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?”
“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.
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: [email protected]
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!