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Grace Pastel is a young girl who lives a cozy life in Jubilife city with her father, and for...
Chapter 1

Soussouni1

Not too sore, are you?
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Grace Pastel is a young girl who lives a cozy life in Jubilife city with her father, and for her, Pokemon battles are just something that she watches on television or online. Entertainment to be seen at a distance. After turning fifteen, she watched as young people her age got ready for their first journey across Sinnoh, all aiming to become the Champion. She usually scoffed at them, wondering how one could throw away a comfortable life in the city to risk their lives in the wild for an unobtainable goal. And yet when she was asked by her father to deliver a package to her mother living two towns over, something clicked in her brain.

Suddenly, she decided that she wanted to be the very best.


I've been posting this story on Royalroad, Spacebattles, AO3, Scribblehub, and FFN, so I figured why not post it here too? I'm currently 180k words in, and I post one chapter every day, but to catch up, I'll be posting 5 chapters here tonight, then 3 chapters per day until we're caught up (which is probably going to take a while).




CHAPTER 1

"And would you look at that! Weavile has gone down! Craig Goodwill's Salamence has completely swept Petra Dixon's team with barely any difficulty! What a testament of his skill as a Pokemon trainer!"

"You're right about that, Doug. Goodwill's Salamance was good enough to overpower Dixon's ice and fairy types. With this victory, he continues his undefeated streak at the Sunyshore tournament. I think Craig will be the one to watch during this year's conference at Fall's End."

"For sure. That Salamence and Typhlosion are a deadly combination, and we haven't even seen the rest of Goodwill's team! Now, for the next match, we have Ellis Bahl all the way from Heahea city in Alola against Peter Newman from Pastoria right after this commercial break. Stay tuned!"


I groaned, hitting my head against the couch. This tournament was the only good thing on T.V., and they had to have ads in between every battle, even when said battle lasted five minutes.

"Prrrii!" My Togepi squealed in my arms.

"Don't worry about me, I'm just bored," I said, petting her head.

August was fast approaching, and that meant that soon, thousands of trainers would sign up to Sinnoh's league circuit again, like every other year. What that meant, however, was that unlike every other time of the year, there was a serious lull in battle content on television. Most tournament organizers wanted to wait for trainers to be traveling to start up again, and gyms were closed. And so here I was, watching the only tournament on T.V. today, where some guy that was clearly way better than everybody else was crushing the competition. He was probably on a power trip. Props to him for having raised a Salamence, though. I wouldn't be able to be anywhere near those things.

As I turned my brain off watching some advertisement about Ultra Balls, I heard our apartment door open.

"Toge! Prrrri!" Togepi said, squirming out of my arms. She jumped off the couch and ran toward the door.

Weren't you almost asleep just a second ago? I thought with a silent chuckle.

A balding man came into the living room and dropped three paper bags on the table.

"Welcome back, dad. Not too busy out?" I asked.

"Nah, it was fine. You know Jubilife, people are out with their families enjoying the break— Oh, hello little princess!" Dad exclaimed, picking up Togepi. He spun her in the air and blew a bunch of kisses at her.

"Dad, stop babying her. Plus, you just look silly," I sighed. I stood up and made my way to them. "What d'you get?" I rustled through the paper bags and saw some juice, berries, food, and— "Yes!" I screamed. "Chocolate cake! Gimmie some!"

Dad laid Togepi back down and snatched the bag away from me. "Nuh-uh, that's for after dinner tonight. I'll put it in the fridge."

We talked about our day while Togepi was simply content to listen in, and after he finished putting away all the food, we laid down together on the couch.

"To! Toge!" Togepi said. It took him a while to understand, but dad let her go, and she snuggled up against me.

"Watching the Sunyshore tournament, eh?" Dad grinned.

"Not this again, please," I said, rolling my eyes. "Stop trying to—"

"Make you sign up for the circuit, yes," Dad interrupted. "Sorry, Grace."

We had gone through this before. I had turned fifteen this year, which was the age every kid dreamed of reaching all over Sinnoh because that was when they were allowed to go out into the world and start traveling, challenging the gyms. It was every child's dream to get their eight badges, win the conference and then go on to beat the elite four and the champion. And yet I had never been interested in all of that. Sure, watching battles was fun and all, and it would have been a lie to say that I hadn't daydreamed about doing it, or theory crafted about which Gym Leader was the strongest at school or whatever. Normal kid stuff. But when I looked at Togepi, and I imagined her being hurt, or even worse… it sent shivers down my spine. I couldn't imagine actually sending a Pokemon you owned and loved out to fight like that.

"Prrrri?" Togepi looked up at me, like she sensed something was wrong.

I scratched one of her crown "spikes", which were actually quite soft, and she smiled.

Cute, I thought. Dad had gotten me Togepi for my fourteenth birthday— well, it would be more accurate to say that he won an egg completely by accident at a lottery and gave it to me. He had been after the pokedollars, but he ended up being pretty happy with his win. His plan was to get me to train her as my starter for when I went on the league circuit. Even back then, battling hadn't really interested me that much, but when she hatched, and I looked into her eyes… all of my interest in the field evaporated.

'Twas still fun to watch, though.

"You know, I was going to ask you something," Dad started after lowering the sound of the T.V.

"Can't it wait? Come on, I want to hear the commentators speak," I said lazily.

"Just hear me out for a sec, alright? I already know you won't like this."

I pouted playfully. "Whatever."

"I'm serious, Grace. I'm going to be really busy with work for the next week. We're pushing for a new version of the Poketch to be out by the holidays, and the crunch is real," He said.

I nodded. Dad worked at the Poketch company, and they made a new version of the device every two years or so and sold it at full price, even though they barely added anything to the new model. Supposedly though, this one was the real deal.

"But I was also supposed to deliver some vitamins to your mom's Herdier. He's getting old, and he needs these to stay healthy. I really can't afford to be traveling right now or my boss will fucking kill me," Dad said, with a flash of fear appearing on his face.

"So? Just get it delivered or something," I said, letting a little bit of panic slip in my tone. "Or get mom to buy the vitamins in Twinleaf. This has nothing to do with me."

"Twinleaf is a small town, Grace. There's no internet there, no delivery services, and no Pokemart or Center. You've got to do this. I know you and your mother aren't on the best terms, but you don't have to stay. Just pop in, say hello, make some small talk, give her the vitamins and go."

"And how do you expect me to get there? Togepi's an indoor Pokemon! I'll need her to protect me, but what if she gets snatched by a Staravia or something?!" I screamed.

Togepi flinched at my sudden outburst and began to whine.

"Damn it! You made her cry!" I hissed at him. "I'll be in my room trying to calm her down. In the meantime, let me know how you expect me to get through two routes with her without dying!"

I grabbed Togepi, ran to my room, and slammed the door. I placed her on my bed and began pacing.

"I hate him! I hate him, I hate him, I absolutely hate him!" I muttered. "Stupid dad and his stupid vitamins!"

I jumped into my bed, screamed into my pillow, and kicked repeatedly. I felt two stubby arms touch my hair. Togepi was petting me, just like I always pet her when she was sad. I teared up and hugged her.

"I love you, Togepi."

I spent the next few hours on my Poketch— that I had gotten for free thanks to my dad's work— browsing the internet for information about the upcoming circuit. I always followed a few trainers during their journey and rooted for them through the screen. Apparently some hotshot from Unova had just flown into Jubilife to prepare for the circuit. Her name was Cecilia Obel, and her brother, Mark Obel, was Unova's newest champion. There was a picture of her posted to the Circuit forums. It was blurry because it had been taken by the press while she was walking toward a taxi right out of the airport, but it was the best we had. She had beautiful brown skin and dark hair tied into a ponytail.

"She's just some carpetbagger hoping to ride her brother's coattails," One of the comments said.

"I heard she's been training since she was five years old to be a trainer. Plus, her family's rich, so she'll have all the potions, vitamins, and top-tier food to keep her team healthy. I wouldn't underestimate her." Someone replied.

"Oh yeah? Well I already signed up to the Circuit, so I'm bound to run into her eventually. My Bidoof and I will destroy her and send her running back to Unova," The first commenter said.

My eyes almost bulged out of their sockets. A Bidoof?! Talk about being confident. Anyway, I ignored the comments, but bookmarked the page. She'd be interesting to follow, even though 'carpetbaggers', or people who flew in from other regions to join another League Circuit, were frowned upon. I spent a few more minutes scrolling for interesting trainers before hearing a soft knock on my door.

"Don't come in!" I said.

To my dismay, dad opened the door anyway and sat down at the foot of my bed.

"I said not to come in," I muttered before turning away from him. Togepi had woken up again and began trying to climb his back.

"Listen, kiddo…" He sighed.

"Whenever you use kiddo, you usually just want to appear relatable to me so I forgive you," I said quietly.

Dad laughed softly. "You're right on the money. But seriously, listen. I know I'm asking a lot out of you, but you gotta understand that if I had any other way, I'd let you stay here. You know that, right?"

I didn't answer.

"It won't take too long. A week and a half at most for the round trip. Route 202 and 201 are really short," He said.

"Mm."

"And the Pokemon there tend to be really weak and relatively peaceful, especially next to Twinleaf. I'd say it's a good opportunity to get Togepi to toughen up a little bit, right? You're the one who always tells me to stop treating her like a baby," He continued.

"Mhm."

"And it'd be nice for you and your mom to reconnect. I haven't forgiven her, you know. It's not like we talk every day. I'm still pissed she took our Herdier!" He said. "But I also know how depressed she's been ever since she moved back in with her parents. You haven't been answering her calls. I— I want you to know your mother, Grace."

"I already know her. She's a bitch."

"Language, young lady! Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is that I'm sorry, but I think that long term, this will do you a lot of good," He said, caressing my shoulder. "Now come on. Gimmie a hug."

He spread his arms and looked at me with Lilipup eyes. I tried rebuking him for a few seconds, but I ended up embracing him.

"I love you, dad," I said. "And I'm sorry for saying I hate you, I know you heard that. I don't actually hate you."

He held me tightly "I know you don't. Every teenager is entitled to saying they hate their parents at least once."

"Prrrri!" Togepi cheered.

"Aww, aren't you a sweet one," Dad said, petting her shell. "Look, she's happy we made up!"

I smiled. "So when do I have to leave?"

"Uh, in two days would be ideal. You have time to prepare and buy some supplies, I'll give you some money for potions. I'm getting a big bonus when this damn Poketch is released."

"Alright," I sighed. "Let's do it then. I hope you're ready for this, princess."

"Toge?" The little Pokemon looked at me and tilted her head.
 
Chapter 2
CHAPTER 2

The next day

Jubilife had a bunch of Pokemon Centers and Marts. It was, after all, the biggest city in Sinnoh, home to millions of people. Where the city really shone, however, was the Pokemon Mall. It was a government-owned facility with stores as far as the eye could see. If you wanted anything related to Pokemon— potions, stones, TMs, grooming, trading— you'd find it in the mall. I, however, was only here for supplies. I had already wrangled my dad into giving me enough food to last the entire trip and then some, mostly in the form of granola bars. He had also bought me camping supplies, a lighter, a small axe and spade, and a book called 'A trainer's first guide'. So right now, I was only there for Togepi. She was in her Pokeball right now, since she wasn't used to being next to so many people at the same time.

The mall was bustling right now with people and Pokemon, but it'd be packed to the brim in a few weeks when the Circuit would actually be about to start. I made my way through the facility with a specific store in mind: the general items store, where a trainer could find the most common, cheaper items. I wasn't here for the best, I was here for what was necessary, so I wasn't about to buy a bunch of full restores.

Although I wish I could have.

I stepped into the quiet store and inhaled loudly. I loved the smell— it was a particularly perfumy smell, probably what they used to clean the store during the night. I made my way to the potion aisle and grabbed five potions. 300 pokedollars each. Ouch. I bought a few antidotes too, because from what I had looked up, the routes I was going to go through had some bug types as well, although way fewer than Eterna Forest.

I slowly shuffled toward the queue when something caught my eye. The Pokeball aisle.

I wasn't planning on catching anything.

But… what if, right?

I grabbed five Pokeballs and shoved them into my basket. You never know when you're going to run into a legendary. It'd be real silly not to have any Pokeballs. I joked to myself.

The woman working at the checkout had dyed purple hair and looked really tired, with deep bags under her eyes. I quietly placed my items on the counter and let her scan them.

"That'll be 2,800 Pokedollars, please," She said.

Cursing at myself for not having gotten the money out beforehand, I fumbled through my bag and gave her the cash.

"Thank you for shopping at the Pokemon mall, have a—"

"Um, wait, sorry!" I said. The woman looked at me like I had just murdered her firstborn child. "I had a question regarding repels! I, uh, was wondering if they would work if I was traveling from here to Twinleaf?"

She gestured at the person next in line. "It depends. Most of the time, it'll just annoy the wild Pokemon, but it won't actually deter them from attacking you. Hell, sometimes it'll even make them attack you. They're mostly only useful if you already have a strong Pokemon at your side when traveling. Twice the deterrence."

I bowed my head. "Thank you very much!"

"Thank you for shopping at the Pokemon mall, have a great rest of your day," She said to someone who had just paid. She then turned to me and smiled. "Good luck out there, and good luck on the circuit. It was the best time of my life, although I only got to two gym badges."

I'm not even signing up for the circuit, I thought, but I just decided to be polite and say thank you. Two gym badges was impressive, though. Every year, after every League Circuit, there'd be stats that came out about the percentage of trainers that got to what number of gym badges. Usually, half couldn't even get past the first gym. There would be all these tips online about which gym battle was the easiest one to tackle first, and most people agreed on Oreburgh because of the many weaknesses of rock type Pokemon, but most of the time, people would try their hands at the gym the closest to them instead of traveling for weeks with no progress. Probably had something to do with the time pressure and all of that.

I quickly got back home and let Togepi out of her ball. She chirped, shook her entire body, and then smiled as she saw me. I leaned down and caressed her cute little cheeks.

"Hey, princess," I said. "Got some bad news for you."

She tilted her head in confusion. She was only a few months old and still had difficulties understanding everything I said.

"We're going to go on an adventure, you and I. Well, I call it an adventure, but it's gonna suck. We'll be living in the wild for a week and a half and sleeping on the cold, hard, ground. Well, I'm exaggerating, dad's going to bring a sleeping bag tonight, haha…"

"Toge! Togepi!" Togepi exclaimed.

"Are you telling me not to worry?" I guessed. There was no way to truly know what a Pokemon was saying, but a good trainer would usually be able to tell with tone and body language. Not that I was a good trainer, I had just spent the last few months of my life locked inside with this adorable little thing. "That's sweet. But, uh, yeah, it'll be dangerous. Not too dangerous, but traveling always has some degree of danger. So I want to make sure that we're ready."

"Prrrri?" She asked.

"So I want to try out some of your moves and stuff. You know, just to get you into shape. I need to make sure we're on the same page with verbal commands and stuff like that, you feel me?"

The Pokemon nodded hesitantly.

"Great! So, uh, there are battle arenas in the city for this stuff, but…" I started twiddling my thumbs. "I was too embarrassed to go. I mean you have all these kids tryharding for the Circuit, I'd just get destroyed!"

"Toge…"

"No, it's not your fault! It's completely on me! Well, anyway, let's see what you can do," I said as I got up. I tapped my feet and thought for a moment. It'd be great if I had a Pokedex for this, but you only get one if you sign up for the Circuit. Pokedexes allowed you to see the moves a Pokemon knew, so I'd be able to know if Togepi had any hidden moves I had never discovered. Right now, all I knew was that she had Pound, Rollout, Sweet kiss, and Growl.

Pound, I had discovered pretty quickly when she saw dad and I argue for the first time. Togepi believed that the first person or Pokemon they set their eyes on when they hatched was their mother, so essentially, she thought dad was about to hurt her mom. In reality, I had just lied to my dad about stealing a little bit of his money and he had found out.

Togepi ended up hitting him with her stubby little arm, which knocked him on his ass. Scary in the moment to see this tiny baby hurt a human, but funny to look back on. Plus, he basically loved her more than me now. Growl was… well, growl. It was a move almost every Pokemon was capable of learning, and it could trip up an opponent enough to make its attack slightly off or weaker. It usually only worked on weaker Pokemon though. For Sweet Kiss, Togepi had used it on another male Togepi we saw at a Pokemon Center when we brought her in for a check-in when she was a little bit sick. That trainer was practically about to tear my arm off before dad intervened after he came back from the bathroom. And for rollout, that move was more of a theory. Sometimes, Togepi would just roll into things, but the damage it did was substantial, meaning I believed it to be a move and not some random action. I looked at a crack in the bottom of my wall and snorted. Still just a theory, though.

Reminiscing about these events made me nostalgic for some reason. I grabbed Togepi and raised her into the air, and she chirped happily at me.

"Let's believe in ourselves! We're gonna do it!"

——

"Togepi, use Pound, and then Rollout!

Togepi's little arm shone slightly as she ran toward the empty plastic bottle. She slashed it and cut it in half before retreating into her shell and rolling toward one half of the bottle. It was crushed under her weight.

"Good job— wait Togepi, stop, stop!"

She continued rolling right into the counter and dented the old wood.

"Prrrri?" She said, tilting her head.

"Damn it… dad's going to kill me," I said, putting my face in my hands. "Togepi, when I say stop, you need to stop, understand?"

"Togepi!"

"You're saying that, but you keep not stopping!" I said. "Man, the counter is so fucked. Damn it. Is it the momentum maybe?"

"Toge?" She said with a confused look on her face.

"Like, when you're using rollout, maybe you can't stop until you run into something?"

"Prrrri!" The Pokemon nodded happily.

I punched my palm as my eyes widened. That was progress!

"Alright Togepi, let's try this again. You've got pound down pretty well, but we need to work on your rollout. Try to stop as soon as you hit your target alright?" I said, grabbing another plastic bottle from the recycling bin.

——

"Togepi, stop!" I screamed as I winced, expecting her to hit another wall.

Togepi slowed down and clumsily ended up on her back. She struggled to stand back up, taking a few seconds, but she had stopped!

"Yes! Yes, yes, let's go! You did it, princess! I'm so proud of you!" I said, grabbing her and spinning her around.

"Prrri! Togeprrri!" She said, happily moving her arms.

"Arceus, what time is it? Is the sun already setting?" I asked myself. I grabbed my Poketch from my pocket and my eyes bulged at the time. It was already 5:23 pm. Dad was going to be back any second!

"Oh, fuck."

I cleaned up where I could, but it was no use. Dad always came back by at 5:30 pm at the latest. He walked into the house as I cleaned up some glass from the ground that Togepi had knocked down by rolling into a cabinet.

Togepi, as usual, chirped as she ran toward my dad, oblivious to the dressing down that we were about to receive. Dad dropped his keys when he entered the kitchen. He had calmly asked me to go back to my room to wait for him to finish cleaning up. That was bad. Calm dad was really mad.

Twenty minutes later, give or take, dad entered my room and crossed his arms. He stood at the entrance, blocking the door.

"Grace—"

"I'm really sorry, dad! I just got carried away and, uh, I wanted to train Togepi for our journey. It turns out that it was really fun and I— I'm sorry," I finished weakly.

"Grace, I'm not angry at you because you wanted to train. In fact, I'm proud of you for taking this seriously. I just don't understand why you had to do it here. There are public arenas for this very purpose!" He said, finally raising his voice. "Pokemon gyms, new trainers looking to battle, everything! Now I have to deal with this and work," He sighed.

"I'm sorry," I just said. Togepi seemingly imitated me and gave a sad chirp.

"Look, you're leaving tomorrow and I don't want this argument to be on your mind when you're out there, so I'll just let it go. But promise me, when you come back and if you happen to want to train again, you'll actually use the correct facilities."

"I will, I was just scared… sorry."

"Scared? What do you mean?"

"I was scared that I'd just make a fool of myself. You have all these trainers— really good trainers, even, training for the Circuit, and I'm just… there. I'm a really bad trainer with no experience and I have no idea what I'm doing," I vented.

He took a deep breath and sat down next to me, wrapping his arm around my shoulder. Togepi jumped on my thighs.

"Grace, I thought you didn't care about training or battling?" He asked softly.

"I mean, I don't. Or I think I don't. I still don't want Togepi to get hurt, but training her today… it was fun. More fun than watching some shi— crappy tournament on T.V. or browsing the internet. I was actually doing the real thing. But I feel that if I actually took that final step— that step into the real world, then I'd realize how behind I am regarding everything Pokemon-related. It'd be like getting woken up with cold water. So if I stay home, I'm safe in my little bubble. I can act like I'm getting better and not just pretending."

"Wow… that's some heavy stuff, kid," Dad sighed. I just nodded and hugged Togepi. "Listen, I won't go into wanting to be a trainer, or signing up for the Circuit, or whatever. But, Grace, to be successful in life, you've got to be unafraid of failure."

"What if the failure is really big?"

"Really big? Come on, losing your first battle is an event almost everyone goes through. Want to know how my first battle went?" Dad asked.

"Uhuh," I simply said.

"I signed up for the Circuit as soon as I turned fifteen along with Herdier— well, he was a Lillipup back then. I set off toward Oreburgh on route 203, and I was challenged by some other kid way younger than me. He looked eight, or nine, so he wasn't on the Circuit. I got cocky and underestimated him. His Budew just completely obliterated me. I couldn't even get one hit in."

"No way," I said with a small gasp.

"I swear! He'd just keep his distance after setting up Leech Seed, and Lillipup was too panicked to do anything. He started rolling around the ground, trying to get the plants off of him while Budew kept attacking. It was… embarrassing, to say the least. But you know what I did after that?"

"You went on to win the Conference and then the League to beat the Champion?" I joked.

He chuckled. "Young me would have wanted that. But no, I went back to square one, and trained for a few weeks in Jubilife before setting off again. Of course, when I reached Oreburgh I got my ass kicked by the Gym Leader, so the story doesn't really have a great ending," Dad coughed and clapped his hands. "But it's about your mindset, kid! You can't be just doom and gloom all the time, right? Whenever you want to get good at something, you're going to fail at some point no matter what— even the most gifted, talented people fail. Get it?"

"Yeah, I get it," I nodded. "Thanks for the pep talk dad."

"I'll be rooting for you during your Circuit." He grinned.

I pushed him off me playfully. "Shut up, I'm not signing up for it. As soon as I get back from Twinleaf, I'm never battling or training again."

"We'll see about that. You got the bug, it's going to be impossible to get rid of now."

"The bug?" I frowned.

"The training bug. It'll grow and grow until you only want one thing," Dad paused.

"To be Champion," I finished, as something clicked in my mind, and dad's smile grew into a wild, toothy grin.
 
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Chapter 3
CHAPTER 3

I placed my hand over my forehead, shielding my eyes from the harsh summer sunlight as I stepped out of the gate to route 202. Route 202 was one of the shortest routes in the Sinnoh region, but I wasn't going to underestimate it. I retied my laces as tight as I could and released Togepi from her ball. She chirped happily at me before observing the unfamiliar surroundings.

"Come on Grace," I said, slapping my cheeks. "You can do this. You're a tough girl."

I stepped onto the road. It would continue for a few hours until nature overwhelmed it and I would only have grass to walk on. There were trainers all around me, some of them battling, and some of them just hanging out with their Pokemon. I expected the population to lower the deeper I got into the route. Togepi pulled at my jeans and chirped sadly.

"Sorry, princess. You've got to walk for now. We're building your endurance."

"Toge…"

Her sadness tugged at my heartstrings, but I managed to ignore her for now. The next hours were uneventful. It was almost anticlimactic how peaceful it was. I hadn't even gotten attacked by a wild Pokemon yet, although I had seen a bunch. I wasn't exactly expecting this to be like hiking to the top of Mount Coronet, but I couldn't help but be slightly disappointed.

Was there something wrong with me?

Eventually, though, the vegetation began to slowly overtake the dirt road. Route 202 wasn't exactly a forest, but it wasn't exactly some grassy plain either. It was something in between. I decided to take a slight break below a tree, shielding myself from sunlight. I was actually more tired than Togepi was. It'd take a while to get myself into shape.

Into shape for what? I asked myself. I'm still not signing up for the League Circuit!

"Whew. That was a workout, huh?" I asked my Togepi.

"Prrri!" She answered.

"Want some water? I've got—"

"Yo. You want to battle?" I heard a voice toward my left.

My head whirled toward the voice. It was a kid my age— probably training for the Circuit. There was a small Shinx at his side.

"Ah— Uh— I mean—"

"Arceus, why are you so nervous? We're all in the same boat, right? We battle, we both get better. So you're in or what?" He asked.

"Um, yeah!" I managed to get out. "My name's Grace, by the way, haha," I laughed nervously.

"I'm Patrick. One on one?"

"Sounds good. I only have one Pokemon anyway," I said.

I stood up and Patrick went around fifty feet away from me. His Shinx roared— which was more like a cub pretending to roar than an actual roar— and steeled itself.

"Alright Togepi, remember our training," I said as confidently as I could. I hoped she wasn't noticing my shaking legs or hands. Sweat was accumulating dangerously fast on my palms and my armpits. I took a few deep breaths.

"Alright! I'll throw this rock, and when it hits the ground, we can start!" My opponent said.

He threw a rock into the air. Time seemed to slow the closer it got to the ground. I ran through dozens of scenarios in my mind, imagining the worst.

"Shinx, hit 'em with Tackle! Then Bite!"

Patrick's Shinx roared again and dashed toward Togepi. He was faster than her, so dodging wasn't an option.

"Togepi, wait… keep waiting… Growl!" I screamed.

Togepi chirped louder than I'd ever heard her, and Shinx flinched right before hitting her. It didn't stop it from biting her, but her shell was shielding her from most of the damage.

"Uh, Togepi, use Sweet Kiss! Get it away from you!" I yelled out.

Togepi puckered her lips, and a pink heart escaped from her mouth, hitting the Shinx directly in the face. It stopped its attack and looked around confusedly.

"Shinx! Snap out of it! Focus on my voice!"

Oh no, you don't, I thought. "Togepi, use pound!"

Togepi's arm turned white, and she hit the Shinx directly in the nose. It screeched in pain and snapped out of its confusion.

"Focus, Shinx! Use Charged Tackle!"

The Shinx began to charge up electricity into its body.

"Don't let it finish its attack! Togepi, rollout!"

Patrick's eyes widened. "Shinx, stop charging! Dodge!"

Togepi's rollout was too fast and struck Shinx's hind legs. The Pokemon went flying toward his trainer.

"Keep going, Togepi! Keep using rollout!"

She followed Shinx closely, hitting it again right after it fell to the ground. Shortly after that, Patrick returned Shinx to his Pokeball.

"I forfeit," He said, after clicking his tongue. "Damn it."

"What? Why? The battle wasn't over," I said.

He approached me and reached for his backpack. I flinched, but he placed a few hundred pokedollars in my hand.

"I don't want Shinx to be too beaten up and have to go all the way back to the Pokemon Center in Jubilife. I could tell the fight was going to end badly after you hit me with Sweet Kiss. Good battle," He said, holding out his hand toward me.

I shook his hand and stayed there like I had been hit by Astonish. I had… won? I had won my first battle?

"Good luck. Maybe I'll see you again on the Circuit, Grace," Patrick said before leaving.

I could only muster a nod. When he left, I grabbed Togepi into a happy hug. That had been the most fun I'd had in years. The rush, the adrenaline, the tension, the feeling of victory.

"The training bug," My dad's voice echoed in my head.

I was going to have to find some new trainers to fight on the way to Sandgem!

——

"Bidoof, shake it off! Use Headbutt!" My opponent screamed in frustration.

"Togepi, use rollout! Keep going if he's still standing!"

Togepi chirped in acquiescence and folded into a ball rolling toward the confused Bidoof. She hit it square in the face, and then again as it tumbled down a hill. The Bidoof fainted.

"Grrr, using Sweet Kiss is cheating!" The girl said. "How are you even supposed to counter that?!"

Not knowing what to say, I stayed silent as the bliss of victory washed over my body. She handed me a hundred Pokedollars and left with her unconscious Bidoof in her arms. I crouched and called for Togepi, who walked back to me. She was limping slightly, which made me quickly look for a potion in panic. This was the third trainer she beat, including Patrick, and she had gotten hit multiple times.

"I'm sorry, princess," I said as I sprayed her leg with the potion. "No more battling for now, I promise. I got a little too carried away."

Seeing her limp like that… it almost made me grab her into my arms and run back to a Center, but dad had already warned me not to be too impulsive about this. After a few sprays, she seemed to be back to normal, but I couldn't afford to use too many potions. I wasn't even near halfway to Sandgem yet, where I'd be able to restock.

I began carrying Togepi in my arms to give her a little break. We continued on our way, and soon enough, the road ended completely. I opened my Poketch and looked at the map application that I had downloaded yesterday. I could either go through these woods or go around toward the left. The woods would be a bit faster… but I decided on staying safe. What if I stepped on some unsuspecting Wurmple and angered an entire colony? Dustox were really dangerous and usually took care of their young, while Beautifly were more solitary until breeding season. Either way, I wasn't about to be poisoned by some bug— antidotes only worked on Pokemon.

I carefully stepped around the woods, gladly taking the two-hour detour. However, as I jumped down a ledge and walked down the gentle slopes of route 202, I came across a Scyther and a Dustox fighting right outside of the woods.

I froze. A Scyther, here? They were one of the most powerful bug Pokemon around! My head frantically turned, searching for a place to hide. If they noticed me, Dustox would possibly run, glad that I gave it the opportunity to escape being eaten, but Scyther? I looked down at my Pokemon and saw that she was just as scared as I was.

I swallowed. It'd be furious that I caused its meal to escape, and all of that anger would probably be refocused on me. And there was no way I was risking Togepi. The ledge was too high for me to climb back with Togepi still in my arms, and returning her to her ball would make too much noise. There was no other choice.

I stepped into the woods.

——

Walking through some unmaintained woods wasn't like I thought it would have been. It was seen as one of the most common trainer experiences, yet no one explained to you how grueling it would be.

Or maybe they did, and I just hadn't looked hard enough.

The ground wasn't an even thing. It was a mess of fallen leaves, branches, ferns, and more than everything, it was slippery. I had fallen three times in an hour. After the first fall, I'd gotten Togepi back in her ball to be able to better catch myself. It didn't help. I was bleeding from the back of my forearm after a fallen branch tore through the skin. The good news was that it wasn't hurting much and that I hadn't seen the Scyther. The bad news was that the sun was setting soon and that I'd probably have to sleep in this hellhole.

"Shit, I should have just gone right away without battling anyone. Maybe then I'd have avoided the Scyther," I whispered to myself. "Need to find some kind of clearing."

The sun's rays turned orange-red and then disappeared completely. It was nighttime now, and all I had for light was my Poketch. The device came with a charger, but it also charged with solar energy. Unfortunately, I now had neither, so I was on a time limit.

"Hissss," I heard through the underbrush. I flinched, and then shined my light toward the sound. An Ekkans launched itself at me, and I fell on my back. I swore, ignoring the pain as it bit into my arm. I clicked on my Pokeball and saw a flash of red, then white as Togepi chirped in anger, hitting the snake with Pound.

I scrambled backward and grabbed my little axe, waiting for the Ekkans to strike at me again. For a few seconds, there was a complete silence, only interrupted by the bustling wildlife in these woods. Then Ekkans attacked me again, and I swung the axe wildly in front of me with my eyes closed. I heard it hiss in pain as it finally decided I wasn't worth the risk and fled.

"Damn it!" I hissed, looking at my arm. I looked around for my Poketch and found it on the ground after a few seconds, covered in mud. I shone it at my arm and sighed in relief. It looked like it hadn't penetrated the skin anywhere to inject its venom. I leaned against a tree and sighed. All that fun from earlier had disappeared now.

"Toge," Togepi said quietly, touching my leg. She was barely visible with how high the underbrush was.

"I'm okay. We just have to find a spot to sleep in," I lied as I returned her. I wiped my hands on the back of my jeans and kept going.

I hate woods, I hate woods, I hate woods, I screamed in my head. Thirty minutes later, I found a mini clearing, and by clearing, I meant a spot where it would be possible to lay flat on the ground. Unfortunately, it was still muddy, so my sleeping bag would get really dirty, but it was what it was. Luckily, it was still summer, so lighting a fire wasn't necessary. Sinnoh winters were known for their brutality.

I snuggled up in the sleeping bag and slept, waking up every few minutes to a Pokemon cry. Tomorrow was going to suck.
 
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Chapter 4
CHAPTER 4

Tomorrow sucked.

I was sore all over, tired, and Togepi kept not wanting to go in her ball because she was worried about me. I was attacked a few more times by two Rattatas, a Wurmple, and even a damn Paras. At last, however, I got out of the woods safe and sound. The next few days were paradise compared to what I had gone through in those woods. One thing was for sure, I wasn't passing through them on the way back. No more jumping ledges for me!

Finally, after three days of traveling, I reached Sandgem town. It was a quaint little coastal town and the closest large human settlement next to Jubilife. The first thing I did was get Togepi to a Center, and myself as well. Pokemon Centers had doctors specialized in treating trainers as well, although they were nowhere near as good as treating Pokemon. They washed my cuts and bandaged them up, but the cut on my arm was too deep, and they put me on antibiotics. I hated taking pills, but I'd have to do it.

I also put my clothes in the wash and changed into my second set of clothes, another pair of jeans with a different shirt. Pokemon Centers also had clothes they could give trainers if they were out, mostly thanks to donations. Basically, if a trainer needed something, chances are, they'd find it in a Center.

"How's Togepi, Nurse Joy?" I asked a pink-haired nurse at the counter. "Can I visit her?"

She wasn't actually called Joy, and her hair was a wig, but it was a part of the Pokemon Center brand, and everybody usually played along.

"Togepi will be fine, she was never a worry. You were in much worse shape than her. You'll have to be careful during your travels… what's your name? I don't think we have you in our database."

"Grace Pastel," I said. "It's my first time in Sandgem."

"No, I mean the region-wide Pokemon Center database. Could I get your trainer ID?"

Ah, I thought. "I'm not actually signed up to the League Circuit, so I don't have an ID. I hope that's fine?"

"Oh, alright. You'll have to pay for your treatment, then, if that's ok? Togepi's checkup is still free of charge. Sorry for the misunderstanding."

"Sure," I nodded. The cost ended up being 2,100 pokedollars, most of that spent on the antibiotics. Luckily I had padded my savings by beating those three trainers, so I still had a good amount left in case something else happened.

I spent the next few hours walking around Sandgem, seeing the sights. It was way calmer than Jubilife, and just had a relaxing vibe in general. It was nice to be away from the city like this, although the way it had happened was… less than ideal. I watched a few battles at the arena close to the Pokemon Center, and one of the trainers there had a Munchlax, which were notoriously hard and expensive to raise. It seemed to be well-behaved, though.

Seeing people battle gave me the itch to do the same, but with Togepi still at the center, I wouldn't be able to. Plus, I wanted to give her a few days of rest, at least. The last thing I did was head to the beach. Sandgem was a coastal fishing town, and it was also home to some tourist trainers. I hadn't brought a swimsuit, so I just got my feet wet and walked along the beautiful beach. It was true what they said. The sand shone like gems.

After heading back to the center to pick up Togepi, I called dad on my Poketch.

"Hey dad, hope I'm not interrupting your work," I said.

"No, no, don't worry about it," He whispered. I could hear him type away on his keyboard, so I knew it was a lie. "How are you, Grace? I hope the first leg of the trip wasn't too hard?"

I stayed silent for a few seconds.

"Grace?" He said.

"No, it was fine," I lied. "Battled some trainers and some wild Pokemon. I'm at the center right now picking up Togepi. Listen to this! My first battle…"

I explained to dad how Togepi beat Shinx using her Sweet Kiss into Rollout combo.

"She's way stronger than she looks!" I said.

"Well, I'm really proud of you both. Keep it up! Have fun and live a little. There's nothing like traveling when you're young," Dad whispered. "And with that, I'm going to hang up. Talk to you later, sweetie. Call me when you get to Twinleaf."

I agreed and hung up. Togepi came back a few minutes later, looking healthier than she had been even back at Jubilife. I carried her in my arms as I showed her the city a little bit, but after a few more hours of fun and buying lunch at a local restaurant, I decided to have a little team meeting.

"So, what did we learn during our travels so far?"

"Prrri!" She said cheerfully.

"We learned that wild Pokemon were extremely dangerous and not to be trifled with. And that I should probably walk with you around when there's a risk of being attacked by one. I'll still recall you if it's too dangerous, but—"

"Toge, prrri!" Togepi disagreed.

"I know you only want to protect me, but I don't want you to get hurt. Anyway, route 201 should be relatively easier. There are way less bugs there and fewer forested areas. It's mostly a straight path through some grasslands. I'll keep you out of your ball for now so you can keep building up your endurance," I said.

"Prrrri!" She said.

"Next up, we learned that trainers are actually pretty nice! Before starting this, it was them who scared me the most. Did you know that back in the day, if a trainer challenged you, you weren't allowed to refuse?" I asked. "That honestly sounds horrible, and I'm glad they changed that rule."

Togepi nodded as we walked toward the gate.

"Lastly, we need to teach you more moves somehow. Right now, what we have— using Sweet Kiss to trip them up and then overwhelming them with rollout— it works, but when we…"

"Prrri?"

I paused. When we what? I was going to get Herdier his vitamins, get back to Jubilife, and then go back to how it was before.

Go back to how if was before…

Spending my days in bed or on the couch watching T.V., rarely doing anything apart from occasionally going out with dad. Would I be okay with going back to the status quo? Traveling was horrible, but the battles? Oh, Arceus, the battles were so fun. I wanted to go to different places and battle different trainers with different Pokemon. Maybe even… Gym Leaders.

"Hey, Togepi, I'm going to ask you something, but you've got to promise me to only say yes if you're one hundred percent sure you agree, alright?" I said, picking her up. She looked at me. "I think I want to sign up for the League Circuit when I get back to Jubilife. It's this whole thing where we'd have to travel like now to other towns, get stronger together and battle really strong trainers called Gym Leaders."

Togepi continued to observe me.

"It'll be hard," I said. "I bet some moments will make what happened in those woods look like a stroll in the park. But… I think I want to do it. But I'll only do it if you agree. If you say no, I'll give up on it."

She said nothing for a few minutes and stayed silent as we entered route 201. She was probably thinking about how to say no and lay me down gently. I sighed mentally. I was probably way in over my head anyway. Just because I beat a few beginner trainers didn't mean I'd be able to—

"Prrri! Toge, prrri!" She said, moving her arms excitedly.

I smiled. "Really? Are you sure?"

"Prrri."

"Thank you," I said, bringing her into a hug. "I won't disappoint you."

——

Traveling through route 201 was rather uneventful and took two days. There were very few trainers there, mostly because they had left for Sandgem already in preparation for the League Circuit. There was no Pokemon Center in Twinleaf, so there was no way to sign up from there. I had battled a few wild Pokemon and began trying to teach Togepi Headbutt, but we weren't making much progress. When I signed up for the Circuit, I'd get a Pokedex and access to her potential moves, so that would help a lot.

Twinleaf was home to only a few hundred people, and they were mostly farmers. It was a close-knit community where everybody knew each other, or at least according to my dad. Apparently, it was why mom had left at first, but she went back soon after they divorced. I looked down at my Poketch, where I had written down mom's address and how her house looked— at least according to my dad. Togepi followed closely behind me, and we attracted a lot of stares. People here weren't used to seeing new, young trainers. I made my way toward the town's edge and found mom's house sitting next to a small lake. My heart pounded against my chest as I approached the door. What would she say? Would she be happy to see me? Angry I hadn't answered her calls in so long? I retrieved Togepi and placed my ear against the door. Nothing.

I swallowed my anxiety and knocked on the door loudly. After around thirty seconds, an old woman opened the door. She had long, white hair and piercing blue eyes.

"Yes? Who are you?" She said in a dry tone.

I winced, realizing how bad this must have looked. I was dirty, I probably stank, and had crazy hair. I was a crazy-looking stranger knocking on their door.

"Um, I'm looking for Samantha Pastel? I came here to deliver some Vitamins for Herdier," I said. "I'm also her… daughter." I continued weakly.

The old woman's eyes widened. She turned back into the house and called out. "Sam! You won't believe this! The son of a bitch sent your daughter here!"

I frowned. She must have been referring to my dad, and I didn't like that. I heard someone step closer and closer, eventually breaking into a run. A woman burst through the entrance and embraced me.

"Grace! Oh, Arceus, look at you! You've grown so much," The woman who must have been my mother said.

The resemblance was uncanny. We had the same dirty blonde hair, the same thin nose and the same freckles covering our entire faces. Our eyes were different, though. Hers were blue, and mine were green like my dad's.

"Come in! Traveling here from Jubilife must have been awful, but we'll catch up. You can take a shower if you want," She said.

I was in a dazed state. She wasn't angry at me, and that was good, but why was I feeling… happy? I was supposed to be angry at her for what she did to dad. I bit the inside of my lip.

"We were in the middle of a luncheon between neighbors," Mom said, showing me the dinner table. This is Ronald and Casey, they live in the house at the opposite side of the lake. And this is their son, Denzel. He's sixteen, so slightly older than you. Oh, and this is mom— I mean grandma. She's the one who opened the door," She continued with a nervous laugh. "Herdier's out somewhere in town. He always comes back in the evening, though."

They all greeted me, and mom guided me to the bathroom.

"Take as long as you need, and then join us downstairs. We have so much to catch up on."

"Wait, the medicine," I said. I pulled the pack of vitamins out of my bag and handed them to her.

"Thank you so much, Grace. This'll last us a few months,"

I took a long, hot shower, and I needed it. This was going to drain my social batteries so hard, and then I'd have to talk to mom alone. This sucked. I ended up releasing Togepi and cleaning her up too. Soon afterward, I dried us, took a deep breath, and stepped toward the dining room.
 
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Chapter 5
CHAPTER 5

Togepi hid behind my leg as I introduced myself to everyone at the table. They were all nice people, which made me breathe a sigh of relief. Even my grandmother seemed to have eased up on me. It seemed that most of her hate was toward my dad and not me.

"So this is your Togepi then, Grace? Those are pretty rare, from what I've heard," Casey said, tilting her head to get a better view.

"Yeah, she's mine. They're not that rare— I've seen multiple people with one, and even a Togetic once a few years ago," I answered. "Forgive her, she's pretty bad with crowds. I'm trying to work on that."

"Oh, no worries," Ronald waved his hand. "I don't have any Pokemon, and no one ever comes to Twinleaf, so I'm just happy to see a new one."

"Sit, Grace. You can have some of this if you want. You must be famished after your journey here," Mom said.

Well, I wasn't going to say no to that. The juicy meat they were eating looked really appetizing, as was that salad on the side.

"Thanks," I said, sitting down in an empty seat. I grabbed food while they continued chit-chatting, stuffing myself with as much as I could. It was a very welcome change after days of eating granola bars. "Cun I have sum watew?" I asked. Grandma poured me a glass.

"What's wrong, Denzel? You haven't talked since Grace got here," His mother asked.

"I'm— uh, yeah, I have a stomachache. I think I ate too much," He answered. His voice was extremely deep— deeper than his father's.

"You were fine when she was showering. Why don't you tell us all about your plan for the Circuit," Mom said.

"Oh, don't remind me," Casey exclaimed. "If he hasn't changed his mind by seeing Grace's state when she came here, Denzel's a fool— no offense, Grace."

"None taken," I answered, my mouth full.

"Let's not do this here, mom. I already told you I was going no matter what. You already stopped me from going last year!"

"Oh, sorry for not wanting my son to risk his life out there when he has a perfectly normal life in Twinleaf. So sorry!" Casey said in a sarcastic tone.

This was getting awkward. Ronald had stopped talking altogether and was fidgeting in his seat. Casey kept going.

"Do you know how many trainers die out there? Poor kids that get lost going through Mount Coronet, or Eterna Forest? I don't want that to happen to you!"

Denzel slammed the table and stood up. "I already made up my mind. Thank you for the food, Samantha."

I slowed my chewing as I observed him go out. He slammed the door. A few seconds later, he opened it again and apologized for slamming the door, and then left again.

Casey and Ronald took off pretty quickly after that. I finished my food and fed Togepi an Oran Berry. She didn't eat much— I couldn't blame her; the entire berry was bigger than her head. Maybe next time, I'd slice it up instead. Mom and Grandma worked on cleaning up the dishes while I played a little bit with Togepi. I'd throw her on the couch, and then she'd jump off, chirping happily. How cute.

"Are you ready to talk now?" Mom tapped my shoulder.

I inhaled sharply and nodded.

"Let's do this in my room," She continued.

I followed her, and she invited me in, closing the door behind her.

"Whew… let's do this," Mom said. "I'm sure you have questions for me. Go ahead, and then I'll ask you mine."

"Why did you cheat on dad?" I blurted out.

She put her head against the wall and sighed. "The big one's first, huh? I'm sorry, Grace, but there… there wasn't a good reason. I was a terrible person, and I'll always regret it. I begged Arthur to stay when he found out, but he wanted a divorce. At first, I wanted to stay in Jubilife to see you, but the city had this… oppressive force. It was like I couldn't breathe properly there. It reminded me of what I had lost too much."

I let the statement marinate in my mind for a few seconds. I knew it was stupid, but I had been hoping. Hoping for there to have been a reason better than 'I was selfish, so I slept with someone else.' "So you moved to Twinleaf to escape that?" I asked, crossing my arms. "Why'd you take dad's Herdier?"

"Your dad worked long hours, and I didn't work at all. You were still a toddler, and Herdier take a lot of work to care for. He was… extremely disheartened to let go of him, but we mutually agreed in the end. Plus, Twinleaf's a better town for him than Jubilife. All that open space."

"Why does Grandma hate dad? I heard her call him a son of a… b-word," I asked hesitantly.

"Oh, don't mind her. She just loves me too much. She knows I'm in the wrong, but she can't help it."

"That just isn't right! Dad's always so nice to me and so understanding… I don't like it," Togepi chirped in agreement. "But anyway, I'm done. It's your turn now," I finished, crossing my arms and legs.

"Well, I certainly won't ask why you never answer my messages or calls, but I'll ask you now. When you leave, can you please at least talk to me every few weeks? Just so I can hear your voice?" Mom asked as she began tearing up. She fanned her eyes with her hands. "Sorry, it's just— I don't want us to never speak again."

"I can try to make an effort…"

"Thank you, I mean it." She said. "And um, I was wondering if you were signing up for the Circuit? You have a Pokemon." She lifted her chin toward Togepi.

"Toge!"

"I wasn't going to, but I changed my mind recently. I'm all in," I said with a reluctant smile.

"I'm sure you'll do well. Denzel's also signing up this year, maybe you guys could help each other out? He's quite the shy one, and he likes to keep to himself. There aren't any kids his age left here."

I thought back to the scene in the dining room. "He seems a little scary, though."

"He's as sweet as they come! He's just been having problems with his parents, but it's not my place to say. Speaking of, I hope your dad agreed to you joining the Circuit?"

"He did," I said before slapping my head. "Crap, I was supposed to call him when I got here!"

"Well, I'll leave you to it. Me being in this room when he's calling would be a bad idea," Mom said. I nodded, and she left.

I called dad, put him on speaker for Togepi, and told him about me signing up for the League Circuit. He was ecstatic, saying he'd root for me and watch every battle I would have. It was embarrassing, really, but I couldn't help but smile. I also told him I kind of made up with mom, and he was genuinely glad for me, even though he would still never forgive her. The call ended after I told him I'd spend a few days here to get to know mom better and maybe deal with this Denzel situation. The truth was, I really wanted a trainer friend to talk to, but right now I had nobody, so there was certainly a selfish reasoning behind my reason for helping.


That night, Herdier came back and licked my face all over. He somehow recognized me, even though I hadn't seen him in eleven years. Mom said it must have been my smell. We gave him his vitamins by mixing them with his food, and I went to sleep shortly after in the Guest room. The only good thing I could think of about living in Twinleaf was that every house was huge. More space for me.

The next morning, I trained a little bit with Togepi outside. We practiced the speed of her rollout, which was getting more and more powerful, and we also practiced Sweet Kiss on wild Pokemon like Bidoof near the lake. Maybe with enough training, it would be more effective, but right now, I was basically shooting in the dark. The worse thing was that if Togepi eventually evolved, she wouldn't be able to use rollout anymore.

After a few hours of training, I recalled Togepi and made my way around the lake toward Denzel's house. It was slightly larger than my mom's, and there was a pasture with a bunch of Milktank in the back.

"Woah. They're bigger than they look like online," I said, quietly observing the Pokemon go about their day.

I climbed the stairs to their porch and rang their doorbell. Surprisingly, Denzel was the one that answered, and not his parents.

"Who— oh, you're that girl from yesterday. What's up?" He asked.

"Uh, I'm really bad at this, but… do you want to be friends?" I said, averting my eyes. "I'm also signing up for the Circuit soon, and I think we could help each other."

His face brightened up in surprise. "Oh, no shit? Come in!"

——

Denzel brought us glasses of Milktank milk and homemade cookies that his mother had made.

"Those look really good, thanks," I said.

"They are. My mom runs a patisserie. That's what she calls it. Apparently it's a Kalosian word. So yeah, usually we have a bunch of homemade stuff lying about," He explained as he sat down. "So," He took a deep breath. "The League Circuit, huh? How are you feeling about it?"

"To be honest, I'm super excited, but the nerves will probably get to me when I actually am a part of this thing. Right now, it's unofficial, you know? I just declared it."

"I totally get that," Denzel said, dipping his cookie into his milk. "I'm so happy I can finally go, though. My mom wants me to keep helping her around the store, and dad just lets her walk all over him. They guilt-tripped me into staying last year, but not anymore. I'm going no matter what!"

"Sounds rough. My dad's been supportive. In fact, he had to basically push me to get out of my shell. Just a few days ago, I basically wanted nothing to do with Pokemon battling."

"I think you'll be glad you changed your mind. We only have a few attempts at the Circuit before going back to the real world, you know? Even less for people that fail really early," Denzel pondered.

"Why? Can't you just try over and over? The League hasn't set a limit."

"Yeah, but consider this: have you ever seen someone older than, like, twenty-five attempt the Circuit?" He waited for my answer, and I shook my head. "I've been watching a lot of Circuits online in preparation for this year, and everyone's young."

"Wait, you have internet here? I thought you didn't."

"What? Why wouldn't we have internet? I think that's just your mother's house— but anyway! The fact is, you can't be trying over and over. At some point, you've got to start working in the real world, right? Boring nine-to-five office job."

"Couldn't you make a living off of fighting trainers?" I asked, remembering the pokedollars I had gained on my way here.

"Theoretically, you could. But the truth is, you'll be making less money than with a normal job, and if you can't at least do well in the Circuit, what's the point? Might as well go back home and sleep in a comfy bed every night and eat hot food."

"Ok, I get your point. But some people still do it and join tournaments too. Like that Craig guy with the Salamence—"

"You know Craig Goodwill?" Denzel said, his face lighting up. "Isn't his Salamence the coolest?! I heard he was signing up for the Circuit too. I hope I can see it in person."

"A Salamence? Those things are capable of killing thousands on a whim. Dragon types are terrifying…"

"But he raised it correctly, so it's not a danger. Plus, he's not allowed to have them out in cities. The danger rating's too high, and it would cause a panic."

"Ok, enough about Craig," I said, shaking my hand. "Want to show me your starter?"

"Sure," He said. He grabbed a ball from his desk and released a sleeping Eevee. "This is my Eevee. I rescued him from route 202 two years ago, and he's been with me ever since."

"He's so cute!" I gushed. The Eevee slowly woke up and looked me straight in the eyes. He then 'huffed' and jumped onto Denzel's bed, turned a few times, and laid down. "I think he doesn't like me."

"He's a little bit rude," Denzel said. "But I'm hoping the Circuit will get him to open up a little. So you have a Togepi?"

I sent her out, and she chirped happily, much to Eevee's dismay. He barked and crawled under the covers.

"She's still a little young, but I believe in her fully," I said.

"Prrri!" She said with a smile.

"She looks energetic. How long have you had her for?"

"She's eight months old," I replied. "Hatched her from an egg."

"Cool," Denzel said. "It's my first time seeing one ever— well, outside of a computer screen."

Denzel spent some time getting familiar with Togepi while I tried approaching his Eevee, but that was to no avail. Togepi was a little wary at first, but she got used to him very quickly.

"Her little noises are too much! I love them," He smiled. "But anyway, I'm a little nervous about asking you this, but… want to battle?"
 
Chapter 6
CHAPTER 6

Denzel looked at me and grinned. I certainly felt the urge to say yes— hell, it almost slipped from my mouth. Unfortunately, though, I had some worries.

"I'd really like to, but Twinleaf doesn't have a Pokemon Center. The odds are pretty low, but if Togepi got really hurt, potions wouldn't be enough, and I need her healthy for the trip back."

"Ah, I see," Denzel said awkwardly, scratching the back of his head. "Well, don't worry about it. It was just a silly idea."

"Maybe if we see each other in Sandgem or something," I said. "But anyway, you said you had internet here? Can I get the password? I want to check the Circuit forums."

I placed Togepi on the bed and let her decide how to approach this Eevee. Denzel gave me his wifi password and leaned to watch as I typed in a familiar name in the search bar.

"Cecilia Obel, huh?" He said.

"You know her?"

"She's the talk of the forums. Everybody knows her. Her brother's—"

"Unova's Champion, I know," I said. "Before I decided to sign up, I was just going to root for her, but now she's competition," I finished.

"Aiming for the top already?"

"No point in not trying your best."

"Eh, right now I'm just aiming for one gym badge. Mom said she would start paying for some of my supplies for the Circuit if I at least get that," He said. "But this Cecilia girl intrigues me. She's never been seen battling before, even in Unova. There's nothing about her online. It's like she just appeared when she first flew to Jubilife."

"Mhm," I acquiesced. "But anyway, I just wanted to see if there was anything new about her, but nothing substantial. Just footage of her going in and out of her insanely expensive five-star hotel with bodyguards."

"She won't have those for the Circuit," He chuckled.

We spent the next hour or so just looking up interesting trainers and theory-crafting about our strategy for different gyms. Togepi tried making inroads with Eevee, but the little one was not having any of it, often trying to push her off the bed. Unfortunately, Denzel was still a beginner trainer, so I had no luck trying to learn the best way to teach Togepi new moves. Still, it felt great having someone to talk to about this.

Eventually, I decided to leave to go hang out with my mother. I hadn't forgiven her, but I still wanted to get closer to her. Dad would always say that family was important whenever he tried to get me to call her, and I wanted him to be happy. He deserved nothing less. Mom and I went to Casey's store and ate together, talking about her life in Twinleaf. She found it boring, but she always filled her days by helping around town with whatever she could. Every time she tried to bring up her old life in Jubilife, I shut her down. I didn't want to hear her reminisce about her life with us, because that would get my mind racing about what could have been if she hadn't screwed up. When we got back home, I ended up letting her hang out with Togepi while I caught up with Herdier. His fur was graying, and he had a little bit of hearing issues, but other than that he looked healthy. Every time I crouched to pet him, he'd get up on his hind legs to lick my face.

The next day was more of the same. I went to Denzel's house in the morning and stayed with mom afterward. The day after that, however, when Denzel and I were walking around, he asked me something.

"Hey Grace, want me to show you something?"

"What is it? Please don't tell me it's at the patisserie, your mom overwhelmed me with questions about you last time I was there," I hoped. Casey was a nice woman, but she was way too overbearing when it came to her son.

"Sorry about her," He said. "But no, it's outside of town just a thirty-minute walk away. It's my secret spot."

"Okay, and what's so special about this spot that I have to walk all the way there instead of you telling me about it?" I asked with a hint of sarcasm.

"Dude. You've gotta feel it, then you'll know," He said.

I frowned, wondering what he was talking about, but I agreed to follow him. We reached the edge of town and got our Pokemon out, just in case. Togepi walked close to my legs and Eevee quickly climbed on Denzel's shoulder.

A pack of wild Starly attacked us ten minutes in, but Eevee quickly dispatched its leader by baiting it low and then hitting it with a Sand Attack. The bird was too disoriented to get back in the sky and was hit with a Quick Attack shortly after. The rest of their pack fled after seeing their leader taken down.

"You guys are really good at that," I said after watching their battle in awe. They were locked in step, never wasting a single moment.

"I'm used to taking this route, so I'm pretty confident I can deal with whatever nature throws at me here," He said. "I even used to make the trip without Pokemon."

"Huh? You must have a death wish," I exclaimed.

"Nothing strong enough around here to kill a human. Plus I'm good at running away."

That's what I thought about route 202 before a damn Scyther showed up, I thought. Maybe this route was different? Regardless, I trusted him if he was still here to tell the tale, but it still wouldn't calm my nerves.

The vegetation began to become denser and denser until we crossed a thick line of trees and found—

"Woah," I said, unable to come up with any other words. "This is… wow."

In front of us stood a lake way larger than the one back at Twinleaf, with water clearer than anything I'd ever seen. And it was just so still, without a single ripple at its surface. Around the lake, Pokemon were coexisting and living together. The area was completely… peaceful. That was the word I was lacking. It was peaceful.

"People from Twinleaf call this Lake Verity. Its location has been passed from generation to generation, and most people outside of our town don't even know this exists," Denzel said before sitting down on the grass.

Togepi chirped quietly and just watched the water's surface, while even Eevee jumped off of Denzel's shoulder to stand next to her.

"This is amazing. It's so peaceful, but there's something else about it. I feel at ease here. All of my worries are just washing away," I said with a heavy breath.

"That's the effect of the Lake, and it's why Pokemon here don't attack each other. You could put a Zangoose and a Seviper next to each other here and they'd just ignore each other without any problems."

An absurd statement to make in any other circumstance, but here? I actually believed him.

"I come here when I want to clear my head, or when I want to relax. I figured it'd be good to bring you at least once before you go back tomorrow," Denzel said.

"Hey, I've got an idea. Why don't you come with me back to Sandgem?" I asked.

"But I've got nothing prepared."

"So prepare when we get back! Who knows, we could be traveling companions during the whole Circuit. A lot of people do that to have it easier in the wild. Two trainers or more is always better than one, and I think that I vibe pretty well with you, no?" I said.

He paused for a few seconds before breaking into a smile. "Screw it. Let's do it, Grace. You, me, Eevee, and Togepi against the world."

I didn't know how that had just happened, but I was still delighted. It was as if the Lake itself had popped the idea into my mind. Or maybe it was just some repressed emotion that clawed its way out? Either way, things were looking up.

Just then, I heard a rustling in the trees behind us. A man with spiky blue hair and bizarre-looking clothes with a yellow 'G' written on it passed through the treeline and walked toward the Lake, paying us no mind. Denzel practically jumped, and I frowned at the peculiar individual.

"Um, hello," I quietly said. The man did not answer. "Is he from Twinleaf?" I whispered to Denzel.

"No, I've never seen him before," Denzel answered. "Sir? How'd you find this Lake if you don't mind me asking?"

I called Togepi back to me and she hid behind my leg, while he recalled Eevee back to his ball.

"Please don't leak this to the press," He continued. "Or anyone for that matter. This is Twinleaf's secret, and I'd like for it to stay that way."

The blue-haired man stayed silent and perfectly still, observing the lake's surface with his hands behind his back.

"This guy's creeping me out. Let's just leave?" I asked.

"No, I need answers—"

"Mister Cyrus, sir!" A woman passed through the trees. She had a similar, skin-tight uniform with the same 'G', this time at its center. "Please don't get too far away from us—" She started before noticing us. "Who are these kids?"

"I'd like to ask the same question to you," Denzel said.

I pulled his arm, indicating for him to calm down. I didn't know who these people were, but I wanted out. This situation gave me a bad feeling even Lake Verity couldn't shake.

"Oh, yeah?" She smirked as five other people joined her. She grabbed one of her Pokeballs and released a Golbat with a mouth large enough to swallow me whole. The others released their Pokemon as well, including Zubat, Stunky, and Glameow.

Denzel's bravado evaporated straight away. Not even entertaining the thought that we could fight them, I recalled Togepi to her ball.

"We—we're really sorry! We'll leave now, just let us go," I said, my voice shaking.

"Sir? What should we do with them?" One of them said. She then gestured cutting her throat with her finger and giggled.

"Please," I pleaded.

The blue-haired man called Cyrus turned to us slowly, his face stoic. I couldn't tell what he was thinking.

"Let them go," He said with a smooth voice. I felt a giant weight lift off my shoulders. "We did not come here to harass children. Call Charon and tell him the Lake has been located." His eyes drifted toward us, and he lifted his chin.

We took that as our sign to leave, slowly at first and then running as fast as we could. I felt my legs turn to jelly, but I couldn't stop. Not until I was sure we were safe. This was scarier than any wild Pokemon attacks. These people had consciously trained their Pokemon to kill. I let that feeling sink in and felt a shiver of dread. They had threatened to kill us.

We reached Twinleaf and collapsed on the ground. I was drenched in sweat, could barely breathe, and my throat was dry. I heaved for a few seconds as a nauseatic feeling took hold of me. A few seconds later, I threw up all over the grass and coughed up the rest of my breakfast in chunks.

"We… have to… tell someone…" Denzel croaked.

I kept coughing and then rolled over. I couldn't speak. I was too tired. My lungs were ablaze, and my heart was hammering my chest to the point that I believed that I was having a heart attack.

"Sandgem… Police…" Denzel said.

It took ten minutes for me to recover. I had never run this hard for that long, and it took a lot out of me. My legs still shook when I stood up, and even walking took an immense effort because of the soreness. Denzel supported me back to his house— I didn't want to have to explain why I could barely walk to my mother.

"This is fucked!" He said, slamming the door to his room. "Completely and utterly fucked."

"Who were these people?" I asked. "What did they want with the lake?" I asked.

"Your guess is as good as mine, but all I know right now is that they're trainer killers. There was no hesitation, no doubt in their eyes when they asked what to do with us. They wanted to kill us."

"Their leader spared us, though," I said before my eyes widened. "The common uniform, the logo, a leader… what if this is an evil organization? Like Team Rocket from twenty years ago in Kanto?"

Team Rocket had run rampant in Kanto for years, and they had been adept at stealing trainers' Pokemon to sell them on the international black market to make a profit. They were only stopped when it was discovered that one of the Gym Leaders was their leader, and that was why they always seemed to know how to avoid the authorities.

"Pokemon traffickers? Could be. Either way, we have to leave for Sandgem now and go to their police department. I'll call them too, but it'll be better to make a report in person so they can ask us anything," He said, nodding to himself. "I hate that this will bring the secret of Lake Verity into jeopardy, but this is more important."

"You're right," I agreed. "And then they might be able to find evidence… DNA or something. And also warn the League."

He agreed, and after we warned our parents about what we had seen and told them not to go to the Lake, we set off for Sandgem immediately.
 
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Chapter 7
CHAPTER 7

Thanks to Denzel knowing the area like the back of his hand, the trip back to Sandgem took around a day and a half instead of two. Togepi was finally getting around to being able to use Headbutt as a move in battle and not just as a proof of concept. She was getting tougher, even though it was little by little. I noticed that her eggshell was getting harder, and she was growing slightly. During the night, Denzel had to sleep on a towel since he didn't have a sleeping bag, and I had to lend him a potion after his Eevee suffered a nasty bite from a Nidoran. He kept saying that he'd pay me back, but I didn't mind.

That night, I was barely able to sleep. I kept jolting awake at the slightest noise, expecting that huge Golbat to sweep down and kill me with its sharp fangs. When we reached Sandgem, I was tired, still sore, and in desperate need of a shower. I took one in the Pokemon Center while Denzel checked in our Pokemon, and I used the opportunity to buy some new bandages. I had run out and had been forced to wear the same one two days in a row, which was obviously unhygienic.

After our Pokemon were healed, we made our way to the Sandgem police department. We talked to the receptionist and waited in a room for an officer to talk to us. After a short wait, Denzel was called in a room, and I was summoned shortly after to a different one. The officer closed the door behind me and directed me to sit at a table. She was old— probably in her fifties, and had a soft look on her face, making me relax a little.

The interview began with her confirming my information. My name, age, and address. She also asked for my trainer ID, making me remember that I still had to sign up for the League.

"So, Grace. Can you explain to me what happened in detail? Everything you remember," She said.

I told her everything. The uniforms, the thinly veiled threats of murder, and that I suspected this was a new evil organization. The officer let me speak and offered me tissues when I choked up at the thought of that Golbat.

"Did you hear any names? Describe the people you saw for me."

"Only Cyrus… he was their leader— maybe not of the entire organization, but just this group," I said. I then proceeded to describe everyone I could recall. The only one I remembered clearly was Cyrus. "He had deep, sunken eyes and spiky dyed blue hair. And… oh! He had no eyebrows! That was really weird."

The officer nodded and kept writing. "And the uniforms, you said they had a yellow 'G' insignia?"

I nodded. She finished writing and put her pen down.

"So… what happens now?" I asked.

She sighed. "Well, we send a few officers there to verify that there's a lake at all. Might be time to ask the League for funds to make a new station in Twinleaf," She said. "Then we see if we can find any evidence at the scene, and if we find something substantial, we'll contact the League about it."

I frowned. "So you aren't contacting the League now? Why?"

"Grace, when we first got this call, we thought this was a prank," The officer said with a light chuckle. "Now that you showed up, we're obligated to confirm your report, but… an organization? Sinnoh isn't like Kanto. People don't do that here."

I scoffed in disbelief. "How could it hurt to at least tell them? So that they're on high alert if something else comes up with these people? What if they actually hurt or kill someone next time?"

"No need to exaggerate, Grace," The officer rolled her eyes. "The Circuit's right around the corner, and we wouldn't want to distract anyone with rumors."

Feeling anger boil up inside of me, I stood up. "We're done here, correct? You saw me cry, and you still think I'm lying? You're beyond help."

The officer let me out and muttered 'teenagers' under her breath as I left. Denzel was already waiting for me in the lobby and was seemingly as angry as I was. We talked on our way back to the Center.

"Arceus, these cops are so useless. They didn't believe a word of what we said! I bet they're not even actually sending anyone to the lake!" I said angrily.

"I can't believe it. I thought the police would take care of this, but they don't even want to try," Denzel said.

"Can we tell anyone else? Rangers?"

"Rangers only take care of wild Pokemon going berserk too close to where trainers are. They wouldn't be able to do anything about this," He said. He paused for a second. "Maybe we could tell someone. A Gym Leader! All we need is to actually get to Oreburgh or Eterna. Those are the two closest Gyms."

"Oreburgh is closer," I said, remembering my time looking at my Poketch map. "Plus, we need to go there anyway, right?"

Denzel grinned as we approached the Pokemon Center. It was time to sign up for the League Circuit.

——

The process was more complicated than I thought it would be. First, I needed to get a full health check-up, including blood tests. Needles were not my forte, but I went through it anyway, relieved that it hadn't hurt as much as I thought. That relief lasted for about ten minutes before a nurse brought a slew of vaccines I needed to take to protect myself against diseases. Those ones hurt.

Next, I needed to read through the entire terms of services page. Yes, I actually needed to read it. It essentially said that the League wasn't responsible for anything that happened to us out in the wild, including death. That sobered me up a little, but I wasn't going to change my mind. I signed at the end, and they took the form away.

Next, I got into a queue with a bunch of other kids. After a short wait, they took a picture of me. I was a little sad that I couldn't have any makeup on for it, but at least it had come out really well. I watched as they quickly 3D printed my trainer card. The newest card model has a thin, digital screen that would tell you how many badges you had at all times, along with the amount of Pokedollars on your account— an account that I was forced to open. I put in everything I had, which wasn't much: a few thousand Pokedollars.

Finally, I was given a Pokedex and taught how it worked. It was considered a trainer's most important tool, showing you what potential moves your Pokemon could learn and the moves they already knew, along with crucial information about every Pokemon you scanned. It could be the difference between life and death in the wild.

The entire process took a few hours, but I was glad it was finally over. Being a part of the Circuit came with many advantages. All services at the Pokemon Center became free, and you would get a deposit of ten thousand Pokedollars to start your journey just to equalize the playing field a little. Supplies, food, potions; all of that added up very quickly, and if your parents weren't able to help you with money, then you would be screwed. The money helped with that.

"Whew! All done!" I said, releasing Togepi.

"Togeprrri?" She said curiously.

"It's finally done. I signed us up for the Circuit, Togepi! I'm officially a trainer!"

Togepi chirped and hopped around happily, garnering the reaction of many who fawned over how cute she was.

"Alright, princess. Stand still for a sec."

I opened my Pokedex and scanned her.

Togepi, the spike ball Pokemon. As its energy, Togepi uses the positive emotions of compassion and pleasure exuded by people and Pokémon. This Pokémon stores up feelings of happiness inside its shell, then shares them with others.

Type: Fairy

Moves: Pound, Growl, Sweet Kiss, Rollout, Headbutt (click for more information)

Ability: Hustle (click for more information)


I was surprised by the Pokedex entry, but smiled at the confirmation that she had learned Headbutt.

"So you can share positive feelings, huh?"

"Prrri!"

I thought back to many little events after which I suddenly felt better for no apparent reason like arguments with my dad, missing an important show on T.V. Larger occurrences like what had happened with the Scyther or that Cyrus individual seemed to be too big to affect, however. Maybe she was still trying. Maybe without her, I would have been scarred.

I crouched and caressed her little crown, and she buried her face into my hand. I loved her, and we were going to go places.

"Thanks for taking care of me, princess."

Our heart-to-heart ended as Denzel appeared in the lobby.

"All done?" He asked.

"Yup."

"Great! I'm thinking of buying a Poketch with the money they gave me, but then again, I should probably save for actually important things for the journey," Denzel said, rubbing his chin.

"Since you're tight on money, I wouldn't. You can use the Pokemon Center phones to call your parents— but I'm not trying to influence your decision, or whatever."

"I'll see when we get to Jubilife. Did you check out how awesome the Pokedex is, by the way? I just discovered that Eevee could have used Baby Doll Eyes the entire time, and that little bugger didn't even try to tell me or anything."

"Yeah, it's awesome. Way more in-depth than I thought it'd be," I replied.

"Anyway, before we set off for Jubilife, I believe you owe me a battle," Denzel smiled.

I chortled. "I almost forgot. Let's get to it then."

——

I stood in one of the few battle arenas that littered Sandgem town. It was a rather small one, with a simple Pokeball design at its center. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and released Togepi. We hadn't worked on any strategy, but I trusted myself and her to make the right decisions.

Denzel released Eevee and I watched as a large screen at the side of the arena counted down with a robotic voice.

"Three, two, one, begin!"

"Eevee, get closer with Quick Attack!" Denzel yelled.

"Don't panic! Growl when he's in range!"

Eevee began to glow white and became a blur. In just a few seconds, he crossed the entire length of the arena, and suddenly turned and began circling Togepi.

Togepi was struggling to keep up. I bit the inside of my lip. "Concentrate, Togepi!"

"Go!" Denzel yelled.

Eevee stopped, and used its hind leg to gain another burst of speed, barreling toward Togepi. He hit her side, but not before she got a Growl out, lowering the damage dealt.

I hid a wince as she got hit. "Shake it off! Use Sweet Kiss before he gets away!"

A pink heart escaped from her lips and drifted toward Eevee.

"Dodge—"

"Start rolling out! Block off his escape!"

Togepi collapsed into a ball and rolled toward Eevee, who chose to get hit by the confusing attack rather than take a rollout to the face.

"Great! Now keep gathering speed and then hit him with everything!" I yelled.

"Eevee! Eevee, snap out of it!"

Togepi rolled faster and faster and then hit her opponent, sending him flying.

Alright, keep the initiative, I thought.

"Keep it going! Follow him!"

"Quick Attack out of the way! Growl if you can't!" Denzel said.

The Eevee landed on its feet and barely got out of the way. Togepi wasn't able to stop and hit the wall.

"Hit her while she's down!" He screamed.

"Don't let him hit you without getting out unscathed! Pound!"

The two Pokemon both hit each other and brawled for a few seconds without using any particular moves.

I have to end it now. Togepi's younger and getting tired.

"Alright, princess! Hit him with another Sweet Kiss!"

Sweet Kiss would get less and less effective the more it was used on one Pokemon, but we just needed a few seconds.

Another pink heart flew toward Eevee, who couldn't dodge because of his proximity.

"Now, Headbutt!" I said.

Togepi ran as fast as she could on her two little legs and jumped at the last moment, aiming her crown toward her opponent. She hit him and hit him hard, but he still stood, and this time he was no longer confused. Denzel ordered another Quick Attack and that was that. Togepi was out for the count.

My shoulders sagged, and I hung my head. My first defeat in battle stung, but the words of my father echoed in my head.

"To be successful in life, you've got to be unafraid of failure."

I hadn't even realized it, but I was out of breath and sweating. I wasn't even the one that had been fighting! This hadn't happened in any of my previous battles.

"You were great, Togepi," I told her as I recalled her. "Let's get you healed up."

Denzel finished celebrating with his Eevee and came to shake my hand.

"That was a great battle— wait, stop, you don't have to give me money. Arceus, it was just a battle between friends," He clarified as I searched through my backpack.

"Thank you," I said.

"It was really close. It's the first time Eevee had to work that hard for a win, and Togepi's still a baby."

"You went easy on me," I accused him. "You didn't use Baby Doll Eyes, which is faster than Growl. Plus, this wasn't really the best terrain, because you couldn't use Sand Attack, and—"

"I was going one hundred percent the entire time, I swear. I just panicked a little bit after that Sweet Kiss. That combo with rollout is nasty."

"It's pretty good," I acquiesced. "But I've got to get better if I want to get past the first badge."

"As do I. Now let's get to a Center."

---------------------

DISCLAIMER: IN THIS FANFIC, NORMAL TYPE ATTACKS CAN HIT GHOST TYPES THAT HAVE A PHYSICAL BODY. AS AN EXAMPLE, POUND COULD HIT A GOLURK BUT COULDN'T HIT A GENGAR.
 
Chapter 8
CHAPTER 8

We waited a few hours for Togepi and Eevee to heal, and I used the opportunity to call dad to tell him I was back in Sandgem and that I'd be back in Jubilife soon. I also introduced him to Denzel and said that we'd be traveling together, and he seemingly did not approve. I got embarrassed because I knew exactly why, and I hung up on him before he could run his mouth. Just because we were the opposite sex didn't mean we couldn't just be friends.

Anyway, after getting Togepi back, I had one more thing to do before getting back on the road. Denzel was curious, so he came with me to observe. We made our way to the beach, then I rolled back my sleeves, took off my shoes, and dove into the water.

"What in the world are you doing?" He asked me.

"How haven't you figured it out? I'm trying to bait a Pokemon to attack little old me," I said. In reality, I was more scared than I let on. We were on the non-public side of the beach, which meant wild Pokemon would be there.

"You should have bought a fishing rod or something. Is this even deep enough?"

"Doesn't hurt to try, right? You should probably do it too. We're going to challenge Roark first, right? But we don't have anything good against rock types. I'm just trying to remedy that."

"I have a specific team in mind I'm trying to build, and the water type I want wouldn't be here. But knock yourself out, I guess. All you'll get is a Magikarp, probably."

"I'd take a Magikarp. Who wouldn't want a Gyarados?" I said, as I continued wading through the water.

"According to some stats I found online, only 5% of all Magikarp owners actually manage to evolve them."

"Why? Does it take some super rare stone or something?" I asked.

"The exact method isn't known, but it just takes a lot of time. And by time, I mean years, where all you have on your team is a Magikarp that can't fight."

"Okay, that does sound awful," I agreed. "But all I'm saying is that Gyarados are really—"

I felt a shiver run down my spine. Something cold touched my leg and I felt tired. Denzel noticed, jumped into the water, and dragged me out. I could barely keep my eyes open, but I saw a blue pokemon with five tentacles, shining red eyes and some kind of light blue collar around its neck. I grabbed my Pokedex and scanned it.

Frillish, the floating Pokemon. It wraps its veillike arms and legs around prey swimming by, uses its ghostly powers to tire them out, and drags them down to the depths of the ocean.

Type: Water, Ghost


I'd only be able to see its moves and ability if I managed to capture it. It hovered over the water and began to approach us. I saw Denzel grab his Pokeball, but I stopped him. This was my fight. I released Togepi.

"Sorry about this," I told her. "I know you just got healed, but I need you for this fight."

"Prri!" She said, determined to help me.

You're too nice to me, I thought.

The Frillish's eyes shone brighter as it yelled and launched a stream of bubble toward Togepi.

Was that bubble? No, it's too fast, it's—

"Togepi, roll out of the way, then stop!"

The Bubblebeam attack pounded the ground and threw a good amount of sand all over me. Our opponent kept throwing out bubble attacks while I was trying to find a way to bait it toward Togepi so I could deal damage to it.

An idea formed in my head. I got back into the water and watched it smile gleefully as it floated toward me. It attacked me with another Bubblebeam, but I dove underwater, avoiding the attack by the skin of my teeth. I slowly made my way toward Togepi and waved my arms to keep the Frillish's attention.

As soon as it got close enough, I dove to the side.

"Use Sweet Kiss, Togepi!"

The heart barely avoided me and confused the Frillish, who moved haphazardly. It began hovering over the sand, and now I knew I had it.

"Headbutt it!"

"Prrri!"

Togepi jumped and hit the Frillish as fast as she could. The Pokemon fell to the ground onto the shining sand, and I threw an empty ball at it.

"Get closer and prepare to Sweet Kiss and Headbutt again if it breaks out," I warned.

The Pokeball shook once, twice, and finally, three times. I laughed in disbelief. I had caught my first Pokemon!

——

Moves: Bubblebeam, Night Shade, Absorb, Water Sport.

Ability: Water Absorb


As we waited in the Center, I was giddy when I saw my new team member's moves. This was a perfect moveset for my future battle against Roark, and it would seriously add to my long range offensive abilities. Denzel had berated me for using myself as a distraction to trick the Frillish, but it had been worth it. I felt like I was making real progress now.

We finally made our way back to route 202, and that meant I had to start getting familiar with Frillish before we reached Jubilife. Trainers were obligated to have their Pokemon under control if they wanted to release them in cities— and even then, some Pokemon were considered too dangerous. Regardless, I released Frillish from his ball, and he started attacking us right away. A ghostly replica appeared in front of him and rushed toward me. I managed to recall him just in time for the attack to dissipate before hitting me.

"That was Night Shade," I said with a shaky voice. "I wasn't expecting it to hate me that much."

"It always depends on the Pokemon. Sometimes, they'll warm up to you real quick, like my Eevee. Other times, well… they try to kill you repeatedly." Denzel explained.

"Let's try again."

After releasing Togepi just in case, I freed my new teammate from his ball again, this time at a distance.

"Frillish! I'm sorry I tricked you and caught you, but I really need your help. We can be friends—"

A stream of bubbles exploded where I stood just a second ago. I cursed under my breath and continued.

"Ok. I get it; not friends. I still want us to be a team." I pointed to Togepi. "She's my Pokemon, just like you now—"

His eyes shone, and he flew toward me. I returned him again.

"Okay, ownership seems to be a no-no," I said.

"It didn't attack you right away this time," Denzel pointed out. "That's progress."

I nodded and released Frillish.

"Alright, I'm sorry. I think I know what the problem is. I still want you to help me on my journey, but I won't force you to do anything. If you don't want to do something, I won't make you. That's already how I treat Togepi, but I guess the wording I used confused you," I said. I spoke slowly, and methodically, expecting to get attacked at any moment. The attack never came. "I won't force you to battle or train if you don't want to. But I'll keep you fed and healthy, and maybe if you change your mind one day, we can be partners."

Frillish paused and nodded slowly. I did the same.

"So, uh— do you want to stay out? Or I can return you to your ball," I asked hesitantly.

Frilish bobbed his head and gestured toward the ball, and I obliged. Denzel breathed a huge sigh of relief.

"That was impressive. I thought it'd take much longer for you to convince it," He said.

"Him," I clarified. "But you're right, I'm also surprised. I was winging it the entire time. I honestly thought I'd take a Bubblebeam to the face at some point and that we'd have to rush me to the Center."

"And yet you still tried."

"No risk, no reward."

We resumed our journey, battling a few trainers and wild Pokemon along the way. Denzel did most of the fighting, and for every battle, I had Frillish out to observe how Togepi and I fought. He didn't look interested, often drifting off in the wind and looking somewhere else. Either way, I was happy he wasn't attacking me anymore, but I couldn't help but watch my back every time he was out. Something about his eyes disturbed me. They were both carefree and intense at the same time somehow, and I couldn't help but break eye contact every time I talked to him, something I'd have to fix if I wanted to gain his respect. Frillish seemed not to hate Togepi as much as me, however, and I'd seen them talk a few times. I wish I knew about what.

We took the long road around the woods I had found Scyther in. Denzel was interested in going in and trying to fight, but I dissuaded him. Scyther were ruthless predators, and extremely quick. If it decided to come after us instead of our Pokemon, it would be impossible to dodge. Eventually, however, we finally made it back to Jubilife.

I took a deep breath, smelling the city air. "Home sweet home," I said.

Denzel was speechless. This was his first time in a city, and considering it was the biggest one in Sinnoh and home to hundreds of thousands, it must have been a big culture shock. We stopped by one of the Centers to heal our Pokemon and shower, and then we grabbed a bite in a restaurant close by.

"So what now?" I asked, shoving a handful of fries in my mouth. "Every Center is packed. You'll have to wait to get a room."

"I can buy a few nights at a hotel with League money, it's not a problem."

I pointed a fry toward him. "You're weird. You never ask for any help. Is it, like, an independence thing?"

He laughed and took a sip of his drink. "So straightforward. No, I just don't want to intrude in your house when it's not necessary."

"What if I told you I didn't have a problem with it," I said.

"I know you wouldn't, but your dad?"

"Eh, my dad will come around. He's a big softie."

"If you say so… but if he gets mad at you, I hold no responsibility. Thank you, though, I really appreciate it."

"Gotcha. Our couch can turn into a bed, so you should be fine."

After we finished up our meal, Denzel decided to go and buy a Poketch. He bought an older model to save money, and then we took a bus ride home for free— another benefit of being a League trainer. We reached my apartment, and I showed him around. It'd be a while before my dad came back. I wanted to show Frillish around too, but I was scared he'd make a mess since he wasn't used to… civilization.

"It's pretty small, but it looks cozy," Denzel commented. "Can I let Eevee out?"

I nodded and also let Togepi out, who was ecstatic to be back home.

"Shouldn't we let your dad know about this before he comes back from work?" He asked.

"I'll call him. I just need to change into my PJs first. Oh, crap, are you alright with your clothes, by the way?"

Trainers usually traveled with clothes that were fit for living in the wild, not cities. That meant that he wouldn't have something comfortable to sleep with.

"Don't worry about it, you've done enough. Sleeping with normal clothes won't kill me."

I left him in the living room and changed in my bedroom, putting on shorts and one of dad's t-shirts that were way too big for me that I had stolen. I let my hair down, placed Frillish's ball on my desk, and called my dad.

"Grace? I'm a little busy at the moment, so make it quick if possible," He said.

"Hey dad. Remember how I told you I was going to travel with my friend for the Circuit? Denzel from Twinleaf?"

"Yeah?"

"Great! Well, we're back in Jubilife, and since all the Centers are full, I decided to let him stay with us until the start of the Circuit—"

"Excuse me?" He interrupted, incredulous.

"He's actually already here, and it'd be really rude to kick him out—"

"So I have no say in this?"

"You owe me for delivering Herdier's Vitamins and reconciling with mom, and I'm cashing in the favor now."

"No, we should talk about this—"

"Hello? Dad? You're breaking up."

"Grace, don't you dare—"

"Okaythankyoubye—"

I hung up. That could have gone better, but he'd come around. Denzel and I spent the rest of the day watching television and browsing the Circuit forums. We created profiles and verified our accounts using our trainer cards. I didn't want to post anything, preferring to just lurk on the forums and observe the different posts and comments. Meanwhile, Denzel started commenting under a lot of posts. According to him, it was to start getting his name out there.

"Being a good trainer is half the work," He said before pausing. "Alright, that sounded wrong. Let's say it's two-thirds of the work. But you also have to build connections, and not only with other trainers. Sometimes, rich people use the forums and bet on who's getting the furthest that year, or they even sponsor you and pay for a lot of your expenses."

"Holy crap, really? You're not pulling my leg, are you?"

"No, I swear. Oh, speaking of sponsorships, look," He said, showing me his brand-new Poketch. "Cecilia Obel is sponsored by a bunch of big names. The Bianchi family, Tanaka Ikeda, and Carla White."

"I have no idea who any of those people are," I said with a blank expression.

"And I'm the one from the middle of nowhere," Denzel joked.

"I don't care anyway. I'm going to become the Champion without any help from these bigwigs. Plus, I feel like we talk about this Obel girl too much."

Never mind that I was probably more intrigued with her than I wanted to be, I thought.

We kept hanging out for the rest of the day, and then dad came back.
 
Chapter 9
CHAPTER 9

Dad yelled out my name immediately as soon as he entered our apartment.

"Let me do the talking," I told Denzel. "You just nod and smile unless he addresses you directly, alright?"

"Got it," He answered, adjusting the shirt collar around his neck.

I had dealt with an angry father a thousand times before, and that meant I had learned how to diffuse the situation effectively. First, I placed Togepi on the ground and watched as she ran toward the door with a joyous chirp. It had been two weeks since she had seen my dad— the longest she had ever gone without seeing him.

"Grace!" Dad yelled out again as his stomps got louder in the hallway. I could tell exactly when he noticed Togepi because he suddenly stopped walking, then greeted her. His steps were lighter now, so that was part one of the plan completed. There was no way to stay angry with a cute little Togepi at your feet.

He entered the living room with her in one arm and groceries in the other.

"Answer me when I call you, damn it!" He scolded. Dad nodded toward Denzel. "Is this—"

"Togeprrri!" Togepi chirped, waving her hands needily. That meant she wanted a hug.

Dad put down his groceries and obliged her. "So you're Denzel?" He asked, much calmer.

"Yes, sir," Denzel answered.

"He has no place to stay, dad," I started, getting straight to the point. "And his parents aren't supporting him financially because they disapprove of his decision to participate in the Circuit. It'd be rude not to house him."

"You could have told me beforehand."

"You would have said no," I said.

"Maybe not! You don't know that," He said.

I stared him straight in the face, letting him know I could see through his obvious lie.

"Ok, maybe I wouldn't have," Dad admitted. "But I pay rent here, so I should decide who gets to stay."

"Togepi likes him a lot. Plus, she's just started getting friendly with his Eevee."

Dad groaned and then looked at Togepi. I could almost see the gears turning in his head, deciding if making his second daughter sad was worth punishing me for my actions. But I knew he couldn't resist that stare. Nobody could.

"Fine," Dad sighed. "But I reserve the right to change my mind at any moment. And I don't want his Eevee on the couch. Fur's hard to clean up, and since I wasn't expecting this, I don't have a lint roller."

"Yes, yes, yes!" I squealed as I rammed into him with a hug. "Thank you so much dad, you won't regret it."

"I already do."

——

Dad asked us to put away the groceries while he showered, so we did so while letting Togepi and Eevee mingle. Her efforts to get closer to the little furry Pokemon were bearing fruit. Eevee would act angry while she would play around with his fluffy tail, but Denzel told me he secretly enjoyed it. I would still need to show dad Frillish at some point, so I'd also have to figure that out.

"I wouldn't call that being a softie, by the way," Denzel said. "His glare was terrifying, and his tone… my dad's not like that at all."

"Eh, that's because you don't know him," I said as I placed dad's beers in the fridge. "I know what makes him tick, so I can plan around whatever made him angry in the first place. Don't let him know that."

"Obviously I won't. But still, it's usually my mom who yells at me and stuff, and she's way smaller than I am. I guess I'm just not used to it."

"My dad wouldn't hurt a Cutiefly, don't worry about him. He'll warm up to you soon enough when I tell him how big of a help you were in the wild," I smiled. "Plus, notice how he bought all of this food? I bet you he did it because we didn't have enough food for three people tonight."

"By the way," I continued, suddenly getting serious. "This goes without saying, but not a word about what happened at Lake Verity."

Denzel nodded, and we finished putting the groceries away in silence. Dad came out of the shower and started cooking a big dinner for all of us— Pokemon included. It was somewhat awkward, but at least he and Denzel were making small talk, mostly about his parents, life back in Twinleaf, and our trip back to Jubilife. I would sometimes interject and compliment my friend about his trainer or survival skills. By the end of the night, dad was talking to Denzel like they'd known each other for years.

Ok, maybe that was an exaggeration, but they were friendly with each other. The next few days went back quickly and were spent introducing Denzel to the city and its facilities designed to train your Pokemon. There were dozens of arenas where trainers could battle or gyms that had targets to train your Pokemon on. I battled a few trainers there, and I won the majority of my battles. People here were better than people on Route 202 or 201, and every battle was extremely close. Even Denzel lost a battle to a guy with a Teddiursa.

He was focusing on battles more than I was. He would stay in arenas as long as he could, getting Eevee to be as strong as possible before the Circuit started. Me, however? Just like yesterday, I walked through the gate to route 202 and released my Frillish. He stared at me and began floating in the wind.

"Hey buddy," I said before releasing Togepi. "Let's hang out."

"Prrri!" Togepi chirped happily.

It seemed silly at first. How did you get a Pokemon to warm up to you? Well, as the internet answered when I looked it up on my Poketch, it was something that changed on a case-by-case basis. There were no easy answers, no skips, no special items or berries that would speed up the process. So I decided that we'd just… hang out. I sat on the grass and sliced a bit of Oran with my knife.

"Want some?" I asked Togepi. She chirped, and I fed her. I cut another slice and looked at Frillish. "You want some too?"

The blue Pokemon bobbed his head up and down, and I threw him a few bits of Oran, which he caught mid-air. I still wasn't able to touch him because then he would always start draining my energy with Absorb, so I had to feed him this way. I struggled to understand how Frillish thought. He was fine with just staying with me, but touching wasn't allowed? I sighed. At least I wasn't worried about him attacking me anymore, and I was getting more comfortable with eye contact.

After finishing the Oran berry, Frillish started levitating away. I raised an eyebrow and then followed him. He was floating at a leisurely pace, and I turned down challengers from a few trainers, mostly because I was scared Frillish would go too far and kill their Pokemon. One of the first things most trainers needed to instill in a Pokemon they had just caught was that battling trainers was different than just battling wild Pokemon, and seeing as I still hadn't even talked that much with Frillish, that was a lesson for another time.

"Toge? Togepi?" Togepi asked. At first, I thought she was talking to me, but it appeared she was addressing Frillish. Needless to say, he didn't answer. Looking back, I had never even heard him talk.

I kept following him until I reached a small creak. He dove into the water, and for a second, I got nervous. I imagined the worst. Was he going to run away and try to escape? Thankfully, he just stayed there and chilled with his head peeking out of the water.

"Do you miss the ocean?" I asked.

Frillish looked at me and threw a little bit of water at my face. I flinched, thinking it was an attack, but it was just a normal, low-pressure jet of water.

"Does that mean yes?" I continued, wiping water off my face. He didn't answer. "I seriously don't get you, dude."

I paused for a few seconds and smiled.

"Want to come back here tomorrow?"

"...lish" He murmured.

——

Denzel Williams was on top of the world.

Throughout his stay at Jubilife, he had been in sixteen battles, and he had won fifteen of them. The last one had been particularly close, and if he had anticipated that Teddiursa knowing Bulk Up, he would have won, he was sure of it. Instead of playing it safe with Sand Attack from a distance, he would have immediately rushed in with Quick Attack, and Eevee's brand new move, Bite.

Regardless, he and Eevee had kept it close. Denzel was steadily building his reputation among Jubilife's new trainers waiting for the Circuit to start, and that would go a long way. The teenager smiled. All of that was far off in the future. First, it was time for another day of battling. He stepped into the large, stadium-like building and saw a number of trainers already battling among the many arenas. He also noticed a few heads turn as he walked toward an empty battlefield and had to stop himself from getting too giddy.

Just you watch mom, he thought. I'll make you eat your words.

The first two battles went as he had learned to expect. Eevee was on top of his game and only got hit once by a Piplup's Bubble attack. He had taught him to use Quick Attack defensively without his command, and it was paying off. Most Pokemon couldn't land a hit on him.

"Great job, Eevee! Keep it up, just a few more."

Eevee barked at him, clearly prideful about his performance. He loved that little Pokemon, and he couldn't wait to see how far they'd get.

"Attention!" Denzel heard a yell near the entrance. "Who's the strongest trainer in here?"

He frowned and observed as a short-haired teen with his cap on backward strode in the building like he owned the place. Denzel rolled his eyes and minded his own business, applying a potion where Eevee had gotten hit. There were always these types of trainers that thought they'd dominate the Circuit before they got knocked down a peg. He waited for a few minutes, hoping a new challenger would approach him, but people had started avoiding him.

"Yo," He heard to his left. "I heard you're the strongest kid in here." The same person who had caused the earlier ruckus approached him with unmatched confidence. He was slightly shorter than him, but looked extremely fit.

"I might be, but I've only been here for a few days," Denzel replied dryly. He disliked these kinds of people. It was fine to be confident, but keep that confidence unchecked, and it would quickly grow into arrogance.

"Battle me and I'll show all of these losers you're worth nothing," The teen with the cap said.

"Oh?" Denzel answered, feeling anger build up inside of him. "Sure, I'll battle you."

"Thank you for being a stepping stone for my ultimate goal of becoming the Champion. I just got here, and I need to make a big splash," He smirked.

"One on one," Denzel hissed.

"Sounds good to me!"

They each got into position and sent out their Pokemon. Eevee was already out of his ball, so he had sensed his trainer's anger and was growling in a battle-ready position.

"Your time to shine, Ri," He said with a bored look on his face as he sent out a Riolu.

The screen counted down and as soon as it hit zero, Denzel barked out the first move.

"Eevee, rush him with Quick Attack and then Sand Attack!"

Surrounded by a white glow, the little brown Pokemon became a blur and dashed toward the Riolu. He had gotten faster, and Denzel struggled to follow him with his eyes now.

"Ah, just deal with it, Riolu. I can't be bothered." He said, waving his hand in dismissal.

Denzel clenched his teeth as Eevee used his front paws to throw sand in the Riolu's eyes. It simply backstepped out of range, and then a small bone grew out of its hand.

"Eevee, keep going! Hit him!" Denzel said.

Eevee listened, and with a jump, he hit Riolu's torso with Quick Attack. The Riolu, however, didn't even flinch. He grabbed Eevee's head, locking him in place.

"Eevee, Bite him! Get out of there!" Denzel screamed, his voice faltering.

With impressive strength, Riolu threw Eevee into the air and slammed him with his bone like a baseball, sending him flying back toward Denzel. It shimmered and rushed forward, positioning himself directly under where Eevee was about to fall.

That was Quick Attack, Denzel thought. So much faster than ours, but what was that bone move?

Denzel snapped out of his thoughts. There was no way for Eevee to dodge what was coming, but maybe—

"Eevee, listen to my voice! Use Baby Doll Eyes!" He screamed. Eevee didn't move, sending a wave of panic over Denzel's body. What was going on?

Riolu's palm shone with a pale blue light, hitting Eevee once again. Denzel couldn't believe it. His Pokemon was lying unconscious in the dirt, having lost after two attacks. Sure there was the type advantage, but that had been so quick. And Riolu hadn't even received any commands!

"Well, that was boring. I got my hopes up a little bit after hearing that you were the strongest here, but you're just as bad as everybody else," His opponent said, returning Riolu.

Denzel just stayed silent. He couldn't believe it. The loss wasn't the issue, the issue was how hard he had lost. He returned Eevee and noticed the small crowd of trainers that had gathered to watch their match. They were whispering among themselves— some of them were even laughing.

"Well, that should be enough. Onto the next arena facility then!" The teen said. He walked off but turned back before leaving the building. "Oh, and the name's Chase Karlson. Remember it, losers, because you'll be watching me on the big screen after the first Gym's sent you packing. See ya!"

The crowd dispersed and people slowly went back to battling. Denzel gnawed on his thumb nail the entire way to the Pokemon Center. He opened up his Poketch and looked up Chase on the forums, hoping that he was some experienced trainer that had signed up for the Circuit again. Deep down though, he already knew the answer. He was fifteen, and it was his first time in the Circuit. There was nothing else on him, but his following had supposedly skyrocketed these past few days after he went around and beat up everything in his path with his Riolu without ordering it a single time during any battle.

How had he gotten so good? Denzel thought.

Failure was a good thing. Something that was always hard to experience but that trainers could grow from. And yet when a loss was so complete and total, without the opportunity to even theorize what had gone wrong, without even entertaining the idea that a battle could have gone a different way, a little thing would start to crawl into your mind. Slowly at first, and then it would become completely unstoppable.

For the first time, Denzel Williams began to doubt himself.
 
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Chapter 10
CHAPTER 10

The next few weeks were a blur. I spent most of them getting closer with Frillish. I discovered that even though ghost types ate very little, he was a glutton. He'd eat anything I threw toward him, and his stomach was seemingly bottomless. There was unfortunately still no progress on him letting me touch him. Surprisingly, he didn't misbehave when I introduced him to dad, or Jubilife city, although the sensory overload was too much for him, and he asked to be put in his ball soon enough. Dad, for all his praise about me catching a second team member so soon, seemed to dislike him. When I asked him why, he simply said he hated ghost types. How silly.

Denzel was changing up his strategy, deciding to train in the wild on route 202, going out for days at a time before coming back. Togepi's jumping Headbutt— which was now her main attack— was getting stronger and stronger. I didn't want to put all of my eggs in the rollout basket because when she evolved, it would be impossible to use the move. We also started working on a new move called Fairy Wind. My Pokedex told me it was one of the fairy moves Togepi could learn, and it would be great to give her a bit of variety and range. Unfortunately though, it was kind of a shot in the dark. Togepi tried her best, but the amount of wind she was making was barely enough to even bother me, so right now, it would do nothing against another Pokemon.

Finally though, September 1st rolled around. Children younger than fifteen would be going back to school, but for us? It was time for the League Circuit to begin.

"You'll call me when you reach Oreburgh, right? Straight away!" Dad sobbed.

"Yes, dad, I will. Please don't cry, you're embarrassing me," I said, trying not to tear up. "Plus, when we're done in Oreburgh, we have to go back through Jubilife anyway, so cheer up!"

Dad sniffled and then nodded. Denzel stood by my side, acting like he couldn't see what was going on to spare me the embarrassment. We stood at the gate to route 203, along with hundreds of young trainers and their parents going through the same thing we were: saying goodbye. Some trainers had already left days, or even weeks earlier, to be able to challenge Roark as soon as the Circuit began. Denzel and I had decided against it so I could spend more time with my father. I was thankful for that because I could tell he wanted to leave early. Something was bothering him, but I couldn't tell what.

"And call me before your gym battle! Both of you!" Dad continued.

Denzel's eyes widened. "Um, of course, sir."

"Come on, Denzel. Enough with the sirs. You're just making me feel old," Dad said. He clapped both of our shoulders. "I believe in both of you. You'll go far. I can feel it in my gut."

I hugged dad and told him I loved him. He did the same. We started to leave before dad called out one more time.

"And Denzel! Take care of Grace for me!"

My cheeks reddened, and I dragged Denzel past the gate's exit before he had time to answer. Route 203 lay before us, along with hundreds of trainers and their Pokemon. It was honestly overwhelming to see this many people, all heading in the same direction. The route was relatively simple and well maintained by Rangers because it was often the first route a trainer would actually go through, so unless we strayed off the road, there would be very little to worry about in terms of wild Pokemon until we reached Oreburgh gate. Denzel and I had estimated it would take three days to get to the cave if we weren't stopped by too many trainers looking to battle, and another day and a half to get through Oreburgh gate.

The first few hours were uneventful. We mostly kept to ourselves. There were a few incidents between trainers, however. Apparently, someone's aggressive Phanphy had gone on a rampage and wounded a few people and their Pokemon further up the route, and had to be neutralized by four trainers at the same time. Phanphy's owner had gotten furious and started a fight, and chaos ensued. It was scary to hear about, but it also taught me a valuable lesson. Not every trainer would be as diligent as I had been with Frillish, making sure that they stayed in their ball if I wasn't confident there wouldn't be an accident. Some trainers were rash, or immature, and didn't think before they acted.

We had to take a few breaks after a few hours of walking. Route 203 went permanently uphill, so it drained our energy faster than a normal route. We sat near the side of the forest that surrounded the route.

"You know, this is kind of anticlimactic so far, isn't it?" Denzel said.

"I'd rather this be anticlimactic than too dangerous. This was expected. There's no way the League would still exist if a bunch of teenagers died every year at the first route they went through."

"Yeah…" Denzel answered, trailing off. "I was thinking though, how about not following the route for a little?"

I frowned. "How? It's a straight path to Oreburgh gate, so it'd make no sense. We would just be wasting time."

"Well, it isn't exactly a shortcut. In fact, we might be wasting a few days in there, but there's a certain Pokemon I want to look for. Remember when I said I already had a team in mind?"

I nodded and took a swig out of my water bottle.

"The first one on my list is a Budew, and they can apparently be found here. I thought I'd just find one on the normal route, but the Rangers seemingly went extra hard on keeping wild Pokemon out of the way here this year. If I ever want to beat Roark's rock types, then I'll need a new team member anyway. You already have Frillish, but I only have Eevee."

"Ah," I said, suddenly understanding. "Well, I don't like it, but I said we'd travel together right? So I'll follow you and help you out."

Denzel's face brightened. Had he expected me to say no? "Thank you, Grace. How about leaving the route after our break? I want to catch one as early as possible so I have time to train it before Roark."

"Sounds good. I'll use the opportunity to see if Frillish feels like fighting any wild Pokemon."

"How's it looking with him? You were almost always out of Jubilife when you used him," Denzel asked as he glanced at the Pokeball on my hip.

"I like him. He's certainly stubborn and weird, but he's my stubborn and weird friend, y'know? Plus, he's kind of cute if you look at him the right way. We've been connecting more and more."

Denzel scoffed. "I wouldn't call him cute. Menacing, maybe. Anyway, I certainly hope the Budew I catch is easier to manage than that. Otherwise, I'll have to spend weeks in Oreburgh just trying to get it to listen to me."

"You were good with Eevee, right?" I asked.

"Yeah, I was," My friend said, looking at the sky. "I told you I rescued him, right?" I nodded. "I don't know what he got attacked by, but when I found him on route 201, he was barely breathing. I took him back home and my family and I nursed him back to health. I tried releasing him afterward, but he wouldn't leave my side," Denzel continued, putting his hand on his Pokeball affectionally. "So I decided to keep him. He didn't even have a Pokeball for an entire year."

"Woah," I said. "You did a great thing. I don't know if I'd try to save an injured wild Pokemon I randomly came across."

Denzel sighed. "Pokemon… they can be your greatest friend, but the world they live in is ruthless. It's kill or be killed. I honestly feel bad for them. Could you imagine Togepi trying to survive in the wild?"

I shook my head.

"Hey y'all," A short trainer waved toward us. "Fancy a battle?"

"You can go ahead," I told Denzel. He had battled much more than me back in Jubilife, and I expected him to do the same during our journey.

"Uh— I'm good, actually. Not feeling it," He stuttered with a nervous laugh.

"Mind if I take this one, then?" I asked, noting his strange behavior. I thought I was imagining things, but he had been… timid when it came to battling for a few weeks now.

I faced the challenger and sent out Togepi. I considered sending out Frillish, but I decided against it. It would be better to be safe and try him out in a battle against a wild Pokemon instead of a trainer. A quick Sweet Kiss, Headbutt combo made quick work of his Plusle, but not before it shocked Togepi with Thundershock. It was a quick battle, but I was surprised at how much damage a single attack had done on Togepi. I thought about it for a while as we finished our break until I figured it out. Togepi's shell was excellent at mitigating damage from physical attacks, but she was still vulnerable to special attacks. There wasn't much of a solution to this problem right now, and Togepi was slower than most attacks, so there was no way she could dodge unless she was using rollout and building up speed for a decent while. Luckily, rock type moves were mostly physical, so I wouldn't have to worry about it for a while.

We passed through the thick tree line and started looking for a Budew. Denzel released his Eevee, and I released Frillish, who looked extremely irritated that he was in such a dense forest. I was starting to be able to tell how he felt using his body language. It mostly had to do with how bright or dim his eyes were, and how tense he was while floating.

"Sorry buddy," I told him. "Togepi's resting right now, so I wanted to ask you if you were alright with helping us out?"

Frillish's eyes dimmed, and he slowly bobbed his head.

"Thanks," I told him. "I'll give you a lot of food later. Maybe we can even get some poffins when we get to Oreburgh."

"Fri…"

We continued looking for hours. Luckily for us, this forest was relatively well maintained and it was nowhere near as hard to walk through as the woods on route 202 had been. Frillish dealt with most Pokemon from a distance with a few Bubblebeams or Night Shades, while Eevee took care of the grass types with Bites and Quick Attacks. To my delight, Frillish was starting to listen to what I said during battles. Only starting, because sometimes he'd follow every move by the letter, and other times he would just do whatever he wanted. I had to stop him from killing a few wild Pokemon— apparently, that's how he was used to eating. He would knock a Pokemon out and then start draining all of its energy with Absorb. I suppose that was why he was so enamored with the taste of normal food. I doubted pure energy tasted like anything.

"Grace! Stand still and quiet," Denzel whispered, interrupting my train of thought. He pointed to my right with a trembling finger.

Five green Pokemon looking like plant buds with yellow faces on their bottom half were waddling through the forest alongside a small pond. I scanned them with my Pokedex.

Budew, the Bud Pokemon. When the sun's light strengthens, the bud atop this Pokémon's head opens, releasing toxic pollen. This can be a sign to the people that the harsh winter is over, and the season of budding has begun.

Type: Grass, Poison


"I'm going to need your help keeping the rest of its group off of Eevee," Denzel whispered to me. I responded with a determined nod.

Denzel gestured to Eevee and called him to his side and then gestured toward the biggest Budew of the group. He grabbed an empty Pokeball, and Eevee started to shine.
 
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Chapter 11
CHAPTER 11

With a growl, Eevee rammed into the biggest Budew walking at the back of the group. They all shrieked and started attacking him.

"Night Shade!" I yelled out to Frillish.

A ghostly, ethereal form appeared in front of Frillish and hit two Budew. Eevee was dodging as best he could, but he was starting to slow down after inhaling spores.

"Change of plans, Eevee! Deal with the small ones first!" Denzel said.

Eevee barked and bit hard into one of the Budew. The group's attention was now focused entirely on us. I swore in pain as seeds slammed into my abdomen. I coughed and fell to the ground.

"Fuck! Eevee, hurry up!"

My vision was swimming, but I heard a Bubblebeam come out of Frillish's mouth. I slowly crawled behind a tree and heaved myself up. With a few ragged breaths, I released Togepi, who immediately rushed to my side, her face warped with worry.

"Keep it going! You've— fuck, fuck, fuck!" I heard Denzel scream with rage. "Get back!"

I heard a dozen of small impacts scatter throughout the battlefield— most likely that seed attack that had hit me.

"I need you… to help them," I croaked. "Sorry… I know you're hurt, so just try to use Sweet Kiss."

Togepi screeched in anger and joined the battle. I peeked my head and looked at what was going on. Three Budew had fainted, but the largest one was still fighting hard, ejecting seeds toward Frillish and spores toward Eevee. Togepi's Sweet Kiss hit the smaller one, who immediately received a Night Shade to the face and fainted.

"Get behind him and Quick Attack! We're almost there!" Denzel yelled out.

Eevee circled around his opponent, much like he had done to Togepi during our first battle. The Budew shrieked, and plants around it began to wither. Eevee crashed to the ground, as did Frillish.

"Togepi… Headbutt." I said.

She obliged and rammed into the raging Budew, who stopped whatever it was doing. Denzel fumbled around his bag and threw a Pokeball at it. The ball shook amidst the deafening, post-battle silence. One time… two times…

Budew broke out of the ball, but Eevee was back on his feet and bit its bulb. I returned Frillish, who was out for the count, and told Togepi to use Sweet Kiss on Budew. After a few more attacks from both Togepi and Eevee, Budew finally fell to the ground and was caught by Denzel.

——

"How does it look, doc?" I asked Denzel jokingly. My chuckle turned into a painful cough. Laughing hurts. Got it, I thought. "Oof, this sucks."

Denzel— who was looking at my stomach area— was extremely apologetic. He kept saying it was his fault, and that we shouldn't have attacked such a big group.

"Lesson learned," I simply told him. "Now tell me if it's bad or not."

"Well, it's very… purple. I think your entire midriff area's going to turn into a giant bruise."

"Damn it," I swore in frustration. "This is going to suck so bad. How's Eevee?"

"Poisoned. He could barely stand, so I retrieved him, but we have antidotes and potions for that. Worry about yourself."

"Well, I'll live," I said. I wanted to appear strong so that I wouldn't slow us down, but in reality, I was terrified. I felt like if I stood, I would throw up because of the pain. "What kind of Budew even was that? A Budew on steroids?" I said sarcastically.

"I never expected it to be so strong, but it was the leader of the group, so it makes sense. I guess I underestimated how strong Pokemon in this forest would be. They're somewhat passive, but if you attack them… Arceus," Denzel sighed. "Sorry. I should have been more careful."

"You should have," I reprimanded him. "This is going to slow us down. I— I'm not going to lie, I don't even know if I can walk."

Denzel grabbed a towel from his bag, soaked it in water, and pressed it on my giant bruise. He asked me if I wanted to get back to Jubilife.

"Just let me rest a lil'," I said. I released Frillish— who was barely staying afloat— and Togepi. "Hey, if you're really as sorry as you say, do me a favor and heal my team."

"Sure," He murmured.

Denzel did just that, using multiple potions on my Frillish and Togepi. He used the opportunity to heal his Eevee as well.

"What about the little beast?" I asked before leaning back against the tree. The little movement caused the pain to flare up, and I hissed.

"Budew? Now's not the time. That battle was intense, and we essentially robbed it of her family here… I think it'll be a while before she even lets me talk to her without attacking me right away, and I don't want to risk that with your wound."

"Makes sense. What move was that, by the way? I've never seen it in any battles I watched," I asked. The truth was, I didn't really care, but anything to distract me would be good.

Denzel opened his Pokedex. "Bullet Seed. Hold on, let me get the description… ah, there it is. The user forcefully shoots seeds at the foe. Two to five seeds are shot in rapid succession."

"I'm pretty sure that was five," I said, holding the wet towel against myself. "What else does it have?"

"Poison Powder, Stun Spore, Growth, and Absorb," Denzel answered. "Quite the powerful moveset."

I glanced at the dead, withered plants surrounding where Budew had last stood. "That Absorb… it was way more powerful than Frillish's. And Budew used it at a distance too, while Frillish has to make contact with his target."

Denzel tapped his chin for a few seconds. "I think that's just because Budew's a grass type, and Frillish isn't. I read online that moves of a Pokemon's type will always be more powerful. Plus, I'm pretty sure it used Growth."

"Makes sense," I said. The silence settled in again, and I felt the dull ache flare up again. "Ow, um, can you distract me? Talk about something. Anything?"

The next few hours were painful, but Denzel tried his best to keep my mind focused on something else. With his help, I eventually managed to stand up, although I almost cried from the pain. I leaned against his shoulder, and we managed to get back to route 203. I was in no shape to keep going for the day, so we ended up deciding to set up camp and stay here for a few days. Sometimes, he would go back in the forest to train with Eevee or attempt to get on more… civil terms with his Budew, but there was no progress on that axis.

"I don't understand how to get through to her," He said as he poured pellets into a bowl for Eevee. "Like, I can't even speak with her. I don't even have time to open my mouth."

I was lying down, carefully avoiding any movement. The pain was slowly getting better, but it was obviously slower than I would have liked.

"I honestly don't know what to tell you," I said after a pause. "Maybe she'll understand that attacking you doesn't work after a while."

"I hope so," He agonized. "I really need her for Roark."

Eevee threw a powered-down Sand Attack at Togepi when she tried to steal his food, and Frillish was hovering above me, soaking in the sunlight.

"You might be going at it with the wrong angle," I mused. He frowned at me. "If you want her to listen to you just to beat the gym, then it'll be hard to bring her on board. Why don't you try to just hope to reach a mutual understanding first? Sometimes I feel like Pokemon can sense that kind of thing. Or at least that's how it was with this guy," I said, nodding at Frillish.

"I mean, I do want that too, but…" He trailed off. "I want— no, I need to get stronger."

I noticed the straining in his tone. His clenched fist. The anger in his eyes.

"Alright, I have to ask. Did something happen to you in Jubilife? You've been kind of weird, and I haven't known you for that long, so if I'm wrong, just let me know."

Denzel practically flinched at my question. "Weird how?"

"You never battle with trainers anymore. You seem kind of frustrated with yourself too. Does that make sense?" I asked. "Plus, you stopped posting on the forums before we left. I thought you wanted to get your name out there. Put yourself on the map."

"You're right," My friend sighed after a pause. "And annoyingly perceptive. It was during one of the days when you were on route 202. Some trainer called Chase Karlson absolutely destroyed me. Ever since then, I haven't battled anyone. I've tried going back to the battling facility, but I just can't… cross the door. I'm terrified of losing again."

I sat up, which caused Denzel to panic and an unbelievable amount of pain. I took a few deep breaths. "Listen, buddy. I used to be like this until my dad knocked some sense into me, so I'll try to do the same with you," I said. "There will always be trainers better than you and I. Gifted, talented people who will dominate the Circuit. People who probably work ten times as hard as we do. But look at it this way: we have a year to catch up."

"I don't know… what if I can't even beat the first gym? Budew—"

"Then you try again. Or we leave and go to another town. Challenge another gym. There's no set order. There's no need to give up at the first hurdle."

"But if I can't even beat Roark—"

"Arceus, you're being such a Debbie downer. And I'm the one who can barely move. Pull yourself together!" I said, raising my tone. "Look!" I pointed toward the route. We were sitting at the edge of the road. "Look at all these people. You think they're all like this Chase guy?"

Denzel shook his head.

"And they're still trying. Battling, getting better and better. You're going to be left behind if you keep doing this. Come on," I extended my hand. "Let's reach the Conference together."

He sniffled and shook my hand. "Promise."

"Also, I hope this internal crisis isn't why you roped me into engaging with five Budew at once because that would be kind of fucked up."

"Um. It… was? I think?"

"Shit. You owe me!"

——

In the end, it took another five days for me to be able to walk at a reasonable pace. I already knew Pokemon were dangerous, but to be this hurt by one attack from a Budew? I'd have to be more and more careful as we progressed and reached more dangerous routes that weren't as well maintained as this one. Denzel was back to battling and was doing well mentally, whereas I was taking a break because of my bruise. Regardless, I was glad that my friend was back to his confident self.

Frillish was getting progressively grumpier as we progressed. I knew him well enough now to know that it was because he hadn't been in water for too long, but I kept him in line by telling him that there was supposed to be a lake next to Oreburgh gate where he'd be free to do whatever he wanted. Togepi was still making slow progress on Fairy Wind, and she was always cheerful no matter how our training sessions went. I was glad she was there to keep my morale up, and I believed she was also sharing some of her happiness with Denzel.

Finally, after days of painful walking, we reached Oreburgh gate. The mountain looked imposing, and its jagged cliff stretched for thousands of miles upward. The entrance to the mountain was less… wild than I imagined. It looked like the entrance of a tunnel rather than a cave, and a lot of trainers were taking a break at the entrance. Instead, we continued ten minutes to the west and found the lake I had promised Frillish. I released him, and with a happy cry, he dove headfirst into the water.

"Don't go too far! Don't kill anything!" I screamed. I knew he was a water type, but I couldn't help but worry he'd get in trouble with the local wildlife.

We decided to camp out here for a night, and tomorrow, we'd head into Oreburgh gate.
 
Chapter 12
CHAPTER 12

Huge stalactites hung high on the cave's ceiling. The air felt colder than it had been outside, but more humid, and the ground was slick with moisture. Geodude could be seen camouflaged against the cave walls or among rocks, and a pack of Zubat could be seen hanging upside down on the ceiling. Oreburgh gate was often a trainer's first caving experience, and I found it to be an oppressive, anxiety-inducing experience. My throat felt clogged up, and I had to remind myself how to breathe often. Plus, even with how cold it was, I found a way to sweat.

Stupid nervousness making me sweat everywhere, I thought.

Luckily, the cave was also mostly a straight path, just like route 203 had been, and it was lit up all the way through by gas lamps to help new trainers.

"Ahh!" I squealed as I heard flapping wings right behind me. I waved my hands around wildly and ran away, ignoring the pain it brought to my abdomen. "What the hell was that?"

"I think that was a Zubat," Denzel said. Eevee was on his shoulder and barked at the bat Pokemon, chasing it away.

My mind flashed back to the Golbat that I had seen at Lake Verity, and I shuddered.

"Zubat, Golbat, I hate all of them. What was nature thinking when it made that Pokemon line? First, there's a creepy little guy with no eyes and whose mouth basically takes up its entire face, and then there's its evolution that's basically just a mouth! That's literally what it is! How does it survive?! It's a flying mouth!"

"Nature doesn't think," My friend deadpanned.

"Please indulge me for at least a second," I groaned. "How much longer do we have to go?"

Denzel opened his Poketch. "Eh, Eighteen hours or so, including breaks. More if you keep panicking at every noise you hear."

"Fine," I sighed. "Let's keep going."

Eevee barked in agreement. I wished I could have my Pokemon out, but Togepi was absolutely terrified of the cave— even more than I was. When we first walked in, she had just grabbed my leg and pulled, begging me not to go. I decided to carry her, but she kept crying, and I couldn't bear to see her scared like that, so I recalled her to her Pokeball. Meanwhile, Frillish just felt lazy and wanted back in the ball as soon as I released him. In the end, that meant that all we had to defend us was Eevee, but he was doing a pretty good job so far.

"Hey, on a scale of one to ten, how stupid would it be for me to find a Geodude and train with Eevee against it?" Denzel asked after a few minutes of silence.

My eyes almost fell out of their sockets. "One hundred!"

"That's not on the scale," Denzel chuckled. "I was just wondering. I've never fought any rock types, and even though I know normal type moves aren't very effective— or most physical moves in general— I'd like to see how Eevee fares against one of them."

"Dude… no, just no. I'm not getting hit by another Pokemon attack trying to help you. I've had enough of that for the entire League Circuit."

"Think about it—"

"I already thought about it. No. Or at least wait until we're closer to Oreburgh."

"I feel like I could be doing more to train," Denzel grumbled.

"You're fine," I said, rolling my eyes. Denzel was in a better mental space than he had been a few days earlier, but I could tell he still thought a lot about that trainer who beat him. "Hey, why don't we play a game to pass the time? Truth or dare?"

"Now who's the crazy one? I'm not doing any dares in the middle of a cave."

"So you can be responsible when you try."

We kept going, occasionally coming across a few trainers traveling alone or in groups as big as ten. To me, that number seemed way too chaotic, but if it worked, I wasn't going to shame them. Our goal had been to reach the cave's exit in a day, which was theoretically possible. Unfortunately, we underestimated how slow we'd be going because of the uneven ground and my bruise. Much to my chagrin, we ended up spending a night in the cold, wet cave. It felt like the moisture was seeping through my backpack somehow as well, and I got scared a few times my Poketch would get wet. Fortunately, at least Pokedexes were waterproof, so I didn't have to worry about that.

About ten hours later, we were finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Literally. I squinted and covered my eyes with my hand as we finally stepped outside. Seeing sunlight after so long was painful. In the distance, plumes of smoke rose into the sky, and huge apartment complexes covered the entire city center. Whereas Jubilife was a nice-looking modern city, Oreburgh was an industrial mining town. Coal, tin, and copper were the vast majority of the products exported all over the region by air, but they also were famous for the number of fossils that were unearthed here every year.

I felt a wave of relief wash over me. Finally, we were out of that stupid cave, and our first objective was practically right in front of us! These next few days would be extremely important and would determine if I had what it took to keep going on the League Circuit or not. The first gym awaited us.

——

The first thing we did was obviously head to the Pokecenter. I immediately took a very earned shower, checked in Togepi and Frillish, and then headed toward the human care wing of the building.

"Legendaries, that's a large contusion. And you said you've been walking around with this?" A male doctor told me.

"Yes, but it's been slowly getting better," I said. "I can walk, and I can bend over if I really brace myself."

He exhaled loudly. "I wouldn't say that's great progress. Now, what move was the one that hit you? And from what Pokemon?"

"Bullet Seed from a Budew on route 203," I said. I omitted the fact that we had gone off-route.

The doctor grabbed a huge dossier, licked his finger, and flipped through what must have been hundreds of papers. "Budew… Budew… ah, there it is. Hold on a second," He said, writing something on a piece of paper as he read.

"It's not bad is it?" I said, with a slight surge of panic.

"Well, it could have been worse. It could have hit a bone and broken it. It could have hit you in the neck or temple and killed you. So I would say you got off pretty easy, ms. Pastel," The doctor said nonchalantly. I swallowed. "Alright, give this to the front desk. It's a prescription for a cream that you'll have to apply on the contused area four times a day. Next, I'd like to run some tests to see if you didn't inhale any spores."

"I was pretty far. I'm more worried about my friend in that case."

"Better safe than sorry. Budew's poison isn't weak by any means, but it is slow acting. In a month, you could be dead if you don't go through the necessary precautions now."

"...Alright."

He ran a few more tests on me, including a blood and a urine test, but I ended up clean. I hurried up back to the front desk, grabbed my prescription, and told Denzel to go get scanned asap for poisoning as well. Luckily, he was also unaffected.

——

While our Pokemon were being healed, Denzel and I visited Oreburgh. He complained endlessly about the polluted air, but I couldn't really tell the difference between Jubilife's air and Oreburgh's. We made our way to a fast food place, where I ate enough for two people. I ordered a milkshake to go and we went to the Oreburgh Mining Museum, which was one of the city's main touristic attractions. There, we learned about Orebugh's history. The city was relatively young, only being settled a few hundred years ago during the industrial revolution. We also learned that coal was formed with the help of dead grass type Pokemon and plant matter, and we saw a bunch of old mining artifacts and some fossils. All in all, I found it pretty boring, but Denzel seemed to have liked it.

Finally, we reached the city's main attraction: the rock type gym. The building was grander than it looked on television, being easily one of the largest in the city. It looked like Jubilife's battling arena facilities, just three times bigger. There was a giant queue that stretched all around the block to sign up, and it took an hour and a half to finally get inside the gym. There was a receptionist in the lobby that helped trainers sign up for a battle, and he sported a white and brown uniform with a brown Pokeball on the white side of the shirt. Above him, there was a screen with all the scheduled matches, and the monitor changed days every so often. I groaned internally when I realized that Roark had been booked for the next week already, and I'd have to wait that long to challenge him. The truth was that the situation was a mixed bag. I would have more time to train, but I'd feel the stress build up the entire time. I just wanted to be done with it, win or lose.

I couldn't really blame the way the gym was organized either. Every match was scheduled to last twenty minutes at most, and then there'd be a ten minute break in between. That meant that Roark would be battling for the majority of his day, from eight in the morning until the gym finally closed at seven every single night for the foreseeable future. I loved battling, but there was no amount of money anyone could pay me to do this job.

"Next!" I heard.

Finally, after an annoying wait, it was my turn. I walked up to the receptionist with a smile.

"Good afternoon, and welcome to the Oreburgh gym," He said, almost by reflex. "Are you here to sign up for a gym battle?"

"Yeah," I said, suddenly feeling very small.

"Alright. Trainer ID, please." I quickly handed him my ID. "Grace Pastel…" He muttered as he typed something on his computer. After ten seconds or so, he handed me a piece of paper and a pen. "Read through this and answer the questions honestly. Lying on any of these is grounds for disqualification from the Circuit."

I understood right away what the questionnaire was for after reading the first question.

Is this your first time participating in the League Circuit? If not, how many times have you done so and how many badges did you get during your most successful year?

They were gauging our skill level to know what Pokemon to use against us. The questions I found the most interesting were these ones:

Have you joined any of the Circuits in other regions? If so which ones and how far did you get?

Have you had any experiences battling before joining the League Circuit? If so, please state how many years/months/days.

How many Pokemon do you currently own? (Make sure to warn a gym official if you catch another Pokemon while waiting for your match)


I answered all of them honestly and handed back the paper. The receptionist typed away for another minute or so and then placed my form in a drawer full of them.

"Alright, ms. Pastel. Let me explain how this gym works to you very quickly. In five days at 2:40 pm, you'll have to battle one of our gym trainers. If you win, you move on and get a battle with Roark, but if you lose, you have to wait two weeks to sign up again. This also applies if you miss your battle, by the way. We'll only wait for five minutes until you're counted as missing, so don't be late."

I absorbed the information as best I could. The receptionist clicked his mouse a few times, and a small slip of paper came out of a device to his side.

"This is your ticket with the date and time. Do not lose it, or you have to wait the full two weeks. Any questions?"

I shook my head.

"Next!" He yelled.

I walked past Denzel and winked. I decided to wait for him outside, and as soon as he came out, we walked back to the Pokemon Center to grab our teams back.
 
Chapter 13
CHAPTER 13

"Please make sure to warn us adequately next time, Mr. Williams," Nurse Joy said in a stern tone as she gave him back his Pokeballs. "That Budew wasn't just aggressive, it was a danger to our staff and all the Pokemon around it."

Denzel could only hang his head in shame and apologized profusely. His Budew had attacked everything around it as soon as the nurses let her out of her ball, and had to be shot with a tranquilizer twice before going down. It was the only way they could heal her.

"I'm so sorry," Denzel continued. "I thought my warning was enough…"

The nurse sighed. "Well, make sure to let the nurse know if you go to another center and it's still behaving this way. Have a great day."

As we left the Pokemon Center, I kept trying to find the words to cheer Denzel up. I figured something out, but he raised his hand and stopped me.

"I need to be alone today," He muttered. "Don't look at me like that, I'll be fine. I just need to figure this whole Budew thing out. If I can't… well, I might need to release her. Let's meet back here tonight and get something to eat," He said as he touched her ball.

I nodded. "Alright, but be careful."

He left and made his way back toward Oreburgh gate. I considered following him, but I felt that he would be disappointed if I did.

"Well, it's just me now," I told myself.

The first thing I did was call my dad to let him know I was in Oreburgh and that I had signed up at Roark's gym. It took a few minutes for him to understand that the gym trainer I was supposed to battle in five days was not actually a gym leader and that it wouldn't be televised. The gym trainer system was rather new, and according to Denzel, it had been implemented by Roark to create another barrier before reaching him. This was because the number of trainers that signed up for the League Circuit increased each year. And if you couldn't beat a gym trainer, there was no way you were beating the gym. Then, since I had called one parent, I decided to make good on my promise and check up on mom. The fact that I could tell she was almost crying of happiness made me feel terrible I hadn't gotten in contact sooner, but I couldn't change the past, so all I could do was look forward.

If Denzel was going to brood, I decided it was time to work on my team. I made my way to the city's northeast, past the museum, and toward a small portion of route 207 that was isolated in Oreburgh. This area was a small, self-contained wild zone that had been created by the city to help trainers get ready for the gym without having to train in the cave— something I was very grateful for. Wild Pokemon here were supposed to be weak and passive, and any threats were always quickly dealt with by the Rangers. The area as a whole was about two miles squared.

Luckily for me, most trainers ignored this area, preferring to battle in Oreburgh's battling facilities as a training method instead of this. To some extent, they were correct that they would get stronger faster using trainer battles, but today, I wanted to do something different.

I released Togepi and Frillish, now fully healthy from their trip to the Pokemon Center. Togepi hugged my leg and chirped happily, while Frillish spun around in the air, which was certainly the happiest I'd seen him. I smiled at both of them and clapped my hands.

"Welcome back, guys! Our first big fight at the gym is in five days, so let's have a little team meeting," I told them. "Now, before we even talk strategy, I want to get something out of the way. Let's make you friends!"

The truth was, even though Togepi and Frillish seemed to get along, they didn't interact with each other very much. Sure, they talked a few times, but I wanted us to be a team, and to be a team, they had to be as close with each other as they were with me.

"Prrrri!" Togepi agreed.

Frillish stopped spinning and stared at me with a confused look in his eyes.

"This won't help us in the short term, but in the long term? If I can have a team that fully trusts each other in every situation, it'll help us a lot, especially in the wild, so I'm doing this whether you like it or not," I explained.

Frillish started drifting away.

"Hey! Don't just drift away from me, mister! I promised you poffins, and I haven't forgotten. It'll be your reward for cooperating today."

He stopped and then reluctantly joined us again, but not before shooting a jet of water at my face. I let out a small scream of surprise and sighed as the little prankster laughed silently, bobbing his head up and down.

"I'll act like that didn't happen…" I said, wiping my face with my shirt. "Anyway, another reason why we're doing this is because I'm still hurt, and I don't feel like I'd be able to focus on battling properly with this pain at the back of my mind," I explained. "Hopefully it'll be better for our battle."

I told the two to face each other, and I placed myself at a distance in between them so that we'd form a 'triangle.'

"Alright! First of all, I want you two to say something you like about each other. Oh— let me go first. I love how Togepi always tries to cheer me up no matter how down I'm feeling. She's always trying her best to keep the mood up."

"Togeprrri!"

"And I love how even though Frillish acts like he doesn't care about anything, he seems to be a little softie inside."

For a second, Frillish didn't react, and I was scared he was going to take my comment the wrong way, but he propelled himself upward excitedly as his eyes shone bright red. I smiled.

"Doesn't that feel good? When someone compliments you? Togepi, you go first."

My two teammates went back and forth, and soon enough they were speaking together on their own. It felt a little lonely not being able to tell what was being said, but I was still extremely happy, because it seemed they had finally befriended each other. They went a few hours hanging out, and Frillish helped Togepi play around by doing tricks like spinning upside down, or making a Night Shade do the same. It didn't take much to make her have fun.

Our little friend-making session was interrupted when a trainer challenged me to a battle— something I had to force myself to refuse. I left the route, returning back to the city with Togepi in my arms and Frillish floating by my side. After a twenty minute walk, I found what I was looking for. I entered the Poffin house and took a deep breath.

"Smells good doesn't it?" I asked.

"Prrri!"

"Lish!"

I went to the counter and eyed the dozens of different Poffins through the glass.

"Which one do you want, Frillish? You really liked the sweet ones in Jubilife, didn't you?" I asked.

He bobbed his head and smiled.

"Wow, uh, we gotta work on that smile buddy. Okay, two sweet poffins… one made out of Mago berries, and one made out of Pecha," I told the clerk, who promptly started stuffing them in bags. "And for Togepi, one made out of Oran, please," I continued, already knowing what her favorite one was.

I handed the clerk a few dozen Pokedollars through my trainer card and exited the building with my poffins. I carefully split Togepi's into five pieces and fed them to her. As for Frillish…

"Say aaah," I teased, placing the poffin right next to his mouth.

Frillish turned away.

"C'mon… do it for me… please…" I asked with Lillilpup eyes. He rolled his eyes at me and ate out of my hand. "Yes! Thank you! Now let's do the other one—"

He hurriedly and clumsily snatched the bag away from me and stole the poffin.

"No fair!" I pouted, but I couldn't help but laugh.

This was possibly the happiest I'd been in a long while. My Pokemon were getting along with each other and with me, and soon I was pretty sure I'd be able to call Frillish family. Traveling was fun most of the time, and although I had gotten hurt, I didn't regret signing up for the Circuit at all. I was glad I did, and that I was going to experience new things for the next year, and possibly multiple years. Nothing was going to ruin this—

My mind flashed back to Lake Verity. The Golbat's giant maw that led to an oppressive, unending darkness. Forever falling into its mouth. The smell would be atrocious. I would be digested alive and melted by its poison. The pain would be unimaginable. Unbearable—

"Toge?" Togepi asked.

As if I had been jolted awake from a dream, I snapped out of my vision. Togepi had little chunks of blue Poffin around her mouth. I smiled.

"I'm alright. Thank you, princess," I said, petting her head.

I felt a cold, slimy tentacle touch my neck. I turned my head, and my eyes widened as I saw Frillish with a worried face caressing me.

"I made you worry, didn't I? Sorry," I said in a comforting tone. Suddenly, I realized that he was touching me. "Wait, you're not using Absorb! You're fine with touching now?" I asked.

The blue Pokemon nodded and barely had time to register what was going on before I pulled him into a hug.

A few hours later, Denzel called me to let me know that he was back at the Center. I joined him quickly, but no matter how hard I asked, he wouldn't tell me how his attempts to calm Budew down went. I just assumed they had failed because of his aversion to the topic, but I obliged him and stopped bringing it up. He checked in Eevee, who had seemingly been wounded, and then we decided to chill out in our room until it was time for dinner. We spent that time studying up on Roark's tactics.

"So far, I've only seen him use Geodude, Rhyhorn, Aron, and Nosepass depending on the battle, but that just means he's holding back," Denzel said as he watched a Geodude's Rock Throw annihilate some poor kid's Spinda. "No Onix, no Cranidos or Boldore yet this year."

"I mean, maybe he's just going easy on us because we're too many," I contemplated. "It wouldn't be a good look if he just used Onix over and over and crushed everybody."

"That, or maybe everyone this year is so bad that he hasn't even had to use some of his alright Pokemon yet," Denzel said.

"Well, if he doesn't use at least one of those against me, I'd feel bad," I said, before reconsidering. "Actually, I can go without fighting an Onix."

Denzel laughed as he switched to another one of today's gym battles. "This is going to be difficult. There haven't even been that many wins yet."

"The Circuit just started. It hasn't even been a month yet," I said, waving my hand. "It'll be fine."

In reality, I couldn't help but be terrified. Who wouldn't be, for their first gym battle, with tens of thousands, or possibly hundreds of thousands of people looking at you. But I thought that acting confident would in turn give Denzel his own confidence back. First the battle against Chase, now this Budew issue… I was worried about him.

"I can't afford just to squeak by. I need to make an impression on Roark— not only for my potential career, but for him to listen to me when I try telling him about what happened at Lake Verity."

I nodded solemnly. "I'll try my best too."

"I know you will. We both will," He said. After a small pause, he kept going. "I wanted to ask you something, by the way. In two days, the arguably most anticipated matches of this entire Circuit so far are going to happen. Chase Karlson and Cecilia Obel are both fighting Roark, and their battles are back to back," Denzel said.

My eyes widened. I had never seen Chase battle, but I knew he had left his mark on Denzel, who now considered him a rival or a goal of some sort. Then there was Cecilia, whose Pokemon had never been seen yet.

"Want to go see?" He asked.

"Hell yes," I answered.
 
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Interlude - Steps (Part 1)
INTERLUDE - STEPS (PART 1)

There was a certain comfort to being in a cave that Denzel found hard to explain. It could have been the humid air that coated his throat every time he took a breath, or the warm embrace of the gas lights that hung from the ceiling. Either way, he had decided that Oreburgh gate was going to be his main training area until his battle with the Oreburgh gym trainer.

"That seems like a good rock to practice on," Denzel said. "You ready?"

"Vee!"

Eevee jumped off of his shoulder, landing gracefully onto the wet ground. Denzel rolled his shoulder and then pointed at the rock.

"Double Kick!" He yelled. His voice resonated in the cave, probably spooking trainers traveling through it.

Eevee barked in acquiescence before he turned around and kicked the rock with his two glowing hind legs. The impact left two small craters, which was more damage than yesterday, but still not good enough.

"Again," Denzel said. "Try turning around faster and using that momentum to hit harder. Like… your turning velocity's the hammer, and your legs are the nail. Or something like that."

Eevee continued using their new move, Double Kick. It was something Denzel hadn't planned on teaching his starter, but with Budew still being as uncooperative as she was, he realized that he would need a fighting type move if he hoped to even take down one of Roark's Pokemon. Fortunately, his Pokedex had told him that Eevee could potentially learn the move, but he hadn't expected it to be this difficult. Bite had only taken a day, as had Quick Attack back when he lived in Twinleaf. But this? Denzel feared it was taking too long, which was why he was going to spend as much time as humanly possible trying to get Eevee's Double Kick at its peak.

That wasn't to say that he was neglecting Eevee's other moves, however. Bite wouldn't be very useful against rock types given their hard exterior, but Quick Attack would still be an excellent move to use. In all the high-level battles that Denzel had watched, almost no one used Quick Attack defensively— which was, in his opinion, a waste of opportunity. The only downside he could see was that it would tire Eevee out fast, but he wasn't counting on a prolonged battle anyway.

Eevee turned around slightly faster and hit the rock as hard as he could, cracking the entire surface. The rock collapsed quickly after.

"Great job, Eevee," Denzel smiled as he crouched and scratched Eevee's neck. "Let's find another one."

He needed to get stronger faster. He needed to catch up.

"I promised you that we'd become the Champions, didn't I?" Denzel told Eevee.

It was as much Eevee's dream as it was his. Back in Twinleaf, when he first thought he was going to set off on his journey at fifteen like everybody else, Eevee and Denzel had sworn to become the best in Sinnoh. His Pokemon had an unending thirst for battling that put Denzel to shame, and when his mother had stopped him from leaving, Eevee was the one who had been the most depressed.

And after finally starting to realize their dream, they had been dealt a lethal dose of reality. They were like Magikarp in a very big pond. Thankfully Grace had pulled him out of that rut, but Denzel still couldn't help but wonder.

Was he the right trainer for Eevee? Was he disappointing him with his failures?

"That seems like a good one," Denzel said, pointing at another rock. "You know what to do."

Eevee barked and started hitting the rock with all he could, but it moved out of the way.

"Dude!" A Geodude revealed itself, and it was angry.

Before Denzel could even regain his bearings, Geodude hit Eevee with a nasty Tackle, hitting him into the cave wall. Seeing his Pokemon hurt snapped him out of it.

"Eevee! Are you ok? Can you f—"

A rock flying faster than a car hit the wall next to Denzel, crumbling against it. With a scream, he flinched and fell backward, instinctively crawling away. If that had hit him… Arceus.

"Geodude!" His opponent shone, and its stony skin began to sparkle. It grabbed another stone and threw it toward Denzel with all of its strength, and it was faster than before. Unable to dodge, Denzel raised his arms to protect his face, but the rock never hit him.

Eevee jumped and destroyed the Rock Throw with a mid-air Double Kick. He growled at the Geodude, who hit the ground with its fists in frustration.

"Eevee… you saved me." Denzel muttered.

Eevee shimmered, and in an instant, he was behind the wild Geodude, ready to hit it with another Double Kick. He only had to hit it once before it fled, unwilling to risk itself any further.

"Thank you," Denzel simply said, clenching his jaw. Again, he had been too weak to even react.

Grace had kept ordering her Pokemon to help him in the forest on route 203 even after getting directly hit with a Bullet Seed, and he couldn't even give simple commands to his after a miss? Pathetic. What was he doing here? Had his mother been right? Was he just wasting time—

"Vee! Eevee!" Eevee barked out.

Denzel stared at him for a second before smiling sadly. "You're right. I can't be beating myself up all the time. I need to look forward," He said, remembering what Grace had told him. "I will improve. I will be the Champion."

"Vee!" Eevee said, snuggling close to Denzel.

"The future…" Denzel muttered.

——

"Alright, remember to breathe as little as possible," Denzel said. "I'll do the same. Don't hit her unless she's about to kill me."

Denzel stared at his Budew's Pokeball sitting in his palm. He had decided. He was never going to give up on her. He would make her a part of his team, no matter how long it would take, one step at a time.

After making sure that no trainers were nearby, he released Budew as far away as he could. She let out her usual, ear-piecing shriek before throwing out a Bullet Seed toward Eevee, who dodged with Quick Attack.

"Budew! Listen to me," Denzel yelled. She ignored him and continued to attack Eevee, throwing purple, toxic spores. "This thing you've been doing? Attacking us over and over, I understand! I understand that the way I captured you was completely unfair and uncalled for."

Budew only screeched in response. She attacked him with a Bullet Seed, but Denzel managed to hide behind a human-sized boulder.

"I thought I could bring you a better life than out there, in the wild," Denzel continued. "And I also wanted your strength. To help me in trainer battles. I realize now that I was being foolish."

Denzel left from his hiding spot and started walking toward Budew, who only looked on with a fury he didn't even know their faces were capable of.

"And I know nothing I say will ever be enough. I know I've robbed you from your group. Your family—" Denzel winced as a series of seeds grazed his left arm. He carried on. "I just want to let you know from the bottom of my heart that I am sorry. Truly. But I can't release you. I can't bring you back. I'm a selfish son of a bitch, aren't I? Springing all of this on you."

Budew let out another scream, probably letting him know not to get any closer. She wasn't attacking anymore, so he listened to her and stood at a distance.

"But I have a goal I set for myself, and you unfortunately are a part of it. I know this won't change anything between us, but I just wanted to let you understand why I did what I did. I had a reason for it— which you may disagree with, but it was a reason nonetheless. Have you even been in the sun that long since I caught you? You're starting to look unhealthy, and your attacks against us are getting weaker and weaker. I wish we could at least come to an agreement regarding that," Denzel paused, waiting for a reaction. There was none. "I can take you out and let you soak in the sun's rays. All I need is for you not to attack me right away."

"Bud…"

"We can take this one step at a time. I don't expect you to ever forgive me, but let's at least keep you alive," Denzel finished. "How about it?"

"Dew." Budew agreed with a small nod.

"Alright. I'll return you for now, and bring you out of this cave, alright?"

He recalled her and clenched at his arm. It had only grazed him, but that Bullet Seed hurt like a bitch. After thanking Eevee for the help, he began making his way out of the cave.

"One step at a time, I'll catch up," Denzel told himself.
 
Interlude - Steps (Part 2)
INTERLUDE - STEPS (PART 2)

To Chase Karlson, life was about excellence.

Most humans would be satisfied with doing the bare minimum, drifting along the current and offering up no resistance. Living your life as a spectator, so long as you earned three meals a day, a warm bed, and maybe a trip or two per year. Then eventually start a family. This was what people thought was a good life, and honestly, could he really blame them?

Yes, he could, and he would.

In through the nose, out through the mouth. Chase felt the blood pump through his legs as he ran through route 207. After another thirty minutes of jogging, he would slowly increase his speed as time passed until he reached his maximum velocity. He jumped over a fallen tree trunk as if it was a hurdle. Riolu did the same, flipping twice in the air and landing gracefully without even a single noise. Chase paid it no mind. It was an expected performance.

This was their routine. They had been doing this for years, even before the Circuit started. Chase had implemented a workout regiment to bring them into top shape, and Riolu had taken it in stride, just like he had expected. They were so alike, Chase and he, and that meant they both expected excellence.

This was only the first section. First, they always worked on their endurance. Chase smiled as he began hitting his second wind. The pain was almost all gone now, and it was being replaced by numbness. The next thirty minutes went by in a flash, and he handed Riolu a bottle of water. The small Pokemon clumsily held it with both paws and downed the whole bottle. They could have done this in a gym— Oreburgh had many gyms adapted to Pokemon— but why practice in an unrealistic environment? Being a trainer was all about survival in the wild, and so in the wild, they trained.

"Alright, Riolu. Five minute break. Walk off the pain if it hurts. No sitting down," He told his Pokemon.

Riolu looked at him with his usual determined stare. "Rio!"

As usual, Riolu simply stayed by his side, emulating his stretches. He always imitated Chase and looked to him for guidance. At the same time, Chase believed Riolu to be as close to perfection as it got. Sure, he had other Pokemon— two, in fact— but their bond went beyond that. It was in Riolu that Chase believed above all, and it was Riolu who would bring him the title of Champion.

After all, Riolu was the only one who could tell how he was feeling at all times.

Chase's dad had explained the concept of aura to him when he gave him his Riolu, but it still was difficult to believe sometimes. The young trainer stared into Riolu's red eyes and wondered.

What is he thinking about right now?

In some ways, Chase was jealous. Humans ruled the world behind their fortified cities, as had been the case since pre-history, but they were imperfect. Flawed. Riolu, meanwhile? He could go on a run twice— no, three times as long if he so desired. Chase was the only factor holding him back, and it was infuriating to think about.

He would be perfect one day.

"Let's cut the break short," Chase said. "Time for push-ups. Five sets of ten, then another break."

Chase took off his cap and placed himself flat against the ground, and pushed. Riolu did the same. He was not fully grown, and so he was weak, but this would pay off in the long run. His muscles would destroy themselves, and then be rebuilt a little stronger every time. The teen had planned his life in meticulous detail, and he would make sure to have the strongest body possible to stand by Riolu's side.

And so he pushed past the pain, knowing that next time, this would be slightly easier.

Another hour later, their workout was finished. Chase made his way back toward his Poke Center and took a well-deserved shower, using the opportunity to clean Riolu right afterward. Next was lunch. He kept it simple and healthy: chicken, rice, and vegetables on the side. The taste was mediocre, but it was necessary to push through. Riolu only ate in the mornings and evenings, just like the rest of his team. While eating, Chase spent his hour browsing the forums or sometimes watching one of the gym battles.

The boy always ego searched his name, seeing what people said about him. He had made quite an impression in Jubilife, and he reveled in their admiration. It was good that they knew their place. Their only job was to watch and wish they were as good as he was. Chase could sense their jealousy through the screen. Their envy only fueled his desire for excellence. Sometimes though, Chase would see others being talked about, and one name came up more than any others— even his.

Cecilia Obel.

Anger boiled up inside of Chase. Cecilia this, Cecilia that, it was all these losers could talk about! She was nothing! Some Unovan trash who was too scared to compete in her own region because that meant she would have to fight her brother. And yet, she was more popular than he was? Someone who had proven himself time and time again since the Circuit had started? These people were all trash—

"Rio!" Riolu yelled out.

Chase snapped out of his inner rant, realizing he had already cut a slice of chicken and was just slicing the plate, creating an eerie scratching noise. That had garnered the other trainer's attention, and they stared at him with irritated gazes.

Don't look… don't look at me while I'm being mediocre.

Chase finished his meal quickly and left the center before his one hour break was up. He needed a distraction to put this moment of mediocrity behind him. So he decided to go to a battling arena a few blocks away from the gym.

"Hey losers!" He yelled as he walked past the door. "Who's the strongest trainer here?!"

They stared at him like a group of confused Spinda. Chase continued walking, wasting his breath by asking around for the strongest trainer. This time, he got answers.

Soon they'll understand. He thought. No— he would make them understand that he was the only name worth following in this League Circuit full of losers.

"One step at a time, I will reach perfection," Chase murmured to himself.
 
Interlude - Steps (Part 3)
INTERLUDE - STEPS (PART 3)

The evening sky was settling over Oreburgh city, and with it came the lights. Cecilia Obel had always thought that a city at night was the most beautiful thing there was. A city was made out of millions of individual parts and inhabited by hundreds of thousands, but at night? All individuality melted into a concert of flashing lights, and humans couldn't be seen, especially from so high up. Still, no city had ever compared to Castelia, her home back in Unova.

"And so apparently, the Gible my parents bought me has the potential to eventually rival— or perhaps even overtake Cynthia's. That's what our private breeder said. Can you believe it? All those times that I let that little monster feast on the wildlife here seem worth it now," Louis Bianchi bragged.

"You don't say?" Cecilia answered with a high-pitched voice. "Well, I certainly believe you can achieve that potential." She tilted her head, stared straight into his eyes, and smiled at him. The young man blushed.

Internally though? In the depths of her mind? She was miserable.

Louis Bianchi— the heir to the Bianchi family and their fortune numbering in the billions. The potions you bought, the vitamins, the repels, everything that could be found in a Pokemart? Chances are they were made by the Bianchis. And this young, eighteen-year-old boy had signed up for the Circuit for the first time and was traveling with her along with an entourage of other rich heirs. Tonight though, they were alone, as he was, unfortunately, also Cecilia's fiance.

Cecilia hadn't had any say in it, of course. She had been practically forced to fly to Sinnoh and sign up for the Circuit by her father, and he had told her this a month before her flight. She hadn't been surprised by not picking who she was going to marry, of course. Her family— the Obels— had raised her for that very purpose. To be married off to a man of high status. Cecilia had just been surprised at how early the decision had been made. She was still just fifteen, and set to marry someone three years older than her as soon as she turned eighteen.

Guessing her father's goal was easy enough. As soon as they married, the Obel Energy Company in Unova and the Bianchi Conglomerate would inevitably intertwine economically and would be able to throw their influence around the entire world. She knew her father would no doubt urge her to have a child before she even finished reading her vows so that eventually, the two companies would merge.

The second goal was obviously name recognition. If Cecilia did well enough in the Circuit, then the Obel name would start spreading throughout Sinnoh and would stop only being a Unovan household name. She had been instructed to gain eight badges, help Louis do the same, and then lose to him at the Conference.

"Well, I am glad you agree, Cecilia. I believe we will go very far this year together," Louis said, placing his hand on hers.

Ew, she thought.

"Of course. With you as our leader, there is no glass ceiling we couldn't break," She answered. She had to resist the urge to pull her hand from his.

"How are you finding the food, by the way? I have to ask where they raise their Goldeen, these sushi rolls are simply exquisite," Her fiance said.

"It's perfect. Just like you, darling," Cecilia lied.

She needed to keep showering him with platitudes. Her father had explicitly asked her to make Louis fall for her, and he had. Hard. Men were so easy, and yet so terrifying all the same. A smile, a few compliments, and they'd be eating out of the palm of your hands. But if they ever realized that they weren't in control for an instant? Cecilia held back a shudder.

Louis swallowed. "Say, Cecilia… would you want to join me in my room tonight? I could order the best champagne bottle in this city."

Cecilia drew a sharp breath. The stare, oh, Arceus the stare.

My eyes are up here, She screamed internally.

"I don't know… it's getting late, and I'm quite tired. I think I'll just go straight home and sleep. Maybe Emilia or Justin will keep you company."

"I see," He said, not bothering to hide his disappointment. "Maybe some other time then?"

"Some other time," Cecilia said.

Cecilia knew she was beautiful and… well-developed for her age, which was more a curse than a blessing. Since the age of twelve, she had suffered under the stares of men. Father's business partners, friends, or even family. They sometimes stared for an entire conversation, unable to realize that she could tell. Or maybe they just didn't care?

"Cecilia? Are you feeling sick?" Her fiance asked.

"I—uh—I—" She stuttered

"Is the smell of fish too overwhelming?" Louis continued. "Server! Here, please."

Is that really how weak I am to you? You think smell is making me feel like this? Cecilia thought.

"It's quite alright," She told the server. The poor man looked whiter than a sheet of paper. The entire restaurant had been cleared for them, and they were attended by the entire staff. "I apologize, I'm just feeling tired."

"Should we cut dinner short then? It's a shame, but we must prioritize your health before all else. Plus, you have to be well rested for your battle against Roark."

Cecilia nodded and they quickly left the restaurant after Louis paid an astronomical sum. To them, however, it was spare change. They were in the richest neighborhood in Oreburgh, separated from the rest of the city to avoid the heavy pollution that gathered around the mines and the industrial area. They got into a taxi and rode in silence to their hotel.

When they got there, Cecilia quickly said goodnight to Louis and her other companions, Emilia, Justin, and Pauline. They smiled at her and wished her well, but were those smiles fake? Were they even friends, or was it just a facade? Cecilia couldn't tell, but the fact that she had to ask herself this didn't bode well.

The young girl locked herself in her room and stared at her three Pokeballs in silence. The weight of her battle was slowly mounting on her shoulders, creating an ample amount of stress. Not because she wanted to win, but because she knew the wrath from her father her defeat would incur. She slowly touched her cheek, caressing it softly. She had never felt so alone in her entire life. At least in Unova, she had—

Her Poketch rang, and Cecilia beamed as she read her caller's name.

"Amy! I was just thinking about you, how are you doing?" Cecilia asked in an upbeat tone.

"I'm fine, I was just excited. You hadn't called yet tonight, so I wondered if you had finally taken the plunge with your chérie."

Amy Saunier was Cecilia's best friend back in Unova, even though she had originally come from Kalos. She was the only one Cecilia could be herself with, but she hadn't come to Sinnoh for the Circuit.

"I didn't. Not tonight. But enough about him, how did your modeling gig—"

"No, no, no," Amy interrupted. "You need to hurry up and sleep with him, Cece. If you don't he'll get tired of you and find another woman."

Cecilia froze. She couldn't even comprehend the words that had come out of her friend's mouth.

"W—what?"

"Are you surprised? He's a man, he wants to have sex. The longer you wait, the more cumbersome your relationship will get. Take it as advice from your best friend. I know you're nervous but—"

"Has father been talking to you about this?"

"Monsieur Obel? No, why?"

Is she lying to me? Cecilia thought. Why can't I tell? I should be able to tell!

"D—doesn't it bother you? The fact that I'm supposed to marry him? I'll have to live in Sinnoh and we won't be able to see each other."

"Well, it is a shame," Amy started. "But I also can't get in between you and your familial duty."

"I have to go," Cecilia said.

"Cece? Hold on—"

Cecilia was on the verge of tears as she hung up. Who had she just talked to? She sat on her bed and hugged her legs as she silently cried for what seemed like hours. She had no one here, no one back home, and she had no agency. She was a tool for her father to exploit, and there was nothing she would ever be able to do about it.

Even the one she loved the most had betrayed her.

Was this it then?

She stared at her Pokeballs through her teary eyes and cursed. There was one way. One avenue through which she could escape. To forego her father's plan and build a life for herself here by actually winning the Circuit. Not only would she get a good amount of money and stop being dependent on her father, but she would also burn his plans to the ground. But would she? Could she? She was so tired. A part of her hoped she would go to sleep and not wake up tomorrow.

The only thing she could was—

"Take it one step at a time," She cried.
 
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Chapter 14
CHAPTER 14

Frillish inhaled and released a stream of bubbles.

"Now, Togepi!" I yelled

"Toge!"

Togepi held out her little hands and wind started to form— gentle at first, and then as powerful as a small storm. I held on to my shirt and observed as the Fairy Wind changed Bubblebeam's direction, making it hit the edge of a tree.

"That was great, everybody! Frillish, your Bubblebeam is getting faster than before, but we need to work on that power with the time we have. Togepi, you're going great. Just a little more progress before we can use Fairy Wind in battle," I said, congratulating my team.

Our battle with the gym trainer was fast approaching, and I was desperately trying to get Togepi to perfect her Fairy Wind. She was getting a good grasp of controlling the wind— something that was probably owed to her future evolution being flying type— but the fairy part of it? The part that would deal real damage against rock types? That part of the move was still rudimentary. I picked her up and caressed her head.

"Oof, you're getting heavier. My poor arms…"

"To…"

"Don't worry, I'll still carry you around! Or maybe Frillish could," I said sarcastically.

"Prrrri!" She chirped with a smile.

"Fri…" Frillish said, obviously disagreeing.

Suddenly, my Poketch started to ring. I put Togepi down and answered.

"Hey, it's Denzel. Where are you right now?" He asked.

"Route 207. Why?"

"Might want to start getting to the gym. I'm there and the place is already starting to get packed," He said.

"What," I asked in a surprised tone. "But Chase Karlson's battle is in more than two hours. What the hell is wrong with people?"

"Hey, don't shoot the messenger—"

"I'm on my way," I said, hanging up.

I recalled my Pokemon and headed directly to the gym. I cursed internally at Oreburgh for not having any public transportation like in Jubilife, forcing me to get there by foot. I alternated between running when I had the energy to, and walking when I got too tired and the pain from my abdomen got too serious. The cream the Center had given me was doing wonders, and had sped up my recovery to the point where I was sure I'd be ready for my gym battle with Roark. It would probably still be there for my battle against the gym trainer, however, but at least it was more of a dull pain at the back of my mind now instead of something I just couldn't ignore— unless I moved too much that is.

I met Denzel inside of the gym, using him to skip a large part of the queue, which got me a few death stares. People here were mostly non-trainers who wanted to watch battles, but they had to pay for a ticket to get in. The League had to make money somehow. Trainers participating in the Circuit, however, got to spectate any match they wanted for free. We made our way deeper inside and reached the stands, which surrounded the entire battlefield in an oblong-like shape. Denzel managed to spot two seats in the second row to the arena's side.

"Hell yes! I'm so glad we got good seats," He said, sitting down.

"Yeah," I said. I was kind of out of it. To me, this almost felt like a dream. The buzzing in my ears from everyone talking around us, the sheer size of this place, Roark getting ready for his next battle by healing a Geodude on the ground. The atmosphere here was so thick I could almost drown in it.

"Now that we got our seats, do you want anything? Hot dog, burger, fries?" Denzel asked me. I shook my head. "Alright, I'll get myself some, then. I'll get nervous if I stay too still." He released Eevee and instructed the Pokemon to stay in this seat. "Don't give it up under any circumstance, got it? Fight for it with your life! Grace, take care of him for me."

And he was gone.

"I should have asked him for water," I murmured.

Roark's battlefield was larger than any I'd seen so far, and was specifically built to give rock types an advantage. Rocks and large boulders littered the field, and tall, jagged hills had been raised in each corner. There was also a small pond in the center-left that was there for water types that couldn't fight outside of water, such as Goldeen— something each gym was obligated to have.

Soon enough, the next battle started. And then the next. Since Roark was battling almost all day, people were always filtering in and out of the gym. Most people only came for a single battle, or a few, and when those were over, they were out. Some more passionate about Pokemon battling would sometimes stay the entire day— but that category mostly included trainers trying to find any weakness in Roark's battling style. I had already taken note of this before, but it was even more obvious when I saw the real deal. Roark was a brutal trainer to take on. Normally, someone would think rock types to be defensive Pokemon, but the gym leader was relentless and simply did not stop attacking.

I winced as a poor trainer's Spheal was slammed against the ground repeatedly until it bled by Geodude. That hadn't even been a move! The teary-eyed trainer left without shaking Roark's hand. To think that a Pokemon that strong wasn't even a part of Roark's real team… it was sobering.

That could happen to Togepi or Frillish, I thought as I felt my palms get clammy. Or Denzel's Eevee, I continued, looking at the little furry Pokemon. He was somehow asleep on his trainer's seat, as if the loudness of the gym didn't affect him whatsoever.

We made our choice. I won't back down now.

Soon enough, Denzel came back with a bunch of food and two drinks.

"I got you fries and a soda anyway. I'll eat 'em if you don't," He said.

I felt my lips rise. "Thanks."

"Did I miss anything?"

"Oh, not much. Just a few trainers getting their hopes and dreams crushed in front of thousands of people," I said with a hint of sarcasm before grabbing a fry.

In the next hour and a half, only one trainer managed to beat Roark by using a pretty innovative strategy. He ran out the clock with a Shuckle that had insane defenses, and according to Denzel, they were higher than normal. There had only been one trainer that had participated in the Circuit last year, and Roark used even stronger Pokemon against him, beating him by the skin of his teeth.

But now, it was Chase Karlson's turn.

I leaned to the side to get a better look at him. He had dark hair, wore a cap, and was seemingly extremely well-built. That was all I could see from up here. I glanced at Denzel, who had his hands clenched around the handles of his seat.

"Welcome, challenger," Roark began in a dry tone, as he probably had a thousand times before. "This will be a three-on-three battle with one switch-in allowed. I reserve the right to use any Pokemon in my arsenal that I deem fit, and killing any Pokemon will get you disqualified from the League Circuit. Now, send out your Pokemon."

Chase sent out a Riolu, and Roark sent out a Rhyhorn. The referee raised his hand, and then threw it downward. The battle had begun.

"Begin!"

"Riolu, Quick Attack to get close, and get a Bone Rush ready," Chase said.

"Rock Polish," Roark said.

The Riolu shone, and then dashed forward in a blur as a bone grew out of its paws. Within seconds, it was on the opposite side of the arena, and it swung its bone downward—

Rhyhorn dodged to the side, almost as if it was figure skating on the rocks.

"Keep up the pressure until it hits," Chase calmly said.

"Dodge, then Horn Attack."

My eyes widened. Riolu was using two moves at the same time, something that should have tired him out in seconds! Especially with a move as intensive as Quick Attack.

Riolu struck again and again, hitting the ground and kicking up dust, rocks and sand. Rhyhorn roared and rammed into Riolu, but it ignored the hit, instead grabbing onto the rock type's head.

"Circle Throw!" Chase said, raising his voice for the first time.

Riolu lifted the huge Rhyhorn and slammed him backward, flipping it on its back. Its palm began to glow blue, and it struck the poor Rhyhorn's belly five times until his armor cracked. Roark recalled it and signaled to the referee.

"Rhyhorn is unable to battle. Leader Roark, send out your next Pokemon."

Roark obliged and sent out Nosepass.

"Riolu, get in close and Metal Claw!" Chase said.

"Rock Polish," Roark calmly said. "Then Thunder Wave."

Using Quick Attack again, Riolu rushed toward the Nosepass with shining, metallic claws growing out of its fists. The Nosepass shone, and then sparks of electricity slowly materialized around it. Riolu feinted toward the left, prompting the Nosepass to dodge right, but then suddenly followed it and hit him straight in the face with two brutal Metal Claws. The Nosepass fainted before it could even paralyze Riolu.

The audience cheered and broke into thunderous applause. I discretely looked at Denzel, who was the most focused I'd ever seen him. He was barely blinking, analyzing every second of the battle.

"Nosepass is unable to battle. Leader Roark, send out your last Pokemon," The referee said, not bothering to hide his astonishment.

Roark grabbed his last Pokeball, but didn't send out his Pokemon. He frowned, and then placed it back on his belt before grabbing a new one and sending out—

A huge Onix appeared in the arena with a roar that shook me to my core. It stared down at the Riolu like it was a bug, and awaited for Roark's command. It was the first time Roark had used it this entire Circuit.

Chase stared up in disbelief, unable to speak.

"If you won't start, I will!" Roark said, seeming more alive than he had been the entire day. "Onix, Slam it!"

Onix's massive tail slammed downward as Riolu jumped out of the way, recovering with a roll.

"Riolu, Metal Claw again! Get close!" Chase said, snapping out of his stupor.

Close to that monster? I thought. Why?

Using another Quick Attack, Riolu approached the Onix and slashed its hide multiple times. Onix roared in pain.

"Screech! Get it away from you and Rock Throw!" Roark yelled out.

The humongous Pokemon lowered its head toward Riolu and screamed, forcing even me to cover my ears. The sound was horrendous, like nails on a chalkboard, and it knocked Riolu to the ground. The Riolu squirmed in pain, covering its ears.

"Now Slam it! Knock it out!" Roark said.

Onix let itself fall onto Riolu, covering it completely. When it rose, Chase's pokemon was down for the count. Chase's face contorted into what I could only describe as pure rage as he retrieved Riolu.

"Riolu is unable to battle. Challenger, please send out your next Pokemon!"

Chase yelled as he released a Houndour.

"Don't disappoint me," He said. "Smog!"

A sinister purple smoke began to leave Houndour's mouth.

Luckily these psychic barriers will protect us, I thought, But a fire type? This is going to be hard.

"Don't let him! Rock Throw!"

Onix curled its tail around a boulder and threw it toward the Houndour.

"Jump out of the way!" Chase yelled.

Houndour barely made it out, and the rock slammed against the barrier right next to Chase, who seemingly paid it no mind.

"Now, Ember!"

Onix was starting to struggle because of the toxic Smog, but he was still a rock type. He took the Ember and barely flinched.

"Keep Rock Throwing! One is bound to hit!"

The battle kept going like this for the next minute, with Houndour barely dodging Onix's attack and retaliating with Embers that barely scratched its opponent. Onix was slowing down more and more, however.

"Now, Smog again!"

"It's all or nothing, Onix! Get in close and Screech, then Slam!" Roark yelled with his hand outstretched.


Onix slithered into the thickest part of the smog and screamed again, forcing the Houndour to stop its attack. Then, using its face, it slammed into the Houndour, sending the small Pokemon flying into the barrier.

"Houndour is unable to battle. Challenger, please send out your last Pokemon," The referee said.

"Fuck, fuck!" Chase whispered, which was then picked up by his microphone. He sent out his last Pokemon— one I had never seen before. "Grubbin, you're the last one. Do not lose."

"Onix, let's finish this quickly! Screech into Slam one last time!"

"String Shot! Don't let it get near you!" Chase yelled out, letting panic slip into his voice.

The bug type Pokemon spit out an incredible amount of string, sticking and slowing the Onix down. However, Onix's huge size meant that he barely had to move to get in Screech range. He used the move one final time, and again, Grubbin was stunned and unable to move. As Onix prepared to slam into the small bug, he stopped moving, and then fell to the side. Smog's poison had slowly but surely finished it off.

Chase Karlson had won. Barely. But a victory was still a victory. The stadium erupted into a cacophony of applause and cheering as the referee announced Chase's victory. Roark shook his hand, looking happier than he had ever been, and gave him the TM to Rock Polish, along with digitally adding money and his badge through his trainer card.

Again, Chase Karlson had won.

But he looked like he had lost.
 
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Chapter 15
CHAPTER 15

"Wow, that kid was good," Someone behind us said.

"He made Roark use Onix… I've never seen him smile like that."

"He definitely has potential. That was the best battle of the year so far."

All around us, there were murmurs of gossip about Chase Karlson. He had already stomped off angrily, but the effect of his victory still lingered in the room. Roark had left to take a break twice longer than normal to get his Pokemon sent to the nearest Center and also replace his team, and a lonely gym trainer released a Kadabra to rebuild a part of the psychic barrier surrounding the arena. It had been damaged by Onix's Rock Throws and showed signs of cracking.

"You good? Doom scrolling already?" I asked Denzel. He had his Poketch open and was scrolling through the Circuit forums, looking at what people had to say about the battle. The thread was already sporting more than two thousand comments and was on the front page even though the battle had only just happened.

"Yeah. I'm just surprised that Roark used Onix, that's all," He said, his face glued to the device.

"That thing was a beast. One Slam is all it takes and your Pokemon are gone… wow," I reminisced. "I wonder how I'd go about beating something like that."

Togepi would be out of the picture immediately— her only ranged attack being Fairy Wind and that wasn't even fully learned yet, so I'd have to use Frillish. I closed my eyes and imagined the potential battle. I'd tell Frillish to float up high out of Onix's Slam range and keep throwing out Bubblebeams. How would Roark respond? Onix's Rock Throws were pretty telegraphed and easy to dodge because of his size… could I potentially win?

My head told me yes, but knowing Roark, he probably had a strategy to get his opponents back in range of his Onix. Anyway, it wasn't like I was even strong enough to warrant using that monstrosity.

How frustrating…

"What are they saying online?" I asked, distracting myself.



"Most of it is sucking up to him, calling him the next potential Champion or whatever. I'm just looking at the very few comments analyzing the inner workings of the battle so I can see if what I'm thinking is right," Denzel said.

"What are you thinking?" I continued.

"That other than Riolu, his other two Pokemon were underwhelming. Even with the type disadvantage, you have to admit that Houndour and Grubbin were so much weaker than Riolu. Or maybe Riolu's just too strong and that's warping my judgment?" Denzel said.

I let him focus on what he was doing and continued looking back on the battle. My strategy for Onix was already set, but what about that Rhyhorn or Nosepass? Roark was an avid user of the Rock Polish move, and thanks to that, his rock types could actually be fast, closing in the distance with Frillish in seconds. Nosepass looked to be a long-range attacker with Thunder Wave, but I hadn't seen him in action enough to know his other moves. Meanwhile, Rhyhorn wouldn't be able to reach Frilish at all, although I doubted Roark would even use it against us.

I had a lot of studying to do. This gym battle was going to be hard, and I wasn't going to be able to rely on type advantage alone to win.

Another fifteen minutes passed until Roark came back with a fresh set of Pokemon on his belt. Gyms had dozens of Pokemon of all skill levels available to them able to be used by gym trainers or the leader alike. That was the only way they were able to keep going the entire day without stopping— except for a lunch break. None of these were a part of the gym leader's actual team, who had to be strong enough to gain at least eight badges. Every single current gym leader had previously made it to a conference during a Circuit. Roark was twenty-four years old, which was relatively young, but he was not the youngest gym leader. He had made it to the conference on his third attempt to the Circuit and then been personally chosen by the League to become the old rock type gym leader's apprentice. He had taken over two years ago after his retirement.

Cecilia Obel walked through the arena doors, stopping my train of thought. She looked even prettier than in the pictures— granted they had been blurry. She wore a checkered black and white skirt with a black long-sleeved shirt, and her dark skin glowed under the gym lights. Roark once again welcomed his challenger and stated his gym rules, including that this would be another three-on-three battle. I swallowed as Cecilia grabbed her first Pokeball. This was it. The first time anyone would see what she used.

The Pokeball released a four-legged Pokemon, whose blue body was covered in dark fur— or were they scales?— Going up to its eyes. Its roar reverberated through the stadium, and the audience started to go wild.

"What is that?" I asked Denzel. He didn't hear me.

I grabbed my Pokedex and hoped I was close enough for it to work.

Deino, the irate Pokemon. Because it can't see, this Pokémon is constantly biting at everything it touches, trying to keep track of its surroundings. It will usually eat anything that moves near its mouth.

Type: Dragon, Dark


I read over the typing again.

It was a dragon type. The most feared Pokemon type that only the greatest trainers could raise. Even their unevolved forms were a threat to anything that could anger them. And Cecilia Obel had that power at her beck and call.

Roark's eyes widened, and he sent out his Cranidos— another Pokemon he had never used this year. The referee signaled the start of the match.

"Begin!"

"This one's a doozy, Cranidos. Rock Polish!" Roark yelled out, shifting into gear right away.

"Dragon Breath. Fifty percent," Cecilia said in a calm tone.

Cranidos glowed white and increased its speed as Deino burped, then gurgled and roared out a massive beam of yellowish-blue draconic energy.

"Outflank it to the left! Don't get hit!" Roark screamed.

Cranidos ran left and hid behind a boulder. The Dragon Breath shortly followed and—

The boulder exploded, sending chunks that would have landed in the stands if not for Kadabra's barrier. It hit Cranidos, who promptly fell to the ground and fainted. That Dragon Breath had lasted more than thirty seconds— and Deino wasn't tired whatsoever. In fact, he looked angry.

"Calm down. Be a good boy." Cecilia said.

The dragon snapped and roared at her in anger, but he listened.

"Cranidos is unable to battle. Leader Roark, send out your next Pokemon."

Without any hesitation, Roark sent out a Lairon. I nodded, remembering my days back at school. The steel type would help resist dragon type attacks—

"Deino, Incinerate. Eighty percent."

I gasped as Deino's mouth was engulfed in flames before they were ejected at full speed toward the Lairon.

"Lairon, run—"

The flames already hit it, superheating its iron plates until they glowed red.

"That was as fast as a flamethrower…" Denzel said in disbelief.

"L—Lairon is unable to battle. Leader Roark, send out your last Pokemon."

"Impressive. In my few short years working as a gym leader, this is the most impressive Pokemon I've seen a brand new trainer raise," Roark said as he grabbed his last Pokeball. "I underestimated you. But no longer."

He sent out a Graveler, Geodude's evolved form.

"Rock Polish into Rollout!" Roark said.

"Dragon Breath, full power," Cecilia responded.

The Graveler retracted its arms and began rolling as fast as a Quick Attack, taking the brunt of the Dragon Breath attack. It rammed into the Dragon, who quickly attempted to bite it in retaliation.

"No biting! Focus! Keep using Dragon Breath!" Cecilia yelled.

The Dragon snarled and kept attacking the Graveler, but eventually, the speed it had built up was too much. It rolled around the arena, taking a full lap before making another pass at Deino.

"You can't dodge! Give me another Dragon Breath!" Cecilia said.

The Graveler hit the Deino and sent him flying into the barrier. For a second, there was only silence as Cecilia waited to see if her dragon would stand back up. It didn't.

She sighed as she returned him, whispering something to her Pokeball that the microphones didn't pick up.

"Deino is unable to battle. Challenger, send out your next Pokemon."

"Very well," She answered as she released a sleeping Slowpoke. The pink Pokemon lazily got up and stared at its trainer in confusion. "That Graveler took down Deino. Steel yourself."

As if a switch had been activated in its mind, Slowpoke lost all of its sluggish movement and stood ready for any attack.

I've never even heard of a Slowpoke like this, I thought. They're supposed to be stupid and… well, slow.

"It's fast! Water Gun!" Cecilia said.

Slowpoke opened its mouth and a huge blast of water flew toward the Graveler.

"Roll left, and then Bulldoze!"

"Send it left!"

The Graveler obliged and dodged to the left, but the Slowpoke's eyes turned pink as its Water Gun attack curved mid-air and hit its opponent. Graveler yelled out in pain and fell unconscious. That was it. The battle was over.

That girl was even stronger than Chase Karlson. Not only did she keep a dragon type under control, but her other Pokemon were seemingly strong as well. Denzel and I decided to leave quickly afterward now that the two battles we had come to see were over, but we were both shaken. I expected her to be strong, but that was entirely another level. My mind whirred as I looked back on the battle. How would I have beaten Roark if he used the same Pokemon? After thinking about it for a few minutes, I realized that I just couldn't have.

"I'm going training," Both Denzel and I said at the same time.

"Ah—"

"Sorry—" He said.

We both laughed it off and went our separate ways without more words needing to be spoken. That battle had completely upended the way we looked at the way we were currently doing things. I needed to work harder. I needed to reach the level they were standing at. And I knew I would in time. I smiled to myself. This was the joy of Pokemon battling. Striving to become better and stronger, and working hard until you won. And that win? It would feel like the best thing in the world.

As I left the stands and reached the lobby, I saw Cecilia Obel surrounded by a bunch of other people. Were those her friends? Her traveling companions, probably. I stared for a few seconds before her eyes met mine. I flinched, averting my eyes, and pretended that the ceiling was suddenly the most interesting thing in the world.

I'm so obvious, I cringed at myself.

Luckily, Cecilia seemingly ignored me and left the building. Unwilling to see her again because of shame, I waited a few minutes before exiting the building as well, but what I saw surprised me.

A massive group of trainers was standing in a circle around something.

"What's happening?" I asked someone at the edge of the circle of human bodies.

"Looks like two people are about to fight," He said. "And they're apparently really good, but I don't know much about 'em. Ask someone else."

"Thanks anyway," I said.

I decided to take the initiative using my small stature. It was sometimes a curse, but today it was a blessing. I sneaked in between a few people, reaching the front of the group, and saw that Chase Karlson was practically frothing at the mouth in anger at Cecilia and her group.

"Let's get our teams healed and then battle me, you coward! I'll show the world that you're nothing but overrated Unovan trash!"
 
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Chapter 16
CHAPTER 16

A series of 'Ooooohs' ran through the crowd after Chase's challenge. Cecilia simply sighed and shook her head.

"No, thank you," She said.

"That wasn't a question. I'm going to put you in the dirt and expose you like the fraud you are!" Chase yelled.

"Watch yourself, low-class trash," One of Cecilia's companions said. "Don't you dare talk to her like that! Don't you know who I am?!"

"Fuck off, I'm not talking to you. Can't she speak for herself?"

"I did, and I said I wouldn't battle you," Cecilia said, before walking off. Her group followed suit.

"I know what you are! I looked you up! You think you're so strong when the only reason you're here is because of your brother and father," Chase said. She stopped dead in her tracks. "Oh? Did I hit a nerve?" He grinned and turned to the audience. "Everybody acts like this chick having a dragon is some great unimaginable feat, but her brother owns a Hydreigon— which I'm sure most people here know, but connect the dots! They probably gave her its offspring. Not only is that an unfair advantage, but she has the best Deino possible! Good genes, and someone to call for training advice whenever she wants."

Murmurs ran through the crowd as people began to agree with his points.

"Now, with your father, you get virtually infinite amounts of cash! And not only that," He paused as he pointed to the biggest kid of the group. "But you're also engaged to this motherfucker."

I heard a few people gasp, along with whispers about his name. Bianchi.

"So yes, motherfucker. I do know who you are, and I just can't be bothered to care. Don't you people see?!" Chase asked, addressing us. "These rich fucks are pooling their resources together and helping each other even though they already have an unfair advantage to begin with! And I'm going to prove that no matter how much you cheat, you're still worse than I am," Chase finally finished. The crowd was now fully on his side, chanting for the girl to go back to Unova. Cecilia's shoulder were shaking, and she was frozen in place.

"Why are you like this?" I blurted out.

"Huh? Who the hell are you? Some other groupie?!" He asked.

I looked around myself, and my eyes widened. I had just spoken without realizing it, and everyone's attention was now on me. My breathing quickened and my heart pounded against my ribcage.

"Ah—uh—I mean— There's no reason to be m—mean, right?" I said, stumbling all over my words. "Let's all just get along…"

"You add nothing to the conversation. You don't counter my points. Do us all a favor and stop talking—"

"N—no, look, sure, some of it might be unfair, but it's not the first time this happened. It's like this every year!" I said, finding my courage. I remembered that this was the man who had destroyed Denzel's self-esteem for sport, and now he was trying to do it to someone else? No. "In fact, I think that you're just mad that her victory overshadowed yours. Am I wrong?"

"Even if you were right, my point still applies."

"Then complain to the League, don't make all of these people gang up on her. Ask them to institute some standards! She's not at fault here, the system is!"

"Why are you fighting so hard for someone who would never give you the time of day? You're sucking up to them for no reason!" Chase asked me as if he was unable to comprehend my actions.

"Because it isn't right! We're all in this together, and fighting because of your small ego won't make you any better. Try to be a better person for a change, and maybe one day, you'll have friends to ask for help too if you're struggling!"

"Graaaah," Chase groaned. "Fine, you're off the hook for now, Unovan. You can thank the Legendaries that some bootlicker decided to bat for you— you didn't even have to defend yourself. But that's how it always is with you, isn't it? Always have other people speak for you. Your dad, your brother, and now this random trainer," He finished. "This city's fucking mediocre, I'm out."

The boy shoved his hands in his pockets and stormed off. The crowd dispersed soon afterward, and I noticed that some people had been recording with their Poketch. I hoped nobody would put this online— with these two trainers being the center of attention this year, some would inevitably fall onto me, which was something I didn't want. Unlike Denzel, I simply wanted to do my own thing without being 'famous'. I wanted to be able to walk down a street without trainers recognizing me because that could either go well, or really badly— case in point: what just happened to Cecilia.

"You. What's your name?" Someone asked.

I jumped and turned toward the voice, which was Cecilia and her group.

"M—me?" I asked.

"Of course. Who else?"

"Grace Pastel. Why?"

"Well, Grace. Thank you for your help, I appreciate it. I didn't have it in me to defend myself, but it was nice to have someone willing to do so," She said in a passive-aggressive tone.

Was she throwing shade at her group, or was I imagining things? Either way, Cecilia was gone as fast as she had come, and I'd probably never see her again. I sighed. I wanted to ask her about how she battled. She was so cool and collected the entire time. And the percentages? What did that even mean? The power of her Pokemon's attacks, maybe? How did one train a dragon to do something like that, and why would you even do so?

So many questions, and so few answers.

Anyway, that was enough drama for an entire year. It was time to train. I may have disliked Chase and wanted to know more about Cecilia, one thing was for certain: they were way better trainers than I was, and I had to discover what was the difference between us. For now, though, it was time to train.

——

I spent the next few days training harder than ever before. With Frillish, we worked on strengthening his Bubblebeam as much as possible, along with attempting to increase his speed. Sure he could float, but he would just be a sitting target for Rock Throws if he wasn't able to move out of the way. Denzel had told me to go train against the Geodude from Oreburgh cave, although he had warned me explicitly not to underestimate them and take cover whenever I fought one. He didn't have to tell me twice— I already knew wild Pokemon were extremely dangerous because they wouldn't hesitate to target the trainer, and had no restraints on their attacks.

Frillish's training had gone well, and his Bubblebeams were faster, more powerful, and lasted longer, along with Night Shade, although we neglected his other attacks in order to make more time for those two. I just couldn't see a scenario where Frillish ever got in physical contact with one of Roark's Pokemon and lived to tell the tale. Unlike Togepi, he was way too frail to take more than one attack. Maybe two, if I felt generous. At the end of every training session, I'd have to go and buy Frillish poffins, which was seriously draining my money reserves.

For Togepi, she was now fully capable of using Fairy Wind. I had to be careful with her, however, because she still couldn't really control how big it was, which meant that I was forced to stand very far away from her every time she used it and that I couldn't use it in battles to avoid risking the lives of trainers facing her. I didn't know what would happen if a human was hit with it, but knowing how strong Pokemon were, I was sure it wouldn't be pretty.

The second move we worked extensively on was Sweet Kiss. It was faster now, and its confusion effect was more potent. I was confident Roark's Pokemon would stay confused for at least two of Togepi's next attacks instead of the one we normally always got. We had also created a signal for it so that it wouldn't be telegraphed so easily. Whenever I'd tap my foot twice against the ground hard, she would send out a Sweet Kiss. I had already tricked quite a few trainers with it. The only other move we worked on was Rollout, but not as an offensive move. It would do nothing against Roark's rock types, but it would be useful as a movement-oriented ability. Like Frillish, Togepi was quite slow— obviously, with the size of her stubby little legs. With Rollout, however, she'd be able to relocate anywhere on the field at relatively good speeds, and it would be useful to dodge attacks as well. In the end, we had improved on her maneuverability with the move, and she was able to take sharper turns and stop abruptly more easily.

At last, my battle with the Oreburgh gym trainer had arrived. Denzel's would be tomorrow, and he had attempted to come to see me, but the battles were meant to be private. I followed the gym trainer deep inside of the gym until we reached a battlefield that was a replica of Roark's— only one point five times smaller.

"Alright, let's do it. This'll be a two-on-two battle with no switching allowed. Obviously no killing, and you have to send out your Pokemon first," She said in an upbeat voice.

"You seem excited," I asked as I grabbed my Pokeball with trembling hands. I was trying to distract myself with small talk, but it wasn't working.

"First time doing one of these, so that means Roark acknowledged my skills," She said with a smile.

"Cool, cool…" I said.

Enough stalling. I took a deep breath, held it there for a few seconds, and exhaled as I released Frillish. Calm down, Grace, I thought to myself. It'll be fine. You trained for this.

"You're up Frillish. This is it. This is what we trained for," I told him.

He nodded and stared straight ahead.

"A Frillish, huh? Interesting, I haven't seen many of those before," The gym trainer said as she sent out her Pokemon. A small tree-like being materialized in front of her, confusing me for a second before I recognized it. It was a Bonsly.

A screen flanking the arena lit up and counted down from three.

I got this.

"Get up high and then Bubblebeam!" I yelled out as soon as the timer hit zero.

Frillish propelled himself upward with his tentacles, and a stream of bubbles rushed toward the Bonsly.

"Jump back, and then Rock Throw!"

Bonsly dodged, but Frillish's attack hadn't ended. The Bubblebeam followed it and impacted it directly, causing it to faint.

Yes! I celebrated in my head. I had taken inspiration from Deino's seemingly endless Dragon Breath and trained Frillish to keep his Bubblebeam going as long as possible. One more.

"Wow, you're good," The gym trainer said as she sent out a Geodude.

"I am?" I asked, beaming with a smile.

"Yep. Geodude, Rock Throw!"

Geodude grabbed a rock and threw it upward, but it failed to even reach Frillish because of how high up he was.

"Aw, shucks," She said.

"B—Bubblebeam?" I ordered, unsure of what was going on. Wasn't this too easy?

Frillish sent out another Bubblebeam, which Geodude dodged with Rollout. Eventually, however, he tired out, and after two hits, he went down.

"Congratulations, challenger! You're now allowed to battle Roark. Head down to the lobby, and we'll tell you the date and time of your battle," She said, returning her fainted Pokemon. After a pause, she spoke again. "I can see the look on your face. You're good, but you're not that good— no offense. This is just the only check we have to regulate the amount of trainers taking up Roark's time. Beating the Pokemon we use is the bare minimum level of skill someone should be at before challenging him, and if you struggled, the odds are you'd never beat him. You have a chance, though," She said with a wink. "Don't let the win get to your head. I've seen it happen, and the consequences could be disastrous."

I took her advice to heart and made my way back to the lobby. I immediately told Denzel I had won, and he looked ecstatic for me. After a few minutes of waiting, my battle with Roark was scheduled. In three days, at 5:30 pm, my first gym battle would finally take place.
 
Chapter 17
CHAPTER 17

Obviously, I spent the next days training on the same moves I had been. They had delivered me a victory against a gym trainer, and they would help me immensely against Roark. We took very little breaks, apart from waiting for the results of Denzel's gym trainer battle in the lobby. He came out with a huge smile on his face and had apparently done even better than expected, just like I had.

"Eevee should be able to deal with it— I don't want to use Budew at all, which is a shame because I caught her specifically for this gym," He said. "But our Double Kick, Quick Attack combo is lethal."

"I hope so," I responded dryly. I was too focused on strategy to have a conversation, as rude as it sounded.

Every moment I didn't spend training was spent going through battle scenarios in my head. I went through as many battle videos as possible, analyzing each one of Roark's Pokemon and moves to be ready for anything. Some nights, I would barely sleep at all, much to Togepi's chagrin. She was worried about me, the little sweet thing. I couldn't stop, though. I was so close, and I would better be safe than sorry. Plus, gathering information about Roark calmed my nerves, even though I was still terrified.

"Are you sure you're okay with taking a day off work to watch me?" I asked Dad the night before my battle. "I don't want you to get scolded by your boss."

"Nonsense. I had a lot of sick days saved up, and the new Poketch is finally out. Plus, I think the higher-ups are going a little bit insane— they have this whole marketing idea with clowns…"

Dad kept talking about his work. I wanted to cut him off at multiple points to get some last-minute studying in, but I felt bad. He didn't have any friends— more like work acquaintances— and now that Togepi and I were gone, he didn't have anybody to talk to. He was fully confident I was going to make it, and his belief in me did more to help than he could ever imagine. After our call, which lasted an hour and a half, I looked at the time. 11:23 pm. If I started back up again at midnight, I'd have four hours or so to study Roark, and then I could sleep for another five. Before that, however, I called my mother.

"Your battle is tomorrow? Oh, Arceus, I'll have to go to Ronald and Casey's place to watch, our house doesn't have the internet."

"Just internet, mom. No 'the' at the start. Anyway, it's at five-thirty, so make sure to root for me," I said.

"Of course, I will. I'm sure you'll do very well!" She said. I could tell she was smiling on the other side of the call.

I had been nervous about reconnecting with mom, but to be honest, it was… nice. Her voice felt reassuring in a way that I couldn't explain. I was glad dad made me go to Twinleaf that day. We spent thirty minutes or so just chit-chatting about anything that came to mind. Herdier was doing better than ever, and there had been no 'weird people'— which was how we had described that shady organization to them before we left— hanging around Twinleaf

"You should go to sleep, Grace. It's almost midnight, and you've got a big day tomorrow," Mom told me.

"Don't worry about me, I'm fine. I'll stay up for a little while longer."

"I'm not going to tell you what to do— you've been doing fine without me in your life so far. But from experience, you'll do better during an important day if you had your full eight hours the night before. You're exhausted, aren't you? I can tell."

"I'm… I'm fine."

"Do what you think is right, Grace. I… I love you. Was that fine to say? Is it too early?" She asked with a shaky voice.

I let out a little gasp and hung up out of surprise before throwing my Poketch on the other side of the bed. Her words had jolted me out of my dazed state, and I was now fully awake. Waking up like this made me realize that she had been right. I was tired.

I sighed and got into bed before drifting off to sleep.

——

"And you're okay with bright, flashing lights?" A gym trainer asked me.

I nodded.

"Sounds good," He said as he finished fitting me with a microphone. "There… you… go! On you go! Oh, and reminder not to touch Kadabra's barriers. That can mess with them, and we certainly don't want that. Good luck out here, challenger!"

I nodded again and got ready to step into the arena. The night had passed so quickly. One second I was awake, and the other, the sun was shining through my curtains. I bit the inside of my lip to stop my teeth from chattering, and I wiped my hands on my jeans before stepping outside. I raised my hand to cover my eyes, trying to get used to the light. There were a lot less people than there had been for Chase or Cecilia's matches, but there were still thousands here. And that wasn't accounting for the people watching from the comfort of their homes.

My entire body felt tight. Like I was getting squeezed until I'd pop. I had to remind myself to breathe before I stepped toward the area designated for trainers— a slightly elevated rectangular platform. A few seconds later, Roark did the same. He looked older than he was, with deep-set lines running across his face and rectangular glasses.

"Welcome, challenger," Roark said nonchalantly. "This will be a two-on-two battle with one switch-in allowed. I reserve the right to use any Pokemon in my arsenal that I deem fit, and killing any Pokemon will get you disqualified from the League Circuit. Now, send out your Pokemon."

"Alright Grace, y—you've got this," I told myself after a few deep breaths.

A few people in the audience started laughing, confusing me until I remembered that I had a microphone on. I drew a sharp breath and apologized, which provoked more laughs.

I wanted to die.

I hurriedly grabbed Frillish's Pokeball with a sweaty hand and almost dropped it before releasing him on the field. He was a little taken aback by the uniqueness of the situation, but I had warned him ahead of time, along with Togepi. After a few seconds, he was ready.

Roark nodded and a small rock-like creature covered in shining diamonds floated into the air. It was one of Roark's rarest Pokemon to use, but I had still studied it, so I knew what to expect.

"Begin!" The referee said.

"Power Gem," Roark said.

Instantly, my mind went from a nervous wreck to overdrive as everything I had learned in the last few days rushed back to me.

"Just like we practiced! Dodge with Water Sport!" I yelled out.

A few shining light rays appeared next to Carbink and rushed toward Frillish, who quickly propelled himself out of the way with a jet of water.

"Now Bubblebeam it!" I said.

Frillish reared his head back, and then forward as a mass of bubbles escaped from his mouth faster than they had ever been.

"Light Screen."

A shiny barrier surrounded the floating Carbink, weakening Frillish's attack. From what I studied, it was one of Roark's most defensive-minded Pokemon.

"Keep it going, buddy!"

The Bubblebeam didn't stop. After twenty seconds or so, the Light Screen was broken. Carbink attempted to move out of the way, but Frillish homed in on it with incredible accuracy.

"Get behind a boulder!" Roark said, raising his voice.

Carbink chimed and escaped from our relentless attack. Frillish stayed up in the air as we waited for Roark's next move.

"Ancient Power, then rush it!" Roark said after a few seconds.

Ancient power and not Smack Down? I thought. That was new!

A few rocks were surrounded by blue light and levitated toward Frillish. Slowly at first, and then extremely quickly. Without needing my command, he dodged the first few with Water Sport, but he was hit by two. Before he could even recuperate, he was hit directly by Carbink's Tackle and began falling to the ground.

"No! Focus! Get him away from you with Night Shade!" I screamed, letting panic slip into my voice.

"Fri!"

A shadowy replica of Frillish appeared behind the two falling Pokemon and dashed through the Carbink, getting it off of him. With another jet of water, Frillish stopped himself from hitting the ground too hard, and he was back in the air in seconds. Carbink crashed into the field, kicking up an insane amount of sand, rocks, and dust.

"Don't let it recover! Bubblebeam again!"

Frillish started hitting the plume with multiple, short attacks until he found his opponent thanks to its chime of pain. He focused on that area until it was revealed that Carbink had fainted.

"Carbink is unable to battle. Leader Roark, send out your last Pokemon." The referee said.

One more, I thought. One more, and I'm fucking golden.

Roark smirked and returned his Carbink before sending out his last Pokemon.

What would it be, I thought to myself anxiously as the red form materialized into shape. One of his strongest?

Needless to say, I couldn't help but be disappointed when I saw a large Geodude appear. On one hand, it was the one I had studied the most, but on the other, it stung to know that I wasn't good enough to warrant using one of Roark's main threats.

"Up high, Frillish!" I said, recalling my plan. "As high as you can, then Bubblebeam!"

Frillish began to float upward—

"Rock Throw, crush variation." Roark said.

Crush variation? What was—

Geodude's body crackled as it flexed its arms before grabbing a huge rock. Using its hands, it crushed the rock down to rubble and then threw them at incredible speeds toward Frillish.

"Shit! Frillish, Water Sport—"

He was already using the move before I even finished, propelling himself downward to dodge the barrage of rocks making its way toward him. Unfortunately, they covered an area too large to dodge. I swallowed as my Pokemon was hit by a dozen of small rocks, penetrating through its body. If he hadn't been a ghost type, he would be bleeding right now.

"Another one, Geodude!"

If this keeps up, I'm done, I thought.

"Don't let him! Attack, attack, attack!" I yelled out.

A stream of bubbles rushed out of Frillish's mouth, but they were simply popped by Geodude's attack, and only a few reached their target. Meanwhile, another dozen rocks hit Frillish, staggering him.

This isn't working.

"Get down, and then get close with Water Sport!"

Frillish deactivated his levitation powers and fell to the ground like a ragdoll before propelling himself with a jet of water seconds before hitting the ground.

"Rock Polish before another throw!" Roark screamed.

Geodude shone for a few seconds and then crushed another rock. It threw the rubble toward Frillish hard, and it would deal more damage now that the distance was lower. I gambled that he'd be able to take it anyway.

Frillish spun around and tried as best he could to evade the oncoming rocks, but the majority of them still hit him. He slowed a little, but kept going.

"Wrap around him and then Absorb!"

He bumped his soft body into Geodude and wrapped his tentacles around it before sucking its energy.

Roark's eyes widened. "Get him off of you quick!"

Foregoing levitation, Geodude used its two hands to run toward the biggest boulder he could find before ramming into it. Frillish bore the brunt of the damage, and after struggling to get off the ground for a few seconds, he fainted.

"You did great," I said as I retrieved Frillish. "I'll give you lots to eat later."

"Frillish is unable to battle. Challenger, send out your last Pokemon."

I sent out Togepi.

"Frillish is out. It's up to you and me, princess!"
 
Chapter 18
CHAPTER 18

Geodude was slower, and he looked tired. Frillish had done a great job, but now it was time to finish this.

"Rollout!" Roark said immediately.

The Geodude scrunched up into a ball and began to roll toward Togepi. It was incredibly fast thanks to Rock Polish, but if it was going in a straight line, that wasn't a problem. I waited as much as I could until I slammed my foot twice against the ground hard.

A pink heart hit Geodude, prompting it to veer off course and ram into Kadabra's barrier.

"Fairy Wind as long as you can!" I said.

"Geodude, get up!"

Pink mist began swirling around Togepi and then rushed toward the Geodude. It keened in pain, but was still too disoriented to do anything. For the next few seconds, I thought that this was it. That there was no way he'd be able to withstand such a move after that onslaught he had suffered fighting Frillish.

I was wrong.

"Snap. Out. Of. It!" Roark bellowed.

Geodude shook itself, and then faced Togepi, who was too tired to keep up her Fairy Wind.

"Now Rollout again! Zig zag randomly to avoid Sweet Kiss!"

"Dodge with Rollout! Run away!"

Togepi retreated into her shell and fled, but the Geodude was faster than her. It caught up and rammed into her, sending her headfirst into a rock.

"Togepi!"

She slowly got back on her feet, but she was staggering now. One more hit and she was done. I clenched my fist.

"Fairy Wind! I know you have another one in you!"

"Get behind something!"

The Fairy Wind was weaker than it had been before, but it still hit the Geodude before he managed to take cover.

"Now, get 'em!" Roark continued.

Geodude rushed toward Togepi, grabbing her and slamming her against the ground. My hand hovered over her Pokeball as I wondered—

Snap out of it! There's still hope—

Geodude threw her high into the air before using Rock Throw and hitting her.

Ah. It's over.

But suddenly.

High up in the sky.

A light began to shine.

She was like a star.

Togepi was surrounded by a blinding light as her body morphed and elongated. She never hit the ground.

"Togepi, you're— you're flying!"

"Geodude, Rock Throw, crush variation!"

I snapped out of my daze. There was no way to know if she had learned a new move, so I stuck to what I knew.

"Try to dodge! Then Fairy Wind!"

Togetic clumsily beat her wings and dodged whenever she could as she gathered fairy energy around her. Rocks began to swirl in the wind as she gathered everything she had into one last attack.

"Go!" I said.

"Getic!"

The wind was faster now, and thicker. Geodude rolled behind a rock, but Togetic could control it better now. The wind curved around the boulder and slammed Geodude against the psychic barrier.

It didn't get back up.

I had won.

The stands broke into thunderous applause as I stood there, wondering if I was dreaming. Still in my dazed state, I returned Togetic to her ball while Roark made his way around the battlefield at a brisk pace.

"Congratulations, challenger, that was a great battle. May I have your ID?" He asked.

I stared at him for a few seconds before slowly giving him my trainer card. He scanned it using some kind of device, and when I got it back, my first badge was displayed near the bottom left.

"I've handed you the coal badge and transferred five thousand pokedollars to your account. Your Pokedex, please?" He continued.

"Uh— yes."

He inserted a disk into the TM compartment and gave it back to me after a few seconds.

"You'll be able to teach the TM Rock Polish to Pokemon that can learn it. Again, congratulations. Feel free to catch your breath in the waiting room for a few minutes before leaving. I can tell you're shaken."

"Wait! I—I have something to tell you. Ah, the microphone—"

"They're disabled as soon as a match end. What is it?" Roark asked.

I felt like telling him about what happened at Lake Verity would make me lose all of my credibility. Looking at it from his perspective, who would even believe what a random fifteen year old said? Unfortunately, I still had to forego all common sense and try.

"Could we do this in private? It has to do with something that happened near Twinleaf. There's a criminal organization in Sinnoh— or at least I believe so. They threatened to kill me and my friend."

Roark frowned. "Is this a joke?" I shook my head. "You're serious then. Meet me back in the gym lobby when I'm done battling for the day. Bring your friend."

"But the gym will be closed—"

"I'll have someone let you in. And this better have some substance to it. I don't take nicely to people wasting my time. Now go."

I nodded and left. I was happy I even managed to get the story out. Passing through the waiting room, I saw a nervous trainer waiting for her turn. That had been me ten minutes ago, and now I was on top of the world. It hadn't sunk in yet, that I had gotten my first gym badge. Fifty percent wouldn't make it past their first gym badge. That meant I was better than at least fifty percent of trainers.

I made my way to the lobby and waited for Denzel. He came out of the stands with a radiant smile.

"Grace! You did it! You were fantastic— you and your team! I can't believe Togepi evolved!" He said with his hands on my shoulder.

"I can't believe I won. I mean, I worked like hell for it, but I think there was a part of me that just expected me to flounder and lose miserably. I'm… so happy," I said softly.

"Cheer up, dude! You're looking all morose when you should be celebrating! In fact, let's go out tonight, I'll treat you to something," Denzel cheered.

"What about your training?" I asked.

"I still have tomorrow. I want to celebrate with you, come on!"

I broke into a smile. "Fine!"

On our way back to the Center, I spoke to him about our meeting with Roark tonight, turning him into an uneasy mood— a far cry from his joyful attitude just minutes ago.

"So that's it, huh? This is our last chance to make our pitch. There's no one else to rely on."

"Well, there's still the other gym leaders, but if Roark doesn't take us seriously, there's no reason to think the others will. So yeah, you're right."

I handed in my Pokemon to Nurse Joy and took a long-awaited shower in my room. My clothes were soaked in sweat, something my body did without my consent whenever I was nervous. You'd think I had just gone for a run in a marathon. I sighed as I let the warm water wash over my skin. The water was free after all, and I was going to take my sweet time.

——

Thirty minutes later, I stepped out of the bathroom with a fresh set of clothes and noticed that I had a grand total of twelve missed calls on my Poketch. Eight from dad and four from mom.

"Arceus… you guys are so extra," I muttered as I called my dad.

"Grace! I'm so, so proud of you! Legendaries, I was so nervous the entire battle, I thought I was having a heart attack! Hell, I want to go out in the streets and tell everybody that my daughter's got a badge!"

I smirked. "Dad, don't embarrass me."

"I'll have an entire selection of cakes when you come back! Chocolate, carrot, vanilla, name it, and it'll be on the table! And I can't believe our little Togepi's all grown up. That evolution came in the nick of time, eh?"

"Yup. I think I would have lost without it, I don't know if she was getting up after that Rock Throw."

"And your Frillish was great too! I don't want to look like I'm playing favorites— although between us, Togepi— ah, Togetic now, will always be my little princess. I'm so happy for you two."

"I was a nervous wreck. I hope nobody remembers that."

"If I hear or see anyone talking about you in a bad way, I'll knock 'em out."

"And then you'll go to jail for assault," I chuckled.

"Worth it. But seriously Grace, don't let anybody take this way from you. This is your accomplishment. You worked hard for it, and you deserve it. Enjoy the win."

It was finally sinking in. I was a good trainer. I wasn't a prodigy or even a top contender, but I was fucking good.

"Thank you, dad. I love you."

"Love you too, future champ," He said. I rolled my eyes, but couldn't help but smile. "Make sure to treat yourself to something."

"I will. Denzel's taking me somewhere— although I still don't know where."

"Alright, well I won't annoy you any longer. You kids have fun! Bye!"

I hung up, and after a few moments, I started skipping around my room.

"I've got a badge! I've got a badge!"

——

A few hours later— just before we were supposed to head out to meet Roark— I got my Pokemon back. I brought them out and brought them into a tight hug as soon as we were back in my room.

"You guys… you did so good," I said, feeling tears well up in my eyes. "I'm so happy we're partners."

Togetic let out a familiar chirp, and Frillish wrapped his cold tentacles around my back.

"I love you," I told them both.

After a small heart-to-heart, I freed them from my grasp.

"We'll review the battle later to see what we can improve on," I said. "Mind if you go in your ball again, buddy?" I asked Frillish. He shook his head, and I returned him. "Now, let's take a look at you," I told Togetic.

She had grown so much. She stood slightly taller than two feet, and her shell had been absorbed into her body. Every Togepi had a unique pattern on their shell that would be imprinted onto them when they became a Togetic, and this was no different.

"Can you try flying for me?" I asked.

"Toge!" She answered right away.

She began flapping her wings and clumsily got into her air, knocking over all kinds of items I had laid on the room's counter. She continued until she hit a wall and then fell on her back.

"Alright, we can work on that," I said. "I wonder how you even fly."

Togetic's wings were small for a body of her size, and she shouldn't have been able to fly under any realistic circumstances. Maybe she was using some kind of fairy energy to help her float. Either way, I scanned her with my Pokedex.

Togetic, the happiness Pokemon. Togetic is said to be a Pokémon that brings good fortune. When the Pokémon spots someone who is pure of heart, it is said to appear and share its happiness with that person. No records exist of Togetic being seen in the wild. It evolves under the loving care of a trusted human companion, upon whom the Pokémon then bestows great joy. It can float in midair without moving its wings.

Type: Fairy, Flying.

Ability: Hustle


"Seems like you think I'm kind-hearted. I'm flattered," I joked.

"Tic!" She cheered.

"Let's try this again. Apparently, you're supposed to be able to fly without your wings. I think they're just for maneuverability," I explained.

Togetic nodded and began to float like Frillish could. When she was unable to stop, she wiggled her feet and arms around. It didn't help. She hit the ceiling and then fell to the ground again. I crouched at her side and caressed her face.

"You okay, princess?"

She smiled as she wrapped her tiny arms around me and snuggled into my chest.

Still as cute as ever, I thought. Now it was time to check for any new moves. My Pokedex displayed the moves Extrasensory and Ancient Power, which surprised me. I had no idea Togetic could be this versatile, but I wasn't going to complain. Still, that meant two new moves to work on, along with her flying. And that wasn't even adding Frillish to the mix, who I wanted to start working on too now that I didn't have to focus so much on Bubblebeam.

But that was all in the future. For now, it was time to go meet Roark.
 
Chapter 19
CHAPTER 19

It was strange to be in the Oreburgh gym at night. Most lights were turned off, and almost nobody was there, giving the building an eerie atmosphere because it was just so large. The gym trainer that had let us in led us to Roark's office upstairs, which was in an isolated corner of the building. Personally, I wouldn't want to work somewhere that took so long just to get to, but maybe the peace and quiet during the day was worth it. The gym trainer gently knocked on Roark's door and waited for a few seconds.

"Come in," He said.

The trainer opened the door and gestured for us to get in before closing the door.

"So, Grace Pastel and Denzel Williams. Tell me your story."

Denzel and I glanced at each other and waited. I think we both expected the other to do the talking, so we ended up in this moment of awkward silence.

"Well?" Roark probed.

"Ah— well, a few weeks before the Circuit…" Denzel started.

Just like we had done with the Sandgem police, we told him everything, but this time we stressed that they had threatened to kill us with their Pokemon, believing that was the thing the most likely to spur the League to action. Roark asked for more details, such as the exact location of the lake, and the exact time the incident took place. We answered as best we could.

"Anything else?" Roark said, spinning a pen in his hand. His uninterested, tired gaze made me anxious and was a far cry from how he looked when he battled me.

"That's everything," Denzel said.

"I hope you're not lying to me. Criminal organizations are extremely dangerous— so I hope you understand that I wouldn't take kindly to this being all fake."

"We have nothing to gain from lying," I said. "Especially when Denzel's battling you soon. You could make sure he never gets his badge."

"Fair enough," Roark said after a pause. "I'll look into it. Now leave, I have work to do."

We nodded and left quietly. All things considered, that could have gone way worse, and we at least had confirmation that someone important was at least going to attempt to figure this out. I felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. If something was to happen without us having done anything about it, I wouldn't have been able to forgive myself. I looked up at the sky as the cool air blew into my hair. Autumn was soon approaching, and I finally felt like I'd be able to enjoy this year to the fullest.

Denzel ended up taking me out to a somewhat fancy restaurant to celebrate my victory, and even after my many protests, he still ended up paying after snatching the bill away from me. It tasted great, and it was a nice change from fast food or the Pokemon Center cafeteria. The next day, Denzel was about to go off to Oreburgh gate to train. I could tell the nerves were getting to him, so I did my best to cheer him up.

"Once the battle starts, you barely even register the audience, I swear," I said as I watched him tie his shoelaces. "You'll do fine. Eevee's a little trooper."

"Vee!" Eevee exclaimed.

"I'm already getting a stomachache, and it's not even tomorrow yet… I literally just went to the bathroom, man…"

Whereas I sweated all over the place when I got nervous, Denzel apparently had to go to the bathroom. A lot.

"Want to call my dad? He said he'd watch your battle since it's on a weekend." I asked.

"Now I'm even more nervous… I gotta go to the bathroom!" Denzel said before running back to his room.

Again? I thought. How is that even possible?

I left the Center soon afterward and let out both of my team members. While Togetic was going to focus entirely on her flight for the time being, I was going to have a more personal training session with Frillish.

"Alright, Frillish. I have two moves I want you to start learning: Water Pulse and Hex. Bubblebeam works, but it's more of a precise attack, whereas Water Pulse can hit a bigger area in one go— that means it's harder to dodge," I explained. Frillish nodded. "Good. Next, according to my dex, Hex doesn't need to be aimed or directed— it just affects your opponent directly from the inside. That should mean it's basically impossible to dodge unless you're confused or something."

I left out that the move dealt more damage if the enemy was affected by a status condition, such as poisoning or a burn because we had no means to do that yet. Either way, Hex was a better ghost type move than Night Shade, and we needed to learn it. When both Togetic and Frillish mastered these new challenges, then I figured it would be time to think about a third member for the team.

Throughout the day, Togetic stumbled through the air, and Frillish barely managed to get something that didn't look like a Bubblebeam out of his mouth.

Maybe it was too early to think about that, then.

——

It was strange to be back in the stands after having been down in the arena. Everything up here seemed so small now. I watched as a clearly nervous Denzel walked up to the arena, and Roark did the same. I had no doubts in my mind that he would win. I fully believed in my friend.

After Roark's pre-battle instructions, Denzel sent out his Eevee, and Roark sent out a metallic Pokemon with stubby little feet that I immediately recognized as Aron. The battle would be two-on-two with one switch in allowed, but I hoped that Denzel wouldn't have to use Budew.

"Begin!" The referee announced.

"Quick Kick!" Denzel yelled out as he pointed forward.

A custom move, I thought. Trainers sometimes would come up with moves that weren't listed in the official Pokedex list— or in this case, they'd combine two moves together to create something new.

Eevee became a white blur as he weaved in between the rocks, making his way toward Aron.

"Harden," Roark simply said.

When he reached Aron, Eevee dashed to his right and quickly spun around with one foreleg before kicking Aron's flank twice. The metallic Pokemon cried out in pain, but it was nowhere near done.

"Headbutt," Roark continued.

Aron reared its head and ran toward Eevee, who promptly jumped over and kicked his opponent in the back. The battle continued like this for a while, with Eevee simply being too fast for Aron to even hope to touch.

"Enough! Mud-Slap and then ram him!" Roark yelled.

The steel type used its leg to hurl as much sand as he could in Eevee's general direction. He staggered and closed his eyes before Aron crashed into him with a Headbutt.

"Next time he does that, use Baby Doll Eyes," Denzel said as he wiped the sweat off his brow. "Keep up the pressure with Quick Kick!"

After six more kicking attacks, Aron finally went down without much of a fight. It seemed that Roark had underestimated Eevee and had thought that Aron's defenses would be enough to make up for its lack of speed. Luckily for Denzel, that backfired and got him the first win. I squinted and looked at Eevee. He was clearly tired and panting heavily, and I didn't know how many times he'd still be able to use Quick Kick.

"Aron is unable to battle. Leader Roark, please send out your last Pokemon!"

Roark frowned as he hovered his hand over his Pokeballs for a few seconds before finally choosing his next fighter. Rhyhorn came out of its ball with a defiant roar.

"Rock Polish into Horn Attack. Quickly!" Roark said right away.

"Wait for him to get to you, and then Double Kick!" Denzel responded.

Smart. He's saving Eevee's energy, I thought.

The Rhyhorn shone and then skidded across the battlefield without any resistance, aiming its horn toward Eevee. He responded by laying flat on the ground before kicking Rhyhorn's head upward and then scrambling away. He ran as fast as he could, gaining a little bit of distance with Quick Attack whenever his opponent got too close.

"Smack Down, and then ram him!" Roark said.

Rhyhorn slammed his horn into a rock, and a large chunk hit Eevee in the back. He fell and struggled to get up.

"You've got this! Sand Attack!"

Eevee threw sand into the Rhyhorn's eyes with its tail before rolling to the side and then hit its rocky hide with another Double Kick. I clenched my fists around the handles of my seat. This was it! They had regained the initiative! The rock type shook its entire body and then began ramming into random boulders with its horn.

"Focus on my voice, Rhyhorn! He's on your left!"

Rhyhorn roared before suddenly tackling toward Eevee.

"Quick Attack so you're faster! Double Kick!"

Eevee blurred to the left and kicked the Rhyhorn's head before getting clipped by his horn. Blood soaked his brown fur, and he could barely stand, but Rhyhorn went down and never stood back up. I was the first one to stand up and clap, yelling out his name. We had both won! Denzel quickly returned his panting Eevee got his badge, money, and TM before he left. I squeezed through my row to leave the stand and met him in the gym's lobby with a hug.

"You were great down there," I said. "I knew you'd win."

"Thank you for being such a great friend Grace. I don't know if I would have won without your support. My parents didn't even call me—"

"None of that gloomy stuff," I said. "Screw them! You've got your first badge! Hell, didn't your mom say she'd send you money now?"

"Mhm," Denzel said. "I hope she actually goes through with it," He paused. "Wow, I can't believe this is real."

"Feels like a dream, right? It was the exact same for me. All that worrying you did seems silly now, doesn't it?"

"It does, but I feel like it whipped me into shape. I don't think I would have trained anywhere near this hard with Eevee if I hadn't been destroyed by Chase back in Jubilife. I'm almost… happy it happened now? Does that make sense?"

"It totally does," I said. "But it's my turn to treat you now. Let's get you some lunch! We can plan our next moves over some fries."

"Just fries isn't a healthy lunch…"

"It's not supposed to be healthy, it's supposed to be a treat. Let's buy some poffins for everybody on the way."

During lunch, we decided that we'd stay in Oreburgh for a few more days to get a well-deserved break. We considered getting a plane ticket back to Jubilife, but after checking the prices, they were way too expensive. Plus, Denzel was averse to the idea. There weren't any rules that said trainers weren't allowed to forego traveling through the routes and take a plane ride instead, but it was frowned upon, and it meant that we would skip on a lot of training. With Denzel's goal of becoming famous, he didn't want to get caught boarding a plane, only to get ridiculed on the forums.

Denzel ended up calling his mother and wrangling for a good amount of money which she transferred to his account. She still disagreed with his decision to participate in the Circuit, but she was a woman of her word. The faces and the eye rolls he made when speaking to her were too much. I could tell they didn't have the best relationship, but a part of me wondered if these issues went back to before they even disagreed on Denzel's journey.

I ended up lightening my team's training, going down to barely an hour per day. Togetic, Frillish and I would usually just hang out in my Poke Center room. Togetic would cuddle with me while I watched T.V. or browsed the internet while Frillish soaked in the bathtub to simulate being in a body of water. I felt bad for him, but soon we'd be back on route 203 and he would be able to get in a real lake. Soon enough, we finally said goodbye to Oreburgh and headed back into Oreburgh gate. All in all, we had made good progress and we hadn't even spent a month in the city. At this pace, we'd make it in time for the conference at the end of the year.
 
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Interlude - Roark
INTERLUDE - ROARK

"Fair enough," Roark said after a pause. "I'll look into it. Now leave, I have work to do."

Roark van Aarde watched as the two young trainers left his office. As soon as they were gone, he relaxed into his chair and sighed.

"Paul, you and the others can leave early," Roark told the gym trainer who led them to his office. "I'll close up."

Paul smiled. "Thank you sir. Have a good night."

Roark stretched with a groan. What he had just heard was almost unbelievable, but he didn't get the sense that the kids were lying. On the off-chance that they were right, it was better to verify their story.

"More work for me," Roark sighed. He opened up a familiar app on his computer and scrolled through his contacts. He paused before pressing the call button. "Ahh, just do it."

He called his boss. Roark heard his computer ring for a few seconds until he heard a smooth voice on the other end of the call.

"Good evening, Roark. To what do I owe the pleasure?" The Champion of the Sinnoh region asked.

"Cynthia. I just wanted to check up on you and let you know about something that might be important," The gym leader declared as he immediately straightened up as if she was in the room with him. "I hope I'm not taking too much of your time?"

"If you were, I wouldn't have answered. How's work treating you?" Cynthia asked.

"Don't even talk to me about work," Roark groaned. "This is the worst year so far… I'm having to battle for longer and longer hours, but I'll manage. At least the gym trainers do most of the paperwork now."

"Good," She simply said. "I got word from the Directorate that trainers are complaining about you. Apparently, you've been going extra hard this year."

"Pff, the Directorate. What do they know? More and more trainers are joining the Circuit each year because they won a few battles at trainer school with their first Rattatta. That doesn't mean I'm obligated to let them win out of pity."

"I'm just letting you know, Roark. I've already told them that the average skill level is going down, I just want you to be informed about what they think of you."

Roark groaned again. Sinnoh was governed by a top-down structure system. But each of these 'ranks' had trainers and non-trainers in charge, as a sort of balance of power system. Gym leaders and mayors cared for their respective cities— although cities without gym leaders only had mayors. The Elite Four and the Directorate oversaw the entire region, and finally, the Champion and the leader of the Directorate— the Prime Minister— were the supreme authority of the region. Most of the time, Roark was mostly fine with this system. After all, trainer supremacy led to the rise of Team Rocket in Kanto. It was always good to have some checks and balances on power.

Now was not most of the time, though. The Directorate clearly didn't know what they were talking about, and it showed.

"Thank you for the information, though. Do let them know I won't be changing the way I battle,"

"Of course. And the family? Have you still not made up with your father?"

Roark winced. "I have nothing to say to Byron," He blurted out. "And I have a lot of work with the gym. What about you?" He tried changing the subject.

"Oh, I haven't been to Celestic in a long while now," Cynthia said. "I'll have to get back soon, thank you for reminding me. Time goes by so fast that sometimes months have passed before I realize it."

They kept talking about their lives for a while. Roark knew that it was a strange relationship to have with his boss, but Cynthia was more of a friend to every gym leader than a boss. They still had to show her respect, and everybody admired her greatly, but when she spoke to him, Roark could tell she cared. Cynthia would let him talk to her about his problems, and months later, she would ask if he had fixed them. He knew how busy she was all the time— and that she had relationships like this with hundreds of people. The scale of it boggled the mind sometimes, and yet when Roark still had the audacity to complain to her, she listened and empathized with him.

"I almost forgot, I wanted to ask you about something. Two trainers came into my office just before I called and told me about a potential criminal organization. Have you heard anything about that? We might need to look into it." Roark asked. He described some of the event that Grace and Denzel had told him.

Cynthia stayed silent.

"Cynthia?"

"So you found out, hm," She sighed. "I didn't want to worry you."

Roark frowned. "Worry me? It's my job to know! So they were right then? They talked about a uniform with a single 'G' on it."

"Correct. We've been tracking such individuals for a few months now. They've been popping up all over the region."

"They threatened to kill two kids," Roark hissed, raising his voice. "Were there any in Oreburgh? Have they killed anyone yet?"

"Not yet. We haven't managed to catch them for anything illegal yet. Threatening murder is new for them, so I might be able to finally get something done now."

The gym leader sighed. "There was something about a police report in Sandgem, can you check with them? Apparently they didn't believe the kids, I'd like to see whoever took their reports punished," He said.

"I'll have my contacts there check it out."

"You still haven't told me why I wasn't informed about this, Cynthia."

"Knowledge about Team Galactic is on a need-to-know basis," She simply said. "And you, unfortunately, did not need to know. If they ever feel cornered, there's no telling what they're capable of. I'm sorry if I'm sounding harsh here."

"Who knows? You owe me that now, at least." He asked.

"The Elite Four, the Directorate, Wake, Fantina, and Byron all know. The younger gym leaders were kept in the dark."

"So my dad knows, but I don't?!" Roark said, slamming his desk. "That is bullshit, and you know it."

"Look at this objectively, Roark," Cynthia calmly said. "Younger gym leaders are more vulnerable. Maylene is fourteen, and the only reason she's a gym leader is because of her incredible talent. Candice is eighteen, and so is Gardenia. Volkner is twenty-two… you're the eldest in a new generation. We had an entire line of leaders retire almost all at once."

"The kids make sense," Roark acknowledged. "But I'm twenty-four. If you don't trust me with this, I don't even know why I bothered to become a gym leader in the first place."

"I did what I thought was best. Let's move past this. Is there any more information those two trainers told you? And tell me their names and their ID, please," Cynthia said.

Roark acquiesced, telling her the rest of Grace and Denzel had told him, including the location of this supposed new lake.

"The location's a little fuzzy because they didn't really have precise coordinates,"

"Alright," She said.

"That should be everything. What do we do now? What's the plan?" Roark asked. He wanted to take the fight to this organization and take them down before they became a threat.

"I wish I could tell you I'd fly somewhere and take them down, but they're still quite an elusive group. We've seen them across the region, but there's no information on a potential base of operation or anything. I'll have to ask Vernon to address the Directorate to create some kind of committee to allocate more resources to the investigation."

"That'll take time. People could die."

"I wish I could tell you something else, but my hands are tied, Roark. There are procedures that need to be followed."

The gym leader clicked his tongue. "Fine, the Directorate is being a pain in the ass again. But promise me that if something happens, you'll be there to stop it," Roark asked.

"I will. The moment I hear anything about a problem, I'll fly on Garchomp and deal with it."

Roark nodded. "Just keep me informed, at least. And let me tell the others. Even Maylene deserves to know. We trust her with running a gym, so we should trust her with this information."

"The Meowth's out of the bag anyway, so go ahead. And Roark," She said, before pausing. "Get some sleep. You sound tired."

The phone call ended, and Roark collapsed against his chair. This was bigger than he had ever imagined, and he was just starting to know about it.

Was Cynthia taking the best course of action? He thought as he looked at the ceiling. She was Sinnoh's best champion in a long time, and it wasn't even close. Her skill as a Pokemon trainer was so far ahead of everyone else that it wasn't even funny, and she had been promoted to Champion more than twenty years ago now as Sinnoh's youngest Champion. But was time clouding her judgment? She was almost forty, and Roark worried that age had made her grow complacent in the system she implemented. The Directorate, the Mayors, they were all her ideas. Cynthia was beloved throughout Sinnoh because she had been responsible enough to split up her power with others, and under her, the region had undergone immense growth, but sometimes trainers just had better judgment about these things!

"And yet…" He muttered.

Roark knew troubling times were ahead. He glanced at the picture on his desk and smiled. Maylene, Candice, Volkner, Gardenia, and he stood in the frame with their arms around each other. They were his best friends. His brothers and sisters. His family.

Tomorrow he would worry about telling them about this new 'Team Galactic'. For now, though? Roark closed the gym, headed back to his apartment, and crashed into his bed.
 
Interlude - Forums
INTERLUDE - FORUMS


(This chapter is heavily inspired by the forum posts in Borne of Caution and Worm.)



Welcome to the League Circuit Forums! The best website to get any League/Circuit related news!





Gyms → Oreburgh → Roark


Topic: What the f*ck is wrong with Roark?


Original Poster: Francis_Fletcher (Verified Trainer)


Date: 25th September 20XX



There's a serious problem going on in Oreburgh for this year's circuit, and I'm tired of pretending it isn't. This is the second time I'm challenging Roark, and I lost again. Pardon my Kalosian, but this is fucking bullshit. I had a Monferno and a Buizel and he still beat me by using his Onix. This is only my second year on the circuit, and he's fighting me like I own a damned Garchomp. I've heard a lot of trainers complaining both online and in Oreburgh that the difficulty is on another level, so I think we need to get together and send some sort of complaint to the League or something, otherwise this year is screwed for all of us. The worst part is I've heard on other boards that the other gym leaders are doing the same thing. I'm willing to hear out any other ideas.


►Brodie_Atkinson (Verified Trainer)


You're right, but the assholes that got off easy by fighting a Geodude and a Rhyhorn will all pretend that this is a skill issue. There's a serious discrepancy between the better trainers that have to fight Graveler, Onix, Cranidos and the weaker ones that get easy opponents. That's why I've been saying that gyms should have a standardized team for each gym badge a trainer has, and none of this wishy-washy 'I pick who the hell I want against you' shit. I won after my second attempt, but I live in Oreburgh, and I feel like I wasted a lot of time waiting for the two weeks here. Meanwhile, the weaker trainers get an advantage. It's like the world's turned upside down.


►AverageRoarkEnjoyer


Seems like the tears are flowing early this year. How about you just get good?


►Brodie_Atkinson (Verified Trainer)


Lmao guys we just found Roark's alt.


►AverageRoarkEnjoyer


Nah, I just think you're pathetic.


►Harpesifflet12


Looking forward to months and months of salt from these forums. Inject that shit right into my veins!


►Narita_Akira (Verified Trainer)


Can we make this thread trainer only? Get these trolls out of here.


►Nancy_Courbet (Verified Trainer)


I think our time here will be more productive if we talk strategies instead of complaining and giving these trolls attention. I've lost twice now, but Roark used Rhyhorn twice against me, and I found a pretty consistent strategy to use against it. It's kind of dumb and angry all the time, and it's really slow, so if you use something fast that can move sideways really quickly, it'll struggle to hit you. Regarding Rock Polish, you can try to counter it with something like Quick Attack because Rhyhorn is kind of bad at turning abruptly, but if it catches you, you're royally screwed.


►Julia_Rykard (Verified Trainer)


What about something that flies? It should be unable to reach, and you can attack it from a distance.


►Francis_Fletcher (Verified Trainer)


That's just a bait. Have you not done any research? That Rhyhorn knows Smack Down, and if that hits your Pokemon, you're done. Nancy's strategy seems safe. The best strategy against Rhyhorn is evasion. Anyone got anything for Onix?


►Nikita_Doyle (Verified Trainer)


I've fought Onix only once and I managed to faint it. The thing with Onix is that even with the type advantage, the sheer size of that monster will just negate everything you try to set up on the field. Distance is meaningless, dodging is harder, and it can take hits for days. What I found is that it seems particularly weak to ground type moves and ground type Pokemon in general. Hit it with a Bulldoze, a Mudshot, or a Mud Bomb and it'll go down really quick. If you don't take it down fast enough, it'll just Screech your team into submission.


►Francis_Fletcher (Verified Trainer)


Alright, so if I don't have a ground type, I lose? You're basically telling me to 'just get a ground type, lol'. There aren't any good ones around here, and teaching a Geodude Bulldoze will take an entire month.


►Nikita_Doyle (Verified Trainer)


I gave you advice. Take it or leave it.


►Cole_Kennedy (Verified Trainer)


Does anyone know how to beat Geodude if all I have is a Bidoof?


►Francis_Fletcher (Verified Trainer)


Man, get the hell out of here.


---------------------------------------


Trainers → Cecilia_Obel → Megathread


Topic: Everything about Cecilia Obel


Original Poster: League_Account_Official (Bot)


Date: September 1st 20XX



(Showing page 67/102)


►PlausianDol


I can't believe that this girl had a dragon all along, and it was right in front of our eyes! I should have known her family would have pulled all the stops to get her to win. People this year might as well give up, the victor's already obvious.


►Aintgonnacalluagain


Not only does she have a dragon, but she can fucking control it too. My dad is a breeder who's worked with multiple dragon types over his career and he's said that Deino are almost impossible to train unless you know exactly what you're doing.


►Ashton_King (Verified Trainer)


Well, she has her brother to ask questions to, so that's not a problem.


►FKJ


Hydreigons are even worse. Her brother has one, and it's so aggressive that he can only let it fight for battles against insanely high skilled opponents, otherwise it'll just kill whoever it's fighting.


►Aintgonnacalluagain


Yeah, I've looked him up after seeing her gym battle against Roark. Each head can use a different attack at the same time. Imagine fighting something that throws out a Hyper Beam, a Dragon Pulse, and a Fire Blast at you. Good luck.


►Gabriel_Webb (Verified Trainer)


Please keep the conversation in this threat related to Cecilia Obel only.


►SippinMart


Well talking about this girl without talking about her family is impossible at this point. Going up against her is like going up against all of them.


►LilChimchar


That Slowpoke was no joke either. Any speculation about what her third member might be?


►Morgan_Franscescoli (Verified Trainer)


Well, the only lead I can think of is that she didn't use it against Roark, so maybe it doesn't have a type advantage. Or maybe she just came so prepared that she had a grass type waiting in the back. Seems pretty foolish to speculate, it could be anything.


►LilChimchar


Fair enough, I'm just curious af. I get chills every time I watch her battle.


►Rosie_Marshall (Verified_Trainer)


I still think that she got lucky Chase Karlson took down Roark's Onix right before her battle. It might have been a different story otherwise.


►Ariadeus


She's insane, but that's not all. That squad she's traveling with? All rich kids with Pokemon with incredible potential. Emilia Lussier has a Beldum, Justin Gardner has a Sandile, Pauline King has a Charmander. And do you know what that mother fucker Louis Bianchi has, other than an incredible amount of wealth? A fucking Gible.


►SippinMart


You're fucking with us


►Ariadeus


No, check out their other threads and the videos of their fight against Roark. Everyone's going crazy over them.


►Gabriel_Webb (Verified Trainer)


Again, keep this thread on topic.


►Emerson_Shaw (Verified Trainer)


Fucking carpetbaggers and privileged assholes. I had no expectations for myself but I'm still disappointed.


---------------------------------------


Trainers → Grace_Pastel → Megathread

Topic: Everything about Grace Pastel

Original Poster: League_Account_Official (Bot)

Date: September 1st 20XX



(Showing page 6/6)


►MadCarr


Y'all are ignoring the fact that her Frillish is a lot stronger than you give it credit for. That Bubblebeam is no joke, and they clearly worked hard on it. Give her credit where credit is due, for Arceus' sake.


►Sonya_Hladik (Verified Trainer)


Sorry that I don't fawn over some trainer who just got a lucky evolution when she was about to lose. Obviously, that never happens to me, so I'm forced to wait two weeks to try again, but the most unskilled people always get rewarded with luck.



►MadCarr


Alright but I also watched your battle and you're clearly just a worse trainer lmao cope and seethe.


►Sonya_Hladik (Verified Trainer)


Well at least I'm doing something with my life instead of sitting at home all day and simping for random trainers.


►Madcarr


I'm not even fifteen yet, you dunce. I couldn't go if I even wanted to.


►Hakeem_Kante (Verified Trainer)


Let's not get heated and stay on topic. Yes, her Togepi evolving at a pivotal moment probably affected the outcome of the battle, but like Madcarr said, her Frillish is good, and battles will always have a little bit of randomness to them.


►TM_INFIN1TY


At the very least I'm glad we got to see Carbink. Roark doesn't seem to use it much, and it was valuable information for trainers to get.


►Mark_DeTore (Verified Trainer)


Yep. I honestly forgot he even had one. I'll be looking over the footage tonight.


►Sonya_Hladik (Verified Trainer)


You'll still lose. Enjoy this thread while it lasts. The girl was obviously a nervous wreck and she's not going to get very far. I'm gonna leave before I get muted by the mods.


►Madcarr


No one cares.


---------------------------------------


Trainers → Denzel_Williams → Megathread

Topic: Everything about Denzel Williams

Original Poster: League_Account_Official (Bot)

Date: September 1st 20XX



(Page 13/15)


►Samuel_Panella (Verified Trainer)


Teaching Double Kick to Eevee is unorthodox, but it was pretty smart of him to do so. I don't know what his second Pokemon is, but he probably avoided a huge headache by doing that. My Pokedex says my Nidoran can also learn it, but I wasn't going to bother until I saw his battle. I have a Budew, but I'd rather be safe than sorry and have something I can fall back on.


►Aaron_Smith (Verified Trainer)


The endurance on that thing was no joke. It was Quick Attacking the entire time, I was in the stands and I honestly thought it was going to collapse from exhaustion, but it just kept standing.


►Micheal_Jain (Verified Trainer)


I'd love to get Denzel's training routine. It can probably work with every Pokemon with Eevee's body type, so @Samuel_Panella's Nidoran could train its endurance for example. I own a Growlithe and I would have loved for her to have as much stamina as Eevee does for my fight against Gardenia in two days.


►Jonathan_McMiller (Verified Trainer)


I'll shoot him a DM and see if he answers. He's usually pretty active on the forums. I'll report what I find on this thread.


►Samuel_Panella (Verified Trainer)


Ty everybody. Honestly, this thread is so much more civil than the other ones it's like a breath of fresh air. Like, wow! Actual human decency for a change.


►Jonathan_McMiller (Verified Trainer)


Are you new to the forums? It's always like this, and the moderators are pretty hands off for the most part. It tends to calm down a few months in, though.


►Samuel_Panella (Verified Trainer)


Honestly this is kind of embarrassing, but for the longest time I thought only trainers were allowed to browse and post, so I never did.


►Micheal_Jain (Verified Trainer)


Well, you're here now . Welcome to the forum, king.


---------------------------------------



Trainers → Chase_Karlson → Megathread

Topic: Everything about Chase_Karlson

Original Poster: League_Account_Official (Bot)

Date: September 1st 20XX



(Page 37/49)


►ArceusIsReal222


You guys are overhyping this man way too much. Yes, his Riolu is impressive, but his finish was a little shaky. He seems to be the kind of trainer that panics as soon as something doesn't go according to plan, and you know the famous saying. 'No plan survives contact with the enemy'.


►Kylian_Rouge (Verified Trainer)


How much of that is because the type disadvantages were ridiculous, though? Houndour and Grubbin are such a terrible matchup against Roark that I honestly don't blame him for getting into that hot mic moment and panicking.


►Chase_Karlson (Verified Trainer)


You're a joke if you don't think I didn't wipe the floor with this gym.


►Chase_Karlson (Verified Trainer)


@ArceusIsReal Go outside and touch grass, loser. I'd wipe the floor with you.


►ArceusIsReal222


Double posting much? Commenting on your own thread much?


►Chase_Karlson (Verified Trainer)


Being cringe much? Ur mediocre bro. I don't care about these stupid forum rules. Let's get real, Roark went all in against me because he knew I was a threat. Then he went easy on that Unovan girl, and now all of a sudden everyone thinks she's won the Circuit already. Newsflash idiots, we're not even one month in. I predict that she's going to get 4-5 badges in and then she'll stall on one of the more experienced gym leaders. Come back to this message in 5 months, you'll read it and weep.


►Kylian_Rouge (Verified Trainer)


I take back everything I said, you're delusional. Seek help.


►Chase_Karlson (Verified Trainer)


I taKE BaCk EvErYthInG I sAiD, yOU'rE dEluSiOnAl. SeEK hElP.


►Chase_Karlson (Verified Trainer)


Your profile is public man. 0/8 Badges head ass. Have some shame and come talk to me when you've beaten your first gym.
 
Last edited:
Chapter 20
CHAPTER 20

The trip back to Jubilife city was thankfully uneventful, although I was starting to struggle to sleep due to... nightmares. Thanks to my almost healed injury, we managed to keep a good pace this time. I kept Togetic out of her ball most of the time so that she could get used to flying, and it looked like she was finally getting the hang of it. There was still a lot of progress to be made in the speed department, but she was at least able to keep her balance now, and she could fly without flapping her wings. I released Frillish less, but I still managed to get him to the lake on route 203, where we stayed for a few hours despite his incessant brooding.

I had started our training back up, and Frillish was finally starting to get the hang of Water Pulse, although it would probably take a week or two to perfect. The trick had been to switch up our approach. Instead of Frillish trying to get him to change the way he released water right away, we were slowly working our way down until the stream became a single 'pulse' of water. The problem had been Frillish's muscle memory. Since he had been using Bubblebeam his entire life, undergoing such a sudden change was too difficult. I also decided that we'd work on Hex later. Togetic's progress toward Ancient Power and Extrasensory was slower, since we had no base to start up from. Luckily, the mechanism behind both attacks was somewhat similar: she would need to use psychic energy to move things around— in this case, rocks or another Pokemon. Living beings were way harder to lift than objects, and right now, she struggled to lift even a small berry, but I hoped we'd be able to work our way up.

It took three days to get back to Jubilife. When we got back, it was already night time, so I wanted to barge home and surprise my dad. We made our way to my apartment and I sneakily opened the door, took off my dirty shoes, and tip-toed through the hallway toward dad's bedroom. I put my head against the door and smiled after hearing his loud snoring.

I gestured to Denzel and lifted up three fingers, then two, then one. I barged into dad's bedroom and jumped on his back.

"Surprise! We're back!" I squealed.

"Ow, wha— Grace?" He said, beaming. "I wasn't expecting you until late tomorrow!"

"We made it back faster than we thought we would," I said as I hugged him. "I missed you so much."

"I missed you too, kid," Dad softly said as he caressed my hair. "Hey Denzel, hope you had a good trip back?"

"It was as smooth as it could have been," He answered.

"Oh, you kids must be hungry. Let me go make something, I have a bunch of stuff in the fridge," Dad said. "You guys can go shower, because no offense, Grace, but you smell."

"Why must you wound me so deeply?" I joked. "What kind of girl wants to hear that she smells…"

"The kind that's getting dirt all over my bed. Shoo! We can catch up later along with your team."

Dad left his room and started cooking while I went back to my room and emptied my bag.

"You wanna shower first?" I yelled out at Denzel.

"Nah, your house, you go," He said.

"Gotcha!"

I quickly grabbed a change of clothes along with my favorite shirt, which was actually my dad's, and showered. It felt really good being in such cozy clothes after this long. While Denzel showered, I went to see my dad and released Togetic and Frillish.

Togetic flew toward dad and hugged him.

"Prrri! Togetic!" She chirped excitedly.

"There's my girl! All grown up!" Dad exclaimed. "And the… ghost. Hi."

Frillish flashed a creepy smile and started slowly approaching my father with a suspicious glint in his eye. Dad screamed like a little girl and ran out of the room with Togetic still in his arms, abandoning his hotpot.

"Dad he's just playing! Come back!" I said. "And you!" I pointed at Frillish. "Stop scaring my dad."

Frillish sniggered silently and spun around. I rolled my eyes as dad inched his way back into the room.

"Don't be a wimp dad, he's going to keep scaring you if you don't take a stand," I explained. "He's the nicest guy around if you get past his rough and… strange exterior."

"Tell it to the judge!"

I rolled my eyes and eyed his hotpot. "Whatcha makin'?"

"There's meat, potatoes, mushrooms, and spinach in it," Dad said as he tasted it with a small spoon. "Mm, good."

"Were you expecting people? Why'd you even have all of this?"

"Well, obviously I was expecting you and Denzel, just not today. I already had all the ingredients prepared and cut up."

"Thank you," I said, leaning against his shoulder. "I haven't eaten homemade stuff in so long… I can't wait."

"Leave some for tomorrow. Cooking two days in a row is a drag," Dad said as he played around with Togetic. She flew around his head and grabbed his hair whenever he was distracted.

"I'm a growing girl, I've got to eat."

"I still say that sometimes when I need an excuse to eat a lot before I remember I'm forty-five," Dad chuckled. "How long will you and Denzel be staying?"

I groaned. "We haven't even thought about it. A few days at least. I need to restock on potions, Pokemon food, and I want to get the new Poketch. You can pull some strings, right?"

"Don't say it like I'm being corrupt. It's just a benefit we get from working at the company," Dad said. "Also, don't you want to hang out with your poor old dad?"

"That goes without saying! Let's go somewhere this weekend!"

We kept talking until Denzel came out of the shower, and then we enjoyed a very nice dinner. That night, I called Denzel to my room to discuss our future plans.

"So what's the plan?" I asked, closing the door. "I want to stay in Jubilife at least for the weekend so I have some time to spend with my dad, but other than that, I have nothing."

"Well, there's two ways we could go," Denzel said. "We could either go to Eterna or try to catch a ferry to Canalave."

"Thoughts on both?" I asked. I didn't mind delegating this to Denzel, because he was clearly more knowledgeable than I was regarding gyms.

"Um, Canalave is closer, but we'd have to catch a ferry because Frillish is too small to even carry one of us across the water. It's closer, but we'd have to pay a hefty cost— although it's nowhere near as expensive as an airplane ticket. Their gym leader Byron is also one of the older ones, so he's more experienced and harder to beat no matter what team he uses against you."

"He's the steel type leader, right?" I asked, thinking about Togetic and Frillish. "My team is terrible against those."

Denzel nodded. "Mine isn't great either. I'm not sure if Double Kick will do the job this time, so I'd rather wait to get more experience as a trainer and catch some new members."

"So no Canalave then. What about Eterna?" I asked. "I know Gardenia's the grass type gym leader. They made a whole fuss about her on T.V. when she was confirmed because she's so young."

"Correct. Eterna's pretty far. We have to get through… route 204, the Ravaged Path—"

"The Ravaged Path?" I exclaimed. "What the hell kind of name is that?"

"It's just what they call that cave because it has another path off route that apparently leads to some dangerous area. We won't be going there."

I nodded, and he continued. "When we get out of the cave, we're on route 204 again and then there's Floaroma, our first stop. Then there's route 205, Eterna forest, and finally, we're there."

"You make it sound easy," I mumbled.

"It'll take two to three weeks of travel, depending on how long we stay at Floaroma. It's not as bad as it sounds though, the worst part is obviously Eterna forest."

"Alright then," I said. "Let's do it. Eterna it is."

——

The next day was Friday, and while dad went to work, Denzel and I went to the Pokemon mall to restock on supplies and buy whatever else we needed. I browsed the TM store and lamented at my lack of funds. Togetic could learn so many moves through TMs, and yet I couldn't afford any. Even the more common ones were ludicrously expensive because they were extremely difficult to make. Only one company called Silph Co. knew how, and needless to say, they weren't going to reveal that secret. But the result was that they could set the price at whatever they wanted, and no one would be able to do anything about it.

I met Denzel outside of the mall, and he greeted me with a fishing rod in his hands.

"What's that for?"

"Catching water types, what else?" He deadpanned. "I'm going to go to route 218 and try catching my third team member. Hopefully this time it'll go better than with Budew…" He trailed off.

His Budew was still unusable in battles, and it looked like she was going to be that way for a long time. He couldn't even bring her out next to me or others because he was scared that she'd attack them, although she seemed alright with Eevee for some reason.

"You're catching a water type when we established that we were going to Eterna literally yesterday?"

"Grace, Grace, Grace," Denzel started. "I planned it all out. Don't worry about me."

"I'm not worrying, I'm calling you an idiot," I said. "But now I'm curious, so I'll come with you after we drop all of this off. Plus, you might do something stupid like attack a group of five Tentacruel or something, so I have to be there."

"Touché. Again, I am sorry. I won't get us in a dangerous situation again."

"I'm just fooling around, don't be so apologetic all the time. I already scolded you when it happened, and you clearly took it to heart, so let's put the Budew incident behind us."

After getting everything we bought back to my apartment, we took a bus to the gate to route 218 and walked to the small port. Denzel walked up to the pier and sat next to the edge before setting up his fishing rod. He placed a colorful Wishiwashi-looking lure on the hook and started to wait. After twenty minutes, nothing was biting still.

"Maybe the water's too dirty next to the city," I said. "Plus, the boats might be scaring the Pokemon away."

"Dirty is good, but you might be right about the boats. Let's wait another twenty minutes, and then we'll move."

Dirty is good? I thought. Strange.

We ended up moving to an empty pier at the edge of the port and setting up there. After only ten minutes, something bit. Denzel leaned back and reeled in the line as fast as he could before an ugly Feebas jumped out of the water. With barely enough time to spare, he threw a Pokeball at it without even dealing any damage. The Pokeball shook three times, and then stood still.

"That was easy," I said.

"It took a decent amount of planning," Denzel said with a smile as he picked up his Pokeball. "First, the location. Feebas are one of the most resilient water Pokemon out there, and they can live basically in any environment, including polluted water. That meant that my odds were higher in a polluted body of water than anywhere else because other Pokemon would stay away. Next, the lure was also planned. Water type predators tend to stay away from Wishiwashi because when it's threatened, it calls other members of its species and form a huge school of fish that will make even Gyarados think twice. Feebas is a dumb Pokemon, so it didn't think about that at all."

"Wow. And also harsh, but true, I guess. Can I scan it with my Pokedex?" I asked.

Denzel released his Feebas on the pier, who flopped around with a dull look in its eyes.

Feebas, the fish Pokemon. Feebas' fins are ragged and tattered from the start of its life. Because of its shoddy appearance, this Pokémon is largely ignored. It is capable of living in virtually any body of water.

Type: Water


"Aw, even the Pokedex is just roasting it. I feel bad for the little guy," I said as Denzel recalled Feebas.

"Well, it'll take a lot of work to take care of, and it can barely fight better than a Magikarp, but it'll be worth it when he evolves into a Milotic," Denzel said as we walked back to Jubilife.

"Mhm," I agreed as I kept looking at my Pokedex. Suddenly, I stopped in my tracks. "Wait, it evolves into a Milotic? I forgot!"
 
Chapter 21
CHAPTER 21

I ran through the forest as fast as I could, but my legs felt sluggish. Nonresponsive. I ducked under a branch and jumped over a fallen log before slipping and tumbling down for what seemed like minutes. When I stopped, I was on the shore of Lake Verity. Sweat clung to my hands and back as I looked around, trying to decipher where this sinking feeling in my heart came from.

"Found you."

I turned and saw a group of those same criminals standing over me, each more sinister looking than the last. Their heads were distorted, twisted, and mangled. Their eyes were sunken deep into their skulls, and their voices were echoing across the entire area.

"What should we do with her?"

A tall, blue-haired humanoid figure stepped through the crowd, and with a twisted smile, he answered her.

"Kill her."

I scrambled backward, hoping to buy myself some time as I grabbed my Pokeballs. I clicked on the button to release them, but it was stuck. Jammed. The girl who had asked what to do with me released a monstrous Golbat with rows and rows of needle-like teeth. I tried to scream, but no sound escaped my mouth. The Golbat flew toward me and bit—


I woke up in my bed, screaming with tears in my eyes, and it took a few seconds to get my bearings. With a trembling hand, I turned on the light on my bedside table and sat up. I clasped my head with my hands and took a few deep breaths.

"It's not real. It's not real. You're fine," I muttered to myself.

I closed my eyes, and the Golbat appeared in my mind, causing me to flinch.

"Water," I whispered, licking my dry lips.

I tip-toed through my apartment and opened the fridge, basking in the warm, comforting blue light. After a few seconds, I grabbed myself a cup of water and downed it straight away.

Luckily my scream didn't wake anyone up, I thought as I put the cup in the dishwasher. I silently walked back to my bedroom and took off my shirt. I needed a shower, but it was too late to take one, otherwise I'd have to explain to my dad why I was awake at 4 am in the morning. I changed into a tank top and hopped back into my bed. There was no sound but my heartbeat, my breathing, and the city outside of my window.

"Why now?" I asked myself. "I was fine until recently. No, I am fine. Everything's been taken care of. Everything…" I trailed off.

Closing my eyes, I hugged my knees and waited to fall asleep.

——

When I woke up, I felt like I hadn't even slept at all. My eyelids were heavy, and I struggled to keep them open.

"Ugh, I need to change my bedsheets…"

I dragged my feet into the bathroom and met my dad in the hallway. He was already dressed in a suit.

"Morning, kid."

"Hey, dad."

"Ready to leave your poor father alone once again? I'm gonna miss you!"

"You know how hard it was to convince myself to leave. Don't guilt trip me…" I muttered as I entered the bathroom.

It had been five days since we came back to Jubilife, and I had gotten this recurring nightmare every single night. Every time, it ended as the Golbat bit my head off, but the worst part was I could never tell it was a dream, meaning I woke up screaming every night, and always at three or four in the morning. I brushed my teeth, took a shower, and made myself some buttered toast. Denzel wouldn't wake up for another hour or so, and we were going to leave in the afternoon anyway. The goal was to reach the halfway point to the ravaged path before it got dark and set up camp there.

"You look tired. Did you go to sleep late?" Dad asked me.

"No… no, I'm good," I said, turning my head away.

"You know I'm here if you need to talk, right?"

"I said I'm fine," I said, raising my tone. His face grew saddened at my sudden outburst. "Sorry."

"It's alright. Anyway, I'm going to work, so… hug?"

I stood on my toes and hugged dad, trying not to cry. In a way, I felt like I was failing him by not saying anything. I trusted him more than anyone, but at the same time, I felt like it was silly to make him worry for no reason. If the people that had threatened us were still a threat, the League would find out and take care of them, so there was nothing to worry about. The nightmares would stop soon, and things would be back to normal.

"Love you, Grace. Always."

"Mhm. Me too."

"Don't forget to lock the door when you leave. Oh, and make sure you guys don't forget the lunchboxes I made, otherwise I'll have busted my ass cooking those meals for nothing. Love ya! Say bye to Denzel for me!"

I nodded, waiting for him to step into the elevator to get back inside. A feeling of loss began to take hold of me. It was the last time I was seeing my dad probably in almost a year, and yet we had said goodbye so casually. I lazily began to pack my bag while I waited for Denzel to wake up. My somber mood didn't improve whatsoever in the two hours and a half it took him to do so.

"Are you good? You look tense," He asked me.

"Just sad about leaving my dad," I said in half-truth. "It'll pass, don't worry."

How do you do it? I thought. How are you fine after what happened?

We locked up, grabbed dad's homemade food, and quickly made our way onto a bus toward route 204. The ride there was quiet, and I mostly spent it enjoying the last few minutes of internet I was going to get for a while. Unlike the previous routes I'd been on, this route was more of a wide, grassy, open field without any apparent edges. Nothing much of note happened on the first half of the route, apart from a few battles with trainers or weak wild Pokemon. There was this surprising moment when a kid owning an Eevee recognized Denzel and asked for his autograph. I hadn't realized it, but even trainers with only a single badge were somewhat famous and had fans rooting for them. Denzel was giddy the entire rest of the day.

"I still can't believe it. He said I was his role model! Sure, his Eevee was a bit weak, but I gave him a ton of training advice. I hope he'll get his badge," Denzel said happily.

We were at the halfway point, and so we decided to set up camp. It was barely the start of October, but the temperature at night was already dropping below fifteen degrees celsius, a sign of what was to come during winter. Sinnohan winters were extremely brutal, with temperatures in the south of the region reaching down to negative twenty, and Snowpoint city could sometimes get to negative forty degrees Celcius. No trainers with half a brain would ever go there during winter, so Candice— one of the newer gym leaders— often ended up being challenged as a trainer's eighth badge, even if there was no official order. And that wasn't even starting to scratch the surface of the hell that was getting to Snowpoint. You either had to trek through the caves of mount Coronet, which was the area known as the deadliest for trainers, along with Victory Road and Eterna Forest, or you could try your luck and scale it. It was quicker, but deadlier.

Oh, and the best part? Due to how small the town was and how terrible the conditions were, there was no airport, so you had to get through mount Coronet one way or another.

I so wasn't looking forward to that. If I even made it that far in the Circuit, that is.

"...Set him on the right path to learning Double Kick, but he needs to train her endurance up so she can use Quick Attack more."

Luckily, I finished my thoughts right as Denzel finished his spiel. I liked him, but his need to be recognized was not something we shared.

"Can you set up the tents? I'll heat up the food, my legs are killing me."

"Sure, I got you," He said. "Hey, what do you think about working out?"

"Working out? Like going to the gym?" I asked, tilting my head.

"Yeah. People tend to only train their Pokemon, but after seeing Chase, and knowing the things we're going to have to go through in the later routes, building up some endurance and muscle should be a good idea," He explained.

I tapped my chin. "You know, that does make sense. Aw, man, now I'm sad I didn't do any of that in Jubilife."

"Well, a few days wouldn't have made a difference, but there are things you can do in the wild. A nice flat road like this? We could jog our way through tomorrow. Not only is it healthy, but we're also getting to the Ravaged Path faster."

My excitement immediately deflated as soon as he brought up starting our workouts so soon. Imagining it and getting pumped for it was one thing, but actually doing it? That was a whole different story.

"And you can have Togetic improve her flight time too," He added. He had probably noticed my change in demeanor, a sign that after more than a month of traveling together, we were starting to notice our body language quirks.

"Getic!" She said happily.

"You'd agree with anything," I joked at Togetic. "But I guess that's what makes you special," I continued, petting her head. "Let's do it, then."

We agreed, and then I heat up the food with a portable oven and a battery we had bought in Jubilife. Tasting dad's cooking still made me feel like a part of him was still with me, but we'd run out after a few days. Then it'd be back to jerky, granola bars, and fruits. Despite not expecting it to be the case, the lack of food variety was one of the worst parts of traveling in the wild for me. Sure, I could always hunt and cook Pokemon if I was really desperate for food— and a significant amount of trainers did so, but I was vehemently against the practice. Whenever I ate meat, I only ate animals.

Animals, huh? I thought.

We had learned in school that animals used to be way more numerous until Pokemon came into being hundreds of thousands of years ago, and we still don't know where they came from. All we know is that roughly one hundred and fifty thousand years ago, fossil records start showing Pokemon appearing all of the sudden. Animals were quickly hunted close to extinction, and today they're all living in large industrial farms that deliver our food, or in natural reserves with rangers that protect them. Other than insects, I had never seen an animal with my own eyes. The vast majority of people ate animals, mainly because they were cheaper to raise and slaughter. Pokemon could defend themselves and could easily break out of wherever they were held, meaning that virtually every Pokemon a person ate had to be hunted in the wild, except for a few exceptions like Magikarp, which could be raised in fish farms because of how weak they were.

But the main point was that unless you were filthy rich, you weren't going to be eating Pokemon anywhere near a regular basis. I found it to be immoral, and the government seemingly agreed with me, since they kept putting more and more restrictions on using Pokemon as food every few decades.

We finished our food as we talked about the future. Togetic fooled around with Frillish while Eevee snuggled close to Denzel. Budew stood at a distance, looking at us with angry eyes, and Feebas was… well… a Feebas, so he was in his Pokeball. I was starting to wonder if Denzel wasn't letting this planned team of his get in the way of practicality. Tunnel vision was a problem anyone could be the victim of.

We returned our Pokemon except for Eevee and climbed into our sleeping bags. It was getting cold, and soon we'd have to start making fires. I still had that lighter I had bought at the very start of my journey, but gathering firewood would be such a pain.

I gradually fell asleep.

And the nightmares came back.
 
Chapter 22
CHAPTER 22

I woke up our camp with an ear-piercing scream. Tears and snot were running down my face, and my arms shook like leaves in the wind. Whereas Denzel screamed in tandem with me— probably because I had startled him— Eevee rushed to my side and was ready to defend me at a moment's notice. It was a humbling thought, that someone else's Pokemon liked me enough to protect me.

"What the hell was that? Are we under attack?!" Denzel asked as he rushed out of his tent. He was slurring his words, clearly still half asleep.

"No, no… I had a shitty nightmare, I'm sorry," I answered as I pet Eevee's head. "You can go back to sleep."

It was the crack of dawn, and the sun was peeking over the horizon. I took a few deep breaths to calm myself down and exited my sleeping bag. I already knew I wasn't going to fall back asleep, so there was no point trying.

"Oh, alright. Some nightmare that was, huh? Want some water to wash your face?"

"I'm good, I'll just be going for a walk," I said.

"Ok, don't go too far."

I nodded and left. After a few minutes of walking alone, I released Togetic and Frillish. The two floated by my side silently as we silently strolled with no direction in particular. They both knew me well enough to know that something was wrong, and I knew that I would have to come clean eventually. I trusted them, but I just couldn't bring myself to say my problems out loud. Was it because I was scared of appearing weak?

Maybe that played a part in it, but if I was being honest, I already knew they wouldn't care. Hell, Togetic would probably cry for not figuring it out on her own. I believe a part of me was still in denial about even having an issue. That was probably because it had taken so long to manifest itself.

No, that was a lie. The visions were always there. Whenever I closed my eyes, whenever I spaced out for even a second, the Golbat was there. It was always there. But I had been so focused on my gym battle with Roark that I kept pushing these thoughts at the back of my mind.

I crouched and watched the sunrise. Togetic leaned against me, and I felt a sudden burst of happiness. That was when I remembered her Pokedex entry. Togetic could bestow great joy upon a human. Togepi could too, but this one felt much more… fulfilling. I stroked her head and dragged Frillish into a hug.

"I love you guys, I really do. Thank you for being here for me."

"Frillish."

"Toge!"

"And since I love you, I gotta come clean. I'm fucked up. I am so tired, and I can't sleep for more than four hours at a time. I keep having these nightmares—" I choked up and paused for a few seconds. "It's about that time at Lake Verity. You weren't there, Frillish, and I recalled Togetic before anything terrible happened, but… I think I almost died that day. I was saved by the whims of a single man. Sometimes I wonder, what if he had said nothing? What if I meet him again one day and he doesn't spare me? How can life and death be decided by a single being?"

Frillish's face twisted in anger while Togetic broke into a heartbroken cry.

"I don't know how long these nightmares and visions will last, but I have to keep looking forward. I can't let them hold me back," I said. "We need to become stronger. Strong enough to not be threatened by a damn Golbat," I continued, spitting out the Pokemon's name. "I know I've asked this before, but let me do it again for real this time. Togetic, Frillish, will you help me win the Circuit and become Sinnoh's champion?"

I had asked Togepi the same question back in Sandgem, but it felt different now. There was an unexplainable weight to it. It was no longer the simple promise of a naive trainer, but a pact. A mutual understanding between me and my Pokemon.

They both nodded with newfound resolve. I finally felt refreshed, and my wistful mood evaporated. There would still be problems, of course. The nightmares would not simply leave. I was still miles behind the most talented trainers out there, with only a year to catch up, but that only motivated me more. I wanted to push past these problems, and become a stronger person.

This was the first time I fully believed in myself, and I felt like the sky was the limit.

——

"You look better," Denzel said as I approached our camp. "Breakfast?"

"Thought you were going to go back to sleep," I said.

"Yeah, I tried, but then I realized I'd be an ass to do so. I hate mornings, but I'd rather be here for my friend in case she needs it."

"Aw, you're making me blush," I said.

"You're not blushing at all, though," Denzel commented.

"Anyway, I'll gladly have some breakfast, thank you for asking. Then we can go on our run."

While we ate, our Pokemon did the same. I kind of felt bad looking at their food. They were Pokemon pellets with all the nutrients they needed, but I wanted to learn how to make high-quality food for them at some point. Of course, it would be basically impossible to make some in the wild, but it'd be good for whenever we were in cities. After eating and cleaning up camp, I recalled Frillish, and we started to run. After five minutes of jogging, I was already heaving for air and barely feeling my legs. Denzel seemed to be doing way better than I was, only slowing down to make sure I wasn't left behind. Meanwhile, Togetic lazily floated above me, cheering me on with her chirps, and Eevee was adding a few Quick Attacks to his run. After twenty minutes, we stopped, and I collapsed to the ground.

"That… was the worst… thing… I've ever done," I said, taking deep breaths in between each word.

"The bag makes it worse, but like I said, it builds up endurance," Denzel answered as he leaned on his knees.

"I'm going… to die."

"You're being dramatic. Let's do one of these twice a day, every day, what do you say?"

"I… already agreed."

"That's what I like to hear! By the way, good job, you two," He said to our Pokemon.

After a short break, we continued toward the Ravaged Path, reaching the cave at the end of the day. On the way, I battled another four trainers and rolled the floor with them with Togetic's Fairy Wind. We had come a long way with the move. The truth was that we were probably too strong for this area, so not many people would be able to pose a challenge. Most trainers here were training before setting off toward Oreburgh or simply skipping Oreburgh altogether, preferring to go to another gym first, but they all had no gym badges, which was a testament to how fast we were progressing. Denzel was taking a break from battling today, preferring to spectate our battles and keep aggressive wild Pokemon off our backs. After another night spent at the entrance of the cave, we entered bright and early in the morning after another nightmare had woken me up.

"You know, you probably have to see someone for those. Pokemon centers have therapists for trainers," Denzel said.

"Don't worry about it, I'll deal," I said as I peeked my head into the cave's entrance. "This place sure isn't menacing whatsoever," I continued sarcastically.

Despite having gas lights along a path just like Oreburgh gate, the Ravaged Path was nowhere as tidy. The ceiling at the entrance hung low in an oppressive manner and then spread upward until it was impossible to see. The path was also uphill and wet from the water dripping from the ceiling like slow rain, so that was a perfect recipe for slipping and breaking something.

"Well, let's go in then. We should be out in five hours if we follow the lamps, give or take," Denzel said.

"Arceus bless, at least it's shorter than the other cave," I said before releasing Frillish and taking Togetic back into her ball. Having a water type would certainly help out against any aggressive rock types, and I wasn't going to take any chances.

Using the right wall as support, we slowly advanced through the cave. Most of the Pokemon here were the usual suspects: Geodude and Zubat, but there were occasionally Roggenrola, Aron, or even Rolycoly. I scanned the latter because it was the first Pokemon from Galar I ever saw in the wild. I even considered catching it before the rest of its group rolled up behind him and glared at us with their glowing orange eye. Needless to say, we left as fast as we could.

Three hours in, the incline really increased, and we were essentially walking up a thirty-five degree hill. Blood pumped through my legs as I heaved myself and everything I carried with me.

"How much longer is this incline? I'm dying here," I complained.

"I don't know, all the trainer tip map said was to follow the lights. There was nothing written about this."

"Well, fuck. Can we take a break?" I asked.

"Sure. I think Eevee wants some water anyway."

I sat on the ground facing downward as Denzel poured some bottled water into Eevee's bowl. Due to the nature of the terrain, he had to hold it up with his hand to prevent it from spilling. After a few minutes, we heard a scream reverberate through the cave.

"What was that? A Pokemon?" Denzel asked with a hint of panic.

"No… no, that was a trainer!"

We quickly got up and ran. The pain in my legs seemed like much less of a problem when I thought about the possibility of a lone trainer being in danger. As we rushed through the cave, the screams got closer and closer and were starting to become decipherable. It was someone asking for help. The incline slowly became gentler and gentler, and we finally found out the origin of the scream. A trainer's Wooper was continuously throwing out Water Guns at a swarm of Zubats surrounding the trainer. The Zubats screeched in his ears and bit into his arms, legs, through his clothes. He furiously flailed, trying to swat away the pests with his hands, but it wasn't working.

Acting on instinct, I released Togetic.

"Togetic, help that trainer! Fairy Wind!"

Her control of the move had improved leaps and bounds, and the pink mist split right before hitting the trainer, knocking the Zubat out of the way. They all turned their collective attention to me and swooped toward us.

"Eevee, keep them off of Grace!" Denzel yelled.

"Frillish, Bubblebeam the ones you can hit. Avoid that trainer!"

The Zubat swarm rushed toward us, but Togetic kept up her Fairy Wind, preventing them from reaching us. The stronger, larger ones did, however, but they were met by Frillish's Bubblebeam and Eevee's jumping Quick Attacks. After a minute or so, they were all either unconscious or had fled.

"Good job, everyone," I said as I felt the adrenaline evaporate from my body. With a trembling hand, I retrieved Togetic.

We slowly walked toward the sobbing trainer. He was crouching and bleeding from everywhere, while his Wooper was looking at him worriedly.

"Shit, man, we need to get you out of here. Can you walk?" Denzel asked.

I squatted down in front of him. "Hey, what's your name?"

"M—my Starly! My Starly's gone," He sobbed.

My heart dropped. Just from his tone, I could tell what he meant. "What… what happened?"

The trainer slowly raised his hand and pointed toward a dark corner of the cave. I squinted, trying to get a better look—

I stopped breathing.

I stopped moving.

I stopped thinking.

At the edge of the cave, hung high in the ceiling, A Golbat was feasting on a mangled Starly's corpse. Feathers and… chunks of Starly fell to the ground as the Pokemon savaged the poor bird's body. After it was done, it licked its bloodied fangs with its snaky, purple tongue, and then flew away with a wicked laugh.

I collapsed on my knees.
 
Chapter 23
CHAPTER 23

"ce… Grace! Grace!"

I snapped out of my stupor and stared sluggishly around the cave. I blinked, noticing that my eyes were extremely dry. Denzel was shaking my shoulder, calling out my name while Frillish and Eevee looked over with worried gazes. I swallowed.

"I'm fine, that was just… wow," I muttered.

"Are you hurt? Did you get hit by a Zubat?" My friend asked.

"That Golbat… that Golbat isn't supposed to be here isn't it? It's too strong to be in this cave," I rambled. "What is a Golbat doing here? What are the Rangers doing…"

"Right now we need to get Jacob out of here. And ourselves too. There could be more Golbat around here," He said, glancing behind his shoulder.

"Jacob?"

"That's his name," Denzel said, pointing at the trainer who had lost his Starly. He was on the ground just like me, still crying and muttering to himself.

With a weak nod, I slowly stood up and took a breath. Denzel grabbed Jacob's arm and dragged him up.

"No, no! My Starly!"

"It's dead… we can't do anything about it," Denzel said.

"I—I want to bury it. I live in Floaroma. The flower fields will be great for him to rest."

We approached the Starly's corpse and lurched, covering my mouth to stop myself from puking. The bird was unrecognizable. He had missing feathers, bones protruding through his bloody corpse and his body was horribly deformed. Jacob held out his Pokeball with his head hung low and returned his companion.

"Sorry. I'm so sorry." He cried. "If o—only I hadn't t—tried to catch that Golbat, you would still be alive."

We stayed silent and allowed him to grieve for a few more minutes before we left. An hour later, we were back outside on route 204. In the distance, we could see Jubilife city in a blue hue because of Earth's atmosphere. We could also see all of the first half of route 204, which was a magnificent sight. Unfortunately, the mood was somber, and we spent no time looking at the view. Jacob was opening up more and more to us now, and he was venting, cursing himself for being so stupid.

"I was just training Wooper in the caves until I saw that fucking Golbat," He spat. "And I'm so fucking dumb, I figured I could catch it because the Pokemon here are usually weak, and then I would use it to beat Gardenia. I was fucking wrong, like always."

Denzel and I mostly just nodded or gave him grunts of approval when he finished saying something. I personally just didn't want to say something rude— it was hard to know what was insensitive or not around a trainer who had just lost a Pokemon. If I told him that he shouldn't ever underestimate evolved Pokemon, would he nod and agree, or would he blow up at me? There was no way to know, and so I stayed silent. Denzel probably thought the same thing, and Jacob didn't seem to mind at all. He probably just wanted anyone to listen.

"I always fucking slip up. Forget to buy potions before leaving to train, or get lost in the Arceus damned woods all the time. Starly was the one who would lead me out…" Jacob trailed off with a sniffle. "He… he was my first Pokemon. He loved me, trusted me, and I failed him because of my own self-confidence issues. Fuck."

I glanced toward Denzel, wondering if this is the path he could have gone on if I hadn't spoken to him after his loss to Chase. He had attacked that group of Budew, and he might have done more senseless things like that. I shuddered when I imagine Eevee, dead and mangled like that Starly was.

"I was shortsighted. No, I still am. I still hate how weak I am, and I thought I'd be able to get a shortcut by catching that Golbat. When I saw that people were getting their first badge already, I started doubting myself."

"But you have months to get all the badges. Hell, even if you fail, you have years of attempts still," Denzel finally said.

"Champion Cynthia did it in a year—"

"You can't compare yourself to Cynthia. It's good to strive forward and have idols or people you want to catch up to, but you have to focus on yourself," I interrupted. Seeing someone compare himself to someone so great was hurting me. "It's too late now, but you can take it as a lesson for the future. Never forget about Starly. Use this tragedy as a lesson."

"I wouldn't forget."

"Good. And Jacob?" I asked.

"Yes?"

"It's good to cry. To let it all out. But the fault doesn't only rest with you. Rangers should have taken care of this, but they didn't."

As we got closer and closer to Floaroma, flowers began to adorn the fields around the route. They came in all colors, stretching for miles, and miles beyond the horizon like an ocean. Jacob stopped and started digging a hole with his hands until I handed him my small spade. He made a hole small enough for a Pokeball, kissed it, and apologized one last time before burying it. Denzel tapped him on the shoulder as he cried. It was another hour until we reached Floaroma, and Jacob kept getting weaker and slower. The town reminded me a lot of Twinleaf— except that there were roads for cars. The buildings were spaced out to let nature grow in between them, and the center of town had a small concentration of buildings along with the Pokecenter. Jacob was immediately taken to the human wing. The main threat was poisoning, and not the Zubat's bites themselves. A few hours later, a nurse came back to us and said he'd have to stay for a few days, but that we could visit whenever we wanted.

Denzel and I checked in our Pokemon that had fought and booked two rooms. Floaroma still had a surprising amount of trainers who were still training— of course, that number was nowhere near Jubilife or Oreburgh. Trainers from here were often dealt with a dilemma during every Circuit: take the long trip to Oreburgh or train in Floaroma until they were confident enough to tackle Eterna Forest. I assumed most of the people who were still here were going to do the latter, and that had also been Jacob's plan until… until his Pokemon died.

After we went to the local Ranger station and warned them about the wild Golbat, I went into my room and collapsed onto my bed. I was too tired to take a shower, but too scared to sleep. Starly's death had been a grim reminder for me that even though Pokemon were incredibly strong, they could still be killed in the wild. It wasn't like trainer battles. There were no rules, no limits, no means a wild Pokemon wouldn't go through to win and feed itself.

"It had to be a Golbat…" I whispered before catching myself.

A trainer had just lost his starter, and all I could think of doing was complain about being scared of Golbat. It hadn't even attacked me. And yet my entire body just shut down as soon as I saw it. I never understood the meaning of fight, flight, or freeze until that very moment, and apparently, I was a freezer. That would be terrible if I ever found another one, but hopefully, Denzel would be able to get me to snap out of it. It's not like we were going to go through more caves anytime soon anyway.

Eterna Forest, though…

It was an area with no traversable roads, and full of wilderness. It was extremely easy to get lost, with very few landmarks to use. The Rangers had set up some checkpoints, which were just signs that basically said 'you're on the right track.' There was an incredible amount of Pokemon living in it, and they were mostly grass or bug types. The forest was one of the most infamous places in Sinnoh because trainers would enter and never come out. Eventually, their corpses were found weeks or months later, having been gnawed to the bone by the wildlife. Honestly, I was more terrified of going through there than in any cave other than Mount Coronet. It was possible we'd spend weeks in there, with no contact with civilization.

But at least there wouldn't be any Golbat.

I stretched on my bed and turned over, looking at the window. Even in the city, the fields of flowers never ended. They swayed in the wind like a single connected being.

"It's beautiful out there," I whispered. "Like a dream."

Not wanting to fall asleep, I finally got up and took a cold shower. The frigid water woke me up, so I changed and quickly went back downstairs after calling my dad and mom to let them know I was safe and sound. Calls with mom had been a bit awkward and uncomfortable ever since she told me she loved me. It was too fast, and I was nowhere near ready to say it back, but she thankfully took the hint and followed my lead when I acted like it never happened.

Denzel was already in the lobby waiting for me when I got there.

"Yo. Want to explore town?" He asked. "Not much to do until we get our Pokemon back."

"Sure, I could use a distraction."

We spent the next two hours browsing different shops. Floaroma was obviously known for its flowers, but they were also famous for the quality of the berries they grew and their net export of clean energy thanks to Valley Windworks. The city wasn't inhabited by many people, but that power plant was absolutely massive, meaning that they could sell energy at a profit to other cities. I bought a few juicy-looking berries for Togetic and Frillish, and we ate in a small casual restaurant in the town center. Soon enough, we took a break and laid down on the flowers.

"You still don't want to talk about it?" He asked me.

"About?"

"About your problem with Golbats," Denzel clarified as he picked a purple flower. He put it in his hair.

"Cute. But no, there's nothing to talk about. I have a phobia of Golbat, so what? Plenty of people are scared of a Pokemon in particular."

"That goes beyond phobia, Grace. You couldn't even function for two minutes."

"You and Frillish were here to protect me, and Togetic would have been too if I hadn't put her back in her ball. It was fine."

"You keep saying that word. Fine. It's like you're trying to convince yourself," He accused me. "I told you Pokemon Centers have therapists, and you didn't even ask about it when we were there. You have huge bags under your eyes because you can't sleep—"

"So what's your point?!" I said, raising my voice. "You think a meeting with a shrink will fix me?"

"—And you're easily irritated because you're tired. You told Jacob it was ok to cry, but have you?"

I flinched, finding his words to cut deeper than I ever thought they would. "I—I cried when we went to the police," I said with a trembling voice.

"You did, but is that enough? You've been bottling up everything, haven't you? Isn't it hard?" He asked in a soft tone.

"I told my Pokemon—"

"But humans are different. You haven't talked to anyone," He continued, touching my shoulder. "Not me, not your dad, your mom, or any medical professionals."

I could feel the dam begin to break. First, there was a single tear, and then a deluge as I cried into my hands. It felt awful, but also liberating in a way, to let myself be weak for a moment. To act with no restraints in front of my friend. I must have cried for a good twenty minutes, drawing stares from strangers, who must have been imagining a very different situation than what was actually going on. I didn't care.

"That felt good, didn't it?" He said, looking at me.

I let out a teary chuckle. "I'm a mess."

"I didn't bring any tissues for you, sorry," Denzel said with a smile. "Are you going to get help now?"

"I will. Sorry for making you worry," I said. "I'll talk to Nurse Joy about it as soon as we get back. But Denzel, I have a question."

My friend looked at me.

"What about you?" I asked worriedly. "Are you ok? Sorry for never bothering to ask."

"I don't know," He breathed out after a pause. "To be honest, I think I'm just better at hiding it. I'll talk to someone too if that helps you get help."

I nodded. "Then let's get back. And hand me a flower, will you? The same one that's in your hair."

And so, a girl with a face that looked like hell and her friend walked back to the Center with matching flowers in their hair.
 
Chapter 24
CHAPTER 24

"Alright, Ms. Pastel, that's one therapy session with one of the Nurse Joys in two days at 6:30 pm. Is that ok with you?"

I looked at the Nurse Joy speaking to me. We were in a secluded room for privacy, but I had almost forgotten that each Pokemon Center had multiple Nurse Joys that worked in shifts to keep the place running twenty-four seven. I was a bit taken aback at how soon the meeting was going to be, but I nodded.

"Sounds good! See you then," She said, picking up a clipboard. She led me out, and I walked back to the lobby.

Nurse Joys were probably the most underappreciated people in the world. They had to not only be proficient in healing all kinds of Pokemon, but they also had to be good at fixing up humans too, both physically and mentally. Denzel had been right, though. It felt good to be finally taking a step forward. Now I just needed to keep walking. I waited for him to come back from the appointment-making area and smiled at him as he walked toward me.

"How'd it go?" Denzel asked.

"We didn't even do anything, it was just set up. I see her in two days, at six-thirty," I said, nodding toward Nurse Joy at the counter, even though it wasn't her I'd be seeing. "You?"

"In two days as well, in the morning," He muttered. "So what now?"

"Well, our Pokemon are still in the Center, so I was thinking of going to see how Jacob's doing," I said.

He grunted in agreement. "I think I'll try to spend some time with Budew and then find a stream or a lake for Feebas. He hasn't been out of the ball in a while."

"Stay safe around Budew," I warned. "She still despises you."

"Oh, I know. She probably won't like me anytime soon, but I'm making inroads. Slow and steady wins the race, as they say."

"Still, be careful. I'm not joking around with this, I don't want you to get hurt."

"I will. I'll drop by later."

We went our separate ways, and I made my way to the human wing of the Pokemon Center. Regular hospitals existed too, but I found them to be cold and unsettling. It was probably all the white and bright lights making me feel nervous every time I stepped foot in one in the past. Meanwhile, Pokemon centers used bright, warm colors that made you feel right at home. I didn't know the reason for the design choice, but I welcomed it with open arms. Stepping out of the elevator on the second floor, I made my way to Jacob's room.

"224… 224… there it is!" I said.

I gently opened the door and saw Jacob in a hospital gown, lying on his bed. He had an IV drip injected in his arm, administering some kind of dark fluid, and his skin was covered in bandages. He turned and met my eyes.

"Jacob," I said with a pause. "How are—" I cut myself off. Of course he was feeling terrible, I was such an idiot. "I came to see you," I finally said.

"I didn't think you'd come," Jacob said. His voice was barely audible.

"Why? Can I sit down?" I asked.

"Be my guest."

I sat down next to his bed.

"And I don't know, we just don't know each other at all. I really thought you'd wash your hands off me as soon as you got me to a Center," He whispered. Now that I looked closer, he was as pale as a sheet of paper.

"I wouldn't do that. Denzel is coming later too," I said. A low-volume television was playing a sitcom in the corner of the room. Something about a talking Meowth going on a journey with a satirical version of Team Rocket, I had seen it a few times. "How bad were your wounds?"

"The bites were fine," He sighed. "Zubat teeth are pretty non-threatening. The poison's the problem. The doctors say it'll take at least two months for me to be back on my feet."

Two months? I thought. But—

"So yeah, no more Circuit for me, I guess. I was honestly thinking of quitting anyway, I can't even think of going out in the wild again after what happened."

"I see," I said. There wasn't much else I could say— it was hard to find the words. I honestly had wanted to help Jacob recover and maybe get him to travel with us, but he was… broken. I didn't want him to give up— he could still try again after he got better. But I also didn't want to disrespect his choice. "Your parents come see you yet?"

"You missed them by a hair, actually. I was going to ask if you somehow found them and told them I was hurt, but they actually got a call from the Center. They were worried sick," Jacob clenched his hands around the bedsheets. "They didn't even ask about Starly."

"You're their son. I understand that you're pissed— I'd be pissed too, but you're their first priority."

Jacob just grunted and turned away from me. I took it as a sign to stop talking and just stayed with him for a while. I figured he'd feel better with someone here. Or maybe I was just annoying him? Either way, we stayed silent until Denzel came to the room. We stayed there for an hour and then left Jacob to rest.

"He's really bad," I said. "He feels… hollow."

"There's nothing we can do about it," Denzel lamented with a sigh. "Let's just hope professionals help him out."

We finally got our teams back, and I immediately released Togetic, who immediately flew to my side, brushing her head against mine. I caressed her neck and smiled.

"Prrrri!" She squealed.

"Hey princess."

Denzel released Eevee, who climbed on his shoulder and licked his ear. They were obviously in a good mood. Walking out of the Pokemon Center, I asked Denzel about a body of water for Frillish, and he said that there was a river on route 205. I decided I'd go there at some point since Valley Windworks was on the way there anyway, and apparently, there were interesting Pokemon next to the plant.

"So how long are we staying here?" I asked Denzel. "I'm thinking a week, give or take?"

"We might want to stay for longer to prepare for Eterna. That place is seriously no joke, I want all of our bases covered."

I nodded. "So how long?"

"Well, we can't be too long, but I want to really try connecting with Budew here. She seems to like the place. All the flowers and the natural air must be doing wonders for her."

"So two weeks?"

"That sounds perfect. We've also been slacking on trainer battles. We're always the ones that get challenged and not the ones that do the challenging. We need to make as much money as we can to stock up on supplies before leaving. We'll probably need bigger bags too."

"Mhm. I'm really nervous about it. The stories that come out of that place…"

Denzel nodded somberly. "But we'll make it."

Just as he finished his sentence, we noticed a group of people crowding around a nondescript building. We decided to give it a look, and as we got closer, I noticed a sign at the edge of the building, obscured by the crowd.

Monthly Floaroma Tournament → Sign up here! Five hundred Pokedollar entry fee.

1st place: Ten thousand Pokedollar and a secret TM.

2nd place: Five thousand Pokedollar

3rd place: Two point five thousand Pokedollars


"Ten thousand Pokedollars for first place? That's as much as we got when we beat Roark!" I said, feeling surprised.

"Tournaments are big money makers for the city, so it makes sense that the prize pool would be high," Denzel said. I could feel the excitement in his voice.

"Want to sign up?" I asked.

"You read my mind," He answered with a grin.

The reason we hadn't seen that many trainers in Floaroma was apparently because they were all signing up for this tournament, because Arceus damn, there were a lot of people. We slowly filtered into the building when I let out a small gasp after seeing a familiar face. Cecilia Obel and her group were also signing up. I straightened my back when they passed us, but she didn't even glimpse at me. I felt foolish for being so nervous around her. Why was I even nervous around her? After pondering for a few minutes, I deduced that it was probably because she was such a good trainer. It was intimidating to recall how she had control over a dragon. If she was in the tournament, I wanted to try my best to fight her. I walked up to the counter with renewed motivation.

I handed in the five hundred pokedollar fee and looked at the rules. They were similar to what the rules had been in Roark's gym, except that we were only allowed to use two Pokemon and no switch-ins. I thanked the stars above for how convenient this was for me, and Denzel explained that it was probably because the Circuit had just started and everyone was so new. Of course, there was also the possibility that someone who had obtained multiple badges last year would sign up, but I assumed they wouldn't bother with such a low-level competition. It was clearly meant for newer trainers.

The tournament was to start tomorrow and take place over a few days on the outskirts of the city, in a place the locals called the meadow, north of town. Apparently, they farmed honey there, and I wouldn't mind trying some. After we signed up, I decided to finally make my way to Valley Windworks. On the way, I stopped by the river and let Frillish follow along while I walked on the shore until we had to change course. Togetic followed me in the air. She was getting more agile with her flying, often doing twirls and spins, and then glancing at me to see my reaction. I praised her every time. She obviously wanted to impress me, and I found that really cute.

Valley Windworks took my breath away. Wind Turbines stretched for miles and miles until they reached the power plant itself. They were honestly bigger than I thought they'd be. To the right, a large mountain range separated Floaroma from the south of the region.

"Wow," I muttered. It was at times like this and when we exited the Ravaged Path that I was overcome with a feeling that was hard to describe. Like I was finally realizing the scale of Sinnoh. I had come a long way since my sheltered life in Jubilife.

I broke into a jog. The path was flat, and I had decided to go on runs twice per day. If I stopped after the first day, I'd be disappointed in myself. Frillish and Togetic followed close behind me. It was easier today because I wasn't carrying my backpack. All I had were a few empty Pokeballs at my hip.

After twenty minutes, I heaved as I leaned against my knees.

"It's easier my ass. I'm still cooked by the end of it," I said, wiping sweat off my brow.

"Ele?"

My head whirred toward the sound behind me. Frillish and Togetic both got in front of me and cried out menacingly. A yellow Pokemon with stripes of black fur and plug-like horns on its head looked at me curiously. It wasn't attacking, so I grabbed my Pokedex and scanned it.

Elekid, the electric pokemon. Elekid stores electricity in its body. If it touches metal and accidentally discharges all its built-up electricity, this Pokémon begins swinging its arms in circles to recharge itself.

Type: Electric

Really?
I thought. The electric pokemon? Ten points for originality, Pokedex.

"What's wrong?" I asked, crouching so I appeared less menacing. "Did you follow me here?"

"Kid! Elekid, kid!"

"Woah, you're talkative," I commented. It was probably peaceful because it was used to humans. Employees at the power plant probably walked or drove by here every day. "Well, unfortunately, I can't understand what you're saying."

"Ele…" The Pokemon crossed his arms and closed his eyes like it was thinking.

I didn't walk all the way up the power plant, obviously. I wouldn't even be allowed to access the inside. There were a lot of electric types hanging about, and I scanned them all with my Pokedex. Shinx, Pichu, Pikachu, Magnemite… they were everywhere. I wondered if the plant had no problems with them stealing their energy.

"Kid!"

I jumped. "You're still here? Man… what do you even want?"

"Elekid!" It exclaimed, pointing at my hip. I glanced down and noticed he was staring at my Pokeballs.

I frowned. "What? You want to join me?" I asked in disbelief. Pokemon willingly joining humans wasn't unheard of, of course, but it was rare and I didn't expect it to happen to me. I stared into Elekid's eyes and wondered what in its life had led it to this point.

I grabbed a Pokeball and stared at it. It's not like I hadn't come here hoping to catch something, but this felt too easy. I captured it and waited until the confirmation 'beep' sound to relax. Togetic and Frillish seemed just as confused as I was. I released Elekid, who screamed with a voice way too loud for its body. I scanned it again with my Pokedex to see its moves, gender, and ability.

Moves: Thundershock, Swift, Thunder Punch, Charge, Leer (click for more information)

Ability: Static (click for more information)


"You're a male, huh? Well, Elekid, welcome to the team, I guess?"
 
Chapter 25
CHAPTER 25

On our way back, Elekid kept trying to pull me toward the power plant with his clumsy little hands, and I kept having to tell him that I wasn't going to go there.

"What do you even want in there? The electricity? I don't want to get in trouble," I told him.

"Elekid! Ele!" He yelled.

"Man… you're a strange one."

Frillish looked at our new member with disdain, while Togetic was trying to make friends in her own strange way. She kept trying to play with Elekid's plug-like horns, looking at them like she was fascinated. It was in these moments that I realized that even though she had evolved, Togetic was still just a baby.

At some point, I ended up having to recall Elekid to his ball because of how adamant he was about getting to the plant. I walked back to the Pokemon Center and gave him to Nurse Joy for a check-up since I had just caught him. Since we had been slacking on our training a little bit, I decided to make Togetic practice her Extrasensory, while Frillish continued to work on Water Pulse. Togetic was slowly working her way up in what she could lift, and I could actually notice the attack now whenever she used it. It was as if an invisible force that distorted the air around it surrounded an object, and after that, she could move it however she pleased. I was confident in her lifting light Pokemon, but heavier ones would be a no go for the tournament. Meanwhile, Frillish had completely mastered Water Pulse. I rewarded him with one of Floaroma's famous berries, but Togetic whined, and I ended up giving her some too. There was no way I could ever resist her sad stare. Hex was trickier. The only way to practice the move was against living beings, so we weren't able to try to learn the move very much. I decided to put it on the back burner for now.

I was getting used to spending more and more time with my team out of their Pokeballs, which was honestly a welcomed addition. Denzel already did the same with Eevee, and a lot of trainers simply never recalled their Pokemon unless they were forced to. Plus, seeing as how chill Elekid was around me, I'd probably be able to do the same thing with him. Not only would it accelerate the pace at which we bonded, but I'd be able to learn his body language— how he thought, moved, and his behavioral cues. When I picked him up from the Center, I hurried back to my room and released him there.

"Hey, it's me again. I wanted to talk to you with my team here," I said.

Elekid crossed his arms and stared right into my eyes.

"I caught you, but I want to make sure you know what you're in for. I'm a trainer participating in the League Circuit. That means that I travel, battle other trainers, and we get stronger together," I explained. I gauged his reaction, expecting him to be confused, but he seemed happy. Excited, even. "We have a little less than a year to get as strong as we can, then we'll compete against the most powerful trainers in the region. Are you fine with joining us?"

Elekid flexed his arms and began rotating them. Sparks of electricity flew in between his horns. "Kid!"

I didn't have to speak Pokemon to realize that was a yes. "Well, now it's truly official. Welcome to the team!" I smiled. "Oh, and we're also traveling with another human friend and his Pokemon, but we can get you introduced later. For now, I'll start training with you to measure your strengths and weaknesses, and I'll also have you observe during tomorrow's tournament— oh, I forgot to even tell you about the tournament!"

I explained everything to Elekid. I wasn't going to have him fight yet, obviously, but it'd still be nice to have him see how trainer battles worked. He was seemingly bummed out about not being able to fight, which surprised me. I was slowly getting a hold of his personality, and he seemed to be hyper all the time, but also a battle junkie. Maybe his life in the wild had made him this way, but it was still peculiar to look at.

Anyway, after finishing our conversation, I took a shower, and we headed outside toward the edge of town. It was annoying to be doing this back and forth between outside and the Pokemon Center all the time, but what could I do? My standards had been ruined by Jubilife's quick public transport.

I rechecked my Pokedex to make sure I hadn't missed any of Elekid's moves. Thundershock and Thunder Punch meant that he'd be useful both at a distance and in close range, which was a boon. Swift was extremely useful as well, being a move that homed in toward your opponent. All in all, I needed to assess what level he was at with those moves until I even thought about teaching him anything else. I directed Togetic to practice her Extrasensory on any object she could find lying about, and I told Frillish to stick with her to make sure she didn't get lost. Her new flying abilities had seemingly made her increasingly likely to just float off somewhere as soon as something grabbed her attention.

"Okay, Elekid, let's do it. use Thundershock in the sky," I started. "Keep it going for as long as you can."

Elekid grunted and began to spin his arms around. Electricity sparked, and then gathered above his head before flying off into the clouds. He kept it going for around eight seconds before tiring out.

"Good job!" I said with a smile. Elekid grunted in between heavy breaths. "Eight seconds… y'know, I should really start taking notes about you guys' progress. I feel like I'd be able to track your growth better with a spreadsheet."

Elekid looked at me like I was speaking gibberish, but he yelled anyway as if he understood. I was glad his movements were so telegraphed. This was nowhere near how hard getting to know Frillish had been. Probably something about ghosts.

I pointed toward a tree. "Can you use Swift on that tree?"

The electric type nodded and aimed his arms forward as stars materialized all around him before flying toward the tree trunk. I approached it to see the damage it had done and noticed that it had created some pretty big scratches. The move was definitely usable in battle, but we'd have to work on it.

"Swift again on the same tree, but aim a bit to the left this time," I said.

I wanted to test the limits of Swift's homing abilities. As it turned out, the only requirement was for the target to be within Elekid's eyesight, and it would always hit. That was truly a powerful asset to have.

"Thunder Punch that same tree," I continued.

Elekid spun one arm, and electricity coated his fist. With a scream, he punched the tree with all of his strength, creating a huge hole in the bark.

"Stand back, I don't want it to fall on you," I told him. Thunder Punch was definitely his strongest attack, and ideas were already forming in my mind about how to maximize its potential. First, I needed to ascertain a few things…

"Can you do it on both fists?" I said, lifting my own fists up as an example. I mimicked a series of punches. "Like that?"

"Kid! Kid!" He said excitedly.

"Show me what you got," I grinned. "No need to hit the tree this time."

He spun his arms around again, and once enough electricity had gathered in his fists, he threw a series of jabs in the air until his fists ran out of energy.

"We definitely need to work on endurance, but that's like, the easiest thing to work on, so don't worry," I said. As it stood, he had the power to battle, but he wouldn't last more than two minutes in a fight— less if he had to use more moves than usual.

"Ele…" He said.

"Disappointed?" I asked. He nodded and hung his head. His body's behavior was so human it was almost unsettling, but that was probably the way it was with bipedal, humanoid-shaped Pokemon. "Aw, don't worry, honey. We'll get you in shape in no time."

Leer was pretty self-explanatory. Elekid would try to intimidate a Pokemon with a scary glare and hope to catch them off-guard, similar to Growl. Those types of moves only worked on weak Pokemon though, and the higher I'd go, the less useful they would be. Charge was just the way Elekid gathered electricity in his body, so he basically used it subconsciously with every attack. However, my mind flashed back to my very first trainer battle. Shinx combined the move Charge with Tackle to create an entirely new move, so maybe I'd be able to do so when Elekid learned something else. Or maybe I'd even be able to create an electric type Swift. For now, though, Elekid's assessment was over.

I looked around, trying to find Togetic and Frillish. They were hanging out high in the sky, looking at something I couldn't see. If I remembered correctly, that direction was north of Floaroma, which was… Eterna Forest.

"Guys! We're done here, come down!" I yelled. Togetic gently floated downward while Frillish just deactivated his levitation and stopped himself with Water Sport, similarly to our battle with Roark. He seemed to enjoy that little trick. "Togetic, I thought I told you to practice your Extrasensory…" I said, putting my hands on my hips. She avoided my gaze and hid behind Frillish, who proceeded to get out of the way. "I know flying is fun, but you can't slack off, alright?" I told her. "Don't look at me like that, I'm not mad! Have I ever gotten mad at you?"

Togetic shook her head. She chirped, and then her eyes turned blue as she tore a branch off of a nearby tree before dropping it in front of me.

"Is that for me?" I asked as I bent down to pick it up. "You're sweet! Let's get back to the Center and see if we can meet Denzel. I'll call him."

We ended up meeting him back at the Center thirty minutes later, where he walked in followed closely by Eevee and Budew. The little plant waddled next to Eevee, and was seemingly ok with the situation, although she still had that permanent scowl on her face. I would have called her cute if she hadn't tried to kill me.

"Wow, who's that?" Denzel asked, looking at Elekid. The Pokemon put his arms up and yelled out his name, introducing himself.

"New member of my team. I caught him earlier today near the power plant at Valley Windworks, and he's fitting like a glove already," I said, patting him on the back. I felt a small shock run up my arm and jolted. "Ow, ow, ok, let's not do that again."

Elekid laughed loudly, eliciting some stares.

"Anyway, what about… well…" I trailed off, realizing it'd be rude to just talk about Budew like she wasn't there.

"Oh, Budew still hates me, but she's taken a liking to Eevee. Progress is progress, right?" Denzel said, bending down toward the big Budew. She released spores at him, making him cough and fan the air in front of his face.

I just about screamed for Nurse Joy before he stopped me. "Don't worry, they're nonlethal, I've already had this incident before, and I checked with a doctor. It's just something that she does if I'm being annoying."

"How extreme," I said, side-eyeing the grass type. "How will you deal with the tournament? You still can't battle with her, right?"

"Bud!" Budew screeched.

"What in the world does that mean?" I said in a cautious tone.

"She's saying no, obviously. And I'll just use Eevee. If he loses, I'll forfeit. I know I'll be at a disadvantage, but the majority of participants probably won't have a badge, so I'm hoping to at least get the third place money."

"It'd be fun if we fought again. It's been a while," I said.

"True, it has been. Looking forward to seeing you out there, Grace. I'll make sure to turn our score into a 2-0."

"Be cocky while you still can, I'll make you eat your words," I joked.

I recalled my Pokemon and Denzel did the same while we went to eat in a restaurant. It was an early dinner, but the food was excellent, and all plant-based.

"I'm surprised you caught an Elekid," Denzel said before taking a sip of water.

"Why?" I asked.

"Well, because they're one of the few Pokemon that we don't know how to evolve, right? Well, Electabuzz, I mean. The only trainer that has an Electrivire in Sinnoh is Volkner, and I doubt he'll ever spill."

"Well, obviously I know that," I said. "But when I looked into his eyes when he asked to come with me, I couldn't refuse. We'll make it work," I said confidently.

Even with today's knowledge, some Pokemon evolutions were unknown to the public. Electabuzz, Magmar, Dusclops, and Haunter were all examples I could come up with at the top of my head, but there were more. Only a few trainers owned their evolved forms, and they hogged the knowledge like gold.

After digesting dinner, we went for a run. I had Elekid with me and Denzel had Eevee. Elekid was actually surprisingly fast, which was something I hadn't expected with his two little legs. He was faster than me and Denzel, but the problem was he tired extremely easily, which is why I had him on this run in the first place.

That night, I fidgeted in my bed until sleep finally claimed me, but of course, the nightmares came back.
 

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