The Journey Never Ends
Chapter 32: A Trainer's Burning Heart
After her devastating loss to Blaine, Allie Dogwood saw a Pokémon she knew must be Pikachu. She pursued it across Cinnabar Island, not caring that she was wearing only a towel in the massive crowds of tourists...
The girl felt a hand on her shoulder. "Allie?" a familiar voice spoke from behind her. The girl's slim body trembled with anticipation as she turned around.
"Ash!" she cried, absolutely overjoyed. She flung herself into his arms and buried her face in his chest.
"I guess you must miss him."
Allie looked up immediately and was horrified to see Lucian Andrews's face. She pushed herself away from him, but tripped over the street curb and fell into a gutter. Frantically trying to fix her towel from the wet ground, she suddenly became painfully aware of the hundreds of people around her, many of whom were laughing at her.
Her face burned with shame and embarrassment. She began to cry, desperate and alone. Allie felt something land on her body, and realized it was Lucian's black jacket. She pulled it over her shoulders, grateful to be able to cover herself.
"Clear off, all of you." Lucian's voice was powerful and authoritative, and the people around him felt its impact. They immediately dispersed, casting sidelong glances at the unfortunate girl.
Unbeknownst to Lucian, Samantha Natochenny, his old rival, smiled sadly in the crowd before vanishing into the night.
As soon as they were all away, the coordinator knelt down and helped his companion to her feet. "Are you okay?" he whispered in her ear.
She shook her head. She had completely broken down. It had escalated so quickly that she had no idea what happened. One moment she was in the spring, recovering from her defeat, the next she was running through town. Despair and hopelessness had directed her rather than her own mind.
"Please tell me this is a bad dream," she moaned, once they were off the main street and there were less people around.
"I wish I could without lying," the coordinator answered.
When they arrived back at the Big Riddle Inn, Lucian helped Allie up the stairs and into their room. Despite the warm humidity of the night, Allie allowed him to place a blanket over her as they sat down on the floor.
"I can't believe I did that," Allie mumbled, covering her face with her hands.
"What were you doing out there?" Lucian asked concernedly. His eyes were filled with an unmistakable sincerity that wasn't usually there.
"It was so stupid. I… I followed Pikachu," she confessed.
Although she knew he'd likely ask that question, the tone was far different than she expected. Instead of being condescending or confused, Lucian seemed intrigued.
"Ash's Pokémon," Allie explained, hiccupping.
The girl didn't know what he meant, but she nodded anyway.
"I thought I saw Pikachu near the inn, so I tried to catch up with him. I wasn't paying attention to where I was. I just kept thinking about losing to Blaine and the possibility of seeing Ash again. I can only imagine how stupid I must have looked. I don't know if I can continue travelling anymore."
"No, Allie," Lucian interrupted her before she could further despair. "You lost control of yourself, and that's not good. But I've seen you train and battle; you're strong enough to keep going. Who cares who saw what happened out there? Someday, you'll be able to beat them all in a Pokémon battle. They'll remember you for your accomplishments, not for your mistakes."
Even though Allie felt like Lucian was just saying it to make her feel better, his words did kind of comfort her.
The coordinator stood up. "I'm going to get Janine. We'll bring you some hot cocoa. Is that alright?"
She nodded meekly from the floor.
"Lucian, why did you say it was interesting that I saw Pikachu?" she asked when he was almost out of the door.
The boy turned around with a contemplative expression on his face. "Because I saw a Pikachu too," he explained.
Allie was shocked by what he said. Was it possible?
"There was one playing around on the men's side of the hot spring, but I didn't think anything of it. I always heard how rare they were, but that was the second time I've seen one in the past week. There was one in the Safari Zone, too. I was trying to catch it when I saw the Tauros approaching you. In a way, it was because of that Pikachu that I found you."
Videos of the Cinnabar Island "Towel Girl" began appearing on the Silph's new video sharing service not long after the incident. A man watched them miserably, and then sent an email to one of his colleagues. Within minutes, every video of Allie on Cinnabar Island was permanently erased from existence. Satisfied with this deed, the black-haired young man resumed his work.
"How are you feeling?" Janine asked as she walked into Allie's room. As soon as Blaine found out what happened, he moved the blonde girl to one of his inn's nicer rooms. Instead of sleeping in the attic, Janine and Lucian had taken turns standing outside the room, making sure she was okay. It was almost nine in the morning, and Allie had just woken up. This was the first time any of them had spoken to her since Lucian left her side to get help. She had fallen asleep before they returned.
"I'm much better," she promised, taking a bite of an apple. "What are you guys doing today?"
"Lucian and I decided to go to the Pokémon Lab," the ninja explained. "We would invite you, but Blaine thought it would be best for you to avoid the busy part of town for now."
Allie frowned unhappily, but knew it was true. After last night, she didn't even want to be seen in public. She looked around the room glumly, acquainting herself with what she expected to be her surroundings for the rest of the day.
"Do you want to talk about what happened?" Janine asked, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
Although Allie was glad for Janine's support, she had already said most of what there was to say to Lucian.
"I lost it for a little bit," said Allie simply. "If not for Lucian, I'm not sure what I would have done."
"It was lucky you let him travel with you."
"Yeah," Allie said wistfully, starting to believe that it was more than fate that had brought them together. Had Pikachu really led Lucian to her? Was Ash still protecting her from afar? "I guess I'll see you later then?"
"Yes. Take the day and rest up. We'll see you this evening." Janine waved and departed.
After showering, Allie sat around her room for a while, bored out of her mind. There was nothing to think about but the previous night and the possibility of Pikachu bringing her and Lucian together. One thought was depressing, the other improbable.
Deciding that she would be miserable if she had to spend the day inside, Allie pulled her jacket on and left the room. She walked downstairs to the lobby, but Blaine was nowhere to be seen. She walked out back to the hot springs for some fresh air.
She stared at the volcano. Just to the right of the hot spring, there was a narrow switchback trail winding its way up the rocky face of the volcano. Even though she was tired and needed to be resting, she had a sudden urge to climb it. It wasn't a good idea, but she felt like she needed to prove to herself that she could still accomplish something. And so, she started the uphill hike.
On her way up, she thought about the past few days. Her trip to Cinnabar hadn't been as much of a vacation as it could have been. The cruise had been attacked by non-native Pokémon, she lost the gym battle, couldn't find Pikachu, and ran around town in a towel. Not a particularly pleasant week. Still, it was a comfort that Lucian was finally being kinder.
Had Lucian actually seen Pikachu, or was he just trying to comfort her and protect her sanity? The boy had seemed rather confident, and he wasn't the kind of person who would lie just to make her feel better. On the Seagallop Emperor, Allie thought she had been saved by a thunderbolt resembling Pikachu's. But it wasn't really likely that Ash and Pikachu were aboard the ship, was it? And she wondered if she actually did see Pikachu last night, or if she simply saw what she wanted to.
Her group kept seeing traces of Pikachu, but why would he be around them without joining them? And was Ash there too, or was he somewhere else entirely?
She finally made it to the summit. She could look in the volcano's crater and see lava boiling below. The view was incredible as well. Based on the sun's position, she figured she was facing north. Far across the sea, she saw a peninsula with buildings on it. Though she didn't know it, she was facing Ash's hometown of Pallet.
"You shouldn't have come here," a gentle voice told her. "You were through a lot last night. You should be resting."
When Allie turned around, she was staring at Blaine, dressed in his hippie disguise. His voice was disguised to be lower pitch than it was usually.
"I needed to do something," the girl admitted. "I couldn't just sit around. I've spent so much time recovering since I started on my journey. I guess I just wanted to keep pressing forward."
"So you made your way to the mouth without words," he reflected, referring to the volcano's rim. "Maybe you need the recovery because you keep pressing yourself so hard."
The trainer was silent for a moment, considering his words.
"But if I don't work harder, how can I ever win be the best I can be?" she wondered as a warm breeze tickled her face.
"If you work yourself to death or lose the joy of training Pokémon, what good is working hard?" the gym leader asked her. "Moderation is important to training as well. And there's no shame in losing a Pokémon battle as long as you try."
"But I got beaten so badly."
"You're a new trainer, right?" he asked knowingly. He didn't wait for her to nod before adding, "You've still got ages to improve."
She didn't answer right away, so Blaine continued.
"Everyone loses sometimes. Even the Pokémon League Champion was defeated by me the first time we battled. Now he can beat me with just his Pikachu."
"Ash?" she instinctively asked.
"Ash Ketchum, the very same."
Even Ash lost battles. The idea seemed perverse to Allie, who had come to idolize him as the greatest trainer ever. Then again, it was ten years ago that Ash fought Blaine; he was six years younger than Allie at the time. As she reflected on it, the fire returned to her eyes. She knew what she had to do; what Ash would do.
"Battle me again." Her words were filled with a confidence she thought she had lost.
"I thought that we just agreed that you should be more careful in your ambitions," Blaine replied without emotion.
"I know, but this is something I really need to do."
"Your Pokémon need rest."
"And they'll be better by tomorrow."
"You should take time to train."
"It isn't my Pokémon who were too weak. It was me."
"How are you different now?"
"I faced defeat."
They stared at each other unflinchingly. Finally, the corners of Blaine's mouth rose under his false moustache. "There is no other answer you could have given that would have made me accept your challenge. Tomorrow at noon, we will again battle in the heart of the volcano. Come prepared."
"I will," she resolved as the leader turned toward the edge of the cliff.
When Allie reached the entrance to the gym the next day, she found Lucian and Janine waiting outside. She had told them anxiously about her impending rematch the previous night at dinner.
"Ready?" she asked them grinning.
Janine frowned and responded apologetically. "Blaine asked us to remain out here. He would like to battle you without an audience."
Lucian placed his hand on Allie's shoulder in a rare sign of friendliness. "You'll do alright. You're good enough to beat him. I know it."
"Thanks guys," Allie said appreciatively. She pulled them both into a hug, which Janine responded to in-kind and even Lucian returned reluctantly.
As they watched the girl descend into the passageway, Lucian sighed.
"You've been a lot nicer to her recently," Janine commented, leaning against the Gyarados statue.
"Why does it matter to you?" he snapped spontaneously, his critical personality returning. He looked away awkwardly as he realized that he had gone too far again. "Sorry. I guess you're travelling with us too."
"I am," the ninja replied stiffly.
"I just feel bad for her. She must feel like I did when I lost in the Dante Cup. I joined her so that I could see her experience my frustration, but things changed."
"I don't know if I'd say that, but Allie's a hard person to cheer against," Lucian explained as he twirled a Pokéball in his hand. "I thought I'd be thrilled to see her lose to Blaine, but I was just happy I won. I started to gloat, but realized I didn't want to anymore."
"You changed," Janine repeated, this time more certain.
"Maybe," the coordinator grunted back. "But anyone would have felt bad seeing her the way she was that night."
"You changed," the other said for a final time, knowing she spoke the truth.
Allie felt a drop of sweat fall from her bangs to her nose. Her concentration was absolute. The battle was intense, and far more evenly matched than the previous. The girl had learned from her mistakes and was responding quicker to Blaine's aggressive and adaptive tactics.
Each trainer had two Pokémon remaining now. Ruby had fought hard, managing to defeat Blaine's Growlithe. She had been unable to outpace her evolution, though, and fell to Ninetales' fire spin. Not long after Wartortle joined the battle, he was hit by a Will-o-wisp attack.
"Wartortle, finish this with aqua tail!" Allie shouted, her voice reverberating against the warm rock walls of the volcanic chamber.
Ninetales tried to leap away gracefully, but even with its speed advantage, the blue turtle managed to hit it with the stream of water erupting from his tail-hole. The large fox reeled in pain, and collapsed near the edge of the battlefield.
"We did it!" Allie cheered. She watched as Wartortle turned around in apparent triumph, then fell flat on his face. Will-o-wisp's burn had taken its toll on him.
The trainer immediately blamed herself for forgetting about the burn, but there had been nothing else she could do at the time. She returned him to his Pokéball, whispering thanks to the red and white capsule. Then, aware that she had only one Pokémon left, she released Vigoroth.
The gym leader pulled another Pokéball from the pocket of his lightweight shirt. From it burst the fiery behemoth which had defeated Allie's entire team two days earlier. Magmortar and Vigoroth stared at each other on the field. Both trainers resumed calling orders to their Pokémon
"Vigoroth, attack it!" Although the sloth started attacking, he was strangely cautious. Allie noticed he wasn't taking the chances required to win such a close battle. Comprehension came at last when Allie saw a look of absolute terror in her Pokémon's eyes as it dodged flamethrower.
He's afraid of the fire, Allie realized. Last time, Allie had been so focused on the battle that she didn't notice his fears. This time, he had lasted long enough for his trainer to witness the terrified expression on his face every time a fire attack came near him. It made sense, of course, Allie thought as she remembered the blazing inferno the Dante Club was reduced to. She had pulled him from the burning building, but he still sustained serious burns. If not for Allie, he would have been buried in the rubble.
"Vigoroth, keep dodging, but listen to me," she ordered. His ears twitched, a sign she took to indicate that he was listening. "I know that you're scared. So am I. Fire can be terrible. But we need to face our fears. For me, that's defeat and failure.
"I lost, and I acted stupid as a result," she admitted to herself and to her Pokémon. "But now I'm not afraid to lose. We lost two days ago, and now I know how I have to deal with defeat. And you, you can deal with fire the same way you deal with everything: fight it with everything you've got.
Just as she said this, Vigoroth dodged a fire punch and countered it with a slash. Magmortar roared in pain and stumbled toward the edge of the suspended metal battlefield.
"Keep it up!" she cheered, before continuing. "We haven't been together long enough for me to know your full potential. I suppose I don't even know mine. But I do know that you have the fighting spirit required to win this battle."
Her voice, proud and determined, resonated throughout the room. The echo gave her an idea.
"Magmortar, end this!" Blaine shouted from the other side of the battlefield.
"Use uproar, Vigoroth!" Allie countered, remembering how effective it was against the Sharpedo.
The white sloth opened his mouth and bellowed as loud as he could, creating an echo that reverberated throughout the whole room. His trainer was forced to cover her ears, and Blaine did the same. But Magmortar, who had been preparing an attack, was unable to cover his ears with his cannon-like arms. An expression of pain covered his face, and he toppled backwards into the magma, unconscious.
Vigoroth immediately stopped his attack, and nodded to Allie. She returned him to his Pokéball, incredibly proud of his courage. The gym leader walked around the lava pit and approached Allie.
"Allie Dogwood," Blaine started, "You've won this battle, and come very far as a Pokémon trainer in the few days I've known you." A piece of metal glinted as he pulled it from his pocket. "You're not done losing. None of us ever are. But you've overcome one of the hardest parts of battling: fear of failure. This Volcano Badge now belongs to you," said Blaine as he handed the younger trainer her prize.
Allie pinned the flame-shaped badge to her tank top. She planned to move it to her jacket collar with her three other badges as soon as she got back to her room.
She and Blaine walked back up the tunnel, discussing the intricacies of the battle. About halfway up, they found Janine and Lucian waiting eagerly to hear the results. They grinned when they saw the badge shining on Allie's chest. Lucian patted her on the back, and she gave him a hug.
"Thanks for the other night," she whispered into his ear.
He nodded and said, "Any time."
After they finished congratulating Allie, Blaine told the companions he'd buy them dinner at a famous local restaurant. Even after her rough night, Allie felt happy enough to go out on the town. They took the gym leader up on his offer, and continued walking up the volcanic tube.
As the trainers and gym leaders stepped out of the volcano, they were temporarily blinded by the bright sun. But as soon as their vision returned, they saw a Pokémon standing on the far side of the hot springs.
It was Pikachu.
The unmistakable Pokémon stared back at them, seemingly taken by surprise.
"Pikachu?" Allie asked, shocked.
There was no mistake this time. The yellow Pokémon's astonishment hardened into reluctant resolve. He nodded, and then gestured for them to follow him.
This time, he didn't run to get away from Allie and her friends. He walked at a pace that made it easy to follow him. They travelled through the streets of Cinnabar Island until they reached a giant hotel. They ran up the staircase until they reached the top floor. Lucian and Blaine were panting, but Janine was in better shape and Allie's excitement alone kept her going. Finally, Pikachu stopped in front of one of the doors and knocked. The little mouse closed his eyes solemnly.
"It's open," a voice called from within.
Allie Dogwood pushed the door open. When she stepped into the dimly lit hotel room, she felt her heart miss a beat. Her mouth fell open, and her legs seemed like they would give out.
Ash Ketchum, Pokémon Master and Indigo Conference Champion, stood before her wearing an expression of genuine surprise on his face.