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nokyo-chan
October 1st, 2009, 10:19 AM
Chapter Links
Chapter One (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=5188505&postcount=4)
Chapter Two (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=5212517&postcount=6)
Chapter Three (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=5222219&postcount=9)
Chapter Four (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=5248240&postcount=11)
Chapter Five (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=5256636&postcount=15)
Chapter Six (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=5269633&postcount=18)
Chapter Seven (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=5289881&postcount=21)
Chapter Eight (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=5308482&postcount=24)
Chapter Nine (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=5344351&postcount=29)
Chapter Ten (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=5363068&postcount=31)
Chapter Eleven (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=5386169&postcount=36)
Chapter Twelve (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=5399354&postcount=39)
Chapter Thirteen (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=5399366&postcount=40)
Chapter Fourteen (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=5467648&postcount=41)
Chapter Fifteen (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=5485171&postcount=44)
Chapter Sixteen (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=5485179&postcount=45)
Chapter Seventeen (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=5506040&postcount=48)
Chapter Eighteen (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=5525477&postcount=53)
Chapter Nineteen (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=5525498&postcount=54)
Chapter Twenty (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=5562510&postcount=60)
Chapter Twenty-One (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=5594781&postcount=61)
Chapter Twenty-Two (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=5594788&postcount=62)
Chapter Twenty-Three (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=5695646&postcount=65)
Chapter Twenty-Four (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=5735055&postcount=69)
Chapter Twenty-Five (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=5760756&postcount=72)
Chapter Twenty-Six (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=5857048&postcount=73)
Chapter Twenty-Seven (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=5857066&postcount=74)
Chapter Twenty-Eight (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=5920663&postcount=75)
Chapter Twenty-Nine (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=5983388&postcount=76)
Chapter Thirty (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=6054964&postcount=77)
Chapter Thirty-One (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=6102562&postcount=78)
Chapter Thirty-Two (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=6136595&postcount=79)
Chapter Thirty-Three (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=6241770&postcount=80)
Chapter Thirty-Four (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=6268451&postcount=81)
Chapter Thirty-Five (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=6301643&postcount=84)
Chapter Thirty-Six (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=6405361&postcount=87)
Chapter Thirty-Seven (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=6476157&postcount=88)
Chapter Thirty-Eight (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=6476185&postcount=89)
Chapter Thirty-Nine (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=6515905&postcount=90)
Chapter Forty (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=6515921&postcount=91)
Chapter Forty-One (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=6527326&postcount=94)
Chapter Forty-Two (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showthread.php?p=6546570#post6546570)
Chapter Forty-Three (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=6546587&postcount=96)
Chapter Forty-Four (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=6562119&postcount=97)
Chapter Forty-Five (http://www.pokecommunity.com/showpost.php?p=6680539&postcount=98)

Status: Ongoing -_-

Basic Plot:
This is a story about friendship. Three girls, different as can be and living in three different regions, set off on their separate adventures. Along the way, they discover the darker, not-so-happy side of the Pokemon world...but it has its parodic moments. XD

Prologue:
The SS Anne cruised through the ocean, flashing in the sun. The on-deck pool was a bit crowded, but this was mostly because of the sunbathers lounging on the chairs around it. Fashionable sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats were common.

A nine-year-old girl (without sunglasses or a wide-brimmed-hat) stood impatiently by her mother’s chair, staring down at her face. She wore a one-piece bathing suit and had her light green-blue hair in two rather unkempt ponytails on each side of her head.

“Momma, please watch me so I can swim?”

“Why don’t you go in the kiddie pool?” Her mother gestured towards it without looking up. The girl scoffed.

“There are kids in the kiddie pool.”

“Aren’t you a kid?”

“I’m nine. Those kids are little.”

The woman sighed. “Alyssa. Go.”

Alyssa turned and stalked toward the kiddie pool.

A similar scene was happening further down, this time with a girl with honey-colored, shoulder-length hair and bright blue eyes. She wore a frilly two-piece bathing suit that she herself had picked out and clutched a pink towel to her chest. “Mother, I really would like to swim.”

“Go to the wade pool, darling,” the woman replied, adjusting her wide-brimmed hat.

“But those children are younger than I am! Much younger!”

“Cassandra, do as I tell you.”

And just like Alyssa, Cassandra turned and weaved her way toward the pool. Unbeknownst to both of them, a third girl was going through the exact same situation. She, too, wore a two-piece. It had a red top and white bottom, making her resemble a Poké Ball. Her black hair was long and reached her waist, and she also desperately wanted to swim. She, however, got the same command as her two fellows.

“Belle, go to the kiddie pool.”

And so Belle, Cassandra, and Alyssa arrived at the kiddie pool at the exact same time that fateful day, different as could be, with only a few things in common.

They stared at each other, each of them dumbfounded at actually finding someone their age. Alyssa spoke first, stepping in between them and sitting down on the edge of the pool as she did so. “My name is Alyssa,” she said, thrusting her legs knee-deep in the cool water.

“I’m Cassandra.” She sat down beside her.

“Belle.” She lowered herself down on Alyssa’s other side. “Me and my parents are from Cherrygrove City. Where are you guys from?”

Both Alyssa and Cassandra stared blankly at Belle. “Cherrygrove City?” Cassandra asked, leaning forward and tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “Where’s that?”

Belle cocked her head. “Well, where do you guys live?”

Cassandra sighed daintily and flipped her hair over her shoulder. “I live in the most beautiful town in the world…Verdanturf! Oh, every day I see the Contest building! Every day I wish that I could compete!” She sighed again and looked over at Belle and Alyssa, smiling broadly. Her smile faltered when she realized that they had no idea what she was talking about.

“Verdanturf?” Alyssa asked. Then she snapped her fingers. “Oh, we’re all from different regions!”

“Oh,” Cassandra and Belle said in unison.

“I’m from Johto,” Belle said.

“And I’m from Hoenn,” Cassandra piped up.

“I’m from Almia,” Alyssa told them. “I’m from a place called Chicole Village. Well, right now I’m going to the Ranger School. I want to be a Pokémon Ranger when I grow up! What about you guys?”

“I would like to be a Pokémon Coordinator,” Cassandra said, raising her arms toward the sky happily.

Belle pushed her dark hair off her neck. “I want to be a Pokémon Trainer.”

And at the end of the day, they were all very best friends.

Elite Overlord LeSabre™
October 2nd, 2009, 12:57 AM
Well, this could turn out to be quite interesting. The fact that your protagonists are all girls initially caught my interest, and with them being from different backgrounds and with different aspirations, I think I'll enjoy seeing how you weave their trials and tribulations together in one story.

One thing I will note about your description of the girls... it doesn't flow and seems tacked on.
A similar scene was happening further down, this time with a girl with honey-colored, shoulder-length hair and bright blue eyes. She wore a frilly two-piece bathing suit that she herself had picked out and clutched a pink towel to her chest. “Mother, I really would like to swim.”
Try making it flow better with the action and what they're doing, like this example of DOOM XD:
A similar scene was happening further down with another girl. Twirling her honey-colored, shoulder-length hair between her fingers, she glanced down at her frilly two-piece bathing suit as she clutched a pink towel to her chest. Looking up at the woman next to her with bright blue eyes, she said, “Mother, I really would like to swim.”

It's just a little change, but it helps greatly with the overall flow of the story.

Anyway, it's hard nowadays for anyone to convince me to read a new fic, but there was a certain something that drew me to yours, and I look forward to the next chapter :)

nokyo-chan
October 5th, 2009, 10:24 AM
Thank you very much for reading my story XD. I don't have a lot of time to change my story right now (college is a you-know what), but I will look into changing that later...I took another look at it, and you're right, it does kind of interrupt the flow.

nokyo-chan
October 5th, 2009, 10:30 AM
Chapter One
The sun shone down brightly, casting light over the three people standing at the dock in New Bark Town. A ferry glinted in the distance, and all three peoples’ eyes were on it. They were a mother and her two children, a sixteen-year-old daughter and an eight-year-old son. The mother grasped her son’s hand firmly, her eyes watching the ferry with growing dread. She had raven-colored hair that tumbled in soft ringlets down her shoulders. Her lips were plump and red, and her skin was fair. She was beautiful, but her age showed in the lines around her eyes and mouth, made as much from worrying as they were from laughing. The son had dark hair as well, and he also watched the ferry with a bit of dread. He would miss his sister.

The sister in question stood as far up as possible on the dock without falling off the edge. Both her hands gripped the straps of her backpack tightly, and her blue cap shaded her eyes from the sun as she eagerly watched for the ferry. She wore dark khaki shorts and a blue T-shirt with a Poké Ball printed across her chest. Her hair was just as dark as her mother’s, but the ends bobbed around her chin as she stood on tiptoe and shifted her weight to see the ferry.

“Belle,” the mother called. “Could you please come back here with us?”

“Aw, Mom!” But Belle turned and dutifully walked back to stand with her mother and little brother.

The boy said nothing. He didn’t even complain that he was being made to hold his mother’s hand, or that she was squeezing too tight. He didn’t trust himself to talk; he was blinking back tears already. His sister was leaving on her Pokémon Journey…what was he to do?

“It’s getting closer!” Belle said excitedly, turning to look at the ferry again. She bounced on the balls of her feet, making her newly-shortened hair wiggle.

“I don’t know why you had to cut your hair,” Belle’s mother said sadly, reaching out to touch the back of her daughter’s bouncing head. Belle jerked away quickly.

“You can’t have long hair on a Pokémon Journey, Mom.” Her tone was dismissive. She glanced down at her little brother, who had finally torn his eyes away from the quickly-approaching ferry and was staring instead at his feet. “Hey, Derek. You okay?”

He looked up at her and met her eyes. Just like always, it startled Belle to look at them—they were the same crisp blue color as their father’s. Belle had gotten her mother’s dark brown eyes. He was like a little piece of her father, who had died in the Sinnoh region not long after Derek was born. Derek had never met him.

“Couldn’t you start your journey in Johto?” Belle’s mother asked, not giving Derek enough time to answer his sister.

“No. I wanted to start in Kanto because…well…Dad started there.” She lowered her eyes to Derek’s again, but he was looking at the ground. A strange silence descended upon the trio, broken a few minutes later by the loud bleat of the ferry’s horn.

“Sweet!” Belle cried, punching the air as she turned to look at the ferry, but her arm slowly lowered as she took it in.

From far away it had looked gleaming white, but up close it seemed dingy, almost gray. The name on the side was illegible. A tired-looking man came out and tied the boat off before standing awkwardly at the back of the ferry, looking in their direction. It bobbed in the water, which now looked more gray than blue—was the boat polluting it? Belle bit her lip and turned back to her family, forcing a smile. She didn’t have to try too hard; even though the boat looked bad, she was about to embark on her Pokémon Journey!

“Well, Mom…this is it. This is good-bye for right now.”

Belle’s mother tore her eyes away from the ferry. “Are you sure you want to ride this…thing? We can pay for a Lapras ride, it’s—”

“The ferry’s already here, Mom. I’ll be fine.”

She sighed heavily and nodded. “As you wish, dear. Just…be careful.” She reached out and hugged Belle tightly, closing her eyes. Belle allowed herself a small snuggle before breaking the hug.

“Derek,” she said, getting down on her knee. “Can I have a hug from you, too?”

Derek plunged his hand into his pocket and pulled something out, which he thrust at her and looked away. Belle took it from him and he put his arm down by his side as she inspected it. It was a small plastic Charizard toy, poised with its wings open and head thrown toward the air as if it were roaring loudly. The paint was chipped in some places from being played with too much. “Your Charizard figurine, Derek?”

“I want you to have it,” he mumbled, the first words he’d spoken all day. “So you won’t forget me.”

Belle almost burst into tears. Charizard was his favorite Pokémon, and this had been his favorite toy. She hadn’t been allowed to touch it until now. “I could never forget you, Derek.”

He fidgeted. “Just in case.”

“I’ll keep it with me always,” Belle assured him, tucking the toy away in a pocket of her backpack. She reached out and pulled him toward her, hugging him. He returned the embrace, and she allowed a few tears to slip onto her little brother’s back. She had tried to be a companion to him. There weren’t a lot of little boys in Cherrygrove, and she had tried so hard to be interested in boyish things with him. She would miss him very much.
Belle finally stood, discreetly brushing away some tears. “Okay…I love you both.” She turned and went to the ferry. The tired man reached out and helped her onto the boat before untying it from the dock and going in the cabin to inform the captain. Belle gripped the rail with one hand and waved with the other. Clouds began to roll in as the boat pulled away, covering the sun as she got further and further away from the dock. Her mother and little brother were reduced to colored specks in the distance before it finally started to rain.

This was not the way she had planned to begin her Pokémon Journey.


Dear Cassandra,
I’m writing to you from the ferry that’s taking me to Kanto. My journey didn’t really get off to a good start. I expected to be standing on the deck of a boat, enjoying a gentle breeze and some sunshine while I talked to other budding Pokémon Trainers, not sitting alone in the rain under a smelly poncho that I borrowed from the not-so-boyish cabin boy. I guess I found out why that ticket I bought was so cheap.
Anyway, hope you’re having more luck starting out than I am!
Love lots,
Belle

Elite Overlord LeSabre™
October 6th, 2009, 04:23 AM
Hmmm... She's nine in the prologue, and sixteen when she first starts out on her journey? Any reason for the long wait, especially when most start training at 10 or 11? (Yeah, I know the character in my fic started at 15, but she has the "brainiac who went to college first" excuse XD) I mean, it's okay if she has a reason to do so, or if policies have changed regarding the minimum training age.

Your use of description is improved in this chapter, which really helped. I liked the heartfelt send-off by her family - much more detailed than the "rush out the door" beginnings I've seen too often. Given this, I ope the mother and brother don't fall off the face of the earth once the journey gets into full gear - I hope Belle remembers to check in with them every now and then (this is advice for later in the story, actually). And you accurately portray the pitfalls of going budget - you get what you pay for, in this case a rickety old boat of questionable safety.

Well, I think I'll end this reply by saying that I liked Belle's starting off. It felt real, with her family worried about her but at the same time wishing her good luck. Even if the conditions aren't the best :P

nokyo-chan
October 12th, 2009, 11:29 AM
Chapter Two
Cassandra’s palms were sweating and she thought she might have a fever.

Not too long ago, Cassandra and her mother had taken the trip down to Littleroot Town to collect her first Pokémon. Her mother had wanted her to import a different type of Starter Pokémon from Kanto, Johto, or Sinnoh (“Oh, dear, why don’t you get a lovely Piplup? You know, I hear Bulbasaur are loyal little things. What’s wrong with a darling little Cyndaquil?”), but she had wanted to start out in her own region. She had chosen Mudkip and named him Finny, and she thought he suited her just fine. He was a friendly little creature. Not too long after that, she had been successful in capturing a Swablu on their way through Rustboro, which she had decided to enter to use as her first Contest Pokémon.

Now she was registering for the Contest in her own town of Verdanturf. She couldn’t say why she was so nervous; it was just registering, after all. But no matter how much she told herself that, she couldn’t help trembling as she stepped up to the desk. The woman looked down at her and smiled warmly.

“Just sign your name under which date you’d like.”

Cassandra picked up the pen and pulled the sheet toward her, looking down the line. There was one in three weeks…but was that too soon? She had been training both Finny and Swablu, but would they be ready in three weeks?

Yes, said the strong, confident part of her brain. They will be ready.

Cassandra shook some more. But what if they’re not?

They will be ready.

Trying to steady her hand, Cassandra signed herself up for the contest in three weeks. Under the column heading “Competing Pokémon”, she wrote down Swablu.

The woman took the sheet back as Cassandra pushed it toward her and looked it over. “Okay…and may I see this Swablu? I have to make a small inspection.”

Should I be worried? Cassandra wondered, pulling Swablu’s Poké Ball out of her purse. She tossed the Ball into the air with a slight flourish; she had been practicing for being a Coordinator since she was small, and this was now a habit. Swablu burst out of it and crowed happily before descending slowly to land on the desk. This was Swablu’s habit, having been practicing this very thing for days on end.

“Very impressive,” the woman at the desk told her. She put a hand on Swablu’s head and touched her wings. After a while of looking her over, she nodded to Cassandra, looking at her full in the face for the first time. “You’re done.” Then she frowned. “Say…aren’t you that girl that lives in the house not far from here? Oh, what’s her name…Joanna’s daughter?”

“Y-yes,” Cassandra replied, speaking for the first time. “I’m Cassandra.”

The woman laughed. “Well, it’s about time I’m seeing you in here! I’ve seen you out in your backyard since you were tiny, practicing your Coordinator moves. I’m glad you’ve taken your first step!”

Cassandra blushed furiously. “Thank you…” She returned Swablu to her Poké Ball and turned to leave.

“Oh—Cassandra!” the woman at the desk called.

Cassandra turned, pushing her hair away from her face. “Y-yes?”

“Your hair is really long. If you keep it that way, it could be your trademark.”

And with a huge, satisfied grin, Cassandra left the Contest building, her thick, waist-length hair swaying with the bounce in her step.


Dear Alyssa,
Isn’t it almost time for you to graduate from Ranger School? Belle and I should make arrangements to come see it! Tell us when it is!

What’s your Partner Pokémon going to be? I know that you don’t really catch and train Pokémon like Belle and I do.

My first Pokémon is Mudkip. I named him Finny. I caught a Swablu! I didn’t name it anything, because soon it will evolve into Altaria, and that’s a pretty enough name. I registered for my first Contest! The lady at the desk told me that my hair could be my trademark. I’m so excited! Finally, my dreams are starting to come true!

Hopefully I’ll get to see you at your graduation!
Love always,
Cassandra

Elite Overlord LeSabre™
October 13th, 2009, 05:09 PM
Hmmm... I thought this chapter was a bit short. Perhaps after registering, a scene with Cassandra expressing her worries with her Pokemon and seeing their reactions would have been nice. You could have had her find a bench outside of the Contest Hall, sit down, release her Pokemon out of their Pokeballs, and have her talk with them a little. It's not much more plot-wise, but it would help develop her character a bit more.

But what you do have is good. You show that the prospect of a first contest is daunting for Cassandra - so much so that even the process of registering three weeks in advance is making her nervous. She's worried that she hasn't got the time to train her Pokemon sufficiently for her debut contest. That gives a realistic side to her character. And that is one of the strengths of your story so far - believable characters with real emotions that makes the whole that much more interesting.

I will be looking forward to the next chapter :)

nokyo-chan
October 14th, 2009, 07:32 AM
Thank you so much. ^_^ The reason for the length of the chapter is that they're actually broken up; I used to have a scene with all three girls in each chapter before I moved on to the next, but the length was getting ridiculous. I had about five chapters, and when I broke them up to give each girl her own chapter, I had fifteen. 0.o I figured the length would be more manageable this way.

nokyo-chan
October 15th, 2009, 08:31 AM
Chapter Three
It was, indeed, almost time for Alyssa to graduate from Ranger School, and she knew it. She stood in her dorm room, hurriedly throwing her hair into its usual ponytail as she grabbed her Styler.

Alyssa was famous. She was at the top of her class. She was pretty. She “captured” Pokémon extremely well with her student Styler. And, above all, she was nice. Alyssa was always willing to lend a helping hand to anyone, and she did so without asking for anything in return. It was just her nature. Everyone knew Alyssa, even though she didn’t know everyone else.

“Alyssa!”

She turned, tightening her ponytail, as one of her roommates came in. Casey had light brown hair that she kept in a bun, with two ringlets falling on either side of her face. She was taller than Alyssa; in fact, she was one of the tallest girls in the school. She was studying to be an Operator, not a Ranger. Her father was a Top Ranger, making her famous as well.

“Yeah?”

“We’ve got to get down to homeroom. They’re briefing us on final exams.”

Alyssa groaned. “Those aren’t till next week!”

“Yeah, but they’re giving us the schedule. I haven’t been home in a really long time,” Casey added a bit sadly as they left the room together. She lived in Pueltown, which was farther away from the Ranger School than Chicole Village was.

“Have you gotten any letters from your dad recently?” Alyssa asked.

“Yeah. He’s in the Fiore region right now.”

“Will he be able to make it to your graduation?”

Casey shrugged. Alyssa found this extremely sad, so she decided not to question it any further. Her father was a farmer and her mother was a homemaker, so there was really no doubt that they would be making it to her graduation. She hadn’t told them that she was at the top of her class, and she had asked the teachers to follow suit. She wanted her parents to be surprised when she got up to make the valedictory address.

As if Casey had been reading her thoughts, she asked, “Have you thought about what you’re going to put into your speech?”

Alyssa shrugged. “I guess something about your dreams coming true, and how you can achieve anything through perseverance.”

“Cool.”

They arrived at their homeroom and entered. Alyssa and Casey sat beside each other. On Alyssa’s other side was Greg, a small, rather geeky-looking kid. He was number two in the class, and because of this, he had never liked her. He had never told her if he wanted to become a Ranger or not, and he had only spoken to her in sharp growls. He deeply resented her for making better grades than he did, and this made her very sad every time she came upon him.

Their homeroom teacher came to the front of the class and began informing them of next week’s testing schedule. Alyssa felt a familiar fluttering sensation in the pit of her stomach. She got this feeling whenever she started thinking about graduating and leaving the Ranger School. It was a mixture of dread, apprehension, and overwhelming excitement, and it always made her fidget in her seat.

The bell rang for first period, and Alyssa left the classroom with a piece of paper outlining the schedule for exams as well as graduation practice on top of her books.


Dear Cassandra,
Do you know how we’re supposed to get up with Belle now that she’s traveling? I’m not sure, and I really want to send her the date of my graduation. It’s not till sometime next month, but still…I really, really want you guys to come! And you need to make plans to stay for more than just a day; at least stay for a week!
It’s really cool that you got a Mudkip and a Swablu. I don’t know what I’m going to get for a Partner Pokémon; I don’t choose, really. It’s not like they make me decide between a Mudkip or a Chimchar or a Bulbasaur, or whatever it is that you guys pick between. It’s whatever Pokémon I meet in the field.

I have to start studying now. I may be really busy for the next two weeks, so I might not get a lot of time to write. Break a leg in your first contest, and if you get any word to Belle, tell her good luck on her journey!

Love you bunches,
Alyssa

 
 

Elite Overlord LeSabre™
October 15th, 2009, 04:23 PM
This chapter was good, but personally I felt that the introductions of the other two girls were done just a bit better. It's hard for me to explain why... it just felt that their intros were more personal. Not that hers was badly done - I like how she wants to keep her achievements a secret and surprise her parents, and her uneasiness around Greg (who I'm thinking will play a fairly big role in the story - but don't spoil it :P ). And her personality, character, actions, and words seem every bit as believable as her friends'. But we don't really get into her head and her personal thoughts like with the other two girls. Of course, we never got any alone time with her, so that may be the reason for this. And that's understandable. She's caught up in talking to her roommate while getting ready for class, and that situation doesn't really allow for too much self-reflection.

I guess I'll close by saying that I'll look forward to getting to know Alyssa better in the coming chapters. As well as getting to see how the three meet up, and where things go from there. I'll be looking forward to it!

nokyo-chan
October 22nd, 2009, 05:34 AM
Chapter Four
Belle hadn’t realized that she got seasick. She gratefully stepped onto the firm, solid ground of Pallet Town with the help of the tired-looking man who served as cabin boy. She had never spoken to him enough to learn his name, and on her whole one-day journey, she had never seen the captain.

“Thanks for the poncho,” she told him.

“No problem,” he replied in his gruff voice. He saluted her briefly and turned back to the boat, walking away to tell the captain to take off. Belle reached into her pocket to make sure she still had the Charizard toy before turning away.

Pallet Town was very small. It was smaller, even, than New Bark Town. The only remarkable thing about it was the huge building on a hill, with pastures extending behind it. From here, they looked to be full of Pokémon, so Belle assumed that this was the Pokémon Lab, and therefore where she needed to go.

She picked her backpack up off the ground and slung it over her shoulder. The sky was still overcast, but at least it wasn’t raining anymore. It was a long walk to the Lab, but she finally came to the door and entered.

People in lab coats where bustling around, making notes on clipboards, talking animatedly, carrying Pokémon and Poké Balls. Bookcases stretched from the floor to the ceiling. Belle walked forward slowly, a bit nervous. Now that she saw all the people, she wasn’t sure if she was supposed to be in here.

“Can I help you?” A busy-looking person caught Belle by her elbow. It was a tall, dark-haired man with glasses. He peered down at her in an accusatory way.

“I…uh…was looking for the professor…I need to get a Starter Pokémon,” Belle tried to explain.

The man narrowed his eyes. “Uh-huh. How about I just show you to the door, and you can call later…”

“Where are you taking that girl?”

The man stopped and looked up. A boy with black hair and an orange headband was standing there, a sketchbook under one arm. He frowned at the man as he walked forward.

“I was just showing her the way out,” the man told him.

“She said she needed to get a Starter Pokémon,” the boy said. “I’ll just take her with me.”

“But—”

“If she needs a Pokémon, she’d better see the professor. I’ll take her to him.”

The man appeared to be gritting his teeth. He relinquished his hold on Belle’s elbow finally and nodded. “Take her, then.” He then turned and bustled off.

“Sorry about that,” the boy said, taking hold of Belle’s other elbow and guiding her through the lab. “The aides get a bit touchy sometimes, him in particular. He seems to think people starting their Pokémon Journeys distract the professor, but it’s part of his job. He’s not very trusting, either. He’s usually under the impression that whoever comes in here wants to steal something.” He smiled and glanced down at her. “My name’s Tracy, by the way.”

“I’m Belle.”

“Belle? It’s nice to meet you.” He took her to a large room. Towering bookshelves lined the walls. In the center of the room was a counter with three Poké Balls, and in the corner was a desk and a computer. Sitting in front of the computer was a gray-haired man in a white lab coat, and beside him was a giant purple blob.

“Professor?” Tracy called. “We’ve got another starter.”

The professor swiveled his chair around and stood up. He had large eyes and thick, bushy eyebrows. He smiled broadly as he walked over, but the giant purple blob suddenly came to life and threw itself upon him, wrapping purple arms around him and making some sort of loud sound.

“No, Muk!” the professor yelled, and he grabbed a Poké Ball that had been lying on the desk. He returned the strange Pokémon to its Ball, which he set down. “So sorry,” he said, panting as he walked toward Belle. “Muk is a tad affectionate. I am Professor Oak! And who are you?”

“I’m Belle,” she replied. This was Professor Oak? He didn’t look anything like she expected. He wasn’t skinny and gangly with big square glasses, not at all like Professor Elm.

“And would you like Squirtle, Bulbasaur, or Charmander?” Oak walked over to the counter and gestured to each of the three Poké Balls in turn. Belle frowned. This was the hardest part.

Which Pokémon did she want? This would probably be the one she would grow closest to, the one she would spend the most time with. Her very first Pokémon…how could she choose?

“I’m not quite sure,” she said, putting her hands in her pockets and dipping her head. Her fingers closed over the Charizard toy in her pocket, and suddenly she thought of Derek. What if she brought home a Charizard? How cool would that be? Derek would be so impressed, and it might even inspire him to go on his own Pokémon Journey. And anyway, Charmander was a really good Pokémon. She looked up and smiled. “Actually, scratch that. I want Charmander, please.”

“Charmander?” Professor Oak nodded and went to the table, picking up a Poké Ball. It opened in his hand and a Charmander appeared in front of him, tail flaming brightly.

“Char!” it cried happily. Upon seeing Belle, it became quiet and cocked its head.

Belle knelt down on the floor. “Hi,” she said to it. “I’m Belle.” How many times was she going to introduce herself today?

The Charmander eyed her for a second before taking a tentative step forward. Belle reached her hand out toward it very slowly. “I’d like you to come with me on an adventure,” she told it. “I’d like you to be my friend.”
It came toward her, and inquisitive look in its eye. “Would you like to come with me? Would you like to be my friend?” She leaned forward ever so slightly, and the Charmander reached out with its tiny little claw and touched her fingertip. She drew in a breath and held it. Silence descended upon everyone in the room, which seemed to consist only of Belle and the Charmander.

And suddenly, the Charmander cried out happily and threw itself at Belle, hugging her. Belle laughed as it toppled her over, and she hugged it back. “You wanna be my friend?” she asked, and it cried out again. Finally it let her up and she sat up, stroking its head lovingly. “Hm…how about I nickname you…Charmy! Do you like that?”

“Char!”

“You do, huh?” She tickled it.

“He seems to like you quite a bit,” Professor Oak said.

“He? Charmy is a he?” Belle asked, scooping the Pokémon into her arms and standing.

“Yes. Is that a problem?”

“No…it’s just good to know.” She tickled Charmy under his chin. “So, the next town is Viridian City, right?”

“Right,” Tracy said. “You’ll want to stop there to rest for a while and buy some Poké Balls.”

“I don’t have enough money for a hotel room,” Belle said uncertainly.

“Trainers are allowed to stay for free at Pokémon Centers,” Professor Oak told her. “You look familiar…do you have any older siblings, by any chance?”

“No, but I have a face like my father’s.” Her stomach lurched. Did Oak perhaps know her father?

“What is your father’s name?” Oak asked her.

“Uh…my father’s name was Daniel,” she told him. “His first Pokémon was a Bulbasaur.” She remembered being five years old and clambering all over the flower on Venosaur’s back.

Oak frowned. “His name was Daniel? Is he…”

Belle took in a deep, shuddering breath. “He died when I was eight. He was continuing his Pokémon Journey in the Sinnoh region, and a bunch of cult freaks killed him in some quest for a better world.”

“I remember him,” Oak said softly, putting his hands behind his back. “He often sent me updates on Venosaur.” He sighed. “I would like to give you, young lady, a Pokédex.”

Belle watched Oak go over to his computer and pick up a red thing that had been lying next to it. “A Pokédex?”

“Yes. It’s an encyclopedia of sorts. It records information on Pokémon. It’s quite useful.”

“It’s kind of a high-tech encyclopedia, then?”

Oak sighed. “I’m so tired of using those words, but yes.” He handed her the red thing. It was rectangular. She placed Charmy on the ground and opened it up, moving it so the little lens on it was fixed on her Charmander.

“Charmander,” it said, startling her. She jumped and almost dropped it; instead, she shut it and tucked it into her backpack.

“Here’s Charmy’s Poké Ball,” Tracy said, handing the Ball to Belle. She took it from him. “Charmy goes inside it.”

“Right. Uh, return, Charmy!” A beam of red light shot from the center of the Ball and enveloped Charmy. Charmy was sucked back into the Ball. Belle blinked. It was strange to be doing this herself; she had seen her father do it so many times.

“Well, good luck on your journey,” Oak told her.

“Thank you,” she replied. “And thanks for the Pokédex. Can I hook it up to my laptop?”

“Yes, if you have a USB cord.”

“Okay. Well, I guess I’ll see you later, then. I can transfer Pokémon I catch here, right?”

“Yes. And I’d love to get them.”

“Cool. Okay, well, I’ll see you guys!”

“I’ll walk you out.” Tracy opened the door for her. He looked over his shoulder at Oak. “That way, a certain aide won’t pick on her.”

Oak sighed. “I really need to have a talk with him.”

Tracy smiled reassuringly at Belle as he led her out of the Lab.


To:dancing_through_life@pokénet.com, [email protected]
From: dingdongbelle@pokénet.com
Subject: How to get in touch!
Hey girly-girls,
From now on, you guys will have to send me e-mails. I’m going to be on the road, so there won’t be a physical address to send any letters to. I’m going to send you guys e-mails too, so CHECK IT OFTEN!!!!! I don’t want to be ignored!
Alyssa, you’re graduating soon, right? I’d better be invited! Also, you REALLY need to ditch the student e-mail address and get your own.
Cassandra, when’s your first Contest? Break a leg! (That’s what artsy people say instead of good luck, right?)
Okay, girlies, I need to go on up to Viridian City, so I’ll write back later.
Love you both,
Belle

Sgt Shock
October 22nd, 2009, 12:28 PM
Good job on the chapter Nokyo. Good pokemon choice with Belle, it fits her rather fiery personality. I still think Cassandra is my favorite, though I kind of like Belle. I for one think that everyone will have a character that they can connect to his this story, creating some sort of link with the reader. At any rate, keep it up, Nokyo-Chan.

Elite Overlord LeSabre™
October 24th, 2009, 06:25 AM
I noticed this:
Venosaur
It's spelled "Venusaur."

Personally, I'm not a big fan of Tracey showing up given my hatred of the anime, but that's personal preference and has nothing to do with the quality of the story.

I do like, strangely enough, the one moody lab employee. Where it's often shown that all lab workers are these friendly, happy people, it's somehow refreshing to see one who isn't coping well with the stress and everything. Again, it adds a touch of realism to the whole setting.

“I don’t have enough money for a hotel room,” Belle said uncertainly.

“Trainers are allowed to stay for free at Pokémon Centers,” Professor Oak told her.
Why is there no love for the major hotel chains in Pokemon fan fiction? Am I the only one who pays due respect to Quality Inn and Sleep Inn in their fic XD?

But on the whole, another enjoyable chapter. It's interesting to read about these three different characters, each with their own distinct personalities, and how each of them has their own quest to embark on. Still too early for me to say who's my favorite, though :)

nokyo-chan
October 24th, 2009, 05:56 PM
Thank you much for correcting my spelling. I was having a major brainfart while writing this chapter and forgot how it was spelled. So thank you!! ^_^

As for Tracy, I actually HATE Tracy. But as this fic is an anime/game hybrid (as will become evident in Cassandra's Contest chapters), I felt the need to pay due homage to the anime. On a side note, the reason I really hated Tracy was because he replaced Brock...and I had the biggest crush on Brock.

And Sgt Shock, thanks much for the review!! I'm glad you like Cassandra. XD

nokyo-chan
October 24th, 2009, 06:23 PM
Chapter Five
Cassandra came downstairs to the kitchen quickly. She paused by the window and looked out; it was barely light outside. Good. She grabbed an apple for herself and some Pokémon food for Finny and Swablu, scribbled down a note for her mother, and went out the front door.

Route 117 was usually full of people training for some elusive triathlon that never seemed to happen, but now it was just Cassandra and her Pokémon. She let Finny and Swablu out of their Poké Balls and settled down in the grass to eat her apple. Swablu had taken to perching atop Cassandra’s head, making her look as if she was wearing a large, fluffy hat. Finny simply cuddled against her leg as he ate.

“We’re going to start training every day around this time,” Cassandra announced to them. “Now, even though I’ve chosen to compete with Swablu, you’ll be training just as hard, Finny. I’m going to act as if I’m competing with both of you.” She looked down at Finny, almost tipping Swablu off her head. “That way, you two will be at the same level.”

Swablu chirruped softly. She had finished her food. Cassandra polished off her apple and checked to make sure that Finny was done before standing up. “Okay, you two. First things first. We’re going to review the way you come out of your Poké Balls. Okay?”

She only spent fifteen minutes on this, seeing as they had already worked very hard on it, before she moved on to actual moves.

“Swablu, Astonish! No, do it gracefully. Gracefully! While your moves need to be strong, they also need to be beautiful!” She ran her fingers through her hair briefly. “Try it again!”

And they did. Swablu did Astonish so many times, it finally chirruped feebly and fluttered to land on a nearby fence. Cassandra sighed. “I’ll work with Finny now, okay? When we get back to you, we’ll use Wing Attack. How does that sound?” She fed Swablu a Poké Block and planted a kiss on its head.

“Go, Finny!” She tossed the Poké Ball into the air. Finny leapt out and did a perfect front-flip before landing gracefully on all fours. “Excellent! Now, use Water Gun!”

It was lunchtime before Cassandra called it quits. She carried Finny home in her arms and let Swablu rest on her head. “You two did very good work today,” she told them. “I’m so proud of you. If we go on at this rate, we’ll blow everyone away at the contest!”

Finny made a happy noise and snuggled into her chest. She giggled and tickled him under his chin. “I love you guys,” she said.

The cook was making lunch in the kitchen when Cassandra came inside. “Hello, Dorothia,” she greeted her.

“Welcome back, Miss Cassandra,” the cook replied. “What were you doing all this time?”

“Training, of course. My first contest is in three weeks!”

“So soon? Didn’t you just sign up yesterday?”

“Dorothia, it is not your place to question my daughter’s motives,” said a voice from the stairwell. Cassandra’s mother, Joanna, descended from the stairs. She wore a lavender dress and a large hat made of white straw with a matching ribbon. “I’m taking Staraptor up to Lilycove to do some shopping. Care to join me, Cassandra?”

“No thank you, Mother,” Cassandra replied through gritted teeth.

“I will be back around suppertime. I promised Nancy I would meet her for lunch, otherwise I’d stay until Dorothia was done cooking. She does make some fairly decent dishes.”

Cassandra tried hard not to say anything. She hated it when her mother talked as though Dorothia wasn’t in the room. Her mother hardly treated Dorothia like a person.

Finny noticed that Cassandra’s body had gone rigid and tense, so he sat up in her arms to find the source. Swablu noticed the change as well.

“I need to train some more,” Cassandra told her mother. “Surely you can understand that?”

Either Joanna ignored the sarcasm dripping in her daughter’s voice or she didn’t hear it at all. She nodded and took her large sunglasses out of her purse. “I’ll just be going, then. Do well, dear.” She turned to leave, but stopped in the doorway and looked over her shoulder. “Cassie dear, why are you wearing those clothes?”

Cassandra looked down. She was wearing a knee-length, pleated pink skirt with white designs tracing up from the hem, and a white peasant blouse to match.

“They’re so…common.” And with that, Joanna swept out the door.

Cassandra moved to the table and allowed Finny to jump out of her arms onto it. She sat down heavily in a chair. Swablu fluttered off her head and perched on the back of the chair next to her.

“I hate it when she calls me Cassie,” Cassandra said. “I’m really sorry about her,” she added to Dorothia, turning in her chair to address her.

“It’s no problem, really, Miss Cassandra.” Dorothia poked something in a frying pan with a spatula. “I’ve been working here for a very long time. I’m used to her. What she says doesn’t affect me anymore.”

“Is Dad coming home for lunch?”

“He has a business lunch to attend, so no,” Dorothia replied.

Cassandra’s father was an executive for the Devon Corporation. He was often away on business, but he adored Cassandra. He sent her souvenirs from wherever he happened to be. Once he went on a business trip to Johto and popped in on Belle. He had taken a picture and sent it to Cassandra enclosed with a letter saying he would be bringing Belle home with him. It made him visibly sad when the company sent him away, but he needed to put food on the table.

“So, it’ll be just me and you, then!” Cassandra smiled.

“And Finny and Swablu,” Dorothia reminded her.

Cassandra patted their heads. “Yeah. As long as Mom’s not here, they can eat at the table.”

And so Cassandra, Dorothia, Finny, and Swablu all had lunch at Cassandra’s large dining room table.


To: dingdongbelle@pokénet.com
From: dancing_through_life@pokénet.com
Subject: My Contest and Pokémon!
Belly-Belle,
My contest is in three weeks, thank you for asking. Yes, break a leg is what us “artsy” people say instead of good luck. And I’m a bit upset with you. If you’re in Kanto already, that must mean that you have your first Pokémon and YOU DIDN’T TELL US WHAT IT WAS!!!!!
…ahem. Please inform your friends of what Pokémon you have. I started out with Mudkip. His name is Finny. I caught a Swablu, and I didn’t nickname her. YOUR TURN!!!
Lovingly angry,
Cassandra

.Missingno
October 24th, 2009, 06:26 PM
*Clap* Very Nice I Am Now Begging the third Chapter I Don't know why i didn't give you Props for this Before because this is very good

Elite Overlord LeSabre™
October 26th, 2009, 01:20 PM
Cute chapter. Yeah, not much happened, but we got a little glimpse into Cassie's (oops, Cassandra's, forgive me XD) family life.

She only spent fifteen minutes on this,

It was lunchtime before Cassandra called it quits.
These seem rather abrupt, as if you're in a rush to skip over these parts. While I can understand not wanting to go into agonizing detail about every bit of the training, I would have liked to seen maybe three or four sentences (a short paragraph) spent on briefly describing the training going on before skipping on to the next phase of training. It adds a bit of depth to the story, and gives readers a feel for how Cassandra conducts training and how well her Pokemon are prepared for the upcoming contest.

Still, I'm liking this so far, and Cassandra may be my "character" becuase she's from a well to do family just like my own fan fiction character. Plus so far she has the best fashion sense out of the three :P

Just work on expanding some of the details a little bit, and you should be just fine. You've got a great start so far, and I'm looking forward to seieng where things go from here :)

nokyo-chan
October 28th, 2009, 01:49 PM
Chapter Six
Alyssa brushed her bangs out of her face as she marked the last answer on her test triumphantly. She gathered all the papers into a pile.
The teacher smiled as Alyssa approached the desk and brought the papers. This was Alyssa’s second final exam, and she only had three more—they had scheduled one for each day. She grabbed her messenger bag as she passed back by her desk and left the room. Greg glanced up at her angrily as she passed his seat, but she smiled rather than let him bother her today.

The atmosphere in the hallway was so much less stifling than that of the classroom; Alyssa breathed deeply, filling her lungs with non-test-room air. She was free for the rest of the day. She knew she should be studying, but instead she went up to her room and changed into her bathing suit. She had an itch to go to the beach.

Alyssa packed a towel into her mother’s old canvas tote bag and slipped on a sundress she never wore. She packed her Styler just in case and headed out, putting on her sunglasses as she went. The sun felt good on her shoulders. The sky stretched above her, amazingly blue, with only light, wispy clouds. It felt so good to be out.

She pointed herself in the direction of Vientown. It wasn’t a long walk to get there, but it was the beach to the west that she was headed for. Her trek took her past the Vientown Ranger Base, and she paused in her walk to look at it. It was a round building; that alone had always attracted her to it, even as a child. She would tug on her father’s hand and point at it as they passed, saying, “Look, Daddy, that one’s shaped like a circle! All the other ones have corners!” Inside were Pokémon Rangers doing good work to help people. She sighed happily.

The door opened and startled her. A Ranger stepped out. He couldn’t have been that much older than her; he had dark brown hair and slightly tanned skin. His Ranger uniform fit him well. He was at least a head taller than she was, and he looked so dashing as he placed a hand on his hip and looked around.

He spotted Alyssa. She blushed furiously, embarrassed, as he walked over and offered her a hand. “Hello. Do you need some assistance?”

“Oh—uh—no,” she said quickly. “I was…just…” But words failed her, and she couldn’t tell him what she was just doing.

“Where are you going?” he asked. God, he was handsome. He smiled, revealing a huge dimple. Alyssa almost swooned; he had such a gentle look in his eyes.

“The beach,” she said finally. “I’m going to the beach.”

“You look awfully familiar,” he told her. He put his fingertips on his chin and tapped them thoughtfully. “Hey, wait…you look about sixteen. Shouldn’t you be at school?”

“I go to the Ranger School. It’s final exam week, and—”

“The Ranger School!” He snapped his fingers. “I graduated last year, so I know all about final exam week. Of course. That hair…” He reached out and pulled the sunglasses off her face. Alyssa stiffened as he did so. “You’re Alyssa Thompson! I didn’t recognize you without the uniform!”

Alyssa blinked in the sunshine. This extremely handsome boy knew her name? She really needed to start paying attention to who knew her. He grinned broadly down at her as she tried to remember him.

“You probably don’t recognize me,” he said. “Last year about this time, I was running to make it to an exam and I dropped my bag, and all my papers went everywhere. Everyone was rushing to their class, but you stopped to help me get all my papers. I’m Ian Walton. I, uh, wore glasses back then.” He put his thumb and index finger together to make a circle and held them up to his face. “And I was a lot shorter.”

And then it clicked. Alyssa remembered handing some papers to a scrawny-looking kid half her size. They did, indeed, have the name Ian scrawled across the top in untidy handwriting. She had thought he was a freshman. “I do remember you…I thought you were a freshman.”

He laughed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah, I was little.”

“Wait—did you say your last name was Walton?”

“Yeah.”

“You wouldn’t happen to have a younger brother, would you?” Alyssa pulled the tote bag off her shoulder and set it on the ground beside her. Walton was Greg’s last name.

“Yeah, I do. Greg. You should know him. He’s always complaining that you’re the top of the class, and he’s only number two.” Ian laughed appreciatively. “I don’t know why he’s so worked up. It’s not like he’s living in my shadow or anything; I wasn’t top of my class, either. I was more into video games than studying, but I had a strange knack with Pokémon. I wanted to be a Ranger so bad. Greg only wants to be a Ranger for the money.” His face darkened. “I guess there’s a few people like that, but…I just wish I could talk him out of it.”

“Greg wants to be a Ranger?” Alyssa shook her head. “I never knew. He seems more like the Operator type.”

Ian laughed. “He does, doesn’t he? Hey, listen…I have some down time right now. Can I walk with you to the beach? We can reminisce about old times that we never shared.”

“Sure!” Alyssa grabbed her tote bag, but Ian beat her to it.

“I’ll get that for you. Oh—here.” He handed her sunglasses back to her, and she smiled as she put them on.

They walked to the beach, talking and laughing. When they arrived, Alyssa spread out her towel and they sat together on the sand.

“It’s really nice seeing you again,” Ian told her.

“It’s nice seeing you too,” she replied. It would be nice to see you anywhere, she thought.

He laughed. “Yeah, but you didn’t have a crush on me for a year.”

Alyssa blinked. “What?”

Ian was blushing, and he leaned back on his hands and looked up at the sky. “Everyone knew about you, Alyssa. You’re smart, really friendly, and very beautiful. People who would start out being jealous of you would end up really liking you. I saw you in the hallway every day, and once I saw you capture a little girl’s runaway Skitty and give it back to her. You smiled at her so comfortingly and acted so surprised and happy when she gave you a hug…” Ian smiled and looked over at her.

Alyssa blushed fiercely and looked down at her ankles. He had called her very beautiful, and that had only been the beginning of his compliments. She remembered that little girl’s Skitty. It hadn’t been especially tough. She had thought no one had known; the little girl had wandered onto the grounds looking for the Skitty, and she would have gotten in trouble if anyone had found out.

“I had a huge crush on you from that moment on,” he said, and then he laughed. “But you never noticed me. I guess that happens. Now I’m a Ranger, and I’m really happy! You’re becoming a Ranger too, right?”

“Of course!” Alyssa replied, happy that the conversation had turned lighter. “I love Pokémon, and I love helping people!”

“Well, hopefully you’ll get stationed in Vientown with me. Usually they try to station people close to their hometowns…where’s yours?”

“Chicole Village.”

“Ah.”

“I have a friend who lives in Pueltown…does that mean she’ll get stationed there?”

“Probably. That’s what they try to do, unless the person requests otherwise.” Ian stretched. “What’s your friend’s na—”

Just then, a Zigzagoon came crashing through the underbrush near Marine Cave and scrambled across the beach, a scared look in its eyes. A rather large Krabby was chasing it, clicking its claws threateningly as it went. Ian leapt to his feet, pulling out his Styler as he went.

The Krabby waved its claws around angrily when it saw Ian step into its path. Alyssa sat up on her knees as the Zigzagoon rushed around to cower behind her, pushing its warm body against her back. It trembled pitifully. She tried to turn around to pet it, but it backed away from her hand. “I don’t want to hurt you,” she told it, but it wouldn’t listen; it whimpered and backed away from her, towards the water. Hoping to calm it down, Alyssa pulled her Styler out of her tote bag and proceeded to use it. She captured Zigzagoon easily, and it cuddled up to her happily as she stroked its head.

“Good work,” Ian said, walking up to her. The Krabby followed behind placidly. “I’m going to go see what upset this Krabby so much. You stay here with that Zigzagoon.”

He turned to walk away and Alyssa crooned over the Zigzagoon until he got back, this time without Krabby. “Apparently Zigzagoon over there accidentally got too close to Krabby’s nest. I saw the tracks. The Krabby got angry and chased it away. How’s it doing?”

“Just fine,” Alyssa replied. “He didn’t mean any harm, did you, Ziggy-pie?” She scratched him lovingly.

“They sure are funny Pokémon,” Ian said, putting his hands in his pockets. “He seems pretty attached to you already.”

“Oh, he’s just grateful.” Alyssa kissed the Pokémon between the ears.

“Yeah, that’s how it starts. The next thing you know, they’re your Partner Pokémon.”

Alyssa looked up at him, astonished. Did he really think that this Zigzagoon would want to be her Partner Pokémon? “Hey…what’s your Partner Pokémon? And where is he?”

“Oh, I have a Prinplup. He’s taking a nap at the base. I met him as a Piplup, all alone and abandoned near Puel Harbor, being terrorized by an Elekid. He started following me around, and the next thing you know…he’s my partner.” Ian shrugged. “It’s that random.” A beeping sound issued from his Styler. “Oh—excuse me, hold on.” He picked it up and examined it before giving a tired sigh. “I’ve got to get back to the base.”

“I’ll walk with you!” Alyssa said brightly, jumping up. She folded up the towel and pushed it down into her bag.

“Oh, but you didn’t even get to swim.”

“It’s okay!” Alyssa threw her bag over her shoulder and leaned down to pet Zigzagoon good-bye. “I have to go back to school now, okay? See you later!” She turned and walked off the beach with Ian. Zigzagoon scurried off into the bushes, but two beady black eyes watched her as she left.


To: dancing_through_life@pokénet.com, dingdongbelle@pokénet.com
From: [email protected]
Subject: SQUEE!!
Oh my God, you guys!!!!!
You know I don’t normally send e-mails to both of you at once, but OMG I have to tell you guys something!!

I MET A TOTAL HOTTIE TODAY!!!!

His name is Ian. I’ve met him before, but he was really scrawny and little then. He’s a Ranger stationed in Vientown, and he graduated LAST YEAR!! And get this…drumroll, please…he said he had a crush on me for a year!! O! M! G! He is sooooo hot, and I don’t mean kinda hot, I mean REALLY hot, like a thousand-white-hot-suns hot. Hopefully I get stationed in Vientown so I can get his crush going again! Ooohhh boy!

Oh, and another small, trivial piece of information that means nothing to you two, I’m sure…my graduation is the second Saturday of next month. That is one week before your contest, Cassandra, so I’m SURE you can make some time to stay for a while. HM? HM?
I’m expecting you two to stay with me for a while, so DON’T DISAPPOINT ME!!

Love your totally obsessed Ian-lover,
Alyssa

P.S. Belle, I think my student email is just fine, thank you. It works, doesn’t it?!?!

 

Elite Overlord LeSabre™
November 2nd, 2009, 08:16 AM
Aww, somebody's got a crush too :) It's kinda surprising how much Ian's looks had changed in a year, and even more surprising how he and that jerk Greg are brothers. I might suggest going into more detail on the capture process... as someone only vaguely familiar with the Ranger series (and more familiar with the Ford Ranger, lol) it would help to visualize what happened with the Zigzagoon and Krabby scene.

But I thought this was a pretty good chapter, and it reminded me of many a romantic anime episode. I'm looking forward to the next chapter! And sorry for the short, late review...

nokyo-chan
November 2nd, 2009, 12:58 PM
Ha, the capture process is so hard to explain because you do it by drawing a circle around the Pokemon. I'm totally unsure as to how to explain that.

Actually, speaking of that, if anyone knows how a ranger actually captures Pokemon, could they tell me so I can stop being all vague in my story?? Thanks! XD

nokyo-chan
November 4th, 2009, 08:01 AM
Chapter Seven
Cassandra swept her hair out of her eyes and placed her hands on her hips, squinting up into the sky. Swablu was going through a difficult series of turns and loops. Since her last week before the contest was going to be spent in Almia with Alyssa, she was working extra hard.

“Good, Swablu!” she cried. “Very graceful!” Swablu chirruped happily and continued its work. It was almost time to start putting her own moves with her Pokémon’s. In the morning, Cassandra worked on their moves. After lunch, she went into the backyard and worked on her moves. It was only fair. She let Finny and Swablu out of their Poké Balls to watch her dance and plan, plan and dance.

“Cassandra!” called a voice. She turned to see her mother astride a Manectric, which Cassandra was quite sure belonged to Dorothia. It was scowling unpleasantly at its task. Cassandra didn’t blame it one bit.

“Yes, Mother?”

“Whatever are you doing out here every morning, Cassandra?”

“I’m training for my contest. It’s in two weeks, Mother.”

“Oh, yes, your contest…don’t be too upset if you don’t win, darling.” Joanna slid off the Manectric. “I’ve seen you dancing, and you’re not that good.”

Cassandra’s hands balled into fists. “Is that all you came for, Mother?”

“No. Dorothia says you got some electronic mail this morning from your Almia friend.” Cassandra gritted her teeth and tried hard not to roll her eyes. Why couldn’t her mother just say e-mail like a normal person? “She says that the girl is graduating from her school, and she wants you to go.”

“Yes, Mother.”

“Do you want to go?” Joanna said this as if Cassandra couldn’t possibly want to go.

“Yes, Mother, I do. She is my friend. I’m very happy that she’s graduating. She’s worked very hard.”

“And how do you plan on going?”

“I was going to ask Dad—I mean, Father, for some spending money, and I was going to borrow Staraptor.”

Joanna scoffed. “Without asking? If you want to go to Almia, darling, you need to get your own transportation there. I am going to need Staraptor that week.”

“I can send him back,” Cassandra said. “I was just going to keep him overnight to rest, and then I was going to send him back.”

“And you would expect him to come and collect you at the end of your stay?” Joanna asked her, placing a hand on her hip.

“Yes. Is that so difficult?” Rage was building up inside Cassandra, so she had to be very careful. She had a tendency of exploding when she got angry.

Joanna opened her mouth to speak, but a great barking sound drowned out whatever it was she was going to say. Cassandra whipped around to find the source of the noise and saw a Poochyena, running wildly from an Illumise and a Volbeat, both of which seemed to be enjoying themselves. The Poochyena, however, looked terrified. The Volbeat charged the Poochyena from behind while the Illumise circled around to the front, swooping down on it. The little dog-like Pokémon froze for a moment before darting off to the side. Illumise used a move; it looked like Leech Life.

“Aren’t Dark-types weak against Bug-types?” Joanna asked nonchalantly.
Cassandra sucked in a breath. It was true; Bug was strong against Dark. Now Volbeat was using Leech Life as well; they both continuously shot the move at the running Poochyena. Finally, the little puppy Pokémon stopped in its tracks and turned, barking angrily. It began to use counter-attacks, but they did little damage if they even hit at all. Still, Poochyena was spunky.

“Cassandra, you may not use Staraptor to visit your friend in Almia. I need it that day. Nancy and I planned a shopping trip in Lilycove.”

“Don’t you ever get tired of squandering your family’s money?” Cassandra snapped angrily, not taking her eyes off the Poochyena. It was growing weaker; just a little while now and it would faint. Joanna’s parents were very rich; they were in the mining business. They lived in a mansion in some obscure part of the Sinnoh region. While Cassandra’s father really raked in the dough as an executive, the majority of the family’s money came from Joanna’s parents.

“Cassandra.”

She gulped. She had gone too far.

“It would serve you well to remember who is the parent around here. Your father is coming home tonight; I will speak to him then.”

Cassandra looked over her shoulder as Joanna mounted the Manectric. It turned and walked back toward Verdanturf Town.

There was a great cry; Cassandra looked back and saw that Poochyena had fainted. The Volbeat and Illumise, however, were not flying away; they continued to use Leech Life on the unconscious Pokémon, giggling in their buggy way. Cassandra’s rage built up again and she ran toward them, not quite thinking things through. “Hey!” she yelled. “Get away from it! Get away!”

The Illumise and Volbeat hovered uncertainly. They watched her for a while as she ran toward them, waving her hands.

And then they attacked.

Volbeat swooped down angrily and caught her in the side of the head, almost knocking her to the ground. Illumise shot Leech Life at her, which she dodged. “Swablu!” Cassandra yelled. “Swablu, help me!”

Swablu came hurtling out of the sky. She crashed her wing into Illumise, making it faint instantly, before turning in a graceful arc toward Volbeat. She used Astonish, making Volbeat flinch, and then used Wing Attack again to finish it off. Cassandra leaned forward, placing her hands on her knees and panting. “Thanks so much, Swablu,” she said. “Do me a favor…can you go grab my bag for me?”

Swablu grabbed the strap of Cassandra’s messenger bag in her mouth and brought it over. Cassandra dug through it to retrieve a Poké Ball, which she used to catch Poochyena. She then turned toward the Volbeat and Illumise. “I suppose I should take them to the Pokémon Center too, huh?”

“Bravo! That was wonderful!”

Cassandra blinked and looked up. The woman from the contest building was running towards her. “That was magnificent! However did you pull that off? Oh, my!”

The woman stopped in front of Cassandra, panting and brushing her hair off her face. “You’re Cassandra, right? Joanna’s daughter? I got here just as you were calling for Swablu; that was magnificent! Oh, my! You certainly have been working hard!”

“Thank you,” Cassandra replied, elated.

“Swablu was a thing of beauty! Powerful and graceful!”

“Thanks so much! Listen, since you’re here, you think you could help me?” She gestured towards the unconscious forms of Volbeat and Illumise.

“Oh—certainly.”

Cassandra lifted Volbeat as the woman picked up Illumise. All the way to the Pokémon Center, she jabbered on about how magnificent and wonderful Swablu had been, which for the first five minutes made Cassandra feel incredibly happy and accomplished; after that, it was very annoying. She was happy to say good-bye to her when she got inside the Pokémon Center.

Nurse Joy came around the counter, frowning. “What happened?”

“Well, I also have a Poochyena with me that’s hurt pretty bad…” Cassandra told Nurse Joy the story as she helped her bring the two wild Bug Pokémon to the back room.

“That’s terrible,” Joy said, arranging Volbeat on a bed. “Yes, just put that Illumise over there—thank you. It sounds as though these two were just bullies. I’ve gotten a lot of hurt Pokémon in here because of these two. It’s good someone finally taught them a lesson. Where’s the Poochyena?”
Cassandra pulled the Poké Ball out and let Poochyena out of it; it appeared on the floor, sprawled out and bleeding slightly. Nurse Joy swooped down on it immediately, picking it up and taking it further back.
“Chansey!” she called. “Chansey, I’m going to need your assistance!”

“How bad is it?” Cassandra asked, tripping after her.

“It’s bad. If you had let it go on much longer, they would have killed this poor Pokémon.”

Killed? Cassandra thought as Nurse Joy laid Poochyena on a special bed.

“I’m terribly sorry, but you’ll need to wait in the lobby. I can’t have you back here.”

Cassandra blinked as Nurse Joy shut the door in her face. She left the back room and went to the lobby, settling in a plastic chair to wait. She was very worried now. Would that poor Poochyena…die? What had been stopping her from rescuing it sooner? What would it have mattered if her mother had gotten even angrier at her? Why didn’t she just interrupt her mother to rescue that poor Pokémon?

Cassandra buried her face in her hands, and Swablu rested comfortingly on her back. If that Pokémon died, it would be her fault.


Dear Alyssa,
I’m sitting in a Pokémon Center right now, waiting for Nurse Joy to say that the Poochyena I rescued is okay. Two Bug Pokémon were bullying it. I caught it and brought it here. I feel just terrible…Nurse Joy said that it’s near death. I can’t believe I didn’t come to its rescue sooner. I was fighting with my mom at the time, and she said that I can’t use Staraptor, that I’ll have to find some other way to get to Almia. But don’t worry! I’ll get to your graduation! I’ll be able to stay with your parents for the week, right? If I can’t, I’ll have to start researching hotels ASAP.
Well, I can’t bear to think about anything other than Poochyena right now, so I’ll finish this letter off. Sorry for all the bad news all at once…
Sorrowfully yours,
Cassandra

 

Elite Overlord LeSabre™
November 7th, 2009, 01:24 AM
Wow, even my mom wasn't as bad as Cassandra's mom... and an interesting bit of drama added for this chapter. Although I do find it a bit hard to believe Leech Life - among the weakest of Bug attacks - would bring a Pokemon close to death, even if it was super effective.

I also think the battle between Swablu and the two bugs could have been drawn out a little. Assuming both were at full strength, I would think it would take at least two or three hits each to take them down. It would have also been a good opportunity to show Swablu in action, gracefully dodging counter-attacks while getting into position to launch its own attacks.

But other than that, I liked the chapter. The quarrel between mother and daughter helped to develop their character and relationship, and the incident with the wild Pokemon now puts a lot of responsibility on Cassandra's shoulders. It's certainly interesting how the character's paths are already starting to develop even in the early stages of their respective adventures.

nokyo-chan
November 10th, 2009, 08:55 AM
...*hides shame about not knowing much about Bug attacks*

Maybe I should go back and look at that chapter.

nokyo-chan
November 10th, 2009, 09:00 AM
Chapter Eight
Belle blinked and reached up to rub her eyes. Charmy lay curled in a ball on her stomach, his tail positioned carefully so it wouldn’t burn her. He was still asleep. Trying not to wake him, Belle shifted until she was in a sitting position and Charmy was slumbering peacefully in her lap.

On her way to Viridian City, Belle had caught a Pidgey, which she had nicknamed Swifter for no good reason. She just liked the sound of the name. Now she sat inside her sleeping bag on a plastic couch in the Viridian City Pokémon Center.

By the looks of the light streaming through the window, it was morning. Belle yawned. She needed to get moving. She had heard that Mankey could be found on the way to Indigo Plateau, and she really needed a type of Pokémon that was strong against Rock Type. But first, she needed a shower.

“Charmy? Charmy…good morning!”

The Charmander sat up and yawned, stretching his tiny little arms. Belle giggled and stroked his head. “I need to go take a shower, okay? I’m putting you in the Poké Ball.”

Charmy nodded, so Belle returned him to the Poké Ball and packed up her sleeping bag, stuffing it into her messenger bag. She pulled out the things she needed for a shower and walked over to the counter.

“Hey, Nurse Joy! Can you watch my stuff for me? I need to use the shower.”

“No problem, Belle.” Nurse Joy took Belle’s bag and put it safely behind the counter. “Are you leaving this morning?”

“Yeah, I suppose so.” Belle had spent two days in Viridian, trying to figure out how she would be getting to Almia. She had it figured out; she would head to Saffron City, take the train to Goldenrod City in Johto, and then borrow her mother’s Skarmory. She had two weeks to get to Almia, so she figured she had time to defeat the Gym Leaders in Pewter City and Cerulean City on her way through.

After her shower, Belle packed everything up, said good-bye to Nurse Joy, stopped in at the PokéMart to buy a few things, and headed off to catch a Mankey, her ball cap tucked over her wet hair. It was a short trek to the area where Mankey had been seen. She found one almost immediately and sent Swifter out to take care of it.

It wasn’t long before Belle tossed a Poké Ball and caught the Mankey, much to its displeasure. She had to try three times before it finally succumbed. With her new Mankey in tow, she made her way to the Viridian Forest.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Half a day!” Belle said, throwing her free hand into the air. “Half a day I spend wandering in that godforsaken forest, and what do I get? A freakin’ bump on the head, that’s what!”

“I’m so sorry!” the boy next to her cried. He kept trying to support her, but she kept waving him away. “I didn’t mean to!”

The boy in question had come bursting unexpectedly out of the bushes near Belle just as she had gotten out of the forest, making her jump back in surprise and trip over Mankey. She had tumbled backwards, but she managed to grab a low-hanging branch and keep herself from falling all the way. Mankey, who had grown attached to her over the trip, had scrambled to help her, but she had just ended up tripping over him again and banging her forehead onto a rock on the ground. Now she had a cut and it was bleeding profusely. The boy had offered her a wad of tissues, which she was now pressing against the cut.

“I really am sorry,” he told her.

“It’s fine, really. Just...go. I’ll be okay.”

“No, I’m going to go with you to the Pokémon Center,” he said, reaching for her elbow. She jerked it out of his grasp. “Let me help you a little!”

“You’ve helped enough. Thanks for the tissues.” Belle increased her speed, walking past him up the path toward Pewter City.

“I won’t accept that.” The boy was beside her again. “I need to make it up to you! Let me get my Squirtle to help you wash your face.”

“No,” she said exasperatedly. “I will wash my face when I get to the Pokémon Center. Just let me go alone!”

“We’re both going to the Pokémon Center,” he pointed out. “I’ll just go with you there. And anyway, it’s getting dark. You shouldn’t be alone.”

“What’s going to happen to me? Is somebody gonna jump out of the bushes and scare me and make me trip and hit my head—oh, but wait! That’s already happened!”

“I’m sorry!”

They carried on in a similar manner until they reached the Pokémon Center, where they entered, still bickering. Nurse Joy looked up from the counter as they entered, but none of the other Trainers paid them any heed. There was a low buzz of conversation around them.

“What happened to you?” Joy asked kindly as they approached the counter, eyeing Belle.

“This idiot jumped out of the bushes and made me fall and hit my head on a rock!”

“I told you, I’m sorry.”

“Why did you jump out of the bushes?”

The boy sighed. “I thought I heard a weird noise and I got spooked, okay?” He looked slightly ashamed.

Joy nodded, but Belle snickered. “Okay, then. You must be Belle,” she added to Belle. “My sister in Viridian called and told me to watch out for you. She was worried about you going through the forest.”

“Well, you can call and tell her that I’ve hit my head.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Well, come to the back and wash your face,” Joy told her, ignoring the boy, “and I’ll take a look at that cut. Chansey! Watch the lobby for me, please.”

Belle followed Joy, pressing the tissues against her forehead. Joy took her to a private bathroom first and allowed her to enter. She actually looked quite gory; a line of dried, caked blood ran from the cut toward the side of her eye and down her cheek, and dried blood surrounded the cut itself as well. It was still bleeding, too. Now that she examined the cut, it wasn’t a cut at all—it was more like a gash, extending diagonally from the center of her left eyebrow to her hairline. At least her bangs could hide it, since it leaned toward her left ear.

When Belle came out, Joy directed her to a seat and the boy drifted after her, holding a tray full of medical supplies. “What are you doing back here?” she snapped at him.

“I need to make this up to you,” he told her.

“That’s going to need stitches,” Joy said. “And he’s quite useful. I have to make Chansey watch the front, after all.”

Belle sighed. “Fine.” As Joy prepped her for stitching, she eyed the boy. He was about her age. He had untidy blonde hair and a slightly pale complexion. Although he had a slight build, Belle could see wiry muscles tracing his upper arm before his short-sleeved shirt blocked her view. “I’m Belle, by the way,” she told him as Joy picked up the needle and special surgical thread.

“Derrick,” he replied.

“How do you spell that? Ow!”

“Uh, D-E-R-R-I-C-K. Why? How do you spell your name?”

Belle rolled her eyes. “B-E-L-L-E, but I was asking because I have a little brother named Derek. He spells it D-E-R-E-K.”

“Oh. I just thought it was your weird way of committing people’s names to memory or something.”

Belle rolled her eyes again. “So how old are you?”

“Sixteen,” Derrick replied. “Just started out. You?”
“I’m sixteen too. I just started.” A few years after her father had started, a law had been passed increasing the age limit to sixteen— this was due to several ten-year-olds lying dead or severely battered by wild Pokémon.

“What Pokémon do you have with you? All I saw was a Mankey.”

“I started out with Charmander, nicknamed Charmy. Other than him, I have Mankey and a Pidgey named Swifter. What about you?”

“I started out with Squirtle, and I have a male Nidoran and a Pikachu.”

“Pikachu? How’d you get one of those?”

“You can find them in the forest.” Derrick looked slightly proud of himself.
“Did you nickname them?”

“No. I’m not so good at nicknames.”

Belle laughed appreciatively. “Hey, it’s really okay about this whole thing.”

“Really? You forgive me?”

“Well, maybe I don’t forgive you, but it’s okay for right now.”

Derrick laughed. “That’s good enough, I guess.”

Belle smiled. Joy finished up the stitches expertly. “Okay, you’re done!”
“Thanks, Nurse Joy.” Belle slid off her seat and stretched. “It’s been a long day. I’m ready for some sleep.”

“You want to get some coffee or something first?” Derrick asked.

“Coffee? Before I sleep?”

“Ice cream, then?”

“Sure, why not. You’re paying.”

“Of course.”


To: [email protected]
From: dingdongbelle@pokénet.com
Subject: I’M COMING I’M COMING I’M COMING!!!
HEY ALYSSAAAAAAAAA!!
First off, congrats about graduating! w00t!! And second off, congrats about meeting the HOTTIE!! I just met a boy today, but he’s more like a pest than a potential boyfriend. He jumped out of the bushes and scared the crap out of me, so I tripped and fell and cut my head on a rock and had to get stitches. My Pokémon Journey is going GREAT!!! Oh yeah, I forgot—I started out with Charmander, nicknamed Charmy, I caught a Pidgey, nicknamed Swifter, and I caught a Mankey. Noooo idea what to nickname the Mankey, so I’m just calling him Mankey. But don’t tell Cassandra yet. I want to tell her myself!
Okay, now down to business—am I going to have a place to stay when I get to Almia? It’s gonna suck REALLY BAD if I get there and I’m all homeless. I know how I’m getting there, so that’s no big deal, but…y’know. I’ll need a place to sleep. Sleep is important. Yosh.
Well, I really need to get to sleep now…I have a big day tomorrow, because I am CHALLENGING MY FIRST GYM!!! That’s right! I’ll send both you and Cassandra an email later telling you how it goes!!!
Excitedly yours,
Belle

Sgt Shock
November 10th, 2009, 10:46 AM
I think Bug Buzz will be a better replacement for Leech Life in Chapter 7, since Bug Buzz is a powerful move, enough to hurt Poocheyena to hospitalization.

^_- Overall, it was a good chapter. I'll review Chapter 8 as soon as I get to it. :D

walasaka
November 12th, 2009, 02:15 PM
I'm really liking it so far, I like the approach you've taken. Can't wait for them all to meet up again - and for their respective journeys to properly begin!

Don't really have any criticism of note, so just take my reply as an encouragement to carry on! :)

Elite Overlord LeSabre™
November 14th, 2009, 12:13 AM
Couple of things...
Belle blinked and reached up to rub her eyes.
"Rub", not "rubbed."

She found one almost immediately and sent Swifter out to take care of it.

It wasn’t long before Belle tossed a Poké Ball and caught the Mankey, much to its displeasure. She had to try three times before it finally succumbed
I would have liked to have seen that battle. Really, though, it feels like you're skipping the battle and leaving out details of the battle - which could have revealed how the Pokemon fight, their general attitude about it, and so on. Not to mention add some excitement.

Final issue: For being a temperamental Pokemon (by nature), Mankey warmed up to Belle pretty quickly.

With all that said, I still liked the chapter.
“What’s going to happen to me? Is somebody gonna jump out of the bushes and scare me and make me trip and hit my head—oh, but wait! That’s already happened!”
I LOLed. I admit it, I did XD

A few years after her father had started, a law had been passed increasing the age limit to sixteen— this was due to several ten-year-olds lying dead or severely battered by wild Pokémon.
Ah, so that's why everyone has to be 16 now. One mystery solved :)

Ah, the random meeting of the annoying character. I never get tired of it:) This Derrick fellow seems like an interesting character, even if his team leaves something to be desired (I'm notorious for my hatred of Pikachu on the forum). I'm not sure if I would want to see him joining Belle permanently, as that would kinda affect the three girls teaming up. But if he shows up (in comedic fashion) every now and then, I wouldn't mind that :)

So, Belle has her first Gym battle next time? I think it'll be interesting to see your style of writing battles, and I'll be looking forward to it. No pressure, though :P

nokyo-chan
November 18th, 2009, 09:33 AM
Thank you everyone for your kind praise!

"Rub", not "rubbed."
THANK YOU SO MUCH. I am usually a huge grammar...perfectionist, to put it nicely. I don't know how that one slipped into the post.

(I'm notorious for my hatred of Pikachu on the forum).
Ha, don't worry. I'm not going to make his team all about "PIKACHU IS SO CUTE OMGYAYPIKACHUYAY!!" (I assume you hate Pikachu because of how overrated it is?)

I'm really liking it so far, I like the approach you've taken.
Thanks so much! XD

I think Bug Buzz will be a better replacement for Leech Life in Chapter 7
Thank you for this advice! I'll be sure to edit Chapter 7 soon!!

nokyo-chan
November 23rd, 2009, 10:45 AM
Chapter Nine
Alyssa rubbed her eyes. She was so sick of studying she didn’t know what to do. She kept reminding herself that there was only one test left, but for some reason that didn’t cheer her up.

The desk lamp cast a glow over her textbook, but the rest of the room was dark. The sounds of Casey’s deep breathing were issuing forth from under the covers, along with the gentle snores of Miranda, one of their other roommates. Casey and Alyssa had bunk beds on one side of the room, while Miranda and Windy had bunk beds on the other side. Alyssa had the top bunk because Casey was afraid of heights. Sure, she may have banged her head into the ceiling once or twice—or a million times—but Casey couldn’t help her phobia.

Alyssa pushed her chair back. She felt suddenly claustrophobic—she wanted to get outside. She grabbed her Styler and her room key before slipping quietly out the door in her nightgown.

The hallways were dark and silent. Her bare feet made no sound on the floor as she passed through the spacious lobby, heading toward the glass entrance doors. Once she had them open she breathed in deeply and happily, stepping out onto the entryway. The night air was chilly; she wrapped her arms around herself as she stepped off the entryway and onto the front path. She didn’t particularly feel like leaving the school grounds; instead, she pointed herself east and walked across the front yard of the school, heading toward a large flight of stairs built into a cliff. She descended it and walked over to where the water flowed gently alongside the cliff, passing by the statue onto which graduates etched their hopes and dreams. A cargo ship had once crashed here, and they had never gotten around to fixing the fence. She settled herself to sit on the edge, dangling her feet out over the water. A breeze played with the ends of her hair.

“What are you doing?”

She started and quickly scrambled to her feet, trying to ready an excuse. Instead of a teacher, however, she saw Ian, looking handsome as ever in his Ranger uniform, hands tucked into his pockets as the moonlight washed over him. A Prinplup stood behind him.

“Oh, Ian…it’s you.” She put a hand on her heart and smiled. “I was afraid it was a teacher or something.” She sat back down the way she had been. “How’d you get in here, anyway?”

Ian lowered himself carefully to sit beside her. He tucked his heels onto some rocks and leaned forward, placing his elbows on his legs and lacing his fingers together, watching his hands. Prinplup wandered around, checking out the nighttime Pokémon that played around the school grounds. “I scaled the wall.”

“Wasn’t that hard?”

He shrugged. He seemed subdued.

“Why did you come here?”

Ian looked up at the stars without moving the rest of his body. “I come here to think.” He dropped his head again. “Everything was so innocent here. I feel like my thoughts are clearer when I’m dealing with them here.”
Alyssa looked over at him. Something was troubling him, all right…but what was it? “What’s wrong?” she asked, concerned.

Silence stretched between them. “Nothing you need to worry about right now.” He bent lower and began removing his shoes. “Shouldn’t you be in bed?”

“Probably. I have my last exam tomorrow. But I just felt so…enclosed in that tiny space of a room. I needed to get out here, where it’s bigger.”

“I know what you mean. What was that?” he snapped, twisting around. Prinplup made a reassuring noise and gestured with its flipper toward a Zigzagoon. Alyssa blinked.

“Wait…Ziggy?” she said incredulously. The Pokémon made a noise of glee and rushed over to her, climbing into her lap and snuggling up. It was the same Zigzagoon she had met on the beach two days ago.

“It’s following you around,” Ian said. “That’s the second step.”

“I can’t make you my Partner Pokémon yet,” Alyssa told it. “You’ll have to wait until I become a full-blown Ranger.”

“It’s asleep.”

Alyssa sighed. Sure enough, the little thing was slumbering peacefully in her lap. She scratched between its ears.

The two sat there for a while longer, a Ranger and a Ranger Student, both looking up at the stars and contemplating their own thoughts. After a while, Alyssa sighed and stood up, scooping Zigzagoon up with her. “I’ve got to get to bed,” she told Ian. “Can you take care of Ziggy for me?” She bent and placed the Pokémon in his lap. Ian gently stroked its head and nodded before looking up at her.

Suddenly Alyssa was very aware that she hadn’t brushed her hair and that she was wearing a nightgown. She crossed her arms and hugged herself.

“Well, hope I’ll see you soon.”

“Are you cold?”

“What? Oh—a little, but it’s no big deal.”

Ian shifted Zigzagoon to the ground beside him and stood up, removing his long-sleeved Ranger jacket and wrapping it instead around her. Most Rangers had short-sleeved jackets. She wondered vaguely why his was different, but mostly she felt ecstatic that he was so close to her and touching her shoulders.

“Feel better?”

“So much,” Alyssa replied softly.

“Good. I wouldn’t want you to be cold.”

“Hm? Oh, right—cold. Yeah. I was cold.” She smiled. “Well, I guess I’ll see you later.”

He nodded. “Right.”

And Alyssa turned and walked off. When she got to her room, she fell asleep using Ian’s jacket as a blanket.


To: dingdongbelle, dancing_through_life
From: thompson_alyssa
Subject: Place to stay!
Hey guys,
I called my parents and they said you can stay there for the week. It’s in two weeks, you guys. I’d better be seeing you! It’s in the morning, remember!
Sorry I can’t have a longer email, but I’ve GOT to study. ONE MORE TEST TO GO!!!
Love,
Alyssa
P.S. Hey Cassandra. I know about Belle’s Pokémon already. XP

Legendarian Mistress
November 24th, 2009, 05:02 PM
Hey nokyo-chan, this is Kyuu-chan. Since SS told me you’ve read my fic but have as yet been unable to review, I thought I’d return the favour. It’s a wonderful story so far. I feel sorry for Cassandra, having seen the Poochyena being attacked by Volbeat and Illumise. Will the wolf-like Dark type end up being one of her partners? If you have a PM List, please add me to it – otherwise, kindly send me either a VM or PM when Chapter 10 is posted. Thanks in advance, and keep up the excellent work.

nokyo-chan
November 30th, 2009, 09:30 AM
Chapter Ten
“I thought you were just going to the Pokémon Center with me.”

“Well, we’re both going to the gym, right? Why not go together?”

“You’re stalking me.”

“I’m not stalking you.”

“Waiting by my sleeping bag for me to wake up? Stalking!”

“You’re overreacting.”

“You’re stalking.”

Belle stomped her feet slightly as she made her way towards the Pewter City Gym, Derrick following close behind. She hadn’t been able to shake him off. He was like a lost little Poochyena or something.

“How are your stitches feeling?”

And it didn’t help that he kept asking her that. “Fine,” she replied. “Absolutely fine. And for the next time you ask? FINE!”

“You don’t have to yell.”

Belle turned off toward the PokéMart, making Derrick turn sharply. “Hey, hey, where are you going?”

“The PokéMart. You’re going to the gym, right? Just go on ahead!”

“Nope. I’m coming with you.”

“Stalker!”

He sighed and refused to reply to anything else she said. He simply followed her around the PokéMart, ignoring her complaints even when she began ordering him to stop following her and go away. Finally they arrived at the Pewter City Gym together. Derrick opened the door for her and gestured for her to go in before he did.

The gym was dark. The only illumination was the small beam of sunlight slashing in through the open door, but this disappeared as Derrick stepped in and allowed the large door to shut behind him, throwing both of them into total darkness.

“Hello?” Belle called uncertainly, her voice more high-pitched than usual. It floated back to her on an echo, squeaky and hardly sounding as if it were hers. Hello? Hello? Hello?

“Who comes to challenge Flint, the Pewter City Gym Leader?”

Several stadium lights flashed on, momentarily dazzling Belle so that she had to lift up her hand to shade her eyes. The gym floor was the color of dirt, and rocks jutted up from it in random locations. Across the floor on a small platform stood Flint, his arms crossed as he glowered out at them both.

“My name is Belle,” Belle said, trying to sound braver than she felt. “I came to fight for my Boulder Badge.”

Flint gestured toward the platform on Belle’s side of the gym. “Step up.”

She did so, feeling incredibly nervous. Derrick went around the floor and sat himself on the bleachers to watch. “Good luck,” he whispered to her as he passed. Suddenly Belle was extremely grateful that he had insisted on following her.

A referee seemed to appear out of nowhere, holding a red flag in one hand and a green flag in the other. “This will be a two-Pokémon match,” he said, his voice booming. “Switching out is permitted between battles only. Gym Leader ready?”

“Yes,” Flint said confidently, pulling a Poké Ball out of his pocket.

“Challenger ready?”

“Yes,” Belle replied. She clutched Mankey’s Poké Ball in both hands.

“Begin!”

“Go, Geodude!” Flint cried, throwing his Ball. Geodude popped out of it, hands balled into tight fists.

“Let’s go, Mankey!” Belle threw the Ball. Mankey leapt out.

“Geodude versus Mankey! Let the battle begin!”

Using a few Fighting-type moves, Mankey defeated Geodude easily. Belle found herself wondering, however, how the Pokémon levitated above the ground. She also realized, as the referee proclaimed Geodude “unable to battle” and Flint withdrew it, that this was the first time she had been in an actual Trainer battle. The thought made her hands tremble.

“Onix!”

“Onix versus Mankey! Let the battle begin!”

“Onix, use Iron Tail!”

Belle came to her senses in enough time to yell, “Dodge it, Mankey! Use Karate Chop!” Mankey leapt onto a nearby rock as the giant rock-snake’s tail came crashing down on the spot in which he had been just moments before. The Pokémon powered itself from the rock and onto Onix’s head, chopping it right between the eyes. “Hang onto its…I dunno…head-spike thingy!” Belle cried. Mankey did as it was told, swinging itself up to stand on it.

“Shake it off, Onix!” Flint yelled.

“Hang on, Mankey! Karate Chop! Again!” Belle balled her hands into fists. She was feeling more confident, and she had worked out a strategy. That Onix was way too big for Mankey to handle on the ground, but if they just concentrated on Onix’s face and head…well, they just might win this. And anyway, Onix was making itself dizzy. This made it that much easier for Mankey to
win.

Onix shook its head as Mankey repeatedly Karate Chopped it, disorienting itself as Mankey rained blows down. Flint seemed to catch on to what was happening. “Onix, stop shaking!”

“Bend your knees and hold on, Mankey! Brace yourself on the spike!” Belle shouted out. “Don’t stop Chopping!” She smirked across at Flint, who looked furious. Mankey had kept is balance on Onix’s head; she knew that Flint had hoped that when the shaking stopped abruptly, Mankey would be dislodged.

Onix was drooping visibly. Belle rubbed her hands together. “Let’s finish it off, Mankey! Seismic Toss!”

“Onix—!” But before Flint could shout a command, Mankey had grabbed Onix’s aptly named “head-spike thingy” and leapt off its head, swinging Onix up above him and in a huge arc before letting go, sending the Pokémon to the ground. Its head crashed into one of the giant rocks jutting up from the craggy gym floor. The rock shattered magnificently and Onix’s body lay crumpled on the ground. Mankey landed heavily nearby, shrieking and waving its arms in the air victoriously.

“Onix is unable to battle!” the referee yelled. “Challenger wins!” He swung the hand holding the red flag up in the air.

Flint returned Onix to its Poké Ball. Belle held her arms out to Mankey, who jumped up onto her platform and allowed her to hug him. Flint walked the distance of the gym floor to Belle. She leapt off the platform and stood before him, holding Mankey still.

“Belle, is it?” he asked her.

“Yes, sir.”

“I’d like to present you with this Boulder Badge. You fought well. Is this your first gym challenge?”

“Actually, sir, it’s my first Trainer Battle.” Belle set Mankey down and took the badge from Flint, admiring it.

“Your first…wow. Belle, I think you really are cut out to be a Trainer.”

Belle looked up at him, eyes wide. “Really?”

“Yes. You fought magnificently, especially for your first Trainer Battle. Keep going with your instincts…they’ll serve you well.”

Belle floated back to the Pokémon Center on a cloud.
________________________________________________________________________

To: dancing_through_life@pokénet.com, [email protected]
From: dingdongbelle@pokénet.com
Subject: My Gym Battle…
____________________________________________________________________________________
Hey, you two.
Yeah, my Gym Battle didn’t go so great…





It went AWESOME!!! I totally got the Boulder Baaaaaadge!! w00t!! And, Flint, the Gym Leader, said that I fought magnificently and that I’m really cut out to be a Trainer. I am SO HAPPY!!
Oh, Cassandra. *ahem* My Pokémon: Charmander (Charmy), Pidgey (Swifter), and Mankey (…Mankey. 0.o). I’m not so great at nicknaming, but whatever!!
Woo, you guys! I cannot wait till I land my mother’s Skarmory in Chicole Village, Almia! THERE’S LESS THAN TWO WEEKS LEFT!!!
Your extremely excited Trainer friend,
Belle XD

Legendarian Mistress
December 4th, 2009, 03:13 PM
For the lack of a better apology, I am sorry. Three nights of not getting a good enough sleep have really exhausted me and when I finished “The Vampire’s Assistant” yesterday evening, I was struggling to keep my eyes open.

That aside, I promised you a review, so review I will. It was an extremely good chapter, but I do have one question. Why is Flint, Brock’s father, the Gym Leader? I was pretty sure that Brock passed on Gym Leader responsibilities to Jiro, his younger brother... Or am I missing something?

Anyway, I’m gonna finish this up, as it is nearly 9PM Friday night, and I’m extremely tired, having run on iron will alone all day. I am looking forward to Chapter 11.

walasaka
December 5th, 2009, 06:08 AM
Why is Flint, Brock’s father, the Gym Leader? I was pretty sure that Brock passed on Gym Leader responsibilities to Jiro, his younger brother... Or am I missing something?


I'm pretty sure I remember watching a Pokemon Chronicles episode where Flint is the gym leader and has to battle Brock's mum. I think she redecorates the gym to be a water one and Brock finds out, getting rather angry.

Also, I'm fairly sure his younger brother dreams of being the new gym leader, but has barely started being a trainer or something.

As far as the last chapter goes, I thought it was a little short, but otherwise I'm in enjoying this. Keep it up !

nokyo-chan
December 6th, 2009, 09:58 AM
Why is Flint, Brock’s father, the Gym Leader? I was pretty sure that Brock passed on Gym Leader responsibilities to Jiro, his younger brother... Or am I missing something?

Well, the last episode of Pokemon I saw dealing with Brock and his gym was in the first season---his father came back to take over the gym, allowing Brock to travel with Ash and Misty. I stopped watching Pokemon recently (I HATE Dawn), so maybe it was I who missed something?

Legendarian Mistress
December 7th, 2009, 05:29 PM
Yeah, maybe. I remember seeing one episode before the Sinnoh series where Ash and Brock joined forces and fought Team Rocket, beat them (naturally) and then Brock handed the responsibility of Gym Leader to Jiro near the end.

nokyo-chan
December 10th, 2009, 10:51 AM
Chapter Eleven
Cassandra lifted her head and wiped a spot of drool from the corner of her mouth. Swablu sat perched on her hair like a giant fuzzy hat, and Finny snored slightly from his place in her lap. At Cassandra’s movement, Swablu sleepily fluttered from her perch and alighted on the arm of the plastic chair.

Cassandra straightened, feeling at least seven places in her back pop as she did so. She had been leaning over to rest her head on her arms on the table beside the chair. It was morning now; she had spent all yesterday in the Pokémon Center, waiting for Poochyena to be okay. Nurse Joy had come out to inform her that the Pokémon was stable, but she wanted to keep it overnight. She had suggested Cassandra go home, but she refused.

Now the sliding glass door of the Center opened and Joanna walked through, Cassandra’s father beside her. Gerald was extremely tall, with dark hair and a well-groomed goatee. Apart from being tall, he was large, sporting broad shoulders and chest. He was also very muscular, but you couldn’t see them beneath his smart-looking business suit. He smiled broadly as he made her way over to her, leaving Joanna standing on the welcome mat.

“Sandy-bear,” he said in his deep voice. He knelt by her chair. Even from this position, he was so tall he had to look down at her.

“Hi, Daddy.”

He looked over his shoulder at Joanna. “You can wait outside for me, dear, if you like.”

Joanna nodded curtly and then swished out of the door without so much as a backward glance, let alone a wave to her daughter. Cassandra threw her arms around her father’s neck and began sobbing immediately. He returned the hug and patted her back, trying to console her. “Sh, dear, sh,” he said once, but other than that he remained silent and let her cry out her worries. She spoke between sobs, telling her father the whole story, and how she felt it would be all her fault if the Poochyena died.

Gerald was quiet. He allowed her to cry and sob until she was finished with one final, shuddering breath and a huge gulp. She finally sat back, wiping her eyes. Finny nuzzled her affectionately, and Swablu chirped in a worried tone.

“Sandy-bear?”

“Hm?”

“I’m very proud of you,” he told her, patting her knee. It was strange, now that she thought about it, to see such a big, powerful-looking man kneeling and patting a girl’s knee with a hand that he could easily use to snap her leg in half. “You did the right thing, and you were very brave. I love you, Sandy-bear.”

Cassandra sniffed. “I love you too, Daddy.” She hugged him. “What’s Mother doing here?”

“Oh, she wanted me to take her to Rustboro…apparently she has some shopping to do.” Gerald’s face split into the large grin that he usually wore. “What does she even buy?”

Cassandra giggled a bit. “I don’t know…friends?”

Gerald laughed his big, booming laugh as he stood up. “She certainly has enough money to! Now, you stay right here. I’m going to go talk to Nurse Joy about your Poochyena.”

The large, almost-seven-foot man walked briskly toward the counter. Unlike most people, he had the privilege of going into the back whenever he wanted, and he did so now. Cassandra waited until he came out, smiling broadly and clapping his hands together. “Nurse Joy says Poochyena is well on his way to recovery!” he told her. “She also says that, if it weren’t for you, that poor Pokémon would be dead by now. You can go see him! Come on!” He beckoned her over.

Cassandra returned Swablu and Finny to their Poké Balls and walked over to her father, who placed a hand on her back and walked with her. Nurse Joy stood beside Poochyena’s bed. It had been moved from the special intensive care unit, and he now just appeared to be slumbering peacefully, except for a special tube attached to his stomach and the bandages here and there. Joy smiled and reached out to give Cassandra a huge hug, which was incredibly unexpected.

“You saved this Poochyena’s life!” Joy said happily. “I set the Volbeat and Illumise free this morning after I scolded them a bit. They looked sorry. But you! You saved this Pokémon’s life!” And then Joy hugged her again, this time so tight that Cassandra’s eyes bugged out slightly and she couldn’t breathe.

When Joy released her, Cassandra stepped up to Poochyena’s bed and gazed down at it. She reached out and stroked its soft fur. It shifted a bit in its sleep, and she turned and smiled, tears in her eyes. “Thank you, Nurse Joy.”

Gerald clapped Joy on the back, and the woman stumbled and had to clutch a nearby bed for balance. “Well, Cassandra, I need to get going. Your mother is no doubt getting impatient to get to the shops of Rustboro, and I need to get to work! Mr. Devon is expecting me.” He opened his arms. “How about a hug, Sandy-bear?”

Cassandra gave her father a hug and watched him leave. Suddenly, Nurse Joy gave a little gasp and clutched Cassandra’s shoulder. “Look! Poochyena’s waking up!” She shoved Cassandra toward the bed.

Indeed, Poochyena was waking up. His eyes were half-open, and he was just finishing up a yawn. Cassandra leaned over the bed. “Hello,” she said. “Um…I don’t know if you remember me, but…um…”

“She saved your life, Poochyena.” Nurse Joy stepped up beside her, grinning broadly.

“I caught you with a Poké Ball, but I’ll release you if you want to go back to the wild,” she told it.

Poochyena shoved its head forward, touching its nose to Cassandra’s hand, which she had placed on the edge of the bed. He licked her fingers.

“I think he’s saying he wants to stay with you,” Joy said breathlessly. Cassandra glanced at her. Was she always this excitable?

“Is that what you want, Poochyena?”

It wagged its tail and closed its eyes again.

“Well, it needs plenty of rest, but by lunchtime he should be all ready to go! You can take him home then. Chansey, can you mind the lobby? I need to go clean up the ICU!” And then Joy was gone.

Cassandra began stroking Poochyena’s fur again. “You reminded me of myself,” she told it. “You fought yourself to destruction. That’s pretty much what I do. Can I give you a nickname? I want to give you something that sounds incredibly cutesy, so people will be surprised when it’s you that comes out of the Ball.”

Poochyena wagged its tail again. Cassandra scratched it behind the ears. “Hmm…how about Fluffy?”


To: dingdongbelle@pokénet.com
From: dancing_through_life@pokénet.com
Subject: Ride?
____________________________________________________________________________________
Hey!
My mom won’t let me use Staraptor. Is there enough room on Skarmory for both of us? If there is, could you pick me up? I’d really appreciate it! And then, you could drop me off and see my first Contest! =) That’d be fun!
And congrats on your Gym Battle!! I KNEW you’d do great. And it’s really cool that Flint thinks you’re cut out to be a Trainer!! Just be careful with your intensity, and make sure you’re not overreacting about everything. You know how you get. ;) Oh, and don’t feel bad about the whole nickname thing…I just nicknamed a Poochyena FLUFFY. Ha!!
Well, g2g. Love ya lots!
Cassandra

Legendarian Mistress
December 13th, 2009, 04:59 PM
*snorts with laughter*

*roflmao*

Sorry, nokyo, but I found the nickname of Fluffy for the poor Poochyena just sooooooo funny. All in all, it was an excellent chapter. I’ll email you my fic again (it’s now updated to Chapter 7, with Chapter 8 yet to be started...).

nokyo-chan
December 17th, 2009, 10:07 AM
Haha, yeah, Fluffy is kinda unimaginitive...o.0

But thanks for the review!! XD

nokyo-chan
December 17th, 2009, 10:14 AM
Chapter Twelve
It was finally over. All of it was over, done with, gone, left behind. All that was left to do now was to run through a few graduation practices and ready her speech.

Alyssa had completed the last exam.

She held her squeal of delight until she was upstairs in her dorm room out of courtesy, because it exploded from her throat at a frequency she was surprised human ears could hear. She leapt around as she did it. Finally, she collapsed on Casey’s bunk to recuperate, too tired to climb to her own. The air around her felt different now that she was, for all intensive purposes, done with Ranger School. After today, she would no longer be required to wear her uniform. She plucked absently at her jacket sleeve as she considered this. The world was full of possibilities. She couldn’t wait until she was a Ranger.

The door of the room opened and Alyssa turned her head to see who it was. Casey walked in, smiling slyly as she shut the door behind her. “So, you were the first to finish your test, as usual,” she said by way of greeting.

“Oh, yeah, whatever. Casey, that was our last exam!” Alyssa slid off her friend’s bunk and stood. “Can you believe it?”

“Yeah, we’ll talk about that later.” Casey waved this off as if it were trivial information. “Do you care to tell me whose jacket you have stashed underneath your blankets?”

Alyssa couldn’t help but blush. Her stomach felt cold for a moment.

“I saw you shoving it under there this morning. It was red. Could it have been…a Ranger jacket?” Casey went to grab at the ladder leading up to Alyssa’s bunk, but Alyssa jumped in front of her.

“Maybe. Just leave it alone!”

“Ooh, I knew it!” Casey squealed. “Where were you last night? Who did you meet up with? And why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

Alyssa sighed. “Casey,” she said. “Look, I’ll tell you the whole story later, okay? I have to return the jacket.”

“No, tell me now!” Casey blocked Alyssa’s ascent to her bunk. “Come on, tell me! At least his name!”

Trapped, Alyssa looked around. “Ian.”

Casey squealed loudly and clapped her hands. “Ian, Ian, Ian and Alyssa! Oh my God! Ian what? What’s his last name?”

“Walton. Ian Walton.”

Alyssa could practically see the gears turning in her friend’s head. “Walton…is he related to Greg?”

“He’s his older brother.”

“Oh. My. God. Does he look like Greg, all shrimpy and geeky and nerdy? Like, does he wear glasses and have big ears like Greg?”

“I’ve met him before,” Alyssa mumbled. “And he used to wear glasses and look shrimpy.” She looked away and blushed fiercely. “But…puberty’s been very kind to him.”

How many times was this girl going to squeal? Alyssa felt as though her eardrum might rupture. “So he’s a total hottie now?”

“Yes.” Quickly, while Casey was preoccupied, Alyssa scaled the bed frame to get to her bunk. She peeled back the blankets and pulled out Ian’s jacket, which seemed to exude memories of last night. Casey fell silent as she looked up and saw it in all its glory.

“So are you going to take it back today?” she asked in a hushed voice.

“Yeah,” Alyssa replied, just as quietly. “I was gonna do it now.”

“Looking like that? Oh, no, girl. Come on…let’s start looking through your wardrobe.”


Dear Cassandra,
I know letters are slower than e-mails, but I like writing, okay? Today was a very interesting day. I returned Ian’s jacket to him (that’s a long story, I’ll explain later), but Casey, my friend, insisted that she give me a “makeover”. I ended up going to see him with my hair down around my shoulders and wearing a strapless dress that she made me borrow. She even put makeup on me! Ian was speechless, so it was worth it. We spent the day together. I think we’re really friends now! I just wish that I could be WITH HIM. He is so nice! He doesn’t even realize that I’m lovesick. How sweet.

Well, I need to get some rest…I have a long weekend of NOTHING ahead of me!! Yay!!

Love your free friend,
Alyssa

 

nokyo-chan
December 17th, 2009, 10:20 AM
Chapter Thirteen
Belle angrily tugged on the strap of her bag. Charmy reached out and touched her leg with its little claw, and she gave him a reassuring smile. As she did so, however, she saw Derrick out of the corner of her eye and snapped her head back around.

“Oh, come on,” Derrick said, shifting in his seat. “You can’t just avoid me forever.”

He had insisted he go with her to Cerulean City, because he “didn’t want her to go through Mount Moon alone”. He had told her it was dangerous. All she had seen was some Clefairy and a few Zubat. There weren’t even any Team Rocket agents. As a result, they had bickered the whole way through. Now they sat in the Cerulean City Pokémon Center, resting before Derrick stalked Belle to Saffron City. She had won her Cascade Badge from Misty, the redheaded Gym Leader, and now it was about time she started on her journey to Almia.

“I’m not avoiding you,” Belle said. “I’m just trying to get you to stop following me around!” They fell silent for a while. Derrick shifted in his seat so that he was leaning forward, his elbows on his knees. He sighed heavily.

“Look. Can I tell you the reason I keep doing this?”

Belle grunted in reply. Derrick must have taken this as a yes, because he sighed again before he spoke. “I feel really, really bad that I made you fall outside Viridian Forest. You got a huge gash, and you got stitches, all because of how I got spooked in the forest and ran out. And one day, I want to find a way to make it up to you. And also…” He ran his fingers through his blonde hair, tousling it up unwittingly. Belle glanced sideways at him, finding this a bit cute. “I’m all alone, Belle. I…I’m scared. You know the reason I came jumping out of the bushes, right? A noise spooked me. I’m such a coward, and you’re so brave. You also seem like a really cool person, so I just thought that…I don’t know.”

Belle had shifted and was looking at him full-on now. “I’m sorry,” she told him. He looked up in surprise, one bit of hair sticking up in the back. “I didn’t realize. I’ll let you travel with me. You seem like a really good friend.” She held out her hand for him to shake. He took it, amazed. “But look…you can’t go with me to Almia.” She had already explained to him why she was going to Saffron instead of taking the underground tunnel to Vermilion.

Derrick nodded fervently. “I totally understand. That’s your thing, you haven’t seen your friends in forever, yeah. I get it. Just, um…I’m gonna stay around in Saffron ’til you get back.”

Belle smiled and nodded. “Yeah. Okay.”
____________________________________________________
The road to Saffron City barely took any time to traverse. Belle easily bought a Rail Pass and used the video phone to contact her mother. She helped Derrick get set up at the Pokémon Center. Since he was to be staying for an extended period of time, Nurse Joy set him up in a back room with a comfortable bed. Belle left him there to board the train, and she eventually fell asleep, Charmy curled up beside her peacefully.

When she awoke, dusk was gathering on the horizon and the landscape had shifted. She stroked Charmy’s head absently as she watched the land fly by. It was easy to see that they were in Johto now, her home region, and she felt a strange ache in her stomach for her old room in Cherrygrove. The ache grew larger when she realized that she wouldn’t be seeing it this time around.

Soon the train was flying past buildings, and finally it eased to a stop at the Goldenrod City Station. Belle tapped Charmy until he woke up; she scooped him into her arms and shouldered her way into the aisle, irritated at the jostling people around her. One rude person shoved her and she “accidentally” lit the shoulder of his coat on fire with Charmy’s tail, making the man squawk and bat at it with his briefcase. “I’m sorry!” she told him insincerely. “I’d help, but I don’t have any Water Pokémon. It happened because you shoved me!” she called over her shoulder as the crowd carried her away and off the train.

In the station, the people finally spread out and Belle had more room. She looked around, trying to spot her mother. Charmy shifted and Belle was forced to carry him like a baby, with his head over her shoulder. She patted his back absently as she wandered around the station, feeling lost as people purposefully strode past her.

“Belle!”

Belle’s heart filled with joy as she turned and saw her little brother, standing by her mother’s side and waving toward her. She rushed over to them.

Belle’s mother looked positively elated to see her. She was smiling so broadly Belle expected her face to split in half. “And who is this?” she asked, indicating Charmy.

“This is Charmy. He’s my Charmander.” Belle set Charmy on the ground near Derek.

“It’s so good to see you.” Belle’s mother threw her arms around her, pulling her close. “I missed you.”

“I missed you, too.” And she had. She hugged her mother tightly. When she let go, she turned to Derek. “I missed you, little guy!” She swooped down and picked him up, hugging him against her. Derek put his arms around her neck and nuzzled his face into her shoulder.

“I missed you, Belle.” His words were muffled. Belle shut her eyes so as not to let her tears out.

“Well, let’s head to the Pokémon Center,” Belle’s mother suggested. “In the morning, you’ll fly out with Skarmory. Tonight, we’ll all catch up.”

Belle carried Derek and held Charmy’s claw on the way to the Center, grinning broadly the whole way.


To: dancing_through_life@pokénet.com
From: dingdongbelle@pokénet.com
Subject: w00t!
I’LL BE THERE TOMORROW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! XD

nokyo-chan
January 11th, 2010, 02:16 PM
Sorry for the long wait, everybody!!

Chapter Fourteen
Cassandra adjusted the straps of her backpack so it fit more comfortably. Swablu perched delicately on her bedpost, gazing across at her. Finny sat on the floor, staring blankly. Fluffy wasn’t watching at all; he was scratching his ear and squinting up at the ceiling, fully focused on his itch.

“You three are going to have to be in your Poké Balls while we’re flying,” Cassandra told them. Fluffy’s ears perked up and he stopped scratching to listen. “I won’t chance losing any of you. Now, don’t think that we’re not training just because we’re going to Almia. The only day we’ll take a break is the day of Alyssa’s graduation.” She patted her backpack and sat down on her bed, opening her arms as if to encompass the whole room. Swablu fluttered over and perched on her head, while Fluffy nestled to her side and Finny jumped to the other. “You’ll like Alyssa and Belle,” she told them. “They’re not anything like me, though. We’re all very different, but we’re all very best friends.” She stroked Finny’s head and scratched behind one of Fluffy’s ears. “Well, it’s time to go down and say goodbye to my parents and Dorothia.”

Cassandra actually lived in a very grand house. Her bedroom was in the tower, making it circular. When she went downstairs, she descended a winding, spiral staircase before coming into a sitting room on the second, and also topmost, floor. They only used this sitting room for very special family occasions, like opening presents Christmas morning. As a result, the white leather couch looked amazingly new, as did the white leather recliner and oak coffee table. The fireplace was incredibly clean. When she exited this room, she entered a much larger room set up for entertaining. A grand piano stood against one wall, with a brown couch facing it. There was a large space for dancing, as well as a stereo and karaoke system set up in a corner. An archway led to the stairs. The door across from the stairs was almost always shut. Upon opening this door, one would find the guest bedroom, which was done up in several different shades of green. A small door in the corner of the large entertainment room led to her parents’ bedroom.

Going downstairs brought Cassandra into a small hallway, which turned off almost immediately into the parlor. This room had a flat-screen television in the wall and all the necessary furniture, such as a couch, recliner, loveseat, end tables, coffee table, and the like. Joanna most often used this room for her stupid “girl nights”, in which she gathered all her snotty friends and talked about snotty things while watching television and smoking cigarettes. The maids, however, did a very good cleaning job, so nothing in the house smelled even remotely of smoke. The parlor was in the center of the house; on the side of the parlor nearest the door was the entryway, a large hall decorated with fancy hardwood floors and sage green wallpaper with little white flowers. There were sculptures, plants, paintings, and such to decorate this room, so as to immediately impress whoever happened to stumble in. On the other side of the parlor was the dining room. It had a long, gleaming oak table with matching oak chairs all around, each with its own blue velvet cushion. The kitchen spanned the length of the house, but one could only get to it by way of the dining room. A small table was set up in there for when Cassandra and her family didn’t feel like utilizing the humongous dining hall. Mostly, this was where Cassandra and her father dined; Joanna almost always wanted to sit at the large, fancy dining room table, even if she was alone.

Cassandra made the trip to the parlor, where her parents sat talking and drinking coffee. Gerald was facing the stairs, and he looked up and grinned broadly as usual when she entered the room, setting down his coffee. “Sandy-bear!”

Joanna turned, mug still in hand, and took a sip. “Hello, Cassandra dear.” She eyed her daughter. “Can’t you teach that thing not to sit on your head like that? It’s repulsive.”

Cassandra felt Swablu tense atop her head.

“I think it’s adorable!” Gerald proclaimed. “Ah, is that little Fluffy? Glad to see he’s doing well!”

Fluffy wagged his tail from his place at Cassandra’s feet. “Yes, he’s doing very well,” she told her father, smiling. “I just came down to say goodbye. I’m not sure when I’m supposed to be leaving, but—”

“Leaving?” Joanna set down her mug. “I thought I told you that you were not allowed to take Staraptor.”

“You did, Mother. I am not taking Staraptor. You told me to find other transportation, and I did. Belle is picking me up on her mother’s Skarmory.”

“Skarmory?” Joanna exclaimed, aghast.

“That’s a Steel and Flying Type, am I correct?” Gerald asked. “That Bird Pokémon that looks as though it has armor on it?”

“Yes,” Cassandra was about to answer, but Joanna cut across her in a disgusted tone. “Yes, it is, flying through the air with its great metal wings—”

“Fantastic! I’ve never seen one in person!” Gerald’s grin broadened. “Won’t this be exciting?”

Joanna clamped her mouth shut and picked up her coffee mug. Cassandra tried to keep her amused expression off her face. Her father was always painfully oblivious to Joanna’s attitude, and as a result, she couldn’t be quite as nasty around him.

There was a great cry followed by a thud from outside. Gerald leapt to his feet, suddenly throwing himself to his near-seven-foot height. “That must be her!”

Cassandra felt a thrill in the pit of her stomach as she ran to the doorway, Swablu chirruping indignantly as she was bounced about. Finny and Fluffy chased her excitedly.

Gerald beat her to the door; he threw it open to reveal Belle sliding surely off a Skarmory, which folded its wings back and preened itself. Cassandra frowned. How did a giant bird made of sheet metal preen itself? She stopped pondering this as her eyes fell on Belle, who looked as though she had grown since her last picture. She looked a lot more womanly. She even had breasts! Well, Cassandra herself had these, as did Alyssa, but on Belle it was strange to see them. She was so tomboyish.

“Belle!” Cassandra shrieked, dropping her backpack by her feet and throwing open her arms.

“Cassandra!” Belle ran toward her and nearly bowled her over with the force of her hug, squeezing the air out of her lungs. Cassandra squeezed right back, just as hard. They drew back panting and laughing. “It’s good to see you, too, Papa G,” Belle added, giving Gerald a much calmer hug. Gerald laughed as he returned the embrace—he loved the simple nickname Belle had created for him. Both she and Alyssa used it.

“So, this must be Swablu and Finny and Fluffy,” Belle said, looking over Cassandra’s Pokémon. Swablu had flown off Cassandra’s head when Belle had run at her and was now hovering gently in the air. “I’m Belle.”

“And where are Charmy and Swifter and Mankey?” Cassandra prompted.

“Oh—right here.” Belle pulled out three Poké Balls and tossed them, releasing her three Pokémon.

Joanna now stepped out onto the porch, curling her lip at the Skarmory preening itself in her yard. “Oh, hello, Miss Joanna.”

“Now, now,” Gerald said, climbing the steps to the porch. He threw an arm around his wife’s shoulders. “Miss Joanna doesn’t sound nearly as young as Mama J. Why don’t you call her that?”

“Now really, Gerald,” Joanna said, her face turning rapidly to a scowl, “there’s no need for that.”

Cassandra glanced over at Belle. Her eyes were sparkling dangerously. “Oh, it’s really no problem. I’d love to call you Mama J. Sorry I called you Miss Joanna at first—Papa G’s right, it sounds so much older than Mama J.”

Gerald laughed uproariously. “It’s settled then!”

Cassandra wanted to collapse into laughter. Her mother had crossed her arms and looked away, but now she was surveying Belle. She saw her mother’s eyes go over Belle’s blue baseball cap, her red T-shirt, her cutoff-jean shorts, her old and battered tennis shoes. “Wherever did you get those shorts, Belle?” And just like that, Cassandra’s mood snapped right into boiling anger.

“Oh, these? These were some jeans I had. I got a hole in the thigh from playing in the yard too much so I had to cut them. They make pretty nice shorts. Don’t you think, Mama J?” She lifted up the tail of her T-shirt a bit so as to show off her shorts. Cassandra bit down on her knuckle, amused and wishing she could take a picture of her mother’s face.

“Well, we’d better get going,” Cassandra piped up when she trusted herself to speak.
“Oh, surely Belle can stay the night. She must be tired from flying!” Gerald was strolling down the steps of the porch, toward the Skarmory.

“No, we really need to go, actually. Don’t worry, Papa G. I’m coming back to drop Cassandra off, so I’ll be in time to watch her first Contest. I’ll stay the night then.”

“Excellent!” Gerald clapped his hands eagerly. “And you’ll be riding Skarmory?”

“Of course,” Belle replied. “Well, bye, Papa G! Bye, Mama J!”

Cassandra gave her mother a stiff hug before giving her father a daughterly embrace. She returned her Pokémon and allowed Belle to help her onto the Skarmory. Gerald strode over to stand by them when they were mounted up.

“Have you got enough money?” he asked Cassandra.

“Yes, Daddy.”

“And you, Belle?”

“Oh—yeah, Papa G.”

Gerald lost his smile. “I’m very serious, Belle. Do you have enough money to get you through your adventure? We can help you. It’s no problem for us, really.”

Cassandra looked at Belle, who glanced over Gerald’s head (quite a feat) and at Joanna, still standing on the porch. Her gaze went back to Gerald. “Papa G, I think I’m okay. But if I need help, I know where to turn.”

Gerald’s face split into his wide grin again and he patted her knee. “There’s a good girl. Keep my Sandy-bear safe!” He patted Cassandra’s knee as well. “Love you!”

“Love you too, Daddy.”

“Please back away, Papa G. Skarmory has got quite a wingspan.”

Gerald jogged backward several steps as Belle shouted a command to Skarmory; the Pokémon spread its wings and gave a mighty flap. Cassandra reached out and wrapped her arms around Belle’s waist. Skarmory rose into the air and flew off, leaving Hoenn behind.


To: [email protected]
From: dancing_through_life@pokénet.com
Subject: WE’RE COMING!!!
____________________________________________________________
WE’LL BE THERE TOMORROW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

nokyo-chan
January 13th, 2010, 08:47 AM
I'm thinking of starting a PM list for anyone who's interested...so, if you ARE interested, just drop me a PM or VM! I'll PM you when new chapters come up!

Legendarian Mistress
January 15th, 2010, 03:15 PM
Review for Chapters 12-14...

I feel really bad for letting you down and not having a review up before now, nokyo. I know you said “don’t feel bad”, but it’s just me. Having gotten a bit of spare time up my sleeve, I can now give you an honest review of aforementioned chapters. They are very well written and I am looking forward to reading more of your work. The part where one of them complained about Skarmory was amusing. Admittedly, riding a Skarmory would be quite difficult.

nokyo-chan
January 19th, 2010, 07:18 AM
Chapter Fifteen
For the last week of school, Alyssa was free. The very day after graduation, she would begin her training as a Ranger. She chose to spend her week at home.

It wasn’t a very long walk to Chicole Village. She passed through Vientown, glancing longingly at the Ranger Base. She had learned that she would be stationed there; oh, how excited she was to begin working. She passed by it and walked Chicole Path to her hometown.

The village was small, but she was so happy to say that she hailed from it. She patted her untidy ponytail as she made her way to her house, eyes locked on it. It was a big red farmhouse. Her room was on the second floor, and it was rather large—it had enough room for her, Belle, and Cassandra to sleep. The only other room up there belonged to her older brother, who had run away from home at the age of thirteen. They hadn’t heard from him since then.

As Alyssa rounded the corner of her farmhouse and saw the front, she grinned broadly. A large banner was stretched over the door bearing the words Welcome Home Alyssa! in several different colors. She laughed and picked up the pace, jogging instead of walking, excited to see her parents again.

The door opened to reveal her mother in all her motherly glory. She had the same color hair as Alyssa, a pretty blue-green, and wore a faded blue dress. Her smile was the most beautiful thing Alyssa had seen in a long time; she dropped her bag on the ground and charged toward her mother, throwing her arms around her. “I missed you, Mom!”

“I missed you, too.” Diana Thompson hugged her daughter fiercely. “It certainly has been a while since we’ve gotten to see each other.”

“Where’s Dad?”

“He and Machamp are out in the field.” They released each other. Diana smiled. “Ambipom is upstairs tidying your room.”

“I’d better go put my stuff up there,” Alyssa remarked. She grabbed her messenger bag from the yard and walked upstairs to her room.

Ambipom was in there just as her mother had said; the Pokémon had joined their family as an Aipom before Alyssa had been born, and had evolved when she was three. She reached out and hugged it, laughing as all of its hands pressed against her back. “It’s good to see you, Ambipom.”

“Am!”

Alyssa went to her bed and placed her things on it. “You’ve done a great job with my room.”

“Am, ambipom,” Ambipom replied in thanks. It picked up the cleaning supplies it had left on her dresser. With one of its extra hands, it patted her on the head. “Ambi!” Then it turned and left the room.

Alyssa surveyed her room. It had been quite a while since she had been in here, let alone slept in her bed. She had forgotten how large the mirror on top of her dresser was; if she stood on her bed, she could see her whole body. Her nightstand still had a framed picture of her family. It consisted of her and her parents, Ambipom, and Machoke before he evolved into a Machamp. The only person missing was her brother. He had left a few weeks before the picture was taken. As a result, everyone had slightly sad smiles.

“Alyssa! Your friends are here!”

Alyssa ran to her window and looked out. Sure enough, there was a Skarmory in her yard. She squealed and ran downstairs, stumbling the last few steps and almost crashing into the kitchen counter. Belle and Cassandra stood in her kitchen, smiling at her with their familiar yet unfamiliar smiles.

“You’re graduating!” Cassandra yelled before throwing herself onto Alyssa.

“Don’t hog the hugs!” Belle cried, leaping out to join her.

Alyssa laughed as they shared a group hug.


Hey you guys,
I figured I’d leave you this note. I’ve gone to the beach in Vientown. Mom will give you directions. I didn’t want to wake you guys up; you’ve traveled a really long way. If you didn’t bring your bathing suits, I have some that might fit you in the top left drawer of my dresser. I’ll be waiting for you guys!
Love ya lots,
Alyssa

nokyo-chan
January 19th, 2010, 07:27 AM
Chapter Sixteen
Belle stretched luxuriously, feeling like a Persian as she rolled over on her belly and pushed her borrowed sunglasses up on her head. Tomorrow was Alyssa’s graduation. Her week in Almia had been very fun—they had spent almost every morning out on the beach, and Alyssa had taken them on tours. They had even been up to Pueltown, a large, historic city. They had met Ian, and Belle was convinced that he was smitten with Alyssa. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. Belle looked over at her green-haired friend, lying on her back next to her.

“What?” Alyssa turned her head and blinked at Belle.

“Nothing,” Belle replied. She propped herself up on her elbow. “Are you excited about tomorrow?”

Alyssa sighed happily. Cassandra sat up on her other side. “You have to be.”

“It’s bittersweet.” The graduating girl thrust her hands up to the air, examining her arms. “I mean, I’m so glad to be done with it all, but…there are so many memories in that school.”

“Where’s your uniform?” Cassandra asked, always concerned about clothes.

“It’s in my room. We have to wear them for the ceremony, and then, after that…no more.” Alyssa put her arms down and laid her hands on her stomach, pushing her fingernails into the fabric of her one-piece bathing suit.

Belle looked over at the beach. She and Cassandra had let their Pokemon out to play. Swifter and Swablu had taken to the skies; Swablu seemed to be teaching Swifter the graceful maneuvers she had learned from Cassandra. Finny swam around in a circle close to the shore. Poochyena sat with Charmy, who was too afraid to even go near the water, and Mankey sat by itself, focusing intensely on the sand castle it was making.

“Do you miss your family?” Alyssa asked suddenly. Belle and Cassandra both looked at her.

“Who?” Belle asked.

“You! You’re the only one of us that has actually gone off. You’re in a whole different region.” Alyssa turned her head to look at her. “Do you miss your mom and Derek?”

“Of course. But…my journey is something I have to do, so…I live with it.”

“But doesn’t it hurt?” Cassandra inquired softly. She had never been away from her family before. Her eyes were wide and scared.

Belle nodded. “Yeah.”

“Don’t you cry?”

“Sometimes,” Belle admitted. “But it’s not like I can stay with Mom and Derek forever, y’know? And it helps that I have a friend that takes my mind off it.”

“That Derrick kid?” Alyssa asked, pushing her sunglasses up and glancing sideways.

“Yeah.”

“By the end of it, that guy’s gonna be head-over-heels in love with you.” Alyssa put her sunglassses back over her face.

“Wh-what¾ how¾ ?” Belle spluttered, flabbergasted. Cassandra burst out laughing.

“It’s true.”

“Nuh-uh!”

“No, I’m totally right,” Alyssa said. “Look at him¾ he’s already following you around like a lovesick Poochyena.”

Belle got to her feet. “He is not!” she yelled. “You’re wrong!”

“Why are you getting so defensive?” Cassandra pulled her legs up to sit cross-legged.

“Because that’s gross! Derrick’s just a friend. He’s got the same name as my brother.”

“That’d be awkward during sex,” Alyssa piped up.

Belle gasped. Cassandra burst out laughing and threw herself facedown on her towel.

“What?” Alyssa asked, removing her sunglasses and setting them beside her on the sand. “It would. Could you imagine? ‘Oh, Derek!’” she moaned, sitting up. “‘I-I mean, Derrick.’ You’d have to pronounce them different.”

“Mankey!” Belle called, and the Pokémon came shooting to her side. She pointed at Alyssa. “Seismic Toss, into the water!”

“What?” Alyssa yelled as Mankey grabbed her. “Hey, no!” But Alyssa went sailing into the ocean, landing with a large splash. She surfaced, spitting water and laughing.

“Finny, Water Gun!”

The jet of water completely doused Belle. She spluttered and headed toward Cassandra, grabbing her and pulling her to her feet. “No, no!” Cassandra laughed, but Belle wrestled her to the shallow part of the water, where she threw her down. Alyssa came up to join them, and soon they were all playing in the water, laughing and splashing.

When the sun began to set, the three girls reluctantly packed up their things and walked back to Alyssa’s house, all their Pokémon follwing behind in a tired group, and unwittingly being stalked by one Zigzagoon.

___________________________________________

Alyssa grinned out at everyone, clutching both sides of the podium for dear life and trying not to let them see how nervous she was. This whole giving-a-speech thing was a lot harder to do than it was to think about.

She had already addressed everyone¾family, friends, significant others, and fellow graduates¾and thanked all the staff. Now it was time for the most important part of her speech.

“In my years in the Ranger School, I learned many things. But perhaps the most important lesson is something that I didn’t learn from the teachers at all. This lesson is better explained through anecdotes.

“When I was very small, I heard that my brother had gotten an A on a test in the Ranger School. My parents were so happy and proud when they heard this. When I myself joined the Ranger School, I decided that I would get an A, so that my parents would be proud of me, too. They were ecstatic about my good grade, and I made it my mission to get as many good grades as I possibly could to make them happy. Now here I stand before you, valedictorian of my class.

“A very long time ago, my family took a cruise on the SS Anne. My mother told me to go play in the kiddie pool. That’s not a very exciting story, is it? Well, that was when I met my two best friends I’ve ever had. Ever since we met as three disgruntled nine-year-old girls forced to play in the kiddie pool, we’ve been as close as three people who live in different regions can be. They have been so important to me over the years.

“Once, last year, I saw a boy in the hallway drop his books and papers. I helped him pick them all up before I went on my way to class. Sound insignificant? Well, this boy turned out to be a year older than me and is currently a Ranger. He remembered my kindness, and now he will be an excellent mentor for me as I work hard at the Vientown Ranger Base.

“While on the beach not too long ago, I saw a Zigzagoon being chased by a Krabby. I helped a Ranger rescue the Zigzagoon. Surely, you say, that was just a random occurrence of no great importance. You would be wrong. That Zigzagoon now follows me everywhere. I have plans to make it my Partner Pokémon.

“So you see…the greatest lesson that I have learned comes not from the teachers here at the Ranger School, even though they are excellent educators. It comes instead from real-life experience. So remember this, fellow graduates, as you embark on your journeys; be careful with what you say, because the most seemingly random person can end up being instrumental in your future. Be careful about how you act, because the most seemingly insignificant situation can turn out to lead to something much greater.”

Alyssa wrapped it up with a generic “congratulations” speech and went back to her seat amid cheers and applause. Before she sat, she caught sight of Belle and Cassandra in the crowd, beaming as they clapped loudly.

_________________________________________________

Belle smiled down from her place astride Skarmory. “Sorry that we have to leave, but I have to get Cassandra back to Verdanturf.”

“I’m just sorry that I have to miss our little beauty’s first contest,” Alyssa replied.

Cassandra adjusted her legs more comfortably on Skarmory’s back. “I’m so excited,” she breathed. “I wish you could be there, too, Alyssa.”

Alyssa smiled. “Yeah, but I start my Ranger duties tomorrow. ”

“That uniform is adorable,” Cassandra remarked. Both she and Belle had oohed and aahed over the uniform as Alyssa had pulled it on, arranging the short jacket and pulling up the black thigh-highs. “That ponytail even looks good with it.”

Alyssa patted her sloppy ponytail with a frown. “What’s wrong with the ponytail?”

“Nothing,” Belle told her. “We can’t all spend tons of time on our hair, Cassandra.”

Cassandra smiled prettily. After a few more good-byes, Alyssa took several steps back and watched her friends’ ascent into the clouds. As they flew away, she wiped away a tear.


To: dancing_through_life@pokénet.com, dingdongbelle@pokénet.com
From: [email protected]
Subject: sigh
_____________________________________________________________
Hey you guys,
You just left my yard, but I’m sending this because I want it to be in your inbox waiting for you when you check your email. I couldn’t say any of this without crying.

It really means a lot to me that you guys took all that trouble to come and see me graduate. You two are my best friends in the world, and I probably wouldn’t be where I am today if you guys hadn’t coaxed me to do my best. I’m so glad that I met you, and I’m so happy you could be a part of one of the biggest things that’s happened to me ever. I know that we’ll all be busy with our different things for a while, so we probably won’t get as much chance to talk. But I just want you both to know…even if we don’t get to contact each other very often, I love you guys. I love you guys so much, and I will always and forever think of you as my best friends.

Ah, if you could see me, you’d hug me…because I’m tearing up.

Love your mushy crybaby friend,
Alyssa

 

Live Update King
January 20th, 2010, 11:13 AM
Thanks for the update though PM :)

Legendarian Mistress
January 20th, 2010, 03:55 PM
Review of Chapters 15 + 16...

Excellent chapterage there, nokyo. Keep up the good work. Not much I can really say except that you’re doing a wonderful job with your fic.

nokyo-chan
January 28th, 2010, 02:16 PM
Chapter Seventeen
Cassandra squinted up at the huge board across the top of the contestants’ waiting room that displayed the tourney tree, looking for her number and picture. The row across the bottom was rapidly filling up with pictures, but the rows above were empty; the first contest battle hadn’t taken place yet. She leaned sideways.

“Stay still!” barked a disgruntled Belle near Cassandra’s stomach. She was trying to pin Cassandra’s number on her left hip. “If you keep moving, I’m gonna end up poking you.”

“But I haven’t found my picture yet.”

“I don’t give a damn. Find your picture when I’m done— ”

“There I am!” Cassandra rushed off excitedly. Belle almost toppled over; she had been kneeling on a bench in front of her friend. Frustrated, she stood and dusted off the jade green skirt she had borrowed from Cassandra and walked after her. “Right there! Ooh, I’m close to the beginning!” She whirled happily, but her smile quickly faded as she saw the look on Belle’s face.

“That’s fantastic. Now can you stand still while I put this damn thing on you?”

Cassandra obliged and stood still, gazing up at the board as Belle knelt in front of her. Her picture was connected to a blank square by a little silvery line, and her eyes remained fixed on that blank square as Belle carefully pinned her number on her dress.

Finally, the blank square lit up and a picture of a girl with wildly pink hair appeared there. Cassandra quickly turned her head to look around for her.

“Done,” Belle said. She straightened and looked up at the board. “You’re up against some pink-headed girl.”

“I know. I’m looking for her to see which Pokémon she has.”

“Maybe she doesn’t have her Pokémon out. Like you. But I don’t see any sense in trying to make it a surprise which Pokémon you have when you’re dressed like her.”

Cassandra smiled as she looked over the crowd, searching for pink. She wore a long blue dress with a fitted bodice and a slightly flared skirt. It fastened in a halter. She had borrowed—stolen—a pair of her mother’s elbow-length white evening gloves, and her honey-colored hair was pinned up in an elegant bun.

“I don’t see her,” Belle said. She sat down on the bench with a sigh. “You realize there’s only four rounds, right? So you only have to win three times before you’re in the final two.”

“I doubt I’ll do that in my first contest,” Cassandra said, still craning her neck and looking for any flash of pink she could find.

“You’re really good,” Belle said, just as an announcement came on over the PA.

“The first battle is about to begin. Pair one, you have ten minutes to get set up on stage. If you are not a contestant, please have a seat in the stadium. Thank you.”

“Well, I guess I have to go,” Belle said. She reached out and hugged Cassandra. “I’ll be rooting for you.”

“Thanks so much,” Cassandra replied, hugging her back. “I love you, Belle.”

“Love you too, Cassandra.” And she turned and hurried to the stadium, where Gerald and Joanna had saved her a seat.


Cassandra’s first battle was against a Wigglytuff. She won easily; while Wigglytuff was cute, it could only be graceful so much.

For her second battle, Swablu easily defeated a Chikorita, since she had a type advantage. The poor Chikorita didn’t even have time for its points to start building before Swablu hit it with a graceful Wing Attack and fainted it.

The third battle was against an Espeon. This was a bit tougher, but Cassandra and Swablu managed it.

When Cassandra wasn’t battling, Belle and Gerald left the stadium to join her in the waiting room. They found all the other battles unimportant.

“You’re in the finals!” Belle cried as she hugged her friend.

“I’m worried,” Cassandra choked out. “What will I do? The person I’m about to go up against defeated three other people to get here!”

“Hey, Sandy-bear,” Gerald said, patting her on the shoulder. “So did you.”

They soon had to make their way back to their seats with Joanna. Belle watched apprehensively as Cassandra and her opponent took their places. The girl on the other side of the stage had her orange hair fastened into two balls. She wore an elegant white kimono tied with a light orange obi.

“The moment you’ve all been waiting for!” the MC shouted into his mike. “The final battle of the day! This battle will determine the winner of the contest! Ladies and gentlemen, introducing Cassandra Étoile, from right here in Verdanturf Town!”

Gerald and Belle cheered loudly along with the crowd; Cassandra’s classic grace had won her many fans already. Cassandra turned and curtsied grandly.

“And also, introducing Sakura Konohana, from Lilycove City!”

The redheaded girl, apparently Sakura, lifted one hand and waved gracefully.

“Ready the stage!”

Belle frowned as the stage seemed to split down the middle; the two halves moved away from each other, revealing a small pool underneath. “What— ?”

“If you had stayed here and watched the other battles, you would have already known about that,” Joanna sniffed. “That Sakura girl has a Goldeen, so they need to accommodate her.”

“Isn’t that a bit unfair?” Belle asked.

“Well, a Goldeen really couldn’t do much on land,” Gerald reasoned. “I guess they have to take that into account.”

Belle looked worriedly down at Cassandra, who didn’t appear to be freaking out at all.

But she was.

Cassandra was trying very hard not to move her facial muscles one bit as she stared down at the shifting water of the pool. What was this? What was going on? She raised her eyes to look at Sakura Konohana, who stood tall and erect in her kimono.

“Begin!” the MC said.

Sakura pulled a Poké Ball out of her sleeve and tossed it out towards the water. “Go, my Deena!”

A Goldeen burst from the Poké Ball and dived splendidly into the water, shaking out its tail.

“A magnificent entrance!” the MC announced. “The judges seem to have given Deena a respectable amount of points for it!”

Then we have to do better than that, Cassandra thought. She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, searching her memory for one of the more beautiful Poké Ball throws she had come up with.

Belle leaned forward in her seat. Cassandra raised her Poké Ball into the air above her head before bringing her arm across her chest and spinning around in a complete three-sixty. As she did so, she released the Poké Ball straight up into the air. “Fly, Swablu!”

Swablu rocketed out of the Poké Ball, wings tucked in and spinning as it whirled up, up, up, before fanning out its wings abruptly and hovering over the stage. The crowd burst into applause and the little yellow bar beneath Cassandra’s picture on the scoreboard shot forward.

“And Swablu makes an incredible entrance, putting its score ahead of Deena’s already!” The MC’s voice shrilled a bit in his excitement.

“Deena, use Horn Attack!”

“Goldeen!” Deena leapt out of the water.

“Underneath!” Cassandra called. Swablu understood. She waited until Deena was almost upon her; then she dipped underneath the Goldeen and flew past. “Now use Wing Attack!”

Swablu wheeled and brought its wing down on Deena, who fell back into the water with a flop.

“Ooh, that’s going to take away a considerable amount of points from Deena,” the MC said. The yellow bar under Sakura’s picture retracted.

“Doing great, Swablu!”

“Hide,” Sakura said, so soft that Cassandra could barely hear her. Deena dived down under the water and disappeared. Swablu hovered uncertainly. Cassandra squinted into the water, unsure of what to command. “Now!” Sakura yelled suddenly.

The Goldeen burst from the water and buried its horn into Swablu’s stomach. Swablu cried out and did an awkward sort of barrel roll, leaving Deena to dive gracefully back into the water. Of course, points were taken away.

Belle winced as she watched Cassandra’s yellow bar contract. Gerald looked troubled as well; he had his elbows placed on his knees and was frowning as he watched his daughter’s battle. Joanna, however, wore a half-smile as she brought her drink to her lips.

“Nancy talks about that Konohana girl,” she said, noticing that Belle was watching her. “She says that she’s a Lilycove favorite. I see why now.”

“You do realize that you’re supposed to root for your daughter, right?” Belle asked her.

“I root for the winner.” Joanna took a sip of her water. Belle had the urge to reach over and smack it into her face.

The battle was an intense one; points were given and taken away on both sides. It was the longest battle yet. After a while, it didn’t look so good for Swablu; she seemed tired, and her points were pretty low. Cassandra looked calm, but she was panicking as she surveyed the battle.

Sakura smirked. As far as she was concerned, she had this battle in the bag. “Hide,” she said softly.

Big mistake. Cassandra was a swift learner. In her mind’s eye, she saw Swablu hovering uncertainly over the stage and falling victim to Deena’s Horn Attack from below. She knew how to avoid it this time.

“Swablu, circle the stage from above!”

“Swa!” the Pokémon cried in reply, beginning its circling. Sakura frowned. If Swablu didn’t stay in one place, Deena wouldn’t know when to attack; the Goldeen was probably swimming in circles to match Swablu’s right now, uncertain.

“Now!” Sakura cried, hoping for the best. Deena burst out of the water.

“Do a barrel roll!” Cassandra yelled. She could see a question in Swablu’s eyes: Why?, but she did one anyway. Deena sailed up and over her, splashing as she landed back in the water.

“That was a beautiful dodge, but was it enough to give her more points?” the MC said into his mike. Cassandra’s yellow bar pushed forward a bit, but not enough to put her past Sakura. She gritted her teeth.

“Hide!” Sakura said desperately, eyeing her own yellow bar as the judges took away points for Deena’s graceless landing. She was now only ahead of Cassandra by a very small margin; she needed to get more points. The clock was going to run out soon; it hadn’t for any of the other battles, which had all resulted in a definite win by a Pokémon fainting.

Cassandra was beginning to see that Sakura was a bit of a one-trick pony. “Get her!” she yelled to Swablu. “Go fishing!”

Swablu did one quick tight circle over the center of the pool before diving into it. The crowd gasped.

Swablu didn’t come up.

For several agonizing seconds, neither Pokémon was visible. Cassandra watched the water, every muscle of her body on high alert. She saw a slight shadow and moved her hand; the shadow turned in the direction she indicated. She reached one hand back toward her hair, and then several things happened at once.

Cassandra’s hair fell from its bun and fanned out, catching the light as it tumbled down around her shoulders; she flung her arm out at the same moment, and Swablu burst from the surface of the water, synchronized perfectly with Cassandra’s movements. Deena flopped helplessly in her beak. Water droplets shimmered as they fell from her body, making her seem to glow as she ascended to the ceiling.

“A beautiful coordination between Trainer and Pokémon!” the MC shouted excitedly. “And what fishing skill!”

“Drop!” Cassandra called. Swablu opened her beak; Deena fell, tumbling over herself. “Hit!”

Swablu chased Deena down and buffeted her with a wing; she zoomed to the other end of the stadium, wheeled expertly, and then came back to hit Deena again. She kept this up until Deena landed in the water with a flop, belly-up.

She had fainted.

And Sakura’s points were now down to zero. Swablu’s, however, were practically bursting from the bar; the MC was yelling excitedly. “What a victory! Our own local, long-haired Cassandra Étoile has annihilated Sakura Konohana!”

Swablu shook itself dry before coming down to land in Cassandra’s arms; Cassandra squeezed it. The crowd was on its feet, including Belle and Gerald. Joanna set down her water and stood, clapping with a surprised expression on her face.



To: [email protected]
From: dacning_through_life@pokénet.com
Subject: I WOOOONNNN!!
_____________________________________________________________
Hey Alyssa,

I WON MY FIRST CONTEST!! I’m so happy! Mom even took me and Belle to Lilycove Department Store so I could pick out a ribbon case. She BOUGHT it for me. Isn’t that freakin’ AMAZING?? My mother did something nice for me!!

I don’t think I did all that well, but I won!! YAY!!

Well, tonight is Belle’s last night here (T_T), so I better get back to her. Oh, she wants to type something.


Hey, don’t let our modest Cassandra fool you. She did AWESOME!! You should have seen it! Actually, Papa G bought a DVD of the battle from the Contest Hall. We’re gonna put it on PokéTube!!! XD


Hey, Cassandra again. And NO SHE’S NOT.


Love your winning friend,
Cassandra ^_^


P.S. That email…we love you too, Alyssa. It really made us cry.

Live Update King
January 29th, 2010, 11:02 AM
Chapter Seventeen
Cassandra squinted up at the huge board across the top of the contestants’ waiting room that displayed the tourney tree, looking for her number and picture. The row across the bottom was rapidly filling up with pictures, but the rows above were empty; the first contest battle hadn’t taken place yet. She leaned sideways.

“Stay still!” barked a disgruntled Belle near Cassandra’s stomach. She was trying to pin Cassandra’s number on her left hip. “If you keep moving, I’m gonna end up poking you.”

“But I haven’t found my picture yet.”

“I don’t give a damn. Find your picture when I’m done— ”

“There I am!” Cassandra rushed off excitedly. Belle almost toppled over; she had been kneeling on a bench in front of her friend. Frustrated, she stood and dusted off the jade green skirt she had borrowed from Cassandra and walked after her. “Right there! Ooh, I’m close to the beginning!” She whirled happily, but her smile quickly faded as she saw the look on Belle’s face.

“That’s fantastic. Now can you stand still while I put this damn thing on you?”

Cassandra obliged and stood still, gazing up at the board as Belle knelt in front of her. Her picture was connected to a blank square by a little silvery line, and her eyes remained fixed on that blank square as Belle carefully pinned her number on her dress.

Finally, the blank square lit up and a picture of a girl with wildly pink hair appeared there. Cassandra quickly turned her head to look around for her.

“Done,” Belle said. She straightened and looked up at the board. “You’re up against some pink-headed girl.”

“I know. I’m looking for her to see which Pokémon she has.”

“Maybe she doesn’t have her Pokémon out. Like you. But I don’t see any sense in trying to make it a surprise which Pokémon you have when you’re dressed like her.”

Cassandra smiled as she looked over the crowd, searching for pink. She wore a long blue dress with a fitted bodice and a slightly flared skirt. It fastened in a halter. She had borrowed—stolen—a pair of her mother’s elbow-length white evening gloves, and her honey-colored hair was pinned up in an elegant bun.

“I don’t see her,” Belle said. She sat down on the bench with a sigh. “You realize there’s only four rounds, right? So you only have to win three times before you’re in the final two.”

“I doubt I’ll do that in my first contest,” Cassandra said, still craning her neck and looking for any flash of pink she could find.

“You’re really good,” Belle said, just as an announcement came on over the PA.

“The first battle is about to begin. Pair one, you have ten minutes to get set up on stage. If you are not a contestant, please have a seat in the stadium. Thank you.”

“Well, I guess I have to go,” Belle said. She reached out and hugged Cassandra. “I’ll be rooting for you.”

“Thanks so much,” Cassandra replied, hugging her back. “I love you, Belle.”

“Love you too, Cassandra.” And she turned and hurried to the stadium, where Gerald and Joanna had saved her a seat.


Cassandra’s first battle was against a Wigglytuff. She won easily; while Wigglytuff was cute, it could only be graceful so much.

For her second battle, Swablu easily defeated a Chikorita, since she had a type advantage. The poor Chikorita didn’t even have time for its points to start building before Swablu hit it with a graceful Wing Attack and fainted it.

The third battle was against an Espeon. This was a bit tougher, but Cassandra and Swablu managed it.

When Cassandra wasn’t battling, Belle and Gerald left the stadium to join her in the waiting room. They found all the other battles unimportant.

“You’re in the finals!” Belle cried as she hugged her friend.

“I’m worried,” Cassandra choked out. “What will I do? The person I’m about to go up against defeated three other people to get here!”

“Hey, Sandy-bear,” Gerald said, patting her on the shoulder. “So did you.”

They soon had to make their way back to their seats with Joanna. Belle watched apprehensively as Cassandra and her opponent took their places. The girl on the other side of the stage had her orange hair fastened into two balls. She wore an elegant white kimono tied with a light orange obi.

“The moment you’ve all been waiting for!” the MC shouted into his mike. “The final battle of the day! This battle will determine the winner of the contest! Ladies and gentlemen, introducing Cassandra Étoile, from right here in Verdanturf Town!”

Gerald and Belle cheered loudly along with the crowd; Cassandra’s classic grace had won her many fans already. Cassandra turned and curtsied grandly.

“And also, introducing Sakura Konohana, from Lilycove City!”

The redheaded girl, apparently Sakura, lifted one hand and waved gracefully.

“Ready the stage!”

Belle frowned as the stage seemed to split down the middle; the two halves moved away from each other, revealing a small pool underneath. “What— ?”

“If you had stayed here and watched the other battles, you would have already known about that,” Joanna sniffed. “That Sakura girl has a Goldeen, so they need to accommodate her.”

“Isn’t that a bit unfair?” Belle asked.

“Well, a Goldeen really couldn’t do much on land,” Gerald reasoned. “I guess they have to take that into account.”

Belle looked worriedly down at Cassandra, who didn’t appear to be freaking out at all.

But she was.

Cassandra was trying very hard not to move her facial muscles one bit as she stared down at the shifting water of the pool. What was this? What was going on? She raised her eyes to look at Sakura Konohana, who stood tall and erect in her kimono.

“Begin!” the MC said.

Sakura pulled a Poké Ball out of her sleeve and tossed it out towards the water. “Go, my Deena!”

A Goldeen burst from the Poké Ball and dived splendidly into the water, shaking out its tail.

“A magnificent entrance!” the MC announced. “The judges seem to have given Deena a respectable amount of points for it!”

Then we have to do better than that, Cassandra thought. She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, searching her memory for one of the more beautiful Poké Ball throws she had come up with.

Belle leaned forward in her seat. Cassandra raised her Poké Ball into the air above her head before bringing her arm across her chest and spinning around in a complete three-sixty. As she did so, she released the Poké Ball straight up into the air. “Fly, Swablu!”

Swablu rocketed out of the Poké Ball, wings tucked in and spinning as it whirled up, up, up, before fanning out its wings abruptly and hovering over the stage. The crowd burst into applause and the little yellow bar beneath Cassandra’s picture on the scoreboard shot forward.

“And Swablu makes an incredible entrance, putting its score ahead of Deena’s already!” The MC’s voice shrilled a bit in his excitement.

“Deena, use Horn Attack!”

“Goldeen!” Deena leapt out of the water.

“Underneath!” Cassandra called. Swablu understood. She waited until Deena was almost upon her; then she dipped underneath the Goldeen and flew past. “Now use Wing Attack!”

Swablu wheeled and brought its wing down on Deena, who fell back into the water with a flop.

“Ooh, that’s going to take away a considerable amount of points from Deena,” the MC said. The yellow bar under Sakura’s picture retracted.

“Doing great, Swablu!”

“Hide,” Sakura said, so soft that Cassandra could barely hear her. Deena dived down under the water and disappeared. Swablu hovered uncertainly. Cassandra squinted into the water, unsure of what to command. “Now!” Sakura yelled suddenly.

The Goldeen burst from the water and buried its horn into Swablu’s stomach. Swablu cried out and did an awkward sort of barrel roll, leaving Deena to dive gracefully back into the water. Of course, points were taken away.

Belle winced as she watched Cassandra’s yellow bar contract. Gerald looked troubled as well; he had his elbows placed on his knees and was frowning as he watched his daughter’s battle. Joanna, however, wore a half-smile as she brought her drink to her lips.

“Nancy talks about that Konohana girl,” she said, noticing that Belle was watching her. “She says that she’s a Lilycove favorite. I see why now.”

“You do realize that you’re supposed to root for your daughter, right?” Belle asked her.

“I root for the winner.” Joanna took a sip of her water. Belle had the urge to reach over and smack it into her face.

The battle was an intense one; points were given and taken away on both sides. It was the longest battle yet. After a while, it didn’t look so good for Swablu; she seemed tired, and her points were pretty low. Cassandra looked calm, but she was panicking as she surveyed the battle.

Sakura smirked. As far as she was concerned, she had this battle in the bag. “Hide,” she said softly.

Big mistake. Cassandra was a swift learner. In her mind’s eye, she saw Swablu hovering uncertainly over the stage and falling victim to Deena’s Horn Attack from below. She knew how to avoid it this time.

“Swablu, circle the stage from above!”

“Swa!” the Pokémon cried in reply, beginning its circling. Sakura frowned. If Swablu didn’t stay in one place, Deena wouldn’t know when to attack; the Goldeen was probably swimming in circles to match Swablu’s right now, uncertain.

“Now!” Sakura cried, hoping for the best. Deena burst out of the water.

“Do a barrel roll!” Cassandra yelled. She could see a question in Swablu’s eyes: Why?, but she did one anyway. Deena sailed up and over her, splashing as she landed back in the water.

“That was a beautiful dodge, but was it enough to give her more points?” the MC said into his mike. Cassandra’s yellow bar pushed forward a bit, but not enough to put her past Sakura. She gritted her teeth.

“Hide!” Sakura said desperately, eyeing her own yellow bar as the judges took away points for Deena’s graceless landing. She was now only ahead of Cassandra by a very small margin; she needed to get more points. The clock was going to run out soon; it hadn’t for any of the other battles, which had all resulted in a definite win by a Pokémon fainting.

Cassandra was beginning to see that Sakura was a bit of a one-trick pony. “Get her!” she yelled to Swablu. “Go fishing!”

Swablu did one quick tight circle over the center of the pool before diving into it. The crowd gasped.

Swablu didn’t come up.

For several agonizing seconds, neither Pokémon was visible. Cassandra watched the water, every muscle of her body on high alert. She saw a slight shadow and moved her hand; the shadow turned in the direction she indicated. She reached one hand back toward her hair, and then several things happened at once.

Cassandra’s hair fell from its bun and fanned out, catching the light as it tumbled down around her shoulders; she flung her arm out at the same moment, and Swablu burst from the surface of the water, synchronized perfectly with Cassandra’s movements. Deena flopped helplessly in her beak. Water droplets shimmered as they fell from her body, making her seem to glow as she ascended to the ceiling.

“A beautiful coordination between Trainer and Pokémon!” the MC shouted excitedly. “And what fishing skill!”

“Drop!” Cassandra called. Swablu opened her beak; Deena fell, tumbling over herself. “Hit!”

Swablu chased Deena down and buffeted her with a wing; she zoomed to the other end of the stadium, wheeled expertly, and then came back to hit Deena again. She kept this up until Deena landed in the water with a flop, belly-up.

She had fainted.

And Sakura’s points were now down to zero. Swablu’s, however, were practically bursting from the bar; the MC was yelling excitedly. “What a victory! Our own local, long-haired Cassandra Étoile has annihilated Sakura Konohana!”

Swablu shook itself dry before coming down to land in Cassandra’s arms; Cassandra squeezed it. The crowd was on its feet, including Belle and Gerald. Joanna set down her water and stood, clapping with a surprised expression on her face.



To: [email protected]
From: dacning_through_life@pokénet.com
Subject: I WOOOONNNN!!
_____________________________________________________________
Hey Alyssa,

I WON MY FIRST CONTEST!! I’m so happy! Mom even took me and Belle to Lilycove Department Store so I could pick out a ribbon case. She BOUGHT it for me. Isn’t that freakin’ AMAZING?? My mother did something nice for me!!

I don’t think I did all that well, but I won!! YAY!!

Well, tonight is Belle’s last night here (T_T), so I better get back to her. Oh, she wants to type something.


Hey, don’t let our modest Cassandra fool you. She did AWESOME!! You should have seen it! Actually, Papa G bought a DVD of the battle from the Contest Hall. We’re gonna put it on PokéTube!!! XD


Hey, Cassandra again. And NO SHE’S NOT.


Love your winning friend,
Cassandra ^_^


P.S. That email…we love you too, Alyssa. It really made us cry.


Chapter Seventeen was good. Keep it up :D:)

Legendarian Mistress
January 31st, 2010, 04:12 PM
My review is as follows...

Overall, you did a fantastic job.

However, I didn’t like Sakura or her Goldeen.

“Hide,” Sakura said, so soft that Cassandra could barely hear her. Deena dived down under the water and disappeared. Swablu hovered uncertainly. Cassandra squinted into the water, unsure of what to command. “Now!” Sakura yelled suddenly.

“Hide!” Sakura said desperately, eyeing her own yellow bar as the judges took away points for Deena’s graceless landing. She was now only ahead of Cassandra by a very small margin; she needed to get more points. The clock was going to run out soon; it hadn’t for any of the other battles, which had all resulted in a definite win by a Pokémon fainting.

I disliked these two parts in particular, because hiding seems cowardly.

the MC was yelling excitedly. “What a victory! Our own local, long-haired Cassandra Étoile has annihilated Sakura Konohana!”

IMO, this was the best part.

Keep up the excellent work.

King!
January 31st, 2010, 05:49 PM
:D I've read all seventeen chapters, and I have to say, good work. There are almost no grammatical errors *remembers Venosaur*, and you're characters are very believable. I like the idea of having three different girls, with different goals, and intertwining them to make a story. The only thing that I would like to see is that you show us more of the Pokemon moments, like how they capture their Pokemon, all of the contest battles, the gym battles, and training sessions. Every time you are a bout to do a battle, I get so excited, and then you skip right over it, and I am disappointed.

But overall, well done, I like the story, the ability I have to connect with it, and the character development and scenarios. Just work on showing us those things, and it will be perfect! :D

nokyo-chan
February 5th, 2010, 11:39 AM
Every time you are a bout to do a battle, I get so excited, and then you skip right over it, and I am disappointed.

I'm sorry. =\ This gets better, I promise...I'll be doing more battles and stoof soon!

nokyo-chan
February 5th, 2010, 11:44 AM
Chapter 18
Cassandra felt strangely empty as she watched Belle disappear into the sky the next morning, but she had to push the thought out of her mind. She needed to go off to Fallarbor Town— the next contest date was three weeks away.

Cassandra ate breakfast and then walked into the parlor, where Joanna and Gerald sat on the couch. Gerald put away his paper and smiled as she walked in. “There’s our little winner!” He stood up and embraced her. “How did it feel?”

“Good,” Cassandra replied. “Very good.”

“Well, much to my surprise, Cassie, you seem to have potential.” Joanna smiled as she took a sip of her coffee. “You may borrow Staraptor to get to Fallarbor Town.”

“Um, actually…I’d…” Cassandra looked over at Gerald rather than act like she wanted her mother’s blessing. “I’d rather go myself. Y’know…like Belle is going on her own.”

“Go yourself?” Joanna echoed. She set her mug down on the table in surprise.

“Like a Pokémon Journey,” Gerald said. “Well, you’re old enough now, and you have your official first Pokémon…I think it’s a grand idea!” He clapped his hands. “The only thing is, what route should you take?”

Cassandra grinned broadly. Joanna seemed shell-shocked. “But…perhaps we should hire a bodyguard or two to go after her. Or we could order a car.”

“No, that’s okay,” Cassandra told her. “I’d like to do this kind of…classically.”

“Kickin’ it old school!” Gerald proclaimed. “Now, as for routes…I’m not particularly fond of you going through Meteor Falls by yourself, but you’d be able to stop off in Rustboro if you went that way.”

“But there’s always a sandstorm brewing on Route 111,” Joanna said. “She shouldn’t be there by herself, either.”

“That’s true,” Gerald replied. “Hmm…well, Swablu, Finny, and Fluffy should be strong enough to get you through Meteor Falls. You know, Finny should be about ready to evolve…don’t you think, dear?”

“Yes, about ready.” Joanna lost interest in the conversation. She picked up her coffee mug and produced a crossword puzzle from seemingly nowhere. “You should pack.” Joanna then picked up a pencil and wrote down something on her puzzle.

“Yes, you should pack! We’ll help you!” Gerald sprang to his feet. “Come on, Joanna!” He knocked her elbow, making her spill coffee on her crossword.

___________________________________________

The very next day, Cassandra emerged from the Rusturf Tunnel, Finny trotting along beside her. She made her way to the Pokémon Center.

Once inside, Cassandra settled into one of the plastic chairs and pulled out her breakfast and a newspaper as she waited for Nurse Joy to tend to her Pokémon. She was just reading an article about strange Snorlax movements in Kanto when the glass door slid open again and a slightly familiar voice said, “Hello, Nurse Joy.”

“Hello, Karen.”

Cassandra looked up. A girl about a year or two younger than her was walking to the counter, her violently pink hair in two ponytails on either side of her head, both of which were in elaborate ringlets. She wore a pastel yellow sweater with sleeves that only let her fingertips protrude from the ends and a pink-and-yellow plaid skirt. A Wigglytuff walked beside her.

Karen Lowell and Tuffly, Cassandra’s first ever contest opponents.

Cassandra put her newspaper down in her lap as Karen and Tuffly approached Nurse Joy’s counter. “What brings you two here today?” Nurse Joy asked.

“We’re bored,” Karen replied.

“Wiggly!”

“I’m sorry. I don’t have much for you to help with today. I only have one person in here right now.”

Karen looked over her shoulder at Cassandra. “Hey! Hey! I know you! I’d recognize that hair anywhere! It’s so long, and it’s honey-colored.”

Cassandra blinked. This girl thought her hair was recognizable?

“You’re Cassandra Étoile! I went up against you in the preliminaries!”

“Yep. How are you and Tuffly? And what are you doing here?”
“Oh, we’re great! And I live here in Rustboro. So I guess the question is…what are you doing here?”

Cassandra smiled as she folded up her newspaper carefully. “I’m heading to Fallarbor. I figure I’ll get there early and introduce myself.”

“That’s a fantastic idea,” Karen told her. “A good Coordinator familiarizes him or herself with the Contest Hall.”

“So, are you trying to become a Coordinator?”
“Who, me? Oh, no. I just like Pokémon. I’ve tried being a Trainer, too, but the fact is…I just like them for pets.” She reached out and hugged Tuffly. “Right, Tuffly?”

“Wiggly.”

“Oh, you know what? You’re headed to Fallarbor, right? I’ll just go with you! Wait here and let me get my stuff together. We can travel together. It’ll be fun!”

Cassandra laughed. “Right. You’re cute.”

“Come on, Tuffly. Wait here, Cassandra, okay?”

“Wait, what— ?”

Karen rushed out of the Center.


____________________________________
To: dingdongbelle@pokénet.com
From: dancing_through_life@pokénet.com
Subject: Now I know how it feels.
_____________________________________________________________
So I unwittingly attracted a traveling companion.

Her name is Karen Lowell and she’s fifteen. She likes having Pokémon as pets, and she has a Wigglytuff named Tuffly. She’s actually the girl I first went up against in Verdanturf. Turns out she lives in Rustboro and she’s bored out of her mind, and her parents don’t care if she goes running off to Fallarbor Town with a sixteen-year-old stranger.

Whoopee for me.

Love your enthusiastic friend,
Cassandra


P.S. Okay, she’s not that bad.

nokyo-chan
February 5th, 2010, 11:55 AM
Chapter Nineteen
Belle stepped into the train station and adjusted her hat better on her head. Charmy reached up and held her hand like a four-year-old.

“Belle!”

She turned in the direction of the voice, catching a flash of tousled blonde hair. “Derrick?”

He grinned broadly as she came over towards him. “Surprised?”

“What are you doing here? I said I’d meet you at the Pokémon Center.”

“Well, I figured that it would be nice if someone was here at the station waiting for you. So, what’s the plan? Do you want to stay the night at the Center, rest up a bit, or do you want to go ahead to Vermilion City now? I’d recommend waiting, actually. The past week must have been tiring. Here, let me get your bag.”

Belle smiled. It was really sweet of him to think of her.

They walked to the Pokémon Center together. Derrick asked about her trip and listened with great enthusiasm as she told him of first Alyssa’s graduation speech, then Cassandra’s fantastic come-from-behind victory.

“Your friends sound almost as great as you,” he said.

Belle smiled again. “You know, I think they’re even better.”

“Nah,” Derrick said as the Pokémon Center door slid open. It was quite busy; people milled about the lobby, talking and laughing. Belle sighed as she looked around.

“It’s going to be hard to find a place to sleep.”

“Oh, so you’re going to stay the night?”

“Yeah, I’d better.”

“Well, it won’t be hard for you to get a place. Come on.” He led her through the crowd and waved at Nurse Joy as he passed by the counter and went into the back. He led her past the Pokémon being tended by Chansey and into a back room.

“This is where Nurse Joy set you up,” Belle observed. Derrick set her bag gently on the floor beside the bed.

“Yep. And you’ll sleep here tonight.”

“With you?” Belle was thunderstruck.

“No,” Derrick said quickly. “You’ll sleep in here, and I’ll go find a place out there.”

“But this is the place you’ve been sleeping— ”

“And you’re tired, right? Sleep here.” He gathered his things. “I’ll just go ahead and claim a space now.”

“Derrick, wait!”

“I’m not changing my mind,” he told her, pausing at the doorway. Belle smiled at him.

“I know. Thank you.”

He smiled back. “You’re welcome. Hey, once you get settled, we’ll go eat some dinner. Sound good?”

“Yeah.”

______________________________________________________________

The next morning, Derrick knocked softly on Belle’s door. When she called for him to come in, he entered to see her already dressed and packing her things.

“Oh…I thought I’d have to wake you up.”

“I’ve always been an early riser. Dad used to say that was the first sign of a Pokémon Trainer.” She paused, surprised that she had just said that.
Derrick seemed to sense the change in atmosphere.

“Used…to say?”

“Yeah. Dad…died.”

“Oh.” He came to kneel beside her. “How old were you?”

“Eight," she replied, a bit uncomfortably.

“I was nine.”

Belle looked over at him. She only saw his profile; he didn’t look at her. He reached forward and picked up a shirt that she had been meaning to grab off the floor, folding it idly. “We lived on Cinnabar Island…me, Mom, Dad, and Koko.”

“Koko?”

“My little sister.” He placed the shirt on her bag. “She was three. We were all fishing…Koko fell in, and Dad went in after her." A strange smile seemed to touch Derrick's lips. "He...was a little afraid of water." The smile disappeared, and he slowly pushed Belle's bag towards her, not looking at her. "A Tentacruel came up, and…Koko never surfaced. Dad was poisoned to death.” His whole body seemed to be rigid as he spoke.

Belle blinked and found her vision blurry. She turned away and shoved the folded shirt inside her bag, wiping away her tears as she did so. “I…I’m sorry. Is your mom worried about you?” She glanced over her shoulder at him. Derrick didn’t reply; he was, instead, smiling in a sad sort of way at the floor.

“So, uh…Didja catch any new Pokémon since I was gone?”

“Yeah. I caught a Geodude.” Derrick passed a hand in front of his eyes; Belle looked away. “I went back to Mount Moon to get it.”

“Wait.” Belle closed up her bag and stood up. “You went back to Mount Moon by yourself, after you made that big stink about not wanting me to go there alone?”

Derrick looked up at her and smiled. “Pretty much.”

Belle shook her head. “Well, I’m all packed. Let’s get a move on, shall we?”
He nodded and stood; Belle looked down at the floor and noticed a bit of water glistening where Derek had knelt.

___________________________________________________________________________________

To: dancing_through_life@pokénet.com
From: dingdongbelle@pokénet.com
Subject: Oh really?
_____________________________________________________________
It’s nice to hear that I’m not the only flypaper for freaks in the world.

But does your traveling companion have a tragic past? MINE DOES. Get this…when he was nine, he lost both his father and HIS THREE-YEAR-OLD SISTER. In one shot! His sister drowned and his father was poisoned by a Tentacruel trying to save her.
O
M
G
I CRIED. And so did he. He tried not to let me see, but I saw. 0.o

Well, I’m in the Vermilion City Pokémon Center right now. I caught a Diglett at Diglett Cave. Derrick had caught a Geodude, and I couldn’t let him have more Pokémon than me!! Also, I needed a Ground Type to use against Lt. Surge. Plus…
Don’t judge me…
I think Diglett is cute.
0.o

Oh, I think Derrick’s coming out of the bathroom. I don’t want him to know that I’m blabbing about his tragic past, so I’ve gotta wrap this up.

Love your turning-girly friend (YEEUUCCKK!),
Belle

King!
February 5th, 2010, 01:27 PM
Oh. Em. Eff. Gee.

Chapteer Nineteen...was awesome! I found these past two chapteers really enjoyable, as we learn more about Derrick, and Cass gets a partner. Chapteer eighteen was actually very funny. When Gerald got the coffee on the crossword, and when Cassandra made the remark about Karen's hair. xD

Then for chapter nineteen, epic. I was kind of annoyed by Derrick's kindness for some reason, but it wa just my problem, not yours as a writer, But then the chemistry between Derrick and Belle, and suddenly, you don't feel that Derrick is annoying and whiny anymore, but you feel bad for him, and it was great.

And I don't really have a problem with the battling scenes anymore (a.k.a. no battle scene for diglett) Because the fic is kind of more of a....I don't know how to put it. Like, more of a human fic than Pokemon. But overall, great chapters, can't wait for moere!

(btw, I hope Zigzagoon ends up as Alyssa's partner, I <3 Ziggy! xD)

Live Update King
February 6th, 2010, 08:43 AM
Its a human fic so it makes your fic stand out from the rest of the forum. Good luck with the next chapter :)

Legendarian Mistress
February 7th, 2010, 03:07 PM
Chapter 18’s review follows below...

I found Cassandra’s reaction to having been dumped with Karen amusing. Although, I have to admit, simply having her partners as mere pets would not impress Josephine (a character from my fic). She prefers to have them battle and be friendly with them.

Chapter 19’s review...

Reading about Derrick’s past was indeed sad and may actually be on equal par with what happened to Josephine’s older sister. Her name was Tara and her death was caused because of their other sibling, Rowan.

Buoysel
February 12th, 2010, 08:34 PM
Ha, the capture process is so hard to explain because you do it by drawing a circle around the Pokemon. I'm totally unsure as to how to explain that.

Actually, speaking of that, if anyone knows how a ranger actually captures Pokemon, could they tell me so I can stop being all vague in my story?? Thanks! XD


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Q4eHhaJWY8

http://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Capture_Styler


I saw you thread when you lasted updated I wanted to read it, so I bookmarked it, I just now got time to read it.

As stated before, the chapter where the Zigzagoon is captured needs work. I like how you skip over most of the battles.

It works and thats the cool part. The way you write it, it flows really well. I wouldn't change it at all I'm just complementing you on how you got it to work out.

Looks like you got another reader.

Sorry this post is short and choppy; I tired, soar, and buzzed. lol

nokyo-chan
February 18th, 2010, 07:46 AM
Thanks all you guys for your praise!! *blush blush*

And thanks to 157 for sending me links so that I can start describing how Alyssa captures Pokemon. It will make my life sooooooo much easier, thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!

nokyo-chan
February 18th, 2010, 07:51 AM
Chapter Twenty
Alyssa’s heart pounded in her chest as the glass doors of the Vientown Ranger Base slid open. It was time for her to start her new, exciting life of helping people and Pokémon. Zigzagoon, who she had decided to call Ziggy, happily trotted after her as she walked inside.

She had only been inside the Ranger Base one other time in her life— on a field trip a few years after she had joined the Ranger School. She had been about eight, and had looked around at the lobby with wonder.
She felt the same way now as she did back then.

The lobby spread out before her. The floor was green and grassy, and she stood on a glass walkway that bridged over a watery moat. She felt Ziggy push himself against her leg as he stared warily down at the water beneath his feet. The only places that weren’t covered in smooth green grass were the large computer in the corner on her left and the Operator’s office area in the corner to her right. The water, she knew, was to help keep the part of the tree on top of the building alive. Every Ranger Base had a bit of the tree on top, and the large Tree of Life (or whatever it was called) was growing out of the roof of the Ranger Union.

A few Rangers stood in the grass; one of them was a fat, dark-skinned man with a tuft of dark brown hair sprouting out of the top of his head. He turned as the door opened; he had been talking to Ian.

Ian smiled. “And there she is!”

“Right on time,” the fat Ranger said in a deep, booming voice. “I’m Barlow. I run things here at the Vientown Ranger Base. What’s that?” He pointed.

“Oh, this is Ziggy.” Alyssa scooped Zigzagoon up and walked forward a few paces. “I was hoping to make him my Partner Pokémon.”

“All right, done,” Barlow replied, waving his hand dismissively. “So, we usually make the rookie deliver the local newspaper. You up to that?”

The other two Rangers in the base and the Operator were now eyeing her with interest. Alyssa felt a rush of adrenaline. “You mean…like a mission?”

“Uh…sure, whatever. I’ll have somebody go with you. Any volunteers? Crawford? Luanne?”

The other two Rangers, a boy with a brown bowl cut and a raven-haired girl, shrugged noncommittally.

“I’ll do it,” Ian piped up.

“All right then. The papers are over there.” Barlow gestured towards the large computer behind him, where Alyssa now noticed were two stacks of newspapers tied with twine. “Actually, Ian, don’t you have a younger brother?”

Ian’s face darkened. “I helped him get stationed in Pueltown.”

Alyssa started heading over towards the papers, setting Ziggy down on the ground. He followed after her.

Ian picked up one stack of newspapers, and Alyssa scooped up the other. They left the base side-by-side.

“I made sure of it that Greg got stationed in Pueltown,” Ian remarked as he yanked at the twine. “They’re a bigger base, so he’ll get paid a little more.” He frowned. “That’s what he cares about. And I won’t have to deal with him here.”

“I’m glad I got stationed here,” Alyssa said. She yanked a newspaper off the top of the stack and tossed it into someone’s yard as they passed. When she looked at Ian, he appeared to be blushing.

“Well…I may have…done a little persuading…”

“What?” Alyssa asked. Ian didn’t reply; he pulled a newspaper off his stack and threw it onto a porch.

“Barlow doesn’t like trainees,” he said finally. They continued their routine of throwing. “He thinks it’s too much work to train one. You notice how you’re the only new Ranger that showed up today?”

Alyssa didn’t say anything. She was a bit surprised. Sure, Barlow seemed less than friendly, but…

“That crap about how we usually make the rookie deliver the paper…well, that’s when we get a rookie. I was his first rookie in seven years.” He grinned down at her. “But he took a liking to me; I did my job really well. So he listens when I recommend things, and…I recommended you.”

“Why, though?” Alyssa asked.

Ian’s ears turned red. “Well…you’re…nice. I kind of liked the idea of…getting to know you better. Working with you.”

Alyssa smiled and looked down at the paper, not even taking in the headline. By now, they only had a few newspapers left to deliver. “Well, I’m glad you did a little persuading. I like the idea of getting to know you better, too.”

Ian’s whole face turned beet red, and when he threw his last newspaper, it went wrong and smacked into the mailbox of the next-door neighbor to the house at which he was aiming, forcing him to go retrieve it.

Alyssa smiled. It felt good to fluster someone.


To: dancing_through_life@pokénet.com
From: [email protected]
Subject: COOL!!!
________________________________________________________________________
AWESOME!!! SUPER!!! I KNEW YOU COULD DO IT!!! CONGRATULATIONS!!!
It’s so cool that you won your first contest! I’m so happy for you! XD You have to email me the video!!! I DEMAND COVERAGE!!! How high do you have to go before it’s televised?
Well, I am so excited for you. And now you need to be excited for me. It turns out that I’m only stationed in Vientown because…get this…
IAN WANTED ME TO BE THERE!!!
Barlow never takes rookies, and Ian convinced him to!!! w00t! Do you think Ian has a crush on me??
…maybe.
…God I hope so.
AAAHH!! XD I am so happy!!
Well, I’ve gotta go…I need to get to bed. I had quite a busy day of waiting around and watching Bowl-Cut Crawford and Vain Luanne get quests.
…do I sound bitter?
Love your un-busy friend,
Alyssa

nokyo-chan
March 4th, 2010, 08:24 AM
Chapter Twenty-One
Belle blew gently on her coffee before raising the cup to her lips. The Vermilion City Pokémon Center was deserted; all the trainers that had been there the day before had left, either because they were going to challenge Lieutenant Surge or because they had already challenged him and needed to move onto Erika in Celadon. Belle and Derrick sat alone at a table, eating breakfast. They had decided to wait to take their gym challenge until all the trainers had finished. Neither of them had any desire to wait in a long line.

Belle set her coffee cup down and looked up at the TV absently. It was on the channel that played news all the time. She blinked. The pictures changed and the anchorwoman talked, but Belle didn’t take in any meaning.

“Oh, not again,” Derrick moaned suddenly. She glanced over at him; he was looking up at the television. “Nurse Joy, could you turn up the TV?”

“Certainly.” Nurse Joy picked up the remote from behind the counter and turned the volume up.

“—another Snorlax has fallen asleep. Anyone wishing to travel from Vermilion City must take the Lavender Town route.” The picture cut to a video of a large, slumbering Snorlax right in the middle of the path. Several people were dancing around it, yelling and pushing at it. “Police say that when the Snorlax has moved, the public will be notified.”

The anchorwoman appeared again and went off on some other story. Derrick moaned and slumped onto the table. “Those stupid Snorlax! I swear, they fall asleep in the most inconvenient places at the most inconvenient times. It’s like the world wants you to go out of your way sometimes for stupid reasons. I don’t want to go to Lavender Town. Let’s just stay here until the Snorlax moves.”

“No way!” Belle cried. “There’s no telling how long that’ll be! In Johto, there’s a weird tree right outside Goldenrod City that blocks the road, and you have to water it with a watering can. It freaks out and runs away, but there it is again the next day. And there’s no way around it unless you have this special watering can. With this, at least there’s a way around. We’re challenging Lieutenant Surge this afternoon, and then we’re setting off for Lavender Town.”

“But Lavender Town is haunted,” Derrick whined. “Isn’t it, Nurse Joy? You have a sister in Lavender Town, right?”

Nurse Joy smiled. “Well, yes, but she says that it’s really not so bad there.”

“See, Derrick? You have nothing to worry about. I’m going, with or without you.”

Derrick groaned and threw himself face down on the table again as Belle calmly took a sip of her coffee.

__________________________________________

Belle was feeling confident. With a Diglett, Lieutenant Surge had no chance of getting an attack in. She had progressed past his traps and stood before him, staring at him from under the brim of her hat.

“Go! Magneton!”

Crap. Magneton didn’t touch the ground, so Ground-type moves wouldn’t work on it. But it was part Steel…

“Charmy! Let’s go!” Belle tossed Charmy’s Poké Ball out onto the arena, and her Charmander broke free of it.

“Thunderbolt, Magneton!”

“Use Ember, Charmy!”

Charmy did so; the Fire-type move hit Magneton so hard that it was blown backwards a bit.

Lieutenant Surge’s face darkened considerably. Already his Magneton was hurt, and even burned. It hadn’t even attacked. Its three eyes seemed to point at each other. “Come on, Magneton! Use Thunder Wave!”

“Don’t let it attack, Charmy! Ember again!”

Charmy obeyed quite well. Magneton was toast; it fell to the ground, whirring tiredly, and the gym’s referee held up Belle’s colored flag.

“Magneton is unable to battle. Challenger wins!”

Belle folded her arms as Lt. Surge withdrew Magneton. “You shouldn’t look so smug, young lady,” he told her in a gruff voice as he picked another Poké Ball off his belt. “This next Pokémon is my last…and I can pretty much guarantee that— ” Surge stopped.

Belle followed his gaze to see a glowing Charmy standing where a non-glowing Charmy had stood just seconds before. “What? Charmy is evolving!” she cried out.

Charmy glowed brighter until he seemed composed of nothing but bright white light, and then his shape started to shift and turn; he grew taller, and a spike grew out of his once-round head. His arms got longer, his legs got thicker, his tail stretched just a tiny bit. Then the light faded, revealing a Pokémon that was red instead of orange, with a much fiercer gaze and long claws.

Lt. Surge was the one who broke the silence. “Your Charmy evolved into Charmeleon!”

“Oh,” Belle said. Charmy was now almost as tall as she was; when it came running back to her, arms outstretched to hug her, its head came to right underneath her breasts, and its head-spike protruded up past them. She placed a hand on the back of Charmy’s head. “Good job, Charmy. I’m so proud of you.”

“Meleon!”

“Okay, enough of the mushy love,” Surge barked. “Raichu!”

Raichu, although absolutely adorable, looked rather fierce. It bared its fangs as it burst out of the Poké Ball, thrashing its strange whip-like tail over its head. Belle withdrew Charmy to his Poké Ball and pulled a different one off her belt.

Well, it wasn’t really a belt. It was more like a loop of material that she kept slung ****-eyed around her hips, so that one side was up near her waist. But for simplicity’s sake, she called it a belt.

“It’s your turn, Diglett!”

“Diglett?” Surge muttered as the Pokémon appeared before him. His eyes widened.

“Use Dig!”

And then the Diglett disappeared. Shloop! and it was gone. Belle smiled grimly as she realized that she was using much the same technique as Sakura Konohana had against Cassandra.

“We’ve encountered this before, Raichu!” Surge shouted. “Feel the vibrations of the ground!”

Raichu went down on all fours, putting all of its limbs to the challenge. It closed its eyes and Belle bit her lip.

“Diglett, stop!” she cried. “Stay still!”

Lt. Surge folded his arms over his chest. “Ah. Giving up?”

Raichu stood, folding its own little arms and wearing much the same expression— a sideways smirk.

Belle grinned back. “I’d never give up. Now!” she shouted. Diglett surfaced right underneath Raichu, throwing the Pokémon up into the air. It squealed, but it righted itself and landed unharmed and catlike.

…Persian-like.

“Impressive,” Surge told her. “But I am a Gym Leader. I have seen most things. Raichu! Tackle!”

“Dodge!”

Schloop! Diglett disappeared under the ground and Raichu sailed over it.

“Magnitude!” Belle cried.

And Diglett, summoning all its strength, managed a beautiful Magnitude 8. Raichu was unable to escape as the ground shook.

“Now, Dig!”

With the whole floor shaking, Raichu was unable to sense Diglett’s vibrations and dodge; this time, when Diglett hit it, it went sailing into the air and landed in a crumpled heap. It was so fainted it might as well have had Xs over its eyes.

“Raichu is unable to battle! Challenger wins the match!”

Surge withdrew Raichu and stepped forward as Belle jumped up and down happily. The ground ceased its shaking and Diglett happily burrowed its way over to Belle, stopping in front of her to receive its praise. “Diglett dig!”

“Yeah, Diglett dig,” Belle told it, patting it. “You did a really good job.” She pulled out the Pokémon’s Poké Ball and allowed it to return before standing up. Lt. Surge came to a stop in front of her.

“You fought well,” he said, pulling a hand out of his pocket. He opened his fist; inside it was the Thunder Badge. “You’ve earned this.”

“Thank you so much!” Belle gasped, grabbing the badge from his hands. “Oh, thank you!” She looked up into his harsh, unsmiling face. “How many of these do you go through a year?”

“You’re asking about a year?” he said. “The numbers I go through a week are staggering, and you wanna know about a year?”

Belle glanced back at the floor behind Surge. “Um…sorry about that.” It was now split by numerous cracks and fissures.

“I lead an Electric-type gym. People bring Ground-type Pokémon. It happens all the time. You…you’re intuitive. And very familiar-looking. What’s your name?”

“Belle,” she replied. “Belle Caldwell.”

“Caldwell?” Surge frowned. “You know a man by the name of Daniel?”

“He was my father,” Belle replied.

Surge continued looking at her quizzically. “Was your father.”

“Yes. He…died.”

Surge closed his eyes and nodded. “I’m sorry to hear that. He was a strong man.”

“You knew him?”

“Of course I did. Before I shipped out to join the army, he came here to challenge the gym. He had an Ivysaur. I challenged him to a battle, and…well…he beat me.” Surge laughed. “That Ivysaur was damn strong.”

“I used to play with him,” Belle said. “Well…by the time I was born, he was a Venosaur, but…”

“Yeah, my son used to play with Raichu here. But listen, Belle. You share your father’s talent and instincts. You keep listening to your gut and keep training.”

Belle smiled. “Thanks, Lieutenant Surge.”

She stayed to watch Derrick battle Surge. He did quite well, seeing as Geodude had actual arms and could pick Raichu up. When they left the city together, they both clutched Thunder Badges.


To: dancing_through_life@pokénet.com, [email protected]
From: dingdongbelle@pokénet.com
Subject: THUNDER BADGE!!!
_____________________________________________________________
I GOT MY THUNDER BADGE, I GOT MY THUNDER BADGE, I GOT MY FREAKIN’ THUNDER BADGE AND IT FEEEEEEEEEELSSS SSSSOOOOOOO GOOOOOOOOOD!!!!
That’s right ladies, Belle Caldwell has got THREE BADGES. Oh, and to top it all off, Charmy evolved into Charmeleon. Yup! I have now got an evolved Pokémon on my team. w00t!!
Oh, Alyssa, Derrick’s tragic past— his little sister drowned and his dad got poisoned by a Tentacruel trying to save her.
*GASP*
I cried when he told me!! Also, I have a Diglett now. Don’t think I informed you. Sooo, how was your first daaaay??
And how’s the road, Cassandra?
Well, I’d better get going. It’s off to spooky haunted Lavender Town for me!!
Love from crazy excited,
Belle

 

nokyo-chan
March 4th, 2010, 08:36 AM
Chapter Twenty-Two
Cassandra was quite sure she was going to rip her hair out by the time she and Karen wandered out of Meteor Falls.

“That place is so stupid! Why is there a log bridge randomly between two cliffs?”

“Well, we did have to cross it in order to get out,” Karen told her. “Cheer up, Cassandra. We’re almost to Fallarbor Town.”

“Yeah, I guess so.” She tugged unhappily on the strap of her backpack and pushed her hair out of her face. She had long since twisted it into a bun, but her bangs insisted on falling into her eyes.

A short trek later, Cassandra and Karen ended up in Fallarbor Town. It wasn’t much to speak of; it was small, and ash seemed to be falling from the sky. Its only redeeming quality was the special, Coordinator-only hot spring situated inside the Contest Hall, which Cassandra was already planning to get into.

“Ooh, a hot spring!” Karen said as Cassandra told her about it and they went into the Center. “That’ll be fun, won’t it, Tuffly?”

“Wiggly!” the Pokémon agreed. Karen didn’t seem to have a Poké Ball— and if she did, she wasn’t using it. Tuffly walked with them the whole way.

Cassandra went straight to the counter to talk to Nurse Joy. The woman clapped happily when she saw her. “Oh, hello! You’re Cassandra Étoile, right?”

“Y-yeah…how did you know?”

“My sister in Verdanturf told me,” Nurse Joy replied. “She sent me a video from the DVD she gets complimentary from judging the contest. You were magnificent! And my sister in Rustboro said you got a traveling companion? Where’s Karen?”

Cassandra looked over her shoulder and blinked. Karen was nowhere to be found; she had disappeared. “Um…I don’t actually know,” she replied. “She was right behind me when I walked in. Do you…know…Karen?”

“No. But my sister in Rustboro tells me all about her. She loves Pokémon, and she comes into the Pokémon Center every day to help out.”

“So…” Cassandra leaned in. “What’s up with her parents? Why are they willing to let her run off to Fallarbor Town with a stranger?”

“Well, apparently they’re hippies.”

“…hippies.”

“Yes. They are very free-spirited. Both her mother and her father have hair down to their waists, and they believe very much in the unity between Pokémon and humans.”

“Great. So do they smoke a lot of dope?”

Nurse Joy laughed appreciatively. “I don’t know, Miss Étoile.”

“Please, just call me Cassandra.”

“I’m ready for the hot spring!”

Cassandra turned and Nurse Joy looked up; Karen stood behind them, looking absolutely adorable in her bright blue one-piece bathing suit. She reminded Cassandra of very brightly-colored cotton candy. The girl did a little twirl; Tuffly turned with her. It was quite a well-choreographed move. Perhaps Karen did have a bit of potential as a Coordinator.

“Great,” Cassandra said again. “Is it okay if I drop my Pokémon off here, Nurse Joy? They need a bit of rest. We just came through Meteor Falls.”

“No problem,” Nurse Joy replied as Cassandra handed over her three Poké Balls.
______________________________


“Why, if it isn’t Cassandra Étoile.”

Cassandra blinked. Sakura Konohana smiled demurely up at her from her place in the hot spring. Her wet red hair tumbled down around her, sprawling out once it got to her shoulders; it wasn’t quite as long as Cassandra’s. About Alyssa’s length, Cassandra thought to herself. She could make out an orange-and-white tail bobbing next to Sakura in the water.

“Let’s go, Tuffly!” Karen said, pushing past Cassandra to clamber down into the hot spring.

“Wiggly!” Tuffly followed as best it could; with its giant bulk and tiny arms, it couldn’t quite grip the ladder, so it slipped and fell into the hot spring with a splash. Karen laughed happily and wiped the water from her face; Sakura chuckled appreciatively.

Cassandra lowered herself into the water carefully and picked out a place to sit. She sighed happily, relaxing for a moment, before turning to Sakura. “So, what are you doing here? Did you come to watch the contest?”

“Oh, no,” Sakura told her. “I’m here to compete.”

“But…you lost at Verdanturf,” Cassandra said hesitantly. “You have to beat the Normal Rank in order to move on to the Super Rank here in Fallarbor.”

Sakura tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “Yes, but I competed in the contest directly before the one in which I battled you, and I won. The Normal Rank has theirs more often, so I wanted to move through it as many times as possible before I moved on to the Super Rank. I now believe I have enough experience to win here.”

“Goldeen goldeen,” the Pokémon toned from underwater.

Cassandra nodded. “That’s cool. Verdanturf Contest Hall has theirs once every few weeks, right? How far apart is Fallarbor’s?”

“Theirs is a monthly contest.”

“And it’s broadcasted on some of the less-watched cable stations,” Karen piped up. “Hyper Rank in Slateport City is totally different, though. They have their contests once every two months, and it’s widely televised.” For a moment, she seemed fixated on the water running through her palms as she scooped it up in her hands. “But the Master Rank in Lilycove City…” The water slid off her fingers again. “They hold their contests…”

“Four times a year,” Sakura finished. “So if you don’t win the first time, you have to wait a very long time for another contest date.”

The water slipped easily from Karen’s hands, splashing delicately into the spring.


To: [email protected]
From: dancing_through_life@pokénet.com
Subject: Televised contests!!
_____________________________________________________________
Hey Alyssa!!
They actually start televising contests at the Super Rank, but only on lesser-watched channels…so you may not be able to see my Fallarbor performance unless I send you something.
Sorry your first day sucked. Things will get better!! At least you have a hot guy to flirt with while you work…contests are total taco-fests.
Did I actually just put that?
Anyway, I’ll email you later!
Love you lots,
Cassandra

Dagzar
March 9th, 2010, 12:25 PM
Alright-y, review time! You definitely have the basics down, though I did see a few things:


“I don’t have enough money for a hotel room,” Belle said uncertainly.

“Trainers are allowed to stay for free at Pokémon Centers,” Professor Oak told her.
I’m surprised that Belle didn’t know she could stay free at a Pokemon Center. She wanted to be a trainer since she was nine, right? Then she should definitely know that info already. It’s basic stuff.

One rude person shoved her and she “accidentally” lit the shoulder of his coat on fire with Charmy’s tail, making the man squawk and bat at it with his briefcase. Whoa, Belle set a person on fire? That’s not funny. He could get seriously burned because of that and I wouldn’t be surprised if Belle was arrested. That could even be seen as attempted murder.

Police say that when the Snorlax has moved, the public will be notified.” Why doesn’t someone just force Snorlax up, attack it and / or catch it? It’s not that hard. If you can’t wake it up, that mean it’s just easier to capture.

And there’s no way around it unless you have this special watering can. Sudowoodo are skinny little things. I can’t see how they would be difficult to get by.

Most of the problems above stem from you taking things directly from the games or anime and trying to duplicate them in a realistic environment. It just doesn’t work, though the shout outs (like the Sudowoodo one) are rather nice to read.

You have a good start, though I do think your chapters are a bit on the short side. One thing I really like is how you end each chapter with an email from the focused character to the other two, detailing the events. The emails are very realistic and they’re just how I would imagine teenager girls to write (the caps and smilies everywhere help).

Out of the characters, I have to say I like Belle the best. She seems cute and I love the relationship she has with her brother. Cassandra’s nice too, but I absolutely despise her mother. Why Gerald married a woman like that I’ll never know. At least Cassandra’s mother seems to be defrosting slightly with Cassandra’s win. I don’t know much of the Ranger games, so I’m not that attached with Alyssa, but she’s starting to grow on me.

One thing you should really work on is description. I’d rather liked to have seen all those battles you skipped past and the coordinator battles with Cassandra. The first coordinator battle especially, since it would develop Karen’s character right from the get go.

I’ll keep my eye on further chapters, so keep up the good work!

nokyo-chan
March 9th, 2010, 02:12 PM
Wow, Dagzar! Thanks for all the constructive criticism! I hadn't thought about the actual physics of Sudowoodo and Snorlax; they're kind of just end there as game shout-outs, like you said. They're not too terribly important.

I’m surprised that Belle didn’t know she could stay free at a Pokemon Center. She wanted to be a trainer since she was nine, right? Then she should definitely know that info already. It’s basic stuff.

I didn't think about that. o.0 I'll have to go back and say something about how she was making sure the laws were the same in Kanto as they were in Johto. Thanks much for pointing that out!

You have a good start, though I do think your chapters are a bit on the short side. One thing I really like is how you end each chapter with an email from the focused character to the other two, detailing the events. The emails are very realistic and they’re just how I would imagine teenager girls to write (the caps and smilies everywhere help).


The short chapters start to get longer; the reason they're so short right now is because when I originally started this story, I had all three girls in one chapter, with an e-mail between each installment---the chapters started getting too lengthy, though, so I split them up. They start getting relatively longer as the fic moves on. And thanks for the praise on the e-mails! A lot of people seem to like those...o.0

Why Gerald married a woman like that I’ll never know.

Teehee, if you continue to read, you will. ;)

One thing you should really work on is description. I’d rather liked to have seen all those battles you skipped past and the coordinator battles with Cassandra.

This fic is mostly centered around the humans, and I promise the describing-the-battle thing gets better later (just wait til Belle battles Sabrina XD). It's just that Cassandra's beginning battles aren't particularly important to the overall plot of the story, and they take up space that I would like to devote to her Sakura battles. And as for battling Karen---I am going to have to admit that having Karen accompany Cassandra was a last-minute decision, but now she's closely linked to the plot. A lot of things I do are like that. o.0

Anyway, thanks so much for your review! I love reviews like yours!

nokyo-chan
April 8th, 2010, 10:33 AM
Chapter Twenty-Three
After taking a full day wandering through some strange grass maze peppered with random trainers and then a series of piers with tons of fisherman, Belle and Derrick emerged between two cliffs to find themselves in Lavender Town.

Belle squinted up at Pokémon Tower. Tall and gray, it stretched into the sky above them, obviously the town’s landmark.

“Oookay,” Derrick said, hurrying forward. “Let’s just get out of here.”

“Don’t be retarded,” Belle snapped. “We have to rest our Pokémon, and I’m tired too. Plus, it’s almost dark. Let’s find the PokéCenter.”

“No, please,” Derrick begged as she started forward and grabbed his wrist. “It’s so creepy here…”

They passed by a large house labeled the Pokémon Volunteer House and found the Pokémon Center. It seemed bright and cheery compared to Pokémon Tower. The glass door slid open automatically and they stepped in.

Only a few trainers occupied the Center, and they were all grouped around one round table, leaning in and speaking in hushed voices. Belle glanced over at them, straining nosily to hear their conversation. One of them gasped. “An HM?” she said. The others quickly shushed her.

“At the top of the tower,” said the boy across from her. “But there are tons of Ghost Pokémon up there…vicious ones.”

“How vicious?” asked another.

One of the trainers, who had been silent before, leaned forward. His face had been cast in shadow, but now, as he brought it into the light, they could all see that it was deadly pale. “Extremely vicious,” he said, his whispery voice shaking.

Belle walked quickly to the counter, where Derrick was handing his Pokémon over to Nurse Joy. “Did you hear that?” she whispered excitedly.

“Extremely vicious ghosts? Yeah! I did!” Derrick pushed a bit of his blonde hair out of his eyes, which were wide with fear.

“No,” Belle said impatiently. “The HM at the top of the tower.”

“You’re not seriously thinking of going,” he said.

“Why not?”

“Extremely vicious ghosts. Hello?”

Belle shrugged. “Well, I’ll go, and you can wait here.”
“Please don’t go,” he begged as she handed her Poké Balls to Nurse Joy. “Please, please don’t.”

“I’m not going to pass up that HM,” Belle retorted. “I’m just not.”

“Then…wait til tomorrow,” Derrick said. “It’s dark out.”

She blinked. He seemed extremely worried, that much she could tell. His forehead was creased and he was frowning. A bit of blonde bangs fuzzed over his gray eyes, and he pushed them out of his face as he looked at her.

“All right. I’ll wait until morning. You sure you don’t want to go, though?”

“Positive.”

Later, all the other trainers had fallen asleep, but Belle and Derrick lay with their sleeping bags side-by-side in the dark.

“Why do you want to go?” Derrick asked her.

Belle shifted. “I want that HM.”

“What about the vicious ghosts?”

She shrugged noncommittally. Derrick saw her outline faintly, and he scoffed. “You’re so stubborn. All girls must be.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Koko was too.”

A strange silence fell upon them like rain; not heavy or awkward, but graceful and serene. It washed over them, drenching them.

Belle pulled her arms out of her sleeping bag and placed them by her sides. “I never told you how my dad died.”

Derrick said nothing. He didn’t even move; the only sounds were the light snores of a redheaded boy in another section of the lobby.

“He was a Pokémon Trainer. But he wasn’t one of those that just quit after a while, you know? He was dedicated. He started off here in Kanto, and then went off to the Pokémon League. He didn’t win, but he got to the semi-finals. And then he went to Johto.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she vaguely saw Derrick’s form shifting in his sleeping bag. After he settled down again, she continued. “He met my mom there…in Goldenrod City. She was passing through on her own Journey. She was originally from Ecruteak, and she was going back for a gym battle. Dad said he fell in love with Mom as soon as he saw her.”

“What’s your mom’s name?” Derrick asked her.

“Terra. Terra Caldwell…but back then, it was Terra Carson. Why?”

“Just…feels like it’s more real that way.”

Belle considered this for a moment. “Then, what’s your mom’s name?”

“Angelina Evans. But Dad called her Angel…his Angel.”

“And your dad’s name?”

“Joseph. Mom called him Joey. Your dad’s name?”

“Daniel. Mom didn’t have any nicknames for him.”

“Ah. Okay. Sorry to interrupt. Please go on.”

“So, they traveled together. They were both heading to Ecruteak, so they decided…why not? At the end of it, they were in love, and they got married and had me. Mom was done with her Journey, so they moved to Cherrygrove City—it’s not a city, I have no idea why it’s called that—to settle down.”

“But you said your dad was dedicated.”

“He was. He lived there for a few years…and then he told Mom that he wanted to go to Hoenn. So he did. He packed up all his Pokémon. He wanted us to go, but Mom said no. She said that it was no life for a child, but we’d be waiting for him to get back.”

“Did he come back?”

“Yes. From Hoenn, he did. And he brought some new Pokémon for me to play with. He stayed with us for a few more years, and then he decided to go to Sinnoh. And then, he said, he’d be done.”

“Done?”

“Yeah. After you beat all the gyms in all the regions, there’s not much else to do, is there?” Belle smiled ruefully up at the ceiling. “So he went. While he was away, Mom discovered she was pregnant.”

“Derek.”

Belle blinked. “Excuse me?”

“Your little brother, Derek. He spells it D-E-R-E-K, right?”

“Oh. Yeah.” She vaguely remembered telling him such when they first met. “Well, anyway, not long after Derek was born, an Officer Jenny visited our house.” Suddenly, Belle’s voice cracked, and she closed her eyes, taking a few moments to compose herself. “She told us…that Dad had tried to stop Team Galactic from doing something.”

“Team Galactic?” Derrick said. “I hear they’re hooking up with Team Rocket now.”

“What does Team Rocket even do?” Belle asked.

“Steal Pokémon!”

“And then what? What do they do with them?”

Derrick was quiet for a moment. “No idea. But continue. Team Galactic.”

“Right. Well, Team Galactic actually does stuff. They’re always trying to make the world better with this perverse, twisted logic. And Dad got in the way of that. Apparently, they were torturing somebody, and Dad stepped in to take care of them. Well, in the real world, people don’t just fight with Pokémon.” Belle drew a deep, shaky breath. She could feel a lump rising in her throat, and her eyes began to burn. “They…killed him. No trace of his body was ever found.” Her voice was shaking, but it was beyond her control. She had never really gone into much detail about this, not even with Cassandra and Alyssa. It was hard. “He was coming home to see Derek. He never got to. And Derek never knew him.” She sniffed. “Derek has his eyes, you know,” she said as a few tears leaked out of her own. “They’re blue. When he looks at me, it’s like…Dad’s looking at me again.” Her voice didn’t sound as though it belonged to her. It was foreign; she had never talked and cried at the same time before.

Derrick moved in his sleeping bag, and a moment later, Belle felt his hand brush her arm. He gently pushed her hand to lay palm up, and he laced his fingers through hers and squeezed.

They fell asleep holding hands.
__________________________________________

When Belle awoke, she was lying on her side, facing Derrick. He faced her as well; they were now holding hands with the opposite ones. How they had switched during the night, she had no idea. He was still asleep; his lips were slightly parted, and she could see his back rising and falling underneath his blanket. He looked so sweet with his eyes closed, his eyelashes gently curving against his cheek. His hair fell softly around his head. As she watched him sleep, she thought back to something she had put in an email to Alyssa.

He’s more like a pest than a potential boyfriend.

Belle’s gaze fell to their interlocked fingers. Well, what was he now?

She pulled her hand away from his and got up. She grabbed some clothes out of her bag and headed for the shower. Would this change things?

When Belle came back out, Derrick was sitting up in his sleeping bag, digging the heel of his hand into one eye. He looked up at her and smiled.
“Good morning!”

“Morning,” Belle replied as she came back to her sleeping bag and knelt on it. “I’m going to Pokémon Tower today.”

Derrick groaned and fell back on his pillow. “I’m scared for you.”

She paused and glanced over at him. I’m scared for you.

“Please don’t go.”

“I’m going, and you can’t stop me. I’m leaving now.” She hooked her Poké Balls to her belt and stood.

Derrick sat up and caught her wrist gently; she looked down at him, at his worried expression, his tousled blonde hair, his gray eyes that still looked a little sleepy. “I’d feel better,” he said, “if you’d send Charmy out to walk with you.”

Belle raised her eyebrows. “You’d feel better?”

He nodded. “I’d be less worried.”

“Less worried.”

He nodded again.

With a sigh, Belle plucked Charmy’s Poké Ball off her belt and tossed it out in front of her. With a cry, it burst out of its Poké Ball, and then looked around, confused.

“There’s no battle. I just want you to walk with me.”

Charmy seemed happy about that. It took its place by her side, holding her hand with its claw like it did when it was a Charmander. Belle gave Derrick a little wave as she left the PokéCenter.

Pokémon Tower was an extremely short walk. It seemed to be busy today; Belle found this odd. She slipped in the front doors.

The lobby area was full of people, all dressed in black. “This seems a little morbid, Charmy,” she said quietly. The Pokémon responded with a soft noise of agreement.

And then she realized—everyone looked sad. Even the woman at the reception counter wore an expression of pain. Belle weaved her way through the crowd, catching snatches of conversation.

“So young…why did it have to…?”

“She must be devastated.”

“What happened to it?”

“Birth complications. Poor thing only lasted a few months.”

Belle finally found her way to the back of the room and stopped short. A small table was draped in a white cloth, and a small black box rested on top. The top of the box was open, and three people stood in front of it, gazing at its contents. The first was a woman, dressed in a black, floor-length dress. The second was a man, probably her husband, wearing a black suit. Between them was a small girl of about five. Her light brown hair was held back with purple barrettes, and she wore a little black dress trimmed with white lace. She didn’t appear to be looking at the box; her head was bowed, her eyes closed.

“Come on, dear,” the woman said gently, taking her daughter’s hand. “There’s nothing we can do to help him now.”

The girl nodded. When she turned, Belle caught sight of the little family’s faces; all of them looked incredibly sad, their eyes red and puffy. The little girl had tears running down her face, and she kept her eyes on her shiny black shoes as they walked away from the box.

Belle was now alone; she glanced around to see if anyone was watching this intruder, this girl wearing shorts and a dark green T-shirt, step up to the box and look in. Charmy came with her. They both stared into the box, and Belle’s eyes widened.

Inside was the body of a baby Pichu. It could have been sleeping, except that the multitude of people dressed in black milling around in the lobby suggested otherwise. A small picture in a wooden frame leaned against the box—it was a snapshot of the little girl Belle had just seen, happily cradling a very alive-looking Pichu.

This Pichu was dead.

All the snatches of conversation Belle had caught made sense now. This was a funeral…a funeral for a baby Pokémon. She backed away from the casket—now she realized what it was—and turned to go up the stairs, moving away from the sadness before it threatened to overtake her. Pokémon died? She had never thought about it. But it made sense—everything died, everything ended. But why this? Why a baby?

Belle came to the second floor and looked around. Tombstones stretched out before her, gleaming white. She reached for Charmy’s claw again, and he held her hand. She glanced down and saw the tears welling up in her Pokémon’s eyes. Pokémon Tower. This place was a tower, and each floor would have tombstones. Each tombstone represented a dead Pokémon, someone’s dead friend, someone’s Charmy…someone’s Pichu.

Belle felt the sobs coming before they broke out of her, ringing in the silence of the tower. Charmy stepped forward and wrapped its arms around her, pressing its face into her stomach, comforting her. She laid a hand on the back of its head and bowed her own.

When she had regained her composure, Belle progressed to the top of the tower to get the HM. No vicious ghosts plagued her; perhaps they only bothered people who didn’t understand. She moved slowly, touching all the tombstones that came within her reach and whispering sorrowfully to them. When she finally got back to the lobby, the Pichu funeral was long over; the casket and table were gone. She slipped out of the Tower and into the night air.

Had it really taken her that long? She walked back to the PokéCenter, Charmy delicately holding her hand. She drew a deep breath before she went in.

The trainers that had spoken of vicious ghosts had left, but a few new trainers sat at the same table, playing cards, blissfully unaware of the air of sorrow that ran thick through Pokémon Tower. Derrick sat with them; he turned and waved happily to her.

“Belle!” he said cheerily. She forced a smile and walked over. “Want to play cards?”

“No thanks,” she heard herself reply as if from far away. “I’m tired…I think I’ll just take a shower and get to bed early.”

“Did you get the HM?”

She nodded. “We’ll leave in the morning, if that’s okay.”

“Hallelujah!” Derrick said happily, slapping the table. “Away from here to Celadon!”

“Yeah,” Belle said, and she went over to gather her things for her shower.
That night, Belle laid in her sleeping bag and waited for Derrick to fall asleep beside her. There was no hand-holding that night. Instead, when he was asleep, she slid out of her bedroll fully dressed and packed everything up. She leaned down and pressed a gentle kiss to his cheek before turning and leaving the Center. She sent Charmy out to walk with her as she left Lavender Town behind, heading to Celadon City on her own.

There was no way she could burden him with anything she saw or felt in Lavender Tower.
___________________________________


To:dancing_through_life@pokénet.com, [email protected]
From: dingdongbelle@pokénet.com
Subject: <blank>
_____________________________________________________________
Derrick and I aren’t traveling together anymore. I’m heading to Celadon City now. Erika’s gym is there. I’ll email you guys telling you how the battle turned out.
Love,
Belle

Legendarian Mistress
April 8th, 2010, 03:44 PM
My review is as follows...

Chapter 20:

PokéCenter

I do it like this: Pokémon Centre.

Now, you don’t have to follow the Australian way of spelling ‘centre’, because I know and understand Americans do things differently to us. What I’m hinting at, however, is the full spelling of ‘Pokémon’. Again, you don’t have to listen to what I say, it’s merely a suggestion.

Chapter 21:

“—another Snorlax has fallen asleep. Anyone wishing to travel from Vermilion City must take the Lavender Town route.”

I roflmao-ed at this.

In light of what I learned that day, I’d like to thank you nokyo. For your sake, I’m gonna keep the spoilers secret.

Chapter 22:

All I can really say for this chapter is that I really, really loathe Sakura.

Chapter 23:

If you ask me, Belle should have told Derrick what she’d experienced. That way, there wouldn’t have to be a cat and mouse game of Derrick trying to catch up to her.

King!
April 8th, 2010, 07:21 PM
OMFG! Drrrrama!
Your Lt.Surge battle went a bit quick, but at least you drew out a battle for us at all. I kind of wished you'd went into Derrick's battle a bit more, though, because I want to know how he battles, and his Pokemon better. Oh, and, going back a chapter, Alyssa and Ian equals <3 <3 <3
Jumping forward, you spelled Venusaur wrong again. ;3
Next chapter, it was cool. Although, I would've liked some more Meteor Falls attention, and maybe even a couple of Zubats? :P And yes, I do hate Sakura or whatever the name is. Although, I cannot imagine her with red hair, and chuckling to herself at that...
And for the final chapter, that was awesome. The whole relationship with Derrick thing, and then leaving him. And that poor Pichu...... ;.;
But yeah, good job on these chapters. Nice moving the story along, and I have a feeling that the plot will get much mroe interesting as well.
Sorry for the choppy review. One last thing: GO TEAM ROCKET-GALACTIC!

nokyo-chan
April 20th, 2010, 08:57 AM
Now, you don’t have to follow the Australian way of spelling ‘centre’, because I know and understand Americans do things differently to us. What I’m hinting at, however, is the full spelling of ‘Pokémon’.

They shorten it in the anime, and it's also short in the game, so I just picked it up. ^_^

In light of what I learned that day, I’d like to thank you nokyo. For your sake, I’m gonna keep the spoilers secret.

I'm confused...could you pm me with the explanation to this? o.0

One last thing: GO TEAM ROCKET-GALACTIC!

The only reply to this that I can think of is: You are awesome.

Thanks for reading, everybody!!

nokyo-chan
April 20th, 2010, 09:07 AM
Chapter Twenty-Four
Over the past week, Barlow had started giving Alyssa increasingly more difficult tasks. Alyssa had risen to the challenge wonderfully, much to Barlow’s pleasure. Now she walked in happily, brushing the bangs out of her eyes.

But something was off.

Everyone inside was panicking, running around, yelling, wide-eyed and scared. Finally, Barlow bellowed “Quiet!” at the top of his lungs, making everyone stop.

“We have to keep our heads!” Barlow told everyone. “Crawford, you and I will go to the school. Rookies, patrol the beach.”

“What’s going on?” Alyssa asked.

“Bomb threat at the Ranger School,” Ian told her, appearing beside her. “And Barlow doesn’t think we can handle it.”

“Bomb threat?” Alyssa snapped suddenly. “It’s summer vacation! Who’s there?”

“They’re doing a sort of student orientation thing at the moment,” Luanne piped up. “People just coming into the school are there, touring and such.”

“But…that means…” Alyssa looked up at Ian, who nodded.

“Yep. The school is full of small children right now.”

Children entered the Ranger School at age five, and they continued their education on up till age sixteen. Except for the occasional transfer, students at the school grew up together.

“Who put in the threat?” Alyssa demanded.

“Some group of weirdos dressed as spacemen,” Barlow replied. “They call themselves Team Galactic. Crawford and I need to get down there now. Ian, Alyssa, you two patrol the beach— cut off their escape.”

“They won’t need the beach to escape! There’s water by the school! They could have a boat there!” Ian said angrily.

“Do what I say,” Barlow snarled.

“What about me?” Luanne asked.

“You stay here and guard the base.”

“What?”

“Your Partner Pokémon is a Buneary,” Barlow said, pointing out the little Pokémon beside her. “It’s useless. Come on, Crawford!”

“Come on, Alyssa.” Ian angrily turned and left the base, heading for the beach.

___________________________
“This is stupid!” Alyssa cried, kicking sand up. Ziggy used Sand Attack in imitation. “There’s a bomb threat on our school, and we can’t even help!”

Ian growled in response and ran the fingers of both hands furiously through his hair, seeming to pull at it as he got near the back. “What kind of a sick weirdo threatens a school full of children?” he grumbled. Prinplup muttered angrily in reply before waddling off toward the ocean.

Alyssa squinted up at the sky, which was a clear, peaceful blue. She imagined it full of smoke, a mushroom cloud blossoming in the distance. “I feel so useless,” she said finally, trying to rid herself of the images.

“Me too.” Ian sighed and plopped down on the sand, propping his elbows up on his knees. “There’s no way we can help at all. If we try to go over to the school ourselves, we’ll probably just end up getting in Barlow and Crawford’s way.” He pushed his face into his hand, closing his eyes. “And…what if they blow up the school?” he said quietly after a long pause. “What if…all those children get badly burned? Or worse…what if they die?”

Alyssa wrapped her arms around her stomach. “Barlow and Crawford will know what to do,” she said forcefully, trying to reassure herself. Silence descended upon them for a while before Alyssa found the courage to speak again. “Um…Ian? Is…is this the kind of thing you have to deal with a lot?”

Ian nodded.

“This worry? The fear of…death?”

He nodded again.

“Is this a big part of being a Ranger?”

“It’s a huge part of being a Ranger.” Ian dropped his hand from his face. “I didn’t expect it, but the worry…it’s intense. It’s exciting, sure, but the danger isn’t always just yours, just something you face, alone. Often, people and Pokémon are in danger, too. Oh, and you know how everyone tells you that all Pokémon are good?” He glanced sideways up at her, waiting for her to nod. When she did, he continued. “Don’t believe that. There are mean Pokémon. Evil Pokémon. A lot of being a Ranger is un-learning some things you learned. Did you hear that?” he snapped suddenly, springing to his feet.

Alyssa’s head was still reeling with the term evil Pokémon. “No,” she replied.

Ian shushed her. After a few seconds of silence, she heard it, too— voices, faint shouting, coming from Vientown.

“Who is it?” Alyssa asked.

“No one I recognize. It might be best to hide.” He ran past her, grabbing her and pulling her along by her wrist. “Prinplup! Underwater!”

Prinplup ducked quickly under the water; Ziggy followed Alyssa and Ian into the crazily-growing shrubbery by the entrance of Marine Cave. Alyssa pulled the Zigzagoon into her lap as she crouched down, peering out at the beach.

About ten or fifteen people came rushing onto the sand, all dressed in strange spacesuits with short, bright blue hair. A G could clearly be seen on their chests.

The leader was a man of about twenty; he led the pack across the beach, yelling, “To the hideout!” They sped right past Alyssa and Ian’s hiding spot, jostling and shouting as they disappeared into the cave. The leader at the front yelled for order, but no one listened.

After they were gone, Alyssa and Ian glanced at each other. “We have to go in after them,” Alyssa whispered.

Ian nodded.


The two Rangers made their way stealthily after Team Galactic, who led them deeper and deeper into Marine Cave. Stalagmites and stalactites jutted up from the floor and down from the ceiling, dripping water.

Finally, Team Galactic arrived at their hideout. It was a huge cavern that seemed as though it had been here naturally, but Galactic had done a few things to it; it was coated with what Alyssa was sure was a soundproof metal, and the cave floor had obviously been flattened. On the far side of the cavern, the floor ended and water began. What looked like several submarines floated in a makeshift harbor. Even more members of Team Galactic teemed throughout the hideout, doing various tasks with Pokémon.

“Listen!” shouted the leader as he entered the cave; Ian pulled Alyssa behind a boulder. “The Rangers thwarted our plan. I’m not sure how long we have to get out, because they may have followed us. We’ll have to destroy the hideout. Load up the submarines!”

An explosion of activity ensued; Alyssa and Ian watched intently as they loaded up. “How do they plan to destroy this place?”

“With a Galactic Bomb.”

The two whirled around; they were being watched. A man stood before them. He had dark blue hair that looked quite like cat-ears, and his outfit looked different from the rest of Team Galactic’s. His shirt and pants were relatively simple, yet still had that stupid spaceman look to them.

“Well…if we don’t have some intruders.”

“Who are you?” Ian snapped. Ziggy pressed against Alyssa’s legs fearfully.

“I am Commander Saturn. But perhaps you aren’t in the right position to be asking such questions.”

Alyssa launched herself at Saturn; he was too surprised to fight back. She knocked him to the ground and put a hand over his mouth. “Ian, we have to get out of here!” she said.

“Right,” Ian replied. “But if they use a bomb to blow up the cavern, they’ll kill hundreds of Pokémon. They’re too deep underground for an explosion to bother anyone in Vientown.”

“What do we do? Stop struggling,” Alyssa said crossly to Saturn, and she picked up his head and banged it against the cave floor. His eyes crossed and he fell still. She stood up, dusting herself off.

“Well, we can take him in as a prisoner,” Ian said, gesturing towards Saturn. “My bet is they won’t set off the bomb until everyone’s accounted for, so…”

“But they’ll come looking for him. He’s a commander. There’s only two of us, Ian! There’s, like, a million of them! It’s not like we can fight them off.”

“We need backup or something…I’ll see if I can get a signal on my Styler. I can use it to contact the base.” He pulled out his Styler and began fiddling with it. Alyssa looked around worriedly as he did so, making sure no one came near. After a while, Ian sighed. “I can’t get a signal,” he told her. “It’s too far underground. Alyssa…we’re on our own.”

Alyssa raked her fingers through her hair, effectively messing up her ponytail. “Okay…okay. Options. What are our options?”

“We could run away,” Ian said, “and not do anything, and let hundreds of Pokémon die.”

“Okay, Option Number One—do nothing. Vetoed. We won’t take it.”

“We could run in there and make demands.”

“Option Number Two—suicide. Vetoed.”

“We could…uh…run out of here and grab as many Pokémon as we can.”

“Option Number Three— do what we can. Possible.”

Ian fell silent. Alyssa frowned. “We have to have more options than that,” she said. “Okay, how about this. One of us runs up and tries to get a signal on the Styler while grabbing as many Pokémon as we can. The other stays here and watches to see when they set up the bomb. I’m sure they’ll clear out of the cavern before they detonate it, so whoever’s here will run out and try to disarm it.”

“Option Number Four—partial suicide,” Ian said.

“We could steal his outfit.” Alyssa pointed to Saturn. “We could pose as a member of Galactic and…do something. Why is this so hard?”

“Wait!” cried the leader from before. Alyssa and Ian turned as he cried out, listening worriedly. “Has anyone seen Commander Saturn?”

There was a chorus of “No, sir!” from the members. The leader yelled out two names; two identical people came out of the crowd. Why did all the members of Team Galactic look exactly the same? “Go up the passage. See if we’re being followed and look for Commander Saturn.”

“Dammit,” Ian mumbled. He grabbed hold of Saturn’s feet. “We have to hide him.”

Alyssa scooped her hands under the man’s armpits and lifted; they stuffed his limp body behind a nearby boulder, arranging him so that none of him would show. She and Ian then hid in their original hiding place, scrambling to get out of sight as the two members of Team Galactic came passing through.

“D’you hear something?” asked one as they passed Ian and Alyssa’s boulder.

“No,” the other one replied. Then he stopped. “What the hell is that? Is that a hand?”

Alyssa almost said a very dirty word. Saturn’s arm had fallen in such a way that his hand was visible. The two Galactic grunts rushed toward him. “It’s Commander Saturn!” cried one of them. “Oh my God, he’s unconscious! This means we’ve been followed. There are intruders!”

“Help me carry him,” said the other. “SIR!”

The two grunts waddled off carrying Saturn’s body between them, the head lolling on its shoulder.

Saturn’s unconscious body caused a huge commotion. “We have no time to waste! Set up the bomb now! Return your Pokémon to their Poké Balls! Leave what you have unless it’s marked top priority; get in your assigned submarine! Numbers one through fifty, Submarine A! Numbers fifty-one through one hundred, Submarine B! Numbers— ”

The leader continued to call out submarine assignments. “We can’t do anything,” Alyssa said. “We can’t stop the bomb.”

“We could disarm it once they’ve left,” Ian suggested.

“But what if it’s a remote detonator?” Alyssa asked. “We won’t have any way of knowing how much time we have.”

Ian closed his eyes and pressed his face into his hands. He stood like that for what seemed like ages. Finally, he lowered his hands and looked sadly over at Alyssa.

“Option Number Three,” he said faintly.

Alyssa sighed. “I wish we could do more,” she said.

“Me too.”

She tightened her ponytail and pulled out her Styler. “Things are going to get crazy,” she told Ziggy. “Okay…how about this. We’ll have to keep checking our Stylers. When we get signal, we’ll contact the base.”

“Oh God…we were followed.”

Not again, Alyssa thought as she turned to see a grunt, a man of about twenty. “Ziggy, Headbutt!”

Ziggy did so, launching himself at the man. “Ian, can you carry him?” Alyssa asked as Ziggy’s head made contact with the man’s stomach. His head cracked against the cave wall.

“Yeah, I’ll get him. We’ll take him to the base for questioning.”


The next few moments were spent running around and capturing as many Pokémon as they could; of course, they had a limit of seven. After they reached that, they had to physically grab wild Pokémon. Ziggy and the seven others that Alyssa had with her tried to communicate the danger to the other Pokémon, so Alyssa and Ian, after a while, were running with a giant crowd of Pokémon all around them; Zubats flew overhead, Geodudes levitated around them and past them, Poliwhirls with baby Poliwags clutched in their arms ran around them, with one Poliwrath bellowing as they passed.

“I got signal!” Ian cried joyously.

“Me too!”

“It’s too late,” mumbled the grunt. He was being carried by a Graveler. Both Ian and Alyssa looked at him. “The bomb…will be going off soon…”

“How do you know?” Ian asked.

“We don’t waste time…”

And then they heard it; the great boom! that resounded beneath their feet, from behind them, all around them. The walls of the cave began to shake; in one huge mass, the Pokémon pushed upward and out. Ziggy leapt onto Alyssa’s back and hung there as the Pokémon seemed to sweep her along. Even if she wanted to go back, Alyssa couldn’t; the Pokémon were carrying her now. The Poliwrath, determined to help her because she had helped its family, held her up over his head as he bellowed to the other Pokémon in the cave that may not have heard.

The mass pushed along the cave passageways; the entire cave was still shaking. The bomb had triggered major collapses.

After what seemed like forever, the cave stopped shaking and the mob of Pokémon stopped moving. Poliwrath gently set Alyssa down; she and Ian released their Pokémon, and there was a new commotion as they all gathered, shrieking and calling to make sure their families were all present and accounted for.

Ian and Alyssa made their way to each other. “I’m calling Barlow,” Ian said, holding up his Styler. Alyssa nodded.

“I’m gonna go back as far as I can to see if I can help anyone.”

“It’s too dangerous,” Ian said. “Don’t— Alyssa, dammit, come back here!”

But Alyssa was leaping deftly over rocks and contracting the help of Pokémon as she went.


Some caverns had been empty, thanks to Alyssa and Ian’s efforts…but Alyssa found dead Pokémon in the remnants of other caverns. She placed a hand over her mouth as she and her entourage of Gravelers picked their way through the cave. After a while of seeing nothing but dead Geodudes, dead Zubats, dead Poliwhirls, Alyssa gave up. Ziggy, noticing her sorrow, nudged his nose into her cheek.

Right as she was about to turn back, Alyssa caught sight of something. She bent and shifted a rock to take a closer look, but stepped back immediately; it was a dead Poliwag, just a baby. Alyssa’s eyes filled with tears; the Gravelers gathered around her and stared at the little baby.

When Alyssa came back up, Ziggy was still riding her back, and she had the dead Poliwag in her arms. Ian ran to her, ready to scold her, until he saw her expression and the way she slumped visibly as she walked. I must look terrible, she thought; she knew that dirt and debris had gotten all over her, and now tears had left grimy tracks down her cheeks.

Ian stood in front of her and put a hand on the Poliwag’s stomach. “Are they all…?”

Alyssa looked up from the little Poliwag’s face. “No survivors.”


To: dancing_through_life@pokénet.com
From: [email protected]
Subject: This is hard…
_________________________
Being a Ranger is a lot harder than I thought it would be. I can’t give you all the details right now…I’m too shaken up. But Team Galactic set off a bomb in Marine Cave and killed a bunch of Pokémon. Ian and I saved as many as we could, but…we couldn’t save all of them. I’m very sad. I don’t even think I’d ever thought about Pokémon dying.
By the way, did you get Belle’s last email? It didn’t seem like she was feeling very well. I hope she’s okay.
Love from the sad,
Alyssa

King!
April 20th, 2010, 02:15 PM
......awwwwwww.....
Cute chapter. It was very funny throughout, but at the same time it was a more dark chapter. Good description, by the way, I can imagine everything in your story. And I don't think I've said it but Zigzagoon: Best. Partner. Ever! :P
But yeah, great chapter. (b'_')b

nokyo-chan
April 29th, 2010, 12:11 PM
......awwwwwww.....
Cute chapter. It was very funny throughout, but at the same time it was a more dark chapter. Good description, by the way, I can imagine everything in your story. And I don't think I've said it but Zigzagoon: Best. Partner. Ever! :P
But yeah, great chapter. (b'_')b

Zigzagoon is awesome, and I'm glad someone appreciates him!!!

Wow...thanks for the praise, too! I've always been a little self-conscious about my descriptions...o.0 Thanks!!

nokyo-chan
April 29th, 2010, 12:22 PM
Chapter Twenty-Five
Cassandra’s eyes fluttered groggily as Karen nudged her awake. Today, the girl’s hair was in a ponytail almost on top of her head, with her bright pink hair falling in curls behind her. Cassandra groaned and shut her eyes immediately, not wanting them to be assaulted with colors too early in the morning.

“Get up!” Karen chirped. “We need to get to the Contest building. You need to register for the soonest date, and then you need to get training!”

Cassandra mumbled something incoherent as she rolled over on her side in the bed. She had paid for a room in a hotel; Joanna periodically wired money into her account. Cassandra had considered not using the money and staying in the PokéCenter, but it was too noisy for her.

The only hotel available was a small one on Route 113 called the Poké Love. It was rather quaint— or, it would have been, had it not been covered in ash all the time. The woman who ran the place strived to keep it clean on the inside to make up for the outside. She had been positively delighted to see that a promising young Coordinator was staying in her inn, and had put her up in the best room available.

“Get up,” Karen repeated, and Cassandra finally pushed the ivy-patterned blankets off her body and sat up, stretching and yawning. “I went through your clothes and decided what you should wear to the Contest Hall.”

“What?” Cassandra snapped, suddenly alert. She stood up.

“Here! I laid them out on my bed!”

“Karen, what the—don’t go through my stuff!”

Karen pouted, and Tuffly came out of the bathroom—What was it doing in there? Cassandra wondered briefly—and made big, round, blue, watery eyes at Cassandra. “But I like picking out outfits,” Karen mumbled softly.

“Fine,” Cassandra muttered, looking over at what Karen had laid out. She had to admit that the girl had taste. Lying on the bed was a green knee-length skirt with an off-white camisole to be worn beneath a translucent, light green shirt. “This is good,” Cassandra admitted as she picked up the skirt. “I might let you do my outfits for Contests.”

“Really?” Karen squealed, clapping her hands together. They made a muffled noise— the sleeves of her sweatshirt were fashioned to be too long, and only her fingertips poked out.

“Don’t get too excited.” Cassandra changed in the bathroom and allowed Karen to do her hair—she pinned the front part of it back and let the rest lay softly on her shoulders—before they set off.

It was a ten-minute trek to Fallarbor Town. On the way, Karen insisted on bobbing along beside her with a large pink umbrella, keeping the falling ash off her “carefully-selected outfit”. The Contest Hall seemed bright and garish, the only brightly-colored building in the town. No one stood outside, but then again, Cassandra wouldn’t expect them to in this weather.

Inside the Contest Hall, Cassandra finally breathed freely. It was noisy, the air was conditioned, colors and Pokémon abounded…she was home.

“Come on, the register desk!” Karen closed her giant umbrella and handed it to Tuffly, who carried the item as it followed the girls to the register desk. To her surprise, Cassandra got into line behind Sakura Konohana.

Sakura turned around and smiled. “Oh, hello,” she said. She wore a light blue kimono with a dark blue obi, and her hair was pulled into a tight bun behind her head. “Isn’t it a coincidence that we came to register on the same day.”

“I thought that you would have registered sooner,” Cassandra said. “You were here before us.”

“Oh, I only arrived a day before you did,” Sakura replied with a gentle smile. “I decided to rest and enjoy the hot springs for a while. Are you staying at the Poké Love?”

“Yeah, we are.”

“How nice! I am as well. After this, we should do something together.”

Cassandra smiled. “Okay. Would you be up for that, Karen?” she added, turning to the girl. Surprisingly, the girl was looking at Sakura with her head cocked and a quizzical expression on her face.

“Karen?” Cassandra prompted gently.

After a while, Karen nodded slowly. “If you like.”

This girl is so weird, Cassandra thought. “Well, that settles it. What should we do?”

“Lavaridge is near here,” Karen said thoughtfully.

“There’s barely anything to do in Lavaridge, though,” Sakura replied. “It’s almost as bad as here. Oh, I wish I had a Flying Pokémon…we could go to Lilycove and go shopping.”

Cassandra winced. She always associated the words “Lilycove” and “shopping” with her mother, especially if they were in the same sentence. “Well, maybe we should just have some lunch together or something,” Cassandra suggested. “I’ve got to get training, anyway.”

“Your Pokémon is Swablu, is it not?”

“Yes,” Cassandra replied. “But I’m thinking of entering Finny into this one.”

Sakura raised a perfect orange eyebrow. “Finny?”

“My Mudkip. Well, soon-to-be Marshtomp, probably.”

“A Marshtomp? In a Contest? My, won’t that be interesting…” Sakura was next in line, so she turned away from them, pulling a fan from her sleeve and pressing it against her lips as she did so. She stepped up to the counter and Karen grabbed Cassandra’s sleeve.

“I don’t like her,” Karen whispered matter-of-factly. “There’s something…strange…about her. Something fishy.”

Cassandra glanced at Sakura talking to the register woman and smiling behind her fan, which she now opened with a flourish and began to wave gently. “She seems nice enough.”

“Seems,” Karen said emphatically. Cassandra frowned.

“Incidentally,” Sakura was saying to the woman, “do you know if any of the judges are here today? I’d like to introduce myself.”

“Maybe I should introduce myself to the judges, too,” Cassandra muttered to Karen. “Do you think that would increase my chances?”

“If you slipped them some money, probably,” Karen replied good-naturedly.

“Karen! People don’t bribe in Contests!”

Karen shook her head. “You might not. But I’m sure others do.”

“That’s just wrong,” Cassandra told her crossly.

“I’ll meet you at the door,” Sakura said, turning back to face them and shutting her fan with a snap. “Wait for me if you get there first.” And then she turned and walked off, quickly becoming lost in the hustle-and-bustle of the Contest Hall.

Cassandra stepped up to the counter to register. She signed up for the closest date—three weeks away—and showed the woman Finny. “Um, he’s going to evolve soon,” Cassandra told her, “or…at least, I think so.”

“If he evolves before your contest date, you must bring him back here for a second inspection. If you fail to do so, you will be disqualified from the Contest.”

“Okay then.” Cassandra allowed the woman to inspect Finny before returning the Pokémon to its Poké Ball and turning away. She walked towards the door, but Sakura wasn’t there.

“Sakura’s over there,” Karen said, pointing. Cassandra sighed.

“We’re going to wait for her at the door.”

“But look.”

Cassandra did. Sakura was talking to one of the judges, an older, bald man wearing a suit. As they watched, she set the tip of the closed fan on her lips and closed her eyes as she smiled. Then, her other hand poked out of her sleeve as she reached to shake his hand. After what looked like a firm handshake, Sakura gave a small bow and walked away, leaving the man by himself.

“He put his hand in his pocket,” Karen said matter-of-factly.

“You’re observant. Is the ash still falling outside?” Cassandra leaned toward one of the large windows in the front of the building. “Ah, get your umbrella ready, Karen.”

“Tuffly,” Karen said, holding her hand out for the umbrella.

“A pink umbrella to match your pink hair and Pokémon…well, that’s quite stylish.” Sakura arrived with a smile, tucking her fan into her sleeve. “I think I saw a cute little café down the road. Shall we go look?”


After lunch at the café, Cassandra, Karen, Sakura, and Tuffly all walked together back to the Poké Love. Sakura went to her room “to rest”; Cassandra went to her room to change into clothes she wouldn’t mind getting dirty so she could train.

“I don’t understand why you don’t like Sakura,” Cassandra said to Karen as she pulled out a pair of jeans.

“There’s just something fishy about her,” Karen said absentmindedly. She was sitting on her bed, coloring in a coloring book.

“Well, I think she’s nice.”

“Just don’t tell her any secrets or anything.”

Rolling her eyes, Cassandra went to the bathroom to change into her jeans and T-shirt. When she was done, she hung her clothes up in the room’s closet and gathered her Poké Balls off her bed. “I’m going to go train along Route 113. You wanna come?”

“No,” Karen replied, frowning as she moved a sky-blue crayon along the paper. “I’m doing something very important.”

Cassandra let those words hang in the air for a moment as she stared at her companion, whose brow was furrowed as she selected another crayon. “Right. Well, if you need me, you know where to find me.”

“Yes.”


To: [email protected]
From: dancing_through_life@pokénet.com
Subject: !!!
__________________________________
Alyssa, your job sounds terrible! If it were me, I don’t know what I would do with myself…seeing Pokémon dying…but I know you’re stronger than I am, and you can keep on fighting despite the sadness, right?
You’re right about Belle’s last email. It worried me a little, too. Why do you think she and Derrick aren’t traveling together anymore? Do you think they had some kind of fight? You know how Belle gets when she’s upset…all withdrawn and stuff. Maybe she’s just tired, though. We’ll wait for her next email.
Well, anyway, I’m going to bed now…stay strong, Alyssa!
Love always,
Cassandra

 

nokyo-chan
June 5th, 2010, 05:01 PM
Chapter Twenty-Six
Belle arrived in Celadon City with newly-evolved Primape, Dugtrio, and Pidgeotto, as well as a reluctant Oddish that had quickly turned into a Gloom. Despite her overwhelming sadness, she couldn’t help but marvel at the huge buildings that surrounded her. She had felt this way in Saffron, too, especially next to the Silph building.

At the PokéCenter, Belle had to grab onto Charmy’s claw to keep from losing him among the mass of bodies (she had taken to letting Charmy out of his Ball to be her traveling companion). She wondered vaguely where she would sleep tonight as she allowed Nurse Joy to heal her Pokémon. When she finally left the Center, she breathed in a sigh of relief and set off on the busy streets to explore the town.

Derrick would no doubt be looking for her…she had to leave as soon as she could, and that meant defeating the gym…well…now. Coming to this conclusion, Belle wandered the streets of Celadon, trying to determine where she should go. She passed some strange, random mansion; the towering Department Store; the Rocket Game Corner, which sounded suspicious to her; and the PokéCenter again. Crap. She was lost.

It was so loud…how could anyone stand it? Belle moved out of everyone’s way and stood by the PokéCenter, rubbing her temples; Charmy hurried to stand beside her. She wished she could find a quiet spot to just…be alone. How many people could fit into one city?

Belle slipped down beside the Pokémon Center, entering a place between the trees and the building. There was a path here; she walked along it, gratefully hearing the noise behind her drop away. Soon, she found herself at the back entrance to the Celadon Mansion. What was this? Some sort of servant’s entrance? Why was it here? Not thinking, she tried the door. It was unlocked.

“Should we go in?” Belle asked Charmy, who held his claws out in a classic “I don’t know” gesture. “Worse-case scenario, I get thrown out. Right?”

Charmy cocked his head at her. She stared at him for a while before opening the door and finding herself in a small room containing nothing but stairs. Wonderingly, she climbed the stairs to find herself in yet another small room containing nothing but stairs. The next room was the same way; and then, she climbed a flight of stairs and was on the roof.

“This is weird,” Belle said. “What is that building?”

“Meleon,” Charmy replied. They both looked at the small, rectangular building, squatting close to the flat roof. It was white, with gray-and-blue walls. Belle walked around it to find the door.

“Well, we’ve come this far,” she said, before stepping inside.

She walked into what looked like a classroom; there was a desk and a chalkboard, and a small table off to the side with a Poké Ball sitting on it. A man stood near the desk. He had brown spiky hair and wore a white headband with karate clothes, and he didn’t seem to notice her, even though she was standing practically right in front of him.

“Um…hello,” Belle said. “Is…is it okay that I’m in here?”

“There is nothing that I don’t know, like I wrote on the blackboard,” the man told her. “I know about the world of Pokémon! Get together with your friends and enjoy trading Pokémon!”

Belle blinked. She glanced down at Charmy, who shrugged, before moving carefully around the man (he didn’t move) and going towards the table with the Poké Ball. “What’s in this?” she asked, but the man didn’t answer her. She picked it up and an Eevee burst from it immediately, making her cry out and leap backwards. The little brown Pokémon looked up at her expectantly.

“What—?” Belle shouted. It shrank back, trembling with fear, and flattened its ears against its head. “Oh, sorry,” she murmured, and got to one knee. “Come here, I’m sorry, my bad.” The Eevee timidly walked towards her and nudged her hand with its nose. “Is that dude your trainer, or what? What are you doing here?”

The Eevee didn’t show any signs that it had heard or understood her; instead, it pressed itself against her stomach and promptly fell asleep. Belle looked over at Charmy, dumbfounded. She half wished that she hadn’t left Derrick back in Lavender so that she could talk to him about this. Thinking about leaving Derrick in Lavender Town made her remember her sense of urgency, and she stood quickly.

Belle returned Eevee to its Poké Ball and turned to look at the man. “Hey, dude, uh…what’s up with this Eevee?”

The man didn’t reply. She walked past him again and stood in front of him. “There is nothing that I don’t know,” he said when she came back into view. In frustration, Belle reared back and punched him in the jaw.

“Ow! What the hell?” the man cried, stumbling. “What is your problem?”

“What is my problem? What’s your problem? What are you, a freaking robot?” Belle put a hand on her hip. “So, what’s up with this Eevee?”

“Just take it,” the man said. “Geez, that’s what it’s there for. It’s yours now. It’s got seven evolutions, though.”

“Yeah, I know that.” Belle waved this fact away. “What’s up with this little rooftop thing? And why don’t people get in trouble by coming up here? Why do they get rewarded with Pokémon instead?”

The man shrugged. “I don’t know. This is just my day job.”

___________________________________________________

After the punch, the man didn’t seem too keen on giving Belle directions, but he had grudgingly told her how to get to the Celadon City Gym—it was tucked away in a quiet corner, surrounded by trees and flowers. She approached it timidly, with Charmy by her side and Eevee hanging on her shoulder, where it had insisted on falling asleep.

“Okay…I don’t want to give away my strategy,” Belle told Charmy. “So I’m going to have to put you in your Ball.”

Charmy eyed Eevee, and Belle sighed. “All right, I’ll put this thing up too.” But when she returned the Pokémon to their Poké Balls, she felt a bit lonely.

The inside of the gym was carpeted with lush green grass, and the air was permeated with the sweet scent of flowers. Belle closed her eyes and felt strangely happy for a moment, standing in the middle of this indoor meadow. How could trees and flowers grow inside?

And there were girls—they were everywhere. Mommies, daughters, teenagers, old women, every shape, size, and age. No one in the gym was male; Belle suspected even the Pokémon here were female. A pregnant woman stood with a Chansey, smiling as she picked a flower; until now, Belle had only seen a Chansey in the PokéCenters. A woman and her teenage daughter sat cross-legged across from each other, playing with a litter of baby Bulbasaur…cubs? Were cubs what they called them? It made her miss her own mother a little.

In the center of it all was a woman with a kind, gentle face and dark black hair, which was held out of her eyes with a dark pink headband. She wore a light yellow kimono and held a bouquet of flowers. As Belle watched, she bent and gave the bouquet to a very small girl, who laughed and ran away. The woman smiled and stood, sighing as she tucked her hands into her sleeves. That must be Erika, Belle thought, moving toward her. She remembered the sign outside—The Nature-Loving Princess! Perhaps an indoor meadow was going a bit too far.

Erika stood with her eyes closed contentedly as Belle approached, and she didn’t move or even notice her. Belle stood there awkwardly for a few moments before clearing her throat. “Um…excuse me…are you Erika?”

She didn’t answer. After a while, she opened her eyes and looked towards the sky; and turned, startled, to Belle. “Oh dear…you startled me.” Her voice was as kind, calm, and gentle as her face. It was smooth, like wind whispering through tree leaves.

“I’ve been standing here for a while,” Belle said.

“Oh…I must have dozed off.”

How do you doze off standing up? Belle wondered.

“Well, at any rate…I am Erika, the Gym Leader here, and also an expert in the art of flower arranging. Are you, by any chance, interested in flower arranging?”

“No, I’m here for a gym battle,” Belle replied.

“Oh! A gym battle! By all means, yes…but I warn you. I’m quite strong.”

“I believe it,” Belle replied.

Erika smiled. “Good. I will ready the gym.” She snapped her fingers; immediately, two tall boxes rose from the ground and a stadium floor appeared. Every woman in the gym scattered and turned their attention to it. Belle felt a little nervous. She had never battled in front of a large audience.

“Please climb into your box,” Erika said, gesturing towards Belle’s box as she walked away. Belle did so; her legs shook as she climbed the stairs, but she stood proudly in the box, trying not to show her fear. She wasn’t afraid of heights, but apparently, she did have stage fright.

A woman in a referee outfit stood by the stadium floor, holding a flag in each hand. “This will be a three-on-three battle. Switching out is allowed by the challenger, but only between matches for Erika. Erika, are you ready?”

“Indeed I am.” Erika smiled, but a certain edge was now in her features as she held up a Poké Ball. She liked winning.

“Challenger ready?”

“Very,” Belle answered, pulling a Ball off her belt and feeling it enlarge in her hand. She felt the thrill of battle in her stomach, and she forgot about the people watching. Belle liked winning too.

“Begin!”

“It is your time to shine, Victreebel!”

“Swifter, let’s go!” Belle tossed her Poké Ball into the air as her Pidgeotto burst from it, crying out and expanding its wings.

“Vine Whip, please, Victreebel.”

“Swifter, let’s give ’em an Aerial Ace!”

Having the type advantage, Swifter won easily; Erika frowned as Victreebel was proclaimed unable to battle, and the red light from the Poké Ball swallowed it as she reached for another Pokémon. Belle was unsure as to whether she wanted to keep using Swifter or switch to Charmy, but Erika threw her Poké Ball too fast for her to decide.

“Tangela!”

“What the—?” A Pokémon that looked like a walking bundle of knots stood on the stadium floor, its many vine-like appendages wriggling in the air. Belle frowned down at it.

“Vine Whip!”

The vines suddenly looked a heck of a lot more formidable wrapped around Swifter’s wings and talons. Swifter cried out in alarm, struggling to beat its wings as it was pulled rapidly towards Tangela.

“Come on, Swifter, fight it!” Belle shouted, grabbing onto the rail of the box. “You can overpower it!”

“I’m afraid it can’t,” Erika replied. “You see, Tangela is quite strong.”

Frustrated, Belle banged her fist against the rail. “Swifter, Peck its vines!”

The Pidgeotto leaned down and thrust its beak into the vine wrapped around its talon; with a strange squeal, Tangela pulled it back. Swifter was able to use this as a distraction and wiggle free of the other vines; it flew up, out of Tangela’s reach. There was no way Belle would be able to get close to Tangela again to attack it; she needed an attack that had range to it, one that she could use while standing far away from it…

“Swifter, return!” Belle cried, holding out its Ball. With her other hand, she quickly loosed Charmy’s Ball from her belt. Once she had his Ball in her good hand, she threw it, yelling out his name.

The Charmeleon stood a little bit taller than the Tangela, and he leered down at it, baring his fangs menacingly. Belle glanced at Erika to see a grimace pass over her face. She didn’t have any tricks up her sleeve for a Fire-type.

“Get out of reach of it, quick!” Belle shouted down to Charmy, who leaped backwards immediately. “Use Flamethrower!”

It didn’t take long for Tangela to go down; Erika returned it to its Ball and brought out the next one.

“Vileplume, go!”

“That’s the evolution of Gloom,” Belle said, leaning over the rail to get a better look. She didn’t particularly like the look of it; the large pink petals on top of its head were unnecessary and obnoxious, and why was its body so small and dark? “Hey, how did you get that?” Belle asked, pointing down at the Vileplume.

Erika blinked at the interruption of the battle. “I used a Leaf Stone on my Gloom.”

“It doesn’t just evolve into Vileplume on its own?”

“Um, no,” Erika said uncertainly. “But if you use a Sun Stone on a Gloom, it will evolve into Bellossum.”

“Oh. Okay. Thanks. Flamethrower, Charmy!”

“Wait—what? Vileplume, use Bullet Seed!”

But Vileplume was too late; it had a burn on one of its big, obnoxious petals. Belle gripped the rail in front of her hard, trying to force down her excitement. If she started thinking she’d won too early, she would get ahead of herself and lose.

“Vileplume, use Pursuit!”

Belle’s mind whizzed quickly. That was a Dark-type move. How did Vileplume know a Dark-type move?

The move hit Charmy like a ton of bricks and sent him sprawling across the stadium floor. The women in the gym cheered; suddenly, Belle was all too aware of them. The hand gripping the rail in front of her started to sweat, and her legs began to tremble. Maybe she was afraid of heights…

No! No, she couldn’t choke! She couldn’t let Charmy down, or her mother, or Derek, or her father! “Ch-Charmy!” she called out. The Charmeleon sprung to his feet, eager and ready for more. Belle took a deep breath to steady herself.

“Bullet Seed!”

“Uh—Burn them if they get to close to you!”

What was she doing? Think, dammit. She squinted down at Charmy as he swept a seed out of the air with his tail. The seed bounced against the large, obnoxious petal that had the burn, making Vileplume wince and stop its barrage of seeds.

“Now’s your chance, Charmy! Go around behind it, use Flamethrower!”

In a spectacular move that Belle was quite sure she hadn’t taught him, Charmy leapt into the air and did a front flip, touching his claw to the ground briefly and using it to catapult him over and behind Erika’s Vileplume. He let loose a monstrous Flamethrower that hit Vileplume square in the back and sent it tumbling in flames.

“Vileplume!” Erika shrieked in a manner that was not calm at all. Now the Vileplume lay there as Charmy simply baked it.

Belle had a sudden flashback—a small table draped in white cloth; a black box; a little girl with tears running down her face; a small, lifeless Pichu; only now, she saw Erika, standing over the box, staring teary-eyed at a battered Vileplume—

“Charmy, stop!” Belle cried. “Stop!”

He did, snapping his mouth shut to immediately snuff out the flames before looking up at her apologetically. As their eyes met, Belle knew he knew what she was thinking. Don’t overdo it, she thought, staring down at her Pokémon.

“Vileplume is unable to battle,” the referee said, pushing thick blonde hair off her shoulder. “Challenger wins!”

Erika rushed down from her box and ran over to Vileplume, throwing herself on the floor beside it and placing a hand on its body. “That was a dirty trick you pulled,” she snapped at Belle as she got closer. “Acting as though you were interested in Gloom’s evolutions.”

“I am,” Belle replied. “I have a Gloom. And I didn’t mean to distract you. I’m sorry.”

Erika blinked. Obviously, this had not been the answer she was expecting. She turned away from Belle, checking Vileplume over. Finally, she returned it to its Poké Ball and stood, dusting her kimono off, and smiled like she had before, with that calm, serene look.

“You fought well,” she said. “My Vileplume will be fine. It could have been a lot worse…your Charmeleon has quite a Flamethrower.”

“Thank you.”

“Your father would be proud.”

Belle was taken aback. She opened her mouth, but no sound came out. Charmy, noticing her distress, immediately reached out and grabbed her hand with its claw.

“Yes, I knew your father. You are Daniel Caldwell’s child, are you not?”

Belle nodded dumbly. Now that Erika mentioned it, she did look around her father’s age…or, what his age would be if he was alive.

“Your father was a very good man. He battled me when I was still an aspiring gym leader.”

“Did he win?” Belle asked quietly.

Erika laughed softly. “No. I clobbered him. His Ivysaur was no match for my Gloom. Why you would pit Grass against Grass, I have no idea. But I assume he learned from the experience.” She smiled. “We are a lot alike, you and I.”

“How?”

“You have been through much. So have I.” Erika smiled gently. “We both have black hair. We both miss your father.”

Belle swallowed hard. “What were…you…to my father?”

“An ex-girlfriend. The match I mentioned was the one where we broke up.” Erika laughed, but it was a sad laugh. “He and I were not meant to be…but he was a good friend, as was Terra.”

“You know my mother too?”

“After your father…was killed…we drifted apart. But I like to think we were friends at one time. May I see your Gloom, Belle?”

Belle let Gloom out of its Ball, and it stood on its little flat feet as drool slipped from the corner of its mouth. Erika smiled. “I think a Bellossum would suit you much better than a Vileplume. Here.” Out of a pocket, she pulled both a Rainbow Badge and a Sun Stone.

Belle took the gifts and turned to Gloom. “Gloom, would you like to be a Bellossum?”

Gloom seemed to consider. It rocked back and forth, unleashing its foul stench into the room. Belle pulled the collar of her T-shirt up over her nose, and Erika put her sleeve over her face. Finally, the Pokémon nodded, and Belle gently and timidly touched it with the Sun Stone.

In a show she had seen several times before, Gloom emitted a bright glow and transformed into something smaller and cuter. Bellossum soon stood before her, bursting with happiness. “Bellossum!” it cried.

Belle then decided to take her leave; she felt like she should hug Erika, but all she could do was bow her head in thanks. “Take care, Belle,” Erika called as she left.

It was late in the day when Belle left the gym, so she decided to stop by the hotel she had passed on the way to the gym and see if there were any vacancies. She couldn’t stay at the Pokémon Center—Derrick would find her there. She called Cassandra’s father to ask him for some money, which he gladly sent her over the PC connection.

It wasn’t until she was lying in bed about to fall asleep that Belle realized that she had never told Erika her name.

To: [email protected], dancing_through_life@pokénet.com
From: dingdongbelle
Subject: <blank>
___________________________________________________
I got the Rainbow Badge. Erika gave me a Sun Stone and I evolved my Gloom into Bellossum. Swifter, Mankey, and Diglett evolved earlier than that. I got an Eevee in Celadon Mansion. Next stop is Fuchsia City for the Soul Badge.
Love,
Belle

nokyo-chan
June 5th, 2010, 05:13 PM
Chapter Twenty-Seven
Alyssa stared down at Ziggy’s fur as she stroked it. Her other hand was busy propping up her head, as it was drooping considerably. Ziggy stayed still, but only because it made Alyssa even sadder when he went anywhere; so he stayed huddled on her lap, worried sick.

“Alyssa. Hey.”

She looked up. Ian stood in front of her, a frown on his face. “Did you get any sleep last night?”

“No.”

Ian’s frown deepened and he pulled up a chair beside her. “You didn’t need to stay up all night, you know.”

Alyssa sighed and put her fist in her cheek once again, letting it mash the soft skin of her face as it propped it up. She had long ago taken out her ponytail, and her hair was scraggly and limp.

“Alyssa…someone’s coming from the Ranger Union today.”

Alyssa nodded. She had spent the night at the base last night instead of going home to Chicole Village. Barlow had told her that they needed everyone present to guard the prisoner until someone from the Ranger Union came to pick him up. Luanne, Barlow, and Crawford already slept at the base every night; Alyssa went home, and Ian stayed in a house in Vientown.

“Why did you stay up all night? We guarded the prisoner in shifts, remember?”

Alyssa nodded again. She did remember. She remembered yesterday and last night all too well…and there was nothing she could do to forget. Every time she had started to drift off, images of crumpled Graveler and Geodude would flash into her head. And when once, she had finally started having a perfectly normal dream, it had suddenly turned into a nightmare when gigantic rocks came crashing down from the sky unannounced.

“Hey…come on. Barlow said you and me deserve a break, and you look like you could use some fresh air. Let’s go outside.”

Alyssa shook her head. “The prisoner,” she mumbled. Ziggy shifted in her lap to look up at her. “We can’t leave the prisoner.”

“Barlow’s watching him. Come on, Lyssi.”

Alyssa looked up at Ian sharply. Her brother used to call her Lyssi. Lyssi my sissy! he would say jokingly as he hugged her tight, or pulled her to her feet after she fell, or kissed her on the top of the head, or tucked her in after a story.

“Lyssi?” she echoed faintly. Ian scratched the back of his neck.

“Sorry. It just…came out.”

“Please don’t call me that. It’s what my brother used to call me.”

“I didn’t know you had a brother.”

“I don’t.”

Silence dropped between them as heavily as a stone. Ian reached out and touched the hand that was so diligently petting Ziggy. “Alyssa…”

She shook her head and looked at her hand. Ordinarily, she would have been thrilled that he was touching her, but she couldn’t muster it up now.

“Come on, Alyssa. Let’s go.”

Finally, Alyssa nodded. Ziggy climbed up to hang on her back as Ian and Prinplup led them out of the base.

Dawn was just beginning to spill over the horizon. Alyssa brushed her bangs out of her eyes and squinted. Ziggy pushed his nose into her ear and sniffed, making her smile for the first time that day.

Ian and Alyssa stood side-by-side for a while. She was quite thankful to him for dragging her out into the fresh air; a light breeze brushed her face, and she breathed in the scent of grass. It really was nice out here. She looked around at all the houses. Life would have to go on, no matter what happened. Her life, for certain, was going to be a lot more complicated than she had thought…but she was going to have to keep pushing through. She remembered the baby Poliwag, and how she had handed it carefully to the Poliwrath. The Poliwrath had taken it into his hands and closed his eyes; when he opened them, he had looked up at Alyssa with a deep sadness. She had watched as the family of Poliwag and Poliwhirl buried the small Pokémon…but then they had moved on. And that was what Alyssa needed to do.

Alyssa pulled in a deep breath and looked over at Ian. “Does it get easier?” she asked him.

Ian sighed. “Not really. But you have to find your own way of handling it. Everyone has a different way. Luanne has her beauty crap—you’ve noticed that, right? Crawford has his drinking. Barlow has his gruffness.”

“What about you?”

He was quiet for a moment. “It’s…complicated. It’s a long story.”

She was just about to tell him that she had time when they heard a rumbling and a van pulled up. A man wearing a Ranger uniform with a shock of messy brown hair clambered out of the passenger’s seat. “We’re here to pick up the prisoner,” he said. A Buizel bobbed along beside him. Alyssa eyed his Styler. He was definitely a Top Ranger.

“Come on in,” Ian said. He and Alyssa led the man inside. “Barlow!” Ian called. He went into the hallway that led to the overnight rooms, leaving Alyssa in the lobby alone with the man.

“I’m Alyssa,” she said, holding out her hand to the man.

“You’re Alyssa!” he cried, clasping onto her hand and pumping it excitedly.

“I’m Keith. It’s nice to meet you. Was that kid Ian? Are you two the ones that did that whole cave-thing yesterday?”

“Uh…yeah,” Alyssa replied, taking back her hand and feeling quite shaken up. She was saved from further questions by the appearance of Barlow and Ian.

“Ah, they sent some Top Rangers to get the prisoner, I see,” Barlow said. “Nice to see you again, Keith.”

“Nice to see you, too, Barlow. Well, I’ll be taking the prisoner, Ian, and Alyssa with me. Could you two escort the prisoner out?”

“Ian and Alyssa?” Barlow thundered, no longer happy to see Keith. “Why would you need them?”

Keith looked shocked. “Didn’t you get the message? Chairperson Erma wants to promote them to Top Rangers.”

“What?” Barlow yelled. “Top Rangers? They’re rookies!”

“Yeah, but what they did was extremely worthy of Top Rangers. They both show incredible potential!”

“But you have no idea if that was a fluke or not,” Alyssa said wonderingly.

“It wasn’t a fluke,” Barlow muttered. “I at least know that. You two are damn good Rangers.”

Keith beamed at them, but Alyssa and Ian were shocked. Neither of them knew what to say. Alyssa was too tired to deal with this. “So…I’m gonna be a Top Ranger?”

“Yep!” Keith replied.

“I’m gonna be a Top Ranger.”

“You sure are!”

Alyssa suddenly felt dizzy. She wobbled over to the counter and grasped the edge, leaning on it heavily. “You’re sure there’s no mistake?”

“No mistake! You are now a Top Ranger!”

“Alyssa?” Ian stepped forward, a frown on his face. His outline was blurred…everything else was kind of blurry too…Alyssa squinted. “Alyssa?” he repeated, and his voice sounded far away. It echoed as if he were in a tunnel.

And then everything faded to black.

___________________________________

“What happened?”

“She stayed up all night last night.”

“I told everyone to sleep in shifts!”

“I know, but I think she was having nightmares. It was her first major mission, after all.”

“CORN DOGS ARE YUMMY.”

Several different voices danced through Alyssa’s head as she weaved in and out of consciousness, some making sense, some not. Finally, after a long bout of unconsciousness, she awoke.

First things first—she needed to take stock of her surroundings. She was lying on a bed, with Ziggy slumbering quietly on her stomach…she turned her head a bit. It was the same bed she had been assigned to sleep in last night, but hadn’t used. In a corner of the room, Ian sat in a chair. When he saw her move, he jumped to his feet and strode over to her. “Alyssa!” he said softly.

Alyssa moaned in reply. “What happened?” At the sound of her voice, Ziggy perked up and looked at her.

“Well, Keith told you that we were going to be Top Rangers, and you fainted.” Alyssa noticed that he couldn’t keep the grin off his face at the mention of being a Top Ranger. It certainly was exciting news.

“How long have I been like this?”

“Well, you fainted around five-thirty in the morning…it’s two o’clock in the afternoon now.”

“What?” Alyssa sat bolt upright, dislodging Ziggy; but she felt so overpoweringly nauseous and dizzy that she lowered herself back down. Ian laughed and Ziggy nestled down again.

“Don’t panic. I’ll go get you some lunch.”

“Where’s Keith?”

“The Rangers that came to pick up the prisoner are staying here for the night and heading back to the Ranger Union in the morning. They figured it’ll give us a chance to pack, since we didn’t know about this yesterday.”

Alyssa nodded. “I need to go home and pack everything up.”

“Hey…” Ian leaned over her, gently placing a hand on the side of the bed. “Did you dream?”

“No.”

“Good.”

____________________________________

“Leaving? But you just became a Ranger!”

“I know, Mom. They’re promoting me.”

“But—but—you’re so young! And you’ve only been a Ranger for a few weeks!”

“Yeah, I know.” Alyssa climbed the stairs to her bedroom. Her mother followed her worriedly, but her father stood in the kitchen, where he had been when she entered the house.

When they arrived in her room, Ziggy jumped from his place on Alyssa’s shoulder and scuttled across the floor, sniffing to make sure he knew where he was. Ambipom looked up; it had been making Alyssa’s bed. The two hands on its tail had been straightening her nightstand. “Am!” it said happily.

“Don’t get too excited, Ampibom,” Diana said to the Pokémon as she entered the room. “Alyssa’s being promoted, and she’s moving away.”

At first, Ambipom’s face fell; then it appeared to be happy for her. Its tail-hands left her nightstand and reached across the room to her dresser, where Alyssa was, to give her a hug.

“Aw, thanks, Ambipom,” Alyssa laughed. “Do you know where my suitcase is?”

“Am!” It hopped over to her closet and pulled it out.

“Thanks!”

Diana crossed her arms. “Well, I suppose I’ll help you pack, too.”

To: dancing_through_life@pokénet.com
From: [email protected]
Subject: Promoooottiiiooonnn!!
_________________________________
So guess what? I’ve been promoted to TOP RANGER!!! Yep yep yep!! I guess the whole traumatizing cave-thing kinda paid off. When they came to pick up the prisoner Ian and I apprehended (AHHH, that makes it sound so cool! XD), they told us about our promotion!! That’s right, OUR promotion. Ian’s going with me!!
Oh, did you see Belle’s other email? I really think something’s up with her.
Love much,
Alyssa XD

To: dingdongbelle@pokénet.com
From: [email protected]
Subject: your emails
_________________________________
Belle, what’s wrong? Something’s up with you and I know it. What happened? Are you okay? I’m worried. Cassandra is too. You’re not explaining anything like you used to. How did the battle go? What did Erika say afterwards? Why did she give you a Sun Stone? How did you get a Pokémon from a mansion? Did you get in trouble? What happened between you and Derrick to make you not travel together anymore?
Love from your worried sick friend,
Alyssa

P.S. I got promoted to Top Ranger! Be happy or something.

nokyo-chan
June 28th, 2010, 12:27 PM
Chapter Twenty-Eight
Cassandra felt a swooping in the pit of her stomach the morning of the Contest. Had time really gone by so fast?

Karen was slumbering peacefully next to Tuffly in her twin-sized bed, so Cassandra was very quiet as she slipped out of her own and went towards the closet. Since Cassandra (or Joanna, rather) had a lot of money, she could afford to pay for a suite; she walked into the den after plucking her outfit from the hangar.

To match her newly-evolved Marshtomp, Cassandra wore a frilly light orange skirt that fell about to her knee; it swished pleasantly when she moved, which would add some flair to the competition. Her shirt was orange with blue designs, and the sleeves belled out at the elbows, allowing gossamer fabric to trail her every arm-movement. She twisted her hair into a bun; her trademark would be let out later.

Cassandra let Finny, Swablu, and Fluffy out of their Poké Balls as she pulled on her shoes. They stared at her expectantly. The air felt heavy; this was her second Contest. It wasn’t big, but she was advancing.

“Why didn’t you wake me up?” Karen asked, rubbing sleep from her eye and drifting into the den.

“You looked like you could use some rest,” Cassandra told her. “You were up late coloring, after all.”

Karen nodded. She turned and looked over her shoulder. “Tuffly’s still sleeping.”

“Well, get dressed and ready. We need to leave soon.”
______________________________

The Contest Hall was buzzing with excitement. Cassandra couldn’t pull a crazy grin from her features as she wandered around, Karen and Tuffly in tow.

“Have you seen Sakura?” Cassandra asked after a while. Karen tugged on one of her long pink braids thoughtfully.

“No. I haven’t. Why?”

“Just wondering.”

“There she is!” Karen pointed at a door nestled in the corner marked Judges Only. Sakura stood in front of it, gently patting her smooth orange hair, which was held back in two buns behind her head. What looked like hair extensions dangled from the buns, giving her a Sailor Moon-like look. She wore, as usual, a kimono, with orange and white patterns on it to match her Goldeen. “What’s she doing by the judges’ lounge?”

“She’s probably…” But Cassandra was stumped. What was she doing by the judges’ lounge?

Sakura glanced around, her hand sliding from her hair and to the doorknob; with a final glance, she pushed open the door and disappeared inside.

“Maybe she bribed a judge,” Karen whispered, a dark look coming over her face. Tuffly frowned too.

“No, she wouldn’t do that,” Cassandra told her. But a strange feeling was churning in the pit of her stomach, and she turned away to look up at the tourney screen.

Thankfully, Cassandra’s first round was against a Fire-type Pokémon—a Flareon—so Finny had a type advantage. The girl she fought lost quickly to Finny’s Mud Shot; not only did it put her Pokémon near fainting, but it muddied up Flareon’s coat, making it less graceful.

The second battle was a little tougher, and it was against a Machop dressed in a tuxedo, which Cassandra thought was adorable. She regretted mucking up the nice tuxedo to beat the Pokémon.

In the break between her second and third round, Karen came bursting fiercely into the lobby. “Cassandra! Are you paying attention to the battles in the stadium?”

“Um…” Cassandra found it hard to answer the girl. She had never seen her look so fierce or serious.

“You need to! If Sakura wins this next battle, she’ll be against you!” Karen pointed up towards a screen, which displayed Sakura and Deena battling a Chikorita.

“She might lose,” Cassandra said thoughtfully. “The other person has a type advantage.”

“That won’t matter if she bribed a judge,” Karen muttered.

“Will you stop that?” Every time she heard that, it made Cassandra uneasy.

As she watched, Chikorita came out with a powerful Vine Whip and plucked Deena easily out of the water; it raised the Goldeen above its head before flinging it back with a splash.

One of the judges, a bald, older man, began waving his hands and yelling. “One of the judges calls unnecessary roughness and docks Miss Carrie a significant amount of points!” the MC called. The booing of the crowd was so loud that Cassandra could hear it through the stadium doors as well as on the television.

“I’ve seen rougher things than that,” Cassandra remarked, frowning. “That judge sure is strict.”

“Or—” Karen began.

“Don’t.”

Sakura won her match, and Cassandra tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear as she stood across the floor from her, Finny’s Poké Ball in her hand and determination in the set of her jaw.

“These two faced off in the final round at Verdanturf,” the MC boomed over the speaker. “What surprises await us as they face each other again today?”

“Best of luck,” Sakura called across the floor.

“Thank you,” Cassandra replied. “You too.”

“Ready the stage!” called the MC; and in a familiar display, the floor opened to reveal a pool. This time, however, there would be no disadvantage for Swablu. Finny would be taking the stage this time. “Begin!”

“Deena, it is time!”

Goldeen burst out of her Poké Ball and sailed in a graceful arc above the pool, water droplets shaking from her tail as she fell. Cassandra squinted. Was it just her, or did Goldeen look a bit bigger?

At any rate, Deena entered the pool with hardly a splash; Sakura’s point-bar rocketed forward.

“Oh, and a very graceful display by Sakura’s Deena! That’s…a very large amount of points for just an entrance. But let’s see if Miss Étoile can beat it!”

Cassandra took in a deep breath and raised both hands above her head. She did a little spin and tossed Finny’s Poké Ball. “Finny, let’s go!”

Finny leapt out of his Ball, did a somersault, and then swan-dived into the pool, where he swam for a bit and then surfaced with a shiny splash. Cassandra smiled as her point-bar surged forward, stopping just before Sakura’s. It was going to be another close, exciting battle; probably entirely underwater.

“And the Contest Hall’s WaterCams are on and functioning! Everyone turn your attentions to the screen!” the MC boomed.

The WaterCams were only turned on for battles between two Water Pokémon; it wouldn’t be fair for a non-water Pokémon to see the surface as well as what was going underwater on the screen, while the Water Pokémon could only see underwater.

“Deena, use Horn Attack!”

“Dodge it, Finny!” Cassandra cried, watching the screen intently. Finny ducked swiftly beneath Deena and swam under her, shooting off toward the other side of the pool. Cassandra’s points-bar inched forward for his show of grace. “Now, use Water Pulse!”

Finny flipped around and clapped his two fins together; a pulse jolted from the impact, spreading out and heading towards Deena. The surface of the pool rippled with its intensity; with nowhere to go, Deena tumbled over in the waves helplessly, and Sakura’s bar shrank back a great deal.

Sakura looked positively furious at her dip in points; she cut the judges such a scathing look that Cassandra was surprised that they didn’t burst into flames. She hadn’t noticed that competitive edge in Sakura at Verdanturf…but then again, she had already won the contest the previous week. Not so much had been riding on their battle then. Whoever won this progressed to the final round, and Cassandra, while not willing to glare daggers at the judges, was determined that it was going to be her.

“Good job, Finny! Now use Aqua Tail!”

Finny spun around again, this time to get enough momentum for a powerful Aqua Tail. The entire pool was in turmoil as the water shifted and swirled.

“Deena, jump out!” Sakura yelled, an edge to her voice.

“Don’t let it! Get that thing back in the water!” Cassandra let her hair loose as she yelled this, and it fanned out and caught the light; the crowd roared its approval. Finny leapt out of the pool, snatched Deena out of the air as she sailed upward, and threw her back down. The Goldeen fell, smacking roughly into the water. She looked weakened as she passed by a WaterCam.

“What a display of acrobatics!” the MC yelled. “And look at Cassandra’s—wait, one of the judges is saying something!”

An older man with a bald head was yelling from the judges’ table. He looked angry, but the other judges were looking at him incredulously.

“Oh…well, he is saying that Finny and Cassandra are to be docked points for unnecessary roughness!”

Cassandra’s mouth dropped open as the crowd booed and hissed. She put her hands on her hips and looked up at her bar, which had been snatched back to half its value. She gritted her teeth as rage bubbled up in her stomach. That wasn’t fair.

“Deena, we’re okay!” Sakura called. “Let’s go! Horn Attack!”

Finny looked around; Cassandra hadn’t made a command. She pushed the rage back and looked up at the WaterCam. Deena was nowhere in sight.

“D-dodge!” Cassandra yelled, but Finny didn’t know where Deena was either. Anywhere he moved could be right in the path of wherever Deena was.

And then, Deena’s horn buried itself into the skin of Finny’s leg; she had come from the bottom of the pool. The power of her attack drove Finny bursting through the surface of the water. He shot up several feet into the air, did a strange, awkward somersault, and then landed with a belly-flop back on the water.

“Where’s the call of unnecessary roughness now?” the MC asked. “That didn’t look quite legal to me! But the judges haven’t said anything, and Cassandra’s points are docked!”

Cassandra balled her hands into fists as Finny floated on the water, struggling slightly. Its leg was badly injured, and blood leaked from an open wound. “Finny! Would you like me to forfeit?”

With a strange, determined look, Finny righted himself and dove underwater, a thin blood trail flowing up and then disappearing altogether. The crowd cheered noisily.

“It seems as though Finny wants to fight through his pain!” the MC yelled through the speakers.

Cassandra smiled, but she remembered something; a Poochyena, fighting through repeated onslaughts of Bug attacks, to its own destruction.

“Show them their mistake, Deena! Surf!”

“Surf?” Cassandra muttered. Could Goldeen learn Surf?

The water in the pool contracted; it rose up into one huge wave, leaving half the pool dry. Finny stood, dripping wet, in the dry part of the pool, staring up at the wave towering over him with Deena swimming up, up, up into the crest of the wave as it curled over sinisterly and came crashing down around him.

The WaterCam showed nothing but rushing water for several seconds; Cassandra rung her hands as she alternated looking at the surface of the water and the screen, trying to catch a glimpse of Finny. Finally, she saw him; the WaterCam showed him going by in the aftermath of the wave, being flopped gracelessly in the current. Cassandra leaned over, worriedly staring at the blue fleck that was Finny’s body as it was tossed around; the MC shouted things and the crowd roared angrily, but Cassandra could only pay attention to Finny.

Finally, the water calmed down and Finny floated up to the top, thoroughly fainted. She returned him to his Poké Ball and sadly looked up at her screen. Not all her points were gone…but most of them were.

“And the judges are arguing at this very moment,” the MC yelled. Cassandra looked over at the judges’ table; Nurse Joy looked angrier than Cassandra had ever seen any Nurse Joy, and the two other judges—the bald old man and a middle-aged man with brown hair—were yelling at each other. The old man seemed to win the argument; albeit unhappily, Nurse Joy and the middle-aged man turned away.

“The decision stands,” the MC’s voice boomed over the loudspeakers. “Sakura Konohana wins the match!”

Cassandra sadly lifted her eyes to see Sakura, standing demurely on the other side of the stadium, Deena’s Poké Ball in hand. There was something about her expression…she wore a small half-smile, and her eyes were cold and distant. A strange triumph was etched in the set of her jaw.

Her expression reminded Cassandra of Joanna.

To: [email protected]
From: dancing_through_life@pokénet.com
Subject: …
________________________
I lost my contest, Alyssa.

It was awful. And it was unfair. I’ve been trying to ignore Karen, but it looks like she’s right. She thinks Sakura bribed a judge, and now I think so too. I’ll send you the video soon so you can see.

Well, I guess I’ll be hanging around Fallarbor Town for another month or so until the next contest. I’ll train even harder.

Have you heard anything from Belle? It’s been three weeks and I haven’t gotten ONE email from the girl. I don’t want to pressure her, but this is getting ridiculous. I almost want to go over there and get her, but I have no clue where she’d be. Last time I got an email from her, she was heading to Fuchsia City, but that was THREE WEEKS AGO. Who knows where she is now?

Oh, and congratulations on your promotion!! That sounds exciting! Well, it also sounds like hard work, but you’ll probably love that. And with Ian too! Looks like you two will be getting even closer!

Much love,
Cassandra

nokyo-chan
July 19th, 2010, 11:41 AM
Chapter Twenty-Nine

In the three weeks it had taken Cassandra to lose her contest, Belle had caught an unsuspecting Poliwag at the random pond in Celadon, cursed herself for not buying a bike, taken the long way to Fuchsia City via Vermilion, defeated Koga (she lost twice, causing herself to train so hard Charmy evolved into Charizard and her newly-caught Poliwag became Poliwhirl), and headed to Saffron, where she had been training with the people in the Fighting Dojo. She wasn’t too worried about Derrick finding her here. True, she had panicked in Fuchsia because she had spent too long there, but that had been different; what reason did Derrick have to come stumbling into the Fighting Dojo?


“How are things coming along, Belle?”


She turned from where she and Primape had been beating the crap out of a punching bag to see Hitoshi, one of the boys at the dojo. Primape paused in his ruthless destruction of the bag, but when he saw Hitoshi, he turned back to it, deciding that there was no threat to Belle.


Belle adjusted the tape on her hands. “I think I’m a quick learner.”


“No…I mean, have you battled Sabrina again yet?”


Belle looked away quickly. The truth was, Sabrina scared the crap out of her. She had been too afraid to tell Charmy, or Poliwhirl, or Eevee what to do, and had let them faint. Those cold, calculating eyes, the way her bangs were cut straight across her forehead, her Alakazam…she reminded Belle too much of death. She haunted her nightmares, standing above her with glowing eyes, cradling a limp, pale Pichu. Hitoshi sighed. “She’s not all that bad. She’s just shy.”


Belle squeezed her eyes shut and turned away, pretending to tighten the tape on her hands. Shy? The woman was death! With that calm, smooth voice and that cold, detached tone, her pale skin and strange psychic powers…she could speak to her Alakazam in her head! That alone was creepy enough! Suddenly, though, she found herself wishing she could speak to Charmy in her head.


“She freaks me out,” Belle said finally, throwing a weak punch at her bag. “She never smiles, she’s so calm…”


“You remind me of her a bit,” Hitoshi said, talking over the last part of her sentence.


“Work!” the Master Koichi yelled from across the dojo; Belle quickly began punching the bag. Hitoshi moved a bit closer to her.


“You both have dark hair, you both seem calm and composed all the time, neither of you ever smile…”


Belle froze. She reached out and gently caught the punching bag, making it still. She never smiled? “I smile,” she said, trying to think back to the last time she smiled. She smiled after she defeated Koga, right? No…after Erika. No…


“No you don’t,” Hitoshi replied. “You’re pretty calm and collected all the time. And Sabrina isn’t so bad, once you get to know her. She comes over here when the gym’s not so busy.” He glanced at her. “You might like her.”


“Take a break!” Master Koichi bellowed. Hitoshi wandered off and Belle sank to the floor, grabbing the water bottle she had placed there earlier.


“Settle down, Primape,” Belle muttered. The Pokémon stopped its beating of the punching bag and plopped down beside her, feet sticking out willy-nilly. “You need to calm down some.”


Primape glanced at her. Its message was loud and clear. Calm down like you, Miss Sabrina?


Belle put the rim of the bottle to her lips and looked away. Forget wanting to speak to her Pokémon in her head. They were mean to her.
__________________________




Belle surfed through her e-mail. Her black hair was wet and matted to her head, and she was wearing a light blue tank-top and gray gym shorts. She had just taken a shower and was waiting for all the boys to be done; they all insisted that she take hers first, since she was the only girl. She had quite a few e-mails from Cassandra and Alyssa asking her what was wrong. Their urgency grew with each passing day. What could she do to get them to back off? She couldn’t tell them of her discovery…she couldn’t share this awful burden of sorrow, couldn’t thrust it on them. With a sigh, Belle picked up her water bottle.


“You sound troubled.”


Belle’s veins ran cold and her heart stopped beating; she froze, staring at the screen. The voice that had spoken was smooth, calm, collected…
It belonged to Sabrina.


Belle turned slowly to face her, lowering her water bottle. The woman stood there in an off-white turtleneck sweater and jeans. It was quite cold outside, now that Belle thought about it. Sabrina’s long black hair seemed to shift around her as she cocked her head slightly. “You fear me.”

Psychic people are so creepy, Belle thought immediately.


“And you seem to be under the impression that psychic people are creepy.”


“Stop reading my thoughts,” Belle said out loud. She stood up and walked away, trying to put some distance between herself and Sabrina. She was the only one in the dojo with her; why couldn’t the boys hurry with their showers?


“The thing you feel is not uncommon when one visits Lavender Tower,” Sabrina said suddenly. Belle looked at her sharply. “You were unlucky enough to happen upon a funeral.”


“What do you know?”


“Much.”


The simple answer startled Belle, and she wrapped her arms around herself and frowned.


“You need not fear me, Belle Caldwell.”

Oh, yeah, sure, you know my full name without me telling you, but I shouldn’t be afraid of you. Right. Belle strode over to her Poké Balls, which sat on a table nearby. She felt the need for some company.


“I am not going to hurt you,” Sabrina said, and some emotion edged into her voice. She sounded earnest. “Please, just understand what I’m telling you.”


Belle paused, her hand above Charmy’s Poké Ball. “May I at least let out Charmy?”


“Yes. You will argue if I decline.”


Belle felt a lot safer with a Charizard around; Charmy touched a claw to her shoulder blades supportively. “Continue.”


“You need to speak to someone. Don’t keep everything inside. Also…the person you dread meeting nears. If you wish to avoid him, you need to leave soon. While it is my opinion you should talk to him, I know that you will not heed my advice; I also feel that it is fair to warn you. He comes. You should leave within the next two days.”


Belle reached out and grabbed Charmy’s claw, squeezing it. “How do you know all this?”


“I am psychic. This city is my city.” Sabrina turned toward the door of the dojo. She crossed to it in a few long strides, and she paused before leaving, glancing over her shoulder at Belle. “You are determined. I can sense that you won’t leave here without the Marsh Badge. I will be waiting at my gym for you.”
______________________



Belle arrived at Sabrina’s gym with renewed determination and the heartfelt support from everyone at the Fighting Dojo. She had liked it there, and she was loath to leave them, but it had to be done; Derrick was coming, and she needed to head to Cinnabar Island to get her Volcano Badge.


Vaguely, as she wandered into the gym, Belle wondered about Derrick’s Pokémon. Had any evolved? Had he caught any new ones? She tried to imagine Derrick fighting alongside a Graveler or a Raichu, but the image hurt her heart, so she pushed the thoughts away. She needed to focus on her battle anyway.


Sabrina loomed out of the darkness of her gym, seeming to pass from shadow into being. Her long black hair fanned out around her elbows. “Good day to you, Belle Caldwell.”


“Good day.” Belle had resigned herself—she wasn’t going to be nervous this time, not at all. She was going to exude the same calm, confident aura Sabrina did. In fact, she was going to try to exude that type of aura from now on. She had come a long way from being afraid of Sabrina; now, she almost idolized her.


“Referee,” Sabrina said calmly, and a woman dressed in a referee’s outfit stepped out of the shadows, two colored flags in hand. “Begin the match, please.”


“This will be a three-on-three match. Leader is only allowed to switch between battles; challenger may switch at any time. Neither may use any more than three different Pokémon. Also, Leader will not, for any reason, read the challenger’s thoughts. Challenger ready?”


“Ready,” Belle said, reaching for a Poké Ball. She pressed the button in the center and felt it fill up the space in her palm.


“Leader ready?” the referee asked.


“Perfectly so,” Sabrina replied. A Poké Ball levitated in front of her.


“Begin!”


“Espeon. It is your turn.” Sabrina’s Poké Ball opened and unleashed a purplish fox-like Pokémon with two tails and a gleaming gem in its forehead. It landed gently, its tail swishing over its head.


“Bellossum, let’s go!” Belle threw her Poké Ball. She knew what Pokémon Sabrina would use—Espeon, Mr. Mime, and Alakazam. She smoothed her thumb over a different Poké Ball as she thought of who would battle Alakazam.


“Espeon, please use Psywave.”


“Bellossum, use Giga Drain!”


Before Bellossum could use its move, Espeon’s wave of Psychic energy crashed into the little Pokémon and sent it tumbling head over heels. It stood up; there was a scratch on Bellossum’s little arm. The creature held its hands out and a mystical, swirling beam of green-tinged sunlight spread out, enveloping Espeon. Small green balls flowed back along the beam of light; they melted into Bellossum, and the scratch on her arm healed. Espeon looked suddenly fatigued.


“Hm. That is something else indeed.” Sabrina looked down calmly at her Pokémon. “Espeon, Confusion, please.”


“Bellossum, dod—” Belle quickly rethought her strategy. How do you dodge a Psychic move? She cracked her knuckles, mind racing. “Bellossum, use Sleep Powder!”


Espeon wasn’t finished readying its mind or meditating or whatever it was Psychic Pokémon did to start attacks, and when the peaceful powder drifted slowly down onto it, its lids closed heavily and it sank to the floor, fast asleep.


“Oh, this is a problem. Espeon?” Sabrina seemed perfectly calm.


“Bellossum, use Quick Attack!”


Bellossum shot at Espeon, colliding into it. Espeon flopped in a rag-doll motion, sprawling out on the gym floor, still fast asleep.


“Espeon, use Confusion!” Sabrina said, sounding forceful.


“Espeon is fast asleep,” Belle reminded her. “Bellossum, Tackle! Quick Attack! Tackle again!”


The attacks continued, and Espeon didn’t wake up. After a while, Belle ordered Bellossum’s attacks to stop; she didn’t want to hurt the Pokémon too badly. Nothing happened for a while. Then—


“Espeon is unable to battle! Challenger wins!”


“Very well,” Sabrina said, withdrawing Espeon to its Poké Ball. “And now—Mr. Mime, if you please.”


“Bellossum, you’ve done well. Return.” Belle plucked a different Ball from her belt and tossed it as Mr. Mime appeared on the floor, happily waving its hands. “Your turn, Poliwhirl!”


“Poli!”


“Mr. Mime, Reflect.”


Mr. Mime swung his hand out, creating a shield of light in front of him.



“Poliwhirl, use Bubblebeam!”


“Light Screen.”


Another shield sprang up in front of Mr. Mime; this one deflected Bubblebeam, sending it shooting back at Poliwhirl, who leapt sideways to avoid its own attack. Belle’s fingernails dug into her palms as her fingers curled into fists.


“Mr. Mime, Safeguard.”

“Mime!” Mr. Mime erected yet another glowing shield, smiling the whole time. Belle wanted to kick it. She surveyed the battlefield, Sabrina looking on coolly as the gears in her mind turned. Last time she had won by putting Espeon to sleep…maybe she could do that to Mr. Mime.


“Poliwhirl, Hypnosis!”

“Poli!” A purple mist slowly wrapped itself around Mr. Mime, but it didn’t touch him; one of his many glowing shields pulsed and dispelled the mist completely.


“Safeguard protects against status defects,” Sabrina said. “You can’t put Mr. Mime to sleep.”

“Mime, Mr. Mime!”


Belle wouldn’t be surprised if she looked down and saw blood flowing from her palms, the way her fingernails were digging into them. She forced herself to stop and whipped her cap off her head, running her fingers through her hair briefly before setting it back on. “Poliwhirl, Mud Shot!”


It obeyed; mud splattered across Mr. Mime, but one of his glowing shields caught most of it. It didn’t hurt him enough to make him blink. “Mr. Mime, Barrier, please.”

Why doesn’t she attack? Belle thought to herself, squinting her eyes. Well, she was going to have to take full advantage of the time that wasn’t spent inflicting damage on her Pokémon. “Poliwhirl, use Double-Slap!”


Poliwhirl leapt forward, but he couldn’t get through Mr. Mime’s glowing shields. He fell back, grunting. Belle rethought. “Mud Shot, then Bubblebeam!”


Mud Shot once again splattered a bit of mud on Mr. Mime, but with one calm order of “Light Screen” from Sabrina, he calmly deflected Poliwhirl’s Bubblebeam.


Belle was getting frustrated. “Those shields are pissing me off,” she grumbled, starting to pace in her little square. She suddenly wished she had asked that weird guy in Celadon Mansion more questions instead of punching him in the jaw, but what was done was done. Didn’t she teach Poliwhirl a move that he could use against Mr. Mime and actually hurt him? She ran briefly through his arsenal.


“Calm Mind,” Sabrina told Mr. Mime, and he shut his eyes and swayed back and forth.


“Poliwhirl!” Belle cried, stopping in her stupid pacing. She’d had an epiphany—she knew how she was going to win this match. “Brick Break!”


Brick Break was a Fighting-type move, she knew, but she also knew it would break through defenses like Light Screen, Reflect, Barrier, and Safeguard, and that was just what she needed. Poliwhirl hurtled at Mr. Mime, throwing a huge punch; his fist glowed red as it plowed into the different shields Mr. Mime had erected. They shattered in pieces of glowing light and rained down upon the battlefield. Furthermore, Poliwhirl’s fist hit directly in the middle of Mr. Mime’s chest, and while Fighting was weak against Psychic, a direct hit like that couldn’t be ignored; Mr. Mime was sent flying across the gym floor, landing on his bottom near Sabrina.


Belle met Sabrina’s eyes over the falling shards of glass-light, a smile lifting the corner of her mouth. Now, every time Sabrina ordered Mr. Mime to put up those shields, Belle could just break them and send Mr. Mime flying. It would tire Mr. Mime out to put those shields up so many times, and eventually Poliwhirl’s repeated punches would knock him out.


“What a beautiful display,” Sabrina commented. Belle looked away from Sabrina’s eyes. Indeed, the falling shards of Mr. Mime’s broken barriers were quite beautiful, in a tragic sort of way. “Mr. Mime, Magical Leaf.”


“PROTECT!” Belle shouted urgently, almost falling out of her box. Poliwhirl threw up his hands, making a glowing blue-green shield that curved around him and deflected the glowing leaves sent from Mr. Mime’s hands. They dissolved and Poliwhirl dropped his shield. “Now, use Body Slam!”


Poliwhirl leapt up, soared through the air, and landed heavily on top of Mr. Mime, who crumpled under the weight and lay helpless beneath his opponent’s body.


“Close-up Double-Slap!”


Belle’s Water Pokémon proceeded to slap Mr. Mime hard about the face; Sabrina’s mouth twitched as she watched, knowing she could do nothing to prevent it. “Now, finish it off with Bubblebeam!”


A large stream of bubbles erupted from the center of Poliwhirl’s swirly belly as he leapt back, and they caught Mr. Mime about the middle and pushed him several feet. When he landed, a bit crumpled, the referee craned her neck briefly to look at him.


“Mr. Mime is unable to battle! Poliwhirl wins the battle!”


“Yes!” Belle cried as Sabrina returned her Pokémon.


“Do not celebrate just yet,” the Gym Leader toned calmly. “We have one more battle. In this one, we shall see who is the true victor.”


Belle felt her face harden as she returned Poliwhirl to his Poké Ball. “Good job,” she whispered to the Ball as she put it on her belt and grabbed another. Sabrina also held a Ball; they stared at each other across the battlefield. Both knew what the other was about to do. Sabrina didn’t even need her psychic powers to know which Poké Ball Belle held.


“Alakazam,” Sabrina said softly, holding out her hand. The ball floated above it for a few seconds before opening and releasing a yellow human-like Pokémon holding two spoons for no apparent reason, its eyes narrowed as it took in Belle’s appearance for the second time. Sabrina’s eyes glowed blue, and Alakazam’s glowed in response; the two held such a sacred bond that this seemed to happen whenever they were together.
Belle trembled. The Sabrina that stood across the gym floor now was the Sabrina that stood in her nightmares; those glowing blue eyes seemed to pierce her soul. She drew in a deep breath and closed her eyes, trying to find her focus again.


When Belle’s eyes opened, they were alight with the fire of her determination. It didn’t matter anymore that the only reason she came to the gym was because Derrick was coming and she had to run away. It didn’t matter that Sabrina’s eyes were glowing blue. It didn’t matter that she had lost once before. It didn’t matter that she had once been scared stiff of Sabrina. All that mattered now was the battle; she was going to win and get that Marsh Badge.


“Let’s go, Charmy!” Belle threw Charmy’s Poké Ball out onto the field, and the Pokémon erupted from it with a roar. Belle and Charmy shared a bond, too. It may not have been born of psychic power, but it was there, and she was more linked to him than any of her other Pokémon.


“Alakazam.” Sabrina’s voice was different; it came out in a strange hiss when she spoke to her closest Pokémon. “Psychic.”


If there was any music to this scene, it would be low and dramatic. Belle could practically feel the drum beat in her chest. Alakazam raised its arms slowly, and Belle assessed the situation.


“Wing Attack!”


The spoon glimmered as Alakazam waved its hand; Charmy, mid-lunge, suddenly froze. There was a split-second pause before he was hurtled backwards, crashing into the stand holding up Belle’s small box; she clutched the railing. “Charmy! Are you okay?”


With a determined roar, Charmy got to his feet, the corner of his lips pulled back to show his pointed teeth. He had already been defeated by Alakazam once—he wasn’t about to lose to it again.


“Psycho Cut!” Sabrina rasped.


Alakazam pushed his hand into the air; waves of psychic power formed into roughly the shape of a sickle. With a sweep of his hand, Alakazam sent it hurtling toward Charmy, and the thing slammed into his chest, sending him once again into the metal support beams of Belle’s box.


“Charmy!” she cried. She was not going to take this lying down. “Flamethrower!”


“Light Screen!”


In an all-too-familiar display, Alakazam sent up a glowing shield of light. The Flamethrower parted and went around it, not touching Alakazam at all; but when the Psychic Pokémon looked up, beads of sweat could be seen sprouting on its forehead.


“Dragon Claw!” Belle cried before Alakazam had time to process. Charmy leapt into the air and swooped down on Alakazam; his claws glowed bluish-silver as he stuck his hand into Alakazam’s misty Light Screen and slashed him right across the chest. The Psychic Pokémon cried out and was slung sideways, doing a strange pirouette before it hit the floor. Charmy arced up and away, slamming his flaming tail into Alakazam’s falling form as he soared up towards the rafters.


Sabrina’s glowing eyes glowed ever brighter, and Alakazam pushed himself off the floor. “Psycho Cut!” she said again.


“Be ready, Charmy!” Belle cried, moving her feet shoulder-width apart and holding her hands out. Charmy copied her without even looking, his wings beating to hold him aloft.


Alakazam formed the familiar sickle and hurled it up toward Charmy; the Charizard reached forward and caught it in his claws, roaring loudly with the effort. Sweat appeared on his forehead as he pushed at it, and finally, with a great bellow, he flung it aside, sending it flying across the gym floor and crashing into the wall; smoke billowed up from the contact point.


“Smokescreen!”


Charmy opened his mouth; black smoke poured out, filling the gym. Belle cried out something unintelligible even to her. Black smoke curled all around, pushing into her mouth and nostrils, but she held her sleeve over her mouth and nose and closed one eye, trying to peer through the thickness.


Alakazam couldn’t see either; after many agonizing seconds, he sensed a shift in the smoke. He looked up just in time to see the smoke tear apart and a Charizard burst through. Charmy’s claws shot out and raked his face, leaving three parallel gash marks across his cheek. Alakazam cried out and stumbled backwards; Charmy escaped to the rafters as the smoke cleared once more.


“Flamethrower, quick!”


Charmy spun quickly in the middle of his ascent and blew hot flames out of his mouth. Alakazam’s distraction allowed the fire to burn a hole through his misty Light Screen and get in a direct hit; he bellowed and stumbled, hitting one knee as the flames poured over him. Charmy snapped his mouth shut and flapped his wings hard enough to send him to the top of the building again, leering down at his opponent.


Sabrina took a step forward; her hair fell across her face and one hand reached out to grasp the rail of her box. Her lips parted, showing her teeth, as her glowing eyes widened. “ALAKAZAM,” she screamed in a voice that no longer sounded anywhere near calm.


Despite Sabrina’s appearance, Belle wasn’t afraid. She gritted her teeth and stepped to the edge of her box, wishing she could be closer to the battlefield. “Charmy!” she yelled, and her voice cut through her throat like a razor.


“PSYCHIC.”


Alakazam looked possessed as it raised its arms, its head falling back slightly, the spoons shaking uncontrollably though its hands remained still.
“Fire Blast!” Belle cried, tightening her grip on the rail in front of her. Charmy lowered himself a bit and opened his mouth; the flames started to pour out just as a huge wave of Psychic energy pulsed out of Alakazam.
The beam of fire smacked straight into the wave of energy and spread out over it, but neither Pokémon could advance; Charmy’s eyes narrowed and it bellowed despite the flames pouring from its throat, and Alakazam let out a strange yell as it tried to push its energy harder. Belle leaned forward, and before she knew it, she was screaming too, her voice rising in pitch and volume until it was a shrill, loud tone that made her feel as though her face was about to explode. Sabrina was also yelling, her eyes glowing so much that it was like tiny blue suns were in her eye sockets instead of eyes. She leaned over the rail, her hair slipping forward from her shoulders and dangling out over the battlefield.


Belle slowly began to raise her arm as if possessed, screaming as she cocked it back; she launched it forward as if throwing something, and Charmy pushed his fire so hard that it burst through Alakazam’s energy and washed over Alakazam himself. Sabrina went stiff and her scream doubled in volume, her head lolling back and her hair whipping about her as if in a wind only she could experience. Alakazam’s yell rose until it mingled with Sabrina’s and they were yelling with one single voice.


Belle’s screaming didn’t stop. She leapt up onto the rail of her box, pushing her upper body forward until she was curved over the field, hands balled into fists and throat straining. Alakazam and Sabrina screamed as if they were both awash in flames; Belle and Charmy bellowed as if they were both hammering fire from out of their stomachs.


Finally Charmy stopped, his mouth shutting as he hovered above Alakazam, who was lying flat on his back and still screaming. Sabrina’s cries didn’t stop, either; suddenly, the glow from her eyes turned blazing white, and she spread her arms, hollering as she rose into the air. Alakazam’s chest rose, leading his body as it levitated above the floor.


Belle raised her arm and brought it down again; Charmy mimicked her motion at the same time, bringing his fist onto Alakazam’s chest and forcing him to cave in, his back smashing against the floor. Sabrina screamed even harder; her head fell back more as Alakazam’s voice died away, the white glow from his eyes fading. Sabrina’s cry persisted until finally she collapsed on the floor of her box, a crumpled heap of tangled black hair. Belle wavered on her box railing, suddenly dizzy; Charmy slowly brought himself down so that his feet touched the floor and took a step back. An eerie silence rang through the room, a calm following the storm of the century.


Belle had defeated Sabrina.
_______________________




To:dancing_through_life@pokénet.com, [email protected]
From: dingdongbelle@pokénet.com
Subject: I’m not dead.
________________________________________________________________

Hi guys,


I’m fine. I spent those three weeks at the Fighting Dojo. I battled Sabrina; it was intense. I have the Marsh Badge now.


I’m really sorry about your contest, Cassandra. Don’t give up.


You two don’t have to worry about me. I can take care of myself. I’m fine. Nothing about me has changed. You’re just worrying too much.


Charmy is Charizard now.


Love you guys,
Belle

nokyo-chan
August 9th, 2010, 06:39 PM
Chapter Thirty
Alyssa leaned forward in her chair, watching the screen intently as Goldeen’s horn dug itself into Finny’s flesh. She grabbed her mouse to pause the video and dragged it back to Sakura’s look at the judges; Ziggy shifted in her lap, craning to see.

This was some rare free time, and Alyssa was spending it studying Cassandra’s Contest video to see if there was any evidence that Konohana was cheating. So far, the only evidence she had gotten was that one particular judge was being incredibly unfair. While that didn’t spell out cheating verbatim, it did point to it.

“What are you doing?” Ian asked, entering the room. Prinplup waddled behind him, heading for the bed; Ziggy leapt off Alyssa’s lap and scuttled over to the Water Pokémon.

“Looking at this. My friend Cassandra thinks this girl might have bribed a judge.”

“You sure she’s not just a sore loser?” Ian joked. Alyssa shot him a look so angry he stopped walking toward her. “Sorry. It was just a joke.”

“Please don’t talk about my friends that way. Cassandra wouldn’t make an accusation like that without reason.”

Ian held up his hands. “Okay. I’m sorry. What have you got?”

“Well, all I’ve got is that this match is completely unfair.”

“How so?” Ian came up behind her and leaned on the back of the computer chair.

“Several times, this judge docks Cassandra for unnecessary roughness when the tactics she was using were completely legal—and then, when this Konohana girl does something that would be considered unnecessary roughness under normal circumstances, and she’s not penalized at all. In fact, she wins the match. Look—see that red spot? That’s blood.”

“Holy crap,” Ian said, leaning forward slightly and squinting. “And she didn’t get penalized for that? Do you know the rules for Contests?”

“Got ’em right here.” Alyssa pulled up a window she had, which listed the Contest rules. “I’m thinking about making an investigation.”

“It’d never get off the ground,” Ian said. “How would you go about telling Chairperson Erma how you got the information?”

“Anonymous tip-off,” Alyssa replied immediately. “I don’t have to disclose the name that way.”

Ian grinned. “You’re really thinking like a Ranger. But it’s the Hoenn Region Police Department that needs to get investigating that crap, and since the president’s son is a famous Coordinator, I doubt it’ll happen.”

Alyssa rolled her eyes. She hated politics. “You wanna go down to the lounge and get some coffee?”

Ian groaned miserably. “No,” he said, plopping down to sit on Alyssa’s bed. Ziggy jumped on the bed and laid down by his leg. Every Top Ranger had their own room, almost apartment-like. They all had a front room, a bedroom, a bathroom, and a kitchenette. The Ranger Union provided them with top-of-the-line computers, of which Alyssa took full advantage. “My legs are killing me.”

Alyssa laughed at him as she closed out her windows. “Three weeks and you’re still not used to the exercise routine?”

“They make us do stupid obstacle courses every day! They give the men more than the women, I swear.”

“Ian, the men and the women do their exercises together. We have the same routine. Eat some bananas or something.”

“What’s that have to do with anything?”

“Potassium helps with cramps.” Alyssa logged off her computer and swiveled around in the chair, smiling. We’re really friends, she thought as Ian smiled back.

Today they had a day off; they wore everyday clothes. It was getting cold, so Ian wore long pants and a hoodie. Alyssa had learned to get dressed on days off instead of lounging in her pajamas, because if Chairperson Erma didn’t call with an I’m-sorry-I-know-it’s-your-day-off-but-we-need-you-for-a-quest-and-everyone-else-is-busy call, Ian dropped by unannounced. She wasn’t sure how he got into her locked room. He must have figured out her keycode.

“Is that what you do?”

“That, and I got used to the routine.”

Ian scowled. “Some days hit me harder than others, okay?”

“I’m sure that’s what it is.” Alyssa stood and stretched. “I’m bored. I’ve been in my room all day. Erma hasn’t called me once. Knock on wood!” she said hastily, rapping her knuckles against her desk. It was a silly superstition, but it was one she had grown up with, and now it was habit.

“She calls you on your days off, too? Good, I thought I was the only one.”

“Keith says she does that to everybody,” Alyssa offered, going over to the shelf above her bed and plucking a snowglobe off it. Prinplup looked over at it, interested.

“So you’ve been hanging out with Keith a lot?” Ian’s voice sounded strange as he asked the question.

“No.” She laughed as she shook the globe, letting snow fall on Snowpoint, as if they didn’t already have enough. “I was just talking to him yesterday. He was going on a quest on his day off. See it, Prinny?”

Quests were things regular civilians asked of them. More often than not they were small things, like gathering Drifblim to help move or finding lost Pokémon. Most of the time people would just grab Rangers if they saw them on the street, but sometimes they would come straight up to the Ranger Union and request that a Ranger help them.

“Oh. Okay.”

“Why? Are you jealous?” Alyssa asked teasingly, setting her snowglobe back on its shelf.

“N-no,” Ian stammered, his face turning red. Alyssa blushed too. It was nice to get reassurances that he had a crush on her, but it was embarrassing, too. She brushed some bangs out of her eyes. “And don’t call Prinplup Prinny.”

“But he likes it. Don’t ya, Prinny?” Alyssa laughed as she got a Prinplup scowl in reply. “That’s okay. I have a Partner Pokémon who likes being called a nickname. Right, Ziggy?”

“Goon!” Ziggy leapt up and scuttled over to Alyssa, leaping into her arms. She laughed and scratched his ears.

Alyssa’s Styler vibrated from her desk. Once she became a Top Ranger, she had gotten one of their Stylers—it fastened to her wrist instead of being handheld. The Ranger Union communicated through these Stylers. Operators were usually the ones who handled calling Rangers from the base, but Rangers also communicated through them.

“No,” Alyssa groaned as she picked it up. She hit a button. “This is Alyssa Thompson speaking.”

“Good afternoon, Alyssa. This is Rhythmi.” Rhythmi was the best Operator the Ranger Union had, and also the busiest, so she spoke rather quickly. “Chairperson Erma would like to speak with you and Ian—would he happen to be with you?”

“Yes, he is,” Alyssa replied. Talking to someone on the Styler was like talking to someone on speakerphone. Ian glanced up at her, wincing.

“Good. Please meet Chairperson Erma on the third floor in fifteen minutes. Rhythmi out.”

Sighing, Alyssa strapped her Styler to her wrist and threw on a jacket. She grabbed her wallet and shifted Ziggy so that he hung from her shoulder, sniffling near her ear—his favorite traveling spot.

“Come on, Ian. Let’s go see what Erma wants.”

_____________________________

The third floor was just a large chamber filled with huge computers; Operators sat everywhere, headsets on, pressing different flashing buttons and talking animatedly. Rhythmi’s blonde head bobbed as she hurried to press different buttons.

Chairperson Erma stood from her seat and beckoned to Alyssa and Ian as they entered; she was a very old woman, with silver hair tied back in two thick bunches and a wrinkly face. Her back was stooped, and she relied on a cane to walk, the handle of which was shaped into a Sandslash. She wasn’t a skinny old woman, by any means. Alyssa always thought of her as someone’s granny—Granny Erma. She always wore dresses with crocheted sweaters.

“Good afternoon, you two,” Erma said, her cane thunking against the tiled floor as she walked over to meet them.

“Good afternoon, Gr—Chairperson Erma,” Alyssa replied.

“Good afternoon,” Ian echoed.

“I have a mission for you two—no, it doesn’t start today, so don’t panic. Follow me.” With surprising speed, Erma clunked across the floor and to the elevator, taking them down to the second floor. She led them into a large room with black walls, floor, and ceiling. “Shut the door, please, Ian.”

Ian did so, throwing the room into complete darkness, and Erma cleared her throat. “Computer! Bring up most recent data.”

The computer in question whirred to life; a map of Almia appeared beneath their feet, and the walls began pulling up pictures and data files in an organized manner. Among the pictures were landscapes, what looked like mugshots, and snapshots of suspicious-looking people carrying briefcases from different angles and from various distances. The ceiling showed a perfectly clear, blue sky.

“Um, Chairperson Erma…what does the sky have to do with anything?” Alyssa asked, pointing up at the ceiling. The old woman looked up, bracing a hand on her back.

“I just think it adds a nice feeling. Now, what’s happening here…we’ve done a bit of digging on that prisoner you two apprehended—”—Alyssa had to work very hard to keep still, but she wanted to squeal That makes it sound so cool!—“—and this is what we’ve come up with. Upon asking him his name, he simply said that he was a Galactic Grunt, no more. He then asked us for some hair dye—Computer, hair dye bottle.”

The wall pulled up a picture of a box of hair dye. On the front was a picture of a smiling girl with long, bright blue hair the color of Team Galactic’s hair.

“Look at this,” Erma said, gesturing towards the screen. “Notice the name of it?”

“Happy Hair Brand Hair Dye?” Ian said. “Sounds cheesy.”

“No,” Erma snapped impatiently, tapping her cane on the floor. “Computer, name of color.”

The computer wall brought up a close-up picture of the corner of the box, which read—

“Galactic Blue, Number 476,” Alyssa said.

“Exactly,” Erma replied.

“Is there any correlation between the company and Team Galactic?”

“Actually, that’s what we want you two to find out.” Erma rolled her head and adjusted her shoulders, looking as though she was trying to crack her back.

“You can’t be serious,” Ian said.

“Yes, I am. We can’t do everything from here, you know.”

“But what about the mugshot?” Ian pointed up at the picture in question. Erma laughed.

“Oh, that’s just a picture of Mr. Galactic Grunt. We found out his actual name—Terrence Miller, from Veilstone City. Computer, zoom in, current mugshot.”

The mugshot became larger-than-life on the screen. It certainly was their prisoner; only in the picture, the roots of his hair were dark brown. “What’s up with his hair?” Alyssa asked.

“He dyes it,” Erma said. “When we questioned him further, he said that all members of Team Galactic—except for the commanders—dye their hair with this exact color, brand and all. Their warehouse is apparently full of it. The factory is in Pueltown, so we’d like you to head there and do some reconnaissance.”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Ian said, pushing his face into his hand. “I—I—that just sounds so…”

“Trivial?” Erma supplied. “Miniscule? Non-important?”

“Why aren’t we looking into why Team Galactic wanted to blow up the Ranger School?”

“We are! I’m sorry to burden you two with this stupid little mission,” Erma added apologetically, “but we need someone to do it, and, as with most companies…we send the rookies to do the small work.”

“What do the pictures of the guys with briefcases have to do with anything, then?” Ian asked.

“Oh—those are just screenshots from an action movie I was watching last night,” Erma replied. “Computer! Move screenshot images into Erma’s folder.” All the pictures of the men with briefcases zoomed away into a folder along with all the pictures of landscapes, leaving the walls quite blank. “Anyway, you two—computer, underfoot map of Pueltown—the company’s main factory is in Pueltown. We don’t know much about it, except that they seem to have been established around the time Team Galactic became prominent in Sinnoh. You’ll have to find everything else out. Computer, mark Happy Hair Company Factory.”

Alyssa tried not to groan. This sounded so stupid. She looked down at the red X in Pueltown, memorizing where it was—she had an excellent sense of direction. “So, all we know is that every member of Team Galactic is required to dye their hair with this stuff?”

“Yes. The Pueltown Ranger Base will be expecting you day after tomorrow. Get packing and planning!”

“There’s no plan?” Ian asked incredulously. Erma shot him a look, and he cleared his throat. “I mean—ma’am, I would have expected that the Ranger Union, being full of intelligent people, would provide a plan for us.”

“Well, the Ranger Union certainly is chock-full of intelligent people. And last time I checked, you two were in the Ranger Union. So provide yourselves a plan!” Erma beamed. “We expect regular check-ins, and your schedule is to remain perfectly normal—that means that you don’t get a day off to plan and pack tomorrow. You will do your daily exercise regimen and go on patrol as per usual. Any questions? Good. Dismissed!”

To: dancing_through_life@pokénet.com
From: [email protected]
Subject: They’ve got to be kidding.
________________________________________________________
Sooooo!! I’ve been sent on my first mission as a Top Ranger!
To a hair-dye factory.
Yeah. I’m supposed to be figuring out whether or not they’re related to Team Galactic. It’s so dumb. What if they’re not? Then I’m just going to be wasting my time snooping around some innocent hair-dye factory. But whatever! It’s my job! I’m getting paid for it!
Oh, did you get Belle’s last email? I’m so relieved that she’s not dead or anything, but why did she spend so much time at the Fighting Dojo in Saffron City? That doesn’t seem like her. I’m still really worried about her. Something’s wrong and she’s not telling us. Or me, anyway. If she tells you anything, blab it on over, will ya?
Reviewed your video; it REALLY looks like Konohana’s cheating, but there’s no concrete proof, so there’s really nothing I can do. =( Sorry. Just remember to steer clear of her from now on. Good luck on your next contest! I know you’ll do great! (You’re not giving up, are you?)
All my love (well, most—gotta save some for Ian! XD),
Alyssa
__________________________________________
A/N: The line about the Hoenn president is a throwback to Sgt Shock's fic!

nokyo-chan
August 25th, 2010, 12:19 PM
Chapter Thirty-One
Cassandra smiled as she gently pulled the blankets up on Karen’s bed to cover the girl’s shoulders. She felt strangely motherly toward her now; she wasn’t quite sure why.

Fluffy stood behind her, wagging its tail slightly as she headed for the door. It knew to be quiet when someone was asleep. Last night, Cassandra had allowed all her Pokémon to curl up with her in the bed. She had tried not to disturb Karen as she softly cried herself to sleep, and her Pokémon had helped her; Swablu had gently dabbed her tears with its wings, Finny had laid beside her and hugged her, and Fluffy had cuddled up to her front, putting his cold nose on her neck and sniffling every once and a while.

Cassandra picked up her backpack and slung it over her shoulder. She hadn’t called her mother yet; she was planning on doing that later this morning. She had, however, talked to the lady who ran the PokéLove, and she had agreed to let Cassandra stay for a reduced price because of the length of time she needed the room. Cassandra wasn’t leaving Fallarbor Town until she won the Super Rank Contest.

No ash was falling outside; a grateful Cassandra stuffed her umbrella in her backpack and made her way around the back of the building, where she liked to train. She frowned when she noticed a thin draft of smoke wafting up from the back of the building. It wasn’t big enough for anything to be on fire…what was going on?

As she turned the corner, a strange sight met Cassandra’s eyes; a girl she had never seen before was leaning against the wall, a cigarette to her lips. She had red hair that tumbled down her shoulders, and she wore jeans and a gray sweater. A Glaceon stood by her side, but it wasn’t normal at all. Instead of being blue, its coat was a dusty blue-gray color. Also, a normal Glaceon’s shoulder would come about to mid-shin; this Glaceon’s shoulder came to the girl’s knee, almost Mightyena-size.

The girl turned her head and smiled slightly, and Cassandra recognized her—it was Sakura Konohana.

“Well, hello, Cassandra.” She took another drag of the cigarette and blew a smoke ring into the air.

Fluffy, down by Cassandra’s ankles, started growling in the back of his throat. “Hello, Miss Konohana.”

“Oh, it’s Miss Konohana now? Did I do something wrong?” She turned fully toward Cassandra, flicking the ashes of her cigarette toward the ground and smiling as the Glaceon at her feet wound itself around her legs like a giant cat…or Persian. “I guess I did beat you yesterday…are you a bit sore about that?”

Cassandra looked at the demure smile and realized it for what it was—devilish. No longer could she see Sakura as a kind, quiet, confident girl. No. She was evil. “I’m just a bit upset about your methods.”

“Methods?” Sakura’s smile broadened and her eyes narrowed. “Whatever do you mean, Cassandra dear?”

Joanna’s face flashed into Cassandra’s mind. “You know exactly what I mean. You and I both know what you did, and I’m pretty sure we both know it’s wrong.”

Sakura brought the cigarette to her lips once more and surveyed Cassandra as she puffed on it. “All’s fair in love and war, sweetie. I do what it takes to win.”

Cassandra took a step toward her; the Glaceon made a soft warning hiss. “Who’s this?” she asked, gesturing to the Pokémon.

“This? Oh, this is Isis.”

“She doesn’t look like a normal Glaceon. Come to think of it, Deena’s been looking a little larger than a normal Goldeen.”

Sakura smiled gently. She reached down; Isis shoved her head into the palm of Sakura’s hand. “No. I find that giving my Pokémon certain…medications increases their chances of winning.”

“Somehow I don’t think you’re talking about Protein.”

Sakura laughed; it was a sinister sound. “You catch on quickly. Unfortunately, the medicine I gave poor Isis depleted the color of her coat, so she’s no longer contest-worthy. She is, however, perfect for fending off anyone who decides they want to pick a fight with me.” With that, Sakura’s green eyes found Cassandra’s blue ones and locked on. “She doesn’t differentiate between human and Pokémon.”

Cassandra heard Fluffy’s growling get louder. “Hm. So she doesn’t care who she hurts?”

“No. She does not.”

“Sometimes…neither do I.” Cassandra took another step forward; Isis leapt toward her.

She wasn’t sure what happened next; all she knew was that there was a brilliant flash of light, and then she was sitting on the ground close to where she had been standing, a Mightyena standing in front of her in a way that his entire body blocked hers, hackles raised and growling. Isis stood across from him, hair on her back rising up. She hissed; Mightyena responded with a vicious snarl. Sakura, too, was on the ground; she stood up and dusted herself off.

“Well, well…what do we have here? It seems your little Fluffy made me lose my cigarette. Isis, make him pay!”

The Glaceon opened her mouth as if to blow ice at him, but the Mightyena bounded forward and closed his jaws around her neck. He shook her twice before tossing her several feet away.

Cassandra smiled grimly and got to her feet, brushing dirt off the back of her jeans as she did so. “Looks like my little Fluffy also made you lose your Glaceon.”

Sakura angrily reached for her belt, where three other Poké Balls were lined up. Fluffy stepped forward and snarled. With satisfaction, Cassandra observed that he had somehow become larger than a regular Mightyena—his back would be almost above her hip if he stood next to her.

“Don’t you dare reach for another Pokémon,” Cassandra snapped. “Get the hell out of Fallarbor Town. Go on and win in Slateport—I don’t give a crap. But if we ever meet again, Sakura Konohana, I will beat your cheating ass so hard you’ll wish you’d never been born—and I don’t mean in a battle.”

Sakura glanced over at Isis, lying unconscious several feet away, and then back to Fluffy, growling severely close to her stomach. With a scowl, she turned away, returning Isis to her Poké Ball and marching off around the side of the building.

“Don’t think this is over, Cassandra Étoile,” Sakura snapped before she disappeared. Cassandra smiled as the redhead swished away.

“I don’t,” she murmured, and Fluffy turned to her, perking up his ears and wagging his tail as if nothing had happened.

_______________

At around lunchtime, Karen came outside to join Cassandra. She wore a pastel blue sweater and thick white leggings underneath a blue-and-white checked miniskirt, and her pink braids bounced on her back as she skipped out from the building, a picnic basket on one arm. When she arrived at Cassandra’s favorite training ground—a patch of grass protected by trees so that ash didn’t fall on it—she and Tuffly spread out a blanket and waited for Cassandra to take a break.

“What time is it?” Cassandra asked, sitting cross-legged on the blanket and picking up a sandwich. It was obviously from the small dining room in the PokèLove.

Karen folded her legs under her. “It’s around noon.”

“I’ve been out here that long?” She sighed, looking down at the pieces of white bread. She still needed to call her mother and inform her of her loss.

“Mm-hm!” Karen said brightly. “So, we’re staying in Fallarbor Town until the next contest, right?”

“Right,” Cassandra replied. “Why? Do you not want to stay with me?”

Karen grinned. “Of course I want to stay with you. I would be disappointed if you wanted to go back home.”

Cassandra laughed quietly and took a bite of her sandwich. Fluffy wandered over and laid next to her, pushing his head against her leg and closing his eyes. Swablu landed gently on her head, tucking herself to look like a giant hat, and Finny sneakily stole a sandwich.

A sound broke the peaceful silence—something was in the bushes nearby. Since she was surrounded by forest, Cassandra was a bit nervous. Anything could be hiding behind the trees. Fluffy sat up, his ears perked up, a growl starting in the back of his throat. He stood up and prowled around behind Cassandra, staring into the trees.

And then something burst out; it was white and red and black, a blinding blur of colors as it streaked by. Barking, Fluffy turned and ran after it.

“Ah!” Cassandra dropped her sandwich onto the blanket and stumbled to her feet, running after Fluffy. Finny dropped to all fours and followed; Swablu lifted gently from her head and flew in front.

Fluffy’s barking got louder as Cassandra ran; she was so glad that she had worn tennis shoes. She leapt over a confused Spinda and followed Finny’s bouncing tail, breathing hard.

Finally she rounded a corner and saw Fluffy growling. He had cornered a white, horse-like Pokémon, with a flowing mane of fire. Its flank heaved and sweat poured from it as it eyed the three Pokémon surrounding it; it had its hindquarters against the side of the glass-maker's wooden house.

“A Ponyta,” Cassandra whispered to herself, taking a step forward. Her fingertips itched, and she imagined herself sitting sidesaddle atop a beautiful Rapidash, hair flowing in the wind.

The Ponyta took a step back, tossing its head; its hindquarters bumped into the wooden house and it started, pawing the ground and glaring at the creatures massed around it. What should she do? Cassandra wanted this Pokémon. She wanted it so bad she could taste it on the back of her tongue.

“Ponyta,” she said, going to stand beside Fluffy. “Do you belong to anyone?”

The Ponyta snorted, almost indignantly, and reared up on its hind legs, lashing out with its front hooves. Cassandra stumbled backwards and almost covered her ears as the Pokémon let loose a high-pitched squeal of rage. So it’s not going down without a fight, Cassandra thought, a smile tugging at the corners of her lips. Fine. She needed a challenge.

“Fluffy! Use Bite!”

Fluffy leapt forward as the Ponyta returned to all fours and bit down on its leg; with a squeal, Ponyta brought its other hoof up and clocked Fluffy on the head. He backed away, growling.

“C’mon, Fluffy! You can do this! Bring it down—but not too hard!”

Finny and Swablu stayed around to keep the Ponyta fenced in, and Fluffy leapt at it again. Ponyta blew fire out of its mouth, but Fluffy leapt aside and closed his teeth around its neck. Ponyta squealed with displeasure and attempted to shake the wolf-like Pokémon off; but Fluffy persisted. Finally, he let go and Tackled Ponyta to the ground; it laid on its side, squealing in fear and rage as Fluffy stood over it. It lashed out with its hooves, but Fluffy dodged and lifted up the corners of his lips, revealing his long, sharp teeth. For a moment, Ponyta froze, its eyes widening.

Cassandra reached into her pocket and pulled out a Poké Ball. Unlike most Trainers, she felt no need to yell “Poké Ball, go!” when she threw it; she just tossed it at Ponyta, catching it in its shocked state. The Ball opened and a white light engulfed the Pokémon, drawing it inside the ball.

Now was the worst part, in Cassandra’s opinion. Her eyes remained fixed on the Ball as it wiggled slowly—left, right, pause. Left, right, pause. Left, right—ding! The circle in the middle glowed red for a brief second and the Ball stilled.

“Yes!” Cassandra cried, pouncing on the Ball and holding it up. “Everyone, say hello to your new team member—Ellia the Ponyta!”

After a few congratulatory noises from the Pokémon around her, Cassandra headed back toward Karen and her picnic lunch.

___________________

Cassandra headed back to the PokéLove after finishing her lunch, leaving Karen on the checkered blanket. She opened her polka-dotted umbrella so she wouldn’t get covered in ash and walked to the small inn with Fluffy at her side, just in case she ran into Sakura again.

Once in her suite, Cassandra put away her backpack and umbrella and headed to the little video-phone in the corner. She could have done this in the Pokémon Center, but the privacy of her suite was so much more appealing.

Fluffy laid down by her side as Cassandra began dialing the familiar number on her phone. It started ringing, the screen showing static. One ring…two rings…three rings…after six rings, it would go to voicemail. Cassandra leaned forward. Four rings…five rings…

“Hello? Oh, Cassandra!” Dorothia smiled brightly at the screen. “How is everything?”

“Fine,” Cassandra replied, happy that she could have gotten a smiling face first. “Is my mother home, Dorothia?”

“Yes, honey. I’ll go and get her. Miss Joanna!” Dorothia left the frame, and Cassandra looked at the empty kitchen for a few moments, smiling as she took in the familiar diamond-patterned tile floor and the small table where she and her father liked to have lunch. At least the kitchen held nice memories.

Soon, though, the image switched to Joanna’s face. Of course she wouldn’t come downstairs to talk on the kitchen phone—behind her was her tall four-poster bed with elegant white comforter, the vanity with the large gilded mirror and various bottles containing perfume or makeup sitting atop it, the door to the master bathroom.

Joanna pushed her platinum blonde bangs out of her blue eyes and fixed Cassandra with her gaze, a cold smile appearing on her lips. “It’s so nice to hear from you, Cassandra dear,” she said, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear to reveal a lovely pearl earring. “It seems as though it’s been forever.”

“It certainly has been a while, Mother,” Cassandra replied. “I wonder…did you watch my contest on television?”

“I did not, dear. I had some important things to do.”

Fluffy growled a bit.

Cassandra tried to keep the scowl off her face. While a part of her had known her mother hadn’t watched the contest, she had still harbored a small hope that she would. “And what were they, Mother?”

“Nancy came down and just insisted that I take her to that little bistro in Rustboro. We spent so long there we lost track of time; that food is to die for. I’m afraid I simply couldn’t watch it, Cassandra dear.”

Fluffy sat up, his head coming to about her shoulder, and snarled at the screen. He hadn’t forgotten Joanna’s voice.

“Oh my!” Joanna said, jumping. “What is that wretched thing?”

“This is Fluffy, Mother. Certainly you remember Fluffy?”

“Why, yes, but…Fluffy was a small black thing, was he not?”

Cassandra smiled sweetly. “Oh, but he’s evolved, Mother. Now, back to my contest. I have some bad news.”

Joanna picked up a glass of wine and sipped it daintily, a scowl on her features. She did not like vicious-looking creatures, and she did not like bad news.

“I lost the Fallarbor Contest.”

There was a pause. Joanna glanced up over the rim of her wine glass, frozen. Slowly, she pulled it away from her lips, watching her own arm as she set it down on the table on which the phone rested. After a minute of staring at her hand holding the glass, she slowly pulled her arm back toward her and let it sit in her lap. And then, ever so slowly, a smile crept onto her face, full of malice, coming straight from her cold heart.

“You lost?” Joanna said almost happily, looking up at Cassandra through the video phone.

Cassandra bit back her remark and simply nodded.

“Well…I suppose—”

But then there was the sound of a door being thrown open, and a big, manly voice boomed, “I’m home, dear! Oh—sorry. Didn’t realize you were on the phone. Who are you talking to?” Cassandra smiled as Joanna glanced over her shoulder and Gerald walked into the frame, loosening his tie. He leaned down over Joanna’s shoulder and grinned broadly. “Sandy-bear! It’s so nice to hear from you! How long has it been, sweetie? Where’s that other chair, Joanna? I wanna talk to her too!” Gerald looked around and briefly disappeared from the frame; then, scowling, Joanna scooted over to allow him to set a chair on the floor and sit beside her, grinning into the phone. “Goodness gracious, a Mightyena! That can’t be our old Fluffy!”

Fluffy barked, wagging his tail. He remembered Gerald’s voice as well.

“Ah, good boy! He’s doing well, then?”

“Very well, Father,” Cassandra replied. “Actually, he’s bigger than a regular Mightyena.”

“That’s very interesting,” Gerald said thoughtfully, stroking his goatee. “Well, how was your contest?”

“She lost,” Joanna said, a thin-lipped smile crossing her face. Gerald frowned at the phone.

“I’m sorry to hear that, Sandy-bear. I’m also sorry I couldn’t watch. The President called an emergency meeting, and there’s nothing I can do about that. I had been planning on showing up and surprising you.”

Cassandra smiled happily. “It’s okay, Da—Father.”

“What do you think we should do?” Joanna asked, turning to Gerald.

Gerald frowned, looking at his wife. “What do you mean?”

“Well, she lost a contest. Don’t you think she should give up this silly nonsense and come home now? We can’t have her wasting our money up there.”

“Come now, Joanna, everyone makes mistakes!” Gerald laughed, his voice booming through the phone. “Even the best Coordinators lose some! Our Sandy-bear losing one contest isn’t enough to make her give up and come home! This is her dream—right, Sandy-bear?”

Cassandra nodded, smiling happily.

“Good, good. Now…where will you be staying until the next contest?”

“At this little inn called the PokéLove.”

“That’s quite a quaint little inn! Wouldn’t you say, Joanna? We stayed there once!”

“Indeed,” she replied, tight-lipped. Cassandra wanted to laugh.

“When’s the next contest?”

“Next month,” Cassandra replied. “About…five weeks away.”

“That’s plenty of time to get everything together!” Gerald said, clapping his hands. “We’ll keep sending you money, so work hard! Right, Joanna?”

“Certainly,” Joanna replied, snatching up her wine glass. She went to drain it, but Gerald took it from her.

“It’s not even five o’clock yet, dear. So, any good news, Sandy-bear?”

“I caught a Ponyta today. I nicknamed her Ellia.”

“A Ponyta, hm?” Joanna gently swept more hair behind her ear. “I suppose that’s a decent Pokémon. And you named her Ellia?” She smiled as scorn edged into her voice.

“A darling name!” Gerald proclaimed happily, and Joanna’s smile slid off her face as easily as half-melted butter. “And Ponyta evolves into Rapidash, no? Beautiful! That will be absolutely beautiful!”

“Thanks, Dad,” Cassandra said. “Well, I guess I’d better be going. My traveling companion is due back any minute. Did you ever meet Karen, Father, Mother?”

“Karen?” Joanna asked. Gerald tapped his finger to his lips thoughtfully.

“She hangs around the Rustboro City PokéCenter all the time.”

“Oh, Karen Lowell!” Gerald said, snapping his fingers. “Yes, I did meet her. She has that Wigglytuff she calls Tuffly!”

Joanna’s eyebrows raised. “Wigglytuff?”

“And she has that long pink hair!”

Joanna’s eyebrows raised even higher. “Pink hair?”

“That’s right,” Cassandra said, smiling. “She’s traveling with me. Her parents are hippies, and they believe in the harmony of humans and Pokémon.”

Joanna’s eyebrows were in danger of disappearing into her hair. Her mouth fell open in surprise.

Just then, the suite door opened and Karen came in, her umbrella in one hand and the picnic basket in the other. Tuffly shut the door behind them. “I’m home!” Karen called happily.

“Oh, you’re just in time! I’m about to say good-bye to my parents; you should come over here and say hello!”

“Oh—hello!” Karen leaned into the frame, her pink braids swinging down to precede her. “It’s nice to meet you!”

“Lovely to meet you, too!” Gerald said. Joanna spluttered speechlessly.

“Oh, Karen, would you like to call your parents?”

“Oh, no, we don’t have a phone,” Karen replied cheerily. “We don’t believe in them. Well, good-bye, Mr. and Mrs. Étoile!”

“Good-bye!” Gerald said. “Love you, Sandy-bear!”

“Love you too, Dad.”

And the screen went blank, Joanna still gaping as it did. Cassandra laughed and turned away from the screen, patting Fluffy and heading over to her bed.

“No offense, Cassandra, but…I got the feeling that your mom is kinda evil.” Karen went to her own bed and plopped down, grabbing a coloring book.

Cassandra only laughed harder.

To: [email protected]
From: dancing_through_life@pokénet.com
Subject: Ahhh…
_______________________
Well, I talked to Konohana today.

She has a giant Glaceon called Isis (isn’t that a goddess of fertility? 0.o) that’s all gray, and she says she gives her Pokémon medications to make them perform better. She sort of admitted to cheating, but not really. She annoyed the hell out of me, so I tried to fight her and her weird big Glaceon tried to fight me, but Fluffy evolved into Mightyena and fought back, sooooo…

I also caught a Ponyta. I named her Ellia. Isn’t that pretty? ^_^ I need to try to train with her—I want to ride her!!

Yeah, I got Belle’s last email. She’s not telling me anything—I get the exact same emails as you. She just sends us the same one. I’m so worried about her…something’s definitely not right.

It sucks about your mission, but hey! It’s your FIRST MISSION! *confetti confetti* Be happy anyway!!

Love lots and lots,
Cassandra

To: dingdongbelle@pokénet.com
From: dancing_through_life@pokénet.com
Subject: Worry!
________________
I know you know we’re worried about you, but I’m telling you again: we’re worried about you. Please stop keeping us in the dark. That’s all I’ll say.

Love,
Cassandra

nokyo-chan
September 7th, 2010, 12:28 PM
Chapter Thirty-Two
Knowing the dangers of ferries, Belle was a little apprehensive about using one—at least, one that she could afford. She sat down in front of the video phone at the PokéCenter, praying that Cassandra hadn’t told Gerald anything. Charmy wandered off, unintentionally intimidating nearby Trainers.

Calling Gerald’s office phone was usually hit-or-miss; sometimes he was there, sometimes he wasn’t. Luckily, today he picked up, beaming at her through the screen. Belle tried her best to muster a smile, but it felt more like a grimace.

“Hey, Papa G,” she said, almost through gritted teeth.

“Belle! Do you need money?” He frowned suddenly and concernedly, leaning in towards the phone.

“Actually…yes. I had hoped to kind of work into it…”

“You don’t need to worry about that sort of thing.” Gerald smiled and waved his hand. “I know it’s not particularly normal for a girl to call her friend’s father. What do you need it for?”

“Well, I need to get to Cinnabar Island, and there’s a ferry leaving from Vermilion City this afternoon that I can’t afford.” Belle winced slightly. She heard a roar and looked around; Charmy was baring his teeth at a small Vaporeon. “Charmy!” she called. “What are you doing? Get back here! Sorry,” she added to the Vaporeon’s Trainer, a skinny girl with green pigtails. “Sorry,” she said also to Gerald.

“It’s no problem. Charmy’s your—goodness, he’s evolved!” Gerald’s mouth dropped open when Charmy stepped into the frame, bending his neck to peer at the screen. “Last time I saw you, big fella, you where a Charmander!”

Charmy closed his eyes in a smile. He placed a claw on Belle’s shoulder protectively.

“You know, Cassandra’s Fluffy evolved, too,” Gerald said, pulling his wallet out of his back pocket.

“Oh…did he?” Belle bit her lip as she watched him count out bills.

“Sure did. He’s awfully big. Bet his sire was big or something—things like that are in the genes. You didn’t hear?” He looked up, bills in one hand, frowning.

“Um…no. Maybe she just hasn’t gotten around to emailing me yet,” Belle replied hastily. She attempted a smile for Gerald’s benefit.

“That must be it.” Gerald was doing something out-of-frame; he was obviously putting the money in the transfer capsule. “Well, this should be more than enough.”

“I’ll send you the change.”

“Nonsense! You’ll need it! And who knows when you’ll contact me next, eh?” Gerald cracked a grin, which Belle failed at returning. “Be careful!”
________________

And that was how she ended up sitting cross-legged on the deck of a ferry, the only girl in an old sweatshirt and holey jeans among mostly well-groomed teenagers. She leaned her head against the wall, closing her eyes.

She sat there for a few moments before feeling a nudge on her leg; Eevee sat there, looking up at her. Charmy didn’t like water, so he was in his Poké Ball—Belle had wanted someone for company, so she had brought out Eevee, ignoring the snide remarks of the rich kids walking by. Looking down at her now reminded Belle of the Vaporeon in the Saffron City PokéCenter.

“You might need to evolve soon,” she told her, reaching out to scratch the cute thing between the ears. With a chirp of agreement, Eevee ducked her hand and pawed at her backpack. Belle opened it and brought out three small boxes.

In Celadon City, Belle had bought three Elemental Stones—Water, Fire, and Thunder—so that when the time came, she would ask Eevee which one she wanted to become. Now, she opened all three boxes and turned them towards Eevee. “What’ll it be?” she asked. “Vaporeon, Flareon, or Jolteon? Are you sure you don’t want to be Umbreon or Espeon or something?”

Eevee narrowed her eyes at Belle before turning towards the gleaming yellow Thunder Stone, poking it gently with her nose; she was enveloped with a familiar white light as the stone began to glow. Her shape shifted; she grew as spikes shot out from her body.

When the light faded, Jolteon stood before her, looking at her with black beady eyes. Belle smiled. “Well hello.”

“Are those Stones?”

Belle looked up; a girl with her blonde hair fastened back in a bun stood there, a purse dangling from her elbow and a cell phone in one hand. A Roselia stood at her feet.

“Uh—yeah,” Belle replied. The girl immediately began digging in her purse.

“Are you going to use them?” she asked. “How much would you be willing to sell them for? I forgot to make a stop at Celadon City Department Store, and I need them! I have a Vulpix and I’m dying to have a Ninetales!”

Belle blinked. She wasn’t sure what to say. The girl was attracting attention with all her shouting; a few heads were turning. A boy came running up, a Growlithe at his heels, and a few more girls came as well. Suddenly, Belle’s peaceful spot was a barrage of shouting voices as each rich Trainer present tried to buy Belle’s Elemental Stones, shouting higher prices over the voices of each other.

She managed a wicked grin. She had been willing to just give this girl the Fire Stone, but that wouldn’t be fair, what with so many people wanting it. She would have to hold an auction.

When Belle got off the ferry and stepped onto Cinnabar Island soil, she was almost rich. Jolteon trotted at her heels, and only a few other people got off with her.

The island took Belle’s breath away. Although it had a volcano rising in the distance, the grass was lush and green; the small town was quaint. The PokéCenter appeared to have wood sidings, and the PokéMart was made of brick.

Little brick houses dotted the paths snaking around the small town. An old, dilapidated Pokémon Lab could have taken away from the scene, but it seemed rather charming instead. Belle smiled genuinely.

And then she remembered—she was in Derrick’s hometown.

Suddenly, the focus was different. Had Derrick ever been to that house? Had Derrick ever looked at the PokéCenter? Had Derrick ever been to the PokéMart? How often had Derrick walked this particular path? Did Derrick ever go to the hot springs advertised by a flyer posted on the PokéCenter door?

Where was Derrick’s house?

Belle was determined to find it, now that she had thought about it. She entered the PokéCenter and looked around. Not many people were there; a few people Belle’s age sat in the lounge area, sipping coffee and pretending to be cool. She snorted in disdain. Her eye fell on the video phone, and she thought briefly of Swifter, her Pidgeotto—after catching Poliwhirl, she had sent him to Professor Oak’s lab.

“Hi, Nurse Joy?” Belle approached the counter, pulling her Poké Balls out of her backpack. “Um…while you heal my Pokémon…I’d like to ask you a question.”

“What’s that?” Joy took the Poké Balls and placed them in the strange healing device in all PokéCenters. It flashed and made a strange sound almost like music—each device made that very same noise. Belle frowned at it before continuing.

“Well…did you know a boy named Derrick? Derrick Evans?”

“Oh, Derrick,” Joy said happily, handing the Poké Balls back to Belle. “I sure did. Such a bright, cheery little boy, despite all that happened to him…”

“Yeah,” Belle replied. “Um…do you know where I could find his former house?”

Joy smiled sadly. “Yes. But I’ll have to draw you a map—it’s not far from the village, but it’s difficult to find if you don’t live here.” She pulled out a slip of paper and a pen and began sketching lines and roads and buildings. “It’s actually easier if you start here.” She tapped the end of the pen on a path starting behind the newer-looking Pokémon Research Center.

“Thank you,” Belle said, and with map in hand, she set off for Derrick’s house.

Nurse Joy had been right—there were many twists and turns on this little path, and places where it disappeared altogether. If it hadn’t been for Joy’s uncanny rendering of landmarks (such as a random collection of boulders shaped like Kingler) Belle would have gotten hopelessly lost. Soon enough, though, she came to the crest of a hill and looked down at a small valley with a cute little two-story house in the middle, made of brick just like the rest of the houses in the village. There was a small front porch with a porch swing. Belle slowly went down the side of the hill, Jolteon hopping at her side. As she got closer, she realized that something was amiss—the bricks were chipped and faded, and the paint on the porch was peeling. The swing looked weak, as if it was going to break, and a shutter was hanging off one of the windows. The paint on the door, like that of the porch, was peeling severely, and the knob was rusted. This house had fallen into disrepair.

Belle looked around. Derrick hadn’t said his mother had died. Maybe she didn’t live here anymore? Belle made her way around the side of the house, peeking into the tall grass of the backyard. A Rattata scampered away when it saw her. She turned and went back to the front door.

Suddenly, she heard a noise from inside the house—it sounded like a cough. Intrigued and a little scared, Belle went up the sagging porch steps to investigate. She tried to look through the window, but it was dirty and grimy, so she couldn’t see anything.

I’m being rude, she thought, and took a step back, a little sadly. It was when she heard the coughing and hacking that she decided she needed to get inside.

Timidly, Belle grabbed the rusted doorknob. It turned, but it felt strange in her hand; she wanted to wash it. She pushed the door open.

She found herself in a room carpeted with dark blue carpet. An off-white sofa sat against one wall, Venemoth-eaten and dingy. There was a fireplace, and an old rocking chair sat by the hearth. A woman sat on it, bent over her knees, coughing terribly. She wore a white lab coat and had frizzy blonde hair that looked as though it hadn’t been combed in days.

“Ma’am?” Belle asked, stepping into the house. “Ma’am, are you okay?”

The woman’s head snapped up and Belle’s knees buckled; she grabbed at the wall for support. The shape of her face, her eyes, her nose—she looked like Derrick. She couldn’t be…

The woman stood up. “Who are you? Why are you in my house?” Her voice was strange, almost gravelly—her lab coat had a few stains on it of different colors, and a small laminated badge showed her picture and text too small for Belle to make out at this distance.

“I—I’m sorry,” Belle said as the woman took a step toward her. Her eyes—there was something about them, something that didn’t seem…right. “I heard you coughing and I thought—”

“Koffing? You heard Koffing?” The woman shook her head. “That can’t be right. He evolved, he’s a Weezing now.”

Belle didn’t know what to say. The woman turned away from her, muttering to herself, and headed towards what seemed to be the kitchen. Belle took a timid step forward; Jolteon hissed at her in disbelief but followed anyway.

The kitchen was dirty; a baking powder box was overturned on the floor, several food stains were present on the counter and small table, and the microwave was left open, as well as several cabinet doors. The woman began shutting them now, muttering all the while.

A sound, almost computer-like, from behind her made Belle turn around; a Porygon shot down the stairs, its blocky body hovering over the floor. When it saw Belle it stopped and made a strange digital-sounding noise, its green appendages whirling around.

“I—I’m sorry!” Belle said. “I just—I heard her—”

“Porygon!” The woman turned around and rushed over to the Pokémon, throwing herself down on her knees in front of it and wrapping her arms around its neck. “Porygon, Porygon…have you found her yet? My sweet…have you found her?” She closed her eyes, one hand stroking the Pokémon’s cheek. “You’ll find them…I’m sure you will…both of them…” She trailed off into a whisper.

Belle edged closer, trying to peer at the woman’s nametag. The picture on the badge showed a younger-looking version of this woman, with makeup and styled hair. The name—Dr. Angelina Evans.

This was Derrick’s mother.

Belle put a hand to her mouth as tears welled up in her eyes. “How could he leave her like this?” Jolteon, confused, looked up at her—she had never met Derrick. She rubbed gently against her Trainer’s leg.

<Who are you?> spoke a voice. Startled, Belle looked around for the source. She couldn’t find a person, just the Porygon and Derrick’s mother.

“Wh-where are you?” Belle demanded.

<I am right here. I am Porygon CI-4. Who are you and why are you here?>

“You can talk?”

<In a fashion. Because I am an inorganic being, I speak through thoughts. I was made at the Pokémon Research Center in Cinnabar Island, the fourth Porygon made here. Porygon CI-4.>

“Does she…Angelina…Dr. Evans…know you can talk?”

With a sad look, Porygon glanced down at the woman holding it about the neck and whispering. <Sadly, she lost awareness of many things long ago. I no longer speak to her. She becomes frightened and begins to cry. Even now, only you can hear me.>

“Why doesn’t she hear me?”

<She is preoccupied with other thoughts. Once again, who are you and why are you here?>

“I’m sorry…my name is Belle Caldwell, and I…used to be…a friend of Derrick’s. I was just coming to see his house when I heard her coughing, and I thought she might be choking or something, so I came in here…” She trailed off, feeling foolish as the Porygon fixed her with a stern gaze.

<Ah. An outsider. It would be understandable for you to think that.> Porygon CI-4 flipped its appendages—wings?—and Angelina stood up, wringing her hands and looking around. Her gaze fell on Belle.

“Who are you?” she demanded.

“I—” Belle wasn’t sure what to say.

<Say you are Dr. Caldwell from the Research Center.>

“I’m Dr. Caldwell from the Research Center,” Belle spluttered, heart hammering wildly. Angelina looked her up and down.

“Where is your coat?”

“I got a stain on it. It’s being washed,” she replied quickly. Angelina seemed to accept this answer.

“I need to go to work now,” she said. “You can’t stay here.” With that, she turned around and headed toward the front door.

<She’s heading to the Research Center!> Porygon CI-4’s voice thundered. More Pokémon came rushing down the stairs—A Weezing, an Electrode, a Kabutops (Belle gasped), an Omastar (Belle almost fainted), and a Clefable. She pointed a shaking finger at the Kabutops and Omastar. <The Research Center has perfected resurrecting Pokémon from fossils, allowing people to train ancient Pokémon,> Porygon CI-4 offered by way of explanation. Angelina looked over her shoulder.

“You can’t come with me,” she said. “Only Porygon.”

<Clean up a little,> Porygon said. <Follow,> it told Belle, so she did. They walked back up the path to the Research Center, where Angelina let herself in the back door; Belle followed.

She strode across the lobby as if she owned the place. Porygon and Belle dogged her steps, keeping behind her as she turned down a hallway and headed into a specific door. Two men were inside the room with a giant computer-looking thing. Each had a Porygon2 beside them, which they quickly withdrew into Poké Balls as Angelina entered.

“Hello, Angelina!” one man said cheerily. “How are things today?”

Angelina said nothing. She seemed shocked; she stared around the room for a moment, her eyes widening, before suddenly bursting into tears. “Where are they?” she screeched, falling to her knees. “Where are they? I can’t find them, I can’t find them!”

The two men dropped their notes and rushed to her, grabbing her elbows and hoisting her up. “CI-4, if you would get Dr. Anderson,” one man said. They didn’t even take notice of Belle.

<Come with me. Hurry.> Belle followed after the Porygon; they ran down a long hallway and then burst into someone’s office. A woman with shoulder-length brown hair looked up from her desk. When she saw Porygon, she leapt to her feet and grabbed her lab coat off the coat hanger near her desk.

“Where is she?”

<With Drs. Weber and Biggs.>

“Did she see the Porygon2?” They were out of the office, hurrying back up the hallway.

<No. She’s asking for Derrick and Koko again.>

Belle’s step faltered and she stopped. Porygon CI-4 and who she guessed was Dr. Anderson rushed ahead of her, leaving her behind. Jolteon looked up at her, confused, and she sighed and followed at a slow walk. This woman had been driven to insanity by the disappearance of her family, and now she was perpetually searching for them.

Why had Derrick left her?

When Belle arrived at the room with Drs. Weber and Biggs, she found Dr. Anderson calming a blubbering Angelina. Finally, Angelina quieted and, like a child, fell asleep. The two male doctors pulled out a cot and helped Dr. Anderson lay her there, covering her with a faded pink blanket.

“Who are you?” Dr. Anderson asked, fixing Belle with a cool gaze. She then looked over at Porygon CI-4. Belle couldn’t hear anything, but she knew the Pokémon was explaining. Finally, Dr. Anderson nodded and stood from her place at Angelina’s cot. “Come with me.

“Dr. Evans was my superior many years ago, before the deaths of her daughter Koko and her husband Joseph. Has Derrick told you this?” She glanced down at Belle as they walked toward the older woman’s office.

“Yes.”

“When these deaths occurred, Dr. Evans became…unstable. It was small at first. Sometimes she would show up late to work, or not show up at all. Sometimes she wouldn’t be dressed properly. She started muttering to herself and losing things. Come in my office.”

Belle did; she sat down at a chair facing Dr. Anderson’s desk as the woman shed her lab coat and hung it up. Porygon CI-4 had stayed behind. “When did it get…like this?”

“Well, when she first showed up late, we thought nothing of it,” Dr. Anderson admitted, leaning on her desk. “It was when she didn’t come one day that we were worried. Dr. Evans only missed a day of work if she was violently ill, or if there was…a death in the family. Derrick, nine years old at the time, called the Center and said that his mother was sick and she wouldn’t be coming in. Then she started getting worse. Derrick would come with her; he never left her side. He gently took care of her, trying his best to answer her every need. I felt sorry for him…he wanted to be a Pokémon Trainer, so it was difficult to watch him dog his mother’s every step.

“There was nothing he could do for her to make her better. I told him that. I told him, just before he turned sixteen, that he needed to go on his Pokémon Journey. He didn’t want to.” Dr. Anderson closed her eyes. “He said it was his responsibility to take care of his mother. But I told him no, it wasn’t. ‘Derrick,’ I said, ‘you don’t need to stay around here. There’s nothing you can do for your mother. We can take just as good a job caring for her as you can. You should go on your Journey. I promise that we will care for her.’” The woman drew in a deep breath. “I bought him a Lapras ride to Pallet Town so that he could get his first Pokémon. I…still don’t know what he got…” Dr. Anderson tried to hide the fact that she brushed away a tear, but Belle saw.

“It was a Squirtle.”

Dr. Anderson blinked and looked at Belle. “Excuse me?”

“His first Pokémon…it was a Squirtle. He offered to let it help me wash my face.”

“Wash your face? Why?”

“I was bleeding.”

“What?”

Belle told her the story of how they met, allowing Dr. Anderson a bit of a laugh. At the end, Belle pulled up her bangs to show the diagonal scar skirting the edge of her eye, running her finger down it. “It’s…my little reminder.” She let her hair flop back down over the scar.

Porygon CI-4 nudged the door open and came inside. <She is almost awake. I will take her home.>

“No,” Dr. Anderson said. “I will. It’s time I started taking more responsibility…it’s time I fully kept my promise.”

Porygon CI-4 nodded slightly before leaving the office. “I’ll show you out,” Dr. Anderson told Belle, grabbing her lab coat.

On the way to the door, Belle couldn’t help asking, “Why can’t you show Dr. Evans the Porygon2?”

“She becomes confused and frightened,” Dr. Anderson replied. “She is stuck in one timeframe. Since Porygon was the latest version of inorganic beings since Koko’s and Joseph’s deaths, she reacts very badly to the more streamlined Porygon2.”

“Oh. Well, thanks,” Belle said.

Dr. Anderson smiled and gently touched Belle’s shoulder. “No. Thank you. Somehow, you reminded me that I need to keep my promise. Now, when Derrick comes back to defeat Blaine, I won’t be ashamed to look him in the eye.” She squeezed Belle’s shoulder and left.

Feeling guilty for some reason, Belle left the Research Center.
_______________________
To:dancing_through_life@pokénet.com, [email protected]
From: dingdongbelle@pokénet.com
Subject: Derrick
________________________
Cinnabar Island is Derrick’s hometown. There are lots of sad reminders here. I almost wish I hadn’t left him like I did.
Cassandra, you don’t have to worry about me. I am fine.
Staying at the PokéCenter tonight. Tomorrow I will challenge Blaine.
Love,
Belle

nokyo-chan
October 23rd, 2010, 10:04 AM
Chapter Thirty-Three
Alyssa and Ian captured two Doduo to ride into Pueltown. Prinplup, situated uncomfortably between Doduo’s necks and Ian’s knees, wasn’t too happy about the situation, but Ziggy happily snuggled into Alyssa’s lap and leaned to the side, letting its small tongue hang out of its dark brown mouth as the wind whipped by. Alyssa was a bit worried he would fall; she kept pushing him more towards the center.

Once the two arrived in the bustling city of Pueltown, they dismounted their Doduo and released them. “According to Erma,” Ian said, kneeling down to brush off a disgruntled Prinplup, “this Happy Hair factory should be somewhere around the harbor.”

“It won’t be too hard to find, then.” Alyssa scooped Ziggy up and let him hang off her shoulder as usual. “How do you do that?” she remarked to her Pokémon briefly, and he only replied by licking the side of her face and making her giggle. “It probably won’t take long; we’ll take some quests on the way back. But we’re supposed to check in at the Ranger Base first.”

Ian and Alyssa made their way through Pueltown, politely turning down quests as they made their way toward the Ranger Base near the center of town. Ian’s face darkened as they got there. Pueltown had to have a lot of Rangers stationed there thanks to its size and population, so the building was large, towering up over everyone’s heads. It was excellently built with smooth white brick, and it was round, as all Ranger Bases were. It had large windows placed around it separated by tall blue columns. The bit of tree on top overflowed so that people looking up were treated to the sight of fluffy green leaves ringing the roof of the base. It was situated right in front of a large overpass-like structure, on which there was a brick road branching from the east side to the west side of town. A green hedge ran around the perimeter of the building’s grounds with an interruption in front of the door to allow people to enter the base. Alyssa, on her trips to Pueltown, had seen this building before, but she had never been inside.

“Do we have to do this?” Ian asked, pausing as Alyssa headed for the door. She stopped and turned around.

“Do what?”

“Do we really have to check in?”

“Yes, we do,” Alyssa replied. “Erma said we needed to, and it’s a good idea to let the Rangers of this area know that we’re here.”

Sighing, Ian reluctantly followed her inside.

There were Rangers everywhere. The building was filled with them. They stood in a line waiting for the Operator to recharge their Stylers, they sat on couches drinking coffee and talking, they stood in circles discussing, they came in and out of the door in the back leading to the dorm-like rooms, they went up and down stairs, they played with their Pokémon. Alyssa was overwhelmed. Ian came up beside her and gently placed a hand on her shoulder. “Come on. Let’s find the captain.” The people who ran the Ranger Bases were called captains—Barlow, for instance, was the captain of the Vientown Ranger Base.

Ian led her to the busy Operator, bypassing the line. Several Rangers went to protest, but stopped themselves as they noticed Ian and Alyssa’s Stylers.

“How may I help—oh,” the Operator said, looking at their Stylers. “The captain is waiting for you upstairs. Second door to the right.”

“Thanks very much,” Ian said.

“Do you need those recharged?”

“No,” Alyssa piped up. “Thank you, though.” She threw out a Ranger salute by placing her fist over her heart and then pulling her upper arm up rigidly, hand open. Ian followed suit; then they wove through the crowd, hearing people fall silent as they moved through them.

Upstairs was a bit quieter; it was a hallway, so there were several doors leading to several rooms the Rangers could possibly be in. They chose the second door on the right and knocked. The door opened to a woman standing there. Her Ranger uniform was modified—instead of the black-and-white skintight suit that girls were required to wear, she had a knee-length white dress with a bit of frill on the skirt. Her feet were in fashionable yet sensible white shoes, not tennis shoes. While most Rangers were required to wear red short-sleeved jackets, she wore a long-sleeved one with a body that ended right below her breasts—that, at least, was standard. Her hair was long and dark green. It shifted around her shoulders as she stepped to the side, revealing someone in the office behind her.

“Greg,” Ian said darkly. Greg stood. Like Ian, he seemed to have hit his growth spurt late—unlike Ian, he was not attractive. He still wore ugly glasses, his ears were still big, and he still had that expression of disdain or anger that he had worn at school. Most boys looked dashing in Ranger uniforms, but it seemed ill-fitting on him—his torso was too thin, his legs were too short.

“I was just leaving,” Greg said, eyeing their Stylers. “It’s nice to see you again, Ian. And Alyssa.”

Alyssa looked over at him. It was strange to hear him speak to her; throughout her years in Ranger School, he had never done so. “Hello, Greg.”

He paused for a moment before replying simply, “Hello.” Then he pushed past Ian out of the room, a Grovyle following behind him. He paused once he was outside and turned. “If we may, Captain, I’d like to continue this conversation at a later time.”

The woman nodded. “Very well, Walton.” He turned and disappeared around a corner. “Come in, you two. I’m sure you’re in quite a hurry.”

Alyssa and Ian stepped into the office; it was furnished simply with a desk, computer, and bookcases, but the colors were blended together very nicely, all greens and blues. The woman walked over to her desk, gesturing towards the two chairs facing it. She stopped at her desk and turned to them.

“I am Elmina Woodrow, Captain of the Pueltown Ranger Base.” She held out her hand for them to shake.

“Alyssa Thompson, rookie Top Ranger.”

“Ian Walton, also rookie Top Ranger.”

Elmina cocked her eyebrow as a Leafeon leapt gently onto her desk; Alyssa wasn’t sure where it had come from. They all sat down. “Walton? You must be Gregory’s older brother. Not much resemblance, I must say…”

“You have no idea how much it pleases me that you say that.”

Elmina laughed gently; the sound was like leaves blowing in the wind. “Are you familiar with Gregory as well?” she asked, turning to Alyssa.

“We were in the same class in Ranger School,” Alyssa replied.

“Ah, yes, Alyssa Thompson, did you say? Well—weren’t you the valedictorian?”

“Um, yes…”

Elmina nodded, seemingly satisfied. “Excellent. Since you both have some experience with Rookie Walton, I feel comfortable in telling you this…he has been in here day after day, pushing for a promotion to Top Ranger. I believe he has some sort of inferiority complex…his older brother and his school rival are now Top Rangers, while he wastes his time here, in the largest Ranger Base in Almia.” Elmina spread her hands. “He is not satisfied. While I do admire ambition, I believe his is a bit misguided…he seems to be under the impression that money is the key ingredient to happiness. But enough—I am sure you two are in a hurry.”

“Wait,” Ian said, leaning forward. “Do you have any intention of promoting him?”

Elmina’s fine eyebrow arched again. “No. Do you wish to recommend him for promotion?”

“No. I don’t think he should be a Ranger at all.”

“Well, the way he’s behaving, he won’t be for very long. He seems to think quests are beneath him; he mistreats the people who ask him for things and even tries to charge them. He’s on probation right now, with no incoming quests or missions.”

Alyssa gritted her teeth. Sure, Greg might have been a Krabby in school, but she had never figured him for this type of person.

“Well, I assume you only came here to check in, correct? You actually do not have to answer to me at all…I thank you for informing me of your whereabouts in my…territory, so to speak. Good luck on your mission.”

“Why was no one from the Pueltown Ranger Base dispatched to do this mission?” Alyssa asked as they all stood.

Elmina laughed. “Dear, the Pueltown Rangers are ones for serving the people of Pueltown. When it comes to worldwide plots…well, that’s what the Top Rangers are for.”

_____________________________

“We’ll just tell them it’s a routine inspection,” Ian said as they walked up to the Happy Hair factory. It was a low, squat building, barely noticeable among the jumble of things by the harbor, positioned right on the water.

“Have they ever gotten one before?”

“I’m sure they have—from the Pueltown Rangers.” They walked up to the low building. A truck was pulled up to the side, so they headed for it; a dark-haired man in coveralls was about to open the back, but he paused in his work and looked over at the two approaching Rangers.

“Hi there,” Ian called. The man waved back. They came to stand in front of him; there was a large, open door in the side of the building. Alyssa glanced inside. It appeared to be a warehouse full of crates—probably hair dye for shipping out. “We’re just here for a routine inspection. Do you know where the supervisor is?”

The man put his hands on his hips. “No, but he should be coming out soon…he usually comes out to see the dye shipped out personally. There he is.” He pointed to a blonde man in a suit walking from the other side of the warehouse, talking quickly with an earpiece attached to his ear. His voice echoed through the warehouse until he came to the door.

“I don’t care about that. The Machoke are very experienced, they know what they’re doing. I will have to let you go. Can I help you?” he asked, reaching up to press a button on his earpiece. He straightened his tie, but Alyssa caught his eye movement towards their Stylers.

“We’re here for a routine inspection,” Ian said.

“Oh?” The man smiled, but the gesture didn’t reach his eyes. “This month’s inspection has already passed. Another one isn’t scheduled until next month.”

“We’re under orders from HQ. We can’t disobey.”

“I’m sorry. I have the right to refuse anyone from my establishment without appointment. Please leave the premises, or I will have my guards escort you off. Oh, what now?” he said crossly as his phone began ringing. He pressed the button on his earpiece, turning away. “Hello? No, I said don’t worry about it! They always use—what do you expect them to do? Use their fingernails?” He strode away, back through the warehouse, and the large man in coveralls pulled a remote out of his pocket. At the touch of a button, the large metal door began to close, cutting off Alyssa and Ian’s view of the warehouse.

“Leave,” he grunted.

So they did. Alyssa brushed her bangs out of her eyes, biting her lip as they walked away. “What do we do now?” Ian asked. “He does have the right to refuse anyone entry…”

“We sneak in, of course,” Alyssa replied as though the answer was obvious. “We sneak in, observe what’s going on, see if anything’s wrong, take some pictures. And from the way he reacted, I think something is wrong.”

“You’re just paranoid,” Ian told her.

“No…I’m sure he’s hiding something. Did you see the way he looked at our Stylers? Or the way he smiled? If he had nothing to hide, why would he turn us away? And anyway, this is our mission. We have to count it as failed if we don’t get in there.”

________________________

As it turned out, Alyssa was very persuasive; ten minutes later, they were slipping in the factory via a small side door, red jackets stowed in a safe place outside—because “Red is an eye-drawing color,” Alyssa said, stuffing her jacket into a trash can.

The building was small, so it must not have required many workers. The white-tiled hallway they entered was empty, but Alyssa flattened herself against the gray wall anyway. Ziggy sniffed the floor and inched ahead; Prinplup lingered behind, checking their rear. Ian pressed himself beside Alyssa. “I’m not sure if—”

“Cameras,” Alyssa whispered. “There.” She pointed. “And there.” She pointed again. “Any way we can temporarily disable them?”

“Well, Prinplup knows Water Gun,” Ian offered.

Alyssa shook her head. “We need something more subtle. Water gun might turn it, and we just need to short it out…does he know Bubble?”

“Yeah.”

“Get him to do that, please.”

“Hey, Prinplup.” The Pokémon performed the desired move; the bubble emitting from his beak enveloped the camera before popping, effectively disabling it. He did the same for the other camera.

“Thanks much, Prinny,” Alyssa whispered. Ian was too distracted to protest. She pushed her bangs back from her eyes and got away from the wall, striding confidently down the hallway.

“Alyssa! What are you—come back!” Ian followed, hurrying after her. When he caught up, he grabbed her arm. “What are you thinking?”

Ziggy’s ears perked up and it darted a look at Alyssa. “Someone’s coming,” Alyssa said, taking in the movement. “Quick—find a place to hide.”

“Where? There are no doors. We can only go out the way we came in.”

“Um…” Alyssa glanced around. The hum of machines permeated the air, making it hard to concentrate. Her eyes found a small alcove that interrupted the wall. She hurried toward it, pulling Ian with her. There was a large double-door, and then two small doors on the sides of the alcove. She grabbed the knob of one of the smaller doors and let herself in.

This, apparently, was the main factory. The noise of machines rose to a din as soon as they entered; they were in a small space directly before they entered the main room. Thankfully, there were barrels and crates against the walls, so Alyssa ducked behind some barrels before someone in the room saw her. People and Pokémon—mostly Machoke and Zangoose—bustled by, both carrying large loads that she hadn’t quite seen.

“Nothing seems to be going on,” Ian said.

“We need to explore further into the main factory,” Alyssa told him.

“How? There are people everywhere!”

“Just be sneaky.” Alyssa crawled out from behind her cluster of barrels and moved toward a stack of crates. Ian followed. They were now at a vantage point to where they could see the whole of the factory if they poked their heads above the crates, which Ian did. He gasped, and Alyssa went to come up beside him—

“No.” Ian’s hand quickly went over her eyes and he forced her back down. “Don’t look.”

“This isn’t the time for games, Ian,” Alyssa said crossly, forcing his hand away from her face and shooting him an angry glare.

“Please don’t look,” he replied, grabbing her wrist as she went to peek above the crates. “Please, please don’t look. There are Team Galactic overseers, so they are in league with Team Galactic. That’s all we need to know. You don’t have to look. I’ll take the pictures,” he added, pulling the Ranger camera Erma had assigned them out of his pocket.

“I came all this way,” she snapped, stretching for it, but he pulled it out of her reach. “And do you think I can’t handle it? After all we’ve been through together—namely, the cave?” She shook her arm out of his grasp, and he speechlessly watched her look over the crates.

She almost vomited.

The loads the people and Pokémon had been carrying were large piles of different Water Pokémon—Horsea, Goldeen, Seaking, Finneon, even a few Marill. They carried them over to a pile of the same kind on a long counter that ran around the perimeter of the room. Beside these piles were Machoke or Zangoose, the former with knives. They would take the Water Pokémon and skin them.

Alyssa clapped a hand over her mouth as a Machoke grabbed hold of a Horsea and slung it down on the counter. It jabbed the knife into the skin on its side and pushed, peeling up a long piece of blue skin all the way to its neck. The Horsea closed its eyes and began screaming, or so Alyssa assumed; the noise of the machines was too loud for her to hear. An annoyed look crossed over the Machoke’s face, and he suddenly used the knife to chop cleanly through the Horsea’s neck. Its head rolled onto the floor.

After skinning the Water Pokémon, the Machoke or Zangoose would grab the skin and throw it into a funnel. In the middle of the room were several large vats of different-colored bubbling liquids; the funnels were inserted in tubes connected to these vats. Alyssa looked at them, horrified. Now that she looked closer, she could see a bit of order; Pokémon’s skins were sorted by color and thrown into the funnel that corresponded with the vat. Seaking skins ended up in the funnel connected to the vat of red. Goldeen skins were cut up, and the orange parts were dropped into the funnel for orange while the white parts were dropped into the funnel for white. Alyssa looked back to the Horsea station, which was nearest her. Her eyes followed the tube to the large vat of…Galactic Blue. Her stomach turned unpleasantly and she pushed a hand over her mouth, trying her hardest not to throw up.

Suddenly, Ian’s hand was on her shoulder, his arm draped around her back. He pointed up to a catwalk running the length of the room, where several Team Galactic members paced, looking down at the progress below them. A few Staraptor and Honchkrow walked with them. Fighting is weak against Flying, she thought. If a Machoke gets out of hand…but what about the Zangoose? She searched until she found a Machamp, its bottom pair of arms crossed and its top pair sticking straight up.

She looked back over to the Machoke eagerly skinning Horsea. As its knife brought up another peel of blue skin, Alyssa got a glimpse of the bright red muscle pulsing beneath. She could see the Horsea’s heart. There it was, clear as day, pumping blood to a rapidly dying body; and then the Machoke tossed the skin into the funnel and continued its job, flipping the Horsea over.

“Come on.” Ian’s low voice was right in her ear. “I think we’ve got enough. Let’s get out of here.”

__________________

It wasn’t difficult getting out of the building; Alyssa thought numbly how she hadn’t even noticed Ian taking pictures. They pulled their jackets from the trash can as they skirted the edge of the Happy Hair Brand Hair Dye Factory, disappearing into the shadow of the nondescript building next to it.

After checking in briefly with Elmina, they captured two more Doduo. “Y’know,” Alyssa said softly, placing a hand on the Pokémon’s back, “back in Chicole Village, we have a farm.”

Ian looked over at her, frowning down from his Doduo.

“My mom has an Ambipom in the house that helps clean. It has a lot of hands, y’know…” She stared numbly at the brown feathers beneath her fingers. “My dad…he has a Machamp that helps him in the fields…it just recently evolved from Machoke.” She then turned and vomited into the bushes.

To: dancing_through_life@pokénet.com
From: [email protected]
Subject: <blank>
______________________________
I can’t tell you very much about my mission. It’s actually going to be like that a lot. Just know that it was a success, but I saw some things.

I’m not sure about Belle’s last email, but I’m a bit too shaken up to think about that right now.

Isis, while a goddess of fertility, was also married to Osiris, the god of the underworld. It sounds like Konohana is using steroids. That would explain the Glaceon’s size. Also, steroids have negative side effects; they deplete the pigment in a Pokémon’s skin and coat.

Love,
Alyssa

nokyo-chan
November 4th, 2010, 06:37 AM
Chapter Thirty-Four
Cassandra watched out her window as Sakura Konohana, now dressed in a kimono, smiled placidly at the innkeeper and bowed to her. A limo sat on the road behind her, and a man was scooping up her bags to put them inside. As Cassandra watched, Sakura shook the innkeeper’s hand, bowed once more, and got inside the limo. The innkeeper turned away, but Cassandra saw the girl’s face just before the door shut; she was frowning, and she already had a cigarette in her hand.

Would all contests be like this? Would she constantly lose to less talented people because they were willing to give judges money? Cassandra closed her eyes, thinking over things. Giving steroids to Pokémon, bribing judges, people setting bombs in caves, friends slowly dropping out of touch…the last one almost brought tears to her eyes. While Belle had hinted at a possibly painful split between her and Derrick, she hadn’t come out with the full story. Was she okay? What she had said in her email made it seem like she was at fault.

Cassandra turned away from the window and looked at Karen’s bed. The girl was stretched out on it, kicking her feet and coloring, her long pink hair spread out around her. Tuffly lay across from her, frowning in concentration as it attempted to hold a crayon. “You’re doing good, Tuffly,” Karen remarked, pointing at the page. “Look, you stayed inside the lines there and everything.”

“Wiggly!” Tuffly seemed proud of itself.

Cassandra stood; Fluffy shifted from his place at her feet, lifting his head and watching her. He seemed to never want to be in his Poké Ball now that he had seen her get attacked by Isis. Now he wanted to keep an eye on her at all times.

“Hey Karen,” Cassandra said, crossing the room and picking up her jacket. Fluffy stood at once.

“Hm?”

“I’m going out to train with Ellia. I’ll be back before dark.”

“It’s wintertime,” Karen reminded her. “It’ll be dark sooner, so don’t get carried away.” She picked up a crayon and lightly shaded something. Tuffly made a sound rather like a laugh. Karen laughed in reply. “You’re right!” she remarked.

Cassandra froze on her way to the door and turned around, Fluffy cocking his head quizzically up at her. “What did you say?”

“Oh, I was just telling Tuffly that he was right.”

Cassandra didn’t know what to say. After a long silence, she finally asked slowly, “And what did he say?”

“Oh, he just said that the Ponyta you caught probably won’t take kindly to being captured.”

Cassandra was so shocked she could have thrown up the entire contents of her stomach. “You can understand Tuffly?”

Karen nodded, poking her tongue out of the corner of her mouth. “I can understand all Pokémon.”

The doorknob would have shattered under Cassandra’s hand if she hadn’t almost collapsed. Fluffy barked. “And when were you planning on telling me this?”

Karen shrugged nonchalantly. “It’s not a big deal. Tuffly, would you stop hogging all the purple?”

“Karen, focus! This is a big deal!”

Sighing, Karen put down her crayon and looked up, folding her hands in front of her. “Okay.”

Cassandra straightened and drew in a deep breath as she zipped up her faux fur-lined jacket. “When did it happen?”

“When did what happen?”

Fluffy wagged his tail as he sensed his Trainer’s growing frustration. “When did you figure out you could understand Pokémon?”

“When I was little, of course,” Karen replied. “When else would I figure it out?” She swept a strand of pink hair behind her ears.

“How?”

“I don’t know. They’ve just always made sense to me. My parents thought it was amazing.”

Fluffy barked; Karen nodded. “But you should get training. Ponyta are used to running free, so it might take Ellia a long time go come around.” With that, she turned back to her coloring book, clearly dismissing Cassandra.

“Don’t eat before I get back,” Cassandra said as she opened the door. “We’ll talk about this more at supper.”

____________________________

Thankfully, no ash was falling today. Cassandra didn’t want to go to her favorite little training patch for fear Ponyta would disappear into the trees, so she chose a nice, wide-open space with plenty of room to aim the red beam from her Poké Ball.

Fluffy wagged his tail as he walked beside her but remained vigilant as he scanned the area. When she stopped, he stopped also, and started to trot around the perimeter of the space.

Cassandra pulled out everyone’s Poké Balls and tossed them one by one into the air—Ellia, of course, was the last. As soon as the fiery Pokémon’s hooves hit the ground she was running. “Return!” Cassandra yelled, and the red beam pulled Ellia back into the Ball. “Let’s try that again.” But Ellia took off once more, forcing Cassandra to return her to the Poké Ball. This happened several times before Ellia grudgingly stopped running and stood angrily before Cassandra, tossing her head and pawing at the ground. “You are my Pokémon now and your name is Ellia,” Cassandra told her. “You will be entered in at least one Contest, so I’d like to start training you now.”

Ellia glared fiercely back at Cassandra. She didn’t appear to want to do anything. “How about a spar?” Cassandra finally suggested. “Swablu, could you please?”

“Blu!” Swablu chirped as it rose into the air. Ellia kept her eyes on Cassandra as she slowly turned around to face the Pokémon, not breaking her glare until she could no longer help it.

“Okay, Swablu, I’ll just tell Ellia what to do and you can do your thing.” Pulling out the little-used Pokédex she acquired upon choosing Finny, Cassandra scrolled through Ponyta’s moves. “Hm…okay. Ready, Swablu?” She pocketed the Pokédex again. Swablu chirped, bobbing up and down in the air. “Cool. Okay, Ellia—use Flame Wheel!”

Instead, the Ponyta reared up on its hind legs and turned, lashing its hooves out dangerously near Cassandra’s head. In a flash, Fluffy was between them, snarling and snapping; Ellia squealed in displeasure and danced backwards as she shook her head. Cassandra’s hand tightened into a fist. “You’ll do as I say! Spar with Swablu!”

Ellia seemed extremely indignant to this sort of treatment; she reared up again and opened her mouth, allowing flames to shoot out. Finny came to the rescue; he quickly used Mud-Slap to smother the flames before they reached Fluffy or Cassandra. Angrily, Cassandra pulled out Ellia’s Poké Ball and returned her. “We’re done for today,” she snapped, and she turned and went back to the hotel, not even bothering to return her other Pokémon.

With a quick shared glance between them, Fluffy, Finny, and Swablu started off after her.

______________________

“Finny says Ellia won’t listen to you,” Karen said as Cassandra stepped out of the bathroom. Finny shrugged apologetically from his place on Cassandra’s bed as his master threw him a sharp glance.

“Oh yeah?”

“Mm-hm. Says she tried to attack you.”

Cassandra narrowed her eyes at Finny, who dropped his gaze to the coverlet. “Yeah, well, she won’t listen, and she did try to attack me. He say anything else?”

“No, but Swablu told me she’s worried about you. She wants you to release Ellia.”

“Well, I’m not,” Cassandra snapped. “I’m going to train her if it’s the last thing I do.” The Ponyta had made this a battle of wills, and Cassandra was used to those—Joanna presented them daily, almost.

Swablu chirruped worriedly. She was perched on Cassandra’s bedpost, a fluffy ornament.

“She says she thinks you’re being too stubborn,” Karen piped up. She was still coloring.

“I’m not, Swablu. I’m just being determined.”

Another chirrup. “Why do you insist on fighting to your own destruction?”

Cassandra clamped her mouth shut. She returned Finny and Swablu to their Poké Balls before glancing down at Fluffy. “Did you say anything to her?”

Fluffy made a noise in his throat and shook his head. Cassandra didn’t even need Karen to translate for her; she crossed into the den and started up the computer, allowing the Mightyena to trot along after her. She was going to train Ellia, no matter what anyone said.

To: [email protected]
From: dancing_through_life@pokénet.com
Subject:Don’t you go doing this too.

Alyssa!
Your last email wasn’t very descriptive. Please don’t pull a Belle on me. Don’t leave me all alone with TWO best friends to worry about. I’m so worried…what happened?
The Ponyta I caught won’t listen to me, but I’m determined to train her. Swablu thinks I should release her. You know how I know that? KAREN CAN TALK TO POKÉMON. When she was planning on telling me this, I have no idea. But there it is; she can talk to Pokémon.
I’m going to send an email to Belle’s mother, because I’m way too worried about her to just let her fester. She seems like she’s starting to open up (that doesn’t mean it’s okay for you to withdraw!!!!), but she needs something to jolt her out of it.
Lots of love and worry,
Cassandra

To: megatcaldwell@pokénet.com
From: dancing_through_life@pokénet.com
Subject: Your daughter

Mrs. Caldwell,
As you know, I’m Cassandra Étoile, one of your daughter’s best friends. She’s been a bit withdrawn lately, and I’m incredibly worried about her. Has she been communicating with you at all? I know that right now she’s at Cinnabar Island about to challenge the Gym Leader, and I also know that she stopped traveling with Derrick. Do you think that there’s anything I, Alyssa, or you can do to put her back into her senses?
Thanks very much,
Cassandra

P.S. How’s Derek doing?

Buoysel
November 4th, 2010, 07:49 PM
Two things I really like about this chapter... Fluffy's protectiveness: I think it is so cool when a Pokemon stand up for its trainer like that... Karen's attitude about her gift: its nothing to her and you played it very well. I like the way you have this going, it will be interesting to see how this plays into future chapters. I am very excited to read more.

nokyo-chan
November 22nd, 2010, 05:15 AM
Two things I really like about this chapter... Fluffy's protectiveness: I think it is so cool when a Pokemon stand up for its trainer like that... Karen's attitude about her gift: its nothing to her and you played it very well. I like the way you have this going, it will be interesting to see how this plays into future chapters. I am very excited to read more.

Thanks so much! I'm happy someone's appreciating my work ^_^.

nokyo-chan
November 22nd, 2010, 05:25 AM
Chapter Thirty-Five
The Cinnabar Island Gym was easy to find; Belle didn’t have to go very far. She had a Poliwhirl, a Water-type, and a Dugtrio, a Ground-type, so she wasn’t too worried about the battle, either.

So why was she trembling?

Yeah, it was hot inside this steaming volcano. (Was it legal to turn a volcano into a gym? How was she even alive?) But that didn’t explain the chills chasing each other up and down her spine, or the cold sweat trickling gently down her forehead. She kept pressing her fingertips against the scar on her head, feeling the raised skin and thinking of Derrick…and his mother. She even thought of Sabrina a little—how, though she had been collapsed on the floor earlier, she seemed calm and collected as she handed Belle the Marsh Badge.

“And—Belle Caldwell,” Sabrina had said, putting a hand gently on her shoulder before she could turn to go. “I knew your father as well. The way he died…well, you would not expect one of his caliber to go so easily.” Her eyes had locked onto Belle’s, boring into them. “It doesn’t seem…true, almost. But I suppose we must accept things?”

“Did my dad date you, too?” Belle asked. “He seems to have a thing for women with black hair.”

“No. He did try to…court me, as it were. But back then, I…well, let’s just say that I had issues on top of my issues. It took a black-haired Trainer with a Pokémon League hat, a Pikachu, and a Haunter to jolt me into my senses, and that wasn’t until much later…Alakazam was just an Abra then…” She shook her head. “But at any rate…yes, your father did have a certain inclination toward raven-haired women. He was, indeed, a powerful Trainer. You are much like him. You carry the same stubborn streak.”

“It seems like all the Gym Leaders know of my father,” Belle said, brushing her hair back from her eyes. The corners of Sabrina’s lips turned up in a small smile.

“Surely you do not think that you are the only Trainer to battle us?”

And now Belle looked at the old man across the rocky volcano floor; it was Blaine, the Cinnabar Island Gym Leader. He wore a long-sleeved red shirt and tan pants, and his bald head gleamed above his round black sunglasses. His white mustache twitched as he tossed aside his wooden cane, surveying Belle and sizing her up. “Hello, Challenger. How do you do?”

“Um…” She wasn’t sure how to respond. Man, what was up with this heat? “I’m kinda hot,” she replied.

“Oh, sorry about that,” he replied; he clapped his hands lightly and a wave of cool air washed over the cavern, making Belle lean her head back and breathe in deeply. “When you get old, your blood thins and you get colder. I forget to turn on the AC.”

AC in a volcano? Belle almost laughed. She looked around the cavern, noticing how the lava bubbled on the sides. “So, where’s the referee?”

“Well, there’s a Porygon who does it—CI-7, where are you?”

A Porygon2 flew out of an opening. It seemed obviously more aerodynamic than Porygon CI-4; it was sleeker. It came down to hover where a referee would usually stay. <Oh!> it said, seeing Belle. <You are the human CI-4 was talking about! The friend to Derrick!>

“Yes,” she replied.

“Oh, that’s you?” Blaine asked. “How is Derrick? What was his first Pokémon—was it a Fire-type?”

“No, it was a Squirtle,” Belle replied.

“Did he nickname it?”

“No…he says he’s not good at nicknames.” She fidgeted. Everyone in this town asked questions about Derrick, and no one questioned why he wasn’t with her. She was grateful for the latter, but uncomfortable with the former. “Should we…um…get started?”

“Ah, right, right. CI-7, if you would…”

<This will be a three-on-three Pokémon match. Switching out is only permitted between battles for both parties. Are you ready, Blaine?>

“Indeed I am!”

<How about you, friend to Derrick?>

Belle gritted her teeth. “Yes. The name’s Belle, by the way.”

<Duly noted. Begin!>

“Magcargo, let’s go!”

Belle froze for a moment, looking at the fire-snail thing that appeared before her, oozing lava from beneath a giant rocky shell. It looked gross and dangerous at the same time. “What—why?”

“Why what?”

“Why that thing? It’s—weird.”

“Weird? My dear, we live in a world where giant creatures casually fall asleep in roads and entire criminal organizations are taken down by one brave, seemingly mute child. Yet this is weird?”

“Ah. Right. Go, Poliwhirl!”

“Poli!” The Pokémon landed surely on its feet, balling its hands into fists.

“Ah, a Water-type. As if I’ve never seen that before. Magcargo, Earthquake!”

“Poliwhirl, use Surf!”

The ground began quaking, but Poliwhirl quickly let a huge gush of water smack into Magcargo, making it tumble over, leaving pools of lava in its place.

“Withdraw!” Blaine barked, and Magcargo sucked itself back into its shell with a shlooping sound. Poliwhirl’s water blew Magcargo into the lava bordering the battlefield; it sunk beneath the surface, and Poliwhirl’s stream abruptly stopped.

Belle froze. Had Poliwhirl just killed that thing? She glanced over at Blaine, who was smiling.

“Magcargo! Come on out!”

The Pokémon rolled out of the lava back onto the field. Even bigger pools trailed it as it burst from its shell, seemingly unfazed by the little dip. It slithered—was it really slithering?—back onto the field, and a giant stretch of bubbling lava marked its trail.

This is dumb, Belle thought. It’s a Fire-type, Poliwhirl’s a Water-type. I should be able to finish this with one move…this next one. “Hydro Pump!”

Large blasts of water smacked into Magcargo in quick succession; the water broke over its face, smashing it repeatedly until it tumbled over backwards and sucked itself back into its shell.

“Fill that shell with water!”

Poliwhirl didn’t stop his attack until water overflowed from the opening in the shell; it slowly evaporated, dissipating from the heat Magcargo let off. And then, the Pokémon’s body emerged from the shell—but it was fainted.

<Magcargo is unable to battle!>

Belle expected Blaine to look angry or disturbed, like most Gym Leaders did after she fainted one of their Pokémon, but instead, he seemed calm and collected. “Rapidash,” he called, tossing his next Poké Ball out onto the field.

A large, beautiful, fiery unicorn burst onto the field, rearing up as its mane and tail shifted and licked at its fur. It tossed its head, and suddenly Belle could see Cassandra sitting sidesaddle atop it, a determined look on her face and long, honey hair shifting in the wind.

Belle blinked, dislodging the image from her brain and trying to get back to the battle. This’ll be easy, she thought. “Poliwhirl, Hydro Pump!”

“Agility!”

Poliwhirl fired off a torpedo of water, but Rapidash was suddenly gone. Poliwhirl spun crazily, trying to find it, but it only appeared in flashes around the battlefield, and none of Poliwhirl’s attack hit the Pokémon.

“Poliwhirl, focus on the lava splashing up from the puddles!” Belle cried; because, when Rapidash appeared suddenly, it was usually running through a puddle.

Poliwhirl spun and managed to hit a lucky shot across the puddle Rapidash was trying to cross, knocking it in the shoulder and making it whinny loudly. The unicorn Pokémon reared, whirled, and was off again.

Dammit, Belle thought.

“Mega Horn!” Blaine yelled.

Suddenly, without warning, Rapidash appeared in front of Poliwhirl and pressed its horn straight into the Pokémon’s belly; once its attack was done, it rocketed off, not even pausing to survey the damage. Poliwhirl flew backwards and landed directly in a pool of lava.

“Poliwhirl!” Belle screeched shrilly, taking a step forward in her little box. “Get up, get up, get up, are you okay?”

“Poli,” the Pokémon replied, getting to its feet. It sprayed some water into the air and then shifted to let it fall on its back, which had a giant, ugly burn.

“Why isn’t the lava affecting Rapidash?” Belle cried, her voice straining. And why didn’t I see that puddle?

“Because Rapidash has an ability called Flash Fire,” Blaine replied. “If Rapidash is touched by fire, it gets stronger—and its Fire-type moves get stronger.”

Belle’s eyes widened as Blaine’s face split into a wicked grin. Of course. Magcargo hadn’t been important—it was the first Pokémon so that puddles of lava would be around for Rapidash to run through and power up. How many puddles had Rapidash splashed through? Too many, in Belle’s opinion. That thing needed to be taken out now before it unleashed a Fire-type move; even though Poliwhirl was a Water-type, a Fire-type move of the sort of caliber she knew Rapidash was going to create would most likely hurt Poliwhirl beyond this battle and into life.

“Ready, Rapidash?” Blaine cried. “Fire Blast!”

The Rapidash skidded to a halt across the field from Poliwhirl and braced itself, opening its mouth. Poliwhirl froze, and Belle tried to think. Maybe if this was a normal Fire Blast, she would have some hope of dousing it with a Water-type move; but Rapidash had been using its whole time to splash through puddles and collect enough power for something she was sure was life-changing. Her only hope was a dodge.

As the giant, almost person-shaped mass of fire erupted from Rapidash, Belle stepped forward in her box. Waves of heat rolled from the attack, making everything seem hazy. The very air rippled. CI-7 shrunk back against the wall, and Belle gritted her teeth.

“Dodge it, Poliwhirl! Please!”

Just as the huge mound of fire came shooting towards Poliwhirl, the Water Pokémon leapt to the side, rolling out of its way. The flames blasted right past, stopping just at the lava bordering the battlefield and disappearing.

“Surf!”

Poliwhirl unleashed a barrage of water, which pounded right into Rapidash, trapping it. The water surrounded the Pokémon, slowly dousing its flames as it kicked and whinnied and screamed; Poliwhirl pressed harder, letting water force itself into the Pokémon’s mouth and nose. When Rapidash stopped moving, Belle called for her Pokémon to stop, and he did; Rapidash dropped to the cave floor abruptly.

<Rapidash is unable to battle,> CI-7 spoke.

Belle grinned as she surveyed the floor. Poliwhirl’s rush of water had cooled the lava pools, which were now hardened into rock. They wouldn’t be hurting her Pokémon again. Her eyes drifted to the burn on its back. “Do you feel okay for one more battle?” she called.

Poliwhirl hesitated before answering in the affirmative. Belle nodded and looked over at Blaine, who was already pulling his next Poké Ball off his belt.

“I usually like to have the Water Pokémon fainted by now,” Blaine said conversationally, “but you are a very good Trainer. Magmar! Let’s go!”

The Magmar stepped onto the field, making a low growling sound as it adjusted its feet. “It’s a good thing I have a plan B,” Blaine said. “Magmar! Thunderpunch!”

“Dodge it!” Belle cried shrilly, and Poliwhirl turned to run away; but Magmar’s fist, charged electrically, caught Poliwhirl straight in the back. It flew forward several feet and landed, face-first, on a large rock that had once been a lava puddle.

<Poliwhirl is unable to battle,> CI-7 piped up.

Belle felt horrible. She should have known that Poliwhirl wasn’t going to be strong enough to continue the battle, and that Blaine would have a backup plan. She returned Poliwhirl to his Ball. “You did so well,” she whispered. “Thank you.” She traded that Ball for another and threw it. “Dugtrio! I choose you!”

Three heads popped up out of the ground, looking fiercely at Magmar. “Trio, trio, trio!” they cried.

“Ah, few Trainers think to use Ground-types,” Blaine said, stroking his chin. “Well, Dugtrio doesn’t have very good stamina, so…Magmar! Let’s try a Flamethrower!”

“Oh, no you don’t,” Belle said. “Dugtrio, underground! Use Earthquake!”

All three of Dugtrio’s heads disappeared underground just as a huge line of flames shot over them. Belle was sick of this battle—she wanted it over with, and a powerful Ground-type attack was just the thing. She watched as the ground shook and split, and giant chunks of newly-cooled lava broke loose and smacked Magmar in the head. It was like a Rock Throw and Earthquake attack all in one.

After being beaten with countless chunks of rocks and shaken into oblivion, Magmar tumbled over sideways. It had hardly had a chance to attack, and Belle was glad she hadn’t let it hurt Dugtrio.

<Magmar is unable to battle,> CI-7 said, hovering gently over its little outcropping of rock. <Belle wins! You get the Volcano Badge!>

Belle returned Dugtrio happily as Blaine pulled in Magmar. “You’re a very good strategist,” he said, walking across the battlefield. “I admire your skill.”

“Thanks,” Belle replied. “Before you say anything else—did you know my father, Daniel Caldwell?”

“Ah, he’s your father? Amazing kid! No wonder you’re so good!” With a grin, Blaine pulled a Volcano Badge from his pocket. “How is he?”

“Dead,” Belle replied simply. Blaine’s face fell.

“I’m so sorry. I’m sure it’s hard having to deal with all these Gym Leaders telling you how great your father was, and then you have to tell them…”

“Yeah.”

“Before you go,” Blaine said slyly, dropping the badge into Belle’s palm, “I want to tell you a riddle.”

“A riddle?” Belle blinked up at him, confused. “Why?”

“I tell all my challengers a riddle, win or lose.”

“Do I have to answer to get out?”

“No. You don’t even have to tell me if you got it or not, ever. Ready? Here goes! Life is simply meaningless without me. Oh, you cannot see me! Very blind am I, but yet I capture people securely. Everyone chases me, though some think they do not need me. What am I?”

Belle stared at him blankly. “Um…I don’t know.”

He smiled back at her and patted her shoulder gently. “You will. Trust me. That was a nice battle, Belle. Thank you.”

To: dancing_through_life@pokénet.com, [email protected]
From: dingdongbelle@pokénet.com
Subject: To next town.
_______________________________________________________________
I’m going to Viridian City next. I won my Volcano Badge. Blaine gave me a riddle:

“Life is simply meaningless without me. Oh, you cannot see me! Very blind am I, but yet I capture people securely. Everyone chases me, though some think they do not need me.”

I have no clue what it means…do you guys?

Love,
Belle

Buoysel
November 22nd, 2010, 07:50 AM
I try not to spam up a thread by posting after every chapter, but I am a little curious about this one. Did the events of the games take place in your story? You mentioned Red, and this line (which I though was hilarious BTW):

“Weird? My dear, we live in a world where giant creatures casually fall asleep in roads and entire criminal organizations are taken down by one brave, seemingly mute child. Yet this is weird?”

Oh and I think the answer to your riddle is love.

nokyo-chan
November 22nd, 2010, 09:29 AM
I try not to spam up a thread by posting after every chapter, but I am a little curious about this one. Did the events of the games take place in your story? You mentioned Red, and this line (which I though was hilarious BTW):

“Weird? My dear, we live in a world where giant creatures casually fall asleep in roads and entire criminal organizations are taken down by one brave, seemingly mute child. Yet this is weird?”

Oh and I think the answer to your riddle is love.

Ha, I'm not telling anyone the answer to the riddle...even though you may or may not be right...*feels bad about obvious riddle*.

As for an answer to your question, my story is a bit of a game/anime hybrid; I took the elements I wanted from each medium and threw them together to make some sort of chemical explosion, resulting in this Powerpuff-Girl-type of story (with me being Chemical X, of course). Earlier in this chapter, I mention Ash:

"...It took a black-haired Trainer with a Pokémon League hat, a Pikachu, and a Haunter to jolt me into my senses, and that wasn’t until much later…Alakazam was just an Abra then…”

Well, Sabrina mentions Ash, rather. And Tracy appears in the beginning of my story.

So, there ya go! My story is some weird, illegitimate Yeerk-style love-child of the anime, the game, and me. (That's right, I just threw in an Animorphs reference.)

nokyo-chan
January 18th, 2011, 07:21 AM
Chapter Thirty-Six
Alyssa opened her eyes at the soft knock on her door. “Who is it?” she asked.

“Ian,” he replied. “Can I come in?”

She laid there for a few moments, considering. “No,” she decided finally, and turned over on her side. Ziggy, who had been pressed against her side, shifted and made a disgruntled noise.

“I’m coming in anyway.”

Alyssa didn’t move as she heard the door to her apartment open and Ian stroll through the front room. She didn’t even twitch as he opened the door to her bedroom and let himself inside. “Alyssa, get up.”

“No.”

“We need to report to Chairperson Erma. She was nice enough to be satisfied that we knew it was tied to Team Galactic for a day; we need to go give our full report now.”

“Can’t you do it?”

Ian was silent for a moment. She hadn’t heard Prinplup come in with him; was he waiting outside? Ziggy shifted, his dark brown fur moving in front of her face.

Suddenly, she felt a hand clamp down on her shoulder and wrench her to lay on her back. She came face-to-face with the angriest Ian she had ever seen. “The world doesn’t just stop when you see something you don’t like,” he snapped. “You’re a Ranger now. You’re going to see tough things. You’re just going to have to deal with it. Crime and evil don’t stop just because you hide in your room, and you can do something about it, or you can quit your job and hide away. But right now, as a Ranger, you can change things. And you have a duty to your superior officer—and to me, your partner. You would really push all the burden on me like that? I was sympathetic with you yesterday. What we saw was tough. I won’t say that I didn’t have nightmares—if I did, I would be a liar. And it’s okay to be sad, even horrified. But Alyssa, be sad on your own damn time, because we have a job to do.” He released her shoulder and turned away from the bed; she stared up at the ceiling, eyes wide and mouth open.

“I’ll be waiting for you in the hallway,” Ian said, and slammed her bedroom door shut. She heard his swift footsteps cross the front room before he slammed her front door as well. It only took a few more seconds of shock; and then Alyssa was up, pulling on her uniform and fastening her Styler to her wrist.

Outside in the hallway, a chastised Alyssa slipped out of her front door and stood before Ian, eyes cast down at her shoes. Her hair was unwashed, so she had thrown it up in her usual sloppy ponytail and hoped for the best. She hadn’t attempted to brush Ziggy’s fur. His head looked ragged poking over her shoulder. Her usually pristine jacket was wrinkled, and the black thigh-high tights she wore were uneven; though she looked a mess, she had tried.

Ian didn’t wait for her to say anything. He just started off down the hall at a brisk stride, letting her drift along behind, fidgeting with the wrist-strap of her Fine Styler (the kind used by Top Rangers) and keeping her eyes down. The tiled floor passed by her vision, and she glanced up to see different Top Rangers moving around and trailed by Partner Pokémon. Many of them had stylized versions of the uniform. Alyssa briefly wondered when you were allowed to change your uniform—Ian already had. It was a subtle change—the usual short-sleeved jacket was long-sleeved for him—but it was there.

Ian glanced over his shoulder and caught her looking at him, and she quickly snapped her gaze back down to the floor. She saw Prinplup looking at her, and he seemed to feel sorry for her. They descended a flight of stairs (in the Ranger Union HQ, “elevators” were but a dream) and rounded a corner to arrive at the briefing room.

“I don’t expect to do all the talking,” Ian said, his voice cold. He stood in front of her, not turning his head or anything to look back at her. “I’ll handle the files on the computer, but I don’t expect to tell the whole thing myself. Understood?”

“Yes,” she said faintly.

“What?” he asked.

“Yes,” she repeated, a little louder.

“Get a grip on yourself. Don’t let Erma see that this is bothering you. She’ll wonder if your promotion was a mistake.” With that, he pushed open the door, holding it open for her briefly.

They stepped into the briefing room, and the familiar darkness of a room that was essentially a giant computer enveloped them. Erma was already there, surveying screenshots from some old movie with people dancing. When they walked in, she spoke the command to send the shots into her folder.

“Well, I’m very eager to hear your entire report,” she said as Alyssa let the door fall shut behind her.

“We’re very eager to tell you,” Ian replied. “The images we have are…quite graphic.”

Erma sighed. “Oh dear. Well, I’ve certainly seen some things in my day, so I’m well prepared.”

And so the report started. At first, Alyssa eyed the walls warily, but Ian withheld the pictures and let her explain the first part of their mission. She actually enjoyed explaining every detail of their exploits to Erma, and soon she was guiding the entire storyline along.

Soon, though, she said the sentence, “And that door led to the factory.” With that, she glanced at Ian, who nodded.

“Computer, open folder Walton, Ian.”

The image of a folder appeared on the screen; it opened, revealing smaller folders. “Open Factory Pictures.”

And there they were, just as horrible in digital form as they were in real life. She glanced away, her eyes landing on Erma’s face.

Erma looked distraught. Her eyes were open wide, and the nearest picture cast a white ethereal glow on her features. Right now, she looked as though she had lived for centuries; her grip tightened on the Sandslash cane, and she heaved a deep sigh. “My goodness,” she said softly. “And those are pictures of the rafters?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Ian replied. “As you can see, several Team Galactic members are patrolling.”

“Why here?” she said wearily, and she seemed to sag. “I thought some young Trainer had broken them up in Sinnoh a few years ago. Why here? Why now?”

“I suppose that’s for the Rangers to figure out,” Alyssa replied. She walked over to Erma’s side and laid a hand on her shoulder. “We’ll figure it out, Erma. We will.”

There was a pause as Erma looked over at her, their eyes locking. The old woman’s eyes, at least, were still young—probably unchanged from when she was seventeen years old. They were brown, flecked with black and gold, and a fire so tangible burned in them that Alyssa thought she could feel its heat. The eyes narrowed and then pulled away from Alyssa’s. “Well, we’ll have to dispatch a team of Rangers to put a stop to their operations. First, though, we’ll need more information.”

Alyssa glanced at Ian. He finally looked at her, and his face showed understanding—he knew that she might not be able to take that place again.

“Don’t worry, dear, it won’t be you two. No, we’ll have to send in some Rangers specially trained in espionage…I might have to call Everett in from Fiore.”

“Everett?” Alyssa mumbled. The name clicked in her mind. Everett was the name of Casey’s father…and last she had heard, he was in Fiore. “Everett Rayman?”

“You know him?”

“I roomed with his daughter in Ranger School,” Alyssa replied. She thought back to the last time she had seen Casey—her father had miraculously made it to graduation, and she had been standing in front of him, beaming and looking the happiest Alyssa had seen her in years. And then she realized that it sounded incredibly childish of her to say something like that.

“Ah. Yes, I believe she’s stationed in Pueltown.”

Alyssa nodded. She hadn’t seen her at the base, but Operators work in shifts.

“Computer, transfer pictures to Erma’s folder.” Erma sighed as the pictures zoomed away. “You two—”—her glance lingered on Alyssa—“probably need some rest. Take today and tomorrow off; I don’t care where you go as long as it’s not out of Almia.”

“We will. Thank you,” Ian said.

“Thank you,” Alyssa echoed.

“Dismissed.”

They turned and left; once outside the door, Ian looked at her. “Grab a change of clothes. I’ll capture us a Staraptor and we’ll fly somewhere.”

“Where?”

“You’ll see. Meet you out front in twenty minutes.”

_______________________________________________

As it turned out, it was Chicole Village in which Ian landed the Staraptor. The sun was just beginning to set; he cut quite a dashing figure, sitting atop a Staraptor, wind blowing gently in his hair, a fiery haze around his outline.

“Is there any way I could stay for dinner? We’ll go where I wanted when it gets dark,” Ian added.

Alyssa nodded; Ian quietly asked the Staraptor to stay for a while as she went inside.

“Honey, it’s good to see you home!” Diana came rushing toward her, grabbing her up in a hug. “Oh, and Ziggy!” she added, scooping the Zigzagoon up and hugging it. “Who’s that man outside?”

“Um—Ian. He’s my…friend. Can he stay for dinner? He’s taking me somewhere after it gets dark.”

“Um…” Diana bit her lip.

Just then, Warren Thompson, Alyssa’s father, came around the corner. His short-trimmed hair was much darker than Alyssa’s or Diana’s, and he had the muscles of a man who worked in the fields. He wore dirty overalls and a stained T-shirt. Dirt smudged his face. “Mm. Little daisy.”

“Dad!”

“Champ?”

Alyssa’s stomach lurched and she paused in her way across the kitchen. Four-armed, muscular, green, with a large, smiling mouth, Machamp came around the corner. He, too, was smudged with dirt. His face lit up when he saw Alyssa, and he threw all four of his arms open for a hug.

Ian stepped into the doorway and hovered uncertainly, keeping his eyes on Alyssa. She looked up at the big Pokémon and felt…happy. It was nice to see a good, wholesome Machamp. She rushed forward and threw her arms around its waist; he folded all four of his own arms onto her gingerly, careful not to squeeze too hard.

Warren glanced at Alyssa, then at Ian, who was smiling slightly as he watched this display. “Little daisy’s changed,” he muttered to Diana, coming around the corner to kiss her cheek.

“No she hasn’t,” Diana replied. “She’s still our little Alyssa. Honey, of course your friend can stay—I’ll throw in some more food—”

Warren looked over at Ian, who was still watching Alyssa. He grunted slightly. “Goin’ upstairs to wash up.”

_____________________________________

Dinner was a long affair. Diana did most of the talking; Alyssa shoveled in home-cooked food gratefully, and Ian tried to politely answer Diana’s rapid-fire questions before she could set off another.

At one point, as Alyssa was reaching for her glass of tea, she looked up at Warren, her father. He was looking at her, that stoic expression he usually wore covering his face. He was a quiet man, and he had been ever since she could remember; even before her brother—Alyssa didn’t want to think about her brother. But somehow, she could tell that her brother had just crossed Warren’s mind as well; their eyes met, and Warren allowed a small smile to pull at his lips, and she knew they were both remembering him.

Finally, at dinner’s end, Alyssa stood with her plate. “Let me get that,” she said to Ian, scooping his empty plate up.

“It’s okay, I’ll—”

“You’re a guest,” Alyssa told him simply, and she walked away to get Warren’s dishes as well.

“I’m not a guest,” Warren said in his deep voice.

“I missed you,” Alyssa replied. She kissed him on the side of the head.

“I’ll get the dishes,” Diana said, taking Alyssa’s stack of plates. “You two go do whatever it was you were going to do. Warren, come help!”

Warren grunted as he scooted his chair back from the table, and Ian turned to Alyssa. “Do you wanna change clothes?”

She glanced down at herself in her uniform, then shook her head. “Nah.” They stepped out into the night air. “It sure is getting dark earlier.”

“How long of a walk is it to Vientown?”

“Um, about twenty minutes.”

“That’s not so bad. Come with me.”

_____________________________________

Ziggy, once it realized that Vientown was not their final stop, leapt up onto Alyssa’s shoulder to ride the rest of the way. Prinplup waddled along behind them.

Ian refused to answer Alyssa’s questions about where they were going, but it soon became apparent that they were headed towards the Ranger School. She frowned as they came to the six-foot wall and even taller gate. “We can’t go in there. The gate’s locked.”

“Yeah, I know.” Ian pulled her past the gate to a place where the wall made a ninety-degree angle; Alyssa knew that this was where Ascension Square was. And then it clicked in her head—that one night when she had snuck out in her nightgown, and Ian had found her sitting with her feet dangling over the edge of the small cliff. He led her to another corner. Vines had grown over this particular spot in the wall. “See, trees hang over this part of the wall, so it’s hard to see someone moving here.”

“Um…” Alyssa glanced up at the vine-covered wall.

“Ladies first.”

“No thanks,” Alyssa replied. “You go first.”

“You have to promise you’ll come up after me.”

She nodded as he grabbed hold of the vines and clambered up skillfully. Once on the top of the wall, he crouched there and smiled down at her. “Hand up Prinplup, will ya? Zigoon can probably make it on his own.”

“His name is Ziggy,” Alyssa murmured, grabbing Prinplup and hoisting him up. She grunted as Ian took him gently from her arms.

“I used to have to carry him,” Ian said. The Pokémon looked as though he were trying to grab onto Ian’s shoulders with his flippers. “Yeah, yeah, buddy, I know.”

“Plup.”

“Yeah.”

Soon, Alyssa was up after him, and then they descended the other side even quicker. Ian glanced around before leading her to the water and sitting. It was a lot colder than it had been that night, so Alyssa tugged her jacket around her and looked up at the stars. She suddenly wished she, too, had Ian’s long-sleeved jacket.

“I can see how this would help you,” Alyssa murmured. The stars winked down at her, and the waves washed gently against the side of the cliff. Everything was so big and open; it felt like her thoughts could go anywhere. But everything was familiar, also, making her calm and almost happy. Memories of playing near the large Pledge Stone came flooding back. And, of course, there had been Outdoor Day—a day when class had been held outside, and a Ranger had come to teach them. She remembered the excitement she had felt upon seeing that man—she didn’t even know who it was—with his red jacket and partner Ursaring.

“I’m sorry I talked to you so roughly,” Ian said softly, sitting down close beside her.

“I deserved it,” she replied. “You’re right. I chose to be a Ranger because I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to help people and Pokémon. Of course, it’s harder than I imagined, but it still makes me feel good to know that soon, because of information I helped to get, that factory will be shut down.” She looked down at her legs, still in black thigh-highs. “I shouldn’t forget that I’m a Ranger.”

“And a damn good one, at that.” She looked up to see Ian smiling at her, and she returned it easily. “This is my way of coping,” he added. “Or, was. When things got too scary, I would come here. It helps to remember the beginning. Oh, are you cold?”

Alyssa had wrapped her arms around herself and was shivering. A chill was seeping through her bodysuit from the ground, and a breeze was blowing. “Yeah.”

“Let me help.”

Alyssa thought back to that night, when Ian had removed his jacket and given it to her. She expected the same would happen now—but it didn’t. Instead, he leaned toward her and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close against his chest. She rested her cheek against his shoulder and stared, wide-eyed, at his neck. Warmth flooded through her, but she suspected that a lot of it came from inside.

“Better?” His voice was soft, right in her ear.

“Yes.” She tentatively put a hand on his chest, and he placed his own over top of it. She felt him lay his head on hers. “A-are you comfortable?”

“Very.” He pulled her a bit closer; the hand he had over hers he removed and put the now-free arm around her waist.

Comfortable, Alyssa closed her eyes. She felt his heart beating under her hand, as well as his chest rising and falling with the breath blowing gently on her hair. I love you, she thought easily.

Her eyes flew open. What? What had she just thought? I love you, the thought spoke again, and she pondered it for a moment. A huge barrage of Butterfree and Beautifly swarmed inside her stomach, and her heart pounded and fluttered at the same time. These feelings, as well as the added warmth from inside every time she thought the words, made her realize…it was true. She loved him. She loved him with every fiber of her being, every muscle inside her body. She loved each and every part of him; his hair, his face, his eyes, his laugh, his hands, his warmth. “I love you,” she whispered, ever so softly, against his neck.

“What?” he asked absentmindedly.

“Nothing,” she replied, but a huge smile broke out on her face as she closed her eyes again. He didn’t have to know just yet. In fact, nobody did. It just felt good to say it, whether he heard her or not.

Alyssa loved Ian.

To: dancing_through_life@pokénet.com
From: [email protected]
Subject: Happy day!

Don’t worry about me going all Belle on you!
The thing that happened to me…it just seems like it’s something I need to talk to you about in person. Don’t worry about it for right now; I’ll have plenty of stories to tell you later.
I had a good day today. Erma gave me and Ian today and tomorrow off, so we’ll be hanging out and stuff. I’m spending the night at home right now. It’s really nice to see Mom and Dad, and even Machamp and Ambipom.
KAREN CAN TALK TO POKÉMON??? OMGWTFBBQ??? That is…really cool, actually. I’d LOVE to be able to do that. Actually, I think Professor Hastings (he’s the guy who invented the Styler) is working on a device that translates Pokémon’s cries into speech, but it’s gonna take a while. He’s always being distracted by perfecting the Styler.
That’s a really good idea, sending an email to Miss Terra. Tell me what she says!!! Anyway, I’m really tired, so I’m gonna go to bed.
Love you much,
Alyssa

nokyo-chan
February 24th, 2011, 08:33 AM
Chapter Thirty-Seven

Cassandra had just about had it with Ellia. She had tried everything to get that Ponyta to listen to her, even looking up ways to train Ponyta on the Internet. She didn’t want to give up, even though that seemed like what it was all her Pokémon wanted, Ellia included. The Ponyta had learned, grudgingly, that fleeing was useless, but she was doing everything she possibly could to resist Cassandra’s training, even at personal risk.

After a long bout of useless training, Cassandra came back into the room and got out her laptop. “Hi, Karen,” she said in a dull monotone. The pink-haired girl was lying on her bed and coloring as usual.

“Hi,” Karen replied.

“Wig!”

“Tuffly says hi.”

“Hi, Tuffly,” Cassandra grumbled, opening up her e-mail and sifting through. Suddenly, she became delighted as she saw that Terra had emailed her back. “Yes!” she cried happily, clicking it.

Cassandra,

I sure am glad Belle has friends like you and Alyssa to worry about her. I had noticed a lag in her emails, but I thought it might just be something to do with the fact that I’m her mother, and therefore am far less interesting to talk to. :) I didn’t know that she was no longer traveling with Derrick, so I’m afraid I don’t know the reason for that. Thank you for bringing me your concern; I know exactly how to remedy this situation.

Oh, and thank you for asking about Derek. He’s doing just fine. He’s already thinking about what Pokémon he wants when he gets older, and I’m thrilled to say he might want one that is the same type as his mother’s first Pokémon. Of course, he also might want to go a different way and get a Charmander like his big sister. Either way, I’ll be happy for him.

Anyway, thank you very much for your email, and try not to worry too much anymore—Momma T is on her way to fix everything!

Love,

Belle’s mom (I know that’s what you call me ;) )

Cassandra felt a huge weight lift off her chest. Terra was going to fix it. Good. She closed out her Internet and turned off her laptop, no longer needing to get her mind off anything; she felt perfectly fine now. As she stuffed the laptop into her bag, she glanced over at Karen and Tuffly coloring together.

“Hey, Karen,” Cassandra said, stretching out on her own bed. “I have to ask you something I’m really curious about.”

“Hm?”

“Does Tuffly have a Poké Ball?”

Karen glanced up at her. “You haven’t asked a lot about me,” she remarked, putting her crayon down.

“Um…no, I guess I haven’t.”

“You haven’t asked me about my parents or anything.”

“Well, you haven’t asked me about mine, either.”

“Your dad’s Gerald Étoile, an executive for Devon Corp. He’s big and jolly. Your mother, his wife, is Joanna Étoile, and she seems evil.”

“Well, you only got that from meeting them on the telephone and putting a name with a face.”

Karen shrugged. “True. I guess we’re both inconsiderate. Tell me about your family.” She sat up, crossed her legs, placed her hands on her ankles, sat up straight, and looked straight at Cassandra across the gap between the beds, her head cocked slightly to the side.

“Um…you sure you want me to go first?”

“Yes.”

“Okay…well, we’re pretty rich, I guess.” Cassandra launched into a description of their family—mean Joanna, fun Gerald, and even Dorothia, the cook. When she was finished, Karen nodded simply.

“Okay. Well, I’ll tell you about mine now.” She adjusted her shoulders. “My mom’s name is Chryssi—it’s short for Chrysanthemum.”

“Chrysanthemum?”

“It’s a type of flower.”

“I know—”

“Her parents were botanists. Dad’s name is Enja. It’s short for Benjamin.”

“Why didn’t his parents just call him Ben?”

“They did. He hated that name. Enja sounds a lot cooler.”

Cassandra nodded and decided not to ask any more questions.

Karen’s family was actually very interesting; they lived in a small house in a sparsely populated area of Rustboro City, and every day Chryssi and Enja pushed their cart out beside the PokéMart and attempted to sell herb and root supplements as replacements for Potions. They had perfected the art of making them taste sweet instead of bitter, and people and Pokémon both could use them. Because they didn’t have a lot of money, they all made their own clothes—Karen, apparently, was the one with the best fashion sense, and could sew much better than her parents. “I have a little trouble with sleeves,” she added, offering out her arms as proof; the sleeves of her shirt hung down almost past her fingers. “But that’s the style now, so it’s okay.

“You asked if Tuffly had a Poké Ball,” Karen continued, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear.

“Yes.”

“We don’t believe in Poké Balls.”

“You don’t?”

“No. We believe that if a Pokémon wants to be your friend, they’ll follow you and be with you of their own will. We don’t capture Pokémon—we befriend them…kind of like Rangers, but without the use of any technology.”

A strange sensation started in Cassandra’s gut. It felt a little like…guilt. “So…has everyone ever tried to capture Tuffly with their Poké Ball?”

“Once or twice, but either I or Mom blocked it.”

“You should try capturing Tuffly in a Poké Ball and then not making him stay in it. That way, if somebody tried to capture him, the Ball would just bounce off.”

“But then I’d only be able to have six Pokémon with me,” Karen replied. “My way, as many Pokémon as I want can follow me around, and I don’t have to send them to the Pokémon Lab.”

Cassandra nodded. “I think I’m going to start keeping everyone out of their Poké Balls.”

“Even Ellia?” Karen asked, grabbing her coloring book and stretching out on the bed again. “You know what I think your problem is with her?”

Usually, when it came to Ellia, Cassandra didn’t want to talk. She was too determined—no, stubborn—to listen to Karen’s advice. This time, however, she had Karen’s Poké Ball story circling in her head. “What?”

“You don’t respect her.”

____________________________________

Cassandra walked out to her training ground under an umbrella with Swablu perched on her shoulder and Finny and Fluffy walking on either side. In her hand, she clutched Ellia’s Poké Ball.

When they came to the place, she let Ellia out of her Ball. “Wait before you try to kick me or anything, please,” Cassandra said. She stepped forward and slipped the bridle off Ellia’s head; she had put it there after taking advice from an Internet site. Surprised, the Ponyta tossed her head and looked down at Cassandra warily. “Yeah, you have every right to look like that.” With a sigh, Cassandra shifted. “Look. I’ve been going about this all wrong. I haven’t been treating you with the respect you deserve, and for that, I’m sorry. I’m willing,” she added, looking up at Ellia, “to be a lot—and I mean a lot—nicer to you if you’re willing to stay with me. If you want to go free, I’ll release you. Do you want me to do that—release you? Knock your hoof on the ground once for yes, twice for no.”

Ellia didn’t do anything for a very long time. She simply stood there, eyeing Cassandra, her mane and tail shifting and seeming to eat every piece of ash that fell on them. Finally, after a while, she lowered her head and bumped it directly into Cassandra’s chest, very gently. Her fiery mane didn’t burn Cassandra; it didn’t even feel hot. Vaguely, she recalled seeing something on the Internet that said Ponyta and Rapidash don’t burn people they trust. Ellia nickered softly and thumped her hoof against the ground once.

Cassandra sighed and placed a hand on the Ponyta’s neck. “Okay. I’ll miss you, but if it’s—”

The hoof thumped again.

“W-was that a no?”

Ellia nickered, and even without Karen Cassandra could tell it was the answer she wanted. She laughed happily as her Ponyta stepped back and tossed her head. “Thank you! I’m sorry, and I’ll make it up to you—first by letting you run around as much as you want. Go on! Gallop! Oh, wait though—do you like the name Ellia?”

The Ponyta had been on her way to gallop circles around the little training ground, but she paused and looked back over her shoulder at Cassandra. After a brief moment, she knocked her hoof once before shooting off to run laps.

“Well, Swablu,” Cassandra said, glancing sideways at the Pokémon sitting on her shoulder. “I’d like to have you be an Altaria before the next contest. You up for that?”

“Blu!” Swablu took flight and spiraled up into the sky.

“Okay, sparring session, Finny and Swablu! Come back when you’re ready, Ellia!” Cassandra called, and her two Pokémon took the field as Fluffy sat by her feet, tall and proud, a guard Pokémon. “Fluffy,” she added as an afterthought. “You’ve never showed much interest in Contests…did you want to try one?”

The Mightyena cocked its head, looking up at her. He patted his paw against the ground twice before turning his attention back to the upcoming spar.

“He’s more interested in battles, he says,” Karen’s voice said, drifting out from somewhere behind Cassandra. She turned around; Karen was walking under her pink umbrella, Tuffly waddling along behind. “I was bored of coloring,” she added by way of explanation. “How are things going with Ellia?”

“Good…I gave her the option to leave, but she didn’t want to. Fluffy, contests are battles, too.”

Fluffy made a series of barks and growls; Karen came up beside Cassandra. Their umbrellas bumped. “But it’s all frilly stuff. I’m not interested in points and glamour.”

“Do you want to battle Gym Leaders?”

“No. You saved my life. Now I’ll spend it protecting yours.”

“Did he really say that?” Cassandra asked, looking up at Karen. The girl nodded matter-of-factly.

“I only say what they say…Pokémon usually get mad when I translate wrong, anyway.”

Cassandra smiled. “Would you mind sticking around and helping me train up for my next contest? Something tells me I could really use your help.”

Karen frowned and bit her lip, crossing her arms. “That would seriously cut into my coloring time.”

“Please?”

“Well, we all make sacrifices, I guess.”

_____________________________________________

To: thompson_alyssa
From: dancing_through_life
Subject: Life.
_______________________________________
Hey!

Did you get Belle’s last email? She didn’t even tell us how the battle went. She doesn’t seem very excited about Viridian City being her last Gym Badge, either. =( I’m really worried about her, but luckily Terra emailed me back!!! I’ll forward you the message.

Ooh, so you and Ian are hanging out, huh? Is anything going to happen? Hmmmm? XD I’m so excited for you!! And I’m also really glad that you’re not gonna pull a Belle.

Yeah, one day you’ll have to meet Karen. She’s…something else. She gave me some good advice about training Ellia, which I actually TOOK, and now she listens to me. I’m thinking about entering her in the Slateport Contest when I get there…I want to put Finny in the Fallarbor Contest again to prove that he can win and he’s not totally useless.

Well, gotta get to bed early! I’m waking up early tomorrow and training…the next contest date is rushing up!

Love much,

Cassandra

____________________________________

To: dingdongbelle
From: dancing_through_life
Subject: You.
_______________________________
How did your battle go?

Are you excited about getting your next (and LAST) Gym Badge?

Have you caught any more Pokémon?

Has anyone evolved?

TALK TO ME.

nokyo-chan
February 24th, 2011, 08:55 AM
Chapter Thirty-Eight

Flying was amazing.

The wind brushed Belle’s now almost shoulder-length hair back from her face and stung her cheeks as Charmy’s wings rose and fell on either side of her. Water glinted beneath her as they raced above it; she saw Water Pokémon leaping from the sea. For the first time in what felt like ages, Belle allowed herself to laugh.

Soon, Pallet Town was coming into view, and it was underneath them, Oak’s Pokémon Lab flowing away. Little Pokémon dotted the pastures, and Belle leaned over the side and squinted to see if she could make out Professor Oak or Tracy, or even Swifter, though she thought it less likely. She felt as though a lifetime had passed since she had walked into the lab as a Pokémon-less girl.

She had been a lot happier then.

Sadly, Belle turned her eyes away from the lab and watched as Route 1 passed beneath her. Soon, they were in Viridian City. Charmy touched down lightly in front of the PokéCenter. The glass doors slid open and she walked in, Charmy following behind her.

It was so familiar. A few beginning Trainers sat around the tables and on the plastic seats, talking and holding their only Poké Ball. Most of the Pokémon she saw were Squirtles, Bulbasaurs, and Charmanders, but a few people had Pidgeys, and one even had a Rattata. Everyone looked up in wonder as Belle passed by, her Charizard walking behind her. A girl with dark brown hair was sitting on the couch that Belle remembered sleeping on, a Charmander in her lap.

Nurse Joy looked up as she handed two Poké Balls back to a boy. A smile split her face immediately. “Belle! Oh, Belle, look at you! You look so…grown up!” She hurried out from behind the counter, wiping her hands on her apron. “It’s so nice when Trainers come back. And look at your Charmy…how’s Swifter?”

“Well, I sent Swifter to Professor Oak’s lab, so…”

“Oh. Well, I see why—you already have a Charizard, so the need for a flying Pokémon…”

Belle smiled. “I actually want to hurry up and get my final gym battle over with. Do you know anything about the gym leader?”

“Well, it’s a Ground-type gym,” Joy said as she went back behind the counter. Belle stepped forward and handed over her Poké Balls, returning Charmy to his. “They just hired a new leader about a week ago, actually…I don’t know much about him. Or her,” she added. “All I know is that he—she—it—won a Pokémon League Tournament in some other region. Was it Johto? Or Sinnoh?” Joy frowned as she pressed the button on the machine. “Maybe it was Kanto..it ended in o. At any rate, as soon as the Board of Directors got wind that they wanted to be the leader, they hurried to get them the job.”

“Hm…I should be fine, though,” Belle said thoughtfully. “It’s a Ground-type gym, right? I have a Poliwhirl and a Bellossum.”

“Oh, you do? Tell me your team! I’m so excited that you’re back…I love when the people I meet as young beginning Trainers come back as seasoned travelers!”

Belle nodded. What would an hour or so hurt?

____________________________________________

The Viridian City Gym had a floor similar to Pewter City’s, but instead of the bold brown of rocks, it was a dull, dark brown, nothing more than carefully packed dirt. It appeared to be deserted—Belle looked around, wishing she had let Charmy out of his Ball to accompany her inside. “Hello?” she said, and her voice echoed back to her.

“Well, well…look who we have here.”

Belle’s heart stopped as she turned and looked across the gym, seeing a person standing in the Gym Leader’s raised box. They leaned forward, long, black ringlets swinging from their shoulders, and a smile lit up their plump red lips. Dark eyes framed by long eyelashes gazed down at Belle in a way with which she was very familiar. Soft hands with long fingers grasped the railing of the box, and feet in pantyhose but not in shoes tapped gently on the floor.

“M-mom?”

Terra Caldwell smiled brightly from her place. “You recognize me! I’m surprised…you seem to not know who I am anymore. I never get any emails from you.”

“Well, I just…” Belle wasn’t sure what to think. Was this a joke? What was her mother doing here? She couldn’t be the Gym Leader…but now that Belle thought about it, Terra had won the Johto Pokémon League Tournament twice, and she thought she remembered Terra saying something about wanting to become a Gym Leader one day.

“Step into the box, Challenger,” Terra said, gesturing to the challenger’s box. “I am Terra, the Viridian City Gym Leader. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten together an all-Ground team, so you’ll have to make do with the one I have now. Referee?”

The box for this gym was taller than the one for Sabrina’s, or even Erika’s. Belle numbly climbed the ladder, feeling as though she was in a dream. This couldn’t be real. She would have to earn the Earth Badge from her mother?

A male referee stood at the side of the battlefield, the familiar-looking colored flags in each hand. “This will be a six-on-six match,” he said clearly. “Switching out is permitted for the Challenger, but only between battles for Terra.” He glanced up at Belle’s box. “Good luck,” he added. “Begin!”

“Caillech!” Terra cried, throwing a Poké Ball. A Donphan erupted from it, trumpeting loudly.

“When did you get that?” Belle asked.

“He’s the start of my new Ground team. Maybe after our battle is over, honey, you can suggest some other Ground Pokémon for me to train.” She smiled. “Oh, this is the perfect way to see how much you’ve learned.”

“Who did you send away to put this Donphan in your team?”

Terra’s smile turned sad. “Danny.” Danny was the Heracross she had named after Belle’s father for reasons unknown to Belle.

Belle bit her lip as she thought briefly through her mother’s team. Finally, she pulled Poliwhirl’s Poké Ball off her belt and threw it onto the field, yelling its name.

“Donphan versus Poliwhirl! Let the battle begin!”

“Caillech, use Earthquake!”

“Poliwhirl, use Protect!”

Caillech reared up on its hind legs and slammed itself down. Cracks erupted in the earth and the whole building shook. Poliwhirl, however, leapt into the air and formed a green protective shield around him. The quaking earth didn’t affect him. Belle felt her heart almost break as she saw the scar from the Cinnabar Gym burn on its back—while she had been able to treat the burn, the scar would never go away.

“Surf, Poliwhirl!”

Out of nowhere, Poliwhirl formed a gigantic wave, which he crashed down onto Caillech. The Donphan bellowed as it was swept up and buffeted in the rushing water. When the water died down and soaked into the earth, Caillech laid on its side, completely unconscious.

“Donphan is unable to battle! Poliwhirl wins!”

“Very nice, dear,” Terra said, returning Caillech. “But this next one will be tougher. Amaterasu! It is your turn!” An Ampharos came onto the battlefield, rearing up, the red gem on its head glowing. “Use Thunderbolt!”
And before Belle had a chance to withdraw Poliwhirl or react, Amaterasu hit Poliwhirl with a Thunderbolt so powerful that it fainted right then and there. She sighed as she returned him, but she plucked her next Poké Ball with a smile.

“Dugtrio! Let’s do this!”

“Ah, a Ground Pokémon,” Terra said with a smile. “And none of my Electric attacks can hit it.”

“Dugtrio, show her your Earthquake!”

“Trio, trio, trio!” All three of Diglett’s heads narrowed their eyes as the earth began to crack and fissure; large mounds of dirt began to jut up and clods went flying. A large spike of dirt rushed up from right beneath Amaterasu, causing the Pokémon to fly up into the air with a cry. Dirt clods hit Amaterasu’s falling body and it spiraled to the ground, where it laid as the floor shook violently around it.

“Ampharos is unable to battle! Dugtrio wins!”

“Good job, Amaterasu…Nix! Let’s see your Surf!”

A Politoed burst from its Ball and did the same thing Poliwhirl had done earlier, only much better; Dugtrio disappeared down its hole, which the water filled in. These one-hit KOs were advancing the battle quickly—a little too quickly for Belle’s taste. She hated having to return her Pokémon just as soon as her mother sent one out. Nix the Politoed had been one of her companions as a youngster; he was so fun to hug. Now she was forced to pluck Jolteon’s Poké Ball off her belt to defeat it.

“Oh, you’ve already beaten my Ground Pokémon,” Terra said with a smile as her eyes landed on Jolteon.

“Jolteon! Use Thunderbolt!”

“Now really, you’re repeating me, honey,” Terra remarked as the Electric move hit her Politoed. “Nix, are you still up? Good. Try out Seismic Toss.”

“Don’t let it grab you!” Belle cried; she knew from experience that Nix had an iron grip. Once he got his hands on a Pokémon—or anything, for that matter—it was difficult to wrench it away from him. “Dodge and use Spark!”

Jolteon flashed with electricity as it leapt aside, narrowly escaping Nix’s outstretched fingers, and then wheeled around to barrel into the froglike Water Pokémon. Two Electric attacks in a row were too much for it to handle; it fainted promptly.

Belle’s eyes flicked up to Terra as she returned Nix and reached for another Ball. She would probably use her starter Pokémon…it seemed the most logical choice…

“Tsukiyomi! I wish for you to attend this party!”

“Tsukiyomi?” Belle muttered. Tsukiyomi was her mother’s Ninetales; it came bursting out of the Ball as she thought it, whipping its tails about, black as night—its father had been a Houndoom and had passed on the coloring. “But Ninetales doesn’t really have a type advantage,” Belle called.

Terra spread her hands, almost apologetically. “I like a challenge. Tsukiyomi! Fire Blast!”

Tsukiyomi opened its mouth and flames poured out of it, forming into the familiar person shape and rushing at Jolteon. Belle almost smiled. Her mother didn’t mess around. “Jolteon! Dodge it, quick! Counter with Thunderbolt!”

“Please don’t let that bolt hit you, Tsukiyomi,” Terra said. “But, if you would, use Earthquake, please.”

“What? Earth—Jolteon! Jump, do something!” Belle cursed herself inwardly as Tsukiyomi ruined the gym floor for the third time with Earthquake. She had forgotten that her mother’s Ninetales knew that move—what was wrong with her? She was slipping, that was for sure.

Now who could she use? Belle was at a loss as she returned Jolteon. Who did she have that wasn’t fainted that had a type advantage over Tsukiyomi? She grabbed Primape’s Ball and tossed it onto the field. “We can do this!” she yelled as her Pokémon burst onto the floor, but her voice shook. Could they?

“Tsukiyomi, Flame Wheel, please.”

“Primape! Use—um—” But her mind drew a blank. Confused, Primape turned to look at her; and got caught in the back with a powerful wheel of fire. He fell flat on his face, but he stumbled to his feet. “I’m sorry, Primape! Seismic Toss!”

“Tsukiyomi, use—my, that thing is fast,” Terra remarked almost conversationally as Primape eagerly seized Tsukiyomi by the neck and slung him up into the air, yelling what Belle was quite sure were curse words and stamping his feet. Tsukiyomi slammed to the ground in front of him.

“Karate Chop!”

Belle could almost hear Primape’s protest. Karate Chop? Really? I know so much better moves now! And she knew it, but for some reason, she couldn’t think of them. He performed the move she wanted, chopping across Tsukiyomi’s stomach.

“Now that it’s close, use Fire Blast.”

Tsukiyomi once again let loose the cross-shaped fire; it covered Primape completely, coating it with burns and fainting it thoroughly. Cursing, Belle withdrew her Pokémon. Only Charmy and Bellossum left. She couldn’t use Bellossum—that would be equivalent to suicide. She tried to calm herself as she pulled Charmy’s Ball off her belt. “Charmy! Let’s go!”

“Oh, good old Charmy,” Terra said happily, clapping her hands as the Charizard appeared on the field. “Look at how you’ve grown. Derek will be thrilled.”

“Derek?” Belle hadn’t thought about that—if her mother was here, where was her little brother?

“Tsukiyomi! Earthquake!”

“Charmy, Fly!”

Charmy launched into the air, spiraling upward and hovering for a few moments, waiting for the Earthquake to finish. When the ground stopped shaking, he rushed down and buffeted Tsukiyomi with his wings. The Ninetales cried out indignantly and, without being told, bit down on Charmy’s arm. Roaring in pain, Charmy grabbed Tsukiyomi by the neck and threw him clear across the gym, directly into Belle’s tall box, so hard that it shook and she fearfully grasped at the railing.

“Good job, Tsukiyomi—now, how about a planned move? Quick Attack!”
Tsukiyomi struggled to its feet. It had gone against three Pokémon now, and it was hurt, especially by that last throw. Nevertheless, he was a black blur as he shot forward, hitting Charmy directly in his middle and knocking him over. Charmy smacked his head into Terra’s podium.

“Charmy, Dragon Claw!”

Roaring angrily, Charmy slashed across Tsukiyomi’s chest, but not before the Ninetales let out a Flamethrower, completely covering Charmy’s head and neck in melting-hot flames. The Charizard roared in pain and pushed the Ninetales away, but the thing was fainted. Terra returned the Pokémon, but Belle eyed Charmy’s several burns; he would be considerably weakened for the next battle, presumably against—

“Skarmory!”

—the very Skarmory she had ridden to Almia.

“Don’t let him use any Fire attacks on you! Use Metal Claw—aim for his neck!”

“Charmy, use—” But Belle’s mouth dropped open as she took in the ruthlessness of her mother. Skarmory opened up its talons and enclosed Charmy’s neck in their grasp, shrieking loudly. Terra ordered it to use Steel Wing, so it brought its wing down on Charmy’s face before letting him fall to the ground, fainted. “Oh…my…” The only one left was Bellossum. Just Bellossum—cute, tiny, Grass-type, weak-against-Flying Bellossum.

“Bellossum,” Belle said shakily.

Terra smiled confidently. She shifted in her box and brushed her hair off her shoulder, looking down at the battlefield. Her eyes narrowed. “Aerial Ace.”
And it was over. Bellossum—Belle’s last Pokémon—was fainted. She had lost. How many careless mistakes had she made? This was her mother—she should know her battling style. How could she be so stupid? What had made her this distracted, this absentminded, this—

“Mom!” Belle cried suddenly. She was halfway down the ladder; she dropped the rest of the way, landing painfully on her feet, but she didn’t care. Something was happening inside her; a strange feeling bubbled in her stomach and pushed up into her chest until it came bursting, exploding, from her mouth. “Mom, I’m so lost!” She sank to her knees as sobs racked her body, burying her face in her hands. “Mom, I’ve messed up. I don’t know what to do. Look at me! I’m so lost, Mom, I’m so lost!” She continued to sob uncontrollably.

Soon, Terra’s voice was in Belle’s ear, and her arms were wrapped around her. She pulled her daughter to her and stroked her hair gently, murmuring and rocking her back and forth. Belle was past shame. The pain from Lavender Tower had built inside her, strengthened by the guilt of leaving Derrick, and now it burst from her in the form of an emotional breakdown. She let her mother hold her tightly as she cried, loosing tears into Terra’s sweater.

“It’ll be okay,” Terra murmured softly. “Everything will be okay.”

How good it was to hear that. Belle cried harder; she needed this. She needed this cry, this relief, this comfort…and, above all else, her mother. It was so nice to feel the warmth of her mother’s embrace again.

Confused and awkward, the referee bobbed about nearby, the colored flags hanging limply from his hands. With a smile, Terra waved a hand. “No more battles today,” she said quietly. “Lock up the gym. Let it out, sweetie,” she added to Belle, patting her back and resting her cheek on the top of the girl’s head. “Everything will be okay.”

And right then, in that moment, Belle knew it was true.

To: dancing_through_life, thompson_alyssa
From: dingdongbelle
Subject: Sorry…
____________________________
Hey you guys,

I’ve been really withdrawn from you guys, and I just wanted to say I’m sorry. I’ll explain everything later…for now, I’ll just tell you what happened today.

I left Cinnabar Island and I’m at Viridian City, where it just so happens that my mom is the Gym Leader. She says that she became it recently, but she’s not telling me what happened until tomorrow. I’m staying with her at the Gym, because it’s also a living space, and it’s really cool. It’s so weird how you can go from a big room with a battlefield and bleachers to a house with four bedrooms (BIG ones) and a kitchen. Mom’s not finished decorating yet.

I’m not moving on for a while. I’ll stay here for a bit, and if Derrick happens to come in, then so be it. I won’t hide from him, but I won’t go looking for him either. And just so you know, he didn’t do anything wrong…it’s all me. And I’ll explain it later.

Speaking of Derrick or Derek, I get to spend a lot of time with Derek. He was really happy to see me, but he was worried about me. He’s out playing with Charmy right now.

I guess I’ll talk to you guys later. I’m REALLY sorry.

Love lots and lots and forever and ever,

Belle

P.S. Please forgive me?

nokyo-chan
March 17th, 2011, 07:41 AM
Chapter Thirty-Nine
Summer vacation was always a treasured time for Ranger School students.
There was always great excitement as they stood outside with their bags, talking and saying their good-byes until their parents came to pick them up. Usually, the sun shone down on all the students milling about the grounds, playing with the school Pokémon one last time before they returned. Graduating students had already had their ceremony by that time, but a few of them would come back for a last look before they started their duties. It was the day that began everything, a day full of promises.

But on that one day, it had been storming.

Ten-year-old Alyssa’s pigtails bobbed on either side of her head as she pulled her rolling suitcase over to the window, looking outside and trying to see past the water lashing at the glass. In all her five years at the Ranger School, she had never seen a day like this. She should have known it was a bad omen.

Warren had come to take her and her brother, Heath, home, bringing Machoke and Ambipom. Machoke heaved Alyssa onto his back and piggy-backed her all the way home, carrying her luggage and an umbrella, too; Warren and Heath ran beside Ambipom.

Diana was so happy they were home; she folded each one of them into her arms one at a time, no matter how wet they were. Warren was soaking.

It was in the middle of summer vacation that it happened. The day had just begun. Morning light filtered through Alyssa’s window, waking her up just like it did every day. She got up and stretched.

The house was quiet, so Alyssa moved stealthily, quietly pulling the drawers of her dresser open to look for clothes to wear. It was her habit to always dress as soon as she woke up, since that was what she had to do at the Ranger School. She brushed her hair and pulled it into its pigtails, only glancing at the mirror during this process. They looked a tad uneven; she adjusted one of her pigtails before slipping out of her room.

The hardwood floor of the hallway squeaked in some places, so Alyssa had to be careful not to step on them. She made her way to Heath’s room. He usually would play with her in the morning before everyone woke up.

Alyssa tiptoed to her brother’s bedroom door and knocked against it gently. Heath didn’t answer; she stood by the door for a few moments before trying the knob. The minute her fingers touched it, it opened a bit. Alyssa frowned. Why hadn’t the door been shut all the way?

“Heath?” Alyssa whispered as she slipped into the room. There was something different here. The room felt…dead. Empty. She looked around. Heath wasn’t in his bed, which was made neatly. He didn’t appear to be in the room at all. “Heath?” she said again, a bit louder.

The door to his closet was ajar; she went over to it carefully. “Don’t jump out at me and scare me,” she said. “I’ll tell Daddy!” She crept over to it and hesitated before pulling it open wildly.

Something swung out and she leapt back with a squeal; the thing settled down and she realized that it was just his Ranger School uniform, hanging on the back of the door in a clear plastic cover to keep it clean. Heart still pounding from the scare, Alyssa looked into the closet; but what she found was much scarier than Heath jumping out of it.

The usually neat closet was ransacked. Overalls, coveralls, work jeans were all thrown onto the floor. Empty hangars hung where clothes should have been, and some things were almost falling off. Alyssa took a step inside the small closet. It looked as though all Heath’s dress clothes were gone. Why?

She spun around and surveyed the room again. His desk was wiped clean of its usual paraphernalia—stickers, Poké Ball toys, stationery paper and envelopes, pens and pencils, an old, framed family portrait that had been taken when Alyssa was five, Heath eight. It was all gone. Instead, one thing laid on the desk: an envelope. It was one from Heath’s stationery set that Alyssa had gotten him for his birthday one year. He had always enjoyed that sort of thing; he didn’t care much for working in the fields, but he loved to write. His handwriting was beautiful. She approached the desk and picked up the envelope. Written on the cover were the words: To Everyone. She opened it and pulled out the folded-up piece of paper. It was that stationery, all right—a blue piece of paper with an icy-looking border, with a Poké Ball in each corner and an Empoleon at the top.

To Everyone,

I’m deeply sorry for what I’ve had to do, but I could not stay here any longer. Please excuse this. I cannot go to the Ranger School anymore; I have no desire to be a Ranger, or an Operator, or a Researcher. I have other dreams, and now I must leave to pursue them.
Please understand that this is no one’s fault. I am very sorry that it had to happen this way. I love all of you—Mother, Father, Alyssa, Ambipom, Machoke.
Love,
Heath Thompson

Tears sprang immediately to Alyssa’s eyes. Heath was gone? He ran away? He had other dreams? What were they, and why did he want to leave so suddenly?

She abandoned the envelope and hurried downstairs. The house was so quiet—would anyone even be awake? She panicked as her footsteps took her closer to the first floor, but when she rounded the corner, Warren sat in the kitchen, drinking a steaming cup of coffee in a white T-shirt and jeans. His hair was unkempt and he still looked clean. A bit of stubble was sprouting on his square jaw; the sun glistened off the hair on his arm as he brought the coffee mug to his lips.

“Daddy,” Alyssa breathed, hurrying to the kitchen. He set his cup down.

“Little daisy.”

“Daddy, Heath…” She set the piece of paper in front of him. Warren looked down at it, his eyes traveling over it as he read it silently. When he was finished, he put his hand on it and slid it away from him. Alyssa’s eyes filled with tears again. “Daddy, why would he leave? Why doesn’t he love us anymore?”

Warren looked at his small, crying daughter in silence for a few moments. He took a sip of coffee, and when he set his mug back down, he spoke in his soft, deep voice. “When I was young, there was no Ranger School here. But there was a school.”

Alyssa sniffled and looked at him.

“My father was a farmer. I wanted to be one too. I didn’t need school for that.” He closed his eyes. “I also wanted to have adventures. School wouldn’t let me. I didn’t do well. All the kids had a nickname for me…Tank.”

“Tank?” Alyssa asked. “The kids had a nickname for Heath,” she added. “It was…Heather. They said he acted like a girl. I can see how he wouldn’t want that nickname, but Tank sounds okay.”

“They called me that because I was stupid.”

“You’re not stupid, Daddy,” Alyssa said, taking a step closer. Warren nodded.

“Yes. I was. I wanted to run away. I never did.”

He took another sip of coffee and silence descended upon them. Alyssa stared at her father for a few minutes longer. “Well?” she asked finally. “Do you regret it?”

“Yes and no.”

Confused and a little hurt, Alyssa asked, “Why yes?”

“I’ve never been out of Almia. I’ve never been past Pueltown. I’ll never see anything outside this place.”

“And…why no?”

He looked at her steadily before answering. “You’re my little daisy,” he said simply. And somehow, that answer was sufficient.

Alyssa went over to Warren and sat in his lap. It had been a few years since she had last done this, and it surprised her how easy, how natural it felt to do it again. “But what about Heath?” she asked. “Will he regret leaving?”

“No,” Warren replied. “He doesn’t belong here. His little daisy is somewhere else.”

____________________________________

Alyssa yawned and sat up. Her hair fell around her shoulders and she looked around her room, virtually unchanged from six, almost seven years ago. She looked at the pillow beside hers where Ziggy slumbered peacefully, and it made her realize that she had changed a lot in six years.

Today she would have to head back to the Ranger Union HQ. She and Ian would have to capture another Staraptor, though, and the nearest Staraptor dwelling that she knew of was right outside Chicole Village.

As Alyssa pulled on her sweater, she caught sight of something green in her closet. She had forgotten…how long had it been? She crossed the room and pulled out her Ranger School uniform, hanging it on the back of her closet door. It had been so long since she had put it on. She reached out and touched the clear plastic cover, listening as it crinkled beneath her hand.

She smiled as memories flooded her mind, but soon she turned away and left her room. She couldn’t really go back to those days. Just like that day six years ago, she avoided the squeaky parts of the floor as she headed down the hall, but instead of going to her brother’s room, she went downstairs.

__________________________________________________

Ranger Union HQ was buzzing with excitement.

“What’s going on?” Ian asked two Ranger girls running by, catching one by the arm. She shook him off.

“There’s a big, important job coming up,” she replied. “Erma’s dispatching a whole team of Rangers to shut down this factory. It’s a big job, and everyone wants to know if they’re on it or not.”

Ian glanced over at Alyssa. “Is there a list anywhere?” he asked.

“Yeah, but Erma’s not letting anyone see it right now,” the other girl piped up. “The whole building’s talking. She may even be calling people over from the Fiore region.”

Suddenly, Ian’s Styler beeped loudly. “Ranger Ian, this is Rhythmi. Erma would like to see you on the third floor.”

“Be right there. Excuse me,” he said to the two girls, and they immediately swooned.

“You’re Ian Walton?” one asked. “You’re one of the most famous rookies here! The other one’s—”

Alyssa’s Styler beeped in the same manner as Ian’s. “Ranger Alyssa, this is Rhythmi.”

“Hi, Rhythmi.”

“Hi. Erma would like to see you on the third floor.”

“Be up in a sec.” Alyssa pressed the button to end the conversation; the other girl grabbed Alyssa’s arm.

“Are you Alyssa Thompson? You’re the other famous rookie!”

“Oh my—she must want you to help take down the factory! Put in a good word for me! I’m Samantha Adams, I’m really great at capturing—”

“Uh-huh, that’s great. Alyssa, let’s go!”

They rushed up to the third floor, leaving the two shrieking fangirls behind. When they arrived, a group of other Rangers were waiting; the Operators at their computers continued to do their work, and Alyssa and Ian joined the small group of Rangers.

“Great, we’re all here. You are all familiar with the factory, I trust?” Erma asked.

Everyone nodded.

“Well, you are the team of Rangers I have chosen to shut down the factory. Any objections?”

Alyssa didn’t want to go back there, but she was also extremely happy to be one of the people shutting it down. She looked at the five other Rangers besides her and Ian. They were older than her; she recognized Keith and Everett, Casey’s father. She and Ian were obviously the youngest here.

“You will begin training together immediately. Do not write Alyssa and Ian off because of their youth; they were the ones who gathered the initial information leading to this operation. Now, everyone stand up, one at a time, and introduce yourselves—first and last name, age, Partner Pokémon. Alyssa first.”

Alyssa stood and looked at the group. “Hello, everyone. My name is Alyssa Thompson. I’m sixteen, and this is Ziggy, my Partner Pokémon. He’s a Zigzagoon.” She pulled Ziggy from his place on her back.

“Like we couldn’t see that,” someone muttered. Alyssa’s eyes narrowed.

“It’s nice to meet you all,” she said before sitting down. Ian stood up next.

“Ian Walton. I’m seventeen. My Partner Pokémon is Prinplup here.” He gestured towards his Pokémon.

The next person stood—it was Keith. “Keith Regnar,” he said. “I’m twenty-four, and this is Buizel, my Partner Pokémon.”

“My name is Everett Rayman. I’m forty.” Alyssa glanced up at Casey’s father. “My Partner Pokémon is my Ariados, Piak.”

The next person was a woman. She stood up and straightened her jacket before placing a hand on her hip and looking around at everyone with something like disdain. “Karri—that’s K-A-R-R-I—Danes. I’m twenty-one. This is Siami, my Espeon.” Alyssa knew immediately that this was the person who had spoken during her introduction.

Another woman stood, but she was a lot younger-looking than Karri; she was also shorter. “Hi, I’m Jean Danes. I’m Karri’s sister! I’m eighteen, and this is my partner Exis.” She indicated a Xatu standing beside her.

The last person to stand up was a man in his forties. He looked very stern as he gazed at everyone. “My name is Nelson McFayer, and I am forty-three years old. This is my Partner Pokémon, Rhunso. He is a Yanmega.”

“Another Captain Obvious,” Karri muttered.

“Speaking while I am speaking will not be tolerated,” he said, talking over the end of Karri’s sentence. “I am heading up this operation, so I am your superior. You have been chosen because you are exceptionally good. If anyone turns on me, I will not hesitate to kill them.”

A shocked silence rang through the group. Alyssa hoped that the man might be kidding, but he showed no signs of amusement. “Mr. Rayman here was in charge of the espionage mission to gather more information about Team Galactic’s whereabouts in the factory. Please brief us, sir.” Nelson sat as Casey’s father stood.

“Thanks, Mr. McFayer. I managed to find out why Team Galactic is here in Almia, and it is very simple. When they disbanded in Sinnoh a few years ago, their leader, Cyrus, left them, and they have been searching for him ever since. The bomb threat on the Ranger School was a preemptive strike against us Rangers. Apparently, they feel that they are making a comeback, and they wanted to let us know that they meant business. They have seen signs that Cyrus is in Almia, and so they are setting up here to find him. The factory, however, has been working this way ever since they bloomed in Sinnoh, and was placed here instead of Sinnoh so as not to arouse suspicion. Not only do they make the hair dye for their own team members, but they ship it and sell it to perfectly innocent people who are unaware of Galactic’s brutal nature.

“On my mission inside the factory, I placed small cameras around each room and wired into their surveillance cameras as well. Currently, we have our own personal Operator in Pueltown who will monitor everything around us carefully.”

“And who is this Operator?” Karri snapped. “Why don’t we get to meet her?”

“Her name is Casey, and she is my daughter. We will meet her when we go to Pueltown for the preliminary stages of—”

“Oh, I see how it works. She’s family, so she gets a deal in this big operation, huh? Maybe she’ll get promoted and get to work here because of it, huh?” Karri sneered. “That’s not a way to go about things. Jean didn’t get here just by my accomplishments.”

“How do you know that you didn’t get here because of Jean’s?” Alyssa asked. Karri whipped around, gritting her teeth as her eyes met Alyssa’s. Oh, I’m not going to get along with you very well, Alyssa thought, staring unblinkingly back at the girl.

“I think that’s enough,” Mr. Rayman said calmly. “At any rate, Team Galactic is unaware that their factory is under constant surveillance, but they have upped their security considerably; this means that there must be much careful planning before any infiltration is considered. Mr. McFayer will tell you how we’ll go about that…Mr. McFayer?”

The man stood, and the Yanmega behind him stirred. His gray eyes gazed out from his wrinkled face sternly. “We will begin training together tomorrow. Meet at the training grounds at seven o’clock—in uniforms, please. We have a while before we must begin this mission, and I do not want any of our time to go to waste. Chairperson Erma, if you have anything…? No? Then you are all dismissed.”

Alyssa gathered Ziggy into her lap and stroked the fur on his head briefly. She looked down at him, and he gazed at her with worried eyes—he could tell she was nervous. “I’ll be fine,” she whispered to him.

“You hope,” said Karri’s voice from above her. Her Espeon stood daintily with all four paws on her shoulder, two tails swishing behind her.

Alyssa stood, bringing herself almost level with the woman.

“You’re too young, sweetie. Go back to your house and play with your dolls.”

“If I’m too young, then why am I here?” Alyssa retorted. “And I didn’t play with dolls. Unlike you, I had better things to do with my time when I was younger—like get straight As and become valedictorian of my class.”

Karri’s eyes narrowed. “You mark my words, little girl,” she said, her voice low. “Tomorrow, at that training ground, I’m going to do better than you at all the exercises. You know why? Because I have more experience. I’ve been doing this sort of thing since before you were born.”

“Really? At five? That’s not so special.” Alyssa placed Ziggy at his favorite place—hanging off her shoulder. “Everyone joins the Ranger School at five.” With that, she pushed past Karri and went downstairs, smiling as she heard the woman’s scoff from behind her.

To: dancing_through_life
From: thompson_alyssa
Subject: BELLE!!!!
_______________________________________________
OMG DID YOU GET BELLE’S LAST EMAIL???
Do you think that when Terra said she knew a way to fix everything she meant BECOME THE VIRIDIAN CITY GYM LEADER????? I’m SO HAPPY we have our Belle back to normal…almost!!!!

I have a new mission—I can’t wait to get started, because there’s a woman on the team with me whose name is Carrie but she spells it weird…like with a K or something. I can’t remember. Karrie? Karri? Kary? I don’t know. But

AHHHH BELLE IS BACK TO NORMAL YAY YAY YAY I can’t focus on anything else!!!!
Love from your excited friend,
Alyssa

____________________________________________

To: dingdongbelle@pokénet.com
From: [email protected]
Subject: ^_^
_________________________________________________________
So you’re okay? Please, at least tell me how the battle went…please?

And take as long as you want to explain everything. I know that things can get complicated, so tell me whenever you want. I’m just so glad you’re starting to feel okay…I was worried, and Cassandra was too.

I won’t bother you too much now, but please, PLEASE continue sending us detailed emails…we love you.
Loving you forever,
Alyssa

nokyo-chan
March 17th, 2011, 07:49 AM
Chapter Forty
“Can we go into town today?” Karen asked as Cassandra came out of the bathroom, scaring her half to death. The younger girl had been asleep when she had gone in, and now she stood directly in front of the bathroom door.

“Why?”

“Because…I want to hang out and stuff. Plus, I need some more coloring books.”

“Well, I don’t know if there’s any place to get coloring books around Fallarbor Town,” Cassandra told Karen, pushing past her to get to the dresser. “We might have to take the cable car to Lavaridge for that.”

“I just want to get out of here. I’m bored. Aren’t you, Fluffy?” Since Karen and Cassandra’s chat about Poké Balls, Cassandra kept her Pokémon out unless it was absolutely necessary for them to be in their Balls—Ellia, though, had to be kept in for most situations, since she had a tendency to set things on fire.

Fluffy chose not to answer; he glanced over at Cassandra and stretched out across the floor, yawning.

“That’s fine. Get dressed and grab your umbrella. Swablu, Finny, do you want in or out?” Cassandra picked their Poké Balls up off the dresser.

Swablu chirped from her spot on Cassandra’s headboard at the same time Finny made a noise from her bed.

“They both say out,” Karen called from the bathroom.

“I don’t even need to ask you,” Cassandra said to Fluffy.

When they were both dressed, Cassandra, Karen, and all the Pokémon walked the short way to Fallarbor Town. Swablu perched on Cassandra’s head, and Fluffy and Finny walked on either side of her. Ellia trotted ahead, tossing her head as ashes fell on it, and Tuffly carried Karen’s umbrella.

As they neared the town, the ashes stopped falling, for which Cassandra was extremely grateful. Tuffly folded up the umbrella. “Do you want to grab some breakfast first?” Cassandra asked, gesturing towards a small restaurant.

“Sure.” Karen led the way.

The restaurant may have been small, but it was packed. Cassandra sighed as they stepped in. “It might be a long wait.”

“I’m willing to wait,” Karen remarked.

A few people were sitting on small wooden benches near the entrance, obviously waiting for a table. The hostess finished writing something in a large notebook as she glanced up. “Two? The wait will be about—hey!” Her eyes jumped from Cassandra’s face, to Karen’s, to Finny standing by Cassandra’s leg. “Aren’t you Cassandra Étoile?”

Everyone on the benches looked up. “It is!” one woman exclaimed. She stood from her seat by her husband, swiftly handing him the small child she had been holding in her lap. “Cassandra Étoile! Sarah Rhodes, I’m so excited to meet you.” She closed the distance between them and seized Cassandra’s hand, pumping it. “I think you deserved to win the Contest. You haven’t given up, have you?”

“No,” Cassandra replied with a smile. “I haven’t.”

“Fantastic! You perform beautifully, like a dream!”

“You certainly do,” cried another woman, appearing beside the first. “I’m with her, you should have won that Contest—”

“Oh, really, Sakura Konohana—” Cassandra began, but there was a shout of protest from the several people who had suddenly gathered around her.

“Something wasn’t right about that Konohana girl!” one man exclaimed. “I think she bribed a judge!”

“Yeah!” several people shouted.

“You shouldn’t slander her name like that,” Cassandra said with a smile, inwardly bursting with pride. “She may have won honestly and fairly—”

“I don’t think so,” Sarah Rhodes snapped. “She drew blood from this Marshtomp here, I saw it. Isn’t there a rule against that?”

There was a chorus of assent from the crowd, and Cassandra smiled at everyone. “Well, let’s not discuss it now. I’m flattered that you all seem to like me.”

“Honey, you’re one of the best Coordinators this town’s seen. And that hair? It’s amazing. What do you do to it?”

“Oh, well…just shampoo, conditioner, and a good brushing before I go to bed,” she replied nervously.

“It has to be a special kind of shampoo,” Sarah insisted, but she smiled slyly. “You don’t want to give away your secrets, I suppose. Don’t want everyone walking around with Cassandra hair.”

Cassandra was a bit baffled by this response—she really didn’t do anything special with her hair. But Karen smiled beside her, saying, “Coordinators are like magicians—they can’t reveal all their tricks. Now, budge up, please, give her some air.” It was strange to see someone so short wave away a crowd so large.

“We should eat somewhere else,” Cassandra told Karen in an undertone. The pink-haired girl looked up at her confusedly.

“Why? Everyone here seems to like you.”

Cassandra opened her mouth to speak, but the hostess announced that the next table was ready; the person insisted that Cassandra take it, saying they would wait a bit longer, and so Cassandra and Karen sat across from each other in a booth that Tuffly could actually fit in and ordered breakfast—chocolate-chip waffles for Karen, blueberry pancakes for Cassandra.

When their food came, Cassandra found it hard to watch Karen drown her waffles in chocolate syrup without feeling as though she would develop diabetes, so she turned her attention instead to her Pokémon, making sure they had Pokémon food to their liking. Their waitress kept bowing and smiling and thanking them, and before they left, she nervously asked Cassandra for an autograph.

Cassandra had never felt so important in her life.

______________________________________________________

“Don’t do it like that,” Karen snapped severely from under her pink umbrella. Cassandra blankly looked over at the girl. She was sitting astride Ellia, attempting to ride her for the first time. The Ponyta had been wary at first, but now she seemed just fine, standing stock-still under the falling ash.

“But this is how you’re supposed to do it, isn’t it?” Cassandra asked. “How else could you ride a Ponyta or Rapidash?”

“Sidesaddle, of course,” Karen said. She placed a hand on her hip. “It will look much more elegant, and that’s what you need to think about, since you’re a Coordinator. If you come riding into the hall sitting on a Rapidash like that, everyone’s going to think cowgirl. But if you ride in sidesaddle—that makes an impression.”

“But I don’t know how to ride sidesaddle.”

“Do you know how to ride that way?”

Cassandra slipped off Ellia’s back. “Good point,” she said, as Ellia bent her knees slightly and allowed Cassandra to scoot up with both legs hanging over one side. It was a little awkward, but she shifted a bit so that her butt fell into a groove in Ellia’s back, and her legs just folded gracefully against the Ponyta’s side.

“I’m thinking white,” Karen said. “White, gauzy…bare feet, hair down. If you play with the lighting, your hair could look like fire.”

“Should I get a saddle?”

“No! It’ll look better without one. Bareback you look…natural.”

It was so strange to hear these tips from cute little Karen. This girl knew things about image. “Natural?”

“Yes. All Coordinators have a certain image—Sakura had her traditional look, Violet Tanner had the whole flower-thing going for her, Danielle Breesin had this mermaid look…it comes standard with being a Coordinator. You have to have a look. And I think you could pull of the Mother Nature look.”

Cassandra raised her eyebrows, impressed by Karen’s knowledge of famous Coordinators. She shifted on Ellia’s back. “The Contest is really soon,” she said. “I think I’ll start training now, and we can get back to this later.”

“Okay, but remember—nature. I’ll go and pick out your next outfit.”

Cassandra shook her head slightly as she watched the pink-haired girl march back toward the inn.

To: thompson_alyssa
From: dancing_through_life
Subject: XD
______________________________________________________
I’m excited too!!

Having Belle back to normal is so great…I just feel awesome now!

So it turns out that Karen also knows a lot about Coordinators and Contests, and she’s decided to refine my image to make me “Mother Nature” or something like that. Anyway,

WE HAVE BELLE BACK!!!

I’m so excited!!

And congrats on your new mission! Why are you excited about having a mission with some woman who spells her name weird?
Love you bunches,
Cassandra

P.S. Only five more days until the contest!!!

nokyo-chan
March 17th, 2011, 07:52 AM
Hi everyone! Nokyo-chan here; you know, the author of the story.

I haven't been getting any reviews or feedback, so I'm not sure if anyone's even reading this. If you are, please post something or send me a VM or PM, just to let me know you're here. I don't necessarily want a whole review (though I wouldn't complain if I got one XD), but I would like to know if someone's reading the story. If no one is, I'm going to stop updates altogether and delete the thread.

Thanks much!

BlazeGirl12
March 20th, 2011, 03:23 PM
Well, I think your story is great! It really offers insight into the personal lives of three very different teenage girls in the Pokemon world. I especially liked Belle's experience with the Kanto gym leaders. This is in fact the first fanfic on here that I have really felt that I should read all the way through. Please keep writing!! :]

nokyo-chan
March 22nd, 2011, 07:16 AM
Okay! Well, since people are actually reading this, I guess I'll continue!

Chapter Forty-One

Belle gently placed the framed picture of herself, Terra, and Daniel at the beach on the nail poking out of the wall, trying not to fall off her stepladder. Her hair was pulled back into the smallest of ponytails—it had been a while since she had had to do this. Her hair was getting longer.

“Try not to fall off your ladder,” Terra said. Belle straightened the picture and stepped down.

“It’s a stepladder,” she corrected her mother.

Terra tucked some bangs behind her ears. The rest of her hair was pulled back in a lengthy ponytail underneath an emerald green bandana. She wore a plain white T-shirt splattered with light green paint and black gym shorts, and her feet were bare, her green toenail polish flashing when it caught the light. It was strange for Belle to realize just how beautiful her mother was—the high cheekbones, the chocolate-colored eyes, the long and thin but strong fingers—and stranger still to realize that she had inherited these features. “What’s the difference, sweetie?” Terra asked, flipping her stubborn bangs out of her eyes with a toss of her head.

“Well, calling it a ladder is like…a narrow-minded cultural assumption.”

Terra smiled and shook her head before turning toward the kitchen. “You’re starting to sound like your father. He said weird stuff like that all the time.” She picked briefly at a speck of paint on her arm; Terra was in the process of painting the front room. She had managed to get the back rooms painted first, since they were smaller, so Belle was decorating them.

Belle folded up her stepladder and leaned it against the wall. “So what’s up with all the green lately?” she asked, following her mom into the kitchen and watching as she began opening cabinet doors.

“I’m trying to get into the Mother Earth theme,” Terra replied, shaking the bangs out of her eyes again. She pulled down a can of vegetables. “After all, I’m now the leader of a Ground-type Gym.”

“So you’re gonna stay here?”

“Certainly. Can you grab a pot for me, please, Belle? And a frying pan? Just stick them on the stove. Why wouldn’t I?” Terra crossed to the stove, vegetables in one hand and a can opener in the other. “Turn the burners on.”

Belle readied the stove before watching her mother opening the can. “I don’t know. Just…from what you told me, it sounds like you only came because you were worried about me.”

“That was my initial reason,” Terra admitted, dumping the vegetables into the pot and moving the pot onto the burner. “But I like being a Gym Leader. I battled two Trainers before you, actually. A boy and a girl—they came together. They were friends. Sweet, really,” she added, moving past Belle to the cabinets again. “Reminded me of me and your dad, before he did that disappearing act in the middle of our journey.”

“Disappearing act?” Belle said, bewildered.

“Mom?” Derek had come into the kitchen. “Mom, are you making dinner?”

“Yes I am,” Terra replied. “Why? You hungry?”

“Yeah…”

Somehow, Belle didn’t want to inquire about her father’s “disappearing act” with Derek around. She turned to him and grinned. “Hey, buddy! Where’s Charmy?”

Derek returned her grin with enthusiasm. “In the gym! We’re playing—we all are. Oh—how did Poliwhirl get that scar on its back?”

Belle sighed. “In a Gym Leader fight. I was really dumb about that,” she remarked.

“Ooh, tell me!” Derek cried, grabbing her hand. “Mom, is it okay if Belle takes a break?”

“Sure,” Terra replied, now emptying rice into a bowl.

________________________________________________

That night, Belle kissed her mother’s forehead at around eleven o’clock, telling her good-night. “Is it that late?” Terra asked. She had lines of tape all around the room; she was going to paint horizontal stripes of different shades of green up the walls, and then sponge the colors together so that it looked like it was fading. Her fingers were covered in paint of varying shades of green, so she tried to brush her bangs out of her eyes with her wrist, which left a small streak of medium green on her forehead.

Belle laughed. “So showering doesn’t get that stuff off?”

“No, it’s oil-based paint,” Terra sighed, putting the roller down. “Did you check on Derrick?”

“Yeah. He’s sleeping with Poliwhirl,” Belle replied. “He really likes my Pokémon.”

“I knew he would,” Terra replied. “He’s gotten bored of all mine. I think he likes Water Pokémon…he used to play with Nix a lot.”

“Funny, because Charizard is his favorite Pokémon.”

“Do you remember the day you left?” Terra asked suddenly, looking up from her place on the floor, where she had been crouching and trying to paint dark green.

“Yes…”

“And he gave you his Charizard toy?”

Belle smiled and reached into her pocket, pulling out the toy in question. “Yes. It’s what helped me make the decision.”

Terra smiled. When Belle went to put it back into her pocket, Terra reached out and caught her wrist. “Sweetie,” she said, and Belle looked down. “You do know that…whenever you want to tell me…what happened…I’ll stop what I’m doing and listen.”

Belle felt like a small child again; eight years old, standing up, her mother kneeling and holding her hand, looking her seriously in the eye. You can talk to me, she had said then. I’ll stop what I’m doing and listen. Of course, then, it had been about her father.

Now, Belle dropped her gaze. “I know,” she said, and she was overwhelmed with de já vu; it was just like all those years ago.

Terra’s hand fell from Belle’s wrist to settle on her own knee. Worry appeared on her face in countless small ways that Belle had learned to recognize over the years—the tightening of the corners of her lips, the softening of the eyes, the slight twitch between the eyebrows as she fought to keep her expression neutral.

“Good night, Mom.” Belle smiled gently and left her mother to her complicated living room walls. She put on her pajamas and slipped gently into the sweet-smelling sheets of her old bed.

The door opened and Charmy came through, bending his long neck to duck under the doorway. He rumbled in his throat as he shut the door behind him.

“Come in,” Belle said quietly. “How’s Derek? Is he sleeping?” She sat up in bed as her Charizard came closer; she could see his tail flame shining brightly.

Charmy rumbled again and stopped beside her bed.

“You can climb in if you want,” Belle said, patting the bed beside her. “It’s…well…small, though. It’s been a while since I slept in this bed,” she added. “Mom brought it from our house in Cherrygrove. You’ve never seen Cherrygrove…but you will. When I visit…home…” She looked down. The shadows on her blankets lengthened as Charmy came closer, bending his neck to plant a dragonish kiss on the top of her head. She looked up at him and smiled. “I’m a big mess, huh, Charmy?”

Growling pleasantly, he folded his wings up as small as they could go and clambered into the bed, stretching out on his stomach and adjusting his tail so that he wouldn’t catch the sheets on fire. Belle laid down too.

“Poliwhirl still with D-D-Derek?” she yawned, pulling the covers up to her chin and closing her eyes. Charmy growled in assurance. “How about Bellosum and Primape? Them too? Dugtrio? Jolteon?”

Belle nodded at Charmy’s answering growls and turned on her side, away from him. Whenever you want to tell me…what happened…I’ll stop what I’m doing and listen. Her mother’s voice rang through her head. She still kept that story inside, but if she could tell anyone without it being a major burden, it was her mother. Maybe she’d tell her…tomorrow…

Belle vaguely realized that she hadn’t taken out her ponytail before she dropped off to sleep.

To: dancing_through_life
From:dingdongbelle
Subject: You!
_________________________________________________________
Mom told me all about how you wrote to her, and now she’s the Viridian City Gym Leader. You rascal, you!!

Well, I’m not doing much, just helping Mom decorate the house. It’s looking nice. Mom’s trying to decorate it with “earth tones”, so it’s mostly green, but Derek’s room is red and orange, and mine is blue. Derek really likes Poliwhirl, and Poliwhirl likes him right back. I bet it’s going to be hard for them when I move on.

Poliwhirl’s got a huge scar on his back from the Cinnabar Island Gym, and it’s all my fault. The scar just won’t go away. It doesn’t hurt him anymore, but it looks terrible—like this big dark blue and black gash going right down his back. It kind of reminds me of the scar I got from the stitches when Derrick ran out of the Viridian Forest and scared me.

The Viridian Forest…it’s just ahead. It’s strange to be back here, the first city I came to after getting my first Pokémon. I like to visit Nurse Joy—she’s usually really busy, though. There are a lot of newer Trainers coming through, and it’s weird that they’re just my age. They seem so much younger. Nurse Joy says that usually, kids are at least seventeen when they finish their journey. I guess I just sped through it.

Speaking of, isn’t Alyssa turning seventeen soon? I wish we could be with her for her birthday, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. =/ She’s really moving up in the Ranger world.

Well, I’ll wrap this up.

Love you lots!
Belle

nokyo-chan
March 31st, 2011, 07:10 AM
Chapter Forty-Two
Training for the mission was taking up lots of Alyssa’s time.

Before, she had at least gotten days off; now, it seemed she was out with her team every single day. They ran obstacle courses and did all sorts of exercises. They even played games like soccer and basketball, which Alyssa supposed were supposed to help their teamwork. Mr. McFayer was an excellent basketball player, much to Alyssa’s surprise, and he was always barking orders at everyone, no matter whose team he was on. The orders mostly consisted of things like “Karri, let someone else have the ball!” or “Other people can make baskets, too, Karri!”

As much as Alyssa hated to admit it, Karri was a force to be reckoned with. She made some of the fastest times through the obstacle courses, she was a star player no matter what team she was on, she moved gracefully yet fiercely…but Alyssa was right there with her. She hadn’t ever played much basketball, but she was pretty good at soccer; and obstacle courses were a piece of cake. Being a Ranger meant you had to be athletic, and Alyssa was.

Alyssa showed up that morning with Ziggy hanging off her back as usual and Ian at her side. Mr. McFayer and Mr. Rayman were already there, and Keith stood talking to them with a basketball under his arm.

“Basketball again today,” Alyssa noted easily to Ian. He nodded.

“Wonder which team I’ll be on?”

“Wonder if I’ll even be playing for the first few games?” Mr. McFayer liked to switch up the teams. Someone always had to sit out, of course, since their number was uneven; they had to referee.

“I hope you aren’t,” Karri said, bumping Alyssa’s shoulder as she passed by. Her long, light blue hair hung free around her shoulders, and Siami sat on her shoulder, eyes glittering at Alyssa. “It’s always so much more fun when you’re not involved.”

“Because then it’s easier for you to win,” Alyssa retorted. “I’m always your biggest competition.”

Karri’s lip twisted into a snarl; this was the look Alyssa most associated with a sharp remark, but just then, Jean came bouncing into the gym. “Ooh, basketball!” she chirped happily. “Maybe we’ll be on the same team, Alyssa!”

Alyssa laughed. “Maybe.” She liked Jean; she was much nicer than her sister, and she seemed almost comically in tune with Exis’s feelings. It was often that she looked over at Exis with a frown, asking it some strange obscure question like “But orange and purple are sunset colors, Exis, why do you keep wanting silver?”

“Now that we’re all here,” Mr. McFayer said, “I’d like to divide us up into teams. Three-on-three as usual. I’ll be sitting out. We’ll be doing boys against girls.”

“Yes!” Jean cried happily. She grabbed Alyssa’s hand. “Let’s go! Be nice, Karri,” she added in a somewhat dark undertone.

Alyssa glanced over at Karri as Ziggy slid off her back to sit on the sidelines; this was a people-only game. Karri was glaring right back. They had never been on the same team before; Mr. McFayer had always put them on opposing teams and watched them roar against each other. Now, however, they would have to work together.

Karri’s top lip curled.

Alyssa tightened her ponytail and shrugged out of her jacket as she made her way to the center of the court. Mr. McFayer made them do all their exercises in their Ranger uniforms, which mean that Alyssa’s had to be cleaned every day due to all the sweating. She tossed the jacket on a chair on the sidelines.

Karri shoved past her. “I’ll do it,” she said, confusing Alyssa. She stepped up to the center, across from Ian, who had also left his jacket on a chair.

“Karri always likes to do this part,” Jean told Alyssa. She then frowned and glanced over at Exis. “No, Exis, pi is an irrational number that goes on to infinity,” she called to him.

Alyssa chose not to ask.

Mr. McFayer stepped between Karri and Ian, the basketball sitting on his open palm. “Play a clean game,” he said, and then threw the ball into the air.

Karri leapt expertly and scooped the ball into her arms; she then ran across the court, dribbling fiercely. Ian was right along beside her, and Mr. Rayman popped up in front of her. Keith ran up to meet her near the basket.

Alyssa’s feet had started moving the moment Karri’s had; she ran the length of the court, eyes on the ball. Karri stopped as Mr. Rayman blocked her, and she looked around. Alyssa waved her arm—she was open—but Jean was the one who deftly caught the ball.

Keith was on Jean in a flash, but she dodged him and sent the ball soaring into the basket. It clanged against the backboard before falling through the net; Ian grabbed it and was dribbling up the court before they could do much celebrating.

Alyssa was the closest to Ian, so she attached herself to him. She made a swipe at the ball, but he spun out of her reach; she followed. And then, suddenly, Karri was at his other side, scooping for the ball; Ian stopped and threw it off to Keith.

Immediately, Karri was in Keith’s face. Not to be outdone, Alyssa was there too, making him stop. He threw the ball to an open Ian, who scored.

Jean grabbed the ball, but Mr. Rayman stole it halfway up the court. Once again, Alyssa and Karri ambushed him; he threw it off to Keith, who scored. Again, Jean got the ball; again, it was stolen; again, Alyssa and Karri ambushed the ball-holder; and again, he threw it to an open player, who caught it and scored a basket.

“Stay out of my way!” Karri yelled at Alyssa.

“Stay out of my way!” Alyssa yelled back. “You’re making us lose!”

“Me? You’re the one who—”

“Stop it!” Jean yelled, grabbing Karri by the shoulder and snatching her away from Alyssa. “If both of you don’t get a grip, we’ll lose!”

“It’s her fault!” Karri snarled, pushing a finger in Alyssa’s face. Alyssa knocked it away, and Karri’s eyes bulged; she leapt toward her, fists clenched, and Alyssa tensed, ready for a fight.

“Time out!” thundered Mr. McFayer, striding across the court. He grabbed Karri’s upper arm and snatched her away from Alyssa. “Both of you sit out,” he yelled. “Go! We’ll start a new game. Ian, be referee—Jean, you’ll be on my team. Everett and Keith, team up.”

The game started up, and Alyssa sat on the chair with her jacket, fuming. Ziggy attempted to lighten her spirits, but she couldn't tear her eyes away from the game that she wasn’t allowed to play.

“I can’t believe you got me kicked out of the game,” Karri snapped from her seat.

“It’s your fault we’re not playing,” Alyssa retorted. “You attacked me.”

“You pushed my hand.”

“You put your finger in my face. That’s rude.”

“Foul!” Ian called as Jean bumped into Keith. “Mr. Rayman and Keith get a free throw.”

“Good call,” Alyssa said, nodding.

“Are you kidding?” Karri snapped, much more loudly. “That was a terrible call—Keith ran into Jean.”

“It may not have been quite on purpose, but Jean hit Keith.”

“Anyone with a brain could have seen that it was Keith’s fault!”

The rage Alyssa had been attempting to suppress bubbled up to the surface. “You’re the one without a brain.”

And then Karri was in front of Alyssa, her face inches away. “You wanna say that again?”

Alyssa stood, slamming her hand into Karri’s shoulder to make her back off; Karri stumbled back in surprise, and then, with a yell, she leapt forward, bringing her fist towards Alyssa’s face. Alyssa ducked and grabbed the girl around her waist, picking her up and throwing her into the chairs. Karri recovered quickly and came at her again, this time landing a hit to Alyssa’s stomach; Alyssa’s breath came out in a woosh. She cocked her arm back and slammed her fist into Karri’s jaw.

With a yell, Alyssa went to hurl herself at Karri again, but something peculiar happened; she was lifted off her feet, hovering helplessly in midair. The same appeared to have happened to Karri. They were both surrounded with a strange, pinkish-white light.

“Thank you, Exis,” said a satisfied-sounding Jean. She stood there with Keith, Ian, Mr. Rayman, and Mr. McFayer, who looked livid. His arms were folded firmly across his chest, and Rhunso hovered threateningly near him.

“We are on a team,” Mr. McFayer said, his voice coming out calm and precise despite the anger on his features. Somehow, this was scarier than if he yelled. “If you two cannot get past your own differences, you will compromise the mission and possibly destroy the entire team. If you cannot act civilly and work together, I will kick you off.”

Karri glared at Alyssa. “You hear that?” she snapped. “If you can’t be polite, he’ll get rid of you.”

“You are as much at fault as Miss Thompson,” Mr. McFayer told her. “Your smug attitude is dragging down the efficiency of the team as a whole, so you are one to talk of politeness. Perhaps I should rephrase my earlier threat—if you cannot work together, both of you will be off the team. Dismissed for today,” he added. “Think about it,” he told Alyssa and Karri; Exis let them drift back to the floor. Alyssa’s fists clenched and she turned away, heading for the door.

Ian was at her side in a moment. “Don’t let her get to you,” he said, lifting Ziggy to place him on Alyssa’s shoulder. He had her jacket over one arm. “Hey. Hey,” he said insistently, grabbing her upper arm. She stopped and looked at him. “Once this mission’s over, you won’t have to deal with her anymore. You’ll have to deal with all sorts of people when you’re a Ranger, okay? Just ignore her.”

Alyssa sighed. “That’s easier said than done,” she replied. “Thanks for getting my jacket.” She took it from him and walked away, towards her apartment.

______________________________________________________

To: dancing_through_life
From: thompson_alyssa
Subject: hate.
______________________________________________________________
I am so angry. I hate hate HATE Karri Danes with every fiber of my being.

Sorry I can’t write more…I’m too full of HATE.

Love (and HATE),

Alyssa

nokyo-chan
March 31st, 2011, 07:23 AM
Chapter Forty-Three
The day of the next Fallarbor Town Contest was upon Cassandra so fast she wasn’t sure how it had gotten there. She put on the dress Karen had picked out for her (a long, light-blue one that slowly turned to pale orange near the bottom—“Long dresses help the Mother Nature look. And no shoes!” Karen had said), pinned her hair up in a bun, and walked into the contest hall with Karen in tow. Cassandra had wanted Swablu to evolve to Altaria before this contest, but it hadn’t happened; she was disappointed, but she had to focus on Finny, with whom she was competing.

Everything went by in a blur—Cassandra’s first battle was against a Nidorina, but Finny quickly won with Mud Bomb and Mud Shot. The poor girl that Cassandra battled next had a Quilava, which would be weak against whichever move Finny threw out. She seemed to resign herself to her fate before Finny hit her Pokémon with Surf.

The next Pokémon was a Pidgeotto, which was a little trickier—none of the Ground-type moves would hit it, so Cassandra had to rely on far-reaching moves like Surf and Aqua Jet to take it down. She was happy to find that wet feathers didn’t fly very well, and her final move was Take Down.

After the third battle, Cassandra went back into the Coordinator’s room to ready herself. A lot of other coordinators were congratulating her; many proclaimed themselves “fans”, which made Cassandra happier than words could express. It was Karen she looked to, however, for support—the girl came tramping to meet her.

“Don’t get ahead of yourself in this next battle,” Karen told Cassandra. “Just keep a steady head, and I’m sure you’ll win.”

“Where’s Tuffly?”

“Keeping our seats. Now go out there and break a leg.”

___________________________________________________________

Cassandra stepped up to the platform, smiling happily, to participate in her final battle. If she won this, she would have to be in Slateport City next week for the Hyper Rank Contest; and then, the next week, Lilycove City for the Master Rank Contest. She hadn’t realized until just now how little time she had.

The girl across the court from her was tall, much taller than Cassandra; she had long, thick black hair held back in a braid, and she wore flowing red pants and a small, sleeveless top. A red veil covered the bottom half of her face, but her dark brown eyes burned and smoked from above it, seeming to pierce Cassandra from across the court. Cassandra narrowed her eyes, attempting to do the same; she let her determination fill her expression. A flicker went across the woman’s eyes.

“And now, the final battle!” the MC boomed from the speakers. “We have here Cassandra Étoile, a repeat challenger from Verdanturf Town!”

Cassandra smiled and waved at the crowd; she distinctly heard Karen’s voice, yelling louder than most of the people. She was surprised and happy to see that some people held cardboard signs aloft; they said things like Cassandra is the best! and Kill ’em with honey-colored hair!

“And battling her is Jasmine Asir of Haruba Desert, all the way from Almia!”

Jasmine appeared to smile with her eyes as she looked around at the cheering crowd. Almia, Cassandra thought, picturing Alyssa along with a faceless tormentor named Karri.

“This battle will determine who wins the Super Rank Contest and goes on to battle in Slateport City! And without further ado…begin!”

“Go, Finny!” Cassandra threw her Poké Ball; Finny leapt out with a cry, turned a small front-flip, and squirted water into the air as he landed, seeming to twirl in a sprinkle of rain.

“And Miss Étoile has gotten off to a good start; look at that points-bar rise!”

Jasmine raised her bare arms above her head and closed her eyes; after a few moments, she brought her right arm around and yelled out, “Medicham!”

A Pokémon shorter than its owner burst from the Poké Ball, doing what seemed to be a roundhouse kick in midair before raising both its arms and drifting, slowly, to the ground.

Cassandra glanced up as the MC yelled something about “fantastic” and saw Jasmine’s yellow bar push to rest just below hers. And then she was in full battle mode; she shifted forward.

“Meditate,” Jasmine said, and, as one, she and her Medicham raised their arms above their heads, pressed their palms together, and lowered their hands to chest-height, closing their eyes. “Mind Reader.”

And then both of them stood stock still. Cassandra assessed the situation—this was an opening; a big, bright, shiny opening, ready-made and just waiting for her to take advantage.

“Finny, Take Down!”

Finny leapt forward gracefully, dashing up to Medicham, closing the distance quickly—

“High Jump Kick.”

Cassandra wasn’t sure how it happened; suddenly, Finny was lying on its side several feet away, and Medicham was standing a foot in front of where it had been, arms by its side, feet shoulder-width apart, and staring at Finny as he got to his feet.

Crap, Cassandra thought. Finny glanced over at her, awaiting orders. She wasn’t sure. Was it better to get close, attack it at point-blank range? Did its weakness lie close to it?

“Force Palm,” Jasmine said in a soft voice. Medicham sprang toward Finny and put its open hand on Finny’s head; and then Finny was flying backwards.

We need ranged attacks, Cassandra decided immediately as her points-bar crept downward. Luckily, Finny turned a backflip and landed upright, taking no damage from the fall. “Finny, use Mud Bomb!”

Finny found the place it had initially landed from its Poké Ball entrance; the ground was soft and muddy here, thanks to the rain it had created; he slapped his front fins against it and squirted water at the mud that flew up, creating a sort of bomb that soared across the court and slammed into Medicham’s face.

“Cham!” The thing fell backwards, hitting the ground.

“Get up!” Jasmine called as her points-bar fell. “High Jump Kick!”

Medicham attempted to clear the mud from its eyes before jumping up and soaring towards Finny; Finny ducked, and Medicham crashed into the ground.

“Medicham kept going and crashed!” the MC yelled excitedly.

“Aqua Jet!” Cassandra yelled.

“Vacuum Wave!”

Medicham turned and spread its arms; a strange rush of air hit Finny, and he tumbled backwards. The point-bar edged downward.

For some reason, this really made Finny angry. He got up on all fours and bellowed; and then he began to glow.

“What?” the MC cried. “What’s going on? Oh—the Marshtomp is evolving!”

Cassandra grinned hugely as Finny’s shape changed; he grew larger, more hulking, and the fin on his head broadened. He stood up on his hind legs as the light faded away, revealing a dark-blue, intimidating Swampert that towered over Medicham.

Finny bellowed and let loose a huge stream of water that mingled with the mud in the ground; he slammed his fins down, and the mix rose and covered Medicham completely.

Medicham fell back in the tidal wave of Muddy Water. Jasmine’s points-bar pushed dangerously low, and she seemed to be desperate. “Medicham, use Drain Punch!”

Medicham’s fist began to glow, and he moved quickly, but his move missed Finny by inches. Instead, he tripped over a small mound of mud and landed with a splat on his face.

Jasmine’s points-bar was now nonexistent. Cassandra felt a little bad for her—tripping face-first into mud was about the least graceful thing anyone could do.

“Miss Asir’s points are down to zero! Cassandra Étoile wins the Fallarbor Town Super Rank Contest!”

“Yes!” Cassandra yelled, punching the air. She hadn’t even had to let her hair out of its bun—Finny’s skill (or perhaps Medicham’s lack of grace) had won it for her.

_____________________________________________________________

To: dingdongbelle, thompson_alyssa
From: dancing_through_life
Subject: I WON!!!
___________________________________________________________
You guys, I WON MY CONTEST I WON MY CONTEST I WON MY CONTEST YAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYY!!!!

Sorry I can’t write more, but I’ve got to hurry and pack up…the Slateport City contest is NEXT WEEK (o.0), and I need to get there soon enough to start my training!

Love,

Cassandra XD

nokyo-chan
April 7th, 2011, 07:59 AM
Chapter Forty-Four

Belle waited until after Derek had gone to bed to ask her mother. She passed by the newly-finished living room and the work-in-progress kitchen, heading down the small hallway that led to the master bedroom.

Belle could see a dull light flickering from the crack beneath the door. She hesitated for just a moment, hypnotized by the light, before raising her fist and softly hitting the door with her knuckles. There was only a moment’s pause before a calm, smooth voice spoke.

“Enter.”

Belle knew that voice. Before she even pushed open the door, she knew her mother was meditating—and she was right. Terra’s bedroom was large, and so she had made an open space sizeable enough for her to meditate. She knelt in the center of a large, round mat, and candles sat in small trays around the circumference. Terra usually wore a kimono when she meditated, and tonight was no different—made of pure silk and brilliantly patterned with green, blue, and pink, it cascaded around her, making it impossible to make out the shape of her legs. Her long black hair was smooth and shiny, held back from her face with two combs that had delicate pink flower ornaments on them. As Belle walked in, she opened her eyes and smiled serenely.

“My daughter,” she said, raising her arms to greet her. “Come. Sit. You have come to ask me a question.”

Being from Ecruteak City, Terra was highly spiritual. Meditating often took her to what she described as a “higher plane of being”, making her sound like a wise elder of a village. Belle was used to her mother having different modes—Normal Mom and Meditating Mom.

“I have prepared tea,” Terra continued as Belle shut the door behind her. She picked up a teapot that had been sitting beside her and poured steaming tea into a small cup, which she carefully handed to Belle as she knelt on a small, square pillow. “I can see from your eyes that we have much to discuss.”

Belle nodded, taking a sip of the hot tea. “I need to ask you about something you said a few days ago.”

Terra gazed at Belle over the rim of her own cup of tea.

“Something you said…about Dad.”

Her gaze didn’t waver.

“About…a disappearing act.”

Silence. Terra appeared frozen in time; Belle would have thought her a statue if her eyes didn’t glimmer so perceptively above the cup.

“What did you mean? What disappearing act did Dad pull?”

Terra lowered the cup and set it on her tea tray. She lowered her hands to rest daintily on her lap, only her fingertips visible beyond the smooth silk of her kimono’s sleeves. Belle felt a jolt in her stomach. Terra was an amazing storyteller, especially in her meditative state.

Terra didn’t move for a few moments. Her head was bowed, her eyes were closed; she didn’t even appear to be breathing. The candles flickered; light danced across the room, warping Belle’s sense of reality as they caused Terra’s features to shift.

And then Terra’s eyes opened and locked onto Belle’s, and the story began.

__________________________________________________________________________

We met, as you know, in Violet City, both of us on our way to Ecruteak—for me, it was a triumphant return, a chance to show my glory before moving on. And for him, it was another gym battle.

Of course, there were a few complications…we both discovered that we might not be ready to take on a Ghost-type Gym, and so we changed our minds. Instead of going straight to Ecruteak, we headed to Azalea Town to take on the Gym Leader there. Ultimately, we decided, we would end up in Ecruteak City, would we not? And Ecruteak was not even a final destination; it was simply a stepping-stone. I think that we knew of our attraction for each other, and thus decided to prolong our journey together before we had to introduce him to my family…or perhaps it was coincidence. I have no way of knowing.

So we journeyed…we laughed at our foolishness for wanting to take on the Ecruteak City Gym. After all, both of us had just started out in the Johto Region. We prided ourselves after that for not making foolhardy mistakes that would have crippled other, lesser trainers. We went through Azalea Town, and then Goldenrod City, where we stayed for quite some time. We even participated in a few Bug-Catching Contests in National Park…and then, we could delay no longer. We went to Ecruteak City.

It was nighttime when we arrived…one of my favorite times in the city. There is something so very spiritual about gazing at the form of Bell Tower in the dark. By then, there was no uncertainty about our feelings for each other; though not quite spoken aloud, we knew we were beyond the normal realm of friends. I invited him to stay the night in my home. Like a gentleman, he declined, though my mother and father had no trepidations.

We stayed for a few days…I showed him around the city, the place where I grew up. I showed him all that had been important to me as a child. I introduced him to the Gym Leader even before he battled him. I watched them have quite an engaging conversation…one of ghosts, souls, and death. For me, it was a normal subject—the question of the soul’s passage through birth, life, and death is one often asked in Ecruteak.

The night Daniel defeated the Gym Leader, I went to see him at the PokéCenter. He seemed withdrawn. I apologized to him—I had been unable to attend his battle, as he had picked the day I was to spend meditating with my family. He assured me everything was all right.

“It wasn’t a big deal,” he said, shifting a bit in his seat. “Just another gym battle, y’know?”

“How did you do against the ghosts?” I asked him, leaning forward. I was always eager to hear him talk—he was an amazing storyteller. I suppose he and I had that in common.

He shrugged. “Just another gym battle.”

I frowned. This wasn’t like him; he loved to share all the details of his exploits with me, even if I had been there in the first place. I wasn’t sure how to react. “Are you feeling okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Why?” He turned away, then, picking up the Poké Ball that I knew held Venosaur—it had a special sticker on it. It was a gold star, and it was smooth and shiny, not crinkled and faded as I am sure you remember it…by the time you were born, it was hardly recognizable. He smoothed it over with his fingers.

“You seem…distant. And you usually fiddle with Venosaur’s Poké Ball when you’re upset.”

At this, he put the Ball down and smiled at me, placing a hand on my shoulder. “I’m just tired, Terra. I need some sleep. I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow, when we set off for Olivine.”

I smiled back. “Okay. I’ll come and meet you tomorrow morning.”

We shared a brief hug, and I went home. Before I went to bed, I meditated, and I observed a troubling vision—I saw Daniel’s back, walking down a path with grass and trees on either side of him. Everything else was misty and white. I called out to him, but he paid me no heed. As I watched, he opened a wooden door and entered, shutting the door behind him. I called out to him again. I ran to the door…but it had disappeared.

Uneasy, I spoke of it to my mother. She seemed concerned and advised me to go to the PokéCenter earlier than I had originally planned.

“How early?” I asked.

“Even before the sun rises,” she answered; and so I did. Though it was still dark, I packed up my things and went to the PokéCenter.

Daniel was not there.

Nurse Joy was not at the counter, and only one or two other trainers slumbered nearby. I left the Center and the town, hoping to catch him on his way to Olivine.

Fog rolled in within seconds; I sent out Amaterasu, who then was only a Flaaffy, to provide me with light as I went. As I ran, I noticed trees on either side of the path and knew that this was the path from my vision—Route 38, the way to Olivine City.

Daniel loomed out of the fog soon; I saw his retreating back. “Daniel!” I called, speeding up, but he did not hear; he turned and knocked on a door, which opened. He talked to someone for a moment before entering.

I was unable to catch him before he went through the door. The fog then became too thick for me to continue; even Amaterasu’s light was not strong enough to penetrate it. I made my way to some trees to wait out the fog…when it thinned enough for travel, I realized that I was not alone. A Heracross stood not five feet away, watching me intently. Unnerved, I stood and made my way along the path.

Moomoo Farm had been where Daniel had stopped off. I made my way there and knocked insistently upon the door—a sleepy-looking woman answered, and I inquired about Daniel. She told me that he had left almost as soon as he had arrived, that he had only stopped to buy Moomoo Milk. Irritated that I had woken her, she told me that I needed to either buy some milk myself or go. I apologized and turned to leave.

“Hey—is that your Heracross?” she demanded, stopping me. I looked over to see the Heracross from before sitting on the fence of the Miltank pasture, watching me.

“No, ma’am,” I replied.

“He’s been hanging around here, bothering the Miltank,” she told me. “You’d be doin’ me a huge favor if you caught him.”

The funny look on its face and the way it sat so brazenly on the fence, as though daring the woman to do something about it, reminded me painfully of Daniel. So, to make up for the fact that I had woken this poor woman up, I engaged it in a battle; it had obviously learned a few maneuvers on its own in the wild. It evaded many of Amaterasu’s attacks quite effectively. Throughout our battle, he seemed to be laughing and enjoying himself. In the end, he ceased battling on his own and seemed to ask me to throw a Poké Ball at him…I caught him. I named him Danny.

A month later, I caught up to Daniel in Cianwood City, training with Chuck, the Gym Leader. I was entering the gym to engage Chuck in battle; Daniel had been there for a few weeks. He admitted to getting lost among the Whirl Islands for quite some time. When I entered, he froze and stared at me. I stared back, and all at the same time I was delighted and frightened to see him. I was sure I did not look quite as he remembered…I had been training much more thoroughly, and so I had a bit of muscle now. My skin was tanned, my hair was longer, and I had discovered my love for bandanas, so I was wearing one then. Most of my Pokémon had reached their final evolutions, and I am sure he would have been surprised to see any of them—but it was Danny I had with me that day. I wasn’t going to use him in the battle against Chuck, of course…no, it was Skarmory I had been planning for that. Daniel was surprised to see the new addition to my team.

“This the girl?” Chuck asked, breaking the silence between us. He grunted appreciatively. “She seems like the type to understand, eh, Sam?”

Sam. Daniel’s middle name was Samson, and he hated that name. Why would he go by it now?

Daniel simply nodded meekly. He stared at me as though he couldn’t believe his eyes. It seemed to me as though the rest of the world melted away…I could see only him.

“Why did you leave me?” The words were out before I knew what I was saying. I felt myself trembling and I knew tears would come soon. I tried to prolong these tears’ arrival; I wished to speak coherently.

“I…discovered some things. Some things I couldn’t share with you, some things you wouldn’t understand.”

His voice…it sounded the same. I remember being shocked at the discovery. “What things would I not understand?”

“I talked to the Gym Leader for a long time after the battle,” he said. “I found out many things about life and death…Pokémon…I didn’t want to share that burden with you. I didn’t want to tell you the story I had heard, the story of the Gym Leader’s first Pokémon…dying…to think of Pokémon dying is horrible enough without forcing the knowledge on others…”

“That is ridiculous.” My voice was sharp now. “I grew up in Ecruteak City. We are deeply connected to Pokémon, to their lives, their souls. The city is full of spiritual understanding. Did you think I had not heard the story of the Gym Leader’s first Pokémon dying? He tells that story almost every year at the festival. Of course I know that Pokémon die, Daniel, did you think I was that naïve? You’ve just told me that you left me for nothing. And why didn’t you come to me? Why didn’t you tell me about your pain?”

“I didn’t want to burden you!”

“It’s not a burden, you idiot, not when you love someone! God, are you so dumb that—”

“What?” he interrupted, taking a step forward. “What did you say?”

“I said—” I froze as what I said dawned on me. Inadvertently, I had just admitted my love to him. “Nothing.”

“You said you loved me.”

“No—”

“Terra.” He took a step forward, extending his hand toward me. “I didn’t realize…I didn’t know that…you felt…that way.”

“I—I just—” I felt stupid for having told him that I loved him. I didn’t want him to know that, all this time, I had been pining away for him, thinking of him every waking second and dreaming of him when I slept.

“Terra…I love you, too.” He smiled a bit sheepishly. “That’s why I…I didn’t want to burden you. I…I’m sorry for leaving. I thought I had to.”

“Well…from now on,” I blustered angrily, “share your burden, okay?” I softened a bit. “My mother always says that a large pot of water is too much for one person to carry, but when two lift together, it becomes lighter for both.”

He smiled as he took a step toward me, reaching out. “I’m so sorry. I’ll remember that.”

__________________________________________________________________________

“And so we kissed,” Terra said calmly, a smile spreading across her face. “It was our first. And as his lips touched mine, I felt whole again…”

Belle didn’t say anything. Her cup was empty and cold in her hands. She stared at the bottom, the candlelight flickering around her. “But he didn’t really disappear,” she said finally. “You knew he was leaving.”

“But it was still quite a shock,” Terra replied. “And he did disappear…he slipped into the fog, leaving me behind.” She heaved a sigh that seemed full of a deep sorrow. “There is a reason you asked me this.”

It wasn’t a question. Belle looked up and met Terra’s penetrating gaze. “I…am my father’s daughter.”

Terra nodded in understanding. “You have pulled your own disappearing act…on Derrick.”

“Yes. It’s…different.”

“Not completely.”

“No.” Belle sighed, dropping her eyes. “Actually, it’s…the same. The reason, anyway. The situation, maybe not.”

“You do not wish to disclose the story now.” Again, it wasn’t a question. Terra had a way of knowing things in this state.

“Soon,” Belle said. “But…not now. Maybe when you’re not in a meditative state. I’d rather talk to Normal Mom about this…not Infinitely Wise Mom.”

Terra let out a small, quiet laugh. “You feel more on equal ground when I do not speak as I am speaking now.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Belle smiled. “Well…good night, Mom. I’m going to bed.”

“Good night, my daughter. Think on your actions, and dream of solutions.”

Belle bent and planted a kiss on her mother’s forehead before she left the room. I truly am my father’s daughter, she thought. I couldn’t ever be as wise as Mom.

To: thompson_alyssa, dancing_through_life
From: dingdongbelle
Subject: Staying.
_______________________________________
Well guys, I’m not sure how long I’m staying.

I know I’m not trained up enough to beat my mom yet…her first Pokémon is a force of nature…plus I like being around Derek again…he’s really fun…it’s like being home…wonder how many of these dot-dot-dot things I can make before you guys get annoyed…

Anyway, I know the big 17 is coming up for you, Alyssa, and I’m thinking of sending you a biiiiiiig present!! Actually, I’m just going to say happy birthday, because I have no idea what to get you. xp Any ideas, Cassandra? XD

My mom just told me a big story about how Dad left her in the middle of the journey…it’s weird how familiar that story is, and how like my dad I really am. Huh.

Well, I’m super tired, so I’m gonna go to bed. I really need to get training tomorrow!

Love,

Belle

nokyo-chan
June 6th, 2011, 11:00 AM
Chapter Forty-Five
“How—what—?” Cassandra was dumbfounded. One second she had been sitting sidesaddle atop a Ponyta, and the next—boom! Ellia had evolved into a Rapidash. Sure, the journey through Route 111’s desert had been harsh, and they hadn’t had time to stop in Mauville City to talk to the mob of people excited about her appearance or to bathe and rest, but how exactly did that promote an evolution?

“Perfect,” Karen said from her place on Fluffy’s back. She adjusted her sleeves. “Just in time to enter Slateport City. It’s about time,” she added to Ellia, tossing Cassandra a brush. “I thought I was going to have to buy a Fire Stone and force you myself.”

Ellia tossed her beautiful head in annoyance, nickering, and Cassandra ran the brush through her hair. “You know, I’d really like it if you’d clue me in to what you’re talking about.”

“Ellia was ready to evolve when you caught her,” Karen replied. “She’s been holding out on you.”

“What for?”

“Deciding if you could handle it.”

“And I suppose I proved myself?”

“By going through the desert,” Karen said. “Now hurry up, we need to get into Slateport!”

Heart beating, Cassandra straightened her back and smiled serenely like Karen had taught her, practicing for when she made her entrance. Ellia walked at a brisk pace up the path, and the sound of cyclists whizzing overhead soon died away as the bustling city of Slateport came into view.

The smell of sea salt almost assaulted Cassandra as she breathed in deeply. She had been here before, of course, with her parents, but it seemed more exciting now that she was on her own and a star. “Let’s go straight to the Slateport Contest Hall to register,” Cassandra told Karen, who agreed quickly.

It seemed that Cassandra attracted attention as soon as Ellia’s hooves hit Slateport’s walkways. Heads turned and people whispered and pointed; she heard her name multiple times.

“I didn’t know she had a Rapidash,” she heard someone say as Ellia trotted past. Cassandra felt giddy. She knew she had to start training, but she also knew she wouldn’t be able to resist browsing the marketplace before she got started. She glanced up at the contest hall, which was larger than Verdanturf’s and Fallarbor’s combined; understandable, since this was where most contests really got televised. She slid gently from Ellia’s back and adjusted her white skirt as she got to the door, which slid open automatically to allow her to enter.

Slateport City Contest Hall was a lively, bustling place. A long line of people Cassandra vaguely recognized from Verdanturf or Fallarbor stood at the registration desk—Sakura Konohana was not in their number.

In her search for Sakura, Cassandra hadn’t noticed anything odd, but now that she turned her attention back to the general public, she realized that everyone in the lobby had frozen as she entered. Even the people in line for registration had turned to look at her.

“Hello?” Cassandra said hesitantly. And then a flurry of activity ensued—people leapt up and rushed to her, seizing her hands and pushing closer to her, asking for autographs and pictures, asking about Ellia, shouting and yelling and shoving.

But then Karen was in front of her with Tuffly, both of them spreading their arms wide. Tuffly used Doubleslap on a few persistent people, and the warning made everyone stay back, forming a circle around the confused Cassandra.

“What—?” Her question didn’t have time to form on her lips; Karen seized her hand and dragged her forward, shouting about making a hole as she plodded toward the registration counter. The crowd parted a bit as they neared it; Ellia reared, kicking her hooves, and the crowd parted a lot.

Cassandra signed up for the soonest date—next week—and turned to look at the mass of adoring fans, who now seemed to be taking pictures.

She was famous.
____________________________________
The crowds roared as Cassandra rode into the stadium (which was much larger than Verdanturf’s or Fallarbor’s combined) on Ellia’s back. Her heart raced as she gazed up into the sea of adoring fans. Some held up signs emblazoned with clever—sometimes rhyming—slogans showing their support and love for her, Cassandra Étoile, the girl who was, not too long ago, just another kid dancing in her backyard. She had been rich, yes, but plenty of kids were rich—Sakura Konohana, for instance.

Cassandra picked out Karen’s bright pink hair among the many heads in the crowd. The girl had picked out the white floppy straw hat that now sat upon Cassandra’s head, its pink ribbon trailing over the brim behind her. Cassandra had protested it at first, but once she had placed it on her head and stood in the mirror wearing the gauzy white dress on which she had decided, she had realized that it completed her “Mother Nature” look.

Ellia tossed her head, and Cassandra smiled and waved out at the crowd, who cheered loudly. The stadium floor was suspended over water, which Ellia eyed warily; she stood straight and proud, though, calming under Cassandra’s soothing pat. The girl slid gently off Ellia’s back, her bare feet touching the floor.

“Welcome to the first round of the Slateport City Hyper Rank Contest!”

Cassandra’s smile widened; the crowd roared. She had actually been severely happy that she had drawn the first slot, and now she stood across from her opponent, one Melba Wisely, dressed in a black corset-top with red sleeves and a long black skirt, her long dark hair falling down around her face. She seemed irritated.

“Let the first match between Cassandra Étoile—”—the crowd yelled wildly—“and Melba Wisely—”—another part of the crowd cheered—“begin!”

“Okay, Ellia!” Cassandra yelled, pointing towards the stadium; Ellia galloped out, rearing and pawing at the air, shaking her mane—embers flew from her and landed in the water, fizzling slightly.

“Are you serious?” Melba asked in a flat tone. She didn’t look too happy. As Cassandra watched, she tossed her Poké Ball with a sort of graceful awkwardness, and a Sneasel spun out of it.

“And Ms. Wisely chooses her Sneasel. Looks like Ms. Étoile has a type advantage!”

Of course, Cassandra made short work of Melba’s Sneasel—a bit of speed and a well-placed Flamethrower took it right out.

Cassandra’s second battle was against a male Coordinator, which surprised Cassandra; she had come up against so many girls, she had quite forgotten that men competed at all, let alone competed at Hyper Rank. He had a sort of ninja-martial-arts-guy theme going, and his Hitmontop was a formidable opponent, but Ellia ran circles around it to dizzy it before taking it out with Stomp, which turned out to be more graceful than anyone thought it could be.

Karen met Cassandra her small lounge—the Hyper Rank accommodations were impeccable—before the final match, Tuffly in tow. She sat down on the fluffy pink couch and studied the large television showing the current battle, her arms folded across her chest.

“You need to watch out for her,” Karen said, pointing at the screen. “If she wins this battle, she’s against you—she’s another favorite.”

Cassandra picked up the packet of papers to her left. Each Coordinator had been given a page-long profile of the other Coordinators competing in the contest; Cassandra flipped through until she found the picture of the girl to which Karen was pointing.

The picture looked a bit different from the girl on the television—while the television version was moving, dynamic, yelling, her blonde hair flying as she twirled in time with her Pokémon—a Dragonair—the picture version gazed up at Cassandra calmly, a determined smile hitched about her lips. Her name was Laura Evans, and she was from Blackthorn City in Johto. Her picture was one of the few that wasn’t a snapshot from a contest. In fact, Cassandra’s profile picture was from her Verdanturf Contest, and Swablu was in it.

“She’s from Johto?” Cassandra looked back up at the screen, mouth open.

“People who come from other regions often do better than Hoenn natives,” Karen replied. “They’re more determined.”

Cassandra nodded. “I see.”

“Swablu is close to evolving,” Karen remarked, changing the subject. “I think she’ll be an Altaria before we get to Lilycove. That’s what you wanted, right? To win your last contest with Altaria?”

She smiled. “Yes.” She loved the way Karen had put it—to win your last contest with Altaria. Not to compete in your last contest with Altaria. Because she was going to win. It didn’t matter that competitors from other regions seemed more determined—Cassandra was determined enough to be all the way from Almia.

Cassandra’s moments leading up to her final battle were blurry, so it seemed as though she jolted awake standing across the stadium from Laura Evans and her Dragonair.

The MC’s shouts were indistinct to Cassandra’s ears, and the only word she heard was the last one—“Begin!”

“Go, Ellia!”

“Dragon Dance!” shouted Laura; her Dragonair twisted its long body in a graceful dance, wasting precious seconds. Her points bar went up for the dance, but Cassandra had other plans for it.

“Ellia, Flame Wheel!”

Ellia wrapped herself in flames and smashed into Dragonair so quickly it didn’t know what hit it; it went flying backwards, landing in a crumpled heap at Laura’s feet.

“That was a nasty first hit!” the MC boomed over the crowd’s boos and cheers. “And Miss Étoile’s points surge up, while Miss Evans’s fall back!”

Cassandra met Laura’s eyes across the battlefield as Dragonair rose up. This was going to be a quick battle, that was for sure, but both of them had an equal chance of winning. Quick but intense—that was how Cassandra liked it.

“Dragon Rush,” Laura said, and Dragonair rose up. A blue aura surrounded it, and a big ball of blue light came quickly toward Ellia, Dragonair in the center.

“Agility!” Cassandra yelled, and Ellia took off in a red-and-white blur, zooming around behind Dragonair and leaving a trail of small flames. “Fire Spin!”

Dragonair’s blue light was extinguished in a fiery vortex, which trapped it. It spun helplessly, crying out as the flames singed its skin.

“And Dragonair is trapped by Ellia’s Fire Spin!” the MC cried excitedly. “Laura’s points have taken a huge hit, and Dragonair might not be able to last much longer!”

Cassandra grinned as she locked eyes with Laura again. She basically had this in the bag.

“Dragonair,” Laura said quietly. “Twister.”

Out of the top of the swirling vortex of fire burst a tornado, which swallowed the blaze whole, disbanding it. It bent to capture Ellia in its heart, lifting her off the ground and suspending her in air, spinning rather quickly.

How was she going to get out of this? Cassandra needed to think quickly; she didn’t have much time. Right now, Ellia was at Dragonair’s mercy; one twitch could send her flying into the water below. She couldn’t use any direct or physical attacks…a ranged attack would have to do.

The MC was in the middle of saying, “How will Miss Étoile get out of this one?” when Cassandra yelled, “Fire Blast!”

Dragonair was directly under the Twister, since it came from its mouth; Ellia’s attack dropped straight from the bottom, stopping the tornado and swallowing Dragonair within it. Ellia tipped forward and landed all four hooves on Dragonair’s body before springing away, embers flying off her mane. Cassandra’s points bar pushed forward.

“Dragonair, into the water!”

“Nair!” the Pokémon cried, and it vanished into the water, extinguishing the flames. Steam rose from where it landed.

Ellia froze. Silence descended on the stadium; not even the MC spoke. “Careful,” Cassandra whispered. “You don’t know where it’s coming from; stay alert.”

The Rapidash nickered, backing up a few steps and glancing around. The silence continued for several still seconds; no one seemed to be breathing.

“Now! Aqua Tail!” Laura yelled suddenly. Dragonair sprang out of the water, bringing its tail down in a mighty smash; as the water flew toward Ellia, Dragonair went towards the battlefield, coiling itself for another attack.

“Jump!” Cassandra yelled shrilly.

Ellia leapt up, soaring over the water meant for her.

“Megahorn!”

The water splashed harmlessly behind her as Ellia ducked her head, flying straight toward Dragonair and piercing it with her horn. Dragonair collapsed and Ellia sprang away, its mane and tail flaring up in the breeze as it landed gently, glaring at Dragonair.

Laura’s points vanished completely.

“And that’s it!” the MC yelled. “Miss Evans has no more points—Cassandra Étoile is advancing to the Master Rank in Lilycove City!”

A camera zoomed towards Cassandra’s face as she smiled happily, closing her eyes and throwing back her head, thrusting her arms in the air. The crowd roared; flowers fell all around her.

Sakura Konohana hadn’t hindered her one bit. She was going to Lilycove; she was competing in the Master Rank. She might even meet Sakura there.

And she would win.

____________________________________

Cassandra sat down in front of the video phone in her hotel room, watching the static roll across the screen as it rang. Karen was off somewhere in Slateport—where, Cassandra didn’t know—so she was alone, thank goodness. She had been assaulted by people shoving microphones in her face, and she had talked to so many people she was extremely happy to be by herself with just her Pokémon.

But now she had to call Joanna.

As usual, Dorothia the cook answered the phone. “Cassandra!” she cried happily. “I saw your contest on TV!”

“Really? It’s already been on?”

“They’re broadcast live,” Dorothia replied. “So, did you want to talk to your mother?”

“I don’t want to, but it’s a necessary evil,” Cassandra replied.

Dorothia laughed. “I’ll transfer you.”

There was more static, but only briefly, and then Joanna’s face appeared, her bedroom in the background. She took a sip from the wine glass she held and smiled.

“I saw your contest, Cassie,” Joanna told her.

“Hello, Mother.”

“You aren’t doing as bad as I expected. I assume that you’ll be doing the soonest Master Rank contest?”

“Yes.” Cassandra felt her back teeth grind together.

“I think I might come out and watch,” Joanna said. She took another sip of wine. “That will be something to see…my daughter finally making something of herself. Imagine how proud I’ll be when you finally win.”

Cassandra bit back a sharp retort. Instead, she asked, “Is Father home?”

“He’s in the bathroom. I expect he’ll want to talk to you, so you should stay on the line.”

Cassandra nodded and fell silent. She didn’t have to say anything to Joanna if she didn’t want to. Silence stretched between them, in which Joanna glanced away and drank her wine.

The door in the background opened and Gerald came out, wearing a dress shirt and slacks. When he saw Cassandra’s face on the video phone, he broke out in a huge grin and hurried over.

“Sandy-bear! Joanna, sweetie, why didn’t you tell me she called?”

“Hi, Dad!”

“You can see for yourself, can’t you?” Joanna asked, placing her wine glass out of frame.

“Sandy-bear, I saw your contest,” Gerald said, bending down and almost pushing Joanna out of the picture. “You were magnificent!”

“Thanks, Dad.”

“No, truly! I am so proud of you! And you’re going to the Master Rank in Lilycove—that’s a huge deal!”

“I was telling her we might go watch,” Joanna said stiffly from her corner of the screen.

“Well, of course we’ll go!” Gerald said happily, clapping Joanna on the shoulder. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t! We need to cheer our daughter on, right, Mama J?”

Joanna cringed visibly. She didn’t need to answer, because just then Karen came into the room, tossing her pink umbrella onto the bed. Tuffly came behind her with shopping bags.

“I should probably go,” Cassandra said. “I need to rest, and then it’s on to Lilycove City! See you guys there?”

“Perhaps,” Joanna replied at the same time Gerald boomed “Of course, Sandy-bear!”

Cassandra said her good-byes and hung up, smiling as she turned to Karen, who began to immediately pull different types of material from the shopping bags, followed by a sewing machine. “I’m going to make your Master Rank dress,” she said.

Cassandra stood and crossed the room, wrapping her arms around the girl in a hug. “Thank you,” she said. “I couldn’t have done all this without you.”

Karen batted her away. “You haven’t won it all yet. Thank me then.”

Cassandra smiled and nodded. “Right.”

________________________________________

To: dingdongbelle, thompson_alyssa
From: dancing_through_life
Subject: WINNING!!
_________________________________
OMG YOU GUYS!!!
I totally won my Slateport contest!
Alyssa, I’m sorry you hate that woman or girl or whoever she is, but I’m sure you can give her a nice good punch in the jaw and she’ll behave.
Belle, you can beat your mom, I HAVE FAITH IN YOU!!!
I WON MY CONTEST YAAAAYYYY!!! XD I’m so excited!!!
I have to get to bed now, because tomorrow it’s off to Lilycove City and then tons of training so Swablu can evolve into Altaria before the contest!
Did you know that so few people enter the Master Rank Contest that I’ll only be fighting two battles? o.0 And it’s broadcast live, so YOU WILL HAVE TO WATCH IT!!!
Talk to you guys laaatteeerrr!!
Love,
Cassandra XD