I had learned some things while traveling with Sai thus far. First and foremost, I had learned that every person and pokémon should have their own name for the sake of clarity. I had learned that not everyone knows about the legendary pokémon and how special they are. I had learned that every building looks almost the same, with some exceptions. I could live with those exceptions. But I could not live with the exception for the most important thing I had learned: I had spent so much time trying to separate myself from everyone else that no one could realize my superiority.
I hated admitting it, but Senori was right. Sai didn’t know how hard I had trained, and therefore he didn’t use me in the battle like I wanted him to. I had foolishly expected him to just… know what I had done. Panic coursed through me as I saw him send Senori out to the battle field. I jumped and jumped, tried to get his attention, but it didn’t work. Asking directly didn’t work, either. Anyone can expect things to happen, jump up and down, or ask for things. But not everyone can work as hard as me to get what they want. So, naturally, I was beyond confused and had way too many questions.
The only conclusion I could come to was that there were exceptions. Senori hadn’t done anything at all to get the special attention he got at the gym. He was chosen by Sai without a second thought, and the boy stood up for him despite how he needed that badge so badly and as quickly as possible. Yes, the sentret’s battle was rather humiliating, but being chosen by our trainer was still an accomplishment. Why was Senori an exception? Why was he Sai’s first pokémon? What about Atis, who wasn’t rewarded for the hard work he did at Violet City? How did the hitmontop seem so much closer to Sai than the rest of us?
…What about me?
When we started walking out of the forest-like gym, I immediately started thinking of ways to get Sai’s attention next time. I accidentally kicked a few bugs on the way out, but thought nothing of them. They were below me, and Bugsy’s caterpie certainly wouldn’t be causing me as many problems when we returned. We would be back, after all.
I thought that, perhaps, I would have to train in odd areas, like his room in the pokémon center. Destroying his room would force him to look at me, because who wants to pay money for a damaged room when it could be avoided? That was hard when we had separate rooms. Or I would have to force myself to evolve soon so that I could be bigger and even more intimidating than my unpredictable trainer. But I wasn’t close to evolving; my body wasn’t feeling any changes, nor did I feel ready emotionally. My more desperate plans consisted of asking Senori or Atis for help. They could ask him to pay attention to me, and Sai would listen without a doubt. But that would be a last resort, I decided.
I paced back and forth in the hallway where all of our rooms were. Atis did the same, but he muttered about Senori a few times. The snarky pokémon wasn’t on my mind. In my mind I was running from New Bark Town to Azalea Town once more, except this time I imagined myself more successful and stronger. I paced back and forth, but in reality I knew that I was going nowhere. I had to do something—and fast.
I turned to Atis. “Would you have wanted to battle against the scyther and caterpie?” I asked.
The hitmontop halted, seemingly embarrassed at being noticed and confronted so suddenly. “N-No,” he stammered, “not really. The scyther looked scary.”
“It did, huh? And Senori certainly won’t want to fight again.”
“I would agree with that…”
“So I’ll be fighting next.”
“Yes…” Atis said, rubbing the back of his head. He turned to the room to his door, probably wishing that it wasn’t locked and that Sai had given us the keys.
“That’s not really fair,” I pointed out. “That means Sai will just choose me because I’m last choice.”
“You’re a baby. It’s not an insult, he’s just protecting you…”
“I’m a baby, but I’m going to be better than you soon enough. Amazing, right?” I said, glaring at the pokémon. For a fighting-type, he sure chose odd battles to fight. “Do you think Sai will be taking long?”
Atis ignored my first comment and said, “It will probably be a few hours, yeah. Healing pokémon takes a while.”
“I’m going to the gym. I’m going to get that badge by myself, then.”
“W-What?” Atis said, turning to me swiftly and nearly falling over. “Why don’t you just wait for Sai?”
“If I can get Bugsy’s badge all by myself, then I’ll be first choice next time. I’ll be doing him a favor, anyway. He’s busy and in a hurry to get things done, which is a terrible combination.”
Atis looked down, shifted uncomfortably. “I guess… I still don’t think you should go by yourself.”
“Fine,” I said, thinking that I would need to learn from my mistakes and make sure there was a witness to my power, anyway. “I’m taking you with me.”
Physically, the city hadn’t changed much. It was still light, and it was full of buildings and trees and people walking around, all of which, unlike me, were going nowhere. The gym hadn’t changed much either. The bug pokémon still sat on sturdy branches and watched potential challengers walking through the door with disinterest. Things were still quiet aside from the occasional yell of a trainer that the bugs were so accustomed to that they didn’t flinch or even look in the general direction of the noise.
The feelings that stirred inside me, however, were much different. Last time, I stayed relaxed yet excited for what was (supposed) to come. This time, I knew that I was going into the unknown, so I was tense yet determined. There was nothing to be done—I had set my eyes on my, and nothing could stop me.
Nothing except Bugsy, that is.
“That’s the gym leader right there,” Atis said. He stopped walking and lifted his hand feebly, pointing out the small boy with purple hair and ranger clothes fit for the pretender that he was in this fake forest.
“I know that,” I said. Perhaps I spoke a bit too loudly, as the boy’s head snapped in our direction and his eyes widened in surprise. “And he knows who we are, too.”
“Where is your trainer?” Bugsy called out, standing up. His hands were curled around the handle of a watering can, and on the ground near him lay a bowl of what appeared to be berries. It would have been a decent sight had he been taking care of an actual part of nature rather than this fake place he had created.
“He’s at the pokémon center, healing the sentret,” I said, standing up as tall as I could.
“I see… Is he coming back for a gym battle later, then?”
“No,” I said sharply, offended. “I came to get the badge right here and now. I don’t need to wait for him.”
“Ah, yes. I remember you wanting to battle. Very eager, aren’t you? But you’re just like your trainer,” Bugsy said, kneeling back down and starting to water plants once more.
“My trainer is an idiot.”
Bugsy chuckled lightly. “Well, you should know that strong pokémon are not always the only kind of pokémon as well. If you want my badge, then you have to evolve one of my pokémon here. It doesn’t matter which, or how you do it—just be civil, of course.”
“Of course,” I said, rolling my eyes. I considered just leaving. I had come here to battle, and now I wouldn’t even get the chance. This was a job for the shy little Atis who didn’t want anyone near him. I looked at him curiously.
“We’ll do it,” Atis said, with no hesitation.
I glared at Bugsy.
The forest was vast, but so was the amount of pokémon in it. Evolving a pokémon, I thought, would be easy. Professor Elm, when confronted by several of our evolution questions, said that while we could grow and evolve fast, bug-types were the quickest. I had been training and traveling with Sai for weeks now, however, and still felt little change. I was stronger, yes, but I didn’t feel stronger. My body was growing, yes, but my mind was in the same place.
“Let’s see what I can do,” I mumbled. Since Bugsy was no longer available to glare at, I stared at Atis instead, hoping to shock him into thinking that this was hopeless after all, that Sai would just have to get the badge on his own time, like a normal trainer.
“R-Right,” he said, fidgeting and turning every which way that didn’t involve him having to see me.
We came across, of course, a ton of bug pokémon. They all seemed hesitant to come near us, but still intrigued at the same time as they stuck their heads out from behind bushes and as they stared down at us from the branches.
“We just have to pick one,” I said impatiently, stopping. I turned to my left. Standing in front of the bushes was a small and yellow pokémon with no limbs that I could see. It had black beady eyes, and it spoke its name over and over with a deep voice.
“This one? A Kakuna?” Atis asked, stopping as well.
“Yes.” I didn’t mention that I didn’t know it was a Kakuna up until now.
“You’d ask that about any pokémon, so I don’t feel too inclined to answer.”
Atis was silent.
I walked up to the pokémon and very briefly explained our mission. The Kakuna kept mumbling its name, completely apathetic.
“We’re pokémon, too, you know. You don’t have to say your name as if you were talking to a human… Not that you should have to say your own name when talking at all…” Atis said. He started to back up, probably thinking this was a bad idea. I was at least inclined to agree with him there.
“Uh, maybe we should find a different pokémon,” Atis suggested.
“No,” I said quickly. “If this thing is dumb enough to talk like that, then it has an awful lot to learn. Learning means growing and growing leads to evolution, right?”
“Okay. Go ahead and teach it to talk. You’re a school thing.”
“Um…” Atis said, treading lightly as he moved toward the still Kakuna and its robotic voice. “Well, like I said, humans will hear your name, but you can say whatever you want, okay? Please talk to us.”
“Kakuna, Kakuna,” it said. Did it even have a mouth?
Atis looked back and forth between me and the Kakuna, as if the little yellow creature was tricking him and going to attack at any moment. “I think evolution refers to fighting experience mostly…” he said.
“That’s the only effort you’re going to give?!” I cried, covering my face, wondering why I was bothering to hide my extreme disappointment.
Atis, the smart and strong one, said, “I know about pokémon, not speech.”
“Kakuna is a pokémon!”
He had nothing to say to that. I clenched my fist, bit down hard, wondering if I could chew him to pieces once we were outside and somewhere private. But then I got another idea. With my fist still balled up, I ran over to the Kakuna as fast as I could, drew my arm back, and punched it as powerfully as I could in an attempt to get some kind of reaction. I got a reaction, yeah—from myself. Excruciating pain shot through my stubby arm and then throughout my entire body. My hand throbbed. I winced, but tried not to whine. Don’t whine, don’t show weakness, even if the Kakuna is hard as rock.
“That was a bad idea,” Atis pointed out dumbly.
“You’re a bad idea,” I said, rather childishly, I would admit. My voice broke and he probably noticed. “I have another idea. I think”—I tried to regain my composure here—“that we should fight instead. Seeing things is still gaining experience.”
“I-I don’t think that’s a good idea…” Atis started, turning to leave immediately. “I think we should just go get Sai and let him take care of it…”
“If you won’t fight me, I’ll find someone who will!” I said, drawing back the same arm I used on the Kakuna and running toward Atis this time. I supposed that I should have made sure the Kakuna was watching first, but my rage toward Atis wasn’t really letting me think straight at the time. Since Atis was turned, I ended up punching him in the middle of his round back, sending him sprawling forward and into the dirt of the forest floor. His wails muffled as he landed, and he didn’t get back up for a while. I wondered if I had already won and proven that I was the strongest.
After a few moments, I peered over at the Kakuna. It had at least stopped murmuring its own name. I vaguely wondered if, like Sai and Senori and everyone else, the Kakuna had a special name aside from its species name. I didn’t get to think about it much, however, as I saw Atis stir in the corner of my eye. Looking at the Kakuna again, I prepared a water gun attack. The liquid filled my mouth and was bursting to get out, it didn’t matter where. Since I was convinced that the little thing was watching, I sprayed it toward Atis, just as I had done in the hotel on a day that seemed like forever ago. I didn’t hear any wailing this time, but I could tell he was hurt, since his body was splayed out on the ground once more, unmoving.
I walked up to him, sure that the Kakuna was still observing my obvious prowess. When I was close to his body, I lifted my foot and shook his hands, his legs, anything to get him up. While I wanted to be stronger, it would be bad if he lost here and I wasn’t able to evolve the Kakuna. Yes, I had brought him here for something, after all.
“Don’t be useless now,” I murmured, still kicking him.
Suddenly, a green aura appeared that stung my foot a bit. Naturally, I moved back, afraid of the new… attack? I couldn’t tell what this thing was. The circular barrier surrounded all of Atis’s body, and continued to do so as he stood up slowly, not facing me.
“I’m not useless, you know,” he said—calmly, I noticed. “I know Sai better than you do. I helped children… even if I didn’t want to…”
I didn’t say anything.
He still didn’t turn to face me. He was trying to stand up for himself and was still being shy when doing so, of course. Instead, however, he lifted his leg, and I knew an attack was coming, so I braced myself, tried to move back even further so maybe he’d miss.
But I didn’t do it fast enough.
The first thing I felt was his spikes digging into me despite my tough skin. Pain immediately coursed through my entire body, and I could see blood splattering from the corner of my eye. I flew backward, seeing Atis get smaller and smaller, further and further. He was also blurry… due to the tears in my eyes. I had no idea what my destination was until, of course, my body smashed right into the poor Kakuna who had simply been staring and standing still, innocently, the entire time. With the force of impact, the two of us also flew back into a nearby tree with a loud thud.
My head spun, my side hurt, I was crying, even my blood deserted me, the weak Atis was staring in horror, and I was laying on top of a glowing and mute Kakuna. I vaguely sighed in relief, thinking that Atis had found a way to make it fight. But this wasn’t a fighting glow. Didn’t Kakuna only know one attack, and that was to make itself harder so that poor opponents like me could break their hand with a single punch?
The Kakuna kept glowing, blinding me along with the tears. I could at least make out its figure, which was growing larger by the second. I was distracted as I heard Atis running over, crying out to me.
“You need to move! I’m sorry!” he cried. Screaming as he grabbed me on both of my sides, we made it back over into the clearing, away from the evolving Kakuna.
We could get the badge, now, at least.
I supposed that Kakuna needing a small amount of experience was an understatement, and it made me chuckle slightly, though I vowed not to do that for a while as my body stung in response. I turned my head as quickly as I could while still being careful in time to see the glowing fade away and reveal a new pokémon, one with stingers, a pair of antennas, and black and yellow stripes—definitely something to be feared should anyone else come across the pokemon now. Evolution, I thought, was surely an amazing thing.
Meanwhile, Atis was still muttering, “I’m sorry,” so I told him to shut up and not ruin the moment. He listened, but Bugsy decided to ruin the moment instead. If he made it better, I sure didn’t feel any better yet. No battle, I was hurt anyway, and Atis had made the Kakuna evolve, not me.
“You managed to evolve Kakuna into a Beedrill after all… and it looks like you got some battle experience yourself,” Bugsy said, smirking. Did he enjoy me bleeding on his forest floor? I wondered if he had been watching the entire time, the little brat. “As promised, you may have the Hive Badge.”
Atis took the badge in his hand after Bugsy took it out of his pocket. I simply looked at it, but didn’t touch it. I couldn’t get blood on it and then give it to Sai, though it may have proved I had worked for it… Nevertheless, the tiniest thing in the world, this little red badge with a black strip at the top and three black dots below it, made me smile a bit.
“Beedrill!” Bugsy yelled, also smiling. “Come over here and say something now.”
The Beedrill hovered over, and I found it amusing that this was the first time I had really seen the pokemon move. Was evolution really so easy, so simple? And could the Beedrill talk now, when it couldn’t before? I quickly received my answer.
“I was shy… so I kept saying my name to avoid fighting or making conversation… but I assure you, the entire time, I wanted to say thank you for choosing me.”
My head still hurt.
Every time Atis tried to talk after that—usually trying to say sorry or tend to my wounds—I simply said, “You’re weak, and I don’t want to hear it.”
When we were walking back with the badge, aside from dealing with Atis’s annoying self, all I could do was stare at it and think of what the Kakuna—now Beedrill—had said. Now, it would be my turn to get chosen. I would make sure of it. Fighting Atis had given me an idea. We remained silent the entire way back, since I knew that if I brought it up, he would be upset and flustered once more. Nevertheless, I would do what I had to. If you won’t fight me, I’ll find someone who will.
It really was that simple. Even though it was getting dark outside now, plenty of people were out and about, and they were all staring at me, some of them covering their mouth with their hands in surprise. But they didn’t do anything to help me. We made our way to the pokémon center, found Sai in the lobby, no one bothering to say anything, not even the nurse inside. Sai was even stunned into silence at first. All is always quiet when a known victory is made.
He ran to me with Senori in his arms and dropped to his knees.
“What happened to you?” he asked, his free hand moving toward my bleeding side, grazing it with care. I could tell he wanted to do something to help me, but I wouldn’t let him.
Instead, I said, “Fight me.”
“What?” Sai said, pulling his hand back.
I took the badge from Atis’s hand and presented it to him. “I won this for you. Fight me if you want it,” I said—slowly, seriously. He had to understand…
“You won this? For me?” he replied, ignoring me as he stared at the badge dumbly.
“I did. So fight me.”
“You’re my pokémon, Kuiora. I can’t fight you.”
“You fought Senori,” I said, making the disgust clear in my voice, not because it was immoral, but because he was denying me a chance now. I remembered Senori telling me about this, and knew, at that moment, I’d get Sai to fight me someday soon so that he’d accept me, too.
“I had no pokémon to help me catch Senori.”
“Senori was weak and I’m not. Fight me.”
“I won’t,” Sai said, taking the badge out of my hand. Had I not been injured, I would have bit him, punched him, kicked him, hit him with my water gun until—
I did punch him, at least. Right in the face. Right there, in the pokémon center, where everyone could see. Sai didn’t budge because the attack wasn’t very strong; my head still spun and I just couldn’t focus. But I was going to fight him and be chosen if it was the last thing I’d do.
Others wailed in horror, and the nurse cried for Sai to stop his pokémon, to return me to my pokéball. Atis tried to hold me back, but I just sprayed him with water and he gave up easily. Senori, with his injuries, was useless, so he simply jumped out of Sai’s arms and stood on the side to watch the event unfold. Sai’s expression was slightly more angry, but not angry enough to fight me back. I punched him again and again, sometimes in the face, sometimes in the stomach, sometimes in the back. It was much easier than fighting the Kakuna, but I tried not to let that bother me.
Sai took each and every hit, bleeding a bit himself and obviously having some bruises forming. But it wasn’t good enough. He wasn’t budging. His fists were clenched, and he was frowning, growling. I decided that I had to still be stronger. How could I do that? By getting rid of these wounds. All I wanted was for him to fight me and accept that I was his pokémon, a pokémon so strong that he had to fight back to control.
I had to evolve. Maybe I’d still be hurt, but I’d be stronger. My body had been growing, that was obvious. I was getting smarter, my mind was growing. I had trained so much, and in my desperate state of mind, I needed this, I needed this now.
I finally let myself do so. I stopped punching Sai, stood back, and to them, I was glowing—just like the Kakuna had for me and Atis. I could feel my body changing. I grew another set of spikes, this time on my head. My tail grew longer. My jaw was changing by turning smaller and more round, my teeth growing sharper and larger in quantity as compensation. Surprisingly, it didn’t hurt at all, but I supposed that was the result of my training. Pokémon were meant for evolution, anyway, and the body and mind prepared itself nicely… so nicely that my wounds weren’t as severe. The dizziness was gone, and I could concentrate again. I was no longer bleeding, though my side still showed signs of injury from Atis’s spikes. The nurse would have to take care of me eventually, and I wondered what she’d think of me.
When I felt complete, I opened my eyes. I was taller, and I was able to look down on Sai now. Perfect. I didn’t even stop to get a feel for my new form, just started punching him immediately once more. I would get used to my new body by training more and fighting—just to evolve once more, sometime in the near future, hopefully.
I hit him and hit him and hit him. Over and over, and this time, I could hear him grunting with pain, and asking me why I was doing this, and that I had to stop. I was hardly listening, and finally, finally, when his voice was emanating throughout the entire pokémon center and I still hadn’t stopped, I got what I wanted.
Sai punched me. Did he have a choice? He punched me. Right in the face. Right there, in the pokémon center, where everyone could see.
That was all I wanted.