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 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!”
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.
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…”
“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: [email protected], [email protected]
From: [email protected]
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?