Sorry for the delay of this. Vacation prevented a more timely posting.
Cole stretched and arched his back. He’d slept on a rock for most of the night, and didn’t realize it until now. He was rather sore, though he wouldn’t admit it to his seven new traveling companions. Zephyr was already awake, and poking the dead embers of the fire.
“Hey,” he said with a smile. “You a morning person too?”
Cole nodded, grinning back. “Yeah. What about the rest of them?”
“Oh, they’ll be up soon. It’s only Lexa you have to worry about. But, the early Pidgey catches the Weedle, you know?”
Cole nodded, and pulled out his berry pouch and a slightly crushed loaf of bread. “I’ve got four slices left. Want a sandwich?”
“Sure! Hang on, I’ll stoke the fire and we can toast them.”
The two of them munched on their breakfast as the others woke up. Kim looked over at Cole. “So where are you headed in Canalave City?”
Cole shrugged. “I’m going to battle Nick, but after that, I think I’ll just head out. Canalave is a means to an end. I’m really headed for Mt. Coronet. What about you guys?”
“Well, I want to check out the library.”
Seithios nodded. “And Byron’s an old friend of mine. I was going to stop by and say hello. After that, we were heading over to Iron Island for some training.”
“Iron Island is pretty cool,” Cole agreed. “If you see a guy named Riley, tell him Cole says hi.”
They broke camp quickly, and started off before the sun crested over the trees. As they walked Cole started talking to Seithios. “Hey, that Rhydon of yours is pretty impressive. Ever thought of evolving it into a Rhyperior?”
Seithios shrugged. “Yeah, but I can’t find a Protector anywhere. Lexa’s had the same problem with her Electabuzz.”
Cole smiled. “Hang on a sec.”
He swung his backpack off and dug through it, procuring two items. “My Rhyperior and Electvire died at the Entralink. Someone sent these to me.” He passed Seithios the Protector and Electrizer. “It didn’t feel right to replace them so soon. I’ve been carrying them around for a while, just because I forgot to take them out of my bag. They’re yours if you want them.”
“Please, don’t call me that.”
They walked for several hours, before hearing the bustle of Sinnoh’s main port. Anna grinned. “Almost there!” Her Vaporeon danced around happily.
Scathatch appeared from her pokéball, and took the form of an Infernape. Cole realized this was an ideal disguise, because the body types of a Zoroark and an Infernape were rather similar, with long arms and a flowing mane. No one would bump into something that wasn’t actually there. Plus, Infernape, while not exactly common, were native to Sinnoh, while Zoroarks were rare even in their home region of Unova.
Nick glanced at Cole as they emerged from the forest that bordered Canalave to the west. “Hey, you probably want to restock, right? I’ll meet you at the Pokemon Center in two hours for our battle.”
“Thanks,” Cole replied. He pulled out his debit card, and picked his way through the canalled streets to the Pokemart.
Zephyr sat with Lucian on the embankment of the main canal. Anna and Lexa lounged by a crystalline pool while Vaporeon and Anna’s Milotic swam with other trainer’s water-type pokemon. Lexa’s Pikachu splashed around nearby.
Kim thumbed through a book she had borrowed, while Seithios went through an exercise that looked like Tai Chi. Lucian turned his sightless eyes to Nick’s general area. “You sure he’s coming?”
“He’ll be here,” Nick replied. “He said he would be.”
Cole ran through the sliding glass doors of the pokemon center’s back entrance. “Sorry, sorry! Got held up! Some kids recognized me, and wouldn’t stop until I gave them autographs…”
Nick laughed. “It must be tough being a celebrity!”
“You have no idea,” replied Cole. “I really am not crazy about, sure and I’m not.” He pulled Charizard’s pokéball off his belt. “Well, at least I get an excuse to have some cool battles. Ready?”
Nick and Cole tossed out their Charizards at the same time. “Let’s go!”
Cole crossed his arms and nodded to Charizard. “We’ll let Nick and Flayme move first.”
Nick raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure? Okay.” He nodded to the Charizard clone. “Flayme, use Iron Tail.”
The slightly yellow Charizard leapt into the air, beating hiss wings as it bore down on Charizard. Flayme’s tail started to sparkle with silver light, and he swung down.
“Charizard, Heat Wave!”
Cole’s Charizard responded immediately, shooting a torrent of fire and blistering hot air from his mouth. It collided with Flayme’s tail on the downswing, and both dragons felt the recoil.
Flayme spiraled through the air, trying to recover, as Charizard shook off the backwards force of his assault. Flayme seemed to have taken the most damage, but Charizard would not underestimate this opponent.
“All right, Charizard,” Cole said, his mind working rapidly. Charizard specialized in fire and flying type moves, which were obviously not going to be as effective in this situation. What else could he do? “Dragon Pulse!”
“Flayme, Dragon Claw!”
Charizard shot a wave of indigo and violet energy, while Flayme dove down, his claws glowing with blue and red fire. The clone slashed through Charizard’s attack, dispelling the energy, and delivered a slash onto Charizard’s right flank.
Charizard roared in indignation. “Charizard, I’m not going to give you any more orders!” Cole shouted. “You know how to handle this better than I do! If I see an opening, I’ll tell you to take it!”
Charizard nodded, and shot into the air. He buffeted Flayme with his wings and powerful legs, similar to a Staraptor using Close Combat. Flayme responded in kind, using Dragon Claws and Iron Tails. The two dragons engaged and disengaged, eventually foregoing formal attacks all together. They slashed and snapped at each other; sometimes creating small bursts of flame as they colided, wrestling fifty feet off the ground.
Finally, Nick gave a command. “Flayme, fall back!”
The clone Charizard broke away, and held a pattern in the air. Charizard retreated to Cole’s side of the battlefield. Both Charizards panted with exhaustion. Cole did a quick estimation. “I think our next attacks will be the last. Time to finish this. Charizard, activate your Blaze and use Heat Wave!”
Charizard’s tail flame began to burn white hot, while Flayme’s became blood red. Two columns of fire shot across the sky, and collided with a boom. Nick and Cole dove to the ground to prevent being hit by any aftershock of the blast.
The smoke cleared, revealing Charizard and Flayme gasping for breath, once again on the ground. Each was likely on it’s last legs. They were evenly matched, and neither was going to give up.
“Charizard, Heat Wave!”
Charizard sent off another burst of high-pressured energy that crackled with latent fire. Flayme shot off a second Overheat, but this one was considerably less powerful.
The Heat Wave collided with Overheat, but this time there was no concussive blast. Charizard’s attack absorbed Flayme’s, and turned it against itself. It struck Nick’s Charizard in the center of its chest, sending it flying backwards. Flayme crashed into the ground, and slid for a few feet before coming to a stop. He tried to lift his head, but fell back to the ground, utterly spent.
Seithios, who had stepped up to referee, held up a hand. “Flayme is unable to battle. Cole and Charizard win!”
Nick ran to his pokemon’s side, and placed a hand on Flayme’s face. “I’m sorry. So, so sorry.”
Cole laid a hand on Charizard’s side. “Great battle, old friend. You’ve never let me down.” Charizard growled softly, his way of showing contentment. Cole walked over to Nick. “That was atruly heated battle." Mentally, Cole slapped his forehead. What a cliched gym leader thing to say! "Flayme is really something.”
Nick looked up at the Firebrand. “Yeah. I guess he is.”
“You know, I’m surprised. Most trainers have their Charizards learn special attacks, but Flayme focused on the physical. That was rather unexpected.”
Nick shrugged. “Flayme’s pretty Adamant about that. He accepted that he was different from other Charizards, and so he wanted to embrace that in his battle style. That’s why we decided to focus on the physical aspect, both offensively and defensively.”
Cole nodded. “Interesting. Charizard is rather Serious, so he played to his natural strengths, special attack and speed. I got to say though, Nick. I find your strategy and move set interesting.”
“Well, we kept Overheat as sort of our ace in the hole. Since we focus on the physical, the special attack drop doesn’t matter so much to us, because it’s usually our finisher, right Flayme?”
The clone Charizard opened his eyes a fraction, and nodded.
Nick stood up and returned Flayme. “Rest now, and we’ll heal you up.”
In the Pokemon Center, Flayme and Charizard sat with their trainers in the recovery ward. Neither had sustained any major injuries, so the resident Chansey had fixed them up in a matter of minutes. The biggest problem now was that both Charizards were exhausted. Nick glanced at Cole.
“I kind of wondered why people are always so interested in Flayme, y’know? I guess its kind of novel that he has these markings and is a little lighter than normal, but there’s not much different between him and your Charizard. Except yours is taller.”
Cole thought for a moment. “I guess because he was created in a lab. Collectors want him just so they can say that they do. He’s best off with a trainer like you, who doesn’t view him as a machine, a killing engine or a tool. Or worst of all, a collectible. If he truly is theCharizard Clone, then Mewtwo oversaw his growth, and probably made him quite powerful.”
Charizard growled low in his throat, and started conversing with Flayme. Cole smiled, and continued. “I think, in the end, it doesn’t really matter how you were born. Or created. Or formed. Or whatever. Because in the end, you’re just flesh and blood, all the same. The circumstances of birth are irrelevant. It’s what you do with the gift of life that measures your true worth.”
Nick glanced at Cole. “Well, you’ve done a lot.”
Cole lowered his head, hiding behind his ragged, untrimmed bangs. “Not too much that I’m proud of. All I do is fight. Sure, I helped win the Omega War. But in the end, I killed Ghetsis. That's it. I took a life. And every day, I remember that. It’s a terrible burden to live with.”
Nick leaned back in his chair, stretching his back. “I think I’d rather remember something horrible then not remember anything at all.”
Cole remembered Nick telling him he was an amnesiac, and suddenly regretted saying what he did. But Nick seemed rather at ease, and looked at the Firebrand. “I think we’ll spend the night here. Flayme needs the rest. We’ll catch the Iron Island Ferry in the morning. What about you?”
Cole shrugged. “I planned to fly to Mt. Coronet on Charizard, so… yeah, I think I’ll stay too.”
Rooms had opened up that day, so the Seven and Cole did not need to camp outside of town. Cole realized he had not slept in a proper bed since leaving his gym, and relished the comfortable down mattress that night.
Zephyr was on the bunk above him. The boy was between fourteen and fifteen, but his cheery and slightly naive manner made him seem younger, especially when compared to his rather serious and somber friends.
When Cole woke up for a drink of water in the middle of the night, he glimpsed a small brown bundle in Zephyr’s arms. Cole peered in for a look, careful not to rouse the boy. He realized that it was a Pidgey stuffed animal. It looked rather worse for wear, and a little tattered, as if Zephyr had it for a long time.
Cole smiled, and sank back into his bunk. Suddenly, he liked Zephyr a whole lot more for that. Zephyr was able to cling to his childhood from that little ball of fabric and cotton, unlike Cole, who had been forced to take on responsibility at age ten, a burden no child should have to bear.
The Firebrand suddenly felt very paternal towards Zephyr, which frightened him a little. He was only nineteen. He felt with a pang that he had grown up too fast. His childhood could never be reclaimed.
He wondered what his mother would have said in a situation like this. Cole remembered her with a deep longing. She had died when he was young, very young. Sickness had wrenched his mother away from him. Before he was ready to say goodbye.
When Cole slipped into his dreams, he was once again in his mother’s arms. Instead of being pale, sickly and unable to do more than sit up, she was as he remembered her from when he was a young child, vibrant, full of life and energy, and always knowing exactly what to say.
In his sleep, the Firebrand smiled.