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In the three weeks it had taken Cassandra to lose her contest, Belle had caught an unsuspecting Poliwag at the random pond in Celadon, cursed herself for not buying a bike, taken the long way to Fuchsia City via Vermilion, defeated Koga (she lost twice, causing herself to train so hard Charmy evolved into Charizard and her newly-caught Poliwag became Poliwhirl), and headed to Saffron, where she had been training with the people in the Fighting Dojo. She wasn’t too worried about Derrick finding her here. True, she had panicked in Fuchsia because she had spent too long there, but that had been different; what reason did Derrick have to come stumbling into the Fighting Dojo?
“How are things coming along, Belle?”
She turned from where she and Primape had been beating the crap out of a punching bag to see Hitoshi, one of the boys at the dojo. Primape paused in his ruthless destruction of the bag, but when he saw Hitoshi, he turned back to it, deciding that there was no threat to Belle.
Belle adjusted the tape on her hands. “I think I’m a quick learner.”
“No…I mean, have you battled Sabrina again yet?”
Belle looked away quickly. The truth was, Sabrina scared the crap out of her. She had been too afraid to tell Charmy, or Poliwhirl, or Eevee what to do, and had let them faint. Those cold, calculating eyes, the way her bangs were cut straight across her forehead, her Alakazam…she reminded Belle too much of death. She haunted her nightmares, standing above her with glowing eyes, cradling a limp, pale Pichu. Hitoshi sighed. “She’s not all that bad. She’s just shy.”
Belle squeezed her eyes shut and turned away, pretending to tighten the tape on her hands. Shy? The woman was death! With that calm, smooth voice and that cold, detached tone, her pale skin and strange psychic powers…she could speak to her Alakazam in her head! That alone was creepy enough! Suddenly, though, she found herself wishing she could speak to Charmy in her head.
“She freaks me out,” Belle said finally, throwing a weak punch at her bag. “She never smiles, she’s so calm…”
“You remind me of her a bit,” Hitoshi said, talking over the last part of her sentence.
“Work!” the Master Koichi yelled from across the dojo; Belle quickly began punching the bag. Hitoshi moved a bit closer to her.
“You both have dark hair, you both seem calm and composed all the time, neither of you ever smile…”
Belle froze. She reached out and gently caught the punching bag, making it still. She never smiled? “I smile,” she said, trying to think back to the last time she smiled. She smiled after she defeated Koga, right? No…after Erika. No…
“No you don’t,” Hitoshi replied. “You’re pretty calm and collected all the time. And Sabrina isn’t so bad, once you get to know her. She comes over here when the gym’s not so busy.” He glanced at her. “You might like her.”
“Take a break!” Master Koichi bellowed. Hitoshi wandered off and Belle sank to the floor, grabbing the water bottle she had placed there earlier.
“Settle down, Primape,” Belle muttered. The Pokémon stopped its beating of the punching bag and plopped down beside her, feet sticking out willy-nilly. “You need to calm down some.”
Primape glanced at her. Its message was loud and clear. Calm down like you, Miss Sabrina?
Belle put the rim of the bottle to her lips and looked away. Forget wanting to speak to her Pokémon in her head. They were mean to her.
Belle surfed through her e-mail. Her black hair was wet and matted to her head, and she was wearing a light blue tank-top and gray gym shorts. She had just taken a shower and was waiting for all the boys to be done; they all insisted that she take hers first, since she was the only girl. She had quite a few e-mails from Cassandra and Alyssa asking her what was wrong. Their urgency grew with each passing day. What could she do to get them to back off? She couldn’t tell them of her discovery…she couldn’t share this awful burden of sorrow, couldn’t thrust it on them. With a sigh, Belle picked up her water bottle.
“You sound troubled.”
Belle’s veins ran cold and her heart stopped beating; she froze, staring at the screen. The voice that had spoken was smooth, calm, collected…
It belonged to Sabrina.
Belle turned slowly to face her, lowering her water bottle. The woman stood there in an off-white turtleneck sweater and jeans. It was quite cold outside, now that Belle thought about it. Sabrina’s long black hair seemed to shift around her as she cocked her head slightly. “You fear me.”
Psychic people are so creepy, Belle thought immediately.
“And you seem to be under the impression that psychic people are creepy.”
“Stop reading my thoughts,” Belle said out loud. She stood up and walked away, trying to put some distance between herself and Sabrina. She was the only one in the dojo with her; why couldn’t the boys hurry with their showers?
“The thing you feel is not uncommon when one visits Lavender Tower,” Sabrina said suddenly. Belle looked at her sharply. “You were unlucky enough to happen upon a funeral.”
“What do you know?”
The simple answer startled Belle, and she wrapped her arms around herself and frowned.
“You need not fear me, Belle Caldwell.”
Oh, yeah, sure, you know my full name without me telling you, but I shouldn’t be afraid of you. Right. Belle strode over to her Poké Balls, which sat on a table nearby. She felt the need for some company.
“I am not going to hurt you,” Sabrina said, and some emotion edged into her voice. She sounded earnest. “Please, just understand what I’m telling you.”
Belle paused, her hand above Charmy’s Poké Ball. “May I at least let out Charmy?”
“Yes. You will argue if I decline.”
Belle felt a lot safer with a Charizard around; Charmy touched a claw to her shoulder blades supportively. “Continue.”
“You need to speak to someone. Don’t keep everything inside. Also…the person you dread meeting nears. If you wish to avoid him, you need to leave soon. While it is my opinion you should talk to him, I know that you will not heed my advice; I also feel that it is fair to warn you. He comes. You should leave within the next two days.”
Belle reached out and grabbed Charmy’s claw, squeezing it. “How do you know all this?”
“I am psychic. This city is my city.” Sabrina turned toward the door of the dojo. She crossed to it in a few long strides, and she paused before leaving, glancing over her shoulder at Belle. “You are determined. I can sense that you won’t leave here without the Marsh Badge. I will be waiting at my gym for you.”
Belle arrived at Sabrina’s gym with renewed determination and the heartfelt support from everyone at the Fighting Dojo. She had liked it there, and she was loath to leave them, but it had to be done; Derrick was coming, and she needed to head to Cinnabar Island to get her Volcano Badge.
Vaguely, as she wandered into the gym, Belle wondered about Derrick’s Pokémon. Had any evolved? Had he caught any new ones? She tried to imagine Derrick fighting alongside a Graveler or a Raichu, but the image hurt her heart, so she pushed the thoughts away. She needed to focus on her battle anyway.
Sabrina loomed out of the darkness of her gym, seeming to pass from shadow into being. Her long black hair fanned out around her elbows. “Good day to you, Belle Caldwell.”
“Good day.” Belle had resigned herself—she wasn’t going to be nervous this time, not at all. She was going to exude the same calm, confident aura Sabrina did. In fact, she was going to try to exude that type of aura from now on. She had come a long way from being afraid of Sabrina; now, she almost idolized her.
“Referee,” Sabrina said calmly, and a woman dressed in a referee’s outfit stepped out of the shadows, two colored flags in hand. “Begin the match, please.”
“This will be a three-on-three match. Leader is only allowed to switch between battles; challenger may switch at any time. Neither may use any more than three different Pokémon. Also, Leader will not, for any reason, read the challenger’s thoughts. Challenger ready?”
“Ready,” Belle said, reaching for a Poké Ball. She pressed the button in the center and felt it fill up the space in her palm.
“Leader ready?” the referee asked.
“Perfectly so,” Sabrina replied. A Poké Ball levitated in front of her.
“Espeon. It is your turn.” Sabrina’s Poké Ball opened and unleashed a purplish fox-like Pokémon with two tails and a gleaming gem in its forehead. It landed gently, its tail swishing over its head.
“Bellossum, let’s go!” Belle threw her Poké Ball. She knew what Pokémon Sabrina would use—Espeon, Mr. Mime, and Alakazam. She smoothed her thumb over a different Poké Ball as she thought of who would battle Alakazam.
“Espeon, please use Psywave.”
“Bellossum, use Giga Drain!”
Before Bellossum could use its move, Espeon’s wave of Psychic energy crashed into the little Pokémon and sent it tumbling head over heels. It stood up; there was a scratch on Bellossum’s little arm. The creature held its hands out and a mystical, swirling beam of green-tinged sunlight spread out, enveloping Espeon. Small green balls flowed back along the beam of light; they melted into Bellossum, and the scratch on her arm healed. Espeon looked suddenly fatigued.
“Hm. That is something else indeed.” Sabrina looked down calmly at her Pokémon. “Espeon, Confusion, please.”
“Bellossum, dod—” Belle quickly rethought her strategy. How do you dodge a Psychic move? She cracked her knuckles, mind racing. “Bellossum, use Sleep Powder!”
Espeon wasn’t finished readying its mind or meditating or whatever it was Psychic Pokémon did to start attacks, and when the peaceful powder drifted slowly down onto it, its lids closed heavily and it sank to the floor, fast asleep.
“Oh, this is a problem. Espeon?” Sabrina seemed perfectly calm.
“Bellossum, use Quick Attack!”
Bellossum shot at Espeon, colliding into it. Espeon flopped in a rag-doll motion, sprawling out on the gym floor, still fast asleep.
“Espeon, use Confusion!” Sabrina said, sounding forceful.
“Espeon is fast asleep,” Belle reminded her. “Bellossum, Tackle! Quick Attack! Tackle again!”
The attacks continued, and Espeon didn’t wake up. After a while, Belle ordered Bellossum’s attacks to stop; she didn’t want to hurt the Pokémon too badly. Nothing happened for a while. Then—
“Espeon is unable to battle! Challenger wins!”
“Very well,” Sabrina said, withdrawing Espeon to its Poké Ball. “And now—Mr. Mime, if you please.”
“Bellossum, you’ve done well. Return.” Belle plucked a different Ball from her belt and tossed it as Mr. Mime appeared on the floor, happily waving its hands. “Your turn, Poliwhirl!”
“Mr. Mime, Reflect.”
Mr. Mime swung his hand out, creating a shield of light in front of him.
“Poliwhirl, use Bubblebeam!”
Another shield sprang up in front of Mr. Mime; this one deflected Bubblebeam, sending it shooting back at Poliwhirl, who leapt sideways to avoid its own attack. Belle’s fingernails dug into her palms as her fingers curled into fists.
“Mr. Mime, Safeguard.”
“Mime!” Mr. Mime erected yet another glowing shield, smiling the whole time. Belle wanted to kick it. She surveyed the battlefield, Sabrina looking on coolly as the gears in her mind turned. Last time she had won by putting Espeon to sleep…maybe she could do that to Mr. Mime.
“Poli!” A purple mist slowly wrapped itself around Mr. Mime, but it didn’t touch him; one of his many glowing shields pulsed and dispelled the mist completely.
“Safeguard protects against status defects,” Sabrina said. “You can’t put Mr. Mime to sleep.”
“Mime, Mr. Mime!”
Belle wouldn’t be surprised if she looked down and saw blood flowing from her palms, the way her fingernails were digging into them. She forced herself to stop and whipped her cap off her head, running her fingers through her hair briefly before setting it back on. “Poliwhirl, Mud Shot!”
It obeyed; mud splattered across Mr. Mime, but one of his glowing shields caught most of it. It didn’t hurt him enough to make him blink. “Mr. Mime, Barrier, please.”
Why doesn’t she attack? Belle thought to herself, squinting her eyes. Well, she was going to have to take full advantage of the time that wasn’t spent inflicting damage on her Pokémon. “Poliwhirl, use Double-Slap!”
Poliwhirl leapt forward, but he couldn’t get through Mr. Mime’s glowing shields. He fell back, grunting. Belle rethought. “Mud Shot, then Bubblebeam!”
Mud Shot once again splattered a bit of mud on Mr. Mime, but with one calm order of “Light Screen” from Sabrina, he calmly deflected Poliwhirl’s Bubblebeam.
Belle was getting frustrated. “Those shields are pissing me off,” she grumbled, starting to pace in her little square. She suddenly wished she had asked that weird guy in Celadon Mansion more questions instead of punching him in the jaw, but what was done was done. Didn’t she teach Poliwhirl a move that he could use against Mr. Mime and actually hurt him? She ran briefly through his arsenal.
“Calm Mind,” Sabrina told Mr. Mime, and he shut his eyes and swayed back and forth.
“Poliwhirl!” Belle cried, stopping in her stupid pacing. She’d had an epiphany—she knew how she was going to win this match. “Brick Break!”
Brick Break was a Fighting-type move, she knew, but she also knew it would break through defenses like Light Screen, Reflect, Barrier, and Safeguard, and that was just what she needed. Poliwhirl hurtled at Mr. Mime, throwing a huge punch; his fist glowed red as it plowed into the different shields Mr. Mime had erected. They shattered in pieces of glowing light and rained down upon the battlefield. Furthermore, Poliwhirl’s fist hit directly in the middle of Mr. Mime’s chest, and while Fighting was weak against Psychic, a direct hit like that couldn’t be ignored; Mr. Mime was sent flying across the gym floor, landing on his bottom near Sabrina.
Belle met Sabrina’s eyes over the falling shards of glass-light, a smile lifting the corner of her mouth. Now, every time Sabrina ordered Mr. Mime to put up those shields, Belle could just break them and send Mr. Mime flying. It would tire Mr. Mime out to put those shields up so many times, and eventually Poliwhirl’s repeated punches would knock him out.
“What a beautiful display,” Sabrina commented. Belle looked away from Sabrina’s eyes. Indeed, the falling shards of Mr. Mime’s broken barriers were quite beautiful, in a tragic sort of way. “Mr. Mime, Magical Leaf.”
“PROTECT!” Belle shouted urgently, almost falling out of her box. Poliwhirl threw up his hands, making a glowing blue-green shield that curved around him and deflected the glowing leaves sent from Mr. Mime’s hands. They dissolved and Poliwhirl dropped his shield. “Now, use Body Slam!”
Poliwhirl leapt up, soared through the air, and landed heavily on top of Mr. Mime, who crumpled under the weight and lay helpless beneath his opponent’s body.
Belle’s Water Pokémon proceeded to slap Mr. Mime hard about the face; Sabrina’s mouth twitched as she watched, knowing she could do nothing to prevent it. “Now, finish it off with Bubblebeam!”
A large stream of bubbles erupted from the center of Poliwhirl’s swirly belly as he leapt back, and they caught Mr. Mime about the middle and pushed him several feet. When he landed, a bit crumpled, the referee craned her neck briefly to look at him.
“Mr. Mime is unable to battle! Poliwhirl wins the battle!”
“Yes!” Belle cried as Sabrina returned her Pokémon.
“Do not celebrate just yet,” the Gym Leader toned calmly. “We have one more battle. In this one, we shall see who is the true victor.”
Belle felt her face harden as she returned Poliwhirl to his Poké Ball. “Good job,” she whispered to the Ball as she put it on her belt and grabbed another. Sabrina also held a Ball; they stared at each other across the battlefield. Both knew what the other was about to do. Sabrina didn’t even need her psychic powers to know which Poké Ball Belle held.
“Alakazam,” Sabrina said softly, holding out her hand. The ball floated above it for a few seconds before opening and releasing a yellow human-like Pokémon holding two spoons for no apparent reason, its eyes narrowed as it took in Belle’s appearance for the second time. Sabrina’s eyes glowed blue, and Alakazam’s glowed in response; the two held such a sacred bond that this seemed to happen whenever they were together.
Belle trembled. The Sabrina that stood across the gym floor now was the Sabrina that stood in her nightmares; those glowing blue eyes seemed to pierce her soul. She drew in a deep breath and closed her eyes, trying to find her focus again.
When Belle’s eyes opened, they were alight with the fire of her determination. It didn’t matter anymore that the only reason she came to the gym was because Derrick was coming and she had to run away. It didn’t matter that Sabrina’s eyes were glowing blue. It didn’t matter that she had lost once before. It didn’t matter that she had once been scared stiff of Sabrina. All that mattered now was the battle; she was going to win and get that Marsh Badge.
“Let’s go, Charmy!” Belle threw Charmy’s Poké Ball out onto the field, and the Pokémon erupted from it with a roar. Belle and Charmy shared a bond, too. It may not have been born of psychic power, but it was there, and she was more linked to him than any of her other Pokémon.
“Alakazam.” Sabrina’s voice was different; it came out in a strange hiss when she spoke to her closest Pokémon. “Psychic.”
If there was any music to this scene, it would be low and dramatic. Belle could practically feel the drum beat in her chest. Alakazam raised its arms slowly, and Belle assessed the situation.
The spoon glimmered as Alakazam waved its hand; Charmy, mid-lunge, suddenly froze. There was a split-second pause before he was hurtled backwards, crashing into the stand holding up Belle’s small box; she clutched the railing. “Charmy! Are you okay?”
With a determined roar, Charmy got to his feet, the corner of his lips pulled back to show his pointed teeth. He had already been defeated by Alakazam once—he wasn’t about to lose to it again.
“Psycho Cut!” Sabrina rasped.
Alakazam pushed his hand into the air; waves of psychic power formed into roughly the shape of a sickle. With a sweep of his hand, Alakazam sent it hurtling toward Charmy, and the thing slammed into his chest, sending him once again into the metal support beams of Belle’s box.
“Charmy!” she cried. She was not going to take this lying down. “Flamethrower!”
In an all-too-familiar display, Alakazam sent up a glowing shield of light. The Flamethrower parted and went around it, not touching Alakazam at all; but when the Psychic Pokémon looked up, beads of sweat could be seen sprouting on its forehead.
“Dragon Claw!” Belle cried before Alakazam had time to process. Charmy leapt into the air and swooped down on Alakazam; his claws glowed bluish-silver as he stuck his hand into Alakazam’s misty Light Screen and slashed him right across the chest. The Psychic Pokémon cried out and was slung sideways, doing a strange pirouette before it hit the floor. Charmy arced up and away, slamming his flaming tail into Alakazam’s falling form as he soared up towards the rafters.
Sabrina’s glowing eyes glowed ever brighter, and Alakazam pushed himself off the floor. “Psycho Cut!” she said again.
“Be ready, Charmy!” Belle cried, moving her feet shoulder-width apart and holding her hands out. Charmy copied her without even looking, his wings beating to hold him aloft.
Alakazam formed the familiar sickle and hurled it up toward Charmy; the Charizard reached forward and caught it in his claws, roaring loudly with the effort. Sweat appeared on his forehead as he pushed at it, and finally, with a great bellow, he flung it aside, sending it flying across the gym floor and crashing into the wall; smoke billowed up from the contact point.
Charmy opened his mouth; black smoke poured out, filling the gym. Belle cried out something unintelligible even to her. Black smoke curled all around, pushing into her mouth and nostrils, but she held her sleeve over her mouth and nose and closed one eye, trying to peer through the thickness.
Alakazam couldn’t see either; after many agonizing seconds, he sensed a shift in the smoke. He looked up just in time to see the smoke tear apart and a Charizard burst through. Charmy’s claws shot out and raked his face, leaving three parallel gash marks across his cheek. Alakazam cried out and stumbled backwards; Charmy escaped to the rafters as the smoke cleared once more.
Charmy spun quickly in the middle of his ascent and blew hot flames out of his mouth. Alakazam’s distraction allowed the fire to burn a hole through his misty Light Screen and get in a direct hit; he bellowed and stumbled, hitting one knee as the flames poured over him. Charmy snapped his mouth shut and flapped his wings hard enough to send him to the top of the building again, leering down at his opponent.
Sabrina took a step forward; her hair fell across her face and one hand reached out to grasp the rail of her box. Her lips parted, showing her teeth, as her glowing eyes widened. “ALAKAZAM,” she screamed in a voice that no longer sounded anywhere near calm.
Despite Sabrina’s appearance, Belle wasn’t afraid. She gritted her teeth and stepped to the edge of her box, wishing she could be closer to the battlefield. “Charmy!” she yelled, and her voice cut through her throat like a razor.
Alakazam looked possessed as it raised its arms, its head falling back slightly, the spoons shaking uncontrollably though its hands remained still.
“Fire Blast!” Belle cried, tightening her grip on the rail in front of her. Charmy lowered himself a bit and opened his mouth; the flames started to pour out just as a huge wave of Psychic energy pulsed out of Alakazam.
The beam of fire smacked straight into the wave of energy and spread out over it, but neither Pokémon could advance; Charmy’s eyes narrowed and it bellowed despite the flames pouring from its throat, and Alakazam let out a strange yell as it tried to push its energy harder. Belle leaned forward, and before she knew it, she was screaming too, her voice rising in pitch and volume until it was a shrill, loud tone that made her feel as though her face was about to explode. Sabrina was also yelling, her eyes glowing so much that it was like tiny blue suns were in her eye sockets instead of eyes. She leaned over the rail, her hair slipping forward from her shoulders and dangling out over the battlefield.
Belle slowly began to raise her arm as if possessed, screaming as she cocked it back; she launched it forward as if throwing something, and Charmy pushed his fire so hard that it burst through Alakazam’s energy and washed over Alakazam himself. Sabrina went stiff and her scream doubled in volume, her head lolling back and her hair whipping about her as if in a wind only she could experience. Alakazam’s yell rose until it mingled with Sabrina’s and they were yelling with one single voice.
Belle’s screaming didn’t stop. She leapt up onto the rail of her box, pushing her upper body forward until she was curved over the field, hands balled into fists and throat straining. Alakazam and Sabrina screamed as if they were both awash in flames; Belle and Charmy bellowed as if they were both hammering fire from out of their stomachs.
Finally Charmy stopped, his mouth shutting as he hovered above Alakazam, who was lying flat on his back and still screaming. Sabrina’s cries didn’t stop, either; suddenly, the glow from her eyes turned blazing white, and she spread her arms, hollering as she rose into the air. Alakazam’s chest rose, leading his body as it levitated above the floor.
Belle raised her arm and brought it down again; Charmy mimicked her motion at the same time, bringing his fist onto Alakazam’s chest and forcing him to cave in, his back smashing against the floor. Sabrina screamed even harder; her head fell back more as Alakazam’s voice died away, the white glow from his eyes fading. Sabrina’s cry persisted until finally she collapsed on the floor of her box, a crumpled heap of tangled black hair. Belle wavered on her box railing, suddenly dizzy; Charmy slowly brought himself down so that his feet touched the floor and took a step back. An eerie silence rang through the room, a calm following the storm of the century.
Belle had defeated Sabrina.
To:dancing_through_life@pokénet.com, [email protected]
Subject: I’m not dead.
I’m fine. I spent those three weeks at the Fighting Dojo. I battled Sabrina; it was intense. I have the Marsh Badge now.
I’m really sorry about your contest, Cassandra. Don’t give up.
You two don’t have to worry about me. I can take care of myself. I’m fine. Nothing about me has changed. You’re just worrying too much.
Charmy is Charizard now.
Love you guys,
Alyssa leaned forward in her chair, watching the screen intently as Goldeen’s horn dug itself into Finny’s flesh. She grabbed her mouse to pause the video and dragged it back to Sakura’s look at the judges; Ziggy shifted in her lap, craning to see.
This was some rare free time, and Alyssa was spending it studying Cassandra’s Contest video to see if there was any evidence that Konohana was cheating. So far, the only evidence she had gotten was that one particular judge was being incredibly unfair. While that didn’t spell out cheating verbatim, it did point to it.
“What are you doing?” Ian asked, entering the room. Prinplup waddled behind him, heading for the bed; Ziggy leapt off Alyssa’s lap and scuttled over to the Water Pokémon.
“Looking at this. My friend Cassandra thinks this girl might have bribed a judge.”
“You sure she’s not just a sore loser?” Ian joked. Alyssa shot him a look so angry he stopped walking toward her. “Sorry. It was just a joke.”
“Please don’t talk about my friends that way. Cassandra wouldn’t make an accusation like that without reason.”
Ian held up his hands. “Okay. I’m sorry. What have you got?”
“Well, all I’ve got is that this match is completely unfair.”
“How so?” Ian came up behind her and leaned on the back of the computer chair.
“Several times, this judge docks Cassandra for unnecessary roughness when the tactics she was using were completely legal—and then, when this Konohana girl does something that would be considered unnecessary roughness under normal circumstances, and she’s not penalized at all. In fact, she wins the match. Look—see that red spot? That’s blood.”
“Holy crap,” Ian said, leaning forward slightly and squinting. “And she didn’t get penalized for that? Do you know the rules for Contests?”
“Got ’em right here.” Alyssa pulled up a window she had, which listed the Contest rules. “I’m thinking about making an investigation.”
“It’d never get off the ground,” Ian said. “How would you go about telling Chairperson Erma how you got the information?”
“Anonymous tip-off,” Alyssa replied immediately. “I don’t have to disclose the name that way.”
Ian grinned. “You’re really thinking like a Ranger. But it’s the Hoenn Region Police Department that needs to get investigating that crap, and since the president’s son is a famous Coordinator, I doubt it’ll happen.”
Alyssa rolled her eyes. She hated politics. “You wanna go down to the lounge and get some coffee?”
Ian groaned miserably. “No,” he said, plopping down to sit on Alyssa’s bed. Ziggy jumped on the bed and laid down by his leg. Every Top Ranger had their own room, almost apartment-like. They all had a front room, a bedroom, a bathroom, and a kitchenette. The Ranger Union provided them with top-of-the-line computers, of which Alyssa took full advantage. “My legs are killing me.”
Alyssa laughed at him as she closed out her windows. “Three weeks and you’re still not used to the exercise routine?”
“They make us do stupid obstacle courses every day! They give the men more than the women, I swear.”
“Ian, the men and the women do their exercises together. We have the same routine. Eat some bananas or something.”
“What’s that have to do with anything?”
“Potassium helps with cramps.” Alyssa logged off her computer and swiveled around in the chair, smiling. We’re really friends, she thought as Ian smiled back.
Today they had a day off; they wore everyday clothes. It was getting cold, so Ian wore long pants and a hoodie. Alyssa had learned to get dressed on days off instead of lounging in her pajamas, because if Chairperson Erma didn’t call with an I’m-sorry-I-know-it’s-your-day-off-but-we-need-you-for-a-quest-and-everyone-else-is-busy call, Ian dropped by unannounced. She wasn’t sure how he got into her locked room. He must have figured out her keycode.
“Is that what you do?”
“That, and I got used to the routine.”
Ian scowled. “Some days hit me harder than others, okay?”
“I’m sure that’s what it is.” Alyssa stood and stretched. “I’m bored. I’ve been in my room all day. Erma hasn’t called me once. Knock on wood!” she said hastily, rapping her knuckles against her desk. It was a silly superstition, but it was one she had grown up with, and now it was habit.
“She calls you on your days off, too? Good, I thought I was the only one.”
“Keith says she does that to everybody,” Alyssa offered, going over to the shelf above her bed and plucking a snowglobe off it. Prinplup looked over at it, interested.
“So you’ve been hanging out with Keith a lot?” Ian’s voice sounded strange as he asked the question.
“No.” She laughed as she shook the globe, letting snow fall on Snowpoint, as if they didn’t already have enough. “I was just talking to him yesterday. He was going on a quest on his day off. See it, Prinny?”
Quests were things regular civilians asked of them. More often than not they were small things, like gathering Drifblim to help move or finding lost Pokémon. Most of the time people would just grab Rangers if they saw them on the street, but sometimes they would come straight up to the Ranger Union and request that a Ranger help them.
“Why? Are you jealous?” Alyssa asked teasingly, setting her snowglobe back on its shelf.
“N-no,” Ian stammered, his face turning red. Alyssa blushed too. It was nice to get reassurances that he had a crush on her, but it was embarrassing, too. She brushed some bangs out of her eyes. “And don’t call Prinplup Prinny.”
“But he likes it. Don’t ya, Prinny?” Alyssa laughed as she got a Prinplup scowl in reply. “That’s okay. I have a Partner Pokémon who likes being called a nickname. Right, Ziggy?”
“Goon!” Ziggy leapt up and scuttled over to Alyssa, leaping into her arms. She laughed and scratched his ears.
Alyssa’s Styler vibrated from her desk. Once she became a Top Ranger, she had gotten one of their Stylers—it fastened to her wrist instead of being handheld. The Ranger Union communicated through these Stylers. Operators were usually the ones who handled calling Rangers from the base, but Rangers also communicated through them.
“No,” Alyssa groaned as she picked it up. She hit a button. “This is Alyssa Thompson speaking.”
“Good afternoon, Alyssa. This is Rhythmi.” Rhythmi was the best Operator the Ranger Union had, and also the busiest, so she spoke rather quickly. “Chairperson Erma would like to speak with you and Ian—would he happen to be with you?”
“Yes, he is,” Alyssa replied. Talking to someone on the Styler was like talking to someone on speakerphone. Ian glanced up at her, wincing.
“Good. Please meet Chairperson Erma on the third floor in fifteen minutes. Rhythmi out.”
Sighing, Alyssa strapped her Styler to her wrist and threw on a jacket. She grabbed her wallet and shifted Ziggy so that he hung from her shoulder, sniffling near her ear—his favorite traveling spot.
“Come on, Ian. Let’s go see what Erma wants.”
The third floor was just a large chamber filled with huge computers; Operators sat everywhere, headsets on, pressing different flashing buttons and talking animatedly. Rhythmi’s blonde head bobbed as she hurried to press different buttons.
Chairperson Erma stood from her seat and beckoned to Alyssa and Ian as they entered; she was a very old woman, with silver hair tied back in two thick bunches and a wrinkly face. Her back was stooped, and she relied on a cane to walk, the handle of which was shaped into a Sandslash. She wasn’t a skinny old woman, by any means. Alyssa always thought of her as someone’s granny—Granny Erma. She always wore dresses with crocheted sweaters.
“Good afternoon, you two,” Erma said, her cane thunking against the tiled floor as she walked over to meet them.
“Good afternoon, Gr—Chairperson Erma,” Alyssa replied.
“Good afternoon,” Ian echoed.
“I have a mission for you two—no, it doesn’t start today, so don’t panic. Follow me.” With surprising speed, Erma clunked across the floor and to the elevator, taking them down to the second floor. She led them into a large room with black walls, floor, and ceiling. “Shut the door, please, Ian.”
Ian did so, throwing the room into complete darkness, and Erma cleared her throat. “Computer! Bring up most recent data.”
The computer in question whirred to life; a map of Almia appeared beneath their feet, and the walls began pulling up pictures and data files in an organized manner. Among the pictures were landscapes, what looked like mugshots, and snapshots of suspicious-looking people carrying briefcases from different angles and from various distances. The ceiling showed a perfectly clear, blue sky.
“Um, Chairperson Erma…what does the sky have to do with anything?” Alyssa asked, pointing up at the ceiling. The old woman looked up, bracing a hand on her back.
“I just think it adds a nice feeling. Now, what’s happening here…we’ve done a bit of digging on that prisoner you two apprehended—”—Alyssa had to work very hard to keep still, but she wanted to squeal That makes it sound so cool!—“—and this is what we’ve come up with. Upon asking him his name, he simply said that he was a Galactic Grunt, no more. He then asked us for some hair dye—Computer, hair dye bottle.”
The wall pulled up a picture of a box of hair dye. On the front was a picture of a smiling girl with long, bright blue hair the color of Team Galactic’s hair.
“Look at this,” Erma said, gesturing towards the screen. “Notice the name of it?”
“Happy Hair Brand Hair Dye?” Ian said. “Sounds cheesy.”
“No,” Erma snapped impatiently, tapping her cane on the floor. “Computer, name of color.”
The computer wall brought up a close-up picture of the corner of the box, which read—
“Galactic Blue, Number 476,” Alyssa said.
“Exactly,” Erma replied.
“Is there any correlation between the company and Team Galactic?”
“Actually, that’s what we want you two to find out.” Erma rolled her head and adjusted her shoulders, looking as though she was trying to crack her back.
“You can’t be serious,” Ian said.
“Yes, I am. We can’t do everything from here, you know.”
“But what about the mugshot?” Ian pointed up at the picture in question. Erma laughed.
“Oh, that’s just a picture of Mr. Galactic Grunt. We found out his actual name—Terrence Miller, from Veilstone City. Computer, zoom in, current mugshot.”
The mugshot became larger-than-life on the screen. It certainly was their prisoner; only in the picture, the roots of his hair were dark brown. “What’s up with his hair?” Alyssa asked.
“He dyes it,” Erma said. “When we questioned him further, he said that all members of Team Galactic—except for the commanders—dye their hair with this exact color, brand and all. Their warehouse is apparently full of it. The factory is in Pueltown, so we’d like you to head there and do some reconnaissance.”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” Ian said, pushing his face into his hand. “I—I—that just sounds so…”
“Trivial?” Erma supplied. “Miniscule? Non-important?”
“Why aren’t we looking into why Team Galactic wanted to blow up the Ranger School?”
“We are! I’m sorry to burden you two with this stupid little mission,” Erma added apologetically, “but we need someone to do it, and, as with most companies…we send the rookies to do the small work.”
“What do the pictures of the guys with briefcases have to do with anything, then?” Ian asked.
“Oh—those are just screenshots from an action movie I was watching last night,” Erma replied. “Computer! Move screenshot images into Erma’s folder.” All the pictures of the men with briefcases zoomed away into a folder along with all the pictures of landscapes, leaving the walls quite blank. “Anyway, you two—computer, underfoot map of Pueltown—the company’s main factory is in Pueltown. We don’t know much about it, except that they seem to have been established around the time Team Galactic became prominent in Sinnoh. You’ll have to find everything else out. Computer, mark Happy Hair Company Factory.”
Alyssa tried not to groan. This sounded so stupid. She looked down at the red X in Pueltown, memorizing where it was—she had an excellent sense of direction. “So, all we know is that every member of Team Galactic is required to dye their hair with this stuff?”
“Yes. The Pueltown Ranger Base will be expecting you day after tomorrow. Get packing and planning!”
“There’s no plan?” Ian asked incredulously. Erma shot him a look, and he cleared his throat. “I mean—ma’am, I would have expected that the Ranger Union, being full of intelligent people, would provide a plan for us.”
“Well, the Ranger Union certainly is chock-full of intelligent people. And last time I checked, you two were in the Ranger Union. So provide yourselves a plan!” Erma beamed. “We expect regular check-ins, and your schedule is to remain perfectly normal—that means that you don’t get a day off to plan and pack tomorrow. You will do your daily exercise regimen and go on patrol as per usual. Any questions? Good. Dismissed!”
From: [email protected]
Subject: They’ve got to be kidding.
Sooooo!! I’ve been sent on my first mission as a Top Ranger!
To a hair-dye factory.
Yeah. I’m supposed to be figuring out whether or not they’re related to Team Galactic. It’s so dumb. What if they’re not? Then I’m just going to be wasting my time snooping around some innocent hair-dye factory. But whatever! It’s my job! I’m getting paid for it!
Oh, did you get Belle’s last email? I’m so relieved that she’s not dead or anything, but why did she spend so much time at the Fighting Dojo in Saffron City? That doesn’t seem like her. I’m still really worried about her. Something’s wrong and she’s not telling us. Or me, anyway. If she tells you anything, blab it on over, will ya?
Reviewed your video; it REALLY looks like Konohana’s cheating, but there’s no concrete proof, so there’s really nothing I can do. =( Sorry. Just remember to steer clear of her from now on. Good luck on your next contest! I know you’ll do great! (You’re not giving up, are you?)
All my love (well, most—gotta save some for Ian! XD),
A/N: The line about the Hoenn president is a throwback to Sgt Shock's fic!
Cassandra smiled as she gently pulled the blankets up on Karen’s bed to cover the girl’s shoulders. She felt strangely motherly toward her now; she wasn’t quite sure why.
Fluffy stood behind her, wagging its tail slightly as she headed for the door. It knew to be quiet when someone was asleep. Last night, Cassandra had allowed all her Pokémon to curl up with her in the bed. She had tried not to disturb Karen as she softly cried herself to sleep, and her Pokémon had helped her; Swablu had gently dabbed her tears with its wings, Finny had laid beside her and hugged her, and Fluffy had cuddled up to her front, putting his cold nose on her neck and sniffling every once and a while.
Cassandra picked up her backpack and slung it over her shoulder. She hadn’t called her mother yet; she was planning on doing that later this morning. She had, however, talked to the lady who ran the PokéLove, and she had agreed to let Cassandra stay for a reduced price because of the length of time she needed the room. Cassandra wasn’t leaving Fallarbor Town until she won the Super Rank Contest.
No ash was falling outside; a grateful Cassandra stuffed her umbrella in her backpack and made her way around the back of the building, where she liked to train. She frowned when she noticed a thin draft of smoke wafting up from the back of the building. It wasn’t big enough for anything to be on fire…what was going on?
As she turned the corner, a strange sight met Cassandra’s eyes; a girl she had never seen before was leaning against the wall, a cigarette to her lips. She had red hair that tumbled down her shoulders, and she wore jeans and a gray sweater. A Glaceon stood by her side, but it wasn’t normal at all. Instead of being blue, its coat was a dusty blue-gray color. Also, a normal Glaceon’s shoulder would come about to mid-shin; this Glaceon’s shoulder came to the girl’s knee, almost Mightyena-size.
The girl turned her head and smiled slightly, and Cassandra recognized her—it was Sakura Konohana.
“Well, hello, Cassandra.” She took another drag of the cigarette and blew a smoke ring into the air.
Fluffy, down by Cassandra’s ankles, started growling in the back of his throat. “Hello, Miss Konohana.”
“Oh, it’s Miss Konohana now? Did I do something wrong?” She turned fully toward Cassandra, flicking the ashes of her cigarette toward the ground and smiling as the Glaceon at her feet wound itself around her legs like a giant cat…or Persian. “I guess I did beat you yesterday…are you a bit sore about that?”
Cassandra looked at the demure smile and realized it for what it was—devilish. No longer could she see Sakura as a kind, quiet, confident girl. No. She was evil. “I’m just a bit upset about your methods.”
“Methods?” Sakura’s smile broadened and her eyes narrowed. “Whatever do you mean, Cassandra dear?”
Joanna’s face flashed into Cassandra’s mind. “You know exactly what I mean. You and I both know what you did, and I’m pretty sure we both know it’s wrong.”
Sakura brought the cigarette to her lips once more and surveyed Cassandra as she puffed on it. “All’s fair in love and war, sweetie. I do what it takes to win.”
Cassandra took a step toward her; the Glaceon made a soft warning hiss. “Who’s this?” she asked, gesturing to the Pokémon.
“This? Oh, this is Isis.”
“She doesn’t look like a normal Glaceon. Come to think of it, Deena’s been looking a little larger than a normal Goldeen.”
Sakura smiled gently. She reached down; Isis shoved her head into the palm of Sakura’s hand. “No. I find that giving my Pokémon certain…medications increases their chances of winning.”
“Somehow I don’t think you’re talking about Protein.”
Sakura laughed; it was a sinister sound. “You catch on quickly. Unfortunately, the medicine I gave poor Isis depleted the color of her coat, so she’s no longer contest-worthy. She is, however, perfect for fending off anyone who decides they want to pick a fight with me.” With that, Sakura’s green eyes found Cassandra’s blue ones and locked on. “She doesn’t differentiate between human and Pokémon.”
Cassandra heard Fluffy’s growling get louder. “Hm. So she doesn’t care who she hurts?”
“No. She does not.”
“Sometimes…neither do I.” Cassandra took another step forward; Isis leapt toward her.
She wasn’t sure what happened next; all she knew was that there was a brilliant flash of light, and then she was sitting on the ground close to where she had been standing, a Mightyena standing in front of her in a way that his entire body blocked hers, hackles raised and growling. Isis stood across from him, hair on her back rising up. She hissed; Mightyena responded with a vicious snarl. Sakura, too, was on the ground; she stood up and dusted herself off.
“Well, well…what do we have here? It seems your little Fluffy made me lose my cigarette. Isis, make him pay!”
The Glaceon opened her mouth as if to blow ice at him, but the Mightyena bounded forward and closed his jaws around her neck. He shook her twice before tossing her several feet away.
Cassandra smiled grimly and got to her feet, brushing dirt off the back of her jeans as she did so. “Looks like my little Fluffy also made you lose your Glaceon.”
Sakura angrily reached for her belt, where three other Poké Balls were lined up. Fluffy stepped forward and snarled. With satisfaction, Cassandra observed that he had somehow become larger than a regular Mightyena—his back would be almost above her hip if he stood next to her.
“Don’t you dare reach for another Pokémon,” Cassandra snapped. “Get the hell out of Fallarbor Town. Go on and win in Slateport—I don’t give a crap. But if we ever meet again, Sakura Konohana, I will beat your cheating ass so hard you’ll wish you’d never been born—and I don’t mean in a battle.”
Sakura glanced over at Isis, lying unconscious several feet away, and then back to Fluffy, growling severely close to her stomach. With a scowl, she turned away, returning Isis to her Poké Ball and marching off around the side of the building.
“Don’t think this is over, Cassandra Étoile,” Sakura snapped before she disappeared. Cassandra smiled as the redhead swished away.
“I don’t,” she murmured, and Fluffy turned to her, perking up his ears and wagging his tail as if nothing had happened.
At around lunchtime, Karen came outside to join Cassandra. She wore a pastel blue sweater and thick white leggings underneath a blue-and-white checked miniskirt, and her pink braids bounced on her back as she skipped out from the building, a picnic basket on one arm. When she arrived at Cassandra’s favorite training ground—a patch of grass protected by trees so that ash didn’t fall on it—she and Tuffly spread out a blanket and waited for Cassandra to take a break.
“What time is it?” Cassandra asked, sitting cross-legged on the blanket and picking up a sandwich. It was obviously from the small dining room in the PokèLove.
Karen folded her legs under her. “It’s around noon.”
“I’ve been out here that long?” She sighed, looking down at the pieces of white bread. She still needed to call her mother and inform her of her loss.
“Mm-hm!” Karen said brightly. “So, we’re staying in Fallarbor Town until the next contest, right?”
“Right,” Cassandra replied. “Why? Do you not want to stay with me?”
Karen grinned. “Of course I want to stay with you. I would be disappointed if you wanted to go back home.”
Cassandra laughed quietly and took a bite of her sandwich. Fluffy wandered over and laid next to her, pushing his head against her leg and closing his eyes. Swablu landed gently on her head, tucking herself to look like a giant hat, and Finny sneakily stole a sandwich.
A sound broke the peaceful silence—something was in the bushes nearby. Since she was surrounded by forest, Cassandra was a bit nervous. Anything could be hiding behind the trees. Fluffy sat up, his ears perked up, a growl starting in the back of his throat. He stood up and prowled around behind Cassandra, staring into the trees.
And then something burst out; it was white and red and black, a blinding blur of colors as it streaked by. Barking, Fluffy turned and ran after it.
“Ah!” Cassandra dropped her sandwich onto the blanket and stumbled to her feet, running after Fluffy. Finny dropped to all fours and followed; Swablu lifted gently from her head and flew in front.
Fluffy’s barking got louder as Cassandra ran; she was so glad that she had worn tennis shoes. She leapt over a confused Spinda and followed Finny’s bouncing tail, breathing hard.
Finally she rounded a corner and saw Fluffy growling. He had cornered a white, horse-like Pokémon, with a flowing mane of fire. Its flank heaved and sweat poured from it as it eyed the three Pokémon surrounding it; it had its hindquarters against the side of the glass-maker's wooden house.
“A Ponyta,” Cassandra whispered to herself, taking a step forward. Her fingertips itched, and she imagined herself sitting sidesaddle atop a beautiful Rapidash, hair flowing in the wind.
The Ponyta took a step back, tossing its head; its hindquarters bumped into the wooden house and it started, pawing the ground and glaring at the creatures massed around it. What should she do? Cassandra wanted this Pokémon. She wanted it so bad she could taste it on the back of her tongue.
“Ponyta,” she said, going to stand beside Fluffy. “Do you belong to anyone?”
The Ponyta snorted, almost indignantly, and reared up on its hind legs, lashing out with its front hooves. Cassandra stumbled backwards and almost covered her ears as the Pokémon let loose a high-pitched squeal of rage. So it’s not going down without a fight, Cassandra thought, a smile tugging at the corners of her lips. Fine. She needed a challenge.
“Fluffy! Use Bite!”
Fluffy leapt forward as the Ponyta returned to all fours and bit down on its leg; with a squeal, Ponyta brought its other hoof up and clocked Fluffy on the head. He backed away, growling.
“C’mon, Fluffy! You can do this! Bring it down—but not too hard!”
Finny and Swablu stayed around to keep the Ponyta fenced in, and Fluffy leapt at it again. Ponyta blew fire out of its mouth, but Fluffy leapt aside and closed his teeth around its neck. Ponyta squealed with displeasure and attempted to shake the wolf-like Pokémon off; but Fluffy persisted. Finally, he let go and Tackled Ponyta to the ground; it laid on its side, squealing in fear and rage as Fluffy stood over it. It lashed out with its hooves, but Fluffy dodged and lifted up the corners of his lips, revealing his long, sharp teeth. For a moment, Ponyta froze, its eyes widening.
Cassandra reached into her pocket and pulled out a Poké Ball. Unlike most Trainers, she felt no need to yell “Poké Ball, go!” when she threw it; she just tossed it at Ponyta, catching it in its shocked state. The Ball opened and a white light engulfed the Pokémon, drawing it inside the ball.
Now was the worst part, in Cassandra’s opinion. Her eyes remained fixed on the Ball as it wiggled slowly—left, right, pause. Left, right, pause. Left, right—ding! The circle in the middle glowed red for a brief second and the Ball stilled.
“Yes!” Cassandra cried, pouncing on the Ball and holding it up. “Everyone, say hello to your new team member—Ellia the Ponyta!”
After a few congratulatory noises from the Pokémon around her, Cassandra headed back toward Karen and her picnic lunch.
Cassandra headed back to the PokéLove after finishing her lunch, leaving Karen on the checkered blanket. She opened her polka-dotted umbrella so she wouldn’t get covered in ash and walked to the small inn with Fluffy at her side, just in case she ran into Sakura again.
Once in her suite, Cassandra put away her backpack and umbrella and headed to the little video-phone in the corner. She could have done this in the Pokémon Center, but the privacy of her suite was so much more appealing.
Fluffy laid down by her side as Cassandra began dialing the familiar number on her phone. It started ringing, the screen showing static. One ring…two rings…three rings…after six rings, it would go to voicemail. Cassandra leaned forward. Four rings…five rings…
“Hello? Oh, Cassandra!” Dorothia smiled brightly at the screen. “How is everything?”
“Fine,” Cassandra replied, happy that she could have gotten a smiling face first. “Is my mother home, Dorothia?”
“Yes, honey. I’ll go and get her. Miss Joanna!” Dorothia left the frame, and Cassandra looked at the empty kitchen for a few moments, smiling as she took in the familiar diamond-patterned tile floor and the small table where she and her father liked to have lunch. At least the kitchen held nice memories.
Soon, though, the image switched to Joanna’s face. Of course she wouldn’t come downstairs to talk on the kitchen phone—behind her was her tall four-poster bed with elegant white comforter, the vanity with the large gilded mirror and various bottles containing perfume or makeup sitting atop it, the door to the master bathroom.
Joanna pushed her platinum blonde bangs out of her blue eyes and fixed Cassandra with her gaze, a cold smile appearing on her lips. “It’s so nice to hear from you, Cassandra dear,” she said, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear to reveal a lovely pearl earring. “It seems as though it’s been forever.”
“It certainly has been a while, Mother,” Cassandra replied. “I wonder…did you watch my contest on television?”
“I did not, dear. I had some important things to do.”
Fluffy growled a bit.
Cassandra tried to keep the scowl off her face. While a part of her had known her mother hadn’t watched the contest, she had still harbored a small hope that she would. “And what were they, Mother?”
“Nancy came down and just insisted that I take her to that little bistro in Rustboro. We spent so long there we lost track of time; that food is to die for. I’m afraid I simply couldn’t watch it, Cassandra dear.”
Fluffy sat up, his head coming to about her shoulder, and snarled at the screen. He hadn’t forgotten Joanna’s voice.
“Oh my!” Joanna said, jumping. “What is that wretched thing?”
“This is Fluffy, Mother. Certainly you remember Fluffy?”
“Why, yes, but…Fluffy was a small black thing, was he not?”
Cassandra smiled sweetly. “Oh, but he’s evolved, Mother. Now, back to my contest. I have some bad news.”
Joanna picked up a glass of wine and sipped it daintily, a scowl on her features. She did not like vicious-looking creatures, and she did not like bad news.
“I lost the Fallarbor Contest.”
There was a pause. Joanna glanced up over the rim of her wine glass, frozen. Slowly, she pulled it away from her lips, watching her own arm as she set it down on the table on which the phone rested. After a minute of staring at her hand holding the glass, she slowly pulled her arm back toward her and let it sit in her lap. And then, ever so slowly, a smile crept onto her face, full of malice, coming straight from her cold heart.
“You lost?” Joanna said almost happily, looking up at Cassandra through the video phone.
Cassandra bit back her remark and simply nodded.
But then there was the sound of a door being thrown open, and a big, manly voice boomed, “I’m home, dear! Oh—sorry. Didn’t realize you were on the phone. Who are you talking to?” Cassandra smiled as Joanna glanced over her shoulder and Gerald walked into the frame, loosening his tie. He leaned down over Joanna’s shoulder and grinned broadly. “Sandy-bear! It’s so nice to hear from you! How long has it been, sweetie? Where’s that other chair, Joanna? I wanna talk to her too!” Gerald looked around and briefly disappeared from the frame; then, scowling, Joanna scooted over to allow him to set a chair on the floor and sit beside her, grinning into the phone. “Goodness gracious, a Mightyena! That can’t be our old Fluffy!”
Fluffy barked, wagging his tail. He remembered Gerald’s voice as well.
“Ah, good boy! He’s doing well, then?”
“Very well, Father,” Cassandra replied. “Actually, he’s bigger than a regular Mightyena.”
“That’s very interesting,” Gerald said thoughtfully, stroking his goatee. “Well, how was your contest?”
“She lost,” Joanna said, a thin-lipped smile crossing her face. Gerald frowned at the phone.
“I’m sorry to hear that, Sandy-bear. I’m also sorry I couldn’t watch. The President called an emergency meeting, and there’s nothing I can do about that. I had been planning on showing up and surprising you.”
Cassandra smiled happily. “It’s okay, Da—Father.”
“What do you think we should do?” Joanna asked, turning to Gerald.
Gerald frowned, looking at his wife. “What do you mean?”
“Well, she lost a contest. Don’t you think she should give up this silly nonsense and come home now? We can’t have her wasting our money up there.”
“Come now, Joanna, everyone makes mistakes!” Gerald laughed, his voice booming through the phone. “Even the best Coordinators lose some! Our Sandy-bear losing one contest isn’t enough to make her give up and come home! This is her dream—right, Sandy-bear?”
Cassandra nodded, smiling happily.
“Good, good. Now…where will you be staying until the next contest?”
“At this little inn called the PokéLove.”
“That’s quite a quaint little inn! Wouldn’t you say, Joanna? We stayed there once!”
“Indeed,” she replied, tight-lipped. Cassandra wanted to laugh.
“When’s the next contest?”
“Next month,” Cassandra replied. “About…five weeks away.”
“That’s plenty of time to get everything together!” Gerald said, clapping his hands. “We’ll keep sending you money, so work hard! Right, Joanna?”
“Certainly,” Joanna replied, snatching up her wine glass. She went to drain it, but Gerald took it from her.
“It’s not even five o’clock yet, dear. So, any good news, Sandy-bear?”
“I caught a Ponyta today. I nicknamed her Ellia.”
“A Ponyta, hm?” Joanna gently swept more hair behind her ear. “I suppose that’s a decent Pokémon. And you named her Ellia?” She smiled as scorn edged into her voice.
“A darling name!” Gerald proclaimed happily, and Joanna’s smile slid off her face as easily as half-melted butter. “And Ponyta evolves into Rapidash, no? Beautiful! That will be absolutely beautiful!”
“Thanks, Dad,” Cassandra said. “Well, I guess I’d better be going. My traveling companion is due back any minute. Did you ever meet Karen, Father, Mother?”
“Karen?” Joanna asked. Gerald tapped his finger to his lips thoughtfully.
“She hangs around the Rustboro City PokéCenter all the time.”
“Oh, Karen Lowell!” Gerald said, snapping his fingers. “Yes, I did meet her. She has that Wigglytuff she calls Tuffly!”
Joanna’s eyebrows raised. “Wigglytuff?”
“And she has that long pink hair!”
Joanna’s eyebrows raised even higher. “Pink hair?”
“That’s right,” Cassandra said, smiling. “She’s traveling with me. Her parents are hippies, and they believe in the harmony of humans and Pokémon.”
Joanna’s eyebrows were in danger of disappearing into her hair. Her mouth fell open in surprise.
Just then, the suite door opened and Karen came in, her umbrella in one hand and the picnic basket in the other. Tuffly shut the door behind them. “I’m home!” Karen called happily.
“Oh, you’re just in time! I’m about to say good-bye to my parents; you should come over here and say hello!”
“Oh—hello!” Karen leaned into the frame, her pink braids swinging down to precede her. “It’s nice to meet you!”
“Lovely to meet you, too!” Gerald said. Joanna spluttered speechlessly.
“Oh, Karen, would you like to call your parents?”
“Oh, no, we don’t have a phone,” Karen replied cheerily. “We don’t believe in them. Well, good-bye, Mr. and Mrs. Étoile!”
“Good-bye!” Gerald said. “Love you, Sandy-bear!”
“Love you too, Dad.”
And the screen went blank, Joanna still gaping as it did. Cassandra laughed and turned away from the screen, patting Fluffy and heading over to her bed.
“No offense, Cassandra, but…I got the feeling that your mom is kinda evil.” Karen went to her own bed and plopped down, grabbing a coloring book.
Cassandra only laughed harder.
To: [email protected]
Well, I talked to Konohana today.
She has a giant Glaceon called Isis (isn’t that a goddess of fertility? 0.o) that’s all gray, and she says she gives her Pokémon medications to make them perform better. She sort of admitted to cheating, but not really. She annoyed the hell out of me, so I tried to fight her and her weird big Glaceon tried to fight me, but Fluffy evolved into Mightyena and fought back, sooooo…
I also caught a Ponyta. I named her Ellia. Isn’t that pretty? I need to try to train with her—I want to ride her!!
Yeah, I got Belle’s last email. She’s not telling me anything—I get the exact same emails as you. She just sends us the same one. I’m so worried about her…something’s definitely not right.
It sucks about your mission, but hey! It’s your FIRST MISSION! *confetti confetti* Be happy anyway!!
Love lots and lots,
I know you know we’re worried about you, but I’m telling you again: we’re worried about you. Please stop keeping us in the dark. That’s all I’ll say.
Knowing the dangers of ferries, Belle was a little apprehensive about using one—at least, one that she could afford. She sat down in front of the video phone at the PokéCenter, praying that Cassandra hadn’t told Gerald anything. Charmy wandered off, unintentionally intimidating nearby Trainers.
Calling Gerald’s office phone was usually hit-or-miss; sometimes he was there, sometimes he wasn’t. Luckily, today he picked up, beaming at her through the screen. Belle tried her best to muster a smile, but it felt more like a grimace.
“Hey, Papa G,” she said, almost through gritted teeth.
“Belle! Do you need money?” He frowned suddenly and concernedly, leaning in towards the phone.
“Actually…yes. I had hoped to kind of work into it…”
“You don’t need to worry about that sort of thing.” Gerald smiled and waved his hand. “I know it’s not particularly normal for a girl to call her friend’s father. What do you need it for?”
“Well, I need to get to Cinnabar Island, and there’s a ferry leaving from Vermilion City this afternoon that I can’t afford.” Belle winced slightly. She heard a roar and looked around; Charmy was baring his teeth at a small Vaporeon. “Charmy!” she called. “What are you doing? Get back here! Sorry,” she added to the Vaporeon’s Trainer, a skinny girl with green pigtails. “Sorry,” she said also to Gerald.
“It’s no problem. Charmy’s your—goodness, he’s evolved!” Gerald’s mouth dropped open when Charmy stepped into the frame, bending his neck to peer at the screen. “Last time I saw you, big fella, you where a Charmander!”
Charmy closed his eyes in a smile. He placed a claw on Belle’s shoulder protectively.
“You know, Cassandra’s Fluffy evolved, too,” Gerald said, pulling his wallet out of his back pocket.
“Oh…did he?” Belle bit her lip as she watched him count out bills.
“Sure did. He’s awfully big. Bet his sire was big or something—things like that are in the genes. You didn’t hear?” He looked up, bills in one hand, frowning.
“Um…no. Maybe she just hasn’t gotten around to emailing me yet,” Belle replied hastily. She attempted a smile for Gerald’s benefit.
“That must be it.” Gerald was doing something out-of-frame; he was obviously putting the money in the transfer capsule. “Well, this should be more than enough.”
“I’ll send you the change.”
“Nonsense! You’ll need it! And who knows when you’ll contact me next, eh?” Gerald cracked a grin, which Belle failed at returning. “Be careful!”
And that was how she ended up sitting cross-legged on the deck of a ferry, the only girl in an old sweatshirt and holey jeans among mostly well-groomed teenagers. She leaned her head against the wall, closing her eyes.
She sat there for a few moments before feeling a nudge on her leg; Eevee sat there, looking up at her. Charmy didn’t like water, so he was in his Poké Ball—Belle had wanted someone for company, so she had brought out Eevee, ignoring the snide remarks of the rich kids walking by. Looking down at her now reminded Belle of the Vaporeon in the Saffron City PokéCenter.
“You might need to evolve soon,” she told her, reaching out to scratch the cute thing between the ears. With a chirp of agreement, Eevee ducked her hand and pawed at her backpack. Belle opened it and brought out three small boxes.
In Celadon City, Belle had bought three Elemental Stones—Water, Fire, and Thunder—so that when the time came, she would ask Eevee which one she wanted to become. Now, she opened all three boxes and turned them towards Eevee. “What’ll it be?” she asked. “Vaporeon, Flareon, or Jolteon? Are you sure you don’t want to be Umbreon or Espeon or something?”
Eevee narrowed her eyes at Belle before turning towards the gleaming yellow Thunder Stone, poking it gently with her nose; she was enveloped with a familiar white light as the stone began to glow. Her shape shifted; she grew as spikes shot out from her body.
When the light faded, Jolteon stood before her, looking at her with black beady eyes. Belle smiled. “Well hello.”
“Are those Stones?”
Belle looked up; a girl with her blonde hair fastened back in a bun stood there, a purse dangling from her elbow and a cell phone in one hand. A Roselia stood at her feet.
“Uh—yeah,” Belle replied. The girl immediately began digging in her purse.
“Are you going to use them?” she asked. “How much would you be willing to sell them for? I forgot to make a stop at Celadon City Department Store, and I need them! I have a Vulpix and I’m dying to have a Ninetales!”
Belle blinked. She wasn’t sure what to say. The girl was attracting attention with all her shouting; a few heads were turning. A boy came running up, a Growlithe at his heels, and a few more girls came as well. Suddenly, Belle’s peaceful spot was a barrage of shouting voices as each rich Trainer present tried to buy Belle’s Elemental Stones, shouting higher prices over the voices of each other.
She managed a wicked grin. She had been willing to just give this girl the Fire Stone, but that wouldn’t be fair, what with so many people wanting it. She would have to hold an auction.
When Belle got off the ferry and stepped onto Cinnabar Island soil, she was almost rich. Jolteon trotted at her heels, and only a few other people got off with her.
The island took Belle’s breath away. Although it had a volcano rising in the distance, the grass was lush and green; the small town was quaint. The PokéCenter appeared to have wood sidings, and the PokéMart was made of brick.
Little brick houses dotted the paths snaking around the small town. An old, dilapidated Pokémon Lab could have taken away from the scene, but it seemed rather charming instead. Belle smiled genuinely.
And then she remembered—she was in Derrick’s hometown.
Suddenly, the focus was different. Had Derrick ever been to that house? Had Derrick ever looked at the PokéCenter? Had Derrick ever been to the PokéMart? How often had Derrick walked this particular path? Did Derrick ever go to the hot springs advertised by a flyer posted on the PokéCenter door?
Where was Derrick’s house?
Belle was determined to find it, now that she had thought about it. She entered the PokéCenter and looked around. Not many people were there; a few people Belle’s age sat in the lounge area, sipping coffee and pretending to be cool. She snorted in disdain. Her eye fell on the video phone, and she thought briefly of Swifter, her Pidgeotto—after catching Poliwhirl, she had sent him to Professor Oak’s lab.
“Hi, Nurse Joy?” Belle approached the counter, pulling her Poké Balls out of her backpack. “Um…while you heal my Pokémon…I’d like to ask you a question.”
“What’s that?” Joy took the Poké Balls and placed them in the strange healing device in all PokéCenters. It flashed and made a strange sound almost like music—each device made that very same noise. Belle frowned at it before continuing.
“Well…did you know a boy named Derrick? Derrick Evans?”
“Oh, Derrick,” Joy said happily, handing the Poké Balls back to Belle. “I sure did. Such a bright, cheery little boy, despite all that happened to him…”
“Yeah,” Belle replied. “Um…do you know where I could find his former house?”
Joy smiled sadly. “Yes. But I’ll have to draw you a map—it’s not far from the village, but it’s difficult to find if you don’t live here.” She pulled out a slip of paper and a pen and began sketching lines and roads and buildings. “It’s actually easier if you start here.” She tapped the end of the pen on a path starting behind the newer-looking Pokémon Research Center.
“Thank you,” Belle said, and with map in hand, she set off for Derrick’s house.
Nurse Joy had been right—there were many twists and turns on this little path, and places where it disappeared altogether. If it hadn’t been for Joy’s uncanny rendering of landmarks (such as a random collection of boulders shaped like Kingler) Belle would have gotten hopelessly lost. Soon enough, though, she came to the crest of a hill and looked down at a small valley with a cute little two-story house in the middle, made of brick just like the rest of the houses in the village. There was a small front porch with a porch swing. Belle slowly went down the side of the hill, Jolteon hopping at her side. As she got closer, she realized that something was amiss—the bricks were chipped and faded, and the paint on the porch was peeling. The swing looked weak, as if it was going to break, and a shutter was hanging off one of the windows. The paint on the door, like that of the porch, was peeling severely, and the knob was rusted. This house had fallen into disrepair.
Belle looked around. Derrick hadn’t said his mother had died. Maybe she didn’t live here anymore? Belle made her way around the side of the house, peeking into the tall grass of the backyard. A Rattata scampered away when it saw her. She turned and went back to the front door.
Suddenly, she heard a noise from inside the house—it sounded like a cough. Intrigued and a little scared, Belle went up the sagging porch steps to investigate. She tried to look through the window, but it was dirty and grimy, so she couldn’t see anything.
I’m being rude, she thought, and took a step back, a little sadly. It was when she heard the coughing and hacking that she decided she needed to get inside.
Timidly, Belle grabbed the rusted doorknob. It turned, but it felt strange in her hand; she wanted to wash it. She pushed the door open.
She found herself in a room carpeted with dark blue carpet. An off-white sofa sat against one wall, Venemoth-eaten and dingy. There was a fireplace, and an old rocking chair sat by the hearth. A woman sat on it, bent over her knees, coughing terribly. She wore a white lab coat and had frizzy blonde hair that looked as though it hadn’t been combed in days.
“Ma’am?” Belle asked, stepping into the house. “Ma’am, are you okay?”
The woman’s head snapped up and Belle’s knees buckled; she grabbed at the wall for support. The shape of her face, her eyes, her nose—she looked like Derrick. She couldn’t be…
The woman stood up. “Who are you? Why are you in my house?” Her voice was strange, almost gravelly—her lab coat had a few stains on it of different colors, and a small laminated badge showed her picture and text too small for Belle to make out at this distance.
“I—I’m sorry,” Belle said as the woman took a step toward her. Her eyes—there was something about them, something that didn’t seem…right. “I heard you coughing and I thought—”
“Koffing? You heard Koffing?” The woman shook her head. “That can’t be right. He evolved, he’s a Weezing now.”
Belle didn’t know what to say. The woman turned away from her, muttering to herself, and headed towards what seemed to be the kitchen. Belle took a timid step forward; Jolteon hissed at her in disbelief but followed anyway.
The kitchen was dirty; a baking powder box was overturned on the floor, several food stains were present on the counter and small table, and the microwave was left open, as well as several cabinet doors. The woman began shutting them now, muttering all the while.
A sound, almost computer-like, from behind her made Belle turn around; a Porygon shot down the stairs, its blocky body hovering over the floor. When it saw Belle it stopped and made a strange digital-sounding noise, its green appendages whirling around.
“I—I’m sorry!” Belle said. “I just—I heard her—”
“Porygon!” The woman turned around and rushed over to the Pokémon, throwing herself down on her knees in front of it and wrapping her arms around its neck. “Porygon, Porygon…have you found her yet? My sweet…have you found her?” She closed her eyes, one hand stroking the Pokémon’s cheek. “You’ll find them…I’m sure you will…both of them…” She trailed off into a whisper.
Belle edged closer, trying to peer at the woman’s nametag. The picture on the badge showed a younger-looking version of this woman, with makeup and styled hair. The name—Dr. Angelina Evans.
This was Derrick’s mother.
Belle put a hand to her mouth as tears welled up in her eyes. “How could he leave her like this?” Jolteon, confused, looked up at her—she had never met Derrick. She rubbed gently against her Trainer’s leg.
<Who are you?> spoke a voice. Startled, Belle looked around for the source. She couldn’t find a person, just the Porygon and Derrick’s mother.
“Wh-where are you?” Belle demanded.
<I am right here. I am Porygon CI-4. Who are you and why are you here?>
“You can talk?”
<In a fashion. Because I am an inorganic being, I speak through thoughts. I was made at the Pokémon Research Center in Cinnabar Island, the fourth Porygon made here. Porygon CI-4.>
“Does she…Angelina…Dr. Evans…know you can talk?”
With a sad look, Porygon glanced down at the woman holding it about the neck and whispering. <Sadly, she lost awareness of many things long ago. I no longer speak to her. She becomes frightened and begins to cry. Even now, only you can hear me.>
“Why doesn’t she hear me?”
<She is preoccupied with other thoughts. Once again, who are you and why are you here?>
“I’m sorry…my name is Belle Caldwell, and I…used to be…a friend of Derrick’s. I was just coming to see his house when I heard her coughing, and I thought she might be choking or something, so I came in here…” She trailed off, feeling foolish as the Porygon fixed her with a stern gaze.
<Ah. An outsider. It would be understandable for you to think that.> Porygon CI-4 flipped its appendages—wings?—and Angelina stood up, wringing her hands and looking around. Her gaze fell on Belle.
“Who are you?” she demanded.
“I—” Belle wasn’t sure what to say.
<Say you are Dr. Caldwell from the Research Center.>
“I’m Dr. Caldwell from the Research Center,” Belle spluttered, heart hammering wildly. Angelina looked her up and down.
“Where is your coat?”
“I got a stain on it. It’s being washed,” she replied quickly. Angelina seemed to accept this answer.
“I need to go to work now,” she said. “You can’t stay here.” With that, she turned around and headed toward the front door.
<She’s heading to the Research Center!> Porygon CI-4’s voice thundered. More Pokémon came rushing down the stairs—A Weezing, an Electrode, a Kabutops (Belle gasped), an Omastar (Belle almost fainted), and a Clefable. She pointed a shaking finger at the Kabutops and Omastar. <The Research Center has perfected resurrecting Pokémon from fossils, allowing people to train ancient Pokémon,> Porygon CI-4 offered by way of explanation. Angelina looked over her shoulder.
“You can’t come with me,” she said. “Only Porygon.”
<Clean up a little,> Porygon said. <Follow,> it told Belle, so she did. They walked back up the path to the Research Center, where Angelina let herself in the back door; Belle followed.
She strode across the lobby as if she owned the place. Porygon and Belle dogged her steps, keeping behind her as she turned down a hallway and headed into a specific door. Two men were inside the room with a giant computer-looking thing. Each had a Porygon2 beside them, which they quickly withdrew into Poké Balls as Angelina entered.
“Hello, Angelina!” one man said cheerily. “How are things today?”
Angelina said nothing. She seemed shocked; she stared around the room for a moment, her eyes widening, before suddenly bursting into tears. “Where are they?” she screeched, falling to her knees. “Where are they? I can’t find them, I can’t find them!”
The two men dropped their notes and rushed to her, grabbing her elbows and hoisting her up. “CI-4, if you would get Dr. Anderson,” one man said. They didn’t even take notice of Belle.
<Come with me. Hurry.> Belle followed after the Porygon; they ran down a long hallway and then burst into someone’s office. A woman with shoulder-length brown hair looked up from her desk. When she saw Porygon, she leapt to her feet and grabbed her lab coat off the coat hanger near her desk.
“Where is she?”
<With Drs. Weber and Biggs.>
“Did she see the Porygon2?” They were out of the office, hurrying back up the hallway.
<No. She’s asking for Derrick and Koko again.>
Belle’s step faltered and she stopped. Porygon CI-4 and who she guessed was Dr. Anderson rushed ahead of her, leaving her behind. Jolteon looked up at her, confused, and she sighed and followed at a slow walk. This woman had been driven to insanity by the disappearance of her family, and now she was perpetually searching for them.
Why had Derrick left her?
When Belle arrived at the room with Drs. Weber and Biggs, she found Dr. Anderson calming a blubbering Angelina. Finally, Angelina quieted and, like a child, fell asleep. The two male doctors pulled out a cot and helped Dr. Anderson lay her there, covering her with a faded pink blanket.
“Who are you?” Dr. Anderson asked, fixing Belle with a cool gaze. She then looked over at Porygon CI-4. Belle couldn’t hear anything, but she knew the Pokémon was explaining. Finally, Dr. Anderson nodded and stood from her place at Angelina’s cot. “Come with me.
“Dr. Evans was my superior many years ago, before the deaths of her daughter Koko and her husband Joseph. Has Derrick told you this?” She glanced down at Belle as they walked toward the older woman’s office.
“When these deaths occurred, Dr. Evans became…unstable. It was small at first. Sometimes she would show up late to work, or not show up at all. Sometimes she wouldn’t be dressed properly. She started muttering to herself and losing things. Come in my office.”
Belle did; she sat down at a chair facing Dr. Anderson’s desk as the woman shed her lab coat and hung it up. Porygon CI-4 had stayed behind. “When did it get…like this?”
“Well, when she first showed up late, we thought nothing of it,” Dr. Anderson admitted, leaning on her desk. “It was when she didn’t come one day that we were worried. Dr. Evans only missed a day of work if she was violently ill, or if there was…a death in the family. Derrick, nine years old at the time, called the Center and said that his mother was sick and she wouldn’t be coming in. Then she started getting worse. Derrick would come with her; he never left her side. He gently took care of her, trying his best to answer her every need. I felt sorry for him…he wanted to be a Pokémon Trainer, so it was difficult to watch him dog his mother’s every step.
“There was nothing he could do for her to make her better. I told him that. I told him, just before he turned sixteen, that he needed to go on his Pokémon Journey. He didn’t want to.” Dr. Anderson closed her eyes. “He said it was his responsibility to take care of his mother. But I told him no, it wasn’t. ‘Derrick,’ I said, ‘you don’t need to stay around here. There’s nothing you can do for your mother. We can take just as good a job caring for her as you can. You should go on your Journey. I promise that we will care for her.’” The woman drew in a deep breath. “I bought him a Lapras ride to Pallet Town so that he could get his first Pokémon. I…still don’t know what he got…” Dr. Anderson tried to hide the fact that she brushed away a tear, but Belle saw.
“It was a Squirtle.”
Dr. Anderson blinked and looked at Belle. “Excuse me?”
“His first Pokémon…it was a Squirtle. He offered to let it help me wash my face.”
“Wash your face? Why?”
“I was bleeding.”
Belle told her the story of how they met, allowing Dr. Anderson a bit of a laugh. At the end, Belle pulled up her bangs to show the diagonal scar skirting the edge of her eye, running her finger down it. “It’s…my little reminder.” She let her hair flop back down over the scar.
Porygon CI-4 nudged the door open and came inside. <She is almost awake. I will take her home.>
“No,” Dr. Anderson said. “I will. It’s time I started taking more responsibility…it’s time I fully kept my promise.”
Porygon CI-4 nodded slightly before leaving the office. “I’ll show you out,” Dr. Anderson told Belle, grabbing her lab coat.
On the way to the door, Belle couldn’t help asking, “Why can’t you show Dr. Evans the Porygon2?”
“She becomes confused and frightened,” Dr. Anderson replied. “She is stuck in one timeframe. Since Porygon was the latest version of inorganic beings since Koko’s and Joseph’s deaths, she reacts very badly to the more streamlined Porygon2.”
“Oh. Well, thanks,” Belle said.
Dr. Anderson smiled and gently touched Belle’s shoulder. “No. Thank you. Somehow, you reminded me that I need to keep my promise. Now, when Derrick comes back to defeat Blaine, I won’t be ashamed to look him in the eye.” She squeezed Belle’s shoulder and left.
Feeling guilty for some reason, Belle left the Research Center.
To:dancing_through_life@pokénet.com, [email protected]
Cinnabar Island is Derrick’s hometown. There are lots of sad reminders here. I almost wish I hadn’t left him like I did.
Cassandra, you don’t have to worry about me. I am fine.
Staying at the PokéCenter tonight. Tomorrow I will challenge Blaine.
Alyssa and Ian captured two Doduo to ride into Pueltown. Prinplup, situated uncomfortably between Doduo’s necks and Ian’s knees, wasn’t too happy about the situation, but Ziggy happily snuggled into Alyssa’s lap and leaned to the side, letting its small tongue hang out of its dark brown mouth as the wind whipped by. Alyssa was a bit worried he would fall; she kept pushing him more towards the center.
Once the two arrived in the bustling city of Pueltown, they dismounted their Doduo and released them. “According to Erma,” Ian said, kneeling down to brush off a disgruntled Prinplup, “this Happy Hair factory should be somewhere around the harbor.”
“It won’t be too hard to find, then.” Alyssa scooped Ziggy up and let him hang off her shoulder as usual. “How do you do that?” she remarked to her Pokémon briefly, and he only replied by licking the side of her face and making her giggle. “It probably won’t take long; we’ll take some quests on the way back. But we’re supposed to check in at the Ranger Base first.”
Ian and Alyssa made their way through Pueltown, politely turning down quests as they made their way toward the Ranger Base near the center of town. Ian’s face darkened as they got there. Pueltown had to have a lot of Rangers stationed there thanks to its size and population, so the building was large, towering up over everyone’s heads. It was excellently built with smooth white brick, and it was round, as all Ranger Bases were. It had large windows placed around it separated by tall blue columns. The bit of tree on top overflowed so that people looking up were treated to the sight of fluffy green leaves ringing the roof of the base. It was situated right in front of a large overpass-like structure, on which there was a brick road branching from the east side to the west side of town. A green hedge ran around the perimeter of the building’s grounds with an interruption in front of the door to allow people to enter the base. Alyssa, on her trips to Pueltown, had seen this building before, but she had never been inside.
“Do we have to do this?” Ian asked, pausing as Alyssa headed for the door. She stopped and turned around.
“Do we really have to check in?”
“Yes, we do,” Alyssa replied. “Erma said we needed to, and it’s a good idea to let the Rangers of this area know that we’re here.”
Sighing, Ian reluctantly followed her inside.
There were Rangers everywhere. The building was filled with them. They stood in a line waiting for the Operator to recharge their Stylers, they sat on couches drinking coffee and talking, they stood in circles discussing, they came in and out of the door in the back leading to the dorm-like rooms, they went up and down stairs, they played with their Pokémon. Alyssa was overwhelmed. Ian came up beside her and gently placed a hand on her shoulder. “Come on. Let’s find the captain.” The people who ran the Ranger Bases were called captains—Barlow, for instance, was the captain of the Vientown Ranger Base.
Ian led her to the busy Operator, bypassing the line. Several Rangers went to protest, but stopped themselves as they noticed Ian and Alyssa’s Stylers.
“How may I help—oh,” the Operator said, looking at their Stylers. “The captain is waiting for you upstairs. Second door to the right.”
“Thanks very much,” Ian said.
“Do you need those recharged?”
“No,” Alyssa piped up. “Thank you, though.” She threw out a Ranger salute by placing her fist over her heart and then pulling her upper arm up rigidly, hand open. Ian followed suit; then they wove through the crowd, hearing people fall silent as they moved through them.
Upstairs was a bit quieter; it was a hallway, so there were several doors leading to several rooms the Rangers could possibly be in. They chose the second door on the right and knocked. The door opened to a woman standing there. Her Ranger uniform was modified—instead of the black-and-white skintight suit that girls were required to wear, she had a knee-length white dress with a bit of frill on the skirt. Her feet were in fashionable yet sensible white shoes, not tennis shoes. While most Rangers were required to wear red short-sleeved jackets, she wore a long-sleeved one with a body that ended right below her breasts—that, at least, was standard. Her hair was long and dark green. It shifted around her shoulders as she stepped to the side, revealing someone in the office behind her.
“Greg,” Ian said darkly. Greg stood. Like Ian, he seemed to have hit his growth spurt late—unlike Ian, he was not attractive. He still wore ugly glasses, his ears were still big, and he still had that expression of disdain or anger that he had worn at school. Most boys looked dashing in Ranger uniforms, but it seemed ill-fitting on him—his torso was too thin, his legs were too short.
“I was just leaving,” Greg said, eyeing their Stylers. “It’s nice to see you again, Ian. And Alyssa.”
Alyssa looked over at him. It was strange to hear him speak to her; throughout her years in Ranger School, he had never done so. “Hello, Greg.”
He paused for a moment before replying simply, “Hello.” Then he pushed past Ian out of the room, a Grovyle following behind him. He paused once he was outside and turned. “If we may, Captain, I’d like to continue this conversation at a later time.”
The woman nodded. “Very well, Walton.” He turned and disappeared around a corner. “Come in, you two. I’m sure you’re in quite a hurry.”
Alyssa and Ian stepped into the office; it was furnished simply with a desk, computer, and bookcases, but the colors were blended together very nicely, all greens and blues. The woman walked over to her desk, gesturing towards the two chairs facing it. She stopped at her desk and turned to them.
“I am Elmina Woodrow, Captain of the Pueltown Ranger Base.” She held out her hand for them to shake.
“Alyssa Thompson, rookie Top Ranger.”
“Ian Walton, also rookie Top Ranger.”
Elmina cocked her eyebrow as a Leafeon leapt gently onto her desk; Alyssa wasn’t sure where it had come from. They all sat down. “Walton? You must be Gregory’s older brother. Not much resemblance, I must say…”
“You have no idea how much it pleases me that you say that.”
Elmina laughed gently; the sound was like leaves blowing in the wind. “Are you familiar with Gregory as well?” she asked, turning to Alyssa.
“We were in the same class in Ranger School,” Alyssa replied.
“Ah, yes, Alyssa Thompson, did you say? Well—weren’t you the valedictorian?”
Elmina nodded, seemingly satisfied. “Excellent. Since you both have some experience with Rookie Walton, I feel comfortable in telling you this…he has been in here day after day, pushing for a promotion to Top Ranger. I believe he has some sort of inferiority complex…his older brother and his school rival are now Top Rangers, while he wastes his time here, in the largest Ranger Base in Almia.” Elmina spread her hands. “He is not satisfied. While I do admire ambition, I believe his is a bit misguided…he seems to be under the impression that money is the key ingredient to happiness. But enough—I am sure you two are in a hurry.”
“Wait,” Ian said, leaning forward. “Do you have any intention of promoting him?”
Elmina’s fine eyebrow arched again. “No. Do you wish to recommend him for promotion?”
“No. I don’t think he should be a Ranger at all.”
“Well, the way he’s behaving, he won’t be for very long. He seems to think quests are beneath him; he mistreats the people who ask him for things and even tries to charge them. He’s on probation right now, with no incoming quests or missions.”
Alyssa gritted her teeth. Sure, Greg might have been a Krabby in school, but she had never figured him for this type of person.
“Well, I assume you only came here to check in, correct? You actually do not have to answer to me at all…I thank you for informing me of your whereabouts in my…territory, so to speak. Good luck on your mission.”
“Why was no one from the Pueltown Ranger Base dispatched to do this mission?” Alyssa asked as they all stood.
Elmina laughed. “Dear, the Pueltown Rangers are ones for serving the people of Pueltown. When it comes to worldwide plots…well, that’s what the Top Rangers are for.”
“We’ll just tell them it’s a routine inspection,” Ian said as they walked up to the Happy Hair factory. It was a low, squat building, barely noticeable among the jumble of things by the harbor, positioned right on the water.
“Have they ever gotten one before?”
“I’m sure they have—from the Pueltown Rangers.” They walked up to the low building. A truck was pulled up to the side, so they headed for it; a dark-haired man in coveralls was about to open the back, but he paused in his work and looked over at the two approaching Rangers.
“Hi there,” Ian called. The man waved back. They came to stand in front of him; there was a large, open door in the side of the building. Alyssa glanced inside. It appeared to be a warehouse full of crates—probably hair dye for shipping out. “We’re just here for a routine inspection. Do you know where the supervisor is?”
The man put his hands on his hips. “No, but he should be coming out soon…he usually comes out to see the dye shipped out personally. There he is.” He pointed to a blonde man in a suit walking from the other side of the warehouse, talking quickly with an earpiece attached to his ear. His voice echoed through the warehouse until he came to the door.
“I don’t care about that. The Machoke are very experienced, they know what they’re doing. I will have to let you go. Can I help you?” he asked, reaching up to press a button on his earpiece. He straightened his tie, but Alyssa caught his eye movement towards their Stylers.
“We’re here for a routine inspection,” Ian said.
“Oh?” The man smiled, but the gesture didn’t reach his eyes. “This month’s inspection has already passed. Another one isn’t scheduled until next month.”
“We’re under orders from HQ. We can’t disobey.”
“I’m sorry. I have the right to refuse anyone from my establishment without appointment. Please leave the premises, or I will have my guards escort you off. Oh, what now?” he said crossly as his phone began ringing. He pressed the button on his earpiece, turning away. “Hello? No, I said don’t worry about it! They always use—what do you expect them to do? Use their fingernails?” He strode away, back through the warehouse, and the large man in coveralls pulled a remote out of his pocket. At the touch of a button, the large metal door began to close, cutting off Alyssa and Ian’s view of the warehouse.
“Leave,” he grunted.
So they did. Alyssa brushed her bangs out of her eyes, biting her lip as they walked away. “What do we do now?” Ian asked. “He does have the right to refuse anyone entry…”
“We sneak in, of course,” Alyssa replied as though the answer was obvious. “We sneak in, observe what’s going on, see if anything’s wrong, take some pictures. And from the way he reacted, I think something is wrong.”
“You’re just paranoid,” Ian told her.
“No…I’m sure he’s hiding something. Did you see the way he looked at our Stylers? Or the way he smiled? If he had nothing to hide, why would he turn us away? And anyway, this is our mission. We have to count it as failed if we don’t get in there.”
As it turned out, Alyssa was very persuasive; ten minutes later, they were slipping in the factory via a small side door, red jackets stowed in a safe place outside—because “Red is an eye-drawing color,” Alyssa said, stuffing her jacket into a trash can.
The building was small, so it must not have required many workers. The white-tiled hallway they entered was empty, but Alyssa flattened herself against the gray wall anyway. Ziggy sniffed the floor and inched ahead; Prinplup lingered behind, checking their rear. Ian pressed himself beside Alyssa. “I’m not sure if—”
“Cameras,” Alyssa whispered. “There.” She pointed. “And there.” She pointed again. “Any way we can temporarily disable them?”
“Well, Prinplup knows Water Gun,” Ian offered.
Alyssa shook her head. “We need something more subtle. Water gun might turn it, and we just need to short it out…does he know Bubble?”
“Get him to do that, please.”
“Hey, Prinplup.” The Pokémon performed the desired move; the bubble emitting from his beak enveloped the camera before popping, effectively disabling it. He did the same for the other camera.
“Thanks much, Prinny,” Alyssa whispered. Ian was too distracted to protest. She pushed her bangs back from her eyes and got away from the wall, striding confidently down the hallway.
“Alyssa! What are you—come back!” Ian followed, hurrying after her. When he caught up, he grabbed her arm. “What are you thinking?”
Ziggy’s ears perked up and it darted a look at Alyssa. “Someone’s coming,” Alyssa said, taking in the movement. “Quick—find a place to hide.”
“Where? There are no doors. We can only go out the way we came in.”
“Um…” Alyssa glanced around. The hum of machines permeated the air, making it hard to concentrate. Her eyes found a small alcove that interrupted the wall. She hurried toward it, pulling Ian with her. There was a large double-door, and then two small doors on the sides of the alcove. She grabbed the knob of one of the smaller doors and let herself in.
This, apparently, was the main factory. The noise of machines rose to a din as soon as they entered; they were in a small space directly before they entered the main room. Thankfully, there were barrels and crates against the walls, so Alyssa ducked behind some barrels before someone in the room saw her. People and Pokémon—mostly Machoke and Zangoose—bustled by, both carrying large loads that she hadn’t quite seen.
“Nothing seems to be going on,” Ian said.
“We need to explore further into the main factory,” Alyssa told him.
“How? There are people everywhere!”
“Just be sneaky.” Alyssa crawled out from behind her cluster of barrels and moved toward a stack of crates. Ian followed. They were now at a vantage point to where they could see the whole of the factory if they poked their heads above the crates, which Ian did. He gasped, and Alyssa went to come up beside him—
“No.” Ian’s hand quickly went over her eyes and he forced her back down. “Don’t look.”
“This isn’t the time for games, Ian,” Alyssa said crossly, forcing his hand away from her face and shooting him an angry glare.
“Please don’t look,” he replied, grabbing her wrist as she went to peek above the crates. “Please, please don’t look. There are Team Galactic overseers, so they are in league with Team Galactic. That’s all we need to know. You don’t have to look. I’ll take the pictures,” he added, pulling the Ranger camera Erma had assigned them out of his pocket.
“I came all this way,” she snapped, stretching for it, but he pulled it out of her reach. “And do you think I can’t handle it? After all we’ve been through together—namely, the cave?” She shook her arm out of his grasp, and he speechlessly watched her look over the crates.
She almost vomited.
The loads the people and Pokémon had been carrying were large piles of different Water Pokémon—Horsea, Goldeen, Seaking, Finneon, even a few Marill. They carried them over to a pile of the same kind on a long counter that ran around the perimeter of the room. Beside these piles were Machoke or Zangoose, the former with knives. They would take the Water Pokémon and skin them.
Alyssa clapped a hand over her mouth as a Machoke grabbed hold of a Horsea and slung it down on the counter. It jabbed the knife into the skin on its side and pushed, peeling up a long piece of blue skin all the way to its neck. The Horsea closed its eyes and began screaming, or so Alyssa assumed; the noise of the machines was too loud for her to hear. An annoyed look crossed over the Machoke’s face, and he suddenly used the knife to chop cleanly through the Horsea’s neck. Its head rolled onto the floor.
After skinning the Water Pokémon, the Machoke or Zangoose would grab the skin and throw it into a funnel. In the middle of the room were several large vats of different-colored bubbling liquids; the funnels were inserted in tubes connected to these vats. Alyssa looked at them, horrified. Now that she looked closer, she could see a bit of order; Pokémon’s skins were sorted by color and thrown into the funnel that corresponded with the vat. Seaking skins ended up in the funnel connected to the vat of red. Goldeen skins were cut up, and the orange parts were dropped into the funnel for orange while the white parts were dropped into the funnel for white. Alyssa looked back to the Horsea station, which was nearest her. Her eyes followed the tube to the large vat of…Galactic Blue. Her stomach turned unpleasantly and she pushed a hand over her mouth, trying her hardest not to throw up.
Suddenly, Ian’s hand was on her shoulder, his arm draped around her back. He pointed up to a catwalk running the length of the room, where several Team Galactic members paced, looking down at the progress below them. A few Staraptor and Honchkrow walked with them. Fighting is weak against Flying, she thought. If a Machoke gets out of hand…but what about the Zangoose? She searched until she found a Machamp, its bottom pair of arms crossed and its top pair sticking straight up.
She looked back over to the Machoke eagerly skinning Horsea. As its knife brought up another peel of blue skin, Alyssa got a glimpse of the bright red muscle pulsing beneath. She could see the Horsea’s heart. There it was, clear as day, pumping blood to a rapidly dying body; and then the Machoke tossed the skin into the funnel and continued its job, flipping the Horsea over.
“Come on.” Ian’s low voice was right in her ear. “I think we’ve got enough. Let’s get out of here.”
It wasn’t difficult getting out of the building; Alyssa thought numbly how she hadn’t even noticed Ian taking pictures. They pulled their jackets from the trash can as they skirted the edge of the Happy Hair Brand Hair Dye Factory, disappearing into the shadow of the nondescript building next to it.
After checking in briefly with Elmina, they captured two more Doduo. “Y’know,” Alyssa said softly, placing a hand on the Pokémon’s back, “back in Chicole Village, we have a farm.”
Ian looked over at her, frowning down from his Doduo.
“My mom has an Ambipom in the house that helps clean. It has a lot of hands, y’know…” She stared numbly at the brown feathers beneath her fingers. “My dad…he has a Machamp that helps him in the fields…it just recently evolved from Machoke.” She then turned and vomited into the bushes.
From: [email protected]
I can’t tell you very much about my mission. It’s actually going to be like that a lot. Just know that it was a success, but I saw some things.
I’m not sure about Belle’s last email, but I’m a bit too shaken up to think about that right now.
Isis, while a goddess of fertility, was also married to Osiris, the god of the underworld. It sounds like Konohana is using steroids. That would explain the Glaceon’s size. Also, steroids have negative side effects; they deplete the pigment in a Pokémon’s skin and coat.
Cassandra watched out her window as Sakura Konohana, now dressed in a kimono, smiled placidly at the innkeeper and bowed to her. A limo sat on the road behind her, and a man was scooping up her bags to put them inside. As Cassandra watched, Sakura shook the innkeeper’s hand, bowed once more, and got inside the limo. The innkeeper turned away, but Cassandra saw the girl’s face just before the door shut; she was frowning, and she already had a cigarette in her hand.
Would all contests be like this? Would she constantly lose to less talented people because they were willing to give judges money? Cassandra closed her eyes, thinking over things. Giving steroids to Pokémon, bribing judges, people setting bombs in caves, friends slowly dropping out of touch…the last one almost brought tears to her eyes. While Belle had hinted at a possibly painful split between her and Derrick, she hadn’t come out with the full story. Was she okay? What she had said in her email made it seem like she was at fault.
Cassandra turned away from the window and looked at Karen’s bed. The girl was stretched out on it, kicking her feet and coloring, her long pink hair spread out around her. Tuffly lay across from her, frowning in concentration as it attempted to hold a crayon. “You’re doing good, Tuffly,” Karen remarked, pointing at the page. “Look, you stayed inside the lines there and everything.”
“Wiggly!” Tuffly seemed proud of itself.
Cassandra stood; Fluffy shifted from his place at her feet, lifting his head and watching her. He seemed to never want to be in his Poké Ball now that he had seen her get attacked by Isis. Now he wanted to keep an eye on her at all times.
“Hey Karen,” Cassandra said, crossing the room and picking up her jacket. Fluffy stood at once.
“I’m going out to train with Ellia. I’ll be back before dark.”
“It’s wintertime,” Karen reminded her. “It’ll be dark sooner, so don’t get carried away.” She picked up a crayon and lightly shaded something. Tuffly made a sound rather like a laugh. Karen laughed in reply. “You’re right!” she remarked.
Cassandra froze on her way to the door and turned around, Fluffy cocking his head quizzically up at her. “What did you say?”
“Oh, I was just telling Tuffly that he was right.”
Cassandra didn’t know what to say. After a long silence, she finally asked slowly, “And what did he say?”
“Oh, he just said that the Ponyta you caught probably won’t take kindly to being captured.”
Cassandra was so shocked she could have thrown up the entire contents of her stomach. “You can understand Tuffly?”
Karen nodded, poking her tongue out of the corner of her mouth. “I can understand all Pokémon.”
The doorknob would have shattered under Cassandra’s hand if she hadn’t almost collapsed. Fluffy barked. “And when were you planning on telling me this?”
Karen shrugged nonchalantly. “It’s not a big deal. Tuffly, would you stop hogging all the purple?”
“Karen, focus! This is a big deal!”
Sighing, Karen put down her crayon and looked up, folding her hands in front of her. “Okay.”
Cassandra straightened and drew in a deep breath as she zipped up her faux fur-lined jacket. “When did it happen?”
“When did what happen?”
Fluffy wagged his tail as he sensed his Trainer’s growing frustration. “When did you figure out you could understand Pokémon?”
“When I was little, of course,” Karen replied. “When else would I figure it out?” She swept a strand of pink hair behind her ears.
“I don’t know. They’ve just always made sense to me. My parents thought it was amazing.”
Fluffy barked; Karen nodded. “But you should get training. Ponyta are used to running free, so it might take Ellia a long time go come around.” With that, she turned back to her coloring book, clearly dismissing Cassandra.
“Don’t eat before I get back,” Cassandra said as she opened the door. “We’ll talk about this more at supper.”
Thankfully, no ash was falling today. Cassandra didn’t want to go to her favorite little training patch for fear Ponyta would disappear into the trees, so she chose a nice, wide-open space with plenty of room to aim the red beam from her Poké Ball.
Fluffy wagged his tail as he walked beside her but remained vigilant as he scanned the area. When she stopped, he stopped also, and started to trot around the perimeter of the space.
Cassandra pulled out everyone’s Poké Balls and tossed them one by one into the air—Ellia, of course, was the last. As soon as the fiery Pokémon’s hooves hit the ground she was running. “Return!” Cassandra yelled, and the red beam pulled Ellia back into the Ball. “Let’s try that again.” But Ellia took off once more, forcing Cassandra to return her to the Poké Ball. This happened several times before Ellia grudgingly stopped running and stood angrily before Cassandra, tossing her head and pawing at the ground. “You are my Pokémon now and your name is Ellia,” Cassandra told her. “You will be entered in at least one Contest, so I’d like to start training you now.”
Ellia glared fiercely back at Cassandra. She didn’t appear to want to do anything. “How about a spar?” Cassandra finally suggested. “Swablu, could you please?”
“Blu!” Swablu chirped as it rose into the air. Ellia kept her eyes on Cassandra as she slowly turned around to face the Pokémon, not breaking her glare until she could no longer help it.
“Okay, Swablu, I’ll just tell Ellia what to do and you can do your thing.” Pulling out the little-used Pokédex she acquired upon choosing Finny, Cassandra scrolled through Ponyta’s moves. “Hm…okay. Ready, Swablu?” She pocketed the Pokédex again. Swablu chirped, bobbing up and down in the air. “Cool. Okay, Ellia—use Flame Wheel!”
Instead, the Ponyta reared up on its hind legs and turned, lashing its hooves out dangerously near Cassandra’s head. In a flash, Fluffy was between them, snarling and snapping; Ellia squealed in displeasure and danced backwards as she shook her head. Cassandra’s hand tightened into a fist. “You’ll do as I say! Spar with Swablu!”
Ellia seemed extremely indignant to this sort of treatment; she reared up again and opened her mouth, allowing flames to shoot out. Finny came to the rescue; he quickly used Mud-Slap to smother the flames before they reached Fluffy or Cassandra. Angrily, Cassandra pulled out Ellia’s Poké Ball and returned her. “We’re done for today,” she snapped, and she turned and went back to the hotel, not even bothering to return her other Pokémon.
With a quick shared glance between them, Fluffy, Finny, and Swablu started off after her.
“Finny says Ellia won’t listen to you,” Karen said as Cassandra stepped out of the bathroom. Finny shrugged apologetically from his place on Cassandra’s bed as his master threw him a sharp glance.
“Mm-hm. Says she tried to attack you.”
Cassandra narrowed her eyes at Finny, who dropped his gaze to the coverlet. “Yeah, well, she won’t listen, and she did try to attack me. He say anything else?”
“No, but Swablu told me she’s worried about you. She wants you to release Ellia.”
“Well, I’m not,” Cassandra snapped. “I’m going to train her if it’s the last thing I do.” The Ponyta had made this a battle of wills, and Cassandra was used to those—Joanna presented them daily, almost.
Swablu chirruped worriedly. She was perched on Cassandra’s bedpost, a fluffy ornament.
“She says she thinks you’re being too stubborn,” Karen piped up. She was still coloring.
“I’m not, Swablu. I’m just being determined.”
Another chirrup. “Why do you insist on fighting to your own destruction?”
Cassandra clamped her mouth shut. She returned Finny and Swablu to their Poké Balls before glancing down at Fluffy. “Did you say anything to her?”
Fluffy made a noise in his throat and shook his head. Cassandra didn’t even need Karen to translate for her; she crossed into the den and started up the computer, allowing the Mightyena to trot along after her. She was going to train Ellia, no matter what anyone said.
To: [email protected]
Subject:Don’t you go doing this too.
Your last email wasn’t very descriptive. Please don’t pull a Belle on me. Don’t leave me all alone with TWO best friends to worry about. I’m so worried…what happened?
The Ponyta I caught won’t listen to me, but I’m determined to train her. Swablu thinks I should release her. You know how I know that? KAREN CAN TALK TO POKÉMON. When she was planning on telling me this, I have no idea. But there it is; she can talk to Pokémon.
I’m going to send an email to Belle’s mother, because I’m way too worried about her to just let her fester. She seems like she’s starting to open up (that doesn’t mean it’s okay for you to withdraw!!!!), but she needs something to jolt her out of it.
Lots of love and worry,
Subject: Your daughter
As you know, I’m Cassandra Étoile, one of your daughter’s best friends. She’s been a bit withdrawn lately, and I’m incredibly worried about her. Has she been communicating with you at all? I know that right now she’s at Cinnabar Island about to challenge the Gym Leader, and I also know that she stopped traveling with Derrick. Do you think that there’s anything I, Alyssa, or you can do to put her back into her senses?
Thanks very much,
P.S. How’s Derek doing?
Two things I really like about this chapter... Fluffy's protectiveness: I think it is so cool when a Pokemon stand up for its trainer like that... Karen's attitude about her gift: its nothing to her and you played it very well. I like the way you have this going, it will be interesting to see how this plays into future chapters. I am very excited to read more.
I really need a new signature.
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: dancing_through_life@pokénet.com, [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?
I try not to spam up a thread by posting after every chapter, but I am a little curious about this one. Did the events of the games take place in your story? You mentioned Red, and this line (which I though was hilarious BTW):
“Weird? My dear, we live in a world where giant creatures casually fall asleep in roads and entire criminal organizations are taken down by one brave, seemingly mute child. Yet this is weird?”
Oh and I think the answer to your riddle is love.
I really need a new signature.
As for an answer to your question, my story is a bit of a game/anime hybrid; I took the elements I wanted from each medium and threw them together to make some sort of chemical explosion, resulting in this Powerpuff-Girl-type of story (with me being Chemical X, of course). Earlier in this chapter, I mention Ash:
So, there ya go! My story is some weird, illegitimate Yeerk-style love-child of the anime, the game, and me. (That's right, I just threw in an Animorphs reference.)
Alyssa opened her eyes at the soft knock on her door. “Who is it?” she asked.
“Ian,” he replied. “Can I come in?”
She laid there for a few moments, considering. “No,” she decided finally, and turned over on her side. Ziggy, who had been pressed against her side, shifted and made a disgruntled noise.
“I’m coming in anyway.”
Alyssa didn’t move as she heard the door to her apartment open and Ian stroll through the front room. She didn’t even twitch as he opened the door to her bedroom and let himself inside. “Alyssa, get up.”
“We need to report to Chairperson Erma. She was nice enough to be satisfied that we knew it was tied to Team Galactic for a day; we need to go give our full report now.”
“Can’t you do it?”
Ian was silent for a moment. She hadn’t heard Prinplup come in with him; was he waiting outside? Ziggy shifted, his dark brown fur moving in front of her face.
Suddenly, she felt a hand clamp down on her shoulder and wrench her to lay on her back. She came face-to-face with the angriest Ian she had ever seen. “The world doesn’t just stop when you see something you don’t like,” he snapped. “You’re a Ranger now. You’re going to see tough things. You’re just going to have to deal with it. Crime and evil don’t stop just because you hide in your room, and you can do something about it, or you can quit your job and hide away. But right now, as a Ranger, you can change things. And you have a duty to your superior officer—and to me, your partner. You would really push all the burden on me like that? I was sympathetic with you yesterday. What we saw was tough. I won’t say that I didn’t have nightmares—if I did, I would be a liar. And it’s okay to be sad, even horrified. But Alyssa, be sad on your own damn time, because we have a job to do.” He released her shoulder and turned away from the bed; she stared up at the ceiling, eyes wide and mouth open.
“I’ll be waiting for you in the hallway,” Ian said, and slammed her bedroom door shut. She heard his swift footsteps cross the front room before he slammed her front door as well. It only took a few more seconds of shock; and then Alyssa was up, pulling on her uniform and fastening her Styler to her wrist.
Outside in the hallway, a chastised Alyssa slipped out of her front door and stood before Ian, eyes cast down at her shoes. Her hair was unwashed, so she had thrown it up in her usual sloppy ponytail and hoped for the best. She hadn’t attempted to brush Ziggy’s fur. His head looked ragged poking over her shoulder. Her usually pristine jacket was wrinkled, and the black thigh-high tights she wore were uneven; though she looked a mess, she had tried.
Ian didn’t wait for her to say anything. He just started off down the hall at a brisk stride, letting her drift along behind, fidgeting with the wrist-strap of her Fine Styler (the kind used by Top Rangers) and keeping her eyes down. The tiled floor passed by her vision, and she glanced up to see different Top Rangers moving around and trailed by Partner Pokémon. Many of them had stylized versions of the uniform. Alyssa briefly wondered when you were allowed to change your uniform—Ian already had. It was a subtle change—the usual short-sleeved jacket was long-sleeved for him—but it was there.
Ian glanced over his shoulder and caught her looking at him, and she quickly snapped her gaze back down to the floor. She saw Prinplup looking at her, and he seemed to feel sorry for her. They descended a flight of stairs (in the Ranger Union HQ, “elevators” were but a dream) and rounded a corner to arrive at the briefing room.
“I don’t expect to do all the talking,” Ian said, his voice cold. He stood in front of her, not turning his head or anything to look back at her. “I’ll handle the files on the computer, but I don’t expect to tell the whole thing myself. Understood?”
“Yes,” she said faintly.
“What?” he asked.
“Yes,” she repeated, a little louder.
“Get a grip on yourself. Don’t let Erma see that this is bothering you. She’ll wonder if your promotion was a mistake.” With that, he pushed open the door, holding it open for her briefly.
They stepped into the briefing room, and the familiar darkness of a room that was essentially a giant computer enveloped them. Erma was already there, surveying screenshots from some old movie with people dancing. When they walked in, she spoke the command to send the shots into her folder.
“Well, I’m very eager to hear your entire report,” she said as Alyssa let the door fall shut behind her.
“We’re very eager to tell you,” Ian replied. “The images we have are…quite graphic.”
Erma sighed. “Oh dear. Well, I’ve certainly seen some things in my day, so I’m well prepared.”
And so the report started. At first, Alyssa eyed the walls warily, but Ian withheld the pictures and let her explain the first part of their mission. She actually enjoyed explaining every detail of their exploits to Erma, and soon she was guiding the entire storyline along.
Soon, though, she said the sentence, “And that door led to the factory.” With that, she glanced at Ian, who nodded.
“Computer, open folder Walton, Ian.”
The image of a folder appeared on the screen; it opened, revealing smaller folders. “Open Factory Pictures.”
And there they were, just as horrible in digital form as they were in real life. She glanced away, her eyes landing on Erma’s face.
Erma looked distraught. Her eyes were open wide, and the nearest picture cast a white ethereal glow on her features. Right now, she looked as though she had lived for centuries; her grip tightened on the Sandslash cane, and she heaved a deep sigh. “My goodness,” she said softly. “And those are pictures of the rafters?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Ian replied. “As you can see, several Team Galactic members are patrolling.”
“Why here?” she said wearily, and she seemed to sag. “I thought some young Trainer had broken them up in Sinnoh a few years ago. Why here? Why now?”
“I suppose that’s for the Rangers to figure out,” Alyssa replied. She walked over to Erma’s side and laid a hand on her shoulder. “We’ll figure it out, Erma. We will.”
There was a pause as Erma looked over at her, their eyes locking. The old woman’s eyes, at least, were still young—probably unchanged from when she was seventeen years old. They were brown, flecked with black and gold, and a fire so tangible burned in them that Alyssa thought she could feel its heat. The eyes narrowed and then pulled away from Alyssa’s. “Well, we’ll have to dispatch a team of Rangers to put a stop to their operations. First, though, we’ll need more information.”
Alyssa glanced at Ian. He finally looked at her, and his face showed understanding—he knew that she might not be able to take that place again.
“Don’t worry, dear, it won’t be you two. No, we’ll have to send in some Rangers specially trained in espionage…I might have to call Everett in from Fiore.”
“Everett?” Alyssa mumbled. The name clicked in her mind. Everett was the name of Casey’s father…and last she had heard, he was in Fiore. “Everett Rayman?”
“You know him?”
“I roomed with his daughter in Ranger School,” Alyssa replied. She thought back to the last time she had seen Casey—her father had miraculously made it to graduation, and she had been standing in front of him, beaming and looking the happiest Alyssa had seen her in years. And then she realized that it sounded incredibly childish of her to say something like that.
“Ah. Yes, I believe she’s stationed in Pueltown.”
Alyssa nodded. She hadn’t seen her at the base, but Operators work in shifts.
“Computer, transfer pictures to Erma’s folder.” Erma sighed as the pictures zoomed away. “You two—”—her glance lingered on Alyssa—“probably need some rest. Take today and tomorrow off; I don’t care where you go as long as it’s not out of Almia.”
“We will. Thank you,” Ian said.
“Thank you,” Alyssa echoed.
They turned and left; once outside the door, Ian looked at her. “Grab a change of clothes. I’ll capture us a Staraptor and we’ll fly somewhere.”
“You’ll see. Meet you out front in twenty minutes.”
As it turned out, it was Chicole Village in which Ian landed the Staraptor. The sun was just beginning to set; he cut quite a dashing figure, sitting atop a Staraptor, wind blowing gently in his hair, a fiery haze around his outline.
“Is there any way I could stay for dinner? We’ll go where I wanted when it gets dark,” Ian added.
Alyssa nodded; Ian quietly asked the Staraptor to stay for a while as she went inside.
“Honey, it’s good to see you home!” Diana came rushing toward her, grabbing her up in a hug. “Oh, and Ziggy!” she added, scooping the Zigzagoon up and hugging it. “Who’s that man outside?”
“Um—Ian. He’s my…friend. Can he stay for dinner? He’s taking me somewhere after it gets dark.”
“Um…” Diana bit her lip.
Just then, Warren Thompson, Alyssa’s father, came around the corner. His short-trimmed hair was much darker than Alyssa’s or Diana’s, and he had the muscles of a man who worked in the fields. He wore dirty overalls and a stained T-shirt. Dirt smudged his face. “Mm. Little daisy.”
Alyssa’s stomach lurched and she paused in her way across the kitchen. Four-armed, muscular, green, with a large, smiling mouth, Machamp came around the corner. He, too, was smudged with dirt. His face lit up when he saw Alyssa, and he threw all four of his arms open for a hug.
Ian stepped into the doorway and hovered uncertainly, keeping his eyes on Alyssa. She looked up at the big Pokémon and felt…happy. It was nice to see a good, wholesome Machamp. She rushed forward and threw her arms around its waist; he folded all four of his own arms onto her gingerly, careful not to squeeze too hard.
Warren glanced at Alyssa, then at Ian, who was smiling slightly as he watched this display. “Little daisy’s changed,” he muttered to Diana, coming around the corner to kiss her cheek.
“No she hasn’t,” Diana replied. “She’s still our little Alyssa. Honey, of course your friend can stay—I’ll throw in some more food—”
Warren looked over at Ian, who was still watching Alyssa. He grunted slightly. “Goin’ upstairs to wash up.”
Dinner was a long affair. Diana did most of the talking; Alyssa shoveled in home-cooked food gratefully, and Ian tried to politely answer Diana’s rapid-fire questions before she could set off another.
At one point, as Alyssa was reaching for her glass of tea, she looked up at Warren, her father. He was looking at her, that stoic expression he usually wore covering his face. He was a quiet man, and he had been ever since she could remember; even before her brother—Alyssa didn’t want to think about her brother. But somehow, she could tell that her brother had just crossed Warren’s mind as well; their eyes met, and Warren allowed a small smile to pull at his lips, and she knew they were both remembering him.
Finally, at dinner’s end, Alyssa stood with her plate. “Let me get that,” she said to Ian, scooping his empty plate up.
“It’s okay, I’ll—”
“You’re a guest,” Alyssa told him simply, and she walked away to get Warren’s dishes as well.
“I’m not a guest,” Warren said in his deep voice.
“I missed you,” Alyssa replied. She kissed him on the side of the head.
“I’ll get the dishes,” Diana said, taking Alyssa’s stack of plates. “You two go do whatever it was you were going to do. Warren, come help!”
Warren grunted as he scooted his chair back from the table, and Ian turned to Alyssa. “Do you wanna change clothes?”
She glanced down at herself in her uniform, then shook her head. “Nah.” They stepped out into the night air. “It sure is getting dark earlier.”
“How long of a walk is it to Vientown?”
“Um, about twenty minutes.”
“That’s not so bad. Come with me.”
Ziggy, once it realized that Vientown was not their final stop, leapt up onto Alyssa’s shoulder to ride the rest of the way. Prinplup waddled along behind them.
Ian refused to answer Alyssa’s questions about where they were going, but it soon became apparent that they were headed towards the Ranger School. She frowned as they came to the six-foot wall and even taller gate. “We can’t go in there. The gate’s locked.”
“Yeah, I know.” Ian pulled her past the gate to a place where the wall made a ninety-degree angle; Alyssa knew that this was where Ascension Square was. And then it clicked in her head—that one night when she had snuck out in her nightgown, and Ian had found her sitting with her feet dangling over the edge of the small cliff. He led her to another corner. Vines had grown over this particular spot in the wall. “See, trees hang over this part of the wall, so it’s hard to see someone moving here.”
“Um…” Alyssa glanced up at the vine-covered wall.
“No thanks,” Alyssa replied. “You go first.”
“You have to promise you’ll come up after me.”
She nodded as he grabbed hold of the vines and clambered up skillfully. Once on the top of the wall, he crouched there and smiled down at her. “Hand up Prinplup, will ya? Zigoon can probably make it on his own.”
“His name is Ziggy,” Alyssa murmured, grabbing Prinplup and hoisting him up. She grunted as Ian took him gently from her arms.
“I used to have to carry him,” Ian said. The Pokémon looked as though he were trying to grab onto Ian’s shoulders with his flippers. “Yeah, yeah, buddy, I know.”
Soon, Alyssa was up after him, and then they descended the other side even quicker. Ian glanced around before leading her to the water and sitting. It was a lot colder than it had been that night, so Alyssa tugged her jacket around her and looked up at the stars. She suddenly wished she, too, had Ian’s long-sleeved jacket.
“I can see how this would help you,” Alyssa murmured. The stars winked down at her, and the waves washed gently against the side of the cliff. Everything was so big and open; it felt like her thoughts could go anywhere. But everything was familiar, also, making her calm and almost happy. Memories of playing near the large Pledge Stone came flooding back. And, of course, there had been Outdoor Day—a day when class had been held outside, and a Ranger had come to teach them. She remembered the excitement she had felt upon seeing that man—she didn’t even know who it was—with his red jacket and partner Ursaring.
“I’m sorry I talked to you so roughly,” Ian said softly, sitting down close beside her.
“I deserved it,” she replied. “You’re right. I chose to be a Ranger because I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to help people and Pokémon. Of course, it’s harder than I imagined, but it still makes me feel good to know that soon, because of information I helped to get, that factory will be shut down.” She looked down at her legs, still in black thigh-highs. “I shouldn’t forget that I’m a Ranger.”
“And a damn good one, at that.” She looked up to see Ian smiling at her, and she returned it easily. “This is my way of coping,” he added. “Or, was. When things got too scary, I would come here. It helps to remember the beginning. Oh, are you cold?”
Alyssa had wrapped her arms around herself and was shivering. A chill was seeping through her bodysuit from the ground, and a breeze was blowing. “Yeah.”
“Let me help.”
Alyssa thought back to that night, when Ian had removed his jacket and given it to her. She expected the same would happen now—but it didn’t. Instead, he leaned toward her and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close against his chest. She rested her cheek against his shoulder and stared, wide-eyed, at his neck. Warmth flooded through her, but she suspected that a lot of it came from inside.
“Better?” His voice was soft, right in her ear.
“Yes.” She tentatively put a hand on his chest, and he placed his own over top of it. She felt him lay his head on hers. “A-are you comfortable?”
“Very.” He pulled her a bit closer; the hand he had over hers he removed and put the now-free arm around her waist.
Comfortable, Alyssa closed her eyes. She felt his heart beating under her hand, as well as his chest rising and falling with the breath blowing gently on her hair. I love you, she thought easily.
Her eyes flew open. What? What had she just thought? I love you, the thought spoke again, and she pondered it for a moment. A huge barrage of Butterfree and Beautifly swarmed inside her stomach, and her heart pounded and fluttered at the same time. These feelings, as well as the added warmth from inside every time she thought the words, made her realize…it was true. She loved him. She loved him with every fiber of her being, every muscle inside her body. She loved each and every part of him; his hair, his face, his eyes, his laugh, his hands, his warmth. “I love you,” she whispered, ever so softly, against his neck.
“What?” he asked absentmindedly.
“Nothing,” she replied, but a huge smile broke out on her face as she closed her eyes again. He didn’t have to know just yet. In fact, nobody did. It just felt good to say it, whether he heard her or not.
Alyssa loved Ian.
From: [email protected]
Subject: Happy day!
Don’t worry about me going all Belle on you!
The thing that happened to me…it just seems like it’s something I need to talk to you about in person. Don’t worry about it for right now; I’ll have plenty of stories to tell you later.
I had a good day today. Erma gave me and Ian today and tomorrow off, so we’ll be hanging out and stuff. I’m spending the night at home right now. It’s really nice to see Mom and Dad, and even Machamp and Ambipom.
KAREN CAN TALK TO POKÉMON??? OMGWTFBBQ??? That is…really cool, actually. I’d LOVE to be able to do that. Actually, I think Professor Hastings (he’s the guy who invented the Styler) is working on a device that translates Pokémon’s cries into speech, but it’s gonna take a while. He’s always being distracted by perfecting the Styler.
That’s a really good idea, sending an email to Miss Terra. Tell me what she says!!! Anyway, I’m really tired, so I’m gonna go to bed.
Love you much,
Cassandra had just about had it with Ellia. She had tried everything to get that Ponyta to listen to her, even looking up ways to train Ponyta on the Internet. She didn’t want to give up, even though that seemed like what it was all her Pokémon wanted, Ellia included. The Ponyta had learned, grudgingly, that fleeing was useless, but she was doing everything she possibly could to resist Cassandra’s training, even at personal risk.
After a long bout of useless training, Cassandra came back into the room and got out her laptop. “Hi, Karen,” she said in a dull monotone. The pink-haired girl was lying on her bed and coloring as usual.
“Hi,” Karen replied.
“Tuffly says hi.”
“Hi, Tuffly,” Cassandra grumbled, opening up her e-mail and sifting through. Suddenly, she became delighted as she saw that Terra had emailed her back. “Yes!” she cried happily, clicking it.
I sure am glad Belle has friends like you and Alyssa to worry about her. I had noticed a lag in her emails, but I thought it might just be something to do with the fact that I’m her mother, and therefore am far less interesting to talk to. I didn’t know that she was no longer traveling with Derrick, so I’m afraid I don’t know the reason for that. Thank you for bringing me your concern; I know exactly how to remedy this situation.
Oh, and thank you for asking about Derek. He’s doing just fine. He’s already thinking about what Pokémon he wants when he gets older, and I’m thrilled to say he might want one that is the same type as his mother’s first Pokémon. Of course, he also might want to go a different way and get a Charmander like his big sister. Either way, I’ll be happy for him.
Anyway, thank you very much for your email, and try not to worry too much anymore—Momma T is on her way to fix everything!
Belle’s mom (I know that’s what you call me )
Cassandra felt a huge weight lift off her chest. Terra was going to fix it. Good. She closed out her Internet and turned off her laptop, no longer needing to get her mind off anything; she felt perfectly fine now. As she stuffed the laptop into her bag, she glanced over at Karen and Tuffly coloring together.
“Hey, Karen,” Cassandra said, stretching out on her own bed. “I have to ask you something I’m really curious about.”
“Does Tuffly have a Poké Ball?”
Karen glanced up at her. “You haven’t asked a lot about me,” she remarked, putting her crayon down.
“Um…no, I guess I haven’t.”
“You haven’t asked me about my parents or anything.”
“Well, you haven’t asked me about mine, either.”
“Your dad’s Gerald Étoile, an executive for Devon Corp. He’s big and jolly. Your mother, his wife, is Joanna Étoile, and she seems evil.”
“Well, you only got that from meeting them on the telephone and putting a name with a face.”
Karen shrugged. “True. I guess we’re both inconsiderate. Tell me about your family.” She sat up, crossed her legs, placed her hands on her ankles, sat up straight, and looked straight at Cassandra across the gap between the beds, her head cocked slightly to the side.
“Um…you sure you want me to go first?”
“Okay…well, we’re pretty rich, I guess.” Cassandra launched into a description of their family—mean Joanna, fun Gerald, and even Dorothia, the cook. When she was finished, Karen nodded simply.
“Okay. Well, I’ll tell you about mine now.” She adjusted her shoulders. “My mom’s name is Chryssi—it’s short for Chrysanthemum.”
“It’s a type of flower.”
“Her parents were botanists. Dad’s name is Enja. It’s short for Benjamin.”
“Why didn’t his parents just call him Ben?”
“They did. He hated that name. Enja sounds a lot cooler.”
Cassandra nodded and decided not to ask any more questions.
Karen’s family was actually very interesting; they lived in a small house in a sparsely populated area of Rustboro City, and every day Chryssi and Enja pushed their cart out beside the PokéMart and attempted to sell herb and root supplements as replacements for Potions. They had perfected the art of making them taste sweet instead of bitter, and people and Pokémon both could use them. Because they didn’t have a lot of money, they all made their own clothes—Karen, apparently, was the one with the best fashion sense, and could sew much better than her parents. “I have a little trouble with sleeves,” she added, offering out her arms as proof; the sleeves of her shirt hung down almost past her fingers. “But that’s the style now, so it’s okay.
“You asked if Tuffly had a Poké Ball,” Karen continued, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear.
“We don’t believe in Poké Balls.”
“No. We believe that if a Pokémon wants to be your friend, they’ll follow you and be with you of their own will. We don’t capture Pokémon—we befriend them…kind of like Rangers, but without the use of any technology.”
A strange sensation started in Cassandra’s gut. It felt a little like…guilt. “So…has everyone ever tried to capture Tuffly with their Poké Ball?”
“Once or twice, but either I or Mom blocked it.”
“You should try capturing Tuffly in a Poké Ball and then not making him stay in it. That way, if somebody tried to capture him, the Ball would just bounce off.”
“But then I’d only be able to have six Pokémon with me,” Karen replied. “My way, as many Pokémon as I want can follow me around, and I don’t have to send them to the Pokémon Lab.”
Cassandra nodded. “I think I’m going to start keeping everyone out of their Poké Balls.”
“Even Ellia?” Karen asked, grabbing her coloring book and stretching out on the bed again. “You know what I think your problem is with her?”
Usually, when it came to Ellia, Cassandra didn’t want to talk. She was too determined—no, stubborn—to listen to Karen’s advice. This time, however, she had Karen’s Poké Ball story circling in her head. “What?”
“You don’t respect her.”
Cassandra walked out to her training ground under an umbrella with Swablu perched on her shoulder and Finny and Fluffy walking on either side. In her hand, she clutched Ellia’s Poké Ball.
When they came to the place, she let Ellia out of her Ball. “Wait before you try to kick me or anything, please,” Cassandra said. She stepped forward and slipped the bridle off Ellia’s head; she had put it there after taking advice from an Internet site. Surprised, the Ponyta tossed her head and looked down at Cassandra warily. “Yeah, you have every right to look like that.” With a sigh, Cassandra shifted. “Look. I’ve been going about this all wrong. I haven’t been treating you with the respect you deserve, and for that, I’m sorry. I’m willing,” she added, looking up at Ellia, “to be a lot—and I mean a lot—nicer to you if you’re willing to stay with me. If you want to go free, I’ll release you. Do you want me to do that—release you? Knock your hoof on the ground once for yes, twice for no.”
Ellia didn’t do anything for a very long time. She simply stood there, eyeing Cassandra, her mane and tail shifting and seeming to eat every piece of ash that fell on them. Finally, after a while, she lowered her head and bumped it directly into Cassandra’s chest, very gently. Her fiery mane didn’t burn Cassandra; it didn’t even feel hot. Vaguely, she recalled seeing something on the Internet that said Ponyta and Rapidash don’t burn people they trust. Ellia nickered softly and thumped her hoof against the ground once.
Cassandra sighed and placed a hand on the Ponyta’s neck. “Okay. I’ll miss you, but if it’s—”
The hoof thumped again.
“W-was that a no?”
Ellia nickered, and even without Karen Cassandra could tell it was the answer she wanted. She laughed happily as her Ponyta stepped back and tossed her head. “Thank you! I’m sorry, and I’ll make it up to you—first by letting you run around as much as you want. Go on! Gallop! Oh, wait though—do you like the name Ellia?”
The Ponyta had been on her way to gallop circles around the little training ground, but she paused and looked back over her shoulder at Cassandra. After a brief moment, she knocked her hoof once before shooting off to run laps.
“Well, Swablu,” Cassandra said, glancing sideways at the Pokémon sitting on her shoulder. “I’d like to have you be an Altaria before the next contest. You up for that?”
“Blu!” Swablu took flight and spiraled up into the sky.
“Okay, sparring session, Finny and Swablu! Come back when you’re ready, Ellia!” Cassandra called, and her two Pokémon took the field as Fluffy sat by her feet, tall and proud, a guard Pokémon. “Fluffy,” she added as an afterthought. “You’ve never showed much interest in Contests…did you want to try one?”
The Mightyena cocked its head, looking up at her. He patted his paw against the ground twice before turning his attention back to the upcoming spar.
“He’s more interested in battles, he says,” Karen’s voice said, drifting out from somewhere behind Cassandra. She turned around; Karen was walking under her pink umbrella, Tuffly waddling along behind. “I was bored of coloring,” she added by way of explanation. “How are things going with Ellia?”
“Good…I gave her the option to leave, but she didn’t want to. Fluffy, contests are battles, too.”
Fluffy made a series of barks and growls; Karen came up beside Cassandra. Their umbrellas bumped. “But it’s all frilly stuff. I’m not interested in points and glamour.”
“Do you want to battle Gym Leaders?”
“No. You saved my life. Now I’ll spend it protecting yours.”
“Did he really say that?” Cassandra asked, looking up at Karen. The girl nodded matter-of-factly.
“I only say what they say…Pokémon usually get mad when I translate wrong, anyway.”
Cassandra smiled. “Would you mind sticking around and helping me train up for my next contest? Something tells me I could really use your help.”
Karen frowned and bit her lip, crossing her arms. “That would seriously cut into my coloring time.”
“Well, we all make sacrifices, I guess.”
Did you get Belle’s last email? She didn’t even tell us how the battle went. She doesn’t seem very excited about Viridian City being her last Gym Badge, either. =( I’m really worried about her, but luckily Terra emailed me back!!! I’ll forward you the message.
Ooh, so you and Ian are hanging out, huh? Is anything going to happen? Hmmmm? XD I’m so excited for you!! And I’m also really glad that you’re not gonna pull a Belle.
Yeah, one day you’ll have to meet Karen. She’s…something else. She gave me some good advice about training Ellia, which I actually TOOK, and now she listens to me. I’m thinking about entering her in the Slateport Contest when I get there…I want to put Finny in the Fallarbor Contest again to prove that he can win and he’s not totally useless.
Well, gotta get to bed early! I’m waking up early tomorrow and training…the next contest date is rushing up!
How did your battle go?
Are you excited about getting your next (and LAST) Gym Badge?
Have you caught any more Pokémon?
Has anyone evolved?
TALK TO ME.
Flying was amazing.
The wind brushed Belle’s now almost shoulder-length hair back from her face and stung her cheeks as Charmy’s wings rose and fell on either side of her. Water glinted beneath her as they raced above it; she saw Water Pokémon leaping from the sea. For the first time in what felt like ages, Belle allowed herself to laugh.
Soon, Pallet Town was coming into view, and it was underneath them, Oak’s Pokémon Lab flowing away. Little Pokémon dotted the pastures, and Belle leaned over the side and squinted to see if she could make out Professor Oak or Tracy, or even Swifter, though she thought it less likely. She felt as though a lifetime had passed since she had walked into the lab as a Pokémon-less girl.
She had been a lot happier then.
Sadly, Belle turned her eyes away from the lab and watched as Route 1 passed beneath her. Soon, they were in Viridian City. Charmy touched down lightly in front of the PokéCenter. The glass doors slid open and she walked in, Charmy following behind her.
It was so familiar. A few beginning Trainers sat around the tables and on the plastic seats, talking and holding their only Poké Ball. Most of the Pokémon she saw were Squirtles, Bulbasaurs, and Charmanders, but a few people had Pidgeys, and one even had a Rattata. Everyone looked up in wonder as Belle passed by, her Charizard walking behind her. A girl with dark brown hair was sitting on the couch that Belle remembered sleeping on, a Charmander in her lap.
Nurse Joy looked up as she handed two Poké Balls back to a boy. A smile split her face immediately. “Belle! Oh, Belle, look at you! You look so…grown up!” She hurried out from behind the counter, wiping her hands on her apron. “It’s so nice when Trainers come back. And look at your Charmy…how’s Swifter?”
“Well, I sent Swifter to Professor Oak’s lab, so…”
“Oh. Well, I see why—you already have a Charizard, so the need for a flying Pokémon…”
Belle smiled. “I actually want to hurry up and get my final gym battle over with. Do you know anything about the gym leader?”
“Well, it’s a Ground-type gym,” Joy said as she went back behind the counter. Belle stepped forward and handed over her Poké Balls, returning Charmy to his. “They just hired a new leader about a week ago, actually…I don’t know much about him. Or her,” she added. “All I know is that he—she—it—won a Pokémon League Tournament in some other region. Was it Johto? Or Sinnoh?” Joy frowned as she pressed the button on the machine. “Maybe it was Kanto..it ended in o. At any rate, as soon as the Board of Directors got wind that they wanted to be the leader, they hurried to get them the job.”
“Hm…I should be fine, though,” Belle said thoughtfully. “It’s a Ground-type gym, right? I have a Poliwhirl and a Bellossum.”
“Oh, you do? Tell me your team! I’m so excited that you’re back…I love when the people I meet as young beginning Trainers come back as seasoned travelers!”
Belle nodded. What would an hour or so hurt?
The Viridian City Gym had a floor similar to Pewter City’s, but instead of the bold brown of rocks, it was a dull, dark brown, nothing more than carefully packed dirt. It appeared to be deserted—Belle looked around, wishing she had let Charmy out of his Ball to accompany her inside. “Hello?” she said, and her voice echoed back to her.
“Well, well…look who we have here.”
Belle’s heart stopped as she turned and looked across the gym, seeing a person standing in the Gym Leader’s raised box. They leaned forward, long, black ringlets swinging from their shoulders, and a smile lit up their plump red lips. Dark eyes framed by long eyelashes gazed down at Belle in a way with which she was very familiar. Soft hands with long fingers grasped the railing of the box, and feet in pantyhose but not in shoes tapped gently on the floor.
Terra Caldwell smiled brightly from her place. “You recognize me! I’m surprised…you seem to not know who I am anymore. I never get any emails from you.”
“Well, I just…” Belle wasn’t sure what to think. Was this a joke? What was her mother doing here? She couldn’t be the Gym Leader…but now that Belle thought about it, Terra had won the Johto Pokémon League Tournament twice, and she thought she remembered Terra saying something about wanting to become a Gym Leader one day.
“Step into the box, Challenger,” Terra said, gesturing to the challenger’s box. “I am Terra, the Viridian City Gym Leader. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten together an all-Ground team, so you’ll have to make do with the one I have now. Referee?”
The box for this gym was taller than the one for Sabrina’s, or even Erika’s. Belle numbly climbed the ladder, feeling as though she was in a dream. This couldn’t be real. She would have to earn the Earth Badge from her mother?
A male referee stood at the side of the battlefield, the familiar-looking colored flags in each hand. “This will be a six-on-six match,” he said clearly. “Switching out is permitted for the Challenger, but only between battles for Terra.” He glanced up at Belle’s box. “Good luck,” he added. “Begin!”
“Caillech!” Terra cried, throwing a Poké Ball. A Donphan erupted from it, trumpeting loudly.
“When did you get that?” Belle asked.
“He’s the start of my new Ground team. Maybe after our battle is over, honey, you can suggest some other Ground Pokémon for me to train.” She smiled. “Oh, this is the perfect way to see how much you’ve learned.”
“Who did you send away to put this Donphan in your team?”
Terra’s smile turned sad. “Danny.” Danny was the Heracross she had named after Belle’s father for reasons unknown to Belle.
Belle bit her lip as she thought briefly through her mother’s team. Finally, she pulled Poliwhirl’s Poké Ball off her belt and threw it onto the field, yelling its name.
“Donphan versus Poliwhirl! Let the battle begin!”
“Caillech, use Earthquake!”
“Poliwhirl, use Protect!”
Caillech reared up on its hind legs and slammed itself down. Cracks erupted in the earth and the whole building shook. Poliwhirl, however, leapt into the air and formed a green protective shield around him. The quaking earth didn’t affect him. Belle felt her heart almost break as she saw the scar from the Cinnabar Gym burn on its back—while she had been able to treat the burn, the scar would never go away.
Out of nowhere, Poliwhirl formed a gigantic wave, which he crashed down onto Caillech. The Donphan bellowed as it was swept up and buffeted in the rushing water. When the water died down and soaked into the earth, Caillech laid on its side, completely unconscious.
“Donphan is unable to battle! Poliwhirl wins!”
“Very nice, dear,” Terra said, returning Caillech. “But this next one will be tougher. Amaterasu! It is your turn!” An Ampharos came onto the battlefield, rearing up, the red gem on its head glowing. “Use Thunderbolt!”
And before Belle had a chance to withdraw Poliwhirl or react, Amaterasu hit Poliwhirl with a Thunderbolt so powerful that it fainted right then and there. She sighed as she returned him, but she plucked her next Poké Ball with a smile.
“Dugtrio! Let’s do this!”
“Ah, a Ground Pokémon,” Terra said with a smile. “And none of my Electric attacks can hit it.”
“Dugtrio, show her your Earthquake!”
“Trio, trio, trio!” All three of Diglett’s heads narrowed their eyes as the earth began to crack and fissure; large mounds of dirt began to jut up and clods went flying. A large spike of dirt rushed up from right beneath Amaterasu, causing the Pokémon to fly up into the air with a cry. Dirt clods hit Amaterasu’s falling body and it spiraled to the ground, where it laid as the floor shook violently around it.
“Ampharos is unable to battle! Dugtrio wins!”
“Good job, Amaterasu…Nix! Let’s see your Surf!”
A Politoed burst from its Ball and did the same thing Poliwhirl had done earlier, only much better; Dugtrio disappeared down its hole, which the water filled in. These one-hit KOs were advancing the battle quickly—a little too quickly for Belle’s taste. She hated having to return her Pokémon just as soon as her mother sent one out. Nix the Politoed had been one of her companions as a youngster; he was so fun to hug. Now she was forced to pluck Jolteon’s Poké Ball off her belt to defeat it.
“Oh, you’ve already beaten my Ground Pokémon,” Terra said with a smile as her eyes landed on Jolteon.
“Jolteon! Use Thunderbolt!”
“Now really, you’re repeating me, honey,” Terra remarked as the Electric move hit her Politoed. “Nix, are you still up? Good. Try out Seismic Toss.”
“Don’t let it grab you!” Belle cried; she knew from experience that Nix had an iron grip. Once he got his hands on a Pokémon—or anything, for that matter—it was difficult to wrench it away from him. “Dodge and use Spark!”
Jolteon flashed with electricity as it leapt aside, narrowly escaping Nix’s outstretched fingers, and then wheeled around to barrel into the froglike Water Pokémon. Two Electric attacks in a row were too much for it to handle; it fainted promptly.
Belle’s eyes flicked up to Terra as she returned Nix and reached for another Ball. She would probably use her starter Pokémon…it seemed the most logical choice…
“Tsukiyomi! I wish for you to attend this party!”
“Tsukiyomi?” Belle muttered. Tsukiyomi was her mother’s Ninetales; it came bursting out of the Ball as she thought it, whipping its tails about, black as night—its father had been a Houndoom and had passed on the coloring. “But Ninetales doesn’t really have a type advantage,” Belle called.
Terra spread her hands, almost apologetically. “I like a challenge. Tsukiyomi! Fire Blast!”
Tsukiyomi opened its mouth and flames poured out of it, forming into the familiar person shape and rushing at Jolteon. Belle almost smiled. Her mother didn’t mess around. “Jolteon! Dodge it, quick! Counter with Thunderbolt!”
“Please don’t let that bolt hit you, Tsukiyomi,” Terra said. “But, if you would, use Earthquake, please.”
“What? Earth—Jolteon! Jump, do something!” Belle cursed herself inwardly as Tsukiyomi ruined the gym floor for the third time with Earthquake. She had forgotten that her mother’s Ninetales knew that move—what was wrong with her? She was slipping, that was for sure.
Now who could she use? Belle was at a loss as she returned Jolteon. Who did she have that wasn’t fainted that had a type advantage over Tsukiyomi? She grabbed Primape’s Ball and tossed it onto the field. “We can do this!” she yelled as her Pokémon burst onto the floor, but her voice shook. Could they?
“Tsukiyomi, Flame Wheel, please.”
“Primape! Use—um—” But her mind drew a blank. Confused, Primape turned to look at her; and got caught in the back with a powerful wheel of fire. He fell flat on his face, but he stumbled to his feet. “I’m sorry, Primape! Seismic Toss!”
“Tsukiyomi, use—my, that thing is fast,” Terra remarked almost conversationally as Primape eagerly seized Tsukiyomi by the neck and slung him up into the air, yelling what Belle was quite sure were curse words and stamping his feet. Tsukiyomi slammed to the ground in front of him.
Belle could almost hear Primape’s protest. Karate Chop? Really? I know so much better moves now! And she knew it, but for some reason, she couldn’t think of them. He performed the move she wanted, chopping across Tsukiyomi’s stomach.
“Now that it’s close, use Fire Blast.”
Tsukiyomi once again let loose the cross-shaped fire; it covered Primape completely, coating it with burns and fainting it thoroughly. Cursing, Belle withdrew her Pokémon. Only Charmy and Bellossum left. She couldn’t use Bellossum—that would be equivalent to suicide. She tried to calm herself as she pulled Charmy’s Ball off her belt. “Charmy! Let’s go!”
“Oh, good old Charmy,” Terra said happily, clapping her hands as the Charizard appeared on the field. “Look at how you’ve grown. Derek will be thrilled.”
“Derek?” Belle hadn’t thought about that—if her mother was here, where was her little brother?
Charmy launched into the air, spiraling upward and hovering for a few moments, waiting for the Earthquake to finish. When the ground stopped shaking, he rushed down and buffeted Tsukiyomi with his wings. The Ninetales cried out indignantly and, without being told, bit down on Charmy’s arm. Roaring in pain, Charmy grabbed Tsukiyomi by the neck and threw him clear across the gym, directly into Belle’s tall box, so hard that it shook and she fearfully grasped at the railing.
“Good job, Tsukiyomi—now, how about a planned move? Quick Attack!”
Tsukiyomi struggled to its feet. It had gone against three Pokémon now, and it was hurt, especially by that last throw. Nevertheless, he was a black blur as he shot forward, hitting Charmy directly in his middle and knocking him over. Charmy smacked his head into Terra’s podium.
“Charmy, Dragon Claw!”
Roaring angrily, Charmy slashed across Tsukiyomi’s chest, but not before the Ninetales let out a Flamethrower, completely covering Charmy’s head and neck in melting-hot flames. The Charizard roared in pain and pushed the Ninetales away, but the thing was fainted. Terra returned the Pokémon, but Belle eyed Charmy’s several burns; he would be considerably weakened for the next battle, presumably against—
—the very Skarmory she had ridden to Almia.
“Don’t let him use any Fire attacks on you! Use Metal Claw—aim for his neck!”
“Charmy, use—” But Belle’s mouth dropped open as she took in the ruthlessness of her mother. Skarmory opened up its talons and enclosed Charmy’s neck in their grasp, shrieking loudly. Terra ordered it to use Steel Wing, so it brought its wing down on Charmy’s face before letting him fall to the ground, fainted. “Oh…my…” The only one left was Bellossum. Just Bellossum—cute, tiny, Grass-type, weak-against-Flying Bellossum.
“Bellossum,” Belle said shakily.
Terra smiled confidently. She shifted in her box and brushed her hair off her shoulder, looking down at the battlefield. Her eyes narrowed. “Aerial Ace.”
And it was over. Bellossum—Belle’s last Pokémon—was fainted. She had lost. How many careless mistakes had she made? This was her mother—she should know her battling style. How could she be so stupid? What had made her this distracted, this absentminded, this—
“Mom!” Belle cried suddenly. She was halfway down the ladder; she dropped the rest of the way, landing painfully on her feet, but she didn’t care. Something was happening inside her; a strange feeling bubbled in her stomach and pushed up into her chest until it came bursting, exploding, from her mouth. “Mom, I’m so lost!” She sank to her knees as sobs racked her body, burying her face in her hands. “Mom, I’ve messed up. I don’t know what to do. Look at me! I’m so lost, Mom, I’m so lost!” She continued to sob uncontrollably.
Soon, Terra’s voice was in Belle’s ear, and her arms were wrapped around her. She pulled her daughter to her and stroked her hair gently, murmuring and rocking her back and forth. Belle was past shame. The pain from Lavender Tower had built inside her, strengthened by the guilt of leaving Derrick, and now it burst from her in the form of an emotional breakdown. She let her mother hold her tightly as she cried, loosing tears into Terra’s sweater.
“It’ll be okay,” Terra murmured softly. “Everything will be okay.”
How good it was to hear that. Belle cried harder; she needed this. She needed this cry, this relief, this comfort…and, above all else, her mother. It was so nice to feel the warmth of her mother’s embrace again.
Confused and awkward, the referee bobbed about nearby, the colored flags hanging limply from his hands. With a smile, Terra waved a hand. “No more battles today,” she said quietly. “Lock up the gym. Let it out, sweetie,” she added to Belle, patting her back and resting her cheek on the top of the girl’s head. “Everything will be okay.”
And right then, in that moment, Belle knew it was true.
To: dancing_through_life, thompson_alyssa
Hey you guys,
I’ve been really withdrawn from you guys, and I just wanted to say I’m sorry. I’ll explain everything later…for now, I’ll just tell you what happened today.
I left Cinnabar Island and I’m at Viridian City, where it just so happens that my mom is the Gym Leader. She says that she became it recently, but she’s not telling me what happened until tomorrow. I’m staying with her at the Gym, because it’s also a living space, and it’s really cool. It’s so weird how you can go from a big room with a battlefield and bleachers to a house with four bedrooms (BIG ones) and a kitchen. Mom’s not finished decorating yet.
I’m not moving on for a while. I’ll stay here for a bit, and if Derrick happens to come in, then so be it. I won’t hide from him, but I won’t go looking for him either. And just so you know, he didn’t do anything wrong…it’s all me. And I’ll explain it later.
Speaking of Derrick or Derek, I get to spend a lot of time with Derek. He was really happy to see me, but he was worried about me. He’s out playing with Charmy right now.
I guess I’ll talk to you guys later. I’m REALLY sorry.
Love lots and lots and forever and ever,
P.S. Please forgive me?
Summer vacation was always a treasured time for Ranger School students.
There was always great excitement as they stood outside with their bags, talking and saying their good-byes until their parents came to pick them up. Usually, the sun shone down on all the students milling about the grounds, playing with the school Pokémon one last time before they returned. Graduating students had already had their ceremony by that time, but a few of them would come back for a last look before they started their duties. It was the day that began everything, a day full of promises.
But on that one day, it had been storming.
Ten-year-old Alyssa’s pigtails bobbed on either side of her head as she pulled her rolling suitcase over to the window, looking outside and trying to see past the water lashing at the glass. In all her five years at the Ranger School, she had never seen a day like this. She should have known it was a bad omen.
Warren had come to take her and her brother, Heath, home, bringing Machoke and Ambipom. Machoke heaved Alyssa onto his back and piggy-backed her all the way home, carrying her luggage and an umbrella, too; Warren and Heath ran beside Ambipom.
Diana was so happy they were home; she folded each one of them into her arms one at a time, no matter how wet they were. Warren was soaking.
It was in the middle of summer vacation that it happened. The day had just begun. Morning light filtered through Alyssa’s window, waking her up just like it did every day. She got up and stretched.
The house was quiet, so Alyssa moved stealthily, quietly pulling the drawers of her dresser open to look for clothes to wear. It was her habit to always dress as soon as she woke up, since that was what she had to do at the Ranger School. She brushed her hair and pulled it into its pigtails, only glancing at the mirror during this process. They looked a tad uneven; she adjusted one of her pigtails before slipping out of her room.
The hardwood floor of the hallway squeaked in some places, so Alyssa had to be careful not to step on them. She made her way to Heath’s room. He usually would play with her in the morning before everyone woke up.
Alyssa tiptoed to her brother’s bedroom door and knocked against it gently. Heath didn’t answer; she stood by the door for a few moments before trying the knob. The minute her fingers touched it, it opened a bit. Alyssa frowned. Why hadn’t the door been shut all the way?
“Heath?” Alyssa whispered as she slipped into the room. There was something different here. The room felt…dead. Empty. She looked around. Heath wasn’t in his bed, which was made neatly. He didn’t appear to be in the room at all. “Heath?” she said again, a bit louder.
The door to his closet was ajar; she went over to it carefully. “Don’t jump out at me and scare me,” she said. “I’ll tell Daddy!” She crept over to it and hesitated before pulling it open wildly.
Something swung out and she leapt back with a squeal; the thing settled down and she realized that it was just his Ranger School uniform, hanging on the back of the door in a clear plastic cover to keep it clean. Heart still pounding from the scare, Alyssa looked into the closet; but what she found was much scarier than Heath jumping out of it.
The usually neat closet was ransacked. Overalls, coveralls, work jeans were all thrown onto the floor. Empty hangars hung where clothes should have been, and some things were almost falling off. Alyssa took a step inside the small closet. It looked as though all Heath’s dress clothes were gone. Why?
She spun around and surveyed the room again. His desk was wiped clean of its usual paraphernalia—stickers, Poké Ball toys, stationery paper and envelopes, pens and pencils, an old, framed family portrait that had been taken when Alyssa was five, Heath eight. It was all gone. Instead, one thing laid on the desk: an envelope. It was one from Heath’s stationery set that Alyssa had gotten him for his birthday one year. He had always enjoyed that sort of thing; he didn’t care much for working in the fields, but he loved to write. His handwriting was beautiful. She approached the desk and picked up the envelope. Written on the cover were the words: To Everyone. She opened it and pulled out the folded-up piece of paper. It was that stationery, all right—a blue piece of paper with an icy-looking border, with a Poké Ball in each corner and an Empoleon at the top.
I’m deeply sorry for what I’ve had to do, but I could not stay here any longer. Please excuse this. I cannot go to the Ranger School anymore; I have no desire to be a Ranger, or an Operator, or a Researcher. I have other dreams, and now I must leave to pursue them.
Please understand that this is no one’s fault. I am very sorry that it had to happen this way. I love all of you—Mother, Father, Alyssa, Ambipom, Machoke.
Tears sprang immediately to Alyssa’s eyes. Heath was gone? He ran away? He had other dreams? What were they, and why did he want to leave so suddenly?
She abandoned the envelope and hurried downstairs. The house was so quiet—would anyone even be awake? She panicked as her footsteps took her closer to the first floor, but when she rounded the corner, Warren sat in the kitchen, drinking a steaming cup of coffee in a white T-shirt and jeans. His hair was unkempt and he still looked clean. A bit of stubble was sprouting on his square jaw; the sun glistened off the hair on his arm as he brought the coffee mug to his lips.
“Daddy,” Alyssa breathed, hurrying to the kitchen. He set his cup down.
“Daddy, Heath…” She set the piece of paper in front of him. Warren looked down at it, his eyes traveling over it as he read it silently. When he was finished, he put his hand on it and slid it away from him. Alyssa’s eyes filled with tears again. “Daddy, why would he leave? Why doesn’t he love us anymore?”
Warren looked at his small, crying daughter in silence for a few moments. He took a sip of coffee, and when he set his mug back down, he spoke in his soft, deep voice. “When I was young, there was no Ranger School here. But there was a school.”
Alyssa sniffled and looked at him.
“My father was a farmer. I wanted to be one too. I didn’t need school for that.” He closed his eyes. “I also wanted to have adventures. School wouldn’t let me. I didn’t do well. All the kids had a nickname for me…Tank.”
“Tank?” Alyssa asked. “The kids had a nickname for Heath,” she added. “It was…Heather. They said he acted like a girl. I can see how he wouldn’t want that nickname, but Tank sounds okay.”
“They called me that because I was stupid.”
“You’re not stupid, Daddy,” Alyssa said, taking a step closer. Warren nodded.
“Yes. I was. I wanted to run away. I never did.”
He took another sip of coffee and silence descended upon them. Alyssa stared at her father for a few minutes longer. “Well?” she asked finally. “Do you regret it?”
“Yes and no.”
Confused and a little hurt, Alyssa asked, “Why yes?”
“I’ve never been out of Almia. I’ve never been past Pueltown. I’ll never see anything outside this place.”
He looked at her steadily before answering. “You’re my little daisy,” he said simply. And somehow, that answer was sufficient.
Alyssa went over to Warren and sat in his lap. It had been a few years since she had last done this, and it surprised her how easy, how natural it felt to do it again. “But what about Heath?” she asked. “Will he regret leaving?”
“No,” Warren replied. “He doesn’t belong here. His little daisy is somewhere else.”
Alyssa yawned and sat up. Her hair fell around her shoulders and she looked around her room, virtually unchanged from six, almost seven years ago. She looked at the pillow beside hers where Ziggy slumbered peacefully, and it made her realize that she had changed a lot in six years.
Today she would have to head back to the Ranger Union HQ. She and Ian would have to capture another Staraptor, though, and the nearest Staraptor dwelling that she knew of was right outside Chicole Village.
As Alyssa pulled on her sweater, she caught sight of something green in her closet. She had forgotten…how long had it been? She crossed the room and pulled out her Ranger School uniform, hanging it on the back of her closet door. It had been so long since she had put it on. She reached out and touched the clear plastic cover, listening as it crinkled beneath her hand.
She smiled as memories flooded her mind, but soon she turned away and left her room. She couldn’t really go back to those days. Just like that day six years ago, she avoided the squeaky parts of the floor as she headed down the hall, but instead of going to her brother’s room, she went downstairs.
Ranger Union HQ was buzzing with excitement.
“What’s going on?” Ian asked two Ranger girls running by, catching one by the arm. She shook him off.
“There’s a big, important job coming up,” she replied. “Erma’s dispatching a whole team of Rangers to shut down this factory. It’s a big job, and everyone wants to know if they’re on it or not.”
Ian glanced over at Alyssa. “Is there a list anywhere?” he asked.
“Yeah, but Erma’s not letting anyone see it right now,” the other girl piped up. “The whole building’s talking. She may even be calling people over from the Fiore region.”
Suddenly, Ian’s Styler beeped loudly. “Ranger Ian, this is Rhythmi. Erma would like to see you on the third floor.”
“Be right there. Excuse me,” he said to the two girls, and they immediately swooned.
“You’re Ian Walton?” one asked. “You’re one of the most famous rookies here! The other one’s—”
Alyssa’s Styler beeped in the same manner as Ian’s. “Ranger Alyssa, this is Rhythmi.”
“Hi. Erma would like to see you on the third floor.”
“Be up in a sec.” Alyssa pressed the button to end the conversation; the other girl grabbed Alyssa’s arm.
“Are you Alyssa Thompson? You’re the other famous rookie!”
“Oh my—she must want you to help take down the factory! Put in a good word for me! I’m Samantha Adams, I’m really great at capturing—”
“Uh-huh, that’s great. Alyssa, let’s go!”
They rushed up to the third floor, leaving the two shrieking fangirls behind. When they arrived, a group of other Rangers were waiting; the Operators at their computers continued to do their work, and Alyssa and Ian joined the small group of Rangers.
“Great, we’re all here. You are all familiar with the factory, I trust?” Erma asked.
“Well, you are the team of Rangers I have chosen to shut down the factory. Any objections?”
Alyssa didn’t want to go back there, but she was also extremely happy to be one of the people shutting it down. She looked at the five other Rangers besides her and Ian. They were older than her; she recognized Keith and Everett, Casey’s father. She and Ian were obviously the youngest here.
“You will begin training together immediately. Do not write Alyssa and Ian off because of their youth; they were the ones who gathered the initial information leading to this operation. Now, everyone stand up, one at a time, and introduce yourselves—first and last name, age, Partner Pokémon. Alyssa first.”
Alyssa stood and looked at the group. “Hello, everyone. My name is Alyssa Thompson. I’m sixteen, and this is Ziggy, my Partner Pokémon. He’s a Zigzagoon.” She pulled Ziggy from his place on her back.
“Like we couldn’t see that,” someone muttered. Alyssa’s eyes narrowed.
“It’s nice to meet you all,” she said before sitting down. Ian stood up next.
“Ian Walton. I’m seventeen. My Partner Pokémon is Prinplup here.” He gestured towards his Pokémon.
The next person stood—it was Keith. “Keith Regnar,” he said. “I’m twenty-four, and this is Buizel, my Partner Pokémon.”
“My name is Everett Rayman. I’m forty.” Alyssa glanced up at Casey’s father. “My Partner Pokémon is my Ariados, Piak.”
The next person was a woman. She stood up and straightened her jacket before placing a hand on her hip and looking around at everyone with something like disdain. “Karri—that’s K-A-R-R-I—Danes. I’m twenty-one. This is Siami, my Espeon.” Alyssa knew immediately that this was the person who had spoken during her introduction.
Another woman stood, but she was a lot younger-looking than Karri; she was also shorter. “Hi, I’m Jean Danes. I’m Karri’s sister! I’m eighteen, and this is my partner Exis.” She indicated a Xatu standing beside her.
The last person to stand up was a man in his forties. He looked very stern as he gazed at everyone. “My name is Nelson McFayer, and I am forty-three years old. This is my Partner Pokémon, Rhunso. He is a Yanmega.”
“Another Captain Obvious,” Karri muttered.
“Speaking while I am speaking will not be tolerated,” he said, talking over the end of Karri’s sentence. “I am heading up this operation, so I am your superior. You have been chosen because you are exceptionally good. If anyone turns on me, I will not hesitate to kill them.”
A shocked silence rang through the group. Alyssa hoped that the man might be kidding, but he showed no signs of amusement. “Mr. Rayman here was in charge of the espionage mission to gather more information about Team Galactic’s whereabouts in the factory. Please brief us, sir.” Nelson sat as Casey’s father stood.
“Thanks, Mr. McFayer. I managed to find out why Team Galactic is here in Almia, and it is very simple. When they disbanded in Sinnoh a few years ago, their leader, Cyrus, left them, and they have been searching for him ever since. The bomb threat on the Ranger School was a preemptive strike against us Rangers. Apparently, they feel that they are making a comeback, and they wanted to let us know that they meant business. They have seen signs that Cyrus is in Almia, and so they are setting up here to find him. The factory, however, has been working this way ever since they bloomed in Sinnoh, and was placed here instead of Sinnoh so as not to arouse suspicion. Not only do they make the hair dye for their own team members, but they ship it and sell it to perfectly innocent people who are unaware of Galactic’s brutal nature.
“On my mission inside the factory, I placed small cameras around each room and wired into their surveillance cameras as well. Currently, we have our own personal Operator in Pueltown who will monitor everything around us carefully.”
“And who is this Operator?” Karri snapped. “Why don’t we get to meet her?”
“Her name is Casey, and she is my daughter. We will meet her when we go to Pueltown for the preliminary stages of—”
“Oh, I see how it works. She’s family, so she gets a deal in this big operation, huh? Maybe she’ll get promoted and get to work here because of it, huh?” Karri sneered. “That’s not a way to go about things. Jean didn’t get here just by my accomplishments.”
“How do you know that you didn’t get here because of Jean’s?” Alyssa asked. Karri whipped around, gritting her teeth as her eyes met Alyssa’s. Oh, I’m not going to get along with you very well, Alyssa thought, staring unblinkingly back at the girl.
“I think that’s enough,” Mr. Rayman said calmly. “At any rate, Team Galactic is unaware that their factory is under constant surveillance, but they have upped their security considerably; this means that there must be much careful planning before any infiltration is considered. Mr. McFayer will tell you how we’ll go about that…Mr. McFayer?”
The man stood, and the Yanmega behind him stirred. His gray eyes gazed out from his wrinkled face sternly. “We will begin training together tomorrow. Meet at the training grounds at seven o’clock—in uniforms, please. We have a while before we must begin this mission, and I do not want any of our time to go to waste. Chairperson Erma, if you have anything…? No? Then you are all dismissed.”
Alyssa gathered Ziggy into her lap and stroked the fur on his head briefly. She looked down at him, and he gazed at her with worried eyes—he could tell she was nervous. “I’ll be fine,” she whispered to him.
“You hope,” said Karri’s voice from above her. Her Espeon stood daintily with all four paws on her shoulder, two tails swishing behind her.
Alyssa stood, bringing herself almost level with the woman.
“You’re too young, sweetie. Go back to your house and play with your dolls.”
“If I’m too young, then why am I here?” Alyssa retorted. “And I didn’t play with dolls. Unlike you, I had better things to do with my time when I was younger—like get straight As and become valedictorian of my class.”
Karri’s eyes narrowed. “You mark my words, little girl,” she said, her voice low. “Tomorrow, at that training ground, I’m going to do better than you at all the exercises. You know why? Because I have more experience. I’ve been doing this sort of thing since before you were born.”
“Really? At five? That’s not so special.” Alyssa placed Ziggy at his favorite place—hanging off her shoulder. “Everyone joins the Ranger School at five.” With that, she pushed past Karri and went downstairs, smiling as she heard the woman’s scoff from behind her.
OMG DID YOU GET BELLE’S LAST EMAIL???
Do you think that when Terra said she knew a way to fix everything she meant BECOME THE VIRIDIAN CITY GYM LEADER????? I’m SO HAPPY we have our Belle back to normal…almost!!!!
I have a new mission—I can’t wait to get started, because there’s a woman on the team with me whose name is Carrie but she spells it weird…like with a K or something. I can’t remember. Karrie? Karri? Kary? I don’t know. But
AHHHH BELLE IS BACK TO NORMAL YAY YAY YAY I can’t focus on anything else!!!!
Love from your excited friend,
From: [email protected]
So you’re okay? Please, at least tell me how the battle went…please?
And take as long as you want to explain everything. I know that things can get complicated, so tell me whenever you want. I’m just so glad you’re starting to feel okay…I was worried, and Cassandra was too.
I won’t bother you too much now, but please, PLEASE continue sending us detailed emails…we love you.
Loving you forever,
“Can we go into town today?” Karen asked as Cassandra came out of the bathroom, scaring her half to death. The younger girl had been asleep when she had gone in, and now she stood directly in front of the bathroom door.
“Because…I want to hang out and stuff. Plus, I need some more coloring books.”
“Well, I don’t know if there’s any place to get coloring books around Fallarbor Town,” Cassandra told Karen, pushing past her to get to the dresser. “We might have to take the cable car to Lavaridge for that.”
“I just want to get out of here. I’m bored. Aren’t you, Fluffy?” Since Karen and Cassandra’s chat about Poké Balls, Cassandra kept her Pokémon out unless it was absolutely necessary for them to be in their Balls—Ellia, though, had to be kept in for most situations, since she had a tendency to set things on fire.
Fluffy chose not to answer; he glanced over at Cassandra and stretched out across the floor, yawning.
“That’s fine. Get dressed and grab your umbrella. Swablu, Finny, do you want in or out?” Cassandra picked their Poké Balls up off the dresser.
Swablu chirped from her spot on Cassandra’s headboard at the same time Finny made a noise from her bed.
“They both say out,” Karen called from the bathroom.
“I don’t even need to ask you,” Cassandra said to Fluffy.
When they were both dressed, Cassandra, Karen, and all the Pokémon walked the short way to Fallarbor Town. Swablu perched on Cassandra’s head, and Fluffy and Finny walked on either side of her. Ellia trotted ahead, tossing her head as ashes fell on it, and Tuffly carried Karen’s umbrella.
As they neared the town, the ashes stopped falling, for which Cassandra was extremely grateful. Tuffly folded up the umbrella. “Do you want to grab some breakfast first?” Cassandra asked, gesturing towards a small restaurant.
“Sure.” Karen led the way.
The restaurant may have been small, but it was packed. Cassandra sighed as they stepped in. “It might be a long wait.”
“I’m willing to wait,” Karen remarked.
A few people were sitting on small wooden benches near the entrance, obviously waiting for a table. The hostess finished writing something in a large notebook as she glanced up. “Two? The wait will be about—hey!” Her eyes jumped from Cassandra’s face, to Karen’s, to Finny standing by Cassandra’s leg. “Aren’t you Cassandra Étoile?”
Everyone on the benches looked up. “It is!” one woman exclaimed. She stood from her seat by her husband, swiftly handing him the small child she had been holding in her lap. “Cassandra Étoile! Sarah Rhodes, I’m so excited to meet you.” She closed the distance between them and seized Cassandra’s hand, pumping it. “I think you deserved to win the Contest. You haven’t given up, have you?”
“No,” Cassandra replied with a smile. “I haven’t.”
“Fantastic! You perform beautifully, like a dream!”
“You certainly do,” cried another woman, appearing beside the first. “I’m with her, you should have won that Contest—”
“Oh, really, Sakura Konohana—” Cassandra began, but there was a shout of protest from the several people who had suddenly gathered around her.
“Something wasn’t right about that Konohana girl!” one man exclaimed. “I think she bribed a judge!”
“Yeah!” several people shouted.
“You shouldn’t slander her name like that,” Cassandra said with a smile, inwardly bursting with pride. “She may have won honestly and fairly—”
“I don’t think so,” Sarah Rhodes snapped. “She drew blood from this Marshtomp here, I saw it. Isn’t there a rule against that?”
There was a chorus of assent from the crowd, and Cassandra smiled at everyone. “Well, let’s not discuss it now. I’m flattered that you all seem to like me.”
“Honey, you’re one of the best Coordinators this town’s seen. And that hair? It’s amazing. What do you do to it?”
“Oh, well…just shampoo, conditioner, and a good brushing before I go to bed,” she replied nervously.
“It has to be a special kind of shampoo,” Sarah insisted, but she smiled slyly. “You don’t want to give away your secrets, I suppose. Don’t want everyone walking around with Cassandra hair.”
Cassandra was a bit baffled by this response—she really didn’t do anything special with her hair. But Karen smiled beside her, saying, “Coordinators are like magicians—they can’t reveal all their tricks. Now, budge up, please, give her some air.” It was strange to see someone so short wave away a crowd so large.
“We should eat somewhere else,” Cassandra told Karen in an undertone. The pink-haired girl looked up at her confusedly.
“Why? Everyone here seems to like you.”
Cassandra opened her mouth to speak, but the hostess announced that the next table was ready; the person insisted that Cassandra take it, saying they would wait a bit longer, and so Cassandra and Karen sat across from each other in a booth that Tuffly could actually fit in and ordered breakfast—chocolate-chip waffles for Karen, blueberry pancakes for Cassandra.
When their food came, Cassandra found it hard to watch Karen drown her waffles in chocolate syrup without feeling as though she would develop diabetes, so she turned her attention instead to her Pokémon, making sure they had Pokémon food to their liking. Their waitress kept bowing and smiling and thanking them, and before they left, she nervously asked Cassandra for an autograph.
Cassandra had never felt so important in her life.
“Don’t do it like that,” Karen snapped severely from under her pink umbrella. Cassandra blankly looked over at the girl. She was sitting astride Ellia, attempting to ride her for the first time. The Ponyta had been wary at first, but now she seemed just fine, standing stock-still under the falling ash.
“But this is how you’re supposed to do it, isn’t it?” Cassandra asked. “How else could you ride a Ponyta or Rapidash?”
“Sidesaddle, of course,” Karen said. She placed a hand on her hip. “It will look much more elegant, and that’s what you need to think about, since you’re a Coordinator. If you come riding into the hall sitting on a Rapidash like that, everyone’s going to think cowgirl. But if you ride in sidesaddle—that makes an impression.”
“But I don’t know how to ride sidesaddle.”
“Do you know how to ride that way?”
Cassandra slipped off Ellia’s back. “Good point,” she said, as Ellia bent her knees slightly and allowed Cassandra to scoot up with both legs hanging over one side. It was a little awkward, but she shifted a bit so that her butt fell into a groove in Ellia’s back, and her legs just folded gracefully against the Ponyta’s side.
“I’m thinking white,” Karen said. “White, gauzy…bare feet, hair down. If you play with the lighting, your hair could look like fire.”
“Should I get a saddle?”
“No! It’ll look better without one. Bareback you look…natural.”
It was so strange to hear these tips from cute little Karen. This girl knew things about image. “Natural?”
“Yes. All Coordinators have a certain image—Sakura had her traditional look, Violet Tanner had the whole flower-thing going for her, Danielle Breesin had this mermaid look…it comes standard with being a Coordinator. You have to have a look. And I think you could pull of the Mother Nature look.”
Cassandra raised her eyebrows, impressed by Karen’s knowledge of famous Coordinators. She shifted on Ellia’s back. “The Contest is really soon,” she said. “I think I’ll start training now, and we can get back to this later.”
“Okay, but remember—nature. I’ll go and pick out your next outfit.”
Cassandra shook her head slightly as she watched the pink-haired girl march back toward the inn.
I’m excited too!!
Having Belle back to normal is so great…I just feel awesome now!
So it turns out that Karen also knows a lot about Coordinators and Contests, and she’s decided to refine my image to make me “Mother Nature” or something like that. Anyway,
WE HAVE BELLE BACK!!!
I’m so excited!!
And congrats on your new mission! Why are you excited about having a mission with some woman who spells her name weird?
Love you bunches,
P.S. Only five more days until the contest!!!
Hi everyone! Nokyo-chan here; you know, the author of the story.
I haven't been getting any reviews or feedback, so I'm not sure if anyone's even reading this. If you are, please post something or send me a VM or PM, just to let me know you're here. I don't necessarily want a whole review (though I wouldn't complain if I got one XD), but I would like to know if someone's reading the story. If no one is, I'm going to stop updates altogether and delete the thread.
Well, I think your story is great! It really offers insight into the personal lives of three very different teenage girls in the Pokemon world. I especially liked Belle's experience with the Kanto gym leaders. This is in fact the first fanfic on here that I have really felt that I should read all the way through. Please keep writing!! :]
I believe in Jesus Christ. If you do too, and aren't scared to admit it, then put this in your signature.
Please visit my website, BlazeGirl12's Creative Haven! Anyone who joins will be considered for moderator.
Okay! Well, since people are actually reading this, I guess I'll continue!
Belle gently placed the framed picture of herself, Terra, and Daniel at the beach on the nail poking out of the wall, trying not to fall off her stepladder. Her hair was pulled back into the smallest of ponytails—it had been a while since she had had to do this. Her hair was getting longer.
“Try not to fall off your ladder,” Terra said. Belle straightened the picture and stepped down.
“It’s a stepladder,” she corrected her mother.
Terra tucked some bangs behind her ears. The rest of her hair was pulled back in a lengthy ponytail underneath an emerald green bandana. She wore a plain white T-shirt splattered with light green paint and black gym shorts, and her feet were bare, her green toenail polish flashing when it caught the light. It was strange for Belle to realize just how beautiful her mother was—the high cheekbones, the chocolate-colored eyes, the long and thin but strong fingers—and stranger still to realize that she had inherited these features. “What’s the difference, sweetie?” Terra asked, flipping her stubborn bangs out of her eyes with a toss of her head.
“Well, calling it a ladder is like…a narrow-minded cultural assumption.”
Terra smiled and shook her head before turning toward the kitchen. “You’re starting to sound like your father. He said weird stuff like that all the time.” She picked briefly at a speck of paint on her arm; Terra was in the process of painting the front room. She had managed to get the back rooms painted first, since they were smaller, so Belle was decorating them.
Belle folded up her stepladder and leaned it against the wall. “So what’s up with all the green lately?” she asked, following her mom into the kitchen and watching as she began opening cabinet doors.
“I’m trying to get into the Mother Earth theme,” Terra replied, shaking the bangs out of her eyes again. She pulled down a can of vegetables. “After all, I’m now the leader of a Ground-type Gym.”
“So you’re gonna stay here?”
“Certainly. Can you grab a pot for me, please, Belle? And a frying pan? Just stick them on the stove. Why wouldn’t I?” Terra crossed to the stove, vegetables in one hand and a can opener in the other. “Turn the burners on.”
Belle readied the stove before watching her mother opening the can. “I don’t know. Just…from what you told me, it sounds like you only came because you were worried about me.”
“That was my initial reason,” Terra admitted, dumping the vegetables into the pot and moving the pot onto the burner. “But I like being a Gym Leader. I battled two Trainers before you, actually. A boy and a girl—they came together. They were friends. Sweet, really,” she added, moving past Belle to the cabinets again. “Reminded me of me and your dad, before he did that disappearing act in the middle of our journey.”
“Disappearing act?” Belle said, bewildered.
“Mom?” Derek had come into the kitchen. “Mom, are you making dinner?”
“Yes I am,” Terra replied. “Why? You hungry?”
Somehow, Belle didn’t want to inquire about her father’s “disappearing act” with Derek around. She turned to him and grinned. “Hey, buddy! Where’s Charmy?”
Derek returned her grin with enthusiasm. “In the gym! We’re playing—we all are. Oh—how did Poliwhirl get that scar on its back?”
Belle sighed. “In a Gym Leader fight. I was really dumb about that,” she remarked.
“Ooh, tell me!” Derek cried, grabbing her hand. “Mom, is it okay if Belle takes a break?”
“Sure,” Terra replied, now emptying rice into a bowl.
That night, Belle kissed her mother’s forehead at around eleven o’clock, telling her good-night. “Is it that late?” Terra asked. She had lines of tape all around the room; she was going to paint horizontal stripes of different shades of green up the walls, and then sponge the colors together so that it looked like it was fading. Her fingers were covered in paint of varying shades of green, so she tried to brush her bangs out of her eyes with her wrist, which left a small streak of medium green on her forehead.
Belle laughed. “So showering doesn’t get that stuff off?”
“No, it’s oil-based paint,” Terra sighed, putting the roller down. “Did you check on Derrick?”
“Yeah. He’s sleeping with Poliwhirl,” Belle replied. “He really likes my Pokémon.”
“I knew he would,” Terra replied. “He’s gotten bored of all mine. I think he likes Water Pokémon…he used to play with Nix a lot.”
“Funny, because Charizard is his favorite Pokémon.”
“Do you remember the day you left?” Terra asked suddenly, looking up from her place on the floor, where she had been crouching and trying to paint dark green.
“And he gave you his Charizard toy?”
Belle smiled and reached into her pocket, pulling out the toy in question. “Yes. It’s what helped me make the decision.”
Terra smiled. When Belle went to put it back into her pocket, Terra reached out and caught her wrist. “Sweetie,” she said, and Belle looked down. “You do know that…whenever you want to tell me…what happened…I’ll stop what I’m doing and listen.”
Belle felt like a small child again; eight years old, standing up, her mother kneeling and holding her hand, looking her seriously in the eye. You can talk to me, she had said then. I’ll stop what I’m doing and listen. Of course, then, it had been about her father.
Now, Belle dropped her gaze. “I know,” she said, and she was overwhelmed with de já vu; it was just like all those years ago.
Terra’s hand fell from Belle’s wrist to settle on her own knee. Worry appeared on her face in countless small ways that Belle had learned to recognize over the years—the tightening of the corners of her lips, the softening of the eyes, the slight twitch between the eyebrows as she fought to keep her expression neutral.
“Good night, Mom.” Belle smiled gently and left her mother to her complicated living room walls. She put on her pajamas and slipped gently into the sweet-smelling sheets of her old bed.
The door opened and Charmy came through, bending his long neck to duck under the doorway. He rumbled in his throat as he shut the door behind him.
“Come in,” Belle said quietly. “How’s Derek? Is he sleeping?” She sat up in bed as her Charizard came closer; she could see his tail flame shining brightly.
Charmy rumbled again and stopped beside her bed.
“You can climb in if you want,” Belle said, patting the bed beside her. “It’s…well…small, though. It’s been a while since I slept in this bed,” she added. “Mom brought it from our house in Cherrygrove. You’ve never seen Cherrygrove…but you will. When I visit…home…” She looked down. The shadows on her blankets lengthened as Charmy came closer, bending his neck to plant a dragonish kiss on the top of her head. She looked up at him and smiled. “I’m a big mess, huh, Charmy?”
Growling pleasantly, he folded his wings up as small as they could go and clambered into the bed, stretching out on his stomach and adjusting his tail so that he wouldn’t catch the sheets on fire. Belle laid down too.
“Poliwhirl still with D-D-Derek?” she yawned, pulling the covers up to her chin and closing her eyes. Charmy growled in assurance. “How about Bellosum and Primape? Them too? Dugtrio? Jolteon?”
Belle nodded at Charmy’s answering growls and turned on her side, away from him. Whenever you want to tell me…what happened…I’ll stop what I’m doing and listen. Her mother’s voice rang through her head. She still kept that story inside, but if she could tell anyone without it being a major burden, it was her mother. Maybe she’d tell her…tomorrow…
Belle vaguely realized that she hadn’t taken out her ponytail before she dropped off to sleep.
Mom told me all about how you wrote to her, and now she’s the Viridian City Gym Leader. You rascal, you!!
Well, I’m not doing much, just helping Mom decorate the house. It’s looking nice. Mom’s trying to decorate it with “earth tones”, so it’s mostly green, but Derek’s room is red and orange, and mine is blue. Derek really likes Poliwhirl, and Poliwhirl likes him right back. I bet it’s going to be hard for them when I move on.
Poliwhirl’s got a huge scar on his back from the Cinnabar Island Gym, and it’s all my fault. The scar just won’t go away. It doesn’t hurt him anymore, but it looks terrible—like this big dark blue and black gash going right down his back. It kind of reminds me of the scar I got from the stitches when Derrick ran out of the Viridian Forest and scared me.
The Viridian Forest…it’s just ahead. It’s strange to be back here, the first city I came to after getting my first Pokémon. I like to visit Nurse Joy—she’s usually really busy, though. There are a lot of newer Trainers coming through, and it’s weird that they’re just my age. They seem so much younger. Nurse Joy says that usually, kids are at least seventeen when they finish their journey. I guess I just sped through it.
Speaking of, isn’t Alyssa turning seventeen soon? I wish we could be with her for her birthday, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. =/ She’s really moving up in the Ranger world.
Well, I’ll wrap this up.
Love you lots!
Training for the mission was taking up lots of Alyssa’s time.
Before, she had at least gotten days off; now, it seemed she was out with her team every single day. They ran obstacle courses and did all sorts of exercises. They even played games like soccer and basketball, which Alyssa supposed were supposed to help their teamwork. Mr. McFayer was an excellent basketball player, much to Alyssa’s surprise, and he was always barking orders at everyone, no matter whose team he was on. The orders mostly consisted of things like “Karri, let someone else have the ball!” or “Other people can make baskets, too, Karri!”
As much as Alyssa hated to admit it, Karri was a force to be reckoned with. She made some of the fastest times through the obstacle courses, she was a star player no matter what team she was on, she moved gracefully yet fiercely…but Alyssa was right there with her. She hadn’t ever played much basketball, but she was pretty good at soccer; and obstacle courses were a piece of cake. Being a Ranger meant you had to be athletic, and Alyssa was.
Alyssa showed up that morning with Ziggy hanging off her back as usual and Ian at her side. Mr. McFayer and Mr. Rayman were already there, and Keith stood talking to them with a basketball under his arm.
“Basketball again today,” Alyssa noted easily to Ian. He nodded.
“Wonder which team I’ll be on?”
“Wonder if I’ll even be playing for the first few games?” Mr. McFayer liked to switch up the teams. Someone always had to sit out, of course, since their number was uneven; they had to referee.
“I hope you aren’t,” Karri said, bumping Alyssa’s shoulder as she passed by. Her long, light blue hair hung free around her shoulders, and Siami sat on her shoulder, eyes glittering at Alyssa. “It’s always so much more fun when you’re not involved.”
“Because then it’s easier for you to win,” Alyssa retorted. “I’m always your biggest competition.”
Karri’s lip twisted into a snarl; this was the look Alyssa most associated with a sharp remark, but just then, Jean came bouncing into the gym. “Ooh, basketball!” she chirped happily. “Maybe we’ll be on the same team, Alyssa!”
Alyssa laughed. “Maybe.” She liked Jean; she was much nicer than her sister, and she seemed almost comically in tune with Exis’s feelings. It was often that she looked over at Exis with a frown, asking it some strange obscure question like “But orange and purple are sunset colors, Exis, why do you keep wanting silver?”
“Now that we’re all here,” Mr. McFayer said, “I’d like to divide us up into teams. Three-on-three as usual. I’ll be sitting out. We’ll be doing boys against girls.”
“Yes!” Jean cried happily. She grabbed Alyssa’s hand. “Let’s go! Be nice, Karri,” she added in a somewhat dark undertone.
Alyssa glanced over at Karri as Ziggy slid off her back to sit on the sidelines; this was a people-only game. Karri was glaring right back. They had never been on the same team before; Mr. McFayer had always put them on opposing teams and watched them roar against each other. Now, however, they would have to work together.
Karri’s top lip curled.
Alyssa tightened her ponytail and shrugged out of her jacket as she made her way to the center of the court. Mr. McFayer made them do all their exercises in their Ranger uniforms, which mean that Alyssa’s had to be cleaned every day due to all the sweating. She tossed the jacket on a chair on the sidelines.
Karri shoved past her. “I’ll do it,” she said, confusing Alyssa. She stepped up to the center, across from Ian, who had also left his jacket on a chair.
“Karri always likes to do this part,” Jean told Alyssa. She then frowned and glanced over at Exis. “No, Exis, pi is an irrational number that goes on to infinity,” she called to him.
Alyssa chose not to ask.
Mr. McFayer stepped between Karri and Ian, the basketball sitting on his open palm. “Play a clean game,” he said, and then threw the ball into the air.
Karri leapt expertly and scooped the ball into her arms; she then ran across the court, dribbling fiercely. Ian was right along beside her, and Mr. Rayman popped up in front of her. Keith ran up to meet her near the basket.
Alyssa’s feet had started moving the moment Karri’s had; she ran the length of the court, eyes on the ball. Karri stopped as Mr. Rayman blocked her, and she looked around. Alyssa waved her arm—she was open—but Jean was the one who deftly caught the ball.
Keith was on Jean in a flash, but she dodged him and sent the ball soaring into the basket. It clanged against the backboard before falling through the net; Ian grabbed it and was dribbling up the court before they could do much celebrating.
Alyssa was the closest to Ian, so she attached herself to him. She made a swipe at the ball, but he spun out of her reach; she followed. And then, suddenly, Karri was at his other side, scooping for the ball; Ian stopped and threw it off to Keith.
Immediately, Karri was in Keith’s face. Not to be outdone, Alyssa was there too, making him stop. He threw the ball to an open Ian, who scored.
Jean grabbed the ball, but Mr. Rayman stole it halfway up the court. Once again, Alyssa and Karri ambushed him; he threw it off to Keith, who scored. Again, Jean got the ball; again, it was stolen; again, Alyssa and Karri ambushed the ball-holder; and again, he threw it to an open player, who caught it and scored a basket.
“Stay out of my way!” Karri yelled at Alyssa.
“Stay out of my way!” Alyssa yelled back. “You’re making us lose!”
“Me? You’re the one who—”
“Stop it!” Jean yelled, grabbing Karri by the shoulder and snatching her away from Alyssa. “If both of you don’t get a grip, we’ll lose!”
“It’s her fault!” Karri snarled, pushing a finger in Alyssa’s face. Alyssa knocked it away, and Karri’s eyes bulged; she leapt toward her, fists clenched, and Alyssa tensed, ready for a fight.
“Time out!” thundered Mr. McFayer, striding across the court. He grabbed Karri’s upper arm and snatched her away from Alyssa. “Both of you sit out,” he yelled. “Go! We’ll start a new game. Ian, be referee—Jean, you’ll be on my team. Everett and Keith, team up.”
The game started up, and Alyssa sat on the chair with her jacket, fuming. Ziggy attempted to lighten her spirits, but she couldn't tear her eyes away from the game that she wasn’t allowed to play.
“I can’t believe you got me kicked out of the game,” Karri snapped from her seat.
“It’s your fault we’re not playing,” Alyssa retorted. “You attacked me.”
“You pushed my hand.”
“You put your finger in my face. That’s rude.”
“Foul!” Ian called as Jean bumped into Keith. “Mr. Rayman and Keith get a free throw.”
“Good call,” Alyssa said, nodding.
“Are you kidding?” Karri snapped, much more loudly. “That was a terrible call—Keith ran into Jean.”
“It may not have been quite on purpose, but Jean hit Keith.”
“Anyone with a brain could have seen that it was Keith’s fault!”
The rage Alyssa had been attempting to suppress bubbled up to the surface. “You’re the one without a brain.”
And then Karri was in front of Alyssa, her face inches away. “You wanna say that again?”
Alyssa stood, slamming her hand into Karri’s shoulder to make her back off; Karri stumbled back in surprise, and then, with a yell, she leapt forward, bringing her fist towards Alyssa’s face. Alyssa ducked and grabbed the girl around her waist, picking her up and throwing her into the chairs. Karri recovered quickly and came at her again, this time landing a hit to Alyssa’s stomach; Alyssa’s breath came out in a woosh. She cocked her arm back and slammed her fist into Karri’s jaw.
With a yell, Alyssa went to hurl herself at Karri again, but something peculiar happened; she was lifted off her feet, hovering helplessly in midair. The same appeared to have happened to Karri. They were both surrounded with a strange, pinkish-white light.
“Thank you, Exis,” said a satisfied-sounding Jean. She stood there with Keith, Ian, Mr. Rayman, and Mr. McFayer, who looked livid. His arms were folded firmly across his chest, and Rhunso hovered threateningly near him.
“We are on a team,” Mr. McFayer said, his voice coming out calm and precise despite the anger on his features. Somehow, this was scarier than if he yelled. “If you two cannot get past your own differences, you will compromise the mission and possibly destroy the entire team. If you cannot act civilly and work together, I will kick you off.”
Karri glared at Alyssa. “You hear that?” she snapped. “If you can’t be polite, he’ll get rid of you.”
“You are as much at fault as Miss Thompson,” Mr. McFayer told her. “Your smug attitude is dragging down the efficiency of the team as a whole, so you are one to talk of politeness. Perhaps I should rephrase my earlier threat—if you cannot work together, both of you will be off the team. Dismissed for today,” he added. “Think about it,” he told Alyssa and Karri; Exis let them drift back to the floor. Alyssa’s fists clenched and she turned away, heading for the door.
Ian was at her side in a moment. “Don’t let her get to you,” he said, lifting Ziggy to place him on Alyssa’s shoulder. He had her jacket over one arm. “Hey. Hey,” he said insistently, grabbing her upper arm. She stopped and looked at him. “Once this mission’s over, you won’t have to deal with her anymore. You’ll have to deal with all sorts of people when you’re a Ranger, okay? Just ignore her.”
Alyssa sighed. “That’s easier said than done,” she replied. “Thanks for getting my jacket.” She took it from him and walked away, towards her apartment.
I am so angry. I hate hate HATE Karri Danes with every fiber of my being.
Sorry I can’t write more…I’m too full of HATE.
Love (and HATE),
The day of the next Fallarbor Town Contest was upon Cassandra so fast she wasn’t sure how it had gotten there. She put on the dress Karen had picked out for her (a long, light-blue one that slowly turned to pale orange near the bottom—“Long dresses help the Mother Nature look. And no shoes!” Karen had said), pinned her hair up in a bun, and walked into the contest hall with Karen in tow. Cassandra had wanted Swablu to evolve to Altaria before this contest, but it hadn’t happened; she was disappointed, but she had to focus on Finny, with whom she was competing.
Everything went by in a blur—Cassandra’s first battle was against a Nidorina, but Finny quickly won with Mud Bomb and Mud Shot. The poor girl that Cassandra battled next had a Quilava, which would be weak against whichever move Finny threw out. She seemed to resign herself to her fate before Finny hit her Pokémon with Surf.
The next Pokémon was a Pidgeotto, which was a little trickier—none of the Ground-type moves would hit it, so Cassandra had to rely on far-reaching moves like Surf and Aqua Jet to take it down. She was happy to find that wet feathers didn’t fly very well, and her final move was Take Down.
After the third battle, Cassandra went back into the Coordinator’s room to ready herself. A lot of other coordinators were congratulating her; many proclaimed themselves “fans”, which made Cassandra happier than words could express. It was Karen she looked to, however, for support—the girl came tramping to meet her.
“Don’t get ahead of yourself in this next battle,” Karen told Cassandra. “Just keep a steady head, and I’m sure you’ll win.”
“Keeping our seats. Now go out there and break a leg.”
Cassandra stepped up to the platform, smiling happily, to participate in her final battle. If she won this, she would have to be in Slateport City next week for the Hyper Rank Contest; and then, the next week, Lilycove City for the Master Rank Contest. She hadn’t realized until just now how little time she had.
The girl across the court from her was tall, much taller than Cassandra; she had long, thick black hair held back in a braid, and she wore flowing red pants and a small, sleeveless top. A red veil covered the bottom half of her face, but her dark brown eyes burned and smoked from above it, seeming to pierce Cassandra from across the court. Cassandra narrowed her eyes, attempting to do the same; she let her determination fill her expression. A flicker went across the woman’s eyes.
“And now, the final battle!” the MC boomed from the speakers. “We have here Cassandra Étoile, a repeat challenger from Verdanturf Town!”
Cassandra smiled and waved at the crowd; she distinctly heard Karen’s voice, yelling louder than most of the people. She was surprised and happy to see that some people held cardboard signs aloft; they said things like Cassandra is the best! and Kill ’em with honey-colored hair!
“And battling her is Jasmine Asir of Haruba Desert, all the way from Almia!”
Jasmine appeared to smile with her eyes as she looked around at the cheering crowd. Almia, Cassandra thought, picturing Alyssa along with a faceless tormentor named Karri.
“This battle will determine who wins the Super Rank Contest and goes on to battle in Slateport City! And without further ado…begin!”
“Go, Finny!” Cassandra threw her Poké Ball; Finny leapt out with a cry, turned a small front-flip, and squirted water into the air as he landed, seeming to twirl in a sprinkle of rain.
“And Miss Étoile has gotten off to a good start; look at that points-bar rise!”
Jasmine raised her bare arms above her head and closed her eyes; after a few moments, she brought her right arm around and yelled out, “Medicham!”
A Pokémon shorter than its owner burst from the Poké Ball, doing what seemed to be a roundhouse kick in midair before raising both its arms and drifting, slowly, to the ground.
Cassandra glanced up as the MC yelled something about “fantastic” and saw Jasmine’s yellow bar push to rest just below hers. And then she was in full battle mode; she shifted forward.
“Meditate,” Jasmine said, and, as one, she and her Medicham raised their arms above their heads, pressed their palms together, and lowered their hands to chest-height, closing their eyes. “Mind Reader.”
And then both of them stood stock still. Cassandra assessed the situation—this was an opening; a big, bright, shiny opening, ready-made and just waiting for her to take advantage.
“Finny, Take Down!”
Finny leapt forward gracefully, dashing up to Medicham, closing the distance quickly—
“High Jump Kick.”
Cassandra wasn’t sure how it happened; suddenly, Finny was lying on its side several feet away, and Medicham was standing a foot in front of where it had been, arms by its side, feet shoulder-width apart, and staring at Finny as he got to his feet.
Crap, Cassandra thought. Finny glanced over at her, awaiting orders. She wasn’t sure. Was it better to get close, attack it at point-blank range? Did its weakness lie close to it?
“Force Palm,” Jasmine said in a soft voice. Medicham sprang toward Finny and put its open hand on Finny’s head; and then Finny was flying backwards.
We need ranged attacks, Cassandra decided immediately as her points-bar crept downward. Luckily, Finny turned a backflip and landed upright, taking no damage from the fall. “Finny, use Mud Bomb!”
Finny found the place it had initially landed from its Poké Ball entrance; the ground was soft and muddy here, thanks to the rain it had created; he slapped his front fins against it and squirted water at the mud that flew up, creating a sort of bomb that soared across the court and slammed into Medicham’s face.
“Cham!” The thing fell backwards, hitting the ground.
“Get up!” Jasmine called as her points-bar fell. “High Jump Kick!”
Medicham attempted to clear the mud from its eyes before jumping up and soaring towards Finny; Finny ducked, and Medicham crashed into the ground.
“Medicham kept going and crashed!” the MC yelled excitedly.
“Aqua Jet!” Cassandra yelled.
Medicham turned and spread its arms; a strange rush of air hit Finny, and he tumbled backwards. The point-bar edged downward.
For some reason, this really made Finny angry. He got up on all fours and bellowed; and then he began to glow.
“What?” the MC cried. “What’s going on? Oh—the Marshtomp is evolving!”
Cassandra grinned hugely as Finny’s shape changed; he grew larger, more hulking, and the fin on his head broadened. He stood up on his hind legs as the light faded away, revealing a dark-blue, intimidating Swampert that towered over Medicham.
Finny bellowed and let loose a huge stream of water that mingled with the mud in the ground; he slammed his fins down, and the mix rose and covered Medicham completely.
Medicham fell back in the tidal wave of Muddy Water. Jasmine’s points-bar pushed dangerously low, and she seemed to be desperate. “Medicham, use Drain Punch!”
Medicham’s fist began to glow, and he moved quickly, but his move missed Finny by inches. Instead, he tripped over a small mound of mud and landed with a splat on his face.
Jasmine’s points-bar was now nonexistent. Cassandra felt a little bad for her—tripping face-first into mud was about the least graceful thing anyone could do.
“Miss Asir’s points are down to zero! Cassandra Étoile wins the Fallarbor Town Super Rank Contest!”
“Yes!” Cassandra yelled, punching the air. She hadn’t even had to let her hair out of its bun—Finny’s skill (or perhaps Medicham’s lack of grace) had won it for her.
To: dingdongbelle, thompson_alyssa
Subject: I WON!!!
You guys, I WON MY CONTEST I WON MY CONTEST I WON MY CONTEST YAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYY!!!!
Sorry I can’t write more, but I’ve got to hurry and pack up…the Slateport City contest is NEXT WEEK (o.0), and I need to get there soon enough to start my training!
Belle waited until after Derek had gone to bed to ask her mother. She passed by the newly-finished living room and the work-in-progress kitchen, heading down the small hallway that led to the master bedroom.
Belle could see a dull light flickering from the crack beneath the door. She hesitated for just a moment, hypnotized by the light, before raising her fist and softly hitting the door with her knuckles. There was only a moment’s pause before a calm, smooth voice spoke.
Belle knew that voice. Before she even pushed open the door, she knew her mother was meditating—and she was right. Terra’s bedroom was large, and so she had made an open space sizeable enough for her to meditate. She knelt in the center of a large, round mat, and candles sat in small trays around the circumference. Terra usually wore a kimono when she meditated, and tonight was no different—made of pure silk and brilliantly patterned with green, blue, and pink, it cascaded around her, making it impossible to make out the shape of her legs. Her long black hair was smooth and shiny, held back from her face with two combs that had delicate pink flower ornaments on them. As Belle walked in, she opened her eyes and smiled serenely.
“My daughter,” she said, raising her arms to greet her. “Come. Sit. You have come to ask me a question.”
Being from Ecruteak City, Terra was highly spiritual. Meditating often took her to what she described as a “higher plane of being”, making her sound like a wise elder of a village. Belle was used to her mother having different modes—Normal Mom and Meditating Mom.
“I have prepared tea,” Terra continued as Belle shut the door behind her. She picked up a teapot that had been sitting beside her and poured steaming tea into a small cup, which she carefully handed to Belle as she knelt on a small, square pillow. “I can see from your eyes that we have much to discuss.”
Belle nodded, taking a sip of the hot tea. “I need to ask you about something you said a few days ago.”
Terra gazed at Belle over the rim of her own cup of tea.
“Something you said…about Dad.”
Her gaze didn’t waver.
“About…a disappearing act.”
Silence. Terra appeared frozen in time; Belle would have thought her a statue if her eyes didn’t glimmer so perceptively above the cup.
“What did you mean? What disappearing act did Dad pull?”
Terra lowered the cup and set it on her tea tray. She lowered her hands to rest daintily on her lap, only her fingertips visible beyond the smooth silk of her kimono’s sleeves. Belle felt a jolt in her stomach. Terra was an amazing storyteller, especially in her meditative state.
Terra didn’t move for a few moments. Her head was bowed, her eyes were closed; she didn’t even appear to be breathing. The candles flickered; light danced across the room, warping Belle’s sense of reality as they caused Terra’s features to shift.
And then Terra’s eyes opened and locked onto Belle’s, and the story began.
We met, as you know, in Violet City, both of us on our way to Ecruteak—for me, it was a triumphant return, a chance to show my glory before moving on. And for him, it was another gym battle.
Of course, there were a few complications…we both discovered that we might not be ready to take on a Ghost-type Gym, and so we changed our minds. Instead of going straight to Ecruteak, we headed to Azalea Town to take on the Gym Leader there. Ultimately, we decided, we would end up in Ecruteak City, would we not? And Ecruteak was not even a final destination; it was simply a stepping-stone. I think that we knew of our attraction for each other, and thus decided to prolong our journey together before we had to introduce him to my family…or perhaps it was coincidence. I have no way of knowing.
So we journeyed…we laughed at our foolishness for wanting to take on the Ecruteak City Gym. After all, both of us had just started out in the Johto Region. We prided ourselves after that for not making foolhardy mistakes that would have crippled other, lesser trainers. We went through Azalea Town, and then Goldenrod City, where we stayed for quite some time. We even participated in a few Bug-Catching Contests in National Park…and then, we could delay no longer. We went to Ecruteak City.
It was nighttime when we arrived…one of my favorite times in the city. There is something so very spiritual about gazing at the form of Bell Tower in the dark. By then, there was no uncertainty about our feelings for each other; though not quite spoken aloud, we knew we were beyond the normal realm of friends. I invited him to stay the night in my home. Like a gentleman, he declined, though my mother and father had no trepidations.
We stayed for a few days…I showed him around the city, the place where I grew up. I showed him all that had been important to me as a child. I introduced him to the Gym Leader even before he battled him. I watched them have quite an engaging conversation…one of ghosts, souls, and death. For me, it was a normal subject—the question of the soul’s passage through birth, life, and death is one often asked in Ecruteak.
The night Daniel defeated the Gym Leader, I went to see him at the PokéCenter. He seemed withdrawn. I apologized to him—I had been unable to attend his battle, as he had picked the day I was to spend meditating with my family. He assured me everything was all right.
“It wasn’t a big deal,” he said, shifting a bit in his seat. “Just another gym battle, y’know?”
“How did you do against the ghosts?” I asked him, leaning forward. I was always eager to hear him talk—he was an amazing storyteller. I suppose he and I had that in common.
He shrugged. “Just another gym battle.”
I frowned. This wasn’t like him; he loved to share all the details of his exploits with me, even if I had been there in the first place. I wasn’t sure how to react. “Are you feeling okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Why?” He turned away, then, picking up the Poké Ball that I knew held Venosaur—it had a special sticker on it. It was a gold star, and it was smooth and shiny, not crinkled and faded as I am sure you remember it…by the time you were born, it was hardly recognizable. He smoothed it over with his fingers.
“You seem…distant. And you usually fiddle with Venosaur’s Poké Ball when you’re upset.”
At this, he put the Ball down and smiled at me, placing a hand on my shoulder. “I’m just tired, Terra. I need some sleep. I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow, when we set off for Olivine.”
I smiled back. “Okay. I’ll come and meet you tomorrow morning.”
We shared a brief hug, and I went home. Before I went to bed, I meditated, and I observed a troubling vision—I saw Daniel’s back, walking down a path with grass and trees on either side of him. Everything else was misty and white. I called out to him, but he paid me no heed. As I watched, he opened a wooden door and entered, shutting the door behind him. I called out to him again. I ran to the door…but it had disappeared.
Uneasy, I spoke of it to my mother. She seemed concerned and advised me to go to the PokéCenter earlier than I had originally planned.
“How early?” I asked.
“Even before the sun rises,” she answered; and so I did. Though it was still dark, I packed up my things and went to the PokéCenter.
Daniel was not there.
Nurse Joy was not at the counter, and only one or two other trainers slumbered nearby. I left the Center and the town, hoping to catch him on his way to Olivine.
Fog rolled in within seconds; I sent out Amaterasu, who then was only a Flaaffy, to provide me with light as I went. As I ran, I noticed trees on either side of the path and knew that this was the path from my vision—Route 38, the way to Olivine City.
Daniel loomed out of the fog soon; I saw his retreating back. “Daniel!” I called, speeding up, but he did not hear; he turned and knocked on a door, which opened. He talked to someone for a moment before entering.
I was unable to catch him before he went through the door. The fog then became too thick for me to continue; even Amaterasu’s light was not strong enough to penetrate it. I made my way to some trees to wait out the fog…when it thinned enough for travel, I realized that I was not alone. A Heracross stood not five feet away, watching me intently. Unnerved, I stood and made my way along the path.
Moomoo Farm had been where Daniel had stopped off. I made my way there and knocked insistently upon the door—a sleepy-looking woman answered, and I inquired about Daniel. She told me that he had left almost as soon as he had arrived, that he had only stopped to buy Moomoo Milk. Irritated that I had woken her, she told me that I needed to either buy some milk myself or go. I apologized and turned to leave.
“Hey—is that your Heracross?” she demanded, stopping me. I looked over to see the Heracross from before sitting on the fence of the Miltank pasture, watching me.
“No, ma’am,” I replied.
“He’s been hanging around here, bothering the Miltank,” she told me. “You’d be doin’ me a huge favor if you caught him.”
The funny look on its face and the way it sat so brazenly on the fence, as though daring the woman to do something about it, reminded me painfully of Daniel. So, to make up for the fact that I had woken this poor woman up, I engaged it in a battle; it had obviously learned a few maneuvers on its own in the wild. It evaded many of Amaterasu’s attacks quite effectively. Throughout our battle, he seemed to be laughing and enjoying himself. In the end, he ceased battling on his own and seemed to ask me to throw a Poké Ball at him…I caught him. I named him Danny.
A month later, I caught up to Daniel in Cianwood City, training with Chuck, the Gym Leader. I was entering the gym to engage Chuck in battle; Daniel had been there for a few weeks. He admitted to getting lost among the Whirl Islands for quite some time. When I entered, he froze and stared at me. I stared back, and all at the same time I was delighted and frightened to see him. I was sure I did not look quite as he remembered…I had been training much more thoroughly, and so I had a bit of muscle now. My skin was tanned, my hair was longer, and I had discovered my love for bandanas, so I was wearing one then. Most of my Pokémon had reached their final evolutions, and I am sure he would have been surprised to see any of them—but it was Danny I had with me that day. I wasn’t going to use him in the battle against Chuck, of course…no, it was Skarmory I had been planning for that. Daniel was surprised to see the new addition to my team.
“This the girl?” Chuck asked, breaking the silence between us. He grunted appreciatively. “She seems like the type to understand, eh, Sam?”
Sam. Daniel’s middle name was Samson, and he hated that name. Why would he go by it now?
Daniel simply nodded meekly. He stared at me as though he couldn’t believe his eyes. It seemed to me as though the rest of the world melted away…I could see only him.
“Why did you leave me?” The words were out before I knew what I was saying. I felt myself trembling and I knew tears would come soon. I tried to prolong these tears’ arrival; I wished to speak coherently.
“I…discovered some things. Some things I couldn’t share with you, some things you wouldn’t understand.”
His voice…it sounded the same. I remember being shocked at the discovery. “What things would I not understand?”
“I talked to the Gym Leader for a long time after the battle,” he said. “I found out many things about life and death…Pokémon…I didn’t want to share that burden with you. I didn’t want to tell you the story I had heard, the story of the Gym Leader’s first Pokémon…dying…to think of Pokémon dying is horrible enough without forcing the knowledge on others…”
“That is ridiculous.” My voice was sharp now. “I grew up in Ecruteak City. We are deeply connected to Pokémon, to their lives, their souls. The city is full of spiritual understanding. Did you think I had not heard the story of the Gym Leader’s first Pokémon dying? He tells that story almost every year at the festival. Of course I know that Pokémon die, Daniel, did you think I was that naïve? You’ve just told me that you left me for nothing. And why didn’t you come to me? Why didn’t you tell me about your pain?”
“I didn’t want to burden you!”
“It’s not a burden, you idiot, not when you love someone! God, are you so dumb that—”
“What?” he interrupted, taking a step forward. “What did you say?”
“I said—” I froze as what I said dawned on me. Inadvertently, I had just admitted my love to him. “Nothing.”
“You said you loved me.”
“Terra.” He took a step forward, extending his hand toward me. “I didn’t realize…I didn’t know that…you felt…that way.”
“I—I just—” I felt stupid for having told him that I loved him. I didn’t want him to know that, all this time, I had been pining away for him, thinking of him every waking second and dreaming of him when I slept.
“Terra…I love you, too.” He smiled a bit sheepishly. “That’s why I…I didn’t want to burden you. I…I’m sorry for leaving. I thought I had to.”
“Well…from now on,” I blustered angrily, “share your burden, okay?” I softened a bit. “My mother always says that a large pot of water is too much for one person to carry, but when two lift together, it becomes lighter for both.”
He smiled as he took a step toward me, reaching out. “I’m so sorry. I’ll remember that.”
“And so we kissed,” Terra said calmly, a smile spreading across her face. “It was our first. And as his lips touched mine, I felt whole again…”
Belle didn’t say anything. Her cup was empty and cold in her hands. She stared at the bottom, the candlelight flickering around her. “But he didn’t really disappear,” she said finally. “You knew he was leaving.”
“But it was still quite a shock,” Terra replied. “And he did disappear…he slipped into the fog, leaving me behind.” She heaved a sigh that seemed full of a deep sorrow. “There is a reason you asked me this.”
It wasn’t a question. Belle looked up and met Terra’s penetrating gaze. “I…am my father’s daughter.”
Terra nodded in understanding. “You have pulled your own disappearing act…on Derrick.”
“No.” Belle sighed, dropping her eyes. “Actually, it’s…the same. The reason, anyway. The situation, maybe not.”
“You do not wish to disclose the story now.” Again, it wasn’t a question. Terra had a way of knowing things in this state.
“Soon,” Belle said. “But…not now. Maybe when you’re not in a meditative state. I’d rather talk to Normal Mom about this…not Infinitely Wise Mom.”
Terra let out a small, quiet laugh. “You feel more on equal ground when I do not speak as I am speaking now.”
“Yeah, I guess.” Belle smiled. “Well…good night, Mom. I’m going to bed.”
“Good night, my daughter. Think on your actions, and dream of solutions.”
Belle bent and planted a kiss on her mother’s forehead before she left the room. I truly am my father’s daughter, she thought. I couldn’t ever be as wise as Mom.
To: thompson_alyssa, dancing_through_life
Well guys, I’m not sure how long I’m staying.
I know I’m not trained up enough to beat my mom yet…her first Pokémon is a force of nature…plus I like being around Derek again…he’s really fun…it’s like being home…wonder how many of these dot-dot-dot things I can make before you guys get annoyed…
Anyway, I know the big 17 is coming up for you, Alyssa, and I’m thinking of sending you a biiiiiiig present!! Actually, I’m just going to say happy birthday, because I have no idea what to get you. xp Any ideas, Cassandra? XD
My mom just told me a big story about how Dad left her in the middle of the journey…it’s weird how familiar that story is, and how like my dad I really am. Huh.
Well, I’m super tired, so I’m gonna go to bed. I really need to get training tomorrow!
“How—what—?” Cassandra was dumbfounded. One second she had been sitting sidesaddle atop a Ponyta, and the next—boom! Ellia had evolved into a Rapidash. Sure, the journey through Route 111’s desert had been harsh, and they hadn’t had time to stop in Mauville City to talk to the mob of people excited about her appearance or to bathe and rest, but how exactly did that promote an evolution?
“Perfect,” Karen said from her place on Fluffy’s back. She adjusted her sleeves. “Just in time to enter Slateport City. It’s about time,” she added to Ellia, tossing Cassandra a brush. “I thought I was going to have to buy a Fire Stone and force you myself.”
Ellia tossed her beautiful head in annoyance, nickering, and Cassandra ran the brush through her hair. “You know, I’d really like it if you’d clue me in to what you’re talking about.”
“Ellia was ready to evolve when you caught her,” Karen replied. “She’s been holding out on you.”
“Deciding if you could handle it.”
“And I suppose I proved myself?”
“By going through the desert,” Karen said. “Now hurry up, we need to get into Slateport!”
Heart beating, Cassandra straightened her back and smiled serenely like Karen had taught her, practicing for when she made her entrance. Ellia walked at a brisk pace up the path, and the sound of cyclists whizzing overhead soon died away as the bustling city of Slateport came into view.
The smell of sea salt almost assaulted Cassandra as she breathed in deeply. She had been here before, of course, with her parents, but it seemed more exciting now that she was on her own and a star. “Let’s go straight to the Slateport Contest Hall to register,” Cassandra told Karen, who agreed quickly.
It seemed that Cassandra attracted attention as soon as Ellia’s hooves hit Slateport’s walkways. Heads turned and people whispered and pointed; she heard her name multiple times.
“I didn’t know she had a Rapidash,” she heard someone say as Ellia trotted past. Cassandra felt giddy. She knew she had to start training, but she also knew she wouldn’t be able to resist browsing the marketplace before she got started. She glanced up at the contest hall, which was larger than Verdanturf’s and Fallarbor’s combined; understandable, since this was where most contests really got televised. She slid gently from Ellia’s back and adjusted her white skirt as she got to the door, which slid open automatically to allow her to enter.
Slateport City Contest Hall was a lively, bustling place. A long line of people Cassandra vaguely recognized from Verdanturf or Fallarbor stood at the registration desk—Sakura Konohana was not in their number.
In her search for Sakura, Cassandra hadn’t noticed anything odd, but now that she turned her attention back to the general public, she realized that everyone in the lobby had frozen as she entered. Even the people in line for registration had turned to look at her.
“Hello?” Cassandra said hesitantly. And then a flurry of activity ensued—people leapt up and rushed to her, seizing her hands and pushing closer to her, asking for autographs and pictures, asking about Ellia, shouting and yelling and shoving.
But then Karen was in front of her with Tuffly, both of them spreading their arms wide. Tuffly used Doubleslap on a few persistent people, and the warning made everyone stay back, forming a circle around the confused Cassandra.
“What—?” Her question didn’t have time to form on her lips; Karen seized her hand and dragged her forward, shouting about making a hole as she plodded toward the registration counter. The crowd parted a bit as they neared it; Ellia reared, kicking her hooves, and the crowd parted a lot.
Cassandra signed up for the soonest date—next week—and turned to look at the mass of adoring fans, who now seemed to be taking pictures.
She was famous.
The crowds roared as Cassandra rode into the stadium (which was much larger than Verdanturf’s or Fallarbor’s combined) on Ellia’s back. Her heart raced as she gazed up into the sea of adoring fans. Some held up signs emblazoned with clever—sometimes rhyming—slogans showing their support and love for her, Cassandra Étoile, the girl who was, not too long ago, just another kid dancing in her backyard. She had been rich, yes, but plenty of kids were rich—Sakura Konohana, for instance.
Cassandra picked out Karen’s bright pink hair among the many heads in the crowd. The girl had picked out the white floppy straw hat that now sat upon Cassandra’s head, its pink ribbon trailing over the brim behind her. Cassandra had protested it at first, but once she had placed it on her head and stood in the mirror wearing the gauzy white dress on which she had decided, she had realized that it completed her “Mother Nature” look.
Ellia tossed her head, and Cassandra smiled and waved out at the crowd, who cheered loudly. The stadium floor was suspended over water, which Ellia eyed warily; she stood straight and proud, though, calming under Cassandra’s soothing pat. The girl slid gently off Ellia’s back, her bare feet touching the floor.
“Welcome to the first round of the Slateport City Hyper Rank Contest!”
Cassandra’s smile widened; the crowd roared. She had actually been severely happy that she had drawn the first slot, and now she stood across from her opponent, one Melba Wisely, dressed in a black corset-top with red sleeves and a long black skirt, her long dark hair falling down around her face. She seemed irritated.
“Let the first match between Cassandra Étoile—”—the crowd yelled wildly—“and Melba Wisely—”—another part of the crowd cheered—“begin!”
“Okay, Ellia!” Cassandra yelled, pointing towards the stadium; Ellia galloped out, rearing and pawing at the air, shaking her mane—embers flew from her and landed in the water, fizzling slightly.
“Are you serious?” Melba asked in a flat tone. She didn’t look too happy. As Cassandra watched, she tossed her Poké Ball with a sort of graceful awkwardness, and a Sneasel spun out of it.
“And Ms. Wisely chooses her Sneasel. Looks like Ms. Étoile has a type advantage!”
Of course, Cassandra made short work of Melba’s Sneasel—a bit of speed and a well-placed Flamethrower took it right out.
Cassandra’s second battle was against a male Coordinator, which surprised Cassandra; she had come up against so many girls, she had quite forgotten that men competed at all, let alone competed at Hyper Rank. He had a sort of ninja-martial-arts-guy theme going, and his Hitmontop was a formidable opponent, but Ellia ran circles around it to dizzy it before taking it out with Stomp, which turned out to be more graceful than anyone thought it could be.
Karen met Cassandra her small lounge—the Hyper Rank accommodations were impeccable—before the final match, Tuffly in tow. She sat down on the fluffy pink couch and studied the large television showing the current battle, her arms folded across her chest.
“You need to watch out for her,” Karen said, pointing at the screen. “If she wins this battle, she’s against you—she’s another favorite.”
Cassandra picked up the packet of papers to her left. Each Coordinator had been given a page-long profile of the other Coordinators competing in the contest; Cassandra flipped through until she found the picture of the girl to which Karen was pointing.
The picture looked a bit different from the girl on the television—while the television version was moving, dynamic, yelling, her blonde hair flying as she twirled in time with her Pokémon—a Dragonair—the picture version gazed up at Cassandra calmly, a determined smile hitched about her lips. Her name was Laura Evans, and she was from Blackthorn City in Johto. Her picture was one of the few that wasn’t a snapshot from a contest. In fact, Cassandra’s profile picture was from her Verdanturf Contest, and Swablu was in it.
“She’s from Johto?” Cassandra looked back up at the screen, mouth open.
“People who come from other regions often do better than Hoenn natives,” Karen replied. “They’re more determined.”
Cassandra nodded. “I see.”
“Swablu is close to evolving,” Karen remarked, changing the subject. “I think she’ll be an Altaria before we get to Lilycove. That’s what you wanted, right? To win your last contest with Altaria?”
She smiled. “Yes.” She loved the way Karen had put it—to win your last contest with Altaria. Not to compete in your last contest with Altaria. Because she was going to win. It didn’t matter that competitors from other regions seemed more determined—Cassandra was determined enough to be all the way from Almia.
Cassandra’s moments leading up to her final battle were blurry, so it seemed as though she jolted awake standing across the stadium from Laura Evans and her Dragonair.
The MC’s shouts were indistinct to Cassandra’s ears, and the only word she heard was the last one—“Begin!”
“Dragon Dance!” shouted Laura; her Dragonair twisted its long body in a graceful dance, wasting precious seconds. Her points bar went up for the dance, but Cassandra had other plans for it.
“Ellia, Flame Wheel!”
Ellia wrapped herself in flames and smashed into Dragonair so quickly it didn’t know what hit it; it went flying backwards, landing in a crumpled heap at Laura’s feet.
“That was a nasty first hit!” the MC boomed over the crowd’s boos and cheers. “And Miss Étoile’s points surge up, while Miss Evans’s fall back!”
Cassandra met Laura’s eyes across the battlefield as Dragonair rose up. This was going to be a quick battle, that was for sure, but both of them had an equal chance of winning. Quick but intense—that was how Cassandra liked it.
“Dragon Rush,” Laura said, and Dragonair rose up. A blue aura surrounded it, and a big ball of blue light came quickly toward Ellia, Dragonair in the center.
“Agility!” Cassandra yelled, and Ellia took off in a red-and-white blur, zooming around behind Dragonair and leaving a trail of small flames. “Fire Spin!”
Dragonair’s blue light was extinguished in a fiery vortex, which trapped it. It spun helplessly, crying out as the flames singed its skin.
“And Dragonair is trapped by Ellia’s Fire Spin!” the MC cried excitedly. “Laura’s points have taken a huge hit, and Dragonair might not be able to last much longer!”
Cassandra grinned as she locked eyes with Laura again. She basically had this in the bag.
“Dragonair,” Laura said quietly. “Twister.”
Out of the top of the swirling vortex of fire burst a tornado, which swallowed the blaze whole, disbanding it. It bent to capture Ellia in its heart, lifting her off the ground and suspending her in air, spinning rather quickly.
How was she going to get out of this? Cassandra needed to think quickly; she didn’t have much time. Right now, Ellia was at Dragonair’s mercy; one twitch could send her flying into the water below. She couldn’t use any direct or physical attacks…a ranged attack would have to do.
The MC was in the middle of saying, “How will Miss Étoile get out of this one?” when Cassandra yelled, “Fire Blast!”
Dragonair was directly under the Twister, since it came from its mouth; Ellia’s attack dropped straight from the bottom, stopping the tornado and swallowing Dragonair within it. Ellia tipped forward and landed all four hooves on Dragonair’s body before springing away, embers flying off her mane. Cassandra’s points bar pushed forward.
“Dragonair, into the water!”
“Nair!” the Pokémon cried, and it vanished into the water, extinguishing the flames. Steam rose from where it landed.
Ellia froze. Silence descended on the stadium; not even the MC spoke. “Careful,” Cassandra whispered. “You don’t know where it’s coming from; stay alert.”
The Rapidash nickered, backing up a few steps and glancing around. The silence continued for several still seconds; no one seemed to be breathing.
“Now! Aqua Tail!” Laura yelled suddenly. Dragonair sprang out of the water, bringing its tail down in a mighty smash; as the water flew toward Ellia, Dragonair went towards the battlefield, coiling itself for another attack.
“Jump!” Cassandra yelled shrilly.
Ellia leapt up, soaring over the water meant for her.
The water splashed harmlessly behind her as Ellia ducked her head, flying straight toward Dragonair and piercing it with her horn. Dragonair collapsed and Ellia sprang away, its mane and tail flaring up in the breeze as it landed gently, glaring at Dragonair.
Laura’s points vanished completely.
“And that’s it!” the MC yelled. “Miss Evans has no more points—Cassandra Étoile is advancing to the Master Rank in Lilycove City!”
A camera zoomed towards Cassandra’s face as she smiled happily, closing her eyes and throwing back her head, thrusting her arms in the air. The crowd roared; flowers fell all around her.
Sakura Konohana hadn’t hindered her one bit. She was going to Lilycove; she was competing in the Master Rank. She might even meet Sakura there.
And she would win.
Cassandra sat down in front of the video phone in her hotel room, watching the static roll across the screen as it rang. Karen was off somewhere in Slateport—where, Cassandra didn’t know—so she was alone, thank goodness. She had been assaulted by people shoving microphones in her face, and she had talked to so many people she was extremely happy to be by herself with just her Pokémon.
But now she had to call Joanna.
As usual, Dorothia the cook answered the phone. “Cassandra!” she cried happily. “I saw your contest on TV!”
“Really? It’s already been on?”
“They’re broadcast live,” Dorothia replied. “So, did you want to talk to your mother?”
“I don’t want to, but it’s a necessary evil,” Cassandra replied.
Dorothia laughed. “I’ll transfer you.”
There was more static, but only briefly, and then Joanna’s face appeared, her bedroom in the background. She took a sip from the wine glass she held and smiled.
“I saw your contest, Cassie,” Joanna told her.
“You aren’t doing as bad as I expected. I assume that you’ll be doing the soonest Master Rank contest?”
“Yes.” Cassandra felt her back teeth grind together.
“I think I might come out and watch,” Joanna said. She took another sip of wine. “That will be something to see…my daughter finally making something of herself. Imagine how proud I’ll be when you finally win.”
Cassandra bit back a sharp retort. Instead, she asked, “Is Father home?”
“He’s in the bathroom. I expect he’ll want to talk to you, so you should stay on the line.”
Cassandra nodded and fell silent. She didn’t have to say anything to Joanna if she didn’t want to. Silence stretched between them, in which Joanna glanced away and drank her wine.
The door in the background opened and Gerald came out, wearing a dress shirt and slacks. When he saw Cassandra’s face on the video phone, he broke out in a huge grin and hurried over.
“Sandy-bear! Joanna, sweetie, why didn’t you tell me she called?”
“You can see for yourself, can’t you?” Joanna asked, placing her wine glass out of frame.
“Sandy-bear, I saw your contest,” Gerald said, bending down and almost pushing Joanna out of the picture. “You were magnificent!”
“No, truly! I am so proud of you! And you’re going to the Master Rank in Lilycove—that’s a huge deal!”
“I was telling her we might go watch,” Joanna said stiffly from her corner of the screen.
“Well, of course we’ll go!” Gerald said happily, clapping Joanna on the shoulder. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t! We need to cheer our daughter on, right, Mama J?”
Joanna cringed visibly. She didn’t need to answer, because just then Karen came into the room, tossing her pink umbrella onto the bed. Tuffly came behind her with shopping bags.
“I should probably go,” Cassandra said. “I need to rest, and then it’s on to Lilycove City! See you guys there?”
“Perhaps,” Joanna replied at the same time Gerald boomed “Of course, Sandy-bear!”
Cassandra said her good-byes and hung up, smiling as she turned to Karen, who began to immediately pull different types of material from the shopping bags, followed by a sewing machine. “I’m going to make your Master Rank dress,” she said.
Cassandra stood and crossed the room, wrapping her arms around the girl in a hug. “Thank you,” she said. “I couldn’t have done all this without you.”
Karen batted her away. “You haven’t won it all yet. Thank me then.”
Cassandra smiled and nodded. “Right.”
To: dingdongbelle, thompson_alyssa
OMG YOU GUYS!!!
I totally won my Slateport contest!
Alyssa, I’m sorry you hate that woman or girl or whoever she is, but I’m sure you can give her a nice good punch in the jaw and she’ll behave.
Belle, you can beat your mom, I HAVE FAITH IN YOU!!!
I WON MY CONTEST YAAAAYYYY!!! XD I’m so excited!!!
I have to get to bed now, because tomorrow it’s off to Lilycove City and then tons of training so Swablu can evolve into Altaria before the contest!
Did you know that so few people enter the Master Rank Contest that I’ll only be fighting two battles? o.0 And it’s broadcast live, so YOU WILL HAVE TO WATCH IT!!!
Talk to you guys laaatteeerrr!!