Thread: [Pokémon] ROOTS // Professorfic
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Old March 30th, 2012 (03:50 PM). Edited July 26th, 2013 by Haruka of Hoenn.
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Haruka of Hoenn
Rolling writer
 
Join Date: Nov 2007
Location: Yes.
Gender: Female
Nature: Calm
I'm back... with a vengeance. >:)

And a chapter.

I ran into some difficulties while writing this one. I was originally going to have it split into two parts again, but I decided to put the ending scene in a separate chapter all by itself, even if it meant extending the flow of events more than I originally intended to. This makes two good things happen: The first is that this chapter will be more of a manageable mouthful, not a million miles long, and the second is that the wait for Chapter 24 will be much, much sorter than this one was. So... deal?

Read on!

2.3

After their brief meeting with Leroy, the boys took their time in getting back to the Gym. Michael figured that Bertha’s negotiations would take at least another five minutes to finish, and was ready to offer to Henry that they go for a walk instead.

But when he pushed open the door to the lobby, he was surprised to find that Bertha had beat them to it—she was seated at a bench among the rest of the trainers, her blonde head towering considerably higher over the others. She was leaning back against the window, chatting casually with the young trainers beside her, many of whom had their pokémon in their laps and were allowing her to stroke them. She looked like she had been waiting there for several minutes. When Michael and Henry approached her, Bertha turned to them and smiled. “Hello boys. Ready to go?”

Michael perked an eyebrow in disbelief. “That fast?”

“You got Lona’s signature already?” Henry said, looking over at her briefcase. It was tucked away beneath the bench, right behind her feet, as if she had tossed it there on a whim and forgot about it.

Bertha’s expression clouded somewhat in response to the question. “No, but I’m working on it,” she said. “Right now, I want to get you two back to the hotel. You might as well kick back for the rest of the day, because you’ll be hard at work tomorrow.” She stood, slipping her purse onto her shoulder and retrieved the briefcase from its hiding place. “Come on.”

After saying goodbye to the trainers, who waved in unison to her, Bertha led the boys out of the building. When they got back to the hotel, she handed them their room key and went off towards the elevator, leaving them to their own devices for the rest of the day. Usually, Michael would have delighted at such a prospect, but all he was in the mood for right now was a quiet afternoon, and maybe a snack or two.

Upon entering their room, the boys found that their stuff had already been brought in for them. The new suitcase that Bertha had loaned them was standing beside the beds, the Stunky’s cage beside it, glinting in the light. The pokémon was munching on some food that the hotel workers had given it, disturbing the silence now and then with its light rustling.

Michael stepped into the room and lowered his backpack beside the writing table. Immediately, his eyes caught a pair of small white boxes that sat on the surface of the desk, tied with cheap party ribbon. They bore no inscription, but he had no doubt that it was something for them. Carefully opening one of the packages, Michael found a red plastic wristband nestled inside, nondescript except for a code of numbers and letters printed on its face.

Henry opened the second box and found the same thing. “I wonder what these are for,” said the boy. He slipped the band onto his wrist and shook his arm, letting it rattle noisily.

“Must be for the hotel or something…” Michael peered into the box again, and found a folded piece of paper that had been lying at the bottom. Unfolding it, he saw it was a typed letter.


Dear trainer,

It is my pleasure to welcome you to Solaceon City. My name is Jennifer Lane, and I am your local Gym Coordinator. If you are reading this, it is likely that you are now comfortably situated in your hotel room, and are anticipating your first scheduled training session at the Gym. Please remember that it is important to arrive on time for all appointments. Missing one will result in your name being removed from the remaining week’s roster, and will add to the time you will have to wait to register again. If you are unable to avoid missing a battle session, please be courteous to the staff and your fellow trainers by notifying the front desk as soon as possible.

You may have noticed that the hotel staff have provided you with a box. Inside, you will find a wristband with a code printed on the side. This is your personal access code to the Gym and will be associated with your Trainer ID number for the duration of your Gym challenge. You must wear your wristband at all times when using the facility, as this is how you will be matched with your battle partners. Selection is entirely random, and is coordinated by the Gym staff. Please don’t lose your wristband. If you do, then you might be dropped from the roster and will have to wait till the next week to get a new one. If you happen to find a lost wristband, please return it to the Gym immediately.

As a final note, please be aware that even though you will be busy with battling in the coming days, this by no means confines you to the Gym or your hotel room! I encourage you to roam about the town and discover for yourself our rich culture and history. The League offers free tours of the Solaceon Ruins, Route 209, and Route 210 as an exclusive service to trainers. All you have to do is go to the hotel’s front desk and ask for a schedule, then register for the time slot that is most convenient for you. The Solaceon district has an abundance of plant and pokémon life that is unique to our location, and if you take the time to learn about our past and present, then I guarantee you will not be disappointed. Please be advised that for most functions of the tour system, you will need only your Trainer Card for identification. Wristbands are not necessary, as they are for Gym-related activities only.

If you have any further questions, please see the hotel front desk. The staff are always happy to help and give advice for whatever you may need.

I wish you the best of luck in the battles to come!

Jennifer Lane.



When he finished reading it, Michael lowered the paper with a sigh. “The League just loves writing letters, doesn’t it…”

Henry was still reading his copy, his finger tracing the lines. “Hey, they have free tours here! We should totally go!” He looked up at Michael, who replied with a shrug.

“That’s if we have time. Right now, we have to worry about the Gym. Considering that neither of us have an abundance of Flying and Psychic types, we need to do some serious catching if we want to get anywhere.”

“But I have Clefable,” Henry said.

“Gravity won’t help you win every single battle. You’re gonna need more than one move, and more than one good counter. Starly’s good, but he won’t last forever either.”

Henry nodded. “Yeah, that makes sense… but what about you?”

“It’s the same for me.” Michael replied. “I need a Flying type… and then I can just get some of my pokémon to learn Psychic moves.” On a whim, he slipped off his wristband and began to twirl it in the air with his finger. “Come to think of it, how do you teach pokémon moves?”

Henry began to giggle.

“I’m serious,” Michael said. “I know they learn moves by growing and stuff, but how do you get them to learn a move they wouldn’t be able to learn on their own?” He caught the wristband in his palm and placed it back into the box.

“I don’t know,” said Henry, still laughing. “Give them a book?”

“Pokémon can’t read.”

“Some of them can!” said Henry, lifting a finger. “I knew a boy in my school whose Abra could read his textbooks.”

Michael snickered. “Fine, but that can’t work for every single pokémon. There’s gotta be some way that we can… implant the knowledge into their brains or something. Remember Jerry and Mr. Mime? He said that they studied the technique for days, which means that Mr. Mime didn’t learn it on his own.”

To this, Henry shrugged. “Well, I don’t know. I mean, I never had to teach my pokémon anything… they just learned all their moves by themselves. I’ve heard of trainers back in Oreburgh who taught their pokémon moves. They said they had to go to some special place to get it done, but I never found out what it was. I guess there must be some people who specialize in that sort of thing.”

Michael exhaled. “Well, it can’t hurt to ask around. Honestly, I’d rather study a super-complicated technique that’ll give me better results in battle than wait a million years for my pokémon to learn something powerful on their own. I’m pretty sure you can’t Tackle your way to victory in the Elite Four.”

Henry began to giggle. “Yeah, that’s for sure.”

Michael nodded. He sat down into the chair by the table and began to swivel back and forth, staring absently at the opposite wall. Henry went over to the suitcase and began to unpack, setting his own things by his bed, and Michael’s on the other. They spent the rest of that day in the hotel room, reading magazines and flipping through television channels, watching the hours creep by on the wall clock. It was probably the laziest day they would ever spend in Solaceon, but Michael didn’t mind. By the sound of Jennifer Lane’s letter, he knew that in the coming weeks, he'd be busy enough.


//////


The next morning, Michael was shaken awake by a droopy-eyed Henry. After a moment of deliberation, he kicked off the covers and stumbled out of bed, blinking his eyes in the darkness. His body resisted at being force-started at such an early hour, and for the next five minutes, Michael blindly dragged himself around the room, getting dressed and packing his things, all the while yawning and rubbing his eyes to keep them from closing. The clock on the wall said 6:20.

He trudged into the lobby with Henry, and as he did, he saw several other kids emerge from various points across the corridor to join them, their backpacks bulging with a day’s worth of training equipment. The party of trainers collected in front of the glass door, and as one, pushed them out into the cool morning air. Michael let out a soft groan as he looked up at the sky—it was still deep and dark, like the underside of a soft, pillowy blanket that was still shielding the sleeping world. The trainers around him remained respectfully silent, and some murmured in agreement.

The Gym was one of the few buildings on the block with its lights on. The same three clerks were there at the front desk, and when the group of trainers entered, they formed a line, one by one approaching with their wristbands upheld. Feeling a brief shock, Michael lifted his hands to his pockets, then let out a relieved sigh when he felt the slight bulge of the armband in his left. He remembered placing it there the previous evening, just in case. Slipping the band onto his wrist, Michael approached the front desk when his turn came and held it out to the clerk.

The lady squinted at the number, and traced her finger down an attendance sheet. “Okay. Welcome, Mr. Rowan.” She checked off the box next to his name with a pencil. “Your room is 56. Wait there for your battle par’tner.”

She pointed him to the left door, and Michael entered the hallway, finding Room 56. He pushed open the door, and found a partially-darkened room, with just two lights glowing in the center. At first, Michael thought he was alone, but when the door closed, the lights suddenly flickered on, revealing the room in full, stunning brightness.

Michael blinked several times to adjust his focus. At the same time, a figure emerged from the back corner. He opened his eyes the whole way, and saw Lona Walker standing before him, a clipboard in her hands.

“Welcome,” she said. “We’ll begin shortly. In the meantime, you may get settled.”

Michael’s heart sank. Lona marked down his name with a pencil, and began moving across the room, opening the window blinds to the still-dark morning sky, and retrieving a water bottle from a chair in the corner. She was surprisingly well-kempt, even at such an early hour. Her brown hair was neatly combed, shining softy in what would have been a pretty way if it hadn’t belonged to her head, and her clothing was completely wrinkle-free, obviously not having been thrown on at the last minute. She had even remembered to put on her jacket. In his sleep-deprived state, Michael immediately associated it with a winter hide, which she would wear in hibernation and stow away during the summer. And because she lived in the Gym and lacked closet space, she kept it tied in a knot around her waist, using it as a cushion when she sat, and a blanket when she slept…

Michael gave himself a brief jolt, blinking his eyes to chase away the daydream. Luckily for him, Lona did not seem to have noticed his spacing-out. She came to a stop at the center of the room, facing him.

“The trainer with whom you are partnered today already knows the procedure, so I will only have to explain it to you,” she said. “You will go through a single battle with two rounds, each round involving two of your pokémon. The five-second-faint rule applies. Your goal is to simply battle the way you are used to battling, and keep in mind any corrections you may receive. I assume that you already know the more detailed rules, such as the official distance boundaries, the contact rules, and the fouls, and do not need me to elaborate further on them.”

Michael nodded out of habit. In reality, her words had whizzed right past him, like a ticker tape message played at high speed.

“Good,” Lona said. “You may step onto the field now and prepare yourself. Your battle partner should arrive momentarily.”

Michael was about to ask where said field was located, since the whole floor was just an unmarked sheet of cushions, when Lona turned away, stepping over to the side to examine something on the opposite wall. Michael decided to use his best judgment, and planted himself in the spot she had vacated, directly in front of the window.

His battle partner arrived a minute later. He was a thin, freckled boy, dressed in a faded red shirt and shorts. He entered without a sound, gazed at Lona in acknowledgment, then dropped his duffel bag into the corner beside Michael’s. The boy’s teeth were slightly crooked, the front two just barely poking out from his mouth whenever he turned his head too far up, or down. He looked at Michael once as he stepped onto the battle space, and for the remainder of their session, kept his gaze fixed somewhere between the tips of his shoes and the tumble mats on the floor.

With both trainers in position, Lona seemed to spring to life. She swiftly made her final memos, placed the clipboard onto the windowpane, then retreated a distance of several feet away from them. “Send out your first pokémon,” she called.

Michael and the boy lifted their pokéballs simultaneously and released their battlers—Michael his Turtwig, and the other trainer a Luxio. When the Electric pokémon emerged, landing softly on all fours, it swept the room with its bulbous eyes like a trained field scout. Michael had seen Luxios in battle before; they were quite versatile, but he knew some of their basic moves, so he figured he wouldn’t be too bad off.

Without waiting for any signal from Lona, the Luxio’s trainer called out his first command: “Tackle.”

A beat later, Michael reacted. “Turtwig, use Razor Leaf.”

And just like that, the battle began. The Luxio darted forward, its slender tail whipping behind it, its spiky fur bouncing with every stride. Turtwig sent several leaves whizzing at his foe, which whipped Luxio’s face and legs, causing the pokémon to flinch back, its yellow eyes puckering. As the leaves lodged themselves in the mass of its hide, Luxio began to shake itself, as if it had been doused in cold water. When it had steadied itself, the Luxio looked back up at Turtwig, its teeth bared in a pained snarl. It began to prowl in a half-circle, searching for the right angle to attack from.

Michael clenched his fist. “Again!” he ordered.

Turtwig bent his head back to use Razor Leaf, when suddenly, in the corner of his eye, Michael saw an arm lift itself into the air. “Stop!” Lona called.

In that instant, the battle paused. The Luxio suddenly quit its advances, sitting back on its haunches like a tamed house pet, its snarl fading to a low purr. Turtwig lowered his head without sending the leaves, jaws clicking in confusion.

Michael whirled around to face the Gym leader. “What was that for?” he blurted.

“Never begin a battle with a special attack,” Lona said. “Especially when you are unfamiliar with your opponent. It wastes an excessive amount of energy that your pokémon could have used to make a purposeful advancement.”

“Like what?” Michael said. But Lona did not reply. She went back to her place at the sidelines and crossed her arms. “Start over. Pokémon inside pokéballs.”

At first, Michael wondered if she was being serious. His opponent, who did not seem at all surprised at Lona’s interruption, silently called the Luxio back into its pokéball. Michael followed suit a few seconds later, letting Turtwig vanish in a jet of white.

Once the battlefield was clear, Lona gave a curt nod. “Release.”

They brought out their pokémon simultaneously, and the battlers landed in the same positions they had started out in. The Luxio emerged with a calm face, but once it laid eyes on Turtwig again, it began to growl anew.

“Luxio, use Tackle,” said the trainer.

With no other commands under his belt besides Razor Leaf, Michael finally broke down and did the same. “Turtwig, use Tackle.” He cast a sour glance at Lona, almost humorously expecting her to follow through with another reprimand, but to his frustration, found that she had simply nodded at them in satisfaction.

His mood reaching an all-time low, Michael turned back to watch the battle. The two pokémon, running at each other in perfectly straight lines, collided and began to roll around, clawing and biting. Luxio, being the larger and more nimble of the two, gained a quick and savory advantage—it had caught Turtwig right by the rims of his shell, and was tossing him around with its claws like a ball of yarn. Michael watched as Turtwig retreated into his shell at last, much like the trainer-girl’s Prinplup had done the day before, and felt a surge of anger.

“That’s it, get out!” he shouted at Turtwig, stepping forward. “Get out of that damn shell and use Razor Leaf!”

It was a while before Turtwig responded. Finally, the large, blue-green head popped out from its hidey-hole, followed by the four stubby legs. Turtwig began to run, jumping aside to avoid Luxio’s sweeping paws, blindly shooting leaf after leaf at his opponent. Some of them missed, but to Michael’s delight most of them made contact, causing Luxio to draw back. But the pokémon never backed down. As Turtwig’s exhaustion began to show, and the rounds of Razor Leaf became more sparse, the other trainer began to counter with Tail Whips, which often hit Turtwig right at the feet, causing the pokémon to stumble.

Michael tried his best to improvise, though it became considerably hard to think with Lona’s firm, powerful voice shattering his concentration every few seconds. The Gym leader was no idle spectator, as he soon found out; she jumped from one end of the room to the other, her arms spread out around her like a wrestler’s, her shouts piercing the battle noise and obliterating every attempt at planning a move in advance.

“Quickly! Think quickly!” Lona shouted, as Luxio’s tail whipped out from behind it to smack Turtwig in the face. The Grass pokémon toppled from the force of the blow, landing flat on his belly with his limbs splayed out on the floor. It took Michael a few seconds to realize that Lona had been talking to him. But by then it was too late.

Without warning, sharp, claw-like fingers gripped his shoulders and spun him around. “Stop staring at the floor!” Lona shouted, tugging him so close that he could feel the heat of rage in her eyes. “Did you not hear what I just said to you? You could have crushed that Luxio three minutes ago!”

Feeling a kindling anger, Michael removed her hands from his shoulders and gritted his teeth. “It would have been two, if you hadn’t stopped me.”

He was half-expecting to receive a smack for that, but instead Lona simply pushed him away, turning him back to face the action. Michael wanted badly to grab her thin little wrist and pull it hard, but he restrained himself. Instead, he focused his attention on Turtwig, who was still lying in the same spot, making a feeble attempt at getting up.

There was a brief silence, during which both Michael and the trainer watched Turtwig fumble for balance, trying to lift his belly off the floor. Then, Lona snapped her fingers. “Five seconds. Turtwig is fainted.”

“But he’s still moving! Look!” Michael pointed. But Lona shook her head.

Grumbling, he returned Turtwig for the second time, and went to his backpack to swap the pokéball with Caterpie’s. Upon releasing the green worm, he immediately gave his command: “Use Bug Bite.”

His opponent sniffed loudly. “Luxio, use Scratch.”

As Caterpie began her march forward, Luxio slowly approached with a paw upheld, and like so many other pokémon before, brought it firmly down. Immediately, Caterpie’s jaws latched into its skin, and the Luxio howled with pain. The pokémon’s hair stood on end, and began to ripple as if from a breeze, white electricity crackling between the tufts.

A faint glimmer lit up the eyes of the trainer. “Luxio, use Spark!”

Luxio seemed all-too willing to comply, and began to amass the electric field around it, preparing to fry Caterpie like a kebab. In panic, the Bug pokémon began to bite faster, and Michael tensed, wanting to intervene, but not knowing how to go about it. With every second he hesitated, however, the electric cloud grew brighter and larger around Luxio, and finally Michael was pressured to say the first thing that came to mind:

“Caterpie, use String Shot!”

For the first few seconds, nothing changed. But then, he heard a series of loud cracking noises, like someone crumpling a bag of chips, followed by a faint squeal. Michael grimaced. The Luxio began to shake itself again, the sparks flying to and fro around it and dissipating in the air. Something small and green fell out of Luxio’s thick hide and landed on the mat. Caterpie had been fried, all right; her exoskeleton had darkened, and the tiny strand of silk she had managed to churn out was wrapped around her. It was almost sickening to look at, and this time, Michael did not doubt that his pokémon was fainted.

As he rushed to open the pokéball and get the Caterpie-kebab out of sight, he heard a faint tsk-tsk sound coming from his right. He turned, and when he locked eyes with Lona again, the Gym leader put her hands on her hips.

“Why didn’t you start with String Shot? Your Caterpie could have immobilized Luxio and prevented him from generating the static!”

Michael snapped the pokéball shut and turned around the rest of the way to face her. “But you said to never start with a special attack! Whatever happened to getting to know your opponent?” A slight mocking edge crept into the end of his sentence, without his intention. But it was enough for Lona to notice. Her eyes first widened in affront, then narrowed as she frowned.

“I would have hoped that you’d have gotten to know Luxio enough after he took down your Turtwig!” Lona said. “But since apparently you haven’t, then next time you might want to listen to advice that you are given instead of whining and insisting on doing things your way!”

“And maybe next time, you could try being more clear too!” he retorted.

“Enough!” Lona snapped. She stomped over to the windowpane and grabbed the clipboard, marking down the results of the battle. “Rick has one point. Michael has zero. Trainers will now prepare for the second round with new pokémon.”

Looking across the room at his opponent, Michael saw the trainer lift his gaze briefly at him. They went to their backpacks and swapped pokéballs, while Lona settled back into her half-watching-half-hopping position. The anger, like all of her other observable emotions, had entirely dissolved behind the mask of her face within seconds after her outburst. But it wasn’t quite gone, as Michael saw, and often emerged in a brief, sharp turn or inflection of voice.

As Michael and his opponent stepped back onto the field, Lona straightened, crossing her arms. “Release.”

Twisting open the capsule, Michael sent out his Machop. Across from him, the Rick kid sent out a Shieldon. Upon seeing the pokémon emerge—a tiny, brown creature with a protruding, plate-like head—Michael felt a flutter of hope. Shieldons were Rock types, and the metallic sheen of the pokémon’s face suggested Steel.

Feeling a comeback in his spirits, he ordered Machop to use Focus Punch. His opponent retaliated with a Headbutt, but from the start, it was clear who would become the winner. Shieldon was a slow, clunky creature who fumbled as he ran, and at the sight of the lunging Machop, whose fist was upheld to sweep him off the floor, he quickly turned tail and scurried away. Machop ended up catching up with him, and knocked him around a couple times before Shieldon managed to get away again.

Apart from a Headbutt and a few Tackles, the Rick kid seemed at a loss for what to do with his team’s laggard. The boy’s demeanor had taken a sharp turn from the minute he had released his second pokémon—his face had shifted from placid to sullen, then to visibly irritated. But Michael wasn’t about to pity him. He had a battle to win.

After letting Machop indulge himself with his new punching bag, Michael proceeded to deal the final blow to the exhausted Shieldon. He cast a brief glance at his opponent, who seemed frozen in place, and smiled. “Machop, use Cross Chop!”

Machop, who after two minutes of nonstop kicking and throwing seemed more energetic than ever, sprang forward with his arms crossed like the letter ‘X’. He slashed at Shieldon’s side, bringing both hands down with deadly accuracy, and the tiny pokémon was thrown back like a ball towards its trainer, hitting the mat with a soft thump. His job done, Machop straightened, turning back to Michael with a pleased expression.

Lona, who had been unusually quiet for the duration of Machop’s fighting spree, now came out of her slumber. Shaking her head in irritation, she approached Rick in three long strides, and pointed sharply to the motionless Shieldon lying on the mat. “How many times do I have to tell you, Rick? Look at what your opponent is doing! Look at him! He has his every command written upon his face before he speaks it! You should’ve guessed what he was thinking the minute he took his eyes away from you and looked at Shieldon! It was your negligence yet again that made your pokémon fall. I’m surprised that it still has faith in you as a trainer. If I were your pokémon, I sure wouldn’t.”

Michael snorted. If you were my pokémon, you’d get exactly what you deserve.

It seemed that the boy was thinking along the same lines. As he stared into Lona’s eyes, Michael saw a faint glow that hadn’t been there before. But as usual, Lona wasn’t interested. She stepped away from the boy, jostling him back into place by the shoulder, and came to the middle of the battlefield. “Machop has won the round. The respective trainer will send out their next pokémon.”

Rick went over to his duffel bag and took out his final pokéball. Coming back to the battle space, he released a Bonsly, a rough, egg-shaped pokémon with a stalk growing off the top of its head, and two tiny legs. Its eyes were perpetually narrowed, and often welled with silvery tears that dripped down the sides of its flat face. It was supposedly a detoxification process, one that Michael’s biology teacher had gone to great lengths to explain, but that did not stop him and his friends from dubbing it the Crybaby Pokémon.

But despite this Bonsly’s timid appearance, it turned out to be surprisingly resilient. It was able to dodge several of Machop’s aimed punches, and retaliate with sharp kicks and smacks, for which it used the bud-like growths that sprouted from the tip of its head. Normally, Michael would have found the lack of arms to be a setback, but the Bonsly compensated well, as if it was used to battling in such a physical way.

His interest turned into frustration, however, as Machop began to show signs of tiring. The pokémon’s reflexes began to slow, his punches became sluggish and often whizzed right past their target, causing Machop to briefly lose balance. Bonsly’s head-branch caught Macholp by the arm, spinning him around and knocking him to the floor.

Michael did not like to watch his pokémon fumble and flop, so he became pressed to find a move that would serve as a quick, powerful finish. But Machop’s field never seemed to clear—the Bonsly followed him around as if pulled by a magnetic field, poking and bumping in a harmless, but annoying way. Out of sheer desperation, Michael began to shout commands in rapid sequence, hoping to build Machop’s momentum through sheer loudness of voice.

“Go! Low Kick, Focus Punch, Cross Chop! Do something!” Michael shouted. To his satisfaction, some of the commands reached Machop’s ears, and the pokémon responded with a flailing attempt at self-defense. But still others missed, or were cut short by a jostle from Bonsly or a sharp smack across the cheek. After what seemed like an eternity, the Bonsly’s defenses finally seemed to give. After leaning too far in with its head-branch lowered like a spear, the Bonsly faltered for a moment, trying to regain balance. Smiling, Michael leaned forward to call Machop to attention, but before his own voice issued from his mouth he heard another rise above him.

“Stop!”

Lona’s hand flew into the air.

“Huh?” Michael turned his head reflexively. At the same time, Machop looked up at the sound of his master’s voice, and while his head was turned, the Bonsly rammed its body into him, toppling them both, spraying glistening tears all over the mats. The sound of the crash made Michael whip his head around again, but by the time his eyes found Machop, the Bonsly had rolled over and risen to its feet. Machop lay still on the mat, collapsed from exhaustion.

When Michael realized what had happened, he felt fury well up inside of him. As if by instinct, his eyes found Lona again.

The Gym leader approached him, equally terse, her hands on her hips. “A foolish move,” she said, casting a glance towards the fallen Machop. “Whenever two pokémon are in rally combat, the answer isn’t to fling worthless commands from the top of your head! You have to watch, wait! Observe the changes the battlers exhibit!”

“It was your fault he fainted!” Michael retaliated. “I had it all in the bag and then you distracted me!”

A smile turned the corners of Lona’s lips. “That doesn’t bring your Machop back to its feet, now does it? Send out your next pokémon.”

With a groan, Michael returned Machop and went for his backpack again. His next pokémon was his last—Goldeen. He had emptied the pokéball’s store of water upon leaving Hearthome, which he came to regret as he sent out the fish onto dry land.

Goldeen flopped for a moment, confused at the sudden change in environment. Lowering the pokéball, Michael felt a brief pang of pity for the both of them. Taking a deep breath, he looked up at the Bonsly. “Goldeen, use Supersonic.”

Goldeen complied, and narrowed her eyes as she sent a silent, invisible pulse through the air. When it hit, the muscles in Bonsly’s face suddenly relaxed. Its tongue lolled out from the corner of its mouth and its eyes drooped, spilling a fresh stream of tears down its cheeks. Bonsly began to teeter, making unintelligible noises as it dipped left and right. Michael watched, his lips pursed. Maybe it’ll keep hurting itself and faint. The idea was a comforting one, and he would have to be pretty damn lucky for it to work. But he had been lucky before. So why not now?

His hopes continued to churn through his thoughts as he watched the Bonsly dance, on the verge of toppling. The Bonsly’s trainer watched his pokémon in detachment, a slightly annoyed expression crossing his face. After a few seconds, he came out of his silence: “Bonsly, I’m your friend,” he said calmly. “Listen to me. Use Faint Attack.”

The Bonsly began to show signs of intelligent thought. It was currently balanced on one foot, its stem-head tilting dangerously to the side, but at that moment it began to blink, and withdrew its tongue into its mouth. Slowly, Bonsly drew itself upright again.

“Good,” Rick said. “Now use Faint Attack.” He stressed the word slowly and carefully. “Faint Attack.” The Bonsly shuffled forward, its expression still somewhat vacant, approaching Goldeen.

“Get out of the way!” Michael said. “Do it!”

Goldeen flopped on her side, trying to move herself over. She inched along, though she was no more coordinated than Bonsly was, and for a minute the battlefield resembled a drunken film in slow-motion. Bonsly bobbed slightly as it came to a stop beside Goldeen, and in an exaggerated motion, looked down at the pokémon. In response, Goldeen tried to roll herself to the side, but the Bonsly administered a single kick, which did it for her. After a few seconds, Bonsly’s confusion seemed to recede a little, and it approached to kick again. Michael nearly slapped his forehead in dismay, but stopped himself when he caught glimpse of Lona again, lurking in the sidelines.

“Finish it off!” she cried; whether it was to him or to Rick Michael didn’t know. “You have your opponent right where you want it! Go!”

Simultaneously, both boys turned to their pokémon.

“Goldeen, use Horn Attack!” Michael said.

“Bonsly, use Slam!”

Bonsly reacted first, planting both feet on the ground and steadying itself. Goldeen, flustered from the blows, was still trying to get herself back together. She was lying just a few feet away from Michael, who could see all too well what was going to happen. Goldeen managed to advance a few feet, but by then Bonsly caught up with her. With a tiny grunt, Bonsly jumped, and let itself fall right onto Goldeen, smashing her against the ground. Michael saw a protruding end of her fin tense briefly, then relax. When Bonsly rolled over, Goldeen lay where she was.

Five seconds passed, and Lona took the clipboard from the window. “Goldeen is fainted. Rick has won the round. That leaves Rick with two points for today, and Michael with zero.”

Michael grumbled. He sent back Goldeen without another word, avoiding the eyes of the other trainer. Rick called his pokémon back as well.

“Now onto your reviews,” Lona continued. “Both of you need serious, urgent work in improving your battle skills. Rick, you must learn once and for all to adapt your commands to the battle situation, and observe your opponent’s strategy instead of making blind, careless decisions. And Mr. Michael Rowan must learn to play the hand he is dealt.” In a single, precise motion, Lona slid the pencil into a gap beneath the clip, and tucked the clipboard under her arm. “That is all,” she said to them. “You may both pack up your things and leave.”

She sauntered off towards the door and slipped out of the room, leaving the both of them alone.

Michael was still fuming. Letting his rage buzz in the silence, he pulled off the gloves he was wearing and shoved them into his backpack, along with Goldeen’s pokéball. He wasn’t angered so much at the loss as he was at Lona. Every time he had been on to something, every time he had been ready to make a comeback, she had stepped in and cut him off. It was only his first day of battling, but already, he felt like it had been a week.

Michael was so caught up in his thoughts that he did not notice the other trainer kneel down beside him to pack his things. Michael was determined to let the silence continue, keeping it propped between them like a wall, but then the trainer turned to him and gave a one-shoulder shrug. “Good game.”

Michael looked at him for a moment, then let out a sigh. “Yeah. You too. Rick, right?”

The trainer nodded. Despite his victory, his face retained its perpetually sullen look, and his eyes kept drifting down to the floor. After a moment of digging around in his duffel bag, he looked back up at Michael again. “You shouldn’t ignore her like that. It pisses her off.” His accent seemed to come and go with certain syllables and inflections.

At the mention of Lona, Michael scowled. “Even when she’s dead wrong?”

Rick nodded. “Yeah. You gotta at least act like y’re listening. Otherwise, she can keep you here longer’nd make you battle more.”

“As if I need any more of her in my life..." Michael said. "It’s only been a day and I’m sick of it.”

At this, Rick’s eyes widened in disbelief. “It’s only your first day here?”

“Yeah.”

“And you got Lona for your first referee… that’s some luck right there. But it’ll get better—you’re more likely to get h’r other staff, and th’re way more lenient. They give advice that actually helps, too.”

Michael nodded slowly. “So you’ve been in the Gym a while?”

A sardonic smile crossed Rick’s face. “Four weeks and counting.”

Michael felt himself gape. “Holy shit. Are you serious?”

“Yup. All my friends are in Pastor’ya now… maybe even Sunyshore… I’m the only one who got left behind. I made it to the staff battles in my second week—most people do—but I lost b’fore I got to Lona. I had to start all ov’r.”

“And… you’re still doing partner battles? I don’t get it. They should’ve just let you start over from the staff level.”

Rick scoffed. “Yeah, try tellin’ that to her administration. They don’t care. No one does. Especially not her.”

“You make it seem like she hates you or something,” Michael said.

“Lona hates everyone. But the thing is, she hates some more than others. I’ve been doing partner battles for nearly three weeks, and she’s rejected me for staff battles twice. And in the meantime, kids come in here, lose a couple times in the partner rounds, and move straight up to the staff rounds and get the badge. And I’m still here.” Rick turned out his palms in a gesture of hopelessness, and slapped them back against his sides. “Lona keeps saying I have to improve my skills, but she never pays attention to my progress. And until I beat her Gym, I won’t be able to move on to the next one. Which, at the rate I’m going, means that I prob’ly won’t be able to finish the whole circuit by the time the season ends, and won’t be able to regist’r for the Elite Four tourney until the next one. In 1965.” He let out a breath. “Bitch.”

Michael nodded slowly. “I dig it. I really do.”

“Psh. Don’t kid yourself. You’re jus’ sayin’ that now. In a few days, you’ll move on just like the others. You’ll get the badge and leave and I’ll still be here, stuck in the hellhole of a town. Don’t pretend like you care. You can’t.”

At this, Michael felt a flare of irritation. “Look, man, I hate it here as much as you do. But you know what? I’m still gonna beat her. I have a foolproof strategy that no one here can guess about.” He stopped, then for affirmation, added, “And it’s going to work.”

Rick nodded, his expression still dark. “Yeah. Good luck with that.” He rose, slinging his duffel bag over his shoulder. Michael grabbed his backpack, and they set off together down the hallway.

The lobby was significantly emptier than it had been in midday, with just a few newcomers trickling in and presenting their wristbands. Michael motioned himself to a free bench by the door, and before leaving, Rick stopped beside him.

“Word to the wise,” he said. “The minute you get the chance, leave. If you lose, just cut it right then and there and come back next year. It’s not worth it to stay in this town.”

“You’re exaggerating,” Michael said. “It’s just a Gym. Just beat it and move on. It can’t be that bad.”

Rick shrugged. “If you think so, cat, then you’re dead wrong. I’ve lived here since I was born and I know everything. And I’ll tell you right now: Lona Walker is the biggest, most pretentious bitch you will ever meet. She might seem like she knows 'er stuff, but it’s all a lie. I know who she really is.”

Michael lifted an eyebrow. “Elaborate?”

Rick took a breath, as if weighing his words. “She’s a twenty-year-old chick with no life. That pr'tty much sums it up. My family actually knew hers a while ago. They had a farm ‘round here somewhere, but I dunno if she still lives there ’r not. At any rate, it doesn’t look like it. She doesn’t even act like she’s from here anymore. She talks like a city girl.”

“You mean the accent?” Michael said.

“Yup. She must’ve gotten rid of it when she was traveling. You know, studying to become a Gym leader and all. She pro’lly thinks it makes her sound professional… but I think she just sounds like a telephone operator.”

Michael snickered. “Couldn’t have said it better myself.”

Rick smiled. It was a rare change that came over his face, temporarily lifting it from its gloom. “You’re pretty cool, you know. You’re the first person who actually digs what I’m trying to say. Everyone else either doesn’t give a shit or doesn’t believe me.” Rick looked back as the group of trainers that had gathered around the desk slowly parted ways, its constituents splitting off in separate directions. “It’s really clev’r what Lona’s doing to us,” he said. “Separating everyone and making it seem like it’s every kid for himself. I think if someone really wanted to, they could write to the League Office or whatev'r and get her removed, but I guess everyone’s too scared to bother with it.” When Rick turned back to Michael, the smile was completely gone, leaving behind a drooping countenance. “Well, I gotta go,” he said, turning for the door. “What’s your name anyway?”

“Michael.”

“Cool. See you around.” Rick bobbed a nod at him, and pushed through the exit.

For the next few minutes, Michael sat alone, tapping his feet, watching trainers come and go around him. At last, the door to the right hallway opened, and Henry appeared with his tote bag clutched in both arms. He took a look around the lobby, and when his eyes found Michael, he approached. “Hey!” he said brightly. “When did you get here?”

“A couple minutes ago,” Michael replied. “How’d the battle go?”

“It was great!” Henry said. “I had a guy named Eric for my referee. He was really cool. He showed me how to throw a pokéball just like the pros.” In demonstration, Henry held up his left arm and curled it behind his head, gripping an imaginary pokéball. Brow furrowed in concentration, he swung it down with a swift flick of the wrist, aiming for the opposite wall. When he finished, the boy straightened, smiling proudly. “The way you spin it, it’s supposed to roll back towards you. My partner and I almost got it by the end of the match.”

“Great,” Michael said.

“So who was your referee?” Henry continued.

Michael gave a mumble in response. “Lona."

“Wow, really?" The boy's eyes widened. "What was she like?”

Michael thought for a moment, tapping his chin. “Like a Bibarel in its natural environment.”

Henry giggled. “What does that mean?”

“No clue,” Michael said. “Now let’s go. I don’t want to spend any more time in here than I have to.”

“Right,” said Henry.

Together, they signed out at the front desk, and without a backward glance, hurried out of the Gym. The two boys walked down the path side by side, though by their individual postures, they did not appear to be together. Henry did not seem at all dismayed by the day’s outcome; to the contrary, he seemed quite happy. The boy kept an upbeat pace, looking around at the surrounding town, indifferent with regards to the place he was going and the place he had left. Henry was utterly immune from the world, like he always seemed to be. But to Michael, there was no mistaking the sudden swell of relief he felt upon leaving the Gym, whose pale bricks and cream-colored walls he was already starting to associate with detention. It was as if Lona Walker’s shadow, which had been clutching him in a death grip during his entire visit, had suddenly released him and retreated back into its lair, awaiting his return. Michael never remembered having such a feeling about anything before, but his present awareness of it made him think, wondering if there was some truth after all in what the Rick kid had told him.
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