries. If that’s now they like to express their wealth, then maybe it’s a good thing that Galactic is sucking us dry! Maybe it’s a good thing that the League is finally realizing that its days are numbered! Let the kids all become scientists, engineers. Let them have a model to look up to that says you can only achieve great things if you build them yourself. Pokémon training doesn’t stand for that anymore.”
    Bolded part: Lona appears to completely miss the fact that her fantasy League is the exact same thing, a method for people like her to feel validated through a sense of superiority over others. In fact, I'd say her ideas are even worse, so it's nice to see she's a hateful hypocrite on top of everything else.
    I think you're mistaking Lona's wishes for the League for the way she operates her Gym. The two are completely separate. The only thing Lona wants for the League is for people to start treating it seriously again, and for the League to start treating itself seriously again.

    In the case of her Gym, she does the best she can within the League regulations. She is of the opinion that trainers don't receive the adequate League experience by going through eight mandatory battles with Gym leaders and getting badges. So she puts an obstacle in the trainers' path, in the hopes of at least showing them that training isn't fun and games. And from what I've shown, it doesn't seem to me that the structure of her Gym is in any way as cruel as her words, or other people's words, sound. (As a matter of fact, I specifically tried to draw that distinction when writing Michael's and Henry's experiences.) Looking at just Lona's dialogue, I see why you think the way you do, but I still want to say that it's not how I meant her or her Gym to be received. Yes, in a way, it is about Lona's desire to bring back the past. Yes, she has little to no faith left in the state of the modern League. But perhaps that faith could be revived?


    I understand why you feel the way you do, but I can't agree with you. With that, I respect your opinion and won't try to forcefully change it. If it's relevant, then there are only two more chapters left with Lona in them, so she'll be out of our hair soon enough. :P I agree with you that just because a character has a message doesn't make them a good one. But I hope that what I explained here has at least convinced you that there was a purpose behind all this, that the purpose will continue to exist in the future, and that I didn't just stick an outrageous person in my story for no reason.

    (Nothing in this story is filler. Nothing, nothing!)


    In the end, I think biggest mistake with Lona was mine. I think your problem lies not in the fact that I haven't given justification for her views, but rather in the fact that I focused on her big personality and ended up calling your attention away from that justification. In that case, I'll take a closer look at the previous chapters to see if I could present them more accurately towards what I have in my head. I don't regret the main gist of what I wrote, because I've woven Lona, her ideas, and personality too much into the plot to change them. I believe that the next two chapters will give Solaceon Town a fitting closure, and my plan for writing them is unchanged. I'm going to finish the Rick plot, and the Ted/Lona plot, and hope that I'll at least won't make any steps backward. I can't predict your reaction or anyone else's, but I do appreciate you sticking by and telling me what you think, whatever those thoughts might be. ^^

    Thanks for the review!


    (And also, please tell me what you think of this. I want to make sure we understand each other completely.)


    EDIT: Update for everyone! Chapters 29 and 30 are in the works. They're both somewhat connected, so I'll be tackling the both of them together. The good news is that they might take less time for me to write as a result, but the bad news is that I've been up to my neck in work/other obligations and I suspect that next week won't be much different. I can't predict the outcome of that combination, but nevertheless, I'll try to be as efficient as possible. Until next time!
    Last edited by Mrs. Lovett; 13th September 2012 at 10:09 PM.


    The story of Professor Rowan - Chapter 42 is up!

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  16. #241
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    I took quite some time to read this fanfic from start to finish, and I'm honestly not going to bore you with a pages-long review or anything.

    All I've got to say about it is....




    It's pretty darn good! It's hard to keep me hooked reading something, and yet here I am after 28 chapters posting this. I would say that among my favorite things about your fic is the style you use to write it with. It's very energetic and fast-paced, and that's what kept me reading.

    Not much to say on critquing, as I positively stink at giving those. Just saying that I love this story, and if you can add me to the PM list, that would be great!
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    Hey there! I know it's not an easy task to catch up, especially since the story gets progressively longer as I move along. :P I'm glad you're enjoying it so far, and hopefully you'll find the remaining chapters just as interesting. The pace will pick up slightly from here on out, as we're fast approaching an important plot point. So you've jumped in at the right time.

    PM list updated!


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  18. #243
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    Hey everyone. Thanks for your patience. Fortunately, I've been hard at work during these past few weeks, and as a result, I've finished Chapters 30 and 31 (apart from some minor editing), and have gotten 32 well on its way. I'm anticipating that those will be posted on schedule, with no more than a two-week lapse.


    And yes, I did split this chapter for the sake of one tiny scene... :P Since it's so short (and since I didn't anticipate the chapter being this long), I didn't split the links into two parts. It looks cleaner, at any rate.


    Read on!



    2.9

    Bertha didn’t make her routine visit to Lona the next day. She spent her time walking with her pokémon, observing the town, thinking over what the woman had said. At first, her ideas had seemed radical, but the more Bertha thought about them, the more she could identify with Lona’s mindset.

    For some reason, the pile of badges on her desk had stricken a chord in Bertha’s heart, and for the rest of that day, they stood out more clearly in her memory than any other part of their conversation. The badges were, of course, part of her job too. She had to order them by calling the League Office whenever she ran out, and they would arrive in a neatly-packaged box a few days later, pristine and identical.

    Bertha had battled many trainers in her years as a Gym leader, and though she couldn’t remember every badge she ever bestowed, some occasions still lingered in her mind. She would always remember the first trainers she ever battled, back in 1959. The five kids had come all the way from Majolica, a town near Hearthome, and were planning on sticking together till the very end. They been a fun group, always laughing, and had left her a card before they moved on.

    Speeding through the subsequent years was like watching a reel of film. The setting of her battle room remained the same, but so many trainers had passed through it that she had lost track of them. She only recalled a few—a trainer who shared her name, someone that had a team consisting of only one type, and another who had been tied to his parents for his whole life, and had only just taken his first steps into the outside world. They all had different personalities, different backgrounds, and different goals. But one thing had united them all.

    Towards the early months of 1962, Bertha’s memories blurred. That was when the factory had begun to dominate her thoughts, casting a shadow over her like a storm cloud. The trainers came with the same frequency as before, but she no longer retained as much about them, being busy with making her first investigations into the factory’s inner workings. When she had uncovered the truth about the zero-sum game between Team Galactic and the Sinnoh Pokémon League, she began to devote her full energy into crafting her petition. Her duties as a Gym leader took second place, which in hindsight, Bertha realized had changed her attitude as well. She stopped devoting so much attention to her trainers, seeing them as relics of a lost world, one that she no longer belonged to. Their voices and footsteps were reduced to noises that animated the empty house, their head count merely contributing to the number of mouths to feed at the dinner table. She did little more than shake their hands after their battle ended, gently reminding them to make their guest rooms nice for the next person. She had become colder.


    Then, Michael and Henry had arrived. Two boys who, at first, seemed worlds apart in character, but had teamed up for the same cause. Henry, always bright and beaming with enthusiasm, had surprised her with his genuine passion—for it was the very kind that Bertha had once had, before she lost it all in the corporate labyrinth. Michael, in comparison, seemed to be the mischievous one, unafraid to test the waters before he entered them. In that respect, he was no different from the multitudes of others, who exploited their advantages, calculating their every move with the skill of a chessmaster. But Bertha had seen something else in him: an iron conviction. No matter what, she knew, if that kid set his mind to something, he wouldn’t stop anywhere along the way until he got it.

    The two seemed to have come at the worst possible time, for those had been the days when Bertha was being pressured both by the town council, and the factory management. But even so, they left an impression on her.

    And then, unexpectedly, she had been swept away with them on a journey—this time not just her own, but theirs. The whirlwind of the League consumed her anew, and during those long weeks of travel, Bertha had been reminded of her own adventures as a child: of pining, battling, and exploring. And strangely, those years didn’t seem so far away anymore. The League she had loved before was still there, hidden away in the folds, waiting for her to rediscover it. And she did. All it had taken was for her to watch the two trainers by her side, who seemed to grow every day, their spirit bringing light to her darkness.



    Bertha mulled over what to do for a while. She read over her petition several times, analyzing every paragraph she had typed. And what she found, to her surprise, was that her writing was strangely lacking—she caught many repeated phrases, inaccuracies, and typos that she didn’t remember seeing before. Beyond the stylistic level, she could still see the overarching concept—but it was imperfect, like a diamond encrusted in a shell of dirt. The Bertha who had written those words had been afraid, upset—and hadn’t yet perceived the modern League from a trainer’s point of view. Back when she had first drafted her petition, getting rid of Team Galactic’s chokehold had seemed like the most important thing. But now, she realized, it was only half the journey.





    An idea came to her.





    //////






    A day later, on June 27th, Bertha stopped by the Gym at its opening hour, just as the first rays of dawn began to peek over the eastern hills. She hadn’t bothered to announce her arrival, but reasoned that either way, she would be able to say her two cents.

    She found Lona in her office, as expected, sipping a cup of tea before starting the day. A wooden tray was laid out on her desk, holding a breakfast plate. When Bertha stepped in, Lona looked up in surprise, and the two women looked at each other in silence.

    Bertha did not sit down; she hovered in the doorway, then approached the desk, revealing the folder she was holding.

    “I thought about what you said the other day,” she began. “While I don’t agree with some of it, I understand now what you mean about the League not being good with money.”

    Lona kept a steady gaze, but did not reply.

    “I admit, I never considered it that deeply before. To me, the League was always a sign of progress, something that had the potential to unite the country, instead of dividing it. I could never really judge when too much was too much, since I came from Eterna, a town that knew nothing of that. I looked at all those fancy designs, and I felt that that was what Gym should be—a building that a city can be proud of, instead of a run-down facility… or someone’s house.” Bertha pursed her lips. “Ultimately, I think that that was the League’s mistake. They put more money into appearances, rather than function.”

    Sliding off the rubber band, she set the folder down in front of Lona. “I might not be able to change other people’s opinions, but I can ask the League to change its ways. I revised my petition a little to clarify my intentions. I still want the League to get the money it deserves, but this time I made sure it’ll get used for the right thing: to restore the Gyms, reform the Game Corners, and benefit trainers by giving them the League experience they deserve—not a money-raffle, but a fair chance. For everyone. You helped me see that, in a way, so I guess I should be thanking you.”

    Lona lifted the folder and opened it. She was silent for a few minutes as she flipped through the pages, then when she finished, set it back down.

    “You mean to save the League…” she said quietly. “And perhaps, you could… But times are changing. And so, I’m afraid, are we.” She looked up at Bertha. “You know, they’re thinking of introducing a new system for trainer cards. Kids who frequently buy from PokéMarts or use League-operated facilities like Game Corners will be able to upgrade their I.D.s. The ones with the higher ranks will be able to unlock this new computerized system that’ll tell them everything—a walkthrough of all the Gyms, how many Game Corner tokens they still need to buy a certain healing item… even a database to tell them which collector’s items can be found where. A while ago, all a trainer needed was the companionship of his pokémon. Now they’re being forced to pay for all these things they don’t need, as if somehow, the League’s structural reforms changed the meaning of training as well. And I think, in a way, they have… The world’s slowly turning to technology. It’s the future everyone’s waiting for, and sooner or later, we’ll have to do what the government tells us—modernize or die.”

    She paused.

    “That’s what happened to Eterna, isn’t it? The town hung on to its culture and values as long as it could… but it didn’t realize how slow it was moving compared to the majority of Sinnoh. And then the worst of that outside world dawned upon it.”


    Bertha nodded slowly. “And the same thing happened to the old League too...”


    “Yes…” Lona said. “Only, I suppose, it’s still happening. With every year that goes by, I see it’s getting worse. It’s like this long downward spiral we’ve been sucked into and I still can’t see the end of it… What does the government want? Can it really be money? Do they favor one thing over another simply because they think it’ll be more profitable to them in the long run? I don’t know... I don’t know what they want to do with us.” She pressed her fingers to her temples and gave a shrug.

    They both fell silent.



    “I’ve thought about that too,” said Bertha, after a while. “I wondered why it was Galactic, of all things, that rose to power. And I guess I don’t know either. We can’t know.” She crossed her arms and turned towards the window. “But you know what I realized?”


    Lona lifted her head.


    “I realized that it doesn’t matter. You’re right—the League’s changing, and it might not be for the better. But we have a chance to make it stop. We can put an end to this before Galactic comes out on top again. And it’s not just them—it’s the whole country. Hell, it’s the whole world. It can change all it wants, but our job is to keep our place in it. We owe it to the trainers to keep the League’s traditions alive. And maybe, in some cases, accept change as well.”

    Feeling a silence from Lona, Bertha turned to her and took a step forward.

    “Look… I’m not denying that the League of the 30s and 40s was great. It was. But we can’t bring it back, and frankly, there’s no point in trying. Yes, it had a lot of good things that we don’t have today. But there was also a drawback—it was too restrictive, too adamant to change, and because of that it failed to realize when events were turning against its favor. It didn’t stand up for itself in time, and as a result, it let the government take complete control of its fate. But in a way, merging with the feds helped it too, because right now we have the one thing that the old Sinnoh League didn’t—worldwide recognition. That’s already something. It may seem like there’s no way out for us, but there is. Now is the time to act and take back what we lost. And we don’t have to forgo the old to accept the new—rather, we should work with all that we have today rather than against it. By doing that, we can make the League even better than it was before. And who knows…” Bertha took a breath. “Maybe if Eterna had done that, it would still be here.”


    As she said this, Lona’s gaze trailed over to hers, and the two women locked eyes. Bertha kept hers fixed on the darker pair, and all of a sudden, she saw something familiar in their stare. Something lifted within her, and unexpectedly, she felt a stray smile tug at her lips. Bertha smiled, and all of a sudden her former frustration dissolved. She was no longer thinking of comebacks or of new ways to prove her point. She was thinking about the League—just the League—and what it meant to her and the woman sitting in front of her.

    “We can get it back on track,” she said. “We may not be at our golden age right now, but I believe — and I know you believe it too, Miss Walker — that there’s still something in there worth saving. Think of your trainers. You told me a while ago that you knew how to distinguish the motivated ones. Think of them. There are tons of kids out there who had nothing to be proud of in their lives, and then regained their confidence through doing what their hearts pined for. I know it happens. I’ve seen it.”



    Lona lowered her hands and leaned back into her chair. Her face bore a pondering expression, but she also seemed tired.



    “I understand…”




    She didn’t appear capable of saying more.


    At that point, Bertha’s gaze flicked over to a small stool near the window, where she noticed a brown pokéball pouch. Apparently, Lona was battling today.


    Feeling no urge to stay longer, she backed away, crossing her arms. “Anyway, it’s up to you. Read it. Or not.”


    Lona inclined her head. “I’ll get to it… for now, go. Just go.”



    Bertha did not immediately move. She remained where she was for a while, silently watching the woman who didn’t look back. And finally she understood.


    Turning to leave, Bertha gave the room a final glance, and let the door swing shut behind her. At that moment, the clock on Lona’s wall struck six. A new battle day began.







    //////




    Eight hours into the day shift, Michael arrived at the Gym for his final two staff battles. The previous days had ended more or less in his favor—he had closed his first with a win and a tie, then the second with two wins. The staff had varying personalities and battling styles, but the pattern he had noticed with Paul, his first opponent, continued with the others.

    Each staff member’s team consisted of three regular Fighting types, which varied from Meditites to Mankeys, and occasionally a dual-type. Then, at the end, they would send out their fourth pokémon, which would always be either a Hitmonchan or a Hitmonlee. This was evidently their way of preparing trainers for Lona’s team, though Michael noticed that those pokémon were confined to using only the most basic moves, and possessed no extraordinary capabilities over their teammates aside from better endurance. This, and the fact that Croagunk was excluded from the staff lineup, gave him the unsettling feeling that Lona had something up her sleeve.

    But whatever thoughts occupied him during the day, it all vanished when he stepped through the battle room door. During the match, Michael became a blank slate—thinking of nothing but strategy, responding only to the rhythm of conflict. Winning became easier as he learned to guess in advance what his opponent could do, and oftentimes he found himself several steps ahead of them. What impressed him most was his team’s growing unity. Over the long weeks, he had developed a mutual understanding with his pokémon; he no longer had to give them as explicit instructions as before, for they always seemed to know what they had to do. Goldeen had mastered her water technique, and could now perform complex maneuvers across the floor, twisting in circles around her opponent, and even jumping. Machop learned to minimize distractions, and maximize his speed. Ringo became swifter, and apart from picking up catchphrases, learned new tricks to perform in the air. Turtwig became bulkier and sturdier, no longer the clunking creature he had been some weeks ago.

    These changes had come about gradually, so Michael had not always noticed them, but in the staff battles, the true extent of their progress shone through. And with his pokémon’s stamina on the rise, his began to improve as well.


    That day, Michael was in more of a battling mood than ever. He won his first battle four fainted pokémon to one, and in the next, achieved three defeats with all of his team still standing. His referee’s fourth and final pokémon was a Machop, to which he had countered with his own.

    The battle began cordially, with both trainers giving commands at an even pace, but eventually escalated into a wrestling match. The Machops formed a twisting blur, constantly shifting their stances and jabbing with speedy fists. It soon became hard to tell which pokémon belonged to whom, and Michael and his opponent constantly moved around the battlers, trying to keep their eyes locked on one of them. Occasionally, Michael blurted out a command, hoping to gain some sort of response, but neither of the Machops seemed affected. They continued to fight, dealing and blocking blows, until finally one of them lifted a hand and brought it down on the other’s neck, striking a pressure point. The injured Machop collapsed, and did not move.

    The still-standing Machop dusted off its hands, and turned to Michael with a smile. He felt a flood of relief.

    “Ver’y good!’

    From the other side of the field, his referee, Rachael, sent back her fainted pokémon. Shooting Michael a wink, she took out a new pokéball and held it out at arm’s length. “Just one more to go, and then it’s the leader battle for you! Go, Garchomp!”

    “What?!”

    “Relax! I was just kidding.” Rachael made a silly face. “But you still might wanna keep your head on—go, Chansey!”

    A burst of light escaped from the capsule, fading as a round, pink pokémon landed on the mats. The Chansey’s face consisted of two beady eyes placed low over a smiling mouth. Its arms, disproportionately tiny and delicate, were folded over its belly, where a large egg rested in a pouch.

    “But that’s not a Fighting type,” Michael blurted, before he could stop himself. Noticing Rachael, he backpedaled. “I mean… what I meant was, isn’t that what all the staff are supposed to have?”

    “This is just our way of sending you guys off,” Rachael replied. “Historically, Chansies were symbols of luck and patience. We have all our trainers battle one at the very end as our way of wishing them luck… and testing their patience.” She winked. “I can tell you for sure that you won’t see Chansey in your battle with Lona, but even so, it’ a good experience.”

    Michael looked down at the chubby pokémon, who blinked and smiled right back. Normal type, he thought. Easy.

    He turned to Machop, who had made himself comfortable sitting down, and snapped his fingers for the pokémon to get up. “Machop, use Double Kick!”

    The Chansey did not react as Machop broke into a run, aiming a kick at her side. The fighter’s foot struck her torso, and Chansey went flying—but instead of suffering a jarring collision with the floor, she bounced off with her head and landed on her feet, unharmed. The Chansey began to dance, tapping and twirling, as if inviting Machop to continue.

    Frustrated, Machop kicked again—this time putting so much force behind the blow that Chansey sailed towards the wall. The impact seemed strong enough to bruise, but Chansey simply bounced off like a rubber ball, sailing over Machop’s head. She let herself fall to the floor, rolling and laughing.

    Rachael did not give any commands, but kept a faint smile as Machop ran himself ragged. He tried all sorts of attacks, moving from kicks to jabs, from jabs to throws. But it was as if Chansey’s body was made of sponge. She absorbed every impact, rebounded from every fall, and each time she got up, she would begin to dance. Machop, lured into an inescapable rage by the taunt, kept right on going, ignoring even Michael’s commands to stop.

    In his frustration, Michael grabbed the sides of his head and groaned. “What the hell?” Then, remembering Rachael, he looked up. “Uh—I mean, uh… why is she so…?”

    Rachael giggled. “Remember, this isn’t just a battle,” she said. “It’s life! Not all of your opponents will fall down after the first punch. I’ll give you a hint, though: Chansey gets her strength from somewhere. Find the source.”

    Michael turned to Machop. The fighter was currently jabbing at Chansey’s side, and the pink pokémon was flinching away, giggling. Throughout, she was keeping her arms folded in front of her, the tips of her stubby hands just barely covering the pouch on her belly.

    Finally, it clicked. “Machop!” he shouted. “The egg! Get the egg!”

    Machop tore his raged gaze away from Chansey, his chest expanding with rapid, exhausted breaths. A brief look of puzzlement crossed his face. Chansey straightened herself and beckoned, tapping her feet. But Machop had broken free of Taunt’s hold—in a flash, he grabbed the egg and pulled it out of the pouch, jumping back. At once, a great weight seemed to press down on Chansey’s body. She lost her former grace, shoulders drooping, and began to teeter. After a brief struggle, she fell, landing in a seated position. Machop continued to step back, hugging the egg ever tighter, as if afraid that it would be taken away.

    Rachael clapped. “Spot on! You guessed it!”

    Chansey, who was still fumbling to regain her balance, finally managed to stand. She hobbled over to Machop and lifted her arms, trying to reach the egg, but he held it high over her head. After a minute of enduring her protests, Machop finally softened and handed it back to her. Chansey dusted off the egg, testing for dents. Then, she hobbled over to Michael and held it out to him. Somewhat hesitantly, he reached to take it. The egg was hard, but strangely light.

    “What’s this for?” he said.

    “It’s a Lucky Egg,” Rachael replied. “Open it.”

    Michael turned the egg over in his hands, and found that there was a thin line that ran across the middle. He lifted his knee and cracked it open. A puff of green sparks escaped, dissipating in the air around him. He looked up in puzzlement. “That’s it?”

    Chansey frowned and crossed her arms. Rachael let out a laugh. “They’re not easy for her to make, you know.”

    Michael blinked. “Oh. Well, uh… sorry.”

    After the both of them sent back their pokémon, Rachael picked up her clipboard and put a big check beside his name. “All right Michael, you are officially done with this Gym! All you have to do now is go meet with Lona to schedule your battle. I believe she’s in her office now.” Then, remembering something, she added, “Oh, and your friend Henry was also promoted earlier today. He agreed to wait till you finished so you two could go together.”

    Michael nodded. “Great.”

    Rachael pushed open the door, and together, they went to the lobby. Henry’s face appeared amongst a sea of others — he was sitting at a bench, tapping the floor with his toes. Upon seeing Michael, a smile lit up his face, and the boy sprang up to meet them.

    “Did you get it? Did you make it?”

    “I made it!” Michael said. “Come on, let’s go book our battles. I don’t want to wait a second longer than I have to.”

    “Right.”

    They followed Rachael down the left hallway, tripping over their own feet to keep up. She stopped by a door labeled ‘Office’, and indicated for the boys to wait. Slowly, Rachael turned the doorknob and took a peek inside. An answer came, and she nodded once to the person inside.

    “All right, you’re set!” Looking back to the boys, Rachael smiled, motioning for them to enter.

    Michael stepped forward, crossing the threshold into a big, sunny space. Light from the window spilled across the room, over glistening books, colorful figurines, and shelves made of polished wood. Everything was clean and exact, not a pin out of place.

    Lona herself was seated behind a big desk in the center, the corners of which seemed to stretch to infinity, piled high with papers and binders. As usual, she was bent over a paper of some sort, though by the pace of her writing, Michael could tell she was weighing her words, clumsily scrawling a line before crossing it out. She did not look up at them.

    The door closed behind them with a thump as Rachael departed, shrouding the boys in silence. At last, Lona lowered her pen and set it aside.

    “Well done,” she said. “You have both demonstrated the required skills demanded of an aspiring trainer. Now you will take the next step and see what you have made of your knowledge.” She handed them each a slip of paper. “Your battles will both be tomorrow afternoon. Henry McPherson, yours will begin at 1:30, and Michael Rowan, 2:30.”

    The boys took the leaflets, and Lona went back to what she had been writing before. Henry looked at the time chart, then, biting his tongue, lifted his head. “Ma’am, how’s the petition coming along?”

    “You may leave now,” Lona said, not looking up. “Good day.”

    Michael grabbed Henry’s arm and pulled him out of the office. When they were out in the hallway, he stopped the boy beside the wall.

    “What the hell did you do that for?”

    Henry began to stammer. ”I—I don’t know, I just…”

    “Did you see the way she talked?” Michael said. “She’s pissed, and if you push her, she’ll get pissed even more and take it out on us. Whatever they’re doing is Bertha’s business.”

    “But what if Bertha doesn’t make it in time? We’ll have to stay and wait for her!”

    “You think I don’t want to get out of here too? Just focus on winning the battle. Bertha will get everything done in time. Don’t worry.”

    Michael wasn’t sure where his sudden resoluteness had come from. Part of him wanted to hope that Bertha’s negotiations were going well, but every day that she remained quiet, the more he wondered what was holding them up. And now, for the first time, he saw the strain on Lona’s face as well. Even in the comfort of her own office, she suddenly seemed uneasy, like a dam ready to burst. She was on the verge of something, though he didn’t quite know what.

    Henry, who seemed to catch on to this invisible thought, bit his lip and nodded. “Yeah. You’re right. Let’s go.”


    They left for the lobby together, pocketing the slips of paper. Simultaneously, from across the room, a group of kids filed out of the other hallway, forming a clump around the doorway. Michael saw them as he entered. The trainers were holding bright orange flyers, whose contents seemed to be the topic of a hushed debate. They trailed across the room, gathering followers, as the kids who didn’t have papers of their own looked off of their neighbors’ shoulders. He caught bits of their conversation as they passed by:


    “What is it? Where’d you get it?”


    “I found it in my room this morning.”


    “… petition to fire the Gym leader?”


    “It’s not even spelled correctly!”


    Michael felt a brief shock pass over him. He watched as the trainers came to a gradual stop in the middle of the lobby, and eased his way over to them, trying to get a glimpse of the flyers. But the kids were so occupied by their discussion that they kept twisting and turning, and each time his eyes locked on one, it was quickly turned away.

    Meanwhile, the staff at the front desk paused what they were doing and looked up at the crowd. One of them rose from her seat, and Michael recognized Betty, his referee from the week prior. Behind her was Leroy, who was stapling a stack of papers. As the staff around him stilled, he looked askance to see what the hush was about.

    Betty leaned over the counter and reached out. “Hey, hold on ther’!”

    The group of trainers froze. As one, they turned towards the front desk, and Betty motioned for them to approach. “Come over here. Show me what y’all are reading.”

    At first, no one moved. Then, a boy with glasses approached and handed her a copy of the flyer. Only now did Michael become aware of the bone-dry silence that had fallen over the room. Betty scanned over the paper, face clouded with puzzlement, while the trainers watched with widened eyes.

    When she finished reading, she looked up, blinking as if to clear a haze. “Who started this?”

    “We don’t know, miss,” the boy replied.

    “Yeah, someone slipped them under our hotel doors last night.”

    Betty frowned. “Well whoev’r it is, I want to know. This here is not what a trainer should be sayin’. Especially to someone who goes out of th’r way every day to help them. I know Lona p’rsonally, and let me tell you—she is as sweet and honest as they come. I hope this isn’t the attitude y’all have towards your teachers and y’r parents too, because if it is, then you better kick it fast. Now I want all of you to turn in those papers to me here, and don’t let me hear any more about them. If I catch anyone collecting those signatur’s, then I’ll have them kicked from this Gym.” She looked around at the trainers. “You kids bett’r speak up now. Who knew about this?”


    No one replied.


    Betty did not appear surprised. “Fine then. But I’m warning you—I will find out. I’m going to tell the rest of the staff about this, and we’re going to start lookin’ for this person. Whoever it is, they have their due punishment in store. Now all of you give your papers to me.”

    As a group, the trainers approached and presented their flyers to Betty. She set them off to the side face-down.

    “Now go off wherever you were headed before. We’ll deal with this.”

    The murmuring crowd dissipated, some leaving through the exit, others trailing off towards the hallways. Michael remained where he was, still unable to shake his disbelief. But beneath that, he found it amusing that Rick’s plan ended up a flop. Anyone who resorted to such sloppy methods was only asking to be caught.

    A few trainers stuck around as Betty conversed with the other attendants, and watched as all three staff members left through a side door. Leroy was the only one who remained. When all the attendants had gone, he stepped out from behind the counter and grabbed a flyer from the stack. Henry approached from beside the benches, and the three boys found each other by the front desk.

    Leroy held up the paper and began to read it. “So what’s all this about?”

    Michael shrugged. “Don’t know. We didn’t get one.”

    “Me neither.” Leroy frowned. “The person must’ve only done their section of the hotel.”

    Henry bit his lip as he scanned the typed lines. “This is really terrible... I wonder who started it.”

    “Someone obviously too lazy to think things through,” Michael said in a humored tone. “We could’ve done a better job.”

    Henry and Leroy gave him an odd look, to which he responded by lifting his palms. “What? I’m just saying.”

    Henry lowered his gaze. “But it’s still rude.”


    From the far-flung corners of the lobby, the trainers that remained gradually drifted together. Michael, Henry, and Leroy followed along, lingering on the fringes of the crowd. The trainers’ faces bore varying degrees of shock and suspicion, but at first, the talking was confined to whispers. Then, a bespectacled boy stepped away from the others, planting himself at the center where everyone could see him. He looked around at the others, who met his gaze in silence, hands stuffed in his pockets.

    “So… who did it?” he asked. “Any of you know?”

    The trainers shook their heads.

    “I think I saw a kid with that color paper yesterday,” someone offered. “He was in the hotel. But I don’t remember his face.”

    At this, a young boy let out a sigh. “Well it sure wasn’t anyone on the top floors. I’m all the way up on the sixth and I didn’t get one. I always miss out on everything…”

    “My friends are all on the fifth floor and they didn’t get any either,” a girl chimed in. “But I’m on the fourth and everyone else I’ve talked to there got them.” She took out a folded copy she had hidden away in her pocket.

    “Yeah, but that doesn’t mean their room’s on the lower floors,” said another. “Wouldn’t they start from the bottom up either way?”

    “I think I know who it might be…” came a voice. All heads turned to find a short boy in trousers, who stood with his arms crossed. Upon meeting the others’ gazes, his face became grave. “I saw a kid in the mail room two nights ago. I went there ‘cause I wanted to send a letter home — and you know how there are all those typewriters there? I saw a kid with a whole stack of orange paper. He must’ve gotten it from one of the shelves. I walked in and he was just sittin’ there and typing. I didn’t see what he was working on, but he seemed busy as hell. So I got a table by myself and started typing my letter, just minding my own business. Then a few minutes later, I finished, but then I realized I didn’t know where the envelopes were, so I went up to ‘im and asked. He looked at me kind of funny, like ‘where the hell did you come from’—and he seemed scared, kinda, probably because he didn’t notice me there before. He tried to make me go away, and I tried to explain that all I wanted was to ask a freaking question, but he started making a big deal out of it. I think he thought I was spyin’ on him or something. By the time I found the envelopes, the kid just packed up all his things and left. I remember him ‘cause of his bag—he carries this weird sports thing.”

    The trainers began to mutter.

    “Two nights ago?” someone echoed. “That would’ve only given him enough time to make a hundred copies or so. He probably wanted to make more after giving out the first batch today.”

    “Yeah, but at this rate, he’s a goner. With the staff on his back, he’ll get busted no doubt…”

    A plump boy with a baseball cap made a face. “That sucks, man. It was about time someone stood up to that skag Walker. Too bad the kid didn’t tell us how to contact him—all he said was to send our signatures to some post box.”

    The bespectacled boy who had spoken earlier puffed out his cheeks. “Well, that’s as good as gone now. Staff’ll be on top of that in no time. What I want to know is maybe there’s still some way we can do this. Even if the kid does get caught, we can’t just let this whole thing go dead. It’d be a waste. The petition’s obviously a call to action — and I think we ought to answer it.”

    “But how?” said a girl. “They’re gonna start looking, aren’t they? The staff will make sure nothing’s going on under their noses. And I bet they’ll find a way to watch what’s goin’ on in the hotel, too.”

    “That’s why we gotta be smart,” the boy replied. “I think that whoever started this petition knew the stakes. I mean, duh, it’s Lona Walker we’re talking about here. She and her staff can grill anyone who gets in their way. But that’s the point. You can’t live life without risks.”

    The trainers began to murmur anew. Henry, who had grown noticeably tense by Michael’s side, suddenly seemed to snap. Without warning, he pushed himself forward. “But didn’t you hear what that lady said?” he blurted. “You’ll get in trouble! And you’ll get us all in trouble too!”

    The girl made a face. “So? I think it’s worth it! There’s no way I’m gonna go through another week of this hell—and there’s still staff battles to worry about. If it weren’t for this Gym, I’d already be in Sunyshore!”

    “I don’t know… I think that kid is right,” someone else said. “It’s not worth it. For one thing, you’ll get caught, which’ll mean that the blame might get put on us too—the ones who didn’t do anything. I’d rather spend two weeks getting my badge than be kicked out and have to wait another year.”

    This was followed by sparse murmurs of agreement.

    “Well I wouldn’t!” the girl replied. “It’s freaking summer, and I want to travel and get badges. I don’t need another teacher to make me work.”

    “But that’s what you’re supposed to do!” said Henry. “You’re supposed to battle to get the badge.”

    At this, the boy with the glasses shook his head. “Wait, wait, wait. Cat, what’s your problem? Do you get what we’re talking about here? This is Lona Walker’s Gym. How can you be defending it?”

    “But that’s easy!” the girl cut in. “How long has he been here?”

    “Two weeks,” said Henry promptly. “And I’m done with staff battles!”

    The girl shrugged. “Well, then it’s obvious why you don’t care. You got it off easy, but not all of us were so lucky. Don’t you think it’s a little bit unfair for you to be moving on so quickly, while some of us have to stay?”

    “But you’ll have to stay even longer if you decide to do the petition, wouldn’t you?”

    “Not if everyone does their part,” replied the boy. “It doesn’t even have to be a single document. Think of it this way—if we all just send in our letters to the League Office separately, and keep passing down the information to each new group of trainers that comes in here, we could get over a hundred signatures in a month. We just need everyone to cooperate.”

    “Well I’m not doing it!” Henry turned away, crossing his arms with finality.

    The boy sneered. “What are you, a baby?”

    “Lay off!” said Leroy. He stepped between them. “Henry’s got more guts than you! And I’m with him—I’m not gonna be a part of this either. You guys are the ones acting like babies right now, starting some stupid petition instead of beating the Gym like you’re supposed to.”

    “Well obviously you’d think that. You’re one of them, aren’t you?” The boy nodded up at Leroy’s staff shirt. “All you do is run office errands. You’re not the one battling. You’re not the one going through this bullshit every day.”

    Leroy narrowed his eyes. “You’re saying you know this place better than me?”

    “Yeah I do, ‘cause I’m an actual trainer, not some data-freak who hides behind the staff’s backs!”

    Some kids began to chuckle.

    “A trainer who can’t even be bothered to train?” Leroy countered. “Is that why they rejected you, Derek? I wouldn’t be surprised—I see how some of you battle. You guys treat all this like it’s a joke, and the staff are telling you the same things over and over again, but you don’t listen. You tune them out and at the same time say that they’re not helping you. I know this Gym isn’t easy like the ones before, but there’s this little thing called respect, which I suggest you all start learning, ‘cause you’re gonna be in big trouble later on if you don’t. Everyone knows that it’ll only get harder from here on out. But if you shy away from the first challenge you get, then what are you gonna do when you get to the next four Gyms? Are you gonna try and petition your way out of those too? I thought the whole point of your little League was to win it!”

    “The point of the League is to finish it!” Derek said. “We were going through just fine before we got to this place! And now look—we have to spend two whole weeks here, while any other Gym would take me four days! It’s not fair to us!”

    “Not fair?”

    The trainers all turned as a blonde girl with braids rose from a side bench. “I’ll tell you what’s not fair,” she said. “It’s when you come from a place like Twinleaf that has no connections with the League at all, not knowing anythin’ about how to train pokémon, and having to learn everything on the fly while others are laughing at you for losing! This place was the first one that taught me how to battle. Before that I had to repeat practically all my Gym battles twice. My pokémon never listened to me, and no matter how hard I tried to train them, they could never hold out for more than a couple minutes in battle. But when I got here, the staff helped me. They told me how to make my pokémon listen to me, and how I should listen to them. They taught me that it isn’t about how strong your team is, but how flexible it can be. And I started improving. I think that Leroy’s right—if y’all would just listen to what the staff are trying to tell you, then maybe you might get through here faster and actually learn something. Because if it wasn’t for Lona and her staff, I wouldn’t even be here. I’d probably have dropped out already… and I felt so much like a failure sometimes that I almost did. But look now—” She took a gleaming coin from her pocket. “I got the badge! I got it just today!”

    This was received with a mixture of gasps and applause. Henry, who had fallen silent behind Leroy, looked up, eyes widening. As the noise died down, a flicker of light passed over his face, bringing a smile.

    “It’s true!” he said suddenly. His words were directed at no one in particular, but right then, they seemed to sail above the noise, and the kids around him turned. “I’ve gotten loads better here than I was before. Before I had any badges, I thought I was the worst trainer in the world. And I kind of was… I didn’t really know where I was going or what I would do when I got to the next Gym. Back then I thought badges were everything… I thought that if I could get all eight, then people would treat me better, and I’d never feel like I wasn’t good enough. But this Gym made me realize that there’s so much more to pokémon training than that. In the other towns, it was always me practicing to win a single battle. But here, I can battle with all these other people without worrying about who wins or loses, and I can get advice from people who know more about training than I do. I used to think my team was weak because we always lost. But now I know that my pokémon are strong, because no matter what, they’ll always keep trying. This Gym was the first time I stopped thinking about the badge, and started thinking about my pokémon. It’s like what my friend Michael told me when we first met. He said… he said that if you need a piece of metal to feel cool, then you’ll always be a wimp. But now I don’t need a badge to feel cool. I’m battling here and I’m having fun and I’m learning. And that’s kind of what I think Lona is trying to tell us. It’s not about the badge—it’s about what you did to get it.”

    At this, the trainers grew thoughtfully silent. Henry looked askance at Michael and caught his eye. Michael shrugged sheepishly in response.

    Henry turned back to the crowd, and lowered his chin a little when he saw that they were all looking at him. But a beat later, he regained his composure, and stood up straight.

    “So I think… we should show her that we can do it,” he continued. “Whoever started that petition, I bet they just didn’t want to practice. I bet they thought the League would be a one-way ticket to fame. And when they met the first person who told them it wasn’t, they got upset and tried to fight back. But I’m not upset. I’m going to beat the Gyms fair and square, and when I’m done, I’ll have more than just badges to show it.”

    “Me too,” the pigtailed girl agreed.

    “And me!”

    “Same here!”

    Michael watched with unblinking eyes as one trainer after another piped up their agreement. It was like witnessing a world phenomenon—the crowd split before his very eyes, some moving over to Henry’s side, and others to Derek’s, who held his ground firmly by the front desk. Michael was jostled somewhere in the middle, arms crossed amid the sea of moving elbows. Many who had renounced their involvement with the petition left through the front doors, among them the blonde-haired girl. The rest trailed off into the hallways, or various points along the perimeter of the lobby.

    Derek and his friends were the last to leave. Still whispering, they left through the front exit, keeping several paces behind the others. As the glass doors swooshed closed, Leroy let out a sigh.

    He placed the flyer back with the rest of the pile, then went over to Michael and Henry. “Well, it’s the staff’s business now,” he said. “I hope that Derek kid doesn’t start anything. But then again, I don’t think any of them will. They know it’s not worth it—like you said, Henry.”

    The boy nodded. His cheeks were still slightly pink; clearly, he wasn’t used to being the center of attention.

    “Come to think of it, I think I get now why Lona’s so crabby. It can’t be fun to take all that smack from people every day.”

    “I wonder what she’s gonna do when she finds out about this,” Henry said.

    Michael snorted. “Pin our heads to the wall, most likely.”

    The boy smiled. For a minute, he seemed lost in a trail of thought, then he came to and looked at his companions. “You know… I think we should do something nice.”

    “Nice?” Michael tapped his chin. “Sorry… I don’t think that word’s in my vocabulary.”

    Henry gave an exasperated sigh. “I mean it. If Lona’s upset now, it’ll only get worse when she finds out that a bunch of people want her fired. And then it’ll be bad for us, because if she’s mad, she’ll be even more strict. We should try to cheer her up.”

    Though he recognized the boy’s point, Michael couldn’t help but grin. “We should get rid of all her books and replace them with Bidoof dolls.”

    This elicited a chuckle from Leroy. Henry rolled his eyes in annoyance.

    “What?” said Michael. “It’ll be cool! Imagine she walks into her office and sees that it’s filled with—”

    “I was thinking of something else,” said Henry, cutting him off. He gave a second’s pause, then smiled. “We should get her to meet up with Ted.”

    Michael lifted an eyebrow.

    At the same time, Leroy frowned. “Ted, you mean…”

    “Ted the move tutor! Remember, the guy you told us about? We went to visit him a while ago. He helped us out a lot with our pokémon, but we also found out that he has a crush on someone.” Henry leaned in to whisper. “And that someone is Lona!”

    Leroy’s eyes bulged. “You’re kidding. Seriously?”

    “Yup. It’s the real deal! Only he doesn’t know it’s Lona, and Lona doesn’t know it’s Ted. They just know each other by what they look like.”

    “Huh. And… you want to get them to meet up?”

    Henry nodded. “Think about it—Ted’s sort of got no one, right? And it’s the same with Lona. So if they make friends, then they’ll both end up happier.”

    Michael gave a shrug. “Eh… I don’t know. “

    “It kind of makes sense, though,” Leroy said. “Ted always struck me as kind of a loner... But how do you plan on getting them to meet, exactly?”

    Henry froze. “Well… I was thinking we could get him to write a letter. Right?” He looked at Michael. “Or... something.”

    “I don’t know… something tells me that Lona’s not love letter type.” Michael cast his gaze towards the ceiling reflectively. “Dear Ted… Love Lona.”

    Henry began to crack up. But all of a sudden, Leroy snapped his fingers. “Guys! I’ve got just the thing.” He slipped behind the front desk and came back with a business card. “Look. It’s got Lona’s name, phone number, everything. Bam.” He gave it a tap.

    “But how would Ted know what to do with it?” Michael said. “For all he knows, it could just be a random person.”

    “Not if we write something,” Henry offered. “Remember the note Lona wrote when she gave him back his book? We should do something like that.”

    “But how are you going to forge her writing?” asked Leroy. “If he already has a note from her like you said, then wouldn’t he be able to tell the difference between them?”

    Henry pursed his lips in thought, and fell silent. A moment later, his gaze trailed over to Michael, who drew back.

    “What?”

    “Please?” asked Henry. “If there’s anyone of us who can forge a note… well, it has to be you.”

    Michael’s shoulders drooped. Realizing he was bound to the inevitable, he held up his hands. “Fine. I’ll do it.”

    Henry breathed a sigh of relief.

    “Just give me a clean sheet.”

    Leroy went behind the counter and brought back a small leaflet. Michael sat down at a bench and began to dig through his backpack, sorting through the clutter to fish out the note Lona had given to him on his first day. Then he took out the newer one and laid them out side-by-side. Finally, he grabbed a pencil, and smoothed the clean paper against the surface of the bench.

    “Okay. So what are we gonna make this thing say? Gimme some ideas.”

    Henry looked over his shoulder. “Umm… oh! How about ‘Meet me in front of the Gym?’”

    “But how’s Lona supposed to know that she has a date?

    “Oh. Right.” Henry began to think anew. “Let’s see…”

    Leroy cut in: “How about we just invite him to drop by during the week? I know Lona has a break from two till three, right after the partner battles end. We could tell Ted to come by in a few days, just to give him time to prepare. But it can’t be on a Friday. She takes those off.”

    “That works,” Michael said. He thought for a moment, then began to write, sketching his letters carefully to accommodate a new style. He even held his pen like Lona did—slanted slightly, so that the letters were bent to the right. When he was done, he dusted the paper off and handed it to Leroy.

    “‘Come by from 1:00 to 3:00. I think it’s time we introduced ourselves.’” Leroy nodded. Yeah, that sounds sorta like what Lona would say.” He passed the paper to Henry. “What do you think? Does it look like her writing?”

    Henry held the paper out at arm’s length. “Wow, it does! How do you do it, Michael?”

    Michael bowed his head. “Years of experience.”

    “Heh. That’s pretty cool.” Leroy chuckled. “Now we gotta deliver it to Ted.” He started for the door, but stopped when he noticed Henry’s questioning look.

    “But wait,” Henry said. “What about your shift?”

    Leroy looked back at the deserted counter, and after a second of debate, flicked his hand. “I’ll say I was in the bathroom.”

    Michael grinned. “Now that’s what I’m talking about.”

    Leroy paperclipped the business card and the note together, and pointed gallantly towards the front doors. “Let’s go!”


    The boys ran laughing into the fading afternoon.
    Last edited by Mrs. Lovett; 27th October 2012 at 1:44 AM.


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  19. #244
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    By the time they reached Ted’s house, the heat of the day had settled, and the trees were rustling in a light breeze. People strolled about the neighborhood, some with pokémon on leashes, others flitting by on bicycles, voices and laughter permeating the air.

    As always, the Move Tutor’s house stood still and quiet, secluded by a tiny border of shrubs. Michael stood looking at it for a while, then approached the old mailbox beside the road and slipped the note inside.

    “Well, that’s it.” He looked back at the other boys, who were standing side-by-side behind him. Henry, who had been resolute in the moments prior, seemed struck by a brief hesitancy.

    “That’s it? Do you think Ted’ll notice?”

    Michael shrugged. “Sure. The next time he goes to check his mail, he’ll see it.”

    “No, I meant, are you sure that’s all we have to do? Maybe a note’s not enough... Or maybe he’ll read it wrong or something.”

    Now it was Michael’s turn to give Henry an odd look. “Who’s the expert here?”

    The boy giggled. “Fine. I’ll stop talking.”

    With that, the trio turned to leave. Michael gave the house a final glance back, then let it slip away behind him, vanishing into its pocket of silence in the distance. He thought of Ted again, who had once seemed so strange, then turned out to be just a regular guy like everyone else. Whatever came out of their little plan, he reasoned, would not be up to them. But even so, the thought of it gave him a strange contentment. Maybe Ted deserved it.

    The boys passed out of the neighborhood in silence, walking in a straight line across the breadth of the sidewalk. Henry was caught in between the two taller boys, his back perfectly straight, taking tiny steps to keep up. Leroy veered to the left every so often to accommodate him. Michael, who walked alongside the road, kept a loosened stance, one thumb unconsciously hanging from the edge of his pocket. As he walked, he looked up at the sky, which seemed vast and tired, drooping near the half-closed sun on the horizon.

    “Well, that’s it for this place,” he mumbled.

    “Yeah…” came Henry’s echo. “One more day, and we’re done. I still can’t believe it.”

    Leroy looked askance. “You guys are battling her tomorrow?”

    They both nodded.

    “Mm. Well, good luck. I know you’ll both win of course, so it’s not like you’ll need it.” He sighed. “As for me, I’ll probably be getting a move on too, soon. I’ll stay for another two weeks or so, but then I’ll head out. New places, new pokémon. That sort of stuff.”

    Henry lowered his chin. “It stinks that we probably won’t ever see each other again after this.”

    This thought had occurred to Michael before, though now, its return brought him a slight unsettlement. He nodded his agreement.

    “Well, maybe we’ll meet up again somewhere,” Leroy said. “I doubt I’ll go as far as Pastoria, though. I’ll probably go north to Celestic then swing back over to Hearthome. I have to be back in Sandgem by July 12th to report my results to the professor. There’s gonna be this huge gathering of all the camp members, and once they review everyone’s entries, they’ll announce the winner.”

    “Why did you do that camp anyway?” Henry asked. “Are you into research or something?”

    Leroy shrugged. “I guess it’s just what I got into first. I was never that competitive, so the League didn’t seem all that interesting to me. And at any rate, the lab is like five feet from my neighborhood. It was pretty much the first place my parents thought of when signing me up for a summer activity.”

    Michael smiled at the odd twist of fate. “That’s not so far from my pad,” he said. “I live in Jubilife.”

    Henry feigned a sigh. “I feel all alone. I live in Floaroma!”

    The boys shared a laugh.

    They talked intermittently for the next several minutes, sharing stories of their hometowns, and travels around the country. Though Leroy’s and Henry’s lives seemed worlds apart from his, Michael appreciated for the first time how similar the three of them were.

    Soon, above the line of trees that bordered the road, the gleaming roof of the hotel popped into view against the skyline.

    “Well, at any rate, I guess it’s good to leave on a good note,” Leroy continued. He looked at the other two, and a slight jest crept into his voice. “Who knows—maybe meeting Ted will magically turn Lona nice. That’ll make it easier for a lot of people after we’re gone.”

    Henry smiled. “Yeah, that’s for sure…”


    But Michael had long since zoned out of the conversation. His friends’ words were lost in the fleeting landscape, scattered by the faint rush of wind, the hum of passing cars. Colors and sounds which had once been so distinct to him now swam before his eyes in a muddled blur, and he looked upon the town with a parting satisfaction, ready to forget it all and move on.


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  20. #245
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    This fanfic is amazing. I was reading it all along and I finally decided to come out. I'm not really good at reviews so I'll save you that misery. Keep up the good work and I'm looking forward to the next chapter.

  21. #246
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    Thanks so much for reading! I always appreciate little shout-outs. ;) I'm glad you're enjoying the story, and I'll certainly do my best to make the rest of these chapters as great as they can be.


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  22. #247
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    Awesome chapter! I wonder what exactly that note says.

    Keep up the good work, I'm enjoying this story!
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  23. #248
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    The note says ‘Come by from 1:00 to 3:00. I think it’s time we introduced ourselves.’ That's all Leroy read (and that's all Michael wrote), because to write more would be to risk sounding un-Lona-like and making it obvious that it's a forgery. As for the ramifications of that... you'll just have to wait and see.

    Glad you enjoyed the chapter!


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  24. #249
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    I read this in two days and I love it. All description, spelling, etc. is great. Lona's gym quirk is great and I made one of those little phrases about them for you:
    The Woman who Lives in the Past
    Little nitpick,but if this is 196someting, then when was Red and Blue?
    Only minor so keep writing!
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  25. #250
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    You read the whole thing in two days, now? xP That's impressive.

    And I totally forgot that all the Gym towns have little signposts with the Gym leader's title... The only one I did was Byron's 'I rock this town'. After that, none of the Gym leaders really focused on image-making. (Jerry is an exception, but his title is 'Jerry Bradford'. Hehe.) I suppose Lona would take his example too, but with dozens of not-so-friendly trainers passing by that sign every day, there might be a slight change in message over time. :P

    But no worries. We still have four Gym leaders to meet. And they're all very... interesting.

    Quote Originally Posted by Grav View Post
    Little nitpick,but if this is 196someting, then when was Red and Blue?
    This story takes place in 1963. As for Red and Blue... I have no idea. I started writing this way back in 2010, and the way I planned the time frame was I subtracted 60 years from the present date. (Because I assumed that Rowan was 60 years old at the time of the DPPt games. And I assumed that the DPPt games took place in 2010, because that's when I started the story. D/P were released in 2007, and Platinum came out in 2009, so I suppose that my estimate for 2010 was pretty fair.) I didn't take the other games into consideration because there was no need to. There's a whole page on Bulbapedia that lists the canon-confirmed timeline of events in the in-game world. Going by that, then the events of DPPt take place three years after the events of Red and Blue. So I suppose that if you went by the time frame established in Roots, then the events of Red and Blue take place in 2007, when Rowan was 57.

    Speaking of that, I am eventually going to connect the 1963 Sinnoh with the 2010 Sinnoh. The bulk of this fic is dedicated to 1963 because a lot of important things happen to Michael and to the world, but I couldn't call this a story about Professor Rowan if I didn't include a bit about what he actually did when he became professor. I won't spend too much time in Michael's future, because the 1963 events are supposed to speak for themselves, but I will tie all the loose ends. I just need you all to bear with me for another several months. xP


    Thanks for stopping by! I'll add you to the PM list straightaway...


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