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BORN TO BREAK THE DOORS DOWN
A superhero-themed pokemon story
Warnings: none so far! will be updated later :)
PROLOGUE: In Which Backstory Is A Thing
The girl was huddled behind a dumpster. The chill of the night bit through her dirty t-shirt, and the unidentifiable, but rank, leakage from the dumpster was seeping through the knees of her ratty jeans. She was curled into the dumpster; not because it was warm, or comforting, but because she knew it made her harder to see, and right now she needed to be invisible.
The alleyway where she hid was quiet and dark, and she could hear the sounds of the city outside. Vendors calling out to the passing tourists, trying to sell them things they didn't want for prices they'd never pay. Young couples giggling as they strolled past the entrance to the alley, their primped and polished pokemon trotting after them.
Someone walking past was eating, and the smell was hot and savoury. She closed her eyes, and tried to ignore the pangs of hunger that made her feel like vomiting. She had to wait here, just a little longer, until she knew they were gone, and then she could go back to her real home, get something in her stomach. Maybe there'd be some hot water, and she could even have a shower. She just had to wait.
“Well, well, well,” came a soft voice from above. Her eyes snapped open. “What do we have here?”
No. No. She would have heard them!
She looked up, heart beating like a Pidgeot's wings, and felt her stomach drop to her toes.
Two tall, lanky men stood over her. She would have thought they were brothers if she didn't know better. They were both pale with beaked noses, weak chins, and piercing dark eyes. Behind them stood a Kadabra, which explained why she hadn't heard their approach.
“I think we found our lost little Pidove, Boss,” said the one with the blonder hair, a mean twist to his lips. He pulled out a pokeball, and retrieved the Kadabra.
“Indeed,” his boss smirked. “I guess she thought she could just...run away?” His voice conveyed what a stupid idea he thought that was.
“I,” she started, in little more than a whisper. She looked down, blinking away terrified tears. “Please, I just want-”
“Sweet Pea,” the boss said, kneeling down in front of her. He grabbed her chin, forcing her to look him in the eyes. “Do you really think I care what you want?”
She shook her head as best as she was able, more tears welling up, mouth crumpling. She didn't think he cared – in fact, she knew he didn't.
“Exactly,” he said with relish. “So get whatever silly thoughts are in your head out of there, and come back with us. The others miss you.”
She wouldn't. She couldn't.
But she had no choice.
She was silent as he stood, and hauled her to her feet, eyes firmly on her raggedy shoes. She had tried, and failed, to escape, and she knew she was never going to get another chance. This had been it, and she'd blown it.
The fact that she was looking down was the only reason she wasn't blinded with the men when the alley was lit up like a firework show for an instant.
“What the-?” the boss hissed, blinking furiously like it would clear his vision. His lackey was stumbling around, trying to find something stable to hold on to.
Neither of them saw the alleyway entrance light up; a man and a pokemon standing in dramatic silhouette against the light.
“Fiends!” the man shouted, striding towards them. The pokemon, a yellow creature that stood on two legs and had two red gems on its body; one on its forehead, the other at the end of its tail, followed. “Unhand that child!”
Her breath caught in her throat.
“Who the heck are you?” snarled the boss, reaching out as though he wanted to strangle the man coming towards him. “What did you do to my eyes?”
“My Ampharos has blinded you,” he explained in the same theatrical voice. “It will wear off eventually, do not fear. I would not harm another, even one as nefarious as you.”
“Ne-nefarious?” the boss stammered. “I think you've got the wrong end of the stick here, neighbour. She's – uh, she's my daughter. She ran away from home! My brother and I were worried sick, and -”
“Is that correct, child?” The strange man asked, bending down to look at her, brow creased with worry. “Is this man your father?”
There were a lot of answers to that question. But the way her heart had leaped when she saw him – she knew this was the second chance she thought she'd never get. This was freedom being offered on a plate.
“No,” she said decisively. “He's trying to kidnap me!”
The boss swore loudly.
“Don't listen to her!” he yelled. “She's a liar!”
The man with the Ampharos stood, and regarded him coldly. “I think you should all come with me,” he said, sliding a pair of handcuffs off his belt. “To the police station. We can work it out there.”
CHAPTER 1: In Which Graduating Is Such Sweet Sorrow
The sun was shining down on the proceedings, and Gwen felt like she'd never smiled harder, or for longer. She was dressed in what could charitably be called a not-hideous graduation gown and cap, and she was sitting on the stage with the rest of her graduating class, all four of them.
“...And as they navigate the turbulent waters of life,” their headmaster droned on. “We are sure they'll crest each wave with grace, and...”
“Did that even make sense?” Gwen whispered to the guy she was sitting next to, Adrian. He looked at her, eyes twinkling, mouth twisting with mirth.
“I'm not even listening,” he admitted. “Too busy thinking about tomorrow!”
Tomorrow. The day when they would all actually begin their journeys as Pokemon Heroes. Gwen couldn't believe it was already almost here. It felt like just yesterday when she'd been brought in the middle of the night to the Hero Academy. But it had been almost five years.
“Don't worry,” Adrian continued, clearly assuming her silence implied worry. “You'll be fine. We all will!”
“I know we will,” she forced a smile. “We-”
Gwen cut herself off as the girl at the other end of the row of students turned and glared at them. Zoe. They'd been friends, once.
Gwen gave Zoe an exaggerated apology shrug, and Zoe rolled her eyes, turning back to the front and smiling calmly.
“That girl!” Adrian whispered, brows drawn together in a frown. “What a total...”
Gwen put a hand on his arm, trying not to enjoy the warmth of his skin through the fabric. “Don't worry about her.”
He looked like he wanted to say something, but they were interrupted by the audience breaking into applause.
“And now,” the headmaster said with a theatrical gesture. “Each student will receive their Novitiate Hero Emblem, and their Hero Partner.”
The audience continued to applaud. Gwen knew that most of the people down there were either related to someone who had already graduated, was graduating now, or was still a student at the Academy. They'd all been to this ceremony a million times, and the polite tone of their applause showed how exciting they all still found it.
Zoe stood, and gracefully brushed down her skirt, before walking steadily towards the headmaster. She took both emblem and pokeball before shaking his hand and smiling gently towards the crowd as they clapped. Gwen remembered a time when Zoe was loud and messy, the first one to suggest they climb a tree or play pranks on the older kids at the Academy, but it looked like that Zoe was gone for good.
Jasper was a burly guy, without any of Zoe's grace. He ambled over to the headmaster, accepting the emblem and the pokeball with a wide, guileless grin. He waved out at the crowd, and someone – his parents, Gwen assumed – cheered, before the rest of the audience clapped.
Celia was the tallest in their whole class, with features that people were more likely to call handsome than beautiful. She was, in a word, amazonian, and Gwen knew both Jasper and Adrian were completely gone on her. It was a little tragic, honestly, since Celia seemed to have zero interest in either of them.
Adrian gave Gwen a sympathetic look as he strolled over to receive his pokeball and his emblem. He grinned out at the crowd, and Gwen could hear a few girls squealing. She rolled her eyes. He was attractive, sure, but he wasn't that attractive.
And then it was her turn.
Although she knew it wasn't, the hush felt unnatural. Gwen stood awkwardly, started to brush down her skirt, and decided halfway through the motion not to, dropping her hands by her side. She tried to walk to the center of the stage gracefully, praying that she wouldn't trip. She felt slick with sweat.
When she reached the headmaster, standing beside the lectern. He gave her a kindly smile, that Gwen tried to return. She was pretty sure that on her face it just looked a little sick.
He handed her the emblem, the little badge emblazoned with the logo of the Academy that she would pin to her uniform, so that everyone would know who she was. That she was there to help. Then he passed her the pokeball, inside which was the pokemon that would be her partner in her efforts to clean up the streets.
The audience had no idea which pokemon were inside each pokeball, or what their uniforms would look like, but the class had been working on their uniforms, and training their partners, for months. Gwen knew exactly what partners her classmates would be working with, had given them feedback on gloves and capes and boots.
It had never quite felt like this day was going to come, and suddenly here she was, a pokeball in one hand and her emblem in the other.
Gwen turned to the crowd, and tried not to throw up. Gave them a weak smile, and all but ran to where her classmates were standing in a line at the front of the stage.
“Join me,” the headmaster said to the audience. “In wishing these latest Heroes the very best in their journey to...”
Gwen stopped listening again. She'd heard it every year, and the only part that had ever interested her was -
The students still at the Academy trooped onto the stage, preceded by the Academy's Chatot. As one, they burst into song, a traditional graduation song that had always brought a tear to Gwen's eye when she sang it.
Now that it was being sung to her, she found her eyes remained dry. The only emotion that she had room for was pure terror. This was a terrible idea. Why had she ever thought she could do this? She couldn't do this.
She felt a hand brush hers, and turned. Adrian gave her a warm smile.
“You can do this,” he whispered, and she tried to believe him.
When the ceremony was finally over, and Gwen found herself, at last, on solid ground, she headed straight towards her foster parents. They were tearful and proud, and suffocated her in hugs for five minutes straight.
Then just when Gwen thought that was over, Zoe came over with her friends, and the hugging started all over again.
“My girls,” Their mother said through her tears. “I'm just so proud of you!”
“Thanks,” Zoe said with a radiant smile that Gwen could totally see through.
“Yeah,” Gwen said. “Um, thanks. It was nothing?”
“It wasn't nothing,” their mum disagreed. “You both worked so hard, and I'm just...” she trailed off with a helpless smile. “Shall we go?”
Zoe went a charming shade of pink. “Oh,” she said. “I mean to tell you, but Cece and I are going to head off together in the morning, so I thought I might sleep over at her house tonight?”
“Oh,” her mum said. “As long as that's fine with her parents, I suppose that's fine with us.”
“I thought you'd be leaving with Gwen, Zo,” their dad said, looking a little confused.
Zoe gave Gwen a sweet, insincere smile. “Oh no,” she said. “Gwen will do much better on her own, I'm sure.”
“Yeah,” Gwen said. “I mean, I'm not going to be on my own. Adrian and I said we'd go to Galenaville together, and Jason'll probably come with us, too.”
“Jason's coming with us,” Zoe corrected. “We already talked about it, sorry.”
“You aren't even friends with him,” Gwen snapped. “He's just following Celia.”
“Cece,” Zeo said. “She goes by Cece, these days.”
“You are literally the only person who calls her that!”
Zoe flushed. “I don't see why you're getting so mad at me,” she huffed. “You'll be hanging out with your little boyfriend. I thought you'd be glad of the privacy!”
“Boyfriend?” their dad asked, raising an eyebrow.
Gwen sighed. “He's not my boyfriend, he's just my friend who happens to be a boy,” she clarified. “Zoe, whatever. Do whatever you want! I'll see you in Galena, anyway.”
Their parents looked between them a little worriedly. For years now, they'd spent all week at the academy, and then spent the weekend hanging out with their friends and interacting with each other as little as possible. Their parents were, Gwen thought, mostly unaware of how their friendship had deteriorated. But right now it had to be obvious to them that the two girls they'd raised were no longer quite as close as they once were.
Zoe gave their parents one last hug, then hurried off with her friends, leaving Gwen to deal with the disappointed looks and questions. Typical, Gwen thought.
She gave her parents an awkward smile. “Home?”
CHAPTER 2: In Which The Delibird Leaves The Nest
Gwen woke up early the next morning, chiefly because there was a Rufflet on her pillow, chirping directly into her ear.
“Ohmygod,” she gasped, as she opened her eyes and saw an enormous blurry face next to her face. “What?”
Rufflet flapped its adorably tiny wings and lifted off, landing on the end of her bed. Now that there was some distance between them, Gwen could breathe a little slower, let her heart rate go down.
“Little dude,” she said. “What are you doing in my bedroom?”
Then she recognised the scratch in its beak, and the little tear in the feather on its forehead. This was Adrian's Rufflet, his partner in heroics.
“Oh,” she said, “I see. Am I late?”
Rufflet chirped again, loudly, and Gwen winced. “Please stop doing that,” she sighed.
She grudgingly crawled out of bed, and glanced out the window. Adrian was sitting on the fence outside the house, annoyingly bright-eyed for someone with such impressive bedhead. He was totally waiting for her.
Thankfully, she'd already organised her backpack the night before. She'd even laid out clothes for today, so in a heartbeat she was dressed and shod, brushing her teeth in the little en-suite bathroom, trying not to get toothpaste all over her cute new shirt.
“Look,” she mumbled to Rufflet, who was perched on her sink. “This can't be that interesting for you, can it? I'm sure Adrian brushes his teeth all the time!”
Gwen took a break from sassing the bird pokemon to spit and rinse, then dried her face.
“Alright,” she said. “I'm ready. Is that what you wanted to hear?”
Apparently it was, because it leaped off her sink and flew into her bedroom. She could hear a crash as it knocked over her lamp on the way out of the window.
Before she left her bedroom, she took a moment to right it. She wouldn't be back here for a while – Gwen wasn't sure how long it would take her and Adrian to hike from town to town, getting approval from each town's hero, but she knew it wouldn't be just a few days – but that didn't mean she had to leave it in a mess.
She ducked into Zoe's room on the way down the hall. It was decorated in shades of pastel, mostly pink and lavender, and it was as neat as a pin. Gwen spent a long moment lingering over the photos pinned to the board on the wall, most of them shots of Zoe and Celia grinning into the camera. A couple of recent ones were of Zoe and her Misdreavus, Zoe's grin a little too wide, like she couldn't quite believe that she had her own pokemon.
As she turned away, she noticed a corner sticking out from beneath a photo of the guys and Zoe making stupid faces. She lifted it up to find a photo of her and Zoe, smiling and hugging. Gwen lowered it again, trying not to work out the implications of Zoe having a) covered the photo, but b) not actually having thrown it out, or even taken it down.
She was about to start her hero journey; this wasn't the time to try and reconnect with her awful foster sister!
Gwen left the room in a hurry, and sped down the stairs, into the kitchen where her parents were waiting.
“Gwen!” her mother said, holding out a slice of toast. “Adrian's waiting outside for you.”
“Yeah,” she said, “I know. His Rufflet woke me up.”
Her parents laughed. “He's been a terror ever since he got that pokemon,” her dad said with a smile.
Gwen couldn't help smiling around her toast. “I'm sure we've all been a bit loopy,” she said. “Having your own pokemon is just...wow.”
“For once, I know what you're talking about,” her mum smiled nostalgically. “When I first got Tropius...it was like magic. We were together every day.”
“Until I came along,” her dad added. “Then Tropius had to learn to share.”
Gwen had to laugh at that as she finished off the last mouthful of toast. If there was one thing Tropius hated, it was sharing. He lived in their backyard, as a six foot pokemon just didn't fit in the house, but he'd poke his head in and hiss at their dad whenever he saw them together. Even though they'd been married for near-on twenty years, he still hadn't got used to the man.
“Alright,” she said, after a pause. “I guess I should get going, huh?”
Her mother immediately dissolved into tears, pulling Gwen into her arms.
“Ever since we took you in,” she said, soft and wet against the top of Gwen's head. “I've always loved you, and I've always been proud of you. Never doubt that for a minute.”
“I won't,” Gwen said. “I wouldn't. Not ever,” she added with a little wobble in her voice. These parents had been better to her than she'd ever thought she deserved. They had loved her, and she had grown to love them. She wanted to leave, to become a hero and save people the way the man with the Ampharos had saved her, but at the same time leaving was the hardest thing she'd ever done.
After a long embrace, Gwen pulled herself away. “I really do have to leave,” she said with a small smile, trying not to cry.
Her dad gave her a brisk hug, kissing the top of her head. “Break a leg,” he said with a grin. “You'll be fine, kid.”
Knowing they were completely, entirely, one hundred percent behind her, she left the house at last.
“Finally!” Adrian exploded. “Do you know how long I've been waiting?”
Gwen laughed. “Adrian,” she said. “Who cares? We're free! We can go wherever we want, whenever we want!”
His frown faded into a smile. “Well, first we have to go to Galena,” he said. “But I see your point.”
She shrugged. “I want to go to Galena,” she said. “But we don't have to go. The road goes that way, but we've got pokemon now! If we wanted to go through a forest, or climb over a mountain...we could!”
Adrian's eyes lit up with the promise of adventure. “Why, I do believe you're right.”
“I'm always right!”
Gwen resisted the urge to stick her tongue out at him, but only barely. “Ok,” she said instead. “So we've agreed that I'm always right, and that adventures are awesome. But we really are going to head to Galenaville first, right?”
“Why are you so obsessed with that town? Every time we had a field trip there you were excited for days.”
“Hey, field trips are cool, okay? And besides, I want to be a hero. Why wouldn't I be excited about going to the town where pokemon heroes originated?”
Adrian narrowed his eyes at her. “I know there's more to it than that,” he said. “I just know it!”
“Okay then, Mr Know It All,” Gwen laughed, an edge of nervousness to her voice. “Let's go, and we'll see if you can work out the big secret.”
They began to walk down the road, though the streets of Adventurine. They went past the Academy, left at the Pokecenter, and straight on past the Poke Mart. As they walked, the excitement built in both of them.
Just as they were about to take their first few steps out of town, a terrified scream rang out behind them like a bell.
Gwen and Adrian spun as one, searching for who was screaming. There was nobody to be seen, but the screaming continued.
“I think it's coming from that way,” Gwen pointed.
They set off down the road at a dead run, Rufflet flying for all he was worth above them. Gwen's shoes hit the gravel at the same terrified rhythm as her heartbeat. All she could think was that they needed to find whoever was in danger and protect them.
In what felt like mere moments, they were at a crossroads. There was no more screaming, but Gwen could hear sobs coming from down one of the roads.
“That's gotta be it,” Adrian said, and they took off again towards the sobs.
Soon enough, they were at the source. A building that they both knew of, but that neither had ever been to before: the pokemon daycare center. It was a long, squat building, and Gwen could see a large yard out the back. The building was painted a bright, sunny yellow, and flowers surrounded the building.
There were two women standing at the entrance of the building, which was flung wide open. The redhead was holding the blonde, who was sobbing inconsolably.
“Are, are you okay?” Gwen asked, a little out of breath.
The redhead looked up sharply. “Who are you?” she snapped.
“Um,” Gwen said.
“We're graduates of the Hero Academy,” Adrian jumped in, pulling out his emblem. “We're here to help, ma'am!”
“Help?” she sneered. “I doubt it!”
“M-Marian,” the blonde stammered, lifting her head and turning wet, red-rimmed eyes on the pair of heroes. “Don't be m-mean. I think they really d-do want to help.”
Marian sniffed. “Even if they do, there's nothing they can do. They're gone!”
“Who's gone?” Gwen asked. “Your attackers?”
“W-we weren't attacked,” the blonde explained with a sniffle. “We were r-r-robbed!”
“How much money did they take?” Adrian asked, pulling out a notepad and a pen. “We'll get all the information you have. I'm sure we can bring them to justice!”
“You idiot,” Marian snapped. “Eileen isn't saying they stole money.”
“They stole baby pokemon,” Marian explained with a sigh. “All of them.”
Once Gwen and Adrian had gotten the story out of Marian and Eileen, they investigated the daycare. One of the windows was broken – obviously how the thief had gotten in. Baby pokemon were pretty weak, Gwen knew, so it probably hadn't been too difficult to capture them.
The tragedy was the date of the robbery. The day previous had been the graduation – and the theft. Pretty much everybody in town had been at the graduation, so the daycare had been full of everyone's baby pokemon. Marian and Eileen hadn't been there, the only person there had been the shifty new intern, who was now conveniently not answering his phone.
“H-he couldn't have done it,” Eileen was convinced. “He was s-so nice!”
“Nice, schmice,” Marian replied grimly. “It had to have been him.”
“We don't know that for sure,” Adrian cautioned. “We shouldn't leap to conclusions. Gwen...”
“Yeah?” she'd been considering how the robber had escaped. Back through the window?
“I think this might be time.”
“Time? Oh, time.”
“Time?” Marian asked suspiciously.
“Time for my pokemon to help out,” Gwen explained. “He's sort of – you'll see.”
With a flick of her wrist, she'd detached his pokeball from the necklace she wore it on. A quick press of the button was enough to enlarge the ball to regular size. She tossed it into the air gently, and a beam of red light came out of the ball, forming into a small, humanoid shape before resolving into the actual pokemon. It had an entirely white body, a green helmet covering most of its face, and two red disks poking out of its helmet.
“Ralts,” Gwen said. “Pokemon were stolen from here. Can you sense anything?”
Gwen's Ralts made a high burbling noise, looking around the area. She didn't really think he'd find anything useful, but there was no harm in trying.
Ralts tugged on her leggings, and when she looked down, he looked up at her and burbled.
“What does that m-mean?” Eileen asked, watching Ralts closely.
Gwen sighed, returning Ralts to his pokeball. “It means the thief was feeling pleased, which isn't helpful.”
“Wait,” Adrian said. “That actually is helpful. If the thief wasn't nervous, that means it probably wasn't their first theft. And pleased sounds like it was premeditated?”
“It had to be premeditated,” Gwen agreed. “Otherwise what, it was just a coincidence the center was full of baby pokemon?”
Adrian smiled at her. “Exactly.”
“So you don't actually have anything useful,” Marian said, throwing her hands up in disgust. “Great. Awesome. I guess we will call the actual police.”
“Hey,” Adrian said, a touch of annoyance in his voice. “We're trying, okay?”
“Well, you're not doing a very good job, are you?” Without waiting for an answer, she hustled the two of them out of the center. “Thanks for looking, or whatever, but I think we'll bring in the professionals now.”
And with that, she shut the door in their faces.
“Rude,” Gwen muttered, as they strolled back to the exit of Adventurine.
Adrian laughed. “We really didn't help her, though.” he offered. “I can understand her getting a little mad.”
Gwen sighed. “Whatever, she was still totally rude. Sorry we're new at this, jeez.”
“It went okay for our first investigation,” Adrian said, patting her on the shoulder. “We got to poke around, make some hypotheses. Next time we'll actually solve the crime, I promise.”
“Hopefully!” Gwen said. After a long, silent moment of walking, she added softly “I hope the police find those baby pokemon.”
“What would someone even want with baby pokemon?” Adrian asked. “I don't understand the crime at all!”
“There were some rare pokemon on that list Marian gave us,” Gwen said. “I'm sure the thief will be selling off those ones. Or trading them? A lot of people love baby pokemon, but can't be bothered to breed or find their own.”
Adrian sighed. “I'm sure the police will find the thief before that happens.”
They didn't look at each other as they walked along the road. They knew how unlikely it was that the police would find the missing pokemon, especially before some of them could be sold or traded. It was something they had learned at the academy, and one of the reasons they had wanted to be heroes.
As they left the small town of Adventurine behind them, the mood was somber. Gwen remembered how excited she'd felt that morning, but she couldn't summon up the feeling again. She just felt like a failure. Her first day as a Pokemon Hero, and she'd been completely, spectacularly useless.
CHAPTER 3: In Which There Is A Battle Of The Pokemon Variety
They made good time. Neither of them wanted to dwell on their failure at the daycare center, so they walked swiftly down the road in companionable silence, admiring the scenery. Adventurine was an old, small town in the Vathos region, full of old-fashioned houses and neatly trimmed trees lining the streets. It was the kind of town where everything was in its proper place. Now that they'd left the outskirts of town behind them, the landscape was changing, becoming more wild, and Gwen loved it.
There was a small forested area they had to pass through on the way to Galenaville, and Adrian stopped before they made it all the way through. He'd stopped in a bright clearing, with a burbling creek in one corner. Sunlight streamed through the canopy high above them, creating shifting patterns on the long grass. It was, Gwen thought, the most beautiful place she'd ever been.
“This seems like a nice place,” Adrian said. “Wanna have lunch here?”
“Definitely,” Gwen agreed. “I think mum packed a picnic blanket, so we won't even have to get all dew-y.”
As it turned out, there was a picnic blanket in Gwen's backpack, so they laid out the supplies they'd brought for lunch before sitting on the blanket. They released Ralts and Rufflet so they could have some snacks, a drink, and stretch their legs. Adrian and Gwen gossiped and told jokes while their pokemon romped around the field.
Halfway through lunch, a Pichu ran into the clearing, gave the two of them a startled look, and then kept running.
“What the?” Gwen wondered aloud.
A boy, wearing tan shorts and a green t-shirt under a brown vest, ran into the clearing, breathing heavily.
“Did you see my pokemon?” he called to Gwen and Adrian. “Where'd it go?”
“It went-” Adrian began, but was cut off by Gwen.
“Why was it running away from you?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.
The boy scowled. “Who cares?” he said, stomping his foot. “It's mine, I want it back!”
“Wait, how old are you?” asked Adrian. “Are you even old enough for a pokemon?”
“It's mine,” he yowled. “It's mine, it's mine, it's mine!”
“Definitely not old enough,” Gwen said to Adrian in an undertone, standing up. “Kid,” she continued. “When did you get your pokemon?”
“This morning! Some old guy sold it to me.”
Gwen gave Adrian a significant look.
“Look,” Adrian said, also standing. “I'm sorry, but that Pichu was stolen. We're going to have to return it to its rightful owner.”
“No!” yelled the kid, his face going red. “It's mine now! You can't take it away!”
“Well, we can,” Gwen said. “Like he said, it's stolen. You can't keep it.”
The kid pulled a pokeball off his belt and glared at them. “I'll fight you,” he said. “And when I win, you have to help me get my Pichu back!”
Gwen sighed. “When we win,” she said. “You'll let us return Pichu to its owners.”
“We're doing that either way, though, right?” Adrian whispered to her.
“Of course!” she replied. “What kind of heroes would leave a stolen Pichu with this kid?”
Adrian laughed, then clicked his fingers. Rufflet flew down from one of the trees to land on his shoulder. Gwen motioned to Ralts, who crept over, before holding on to her leggings.
“You want to battle?” Adrian asked. “Kid, we'll give you a battle.”
“Two on one's not fair!” the kid whined. “I get to use two pokemon, okay?”
“This kid has three pokemon?” Gwen asked Adrian, incredulous.
The kid pulled another pokeball from his belt, and threw both into the air, releasing an Illumise and a Volbeat.
“Aw,” Gwen said, forgetting about the battle for a moment to admire the glossy, brightly coloured carapaces. “Cute!”
“Gwen,” Adrian said, discreetly elbowing her.
“Oh, right!” she said. “Ralts! Let's do this” Ralts reluctantly let go of her leggings, waddling towards the two bug pokemon. “Double team!”
In an instant, there were two Ralts on the field.
“Who cares?” the kid yelled. “Illy, Volly – tackle both of them!”
“Uh-oh,” Gwen murmured, as the two bugs, with a visible show of effort, lifted off from the ground, heading towards the Ralts and his copy. “Ralts, get out of there!”
Both Ralts struggled through the long grass, trying to get away. Gwen could see that they weren't going to escape, though, and felt her heart sink. She hated to see her pokemon get hurt, especially when he already wasn't a huge fan of battling.
“Rufflet,” Adrian said, shrugging his shoulder to encourage him to fly. “Leer! Get them both, okay?”
Rufflet flew past the two bugs, giving them both a harsh look that had them startle back for an instant. As soon as he was past them, they went back to the tackle, hitting their targets. The illusory Ralts flicked and vanished as soon as it was touched by Volbeat, but the real Ralts went flying when Illumise crashed into it, landing on the grass with a cry.
“Adrian,” Gwen scolded, turning to her friend. “You couldn't have attacked? Now Ralts is hurt!”
“Maybe you should have attacked,” he said with a frown. “Double team? What was that going to do?”
As they bickered, Ralts climbed to his feet, and Volbeat and Illumise returned to their trainer.
“Ralts,” Gwen called out, ignoring Adrian. “Are you ok?”
He turned and gave her a scared little smile. It looked like he was fine, but he didn't want to be there. Gwen sighed. She loved Ralts, she did, but he was such a tiny little coward. Would he really be a good hero partner?
“Alright,” she said, giving him an encouraging thumbs up. “You did good! Now we're gonna try the B plan, okay?”
“B Plan?” the kid called to her. “What's that?”
“If I told you,” she grinned back, “what would be the point of having a code name?”
He scowled at her. “Volly, Illy, tackle them! We can win this!”
Adrian nudged Gwen again. “Plan B it is,” he said. “Rufflet, you know what to do!”
In the Hero Academy, they'd had a lot of practice battles with their intended partners, both single and double. In single battles, Ralts and Gwen had usually been alright; Ralts was pretty strong, and knew some great attacks. Their usual strategy of Double Team and Confusion had taken down most of their opponents at least once. But in double battles...Gwen panicked, Ralts panicked, and it had been hard to work out strategies that could work with a partner.
Adrian had also been pretty much useless at double battles, so they practiced together a lot: it's what had really cemented their friendship in those first awkward post-Zoe days, when Gwen had discovered that all of her friends had actually been Zoe's friends. Adrian and Gwen had practiced and practiced, and although they had never really become anything special, they'd nailed down a couple of solid strategies that Rufflet and Ralts could pull off pretty well.
Plan B was Gwen's favourite.
Rufflet took to the sky, flying as fast as Ruffletly possible. He sped around the clearing in patterns, drawing everyone's attention. While Illumise, Volbeat, and their trainer were distracted, Ralts crept into position near Volbeat.
“Okay, Rufflet!” Adrian called, seeing Ralts was ready. “Go!”
The kid had no idea what was coming, and his face was red with frustration. “Volly, tackle that Ralts!” he cried.
When Volbeat turned towards Ralts, Ruffled dropped out of the sky, speeding towards him. Just before Volbeat could hit him, Ralts teleported away, closer to Illumise.
Now the trainer was distracted by Rufflet's imminent attack, not seeing the danger his Illumise was in. She noticed, however, and desperately tried to take to the air to escape the attack she knew was coming. But it was too late.
Ralts, who had been preparing this attack the whole time, opened his mouth and attacked Illumise with Confusion, dropping her in one hit.
The kid had no idea what to do, and in that moment of hesitation, Rufflet struck Volbeat with his beak, knocking him out.
The battle was over.
With a mutinous expression on his face, the kid returned Volbeat and Illumise to their pokeballs.
“Now,” Gwen said, motioning to Ralts to come closer so she could check him over. “You're going to keep your word, right?”
The kid mumbled something indistinct, kicking a rock at his feet.
“Right?” she repeated, a hard edge to her voice.
“Right,” the kid agreed, scowling at the rock. “Fine. You can have Pichu back, but I think you're just being meanies!” With that, the kid turned and ran off back into the forest.
There was a moment of stunned silence, then Gwen and Adrian burst into laughter.
“Are you kidding me?” Gwen gasped. “Meanies?”
Once they'd finally calmed down, and made sure their pokemon were all right, it was time to find Pichu. They shoved their picnic things back into their backpacks, and headed off in the direction it had run: back towards Adventurine.
“Pichu,” Gwen called as they walked. “Pichu! Where are you, cutie?”
“We'll take you back home,” Adrian added. “Pichu! Where'd you go?”
They walked and walked until their feet and throats were sore, but they couldn't see any sign of the tiny, stolen pokemon. Then finally, as they were almost out of the forest, they heard a tiny sqeak.
“Pichu?” Adrian called. “Was that you?”
The squeak came again, and they hurried towards it.
It was, indeed Pichu, lying on the ground. When they took a closer look, they realised that one of its legs was twisted, and probably injured. It had clearly been going home, then maybe tripped or been attacked. Either way, it was lucky that they'd found it. It needed a doctor, fast.
Gwen gathered up the tiny pokemon in her arms, and Adrian patted its head, trying to sooth it.
“We're going to take you home,” he said. “Don't worry, little dude. You're almost home.”
With a relieved squeak, the Pichu closed its eyes and went to sleep.
“Poor thing,” Gwen said softly, as they began to walk towards Adventurine. “It must have been so exhausted!”
When they left the forest, they finally had reception on their Pokegears again, so Adrian made a quick call to the Adventurine Pokecenter, letting them know there was a patient on its way. Then he called the local police, to let them know one of the stolen baby pokemon had been found, and was injured.
Before they'd walked much further, police officers riding Arcanines sped towards them, stopping just before they wan into Gwen and Adrian.
One of the officers slid down from his Arcanine.
“You're the two heroes who found the Pichu?” he asked, and they nodded. “We didn't want you to have to walk the whole way,” he said. “So we can pick up the Pichu and take it back, or you can come with us.”
Adrian and Gwen looked at each other. On one hand, it would be great to see the Pichu back to full health. But on the other hand, they'd lose the whole day if they went all the way back to Adventurine. They needed to keep going.
“Um, thanks for the offer,” Gwen said after moment, handing the Pichu to the officer. “But I think we'll keep going. We're heading towards Galenaville for our next emblem, you see.”
The officer nodded, passing the Pichu to another officer seated on an Arcanine. “I understand,” he said. “If you'd like, we could take you there. It'd be a lot faster on an Arcanine, and we'd like to show our appreciation.”
“Wow,” said Adrian. “Thank you, that would be great!”
In a matter of minutes, Gwen and Adrian had been boosted onto the backs of two of the enormous Arcanine, holding tight to the officers in front of them. With a single fluid motion, they took off, speeding through the forest. Unlike Gwen and Adrian before, the Arcanine actually followed the path that had been laid down for travelers. It was a less fun way to travel through the forest, they'd decided earlier, but it made sense for the Arcanine to follow it. There was no way the huge pokemon could have ducked under vines and slipped past branches.
As they ran, the officer in front of Gwen made conversation.
“We hadn't found anything useful at the crime scene,” she told Gwen. “So it's great that you two were able to recover a pokemon!”
“It was a total fluke,” Gwen admitted with a blush. “It ran past us, and we just followed it. I'm sure you guys will find the rest!”
“The chief isn't so sure about that,” the officer said. “I'm sure they teach you this kind of thing at the academy, but large amounts of stolen pokemon are hard to recover, especially when they're being sold. Plus, he's obviously not staying in the area. You guys getting this one back actually gave the chief an idea,” she continued. “There are a bunch of you graduates traveling this way, right?”
“A couple, yeah.”
“He's getting in contact with the rest, letting them know about the robbery. He wants you all to keep your eyes peeled for the pokemon, see if you can get back as many as possible.”
“We'll definitely keep a look-out,” Gwen promised. “I can't bear the thought of all those poor baby pokemon out there, away from home!”
The officer laughed. “I know how you feel!” she agreed. “So that's great to hear. If you find any, just go to the closest police station and let them know. They'll make sure the pokemon get back here.”
Within what felt like mere minutes, they shot out of the forest. This part of Vathos was all farmland, and the paddocks stretched to the horizon, crops waving gently in the breeze. A few grazing Miltank looked up in alarm as the Arcanine thundered past.
Soon enough they were at the Galenaville gate. The officers helped Adrian and Gwen dismount, laughing at the jellied mess their legs had become.
“How do you do this every day?” Adrian demanded.
“You get used to it,” Gwen's officer promised with a grin. “See you guys later!” she continued, mounting her Arcanine. “Remember what I said: keep looking for those baby pokemon!”
Gwen saluted as the pokemon crouched, and then took off, back towards the forest.
“Look out for baby pokemon?” Adrian asked Gwen, as they staggered towards the gate.
“Your officer didn't tell you?” she asked. “They want us – and the rest of the recruits – to keep our eyes out for more of the stolen baby pokemon.”
“That makes sense,” Adrian said. “But uh, no, we were talking about other things.” Bafflingly, he flushed.
“What other things?” Gwen demanded, but he just went redder and refused to answer. She punched him in the shoulder, then grabbed his arm so he wouldn't fall over. Supporting each other, they made it to the gate.
Gwen took one long final look at the farmland stretched out behind them. This was it. She was finally going to meet him again.
“Come on, Slowpoke!” Adrian called from inside the gate.
After one last look, Gwen turned and entered Galenaville.
short chapter time! the next one should be super long, though :) this was kind of an ~interlude~ chapter, I guess?
CHAPTER 4: In Which There Are Plazas. Lots Of Plazas.
Once Adrian and Gwen had gotten the all-clear from the gatekeepers, they were free to enter Galenaville proper. They'd been here a few times with the academy: this was the place where the very first pokemon hero had started, so it was important to the hero community. But they'd only ever visited on tightly-scheduled field trips, and now they were free to explore it however they wanted.
It looked a little like Adventurine: old buildings, paved streets, lots of trees. But where Adventurine was built from neat, square blocks, and every building had a subdued palette, Galena was a riot of colour. Trees and flowers grew everywhere, not just in neat pots, and there were vines on plenty of the houses, covered in flowers. There were open-air plazas everywhere they looked, full of fountains and cafes.
It was gorgeous, and it was a lot busier than Adventurine ever was. They resolved to sit down somewhere while they downloaded maps to their Pokegears so they could get their bearings, and decided on a particularly charming cafe next to a quiet bookshop in one of the plazas.
A waitress was at their table almost immediately to get their milkshake orders, and came back with bowls of pokemon food as well as their drinks.
“You guys are trainers, right?” she asked, when they questioned her. “I can usually tell.”
“We're, uh, yeah. We're trainers,” Adrian agreed awkwardly. “Thanks.”
She grinned at them. “It's fine! I wish I could be a trainer, it must be so much fun.”
Once she'd left them alone with their drinks, Gwen leaned over to Adrian. “You didn't tell her the truth,” she said. “Why?”
He shrugged. “Should we really tell everyone?”
Secret identities had been a serious topic at the academy. Some heroes embraced the concept, whereas others eschewed it, letting everyone know their civilian identity. It was up to the hero, and Gwen had never quite decided what she was going to do. It looked like Adrian was in the same boat.
Gwen slurped at her milkshake. “I guess we can figure it out later,” she said. “I mean, once that Delcatty's out of the bag, there's no putting it back in.”
“Exactly!” Adrian laughed. His Pokegear beeped as the map finished downloading. He placed the device in the middle of the table, and pressed a button. The air above the Pokegear flickered before turning into a miniature, blue version of Galenaville.
“So we're....here,” Gwen said, poking at one of the many plazas on the holographic map. “Right?”
“Right,” Adrian agreed. “Uh, I think. And we want to go....here?” He poked at a large clocktower on the hologram, and then they both peered around at the real life location.
“I think I see it?” said Gwen doubtfully. “Behind that chimney over there.”
“Ohh, yeah, that could be it. Maybe.”
“Maybe? Are you doubting me?” She gave him a playful punch on the shoulder, then turned her attention back to the map. “Do we even want to go there right now, though?”
“What?” Adrian asked, raising his eyebrows. “Why would you even say that?”
Gwen shrugged awkwardly, playing with her straw. “I dunno, maybe it's too late in the day to have a big hero meeting. Maybe we should just stay at the Pokecentre tonight and go tomorrow.”
Adrian shrugged in response. “I guess we can do that,” he said. “If you don't feel up to it today.”
“I feel up to it, I just don't know if we should,” Gwen argued, trying to sound like she believed her own argument.
“We can do whatever you want,” Adrian said, clearly meaning the opposite. “Just say the word, and we'll stay at the Pokecentre.”
Gwen sighed. “Can we at least have a bit of a touristy look around before we go to the tower?”
In the end, they did stay at the Pokecentre that night. They spent a few hours looking at cool shops, trying on stupid clothes and reading the backs of interesting books, eating gourmet ice cream and splashing each other at the fountains. Then, once they decided to actually go to to the clocktower, they realised they were lost. Spectacularly lost.
“This is why you downloaded the map,” Gwen muttered for the fifth time, as they stomped through the billionth plaza of the day. “So we wouldn't get lost. And yet here we are-”
“Ugh,” said Adrian, drawing out the word. “Shut up, already! I get it, we're lost!”
“What are we going to do, Adrian? Get rescued? Do you even realise how embarrassing that would be?”
“Maybe we could live on the streets,” Adrian suggested with a grin.
There was an awkward pause.
“That was a joke,” he pointed out.
“Oh, uh, yeah. Haha, hilarious, etcetera. Now can we please work out where we are? I'm tired, and the sun's going down. We're never going to get un-lost in the dark.”
Completely by accident, the next street they walked down was the street the Pokecentre was located on.
“Oh thank goodness,” Gwen gasped when the building came into view. “We're saved!”
They rushed into the building, more than ready to get a couple of rooms for the night, eat some vending machine dinner, and hit the hay. The lady at the desk was very sympathetic to their tale of being lost.
“No flying pokemon, huh?” she asked with an empathetic smile. “New cities can be so hard when you can't see them from the air.”
Gwen and Adrian looked at each other in horror.
“Uh,” Adrian said after a moment. “Yeah. So hard. The map just got us more lost.”
She laughed. “Yeah, maps can be hard to work out at first. We've got a pretty good poster map on the wall down here, you guys should check it out in the morning, it might help.”
“Thanks,” Gwen said, trying to muster up a grin. She felt like a total idiot.
“We are such idiots,” Adrian hissed to her, as they walked away from the counter.
“I know,” Gwen groaned. “How could we forget about Rufflet?”
“Or Ralts?” Adrian asked. “Your faithful pokemon who knows-”
“Teleport,” Gwen finished with a tragic sigh. “What is wrong with us, dude?”
Adrian laughed wryly. “At least we made it here? And hey, we'll never make that mistake again!”
Gwen punched him. “Now you've jinxed us!”
Laughing and bickering, they made it upstairs to their rooms. Gwen unlocked her door, but before she could open it, Adrian tapped her shoulder. She turned.
“Tomorrow,” he said, face uncharacteristically serious. “Tomorrow we go to the tower, and get an audience with the town hero.”
“Alright,” she said, feeling like a flock of nervous Butterfree had been released into her stomach. “Tomorrow we'll appeal for our next emblem!”
CHAPTER 5: In Which There Is A Grave Disappointment
Gwen woke early, in exactly the same way she had the day before. Rufflet on her pillow, chirping loudly into her ear.
“Ugh, seriously?” she complained, rubbing her face as she sat up. “Get out of my bedroom already!”
Rufflet gave one last ear-splitting chirp, before flying out the window.
“So that's how you got in,” Gwen muttered, climbing belligerently out of bed. “What a brat.”
She dug through her backpack for a clean shirt and a nice pair of jeans. Her skirt yesterday had been cute, and she'd kind of wanted to wear it to the hero appeal, but thanks to the forest, her leggings were revolting. They needed a good wash, and really, they made the skirt. So without them, she was left with jeans.
Once she was decent, she left her room and knocked on Adrian's door. He answered after a long pause, looking bleary and half-awake. His shirt was inside-out, Gwen noticed with a smile.
“What?” he grumbled, scratching his cheek.
“You don't get to be annoyed,” Gwen pointed out. “You're the one who woke me up!”
“Right,” Adrian agreed with a yawn. “I woke you up, that's totally what happened.” He turned and walked into his room, collapsing on the bed. Gwen followed.
“Rufflet woke me up,” she explained, sitting next to Adrian on the bed. “I guess he thinks he's my alarm clock now?”
Adrian's laugh was muffled, thanks to the pillows he'd stacked onto his face. Gwen pulled one away. “C'mon, dude,” she pleaded. “Get up! I'm starving, and I'm nervous. Today's The Day.”
“It's definitely a day,” he agreed, sitting up with a sigh. “I guess it's the first The Day.”
“The first The Day,” Gwen repeated with a smile, standing up. “I like it. Now c'mon, fix your shirt, and we'll go get some coffee.”
“What's wrong with my shirt?” she heard him say as she left the room. “I like my shirt!”
Gwen went back to her room and put shoes on, brushed her teeth, and gave Ralts a thorough grooming. By that point, she could hear that Adrian had actually managed to get up, he was talking to Rufflet. Gwen hoped he was telling the pokemon to leave her alone in the mornings, but she didn't have high hopes. She was pretty sure Adrian thought it was hilarious.
Eventually, there was a knock on the door. She opened it, and Adrian scowled in her face.
“You'd better be ready,” he said. “I'm not waiting for you today, not after you woke me up so early.”
“It's your fault I was awake!” she said, poking her tongue out. “And as it happens, I am ready. Let's go breakfast.”
There was a cafeteria in the Pokecentre, but the cafe the day before had spoiled them, and now they wanted more fancy Galena food. They had a solid look at the poster map before heading out, trying to memorize the location of the clocktower in relation to the cafe they'd picked out.
“If we get lost again today...” Gwen started with a laugh.
Adrian sighed. “We'll ask someone for directions.” he finished grudgingly, spurring Gwen into more giggles.
“You really hate doing that, don't you?” she asked, nudging him. “What's up with that?”
“We have a map,” he explained plaintively. “We should never have gotten lost in the first place.”
Thankfully, they didn't get lost on the way to the cafe, where they had a very satisfying breakfast of eggs benedict made with, their waitress assured them, the very freshest Chansey eggs. Ralts and Rufflet seemed equally happy with the bowls of pokemon food they ordered. It was a friendly, easy breakfast, and for the first time in what felt like days, the knot of nervous worry in the pit of Gwen's stomach eased. She laughed and gossiped, teasing Adrian as hard as he teased her, cuddling Ralts. It was – nice.
And it was over too soon. Before she knew it, they'd finished and paid, and the waitress was clearing their table. Gwen was excited and terrified in equal measures: it was time for the reunion she'd dreamed about for years.
Miraculously, this time they didn't get lost. Possibly they had grown to know the town a little more, or maybe they had worked out the map, or perhaps having Rufflet flying high above them, chirping down directions was actually super useful.
“We owe that Pokecentre girl,” Gwen said with a laugh as the clocktower came into view.
“Don't remind me,” Adrian groaned. “I can't believe we didn't think of that on our own!”
As they walked towards the tower, they noticed a group of people standing in front of the building.
“Hang on,” Gwen said. “Is that...”
“Adrian! Gwen!” One of the people called, waving them over. It was Celia, standing with Zoe and Jason.
“Hey, guys,” Gwen said with a grin, as they reached the group. “Fancy seeing you here!”
“We didn't think you were ever going to show up,” Zoe said. “Slowpokes.”
“You knew we were coming today?” Adrian asked, raising his eyebrows.
“Well,” Celia explained. “We got here pretty late yesterday, and when we asked at the Pokecentre, they said you'd booked rooms.”
“You got here late? How come?” Gwen asked.
Jason and Zoe burst into laughter, and Celia turned red.
“Look, it wasn't my fault,” she said. “How was I supposed to know there were two Budew?”
“I don't even want to know,” Gwen said with a laugh. “So you guys waited for us today? That's so nice.”
“It was my idea,” Jason said proudly. “I thought it'd be cool for us all to go in together!”
“Totally,” agreed Celia. “Solidarity, and all that!”
Zoe was conspicuously silent, but for once Gwen couldn't get even a little mad. She had more important things on her mind.
“Alright,” Adrian said after a pause. “Are we going in or what?”
Jason pulled open one of the double doors, and they all trooped inside.
The interior of the building was light and airy; the walls were covered in gorgeous stained-glass windows, the floor was tiled in a pale colour, and there was a desk made from some pale wood in the center of the room. An elegant receptionist sat behind it, with a Glameow curled up on the desk.
“Let me handle this,” Zoe said to the group, before gliding to the desk.
“Hi,” she said. The receptionist looked up from filing her nails, an unimpressed look on her face.
“Can I help you, Miss?” she asked.
“My associates and I are here to see the town hero,” Zoe said with a graceful gesture towards the group.
“Do you have an appointment?”
“Oh – no. Is that a problem?”
“I'm afraid he's rather busy today,” the receptionist said with a sigh. “You should probably come back tomorrow with an appointment.”
Gwen could see Zoe's hands clench into fists. Her legendary temper was bound to make an appearance sooner or later if she had to deal with this twit much longer. Thankfully, that's when Jason stepped forward.
“Uh, miss,” he said a little awkwardly, putting his hands on the desk. The receptionist glared at his hands, knowing as well as Gwen did that he was the kind of guy who would leave sticky handprints on pretty much everything he touched.
“Yes?” she asked testily.
“Look, it's really important we see him today. You see, we're -” he lowered his voice and leaned in, even though the room's acoustics were such that his voice echoed around the space anyway. “-we're the latest graduates from Adventurine? We need the Galena emblem.”
The receptionist's personality changed in an instant. “Oh,” she said, sitting back, eyes going round. “I see! Well, he doesn't have a meeting for a few hours, so I can buzz you up now. Good luck, heroes!” she added breathlessly.
Gwen rolled her eyes. She liked when people recognised that heroes were important, but this star-struck attitude honestly just annoyed her.
The receptionist pressed a button on her desk, and the elevator behind the desk slid open. Gwen and the others squished into it; it was a tight fit, but in the end they managed to all get in there. Gwen pressed the only button inside the elevator once they were all in, and the doors slid shut again. With a thunk, the machine powered up and began to travel up the tower.
“So she was...nice,” Adrian said, causing them all to crack up with nervous laughter.
“I hope this goes okay,” Celia whispered, saying what they were all thinking. “I hope he gives us the emblem.”
“I hope...” Gwen started, then trailed off. What did she hope? That he remembered her? That he didn't reveal their shared past to the rest of the group? She wasn't sure.
Thankfully, the elevator stopped and the doors opened before the others could press her. They all tumbled out into the office of the local hero of Galenaville. It was a large, plush room, with a wall to floor window looking out over the town, and a lot of portraits on the wall. There was a huge man sitting in an armchair next to the window, and a glossy Scizor stood next to him. The man stood when they entered.
“The name's Mason,” he rumbled, holding out a hand to be shaken. “Galenaville Hero. And you're the newest recruits, yes?”
There was stunned silence for a moment, then Celia stepped forward to shake his hand.
“Yes – yes, sir,” she stuttered. “We're from Adventurine, and we were, um, wondering if...” she trailed off helplessly.
Mason's laugh was booming. “The Galenavill emblem, yes?” he asked, as he moved to shake hands with the rest of the group. “I'm sure we can work something out! A nice easy quest for you guys to prove your worth.”
“Thank you, sir,” breathed Celia, entirely star-struck. For once, Gwen barely even noticed the reaction.
Gwen was at the end of the hand-shaking line, and as Mason reached her, she gathered up the nerve to speak.
“Um, Mason, sir,” she started, as he took her hand. “You aren't exactly who I was – I mean, I thought someone else was the hero here?”
He shook his head. “You mean Hugo, yes?”
Gwen nodded. “Is he, you know, okay?”
Mason laughed again. “Hugo is as fine as he always is,” he said. “He works in another town, now.”
“Which one?” Gwen asked, conscious of her friends muttering. Did they wonder why she was asking? How she knew the previous hero? Was Zoe telling them? She could feel herself start to flush, embarrassed, but she needed to press on. She needed to know how to find him.
Mason shrugged. “Last I saw, he was leaving for Carnelian City,” he answered. “Maybe he is still there, yes?”
Gwen had to swallow down a hard lump of disappointment. Carnelian was forever away, past Tanzanite Town and Port Pyrite. It was on her way to the Hero League, but she wouldn't be there for weeks, at the earliest. It was hard to accept, when she'd been so sure she was going to meet him today.
He turned back to the group when Gwen was silent for a long moment. “Now, for your quest!” he boomed. “Something easy, yes? You're new at this, after all.” He thought for a moment, then slammed his hand onto the closest surface, making them all jump. “Of course!”
“What is it, sir?” Celia asked timidly.
“Your quest,” he answered. “I have thought of it, yes!” He laughed, a twinkle in his guileless green eyes. "Believe me, you will love it."
CHAPTER 6: In Which, Predictably, They Do Not Love The Quest
“This quest sucks,” Zoe decided, after six straight hours of weeding the town's many gardens. “Like, seriously sucks.”
CHAPTER 7: In Which Gwen Hates Zoe, Txt It
After they'd finally removed every single weed from every single public garden bed, Gwen and her friends were sweaty, dirty, and spectacularly tired. Mason had said that physical labour would make them feel empowered and strong, but it had basically the opposite effect. Even seeing the weed-free beds as they trudged back to the clocktower didn't really make them feel that much better.
When they finally reached Mason's office, they tried to put a brave face on things.
“It was...great,” Gwen tried. “Doing things with our own hands.”
“Yeah,” Jason agreed with as much enthusiasm as he could muster. “I feel like we really helped out the town.”
Zoe was silent, looking down at her ruined manicure in tired despair.
“I knew you'd have a great time, yes,” Mason rumbled, enthusiastic grin plastered wide on his brown cheeks.
“Yeah,” Celia agreed. “I never realised how cool gardening could be?”
“Exactly!” he nodded, clapping her on the shoulder so hard she almost fell over. “I'm so proud of you little heroes! You worked hard, yes?”
“We sure did,” Adrian agreed, covering a yawn with one dirt-encrusted hand. “So, uh...is that...the end of our quest? Are we done?”
“Eager to get your emblem and move on, yes?” Mason asked with a booming chuckle. “Well, I don't know...gardening is great, but have you really helped anyone since becoming heroes?”
There was silence for a moment, and then -
“Oh,” Gwen cried. “Yes, we did! Adrian and I rescued a stolen Pichu and returned it to the Adventurine daycare center.”
Mason nodded thoughtfully. “Stolen pokemon are bad, yes. Good work.”
“We, uh, we saved some stolen pokemon too,” Zoe added. “Two, in fact.”
“Oh get real,” Gwen snapped. “Zoe, what?”
“It's true,” Zoe smirked at her. “We saved two tiny little stolen Budew, and we walked them all the way back to the daycare center. I hear you let the police take your Pichu back...” She trailed off with a grand gesture that was probably supposed to imply how terrible a hero Gwen was when compared to her.
“Ugh,” Gwen said, forcing down the urge to strangle her foster-sister. “Look, Pichu was injured, and they could get it to the Pokecentre faster than we could, alright? And we didn't want to waste a whole day walking in that forest.”
Zoe sniffed, lifting her nose into the air. “If it was me, I would have carried that poor Pichu all the way to the Pokecentre.”
That was it.
Gwen's vision blurred in a haze of red, and she launched herself at Zoe, intent on beating some sense into her. She got a solid punch in, and Zoe managed to scratch her face, before Adrian could grab her and pull her away. Jason and Celia held onto Zoe, who struggled like a feral Meowth.
“Let me at her,” Zoe cried, writhing in fury. “I'll teach her to punch my beautiful face!”
“I'll punch it again,” Gwen promised, trying to get out of Adrian's grip. “Just you wait!”
Mason cleared his throat, and both girls went still. They looked at the hero, who had raised his eyebrows.
“This is how heroes act?” he asked. “Punching each other?”
“She started it!” Zoe cried, pouting at Mason.
“I – I started it?” Gwen asked incredulously. “Zoe, you baited me! You were trying to get me angry!”
“I was just saying what I'd do in your position,” Zoe sniffed, trying to look as innocent as possible with an eye that was rapidly blackening. “Why would I want you to be angry? We're sisters, Gwen.”
Gwen snarled wordlessly, trying once more to get away from Adrian.
“Enough,” Mason boomed. When Zoe looked triumphant, he clarified “That goes for both of you. This behaviour is completely unacceptable, yes?”
“Yes,” they echoed softly, looking at the ground.
Mason sighed. “If this was the only thing I'd heard today, neither of you would receive emblems. But you saved stolen pokemon, and you helped the town. Settle your issues, girls, or I'm sure that you will never get another emblem.”
Gwen grumbled, but she could see his point. She was lucky they'd just been in Mason's office, and that they were all out of uniform. If they'd acted like this on a mission, or if civilians had seen heroes acting like this...
“I'm sorry,” she muttered to Zoe. “I shouldn't have hit you.”
“I should think not!” Zoe cried, then relented. “And maybe I shouldn't have said what I said.”
Adrian and Jason released the girls, but Celia continued to cling to Zoe's arm.
Mason handed out the emblems. “Remember what I said,” he rumbled sternly. “Work it out.”
Gwen ducked her head, feeling embarrassed. It had been a while since she'd let Zoe rile her up like that, and even longer since she actually punched someone. She was sure Zoe would have some things to say about her eye, as puffy and bruised as it was.
Once they were all back outside the tower, Celia cleared her throat. They all looked at her.
“Guys,” she said pointedly to Gwen and Zoe. “What is even your issue? You need to sort this out before we go any further, you really do.”
Gwen crossed her arms. She didn't want to talk about this – heck, she wasn't even sure what there was to talk about. Zoe had randomly decided to hate her, she'd done nothing.
Zoe pursed her lips and glared at the ground. “We don't need to sort anything out,” she said after a long pause. “We just need to separate again. Working together just isn't a good idea.”
“What?” Jason asked, incredulous, but Gwen nodded her head.
“Zoe's right,” she said, a wry twist of her lips indicating she knew how infrequently she said that. “We should just split up. Sorry, guys.”
Adrian and Jason didn't look happy about it, but Celia sighed. “If you guys think that's what's best,” she said, “I guess it makes sense.”
Zoe tossed her long red hair over one shoulder. “There,” she said. “Was that so hard? See you round, Adrian.”
And with that, she stormed off down the road. Celia and Jason looked after her, then back at Gwen and Adrian.
“Yeah, I guess we'll see you guys later,” Celia agreed reluctantly. “Maybe we'll run into each other in Tanzanite?”
“Hopefully,” Jason said with a frown. “We didn't get to catch up today at all! When Zoe calms down, we can hang out again.”
“You know she's not going to calm down,” Gwen said with a laugh. “Zoe doesn't know the meaning of the word calm.”
Celia laughed, then glanced over her shoulder in the direction Zoe had gone. “We really should go,” she said. “Email me, okay?”
“Sure,” Gwen said, giving her friend a hug, trying not to suffocate in Celia's tangle of mahogany hair. “We'll send you so many emails you won't know what to do with them all!”
With another laugh, Celia jogged away, following Zoe. Jason gave Gwen and Adrian a disappointed look before following Celia.
Gwen sighed. “Sorry,” she said, unable to face Adrian. “I know you wanted to catch up with everyone. Sorry I ruined it.” Without warning, she could feel her eyes filling with embarrassed tears.
Just as suddenly, Adrian enveloped her in a hug, resting his sharp chin on her head. “It's not your fault,” he said softly. “Zoe knew exactly which buttons to push, don't worry about it. We'll call the others later.”
Gwen blinked away the tears and smiled. The day had been a whirlwind of excitement, disappointment, and fury, not to mention the six hours of mind-numbing, back-breaking boredom. But right now, in this moment, being held by her best friend...she felt at peace.
After a moment, Adrian spoke. “Can I let go now?” he asked plaintively.
Gwen laughed, and pulled away from her friend. “Thanks,” she said with a small smile. “I needed that.”
Adrian looked a little awkward, like someone might have seen him being emotionally sensitive. “Uh,” he said. “Shall we go get some food?”
“Oh my god,” Gwen said. “Yes? I am so hungry.”
Linking arms, they walked off down the street in search of a nice cheap restaurant, in the opposite direction Zoe and her group had gone. Gwen agreed with Adrian, they could call Celia and Jason later. But for now, she just needed to forget about Zoe entirely.
CHAPTER 8: In Which There Is Another Battle At Last
After a huge dinner at the cheapest Kanto restaurant they could find, and the longest, hottest shower of Gwen's life, she'd slept like a baby, not even waking when Rufflet tried his usual alarm clock trick, or when Adrian knocked on the door. Eventually he'd called her Pokegear four times in a row, and she'd finally surfaced.
They had a nice quick smoothie breakfast, used the Pokecentre's laundromat, and then finally headed out into the city. While Gwen had been sleeping, Adrian had been looking at Galena brochures, and had discovered a couple of interesting looking shops he wanted to check out. They turned out to be mostly terrible, but they'd both picked up a couple of souvenirs and postcards they could mail back to their families in Adventurine. Tanzanite town was only a train trip away, so they spent all morning and some of the afternoon just continuing to be awful tourists.
Eventually they got sick of the landscape, and after taking a final few happy snaps, they picked up a couple of tickets and boarded the train.
“This is the first time I've ever caught a train, I think,” Adrian said, looking out the window nervously. “They're totally safe, right?”
“Oh yeah, sure,” Gwen said, trying to hide a smile. “Usually only a couple trains per day crash.”
“What?” He stared at her with wide, terrified eyes. “A couple of trains? Per day?”
Gwen collapsed into laughter. “Adrian, you're so gullible!” she scolded. “Of course they're safe!”
There was a pause.
“I mean, I've never ridden on one either,” she continued, leaning back and closing her eyes calmly. “They're probably safe.”
Adrian made a tiny little sad noise, and when she opened her eyes she saw him curled into his chair. She couldn't help but laugh.
“Seriously man, you're too easy.”
Apart from Gwen continuing to tease Adrian, and Adrian continuing to be an easy target, the train ride was uneventful. Through the scratched windows they watched the landscape speed past: from the farmland of Galenaville, to untouched brush, to the heavily forested outskirts of Tanzanite Town. Tanzanite was in the depths of an ancient forest; even at Adventurine Gwen had heard tales of pokemon living in Tanzanite Forest that had been alive for millenia. She had always dismissed those tales, but as they traveled past trees that were so old and tall she couldn't see the tops, she had to wonder. If there were pokemon that old in the world, she wouldn't be surprised if they made this forest their home.
The journey from Galenavlle to Tanzanite Town took a few hours, but for Gwen, the time flew by. She spent it glued to the window, drinking in the sights. Adrian had watched with her for a while, but after a time the rhythm of the train had put him to sleep.
When the train pulled in at the station with a loud squeal, Adrian fell off his chair as he woke. Gwen couldn't help giggling at his bewildered expression as he looked up at her from the ground.
“What?” he asked sleepily.
“We're here, dude!” she said. “Wake up, already.”
It took a minute for Adrian to wake up enough to understand what was going on, but once he did, he went from asleep to excited in a heartbeat.
“We're here?” he asked, eyes wide. “Really here?”
“No, Adrian,” Gwen said, rolling her eyes. “We're fake here, it's all a trick.”
He ignored her, a bounce in his step as they exited the train. The station was quiet; at this time of the afternoon there was hardly anyone catching the train, and most of the other passengers had rushed off the second it had stopped. Apart from Gwen and Adrian, the only other people on the platform were the station guards.
The station was surrounded by enormous trees. Even when she tilted her head all the way back, Gwen could barely make out the tops of some of the trees – and those were the shortest ones! The late afternoon sunlight filtered through the leaves, creating a dappled pattern on the platform that made Gwen feel like she was in some kind of magical fairyland. It was spectacular.
“This place is amazing,” Gwen whispered to Adrian.
He laughed. “And this is just the train station!” he agreed. “I can't wait to see the rest of Tanzanite!”
As it happened, the first thing they saw as they left the station wasn't so pretty: two teenage boys were picking on a younger kid.
“Hey,” Gwen shouted as they approached. “Scram!”
The kids took one look at them before bolting off down the street.
“They took my Teddiursa,” the kid bawled, tears streaming down his face.
“Oh jeez,” Gwen muttered. “You calm him down,” she told Adrian, “and I'll go get his pokemon back.”
Before Adrian could reply, she dashed through the trees after the thieving teens. Tanzanite, she discovered as she ran, looked to be as ancient a town as the forest. It looked like there had once been a path, but now it was almost completely overgrown, and there were trees everwhere. Here and there between the trees were small log cabins covered in moss and flowers, and there were wild vegetable gardens near each one. The air was fresh and clean, and the whole place would have had a serene aura if she hadn't been running at top speed.
Finally, she was able to corner the boys at the edge of the sheer cliff that surrounded most of Tanzanite Town.
“Hey lady,” one yelled at her. “Back off! We left him alone, what more do you want?”
“You stole his pokemon, you twerp,” she replied. “Now give it back before I have to kick your ass!”
The other scoffed, but nervously played with the strap of his goggles. “As if,” he said, as if that settled matters.
Gwen pulled her pokeball of her chain, and enlarged it with a flick of her wrist. “Give it back,” she repeated sternly.
“Hey, Brady, maybe we should...” the one with the goggles began at a volume that he clearly thought was sneaky.
“No!” Brady replied, scowling at Gwen. “You're interfering, and you have no right!”
“I actually do,” Gwen replied with a quick grin. She flipped open her jacket, revealing the two gleaming emblems pinned to her shirt.
“Brady,” his friend repeated pleadingly, tugging at his shirt. “A hero? You can't beat her!”
Brady roughly pulled away from his friend. “I can beat anyone! I'm going to be the Pokemon Champion one day!” He stuck his hand in his pocket and pulled out a pokeball. “I'll show you!” he yelled. “Go Lomz!”
“Lomz?” Gwen wondered, as he threw his pokeball high in the air. A red beam came out, and resolved into the shape of a pokemon that Gwen wasn't familiar with. With a green lilypad on its head that matched the green pattern going down its body, red-clawed hands and feet, and a big red bill for a mouth, it was kind of menacing looking. For once in her life, Gwen wished she was a pokemon trainer – at least then she'd have a pokedex, and could have learned what kind of pokemon it was.
“Go Ralts!” she cried, tossing her pokeball in the air. The familiar shape of her friend was soon posed dramatically on a rock near her, making her feel a lot more comfortable. She knew Ralts was strong, they could totally take out this mysterious opponent.
“Alright Ralts,” she said. “We're gonna go with the flow on this one.” It was a secret command between the two of them that if he thought he saw an opportunity, he should take it: that she had no real strategy for the battle.
Brady smirked at her. It looked like he might have seen through her code.
“Never seen a Lombre before, huh?” he bragged, sticking his thumbs through his belt loops. “Mine's really strong, it's going to totally destroy your pokemon.”
“You wish,” Gwen replied, mind racing. So it was a Lombre...she thought she'd heard that before. And she could probably make some guesses...it was green, and it had a lilypad. So maybe...water type? Ralts was usually pretty okay against those. “Ralts,” she commanded, pointing at the Lombre. “Confusion!”
Ralts took a deep breath, concentrating on his psychic power.
“Lomz, just let it hit you,” Brady said with a small smile. “You know what to do!”
What the heck kind of strategy included getting hit, Gwen wondered. But it was too late to change her own strategy – Ralts had drawn in enough psychic energy, and opened his mouth, directing it towards Lombre.
The blast of energy hit Lombre square in the face, and he tumbled backwards. Gwen cheered. “You did it, Ralts!” she called, bouncing. It had taken so long for Ralts to get accuracy like that, it was exciting to see it in action.
Lombre clambered back to its feet. Gwen could see its claws weren't the same red as before – they were glowing!
“Absorb!” Brady called, and before Gwen could do anything, Lombre had lifted its arms and pointed towards Ralts, shooting out red beams from its hands. Ralts had no time to evade, and was hit, collapsing on the rock, glowing the same red as the beams.
“Ralts,” Gwen wailed. “No!”
After a long moment, the beams and the red glow around Ralts faded. But now Lombre looked like he was at full strength again, and Ralts looked exhausted.
“Come on, Ralts, get up!” Gwen pleaded. Ralts climbed to his feet, but Gwen could see how much it cost him.
“See how strong my Lomz is?” Brady bragged, grinning wide. Gwen wanted to punch that look off his face, but she held her temper in check.
“So it stole some of my Ralts' energy,” she replied, trying to sound careless. “So what!”
“So your stupid Ralts is gonna lose this fight. Just give in, already!”
Stupid? Stupid? Nobody called Ralts stupid. Gwen's vision went red.
“Ralts!” she called. “We'll show that stupid Lombre how strong you are! Confusion!”
Ralts gave a determined nod, then blasted Lombre again with his psychic energy, an attack that Lombre again didn't bother to avoid.
“You're never going to win like this,” Brady laughed. “Lomz, Absorb!”
“Teleport!” called Gwen, having anticipated the same strategy from Brady. A split second before Lombre's beam could hit him, Ralts teleported away, to just behind Lombre.
“Double Team!” Gwen continued. “Then Confusion again!” She knew to win this, she and Ralts needed to stay on the offensive, before Lombre could absorb all of Ralts' energy.
As Lombre turned, Ralts flickered, creating a copy of himself.
Brady laughed. “You think that's gonna stop us? Lomz, use Nature Power!”
As both Ralts charged a blast of psychic energy – one real, and one simply an illusion – Lombre began to charge his own attack. Ralts' double Confusion attack arced towards the Lombre, and Gwen bit her lip nervously. Just before the energy blast could hit, a barrage of sharp leaves flew out of Lombre's lilypad, exploding as they made contact with the real Confusion attack. The blast caused by the two attacks colliding hit both Lombre and Ralts, dissolving the illusory pokemon and sending the real pokemon flying.
They landed hard, and there were a few moments when neither stirred.
“Ralts...” Gwen whispered. “Are you okay?” Ralts lifted his head very slowly, like he was in pain.
“Please,” she continued. “Please keep fighting, Ralts. For me?” She knew Lombre was hurt as well, and she was determined to win this with Ralts if it was the last thing she did.
Brady's friend, who had been standing silently by throughout the battle, stepped forward, tugging on Brady's sleeve. “Dude,” he said softly. “Maybe you should call it a draw?”
“No!” Brady snapped. “I said I was going to win, and I'm going to! Lomz, get up!”
The Lombre stirred, and began to struggle to its feet.
“Ralts, please!” Gwen called. “I want to help that little boy, but I can't do it without you!”
At the reminder of why they were fighting, Ralts seemed to find a hidden reserve of energy. He climbed to his feet, and even though he was covered in dirt and scratches, Gwen knew he was ready to battle.
“We can do this!” she cheered. “Hit it with another Confusion!”
“Not this time!” Brady scowled. “Lomz – Astonish!”
As Ralts struggled to generate enough psychic energy for another attack, Lombre rushed towards it. At the last moment, it stopped, pulling an ugly face and shouting at Ralts, who tumbled backwards, crashing into a rock and lying still.
“Ralts...” Gwen whispered in shock, tears welling up. “Please be okay, I don't know what I'll do if you're hurt!”
Ralts didn't move.
Gwen fell to her knees, covering her mouth with her hands. She hadn't thought she and Ralts were going to lose to this awful teen, and she definitely hadn't thought Ralts was going to get this hurt. She felt like a completely irresponsible trainer – a hero who couldn't even protect her own pokemon wasn't much of a hero!
Brady strutted back and forth behind Lombre. “If he doesn't get up, you have to forfeit,” he sneered at Gwen.
“Ralts,” she repeated softly, reaching out a hand towards him. Then something made her stop in shock: The red disks on the top of his helmet were becoming brighter and brighter, glowing like they had when Lombre had used Absorb. The glow spread over Ralts' whole body, but instead of the red of the attack, this glow was a pure white.
“Oh no,” groaned Brady. “Are you kidding me right now?”
Gwen couldn't believe her eyes. As they watched, riveted, Ralts slowly stood. Under the glow, they could see him growing taller, the white that had always resembled a pantsuit splitting and shrinking, until it looked more like a tutu. Underneath, his legs were green and graceful, standing en-point. His helmet-like hair lengthened into pigtails, and the red disks slid to the sides of his head. His eyes, which had previously been hidden, were now revealed by his angular fringe.
Ralts had evolved into Kirlia.
“Oh my god,” Gwen whispered, as the glow faded away. “Ralts – I mean, Kirlia – that was awesome!”
Kirlia turned to Gwen, giving her a wink.
“Alright, Brady,” Gwen said, awe turning into triumph. “Ready to be completely demolished?”
Brady looked a little ill. Although Kirlia still looked a little injured, Gwen knew he was now way stronger than he'd ever been as as a Ralts, and this battle was going to be no contest.
“Lomz, use Absorb!” he tried.
Kirlia didn't need to be told to get out of the way. Now he was taller and more graceful, it was easy for him to evade an attack as obvious as Lombre's Absorb. He did a slow pirouette to the side, easily slipping past the red beams.
“Confusion!” Gwen called.
Kirlia's twin disks glowed briefly, before he lifted his arms and shot the blast towards Lombre. It was kind of exciting, Gwen thought, that the way he used the attack was different now that he had evolved. Lombre tried to dodge the attack, but he was slow and weak, and was hit square in the face as he tried to turn away.
Kirlia shot blast after blast of psychic energy at Lombre, until the pokemon's last reserves of energy were gone. Lombre flopped to the ground, closing its eyes. It was clear that it wouldn't be getting up any time soon.
“No!” yelled Brady. “Lomz, get up!”
But the Lombre had fainted. The battle was over.
Scowling furiously, Brady returned his Lombre to his pokeball. “That was unfair!” he said. “If your stupid pokemon hadn't evolved, I would've won!”
“But you didn't,” Gwen said, trying to hide a grin. “You lost! So hand over that Teddiursa, punk.”
Brady didn't look happy to be ordered around, and Gwen thought he might have just made another break for it if his friend hadn't tugged on his sleeve.
“Brady,” his friend pleaded. “Can we just go already? Give her the stupid pokemon, who even cares?”
“Fine!” Brady said. “I don't care!” He hurled a pokeball at Gwen's face at top speed, and it would have hit her if Kirlia hadn't caught the ball in a psychic field at the last minute. Gwen plucked the ball from mid-air, and smirked.
“Nice doing business with you, boys,” she said, giving them a careless wave as she turned and walked away. She was being a bad sport, she knew, but she hoped Brady was fuming.
CHAPTER 9: In Which Twice Is A Pattern
Gwen and Kirlia strolled cheerfully through the town of Tanzanite for quite a while before Gwen started to get a worried feeling. It had taken her much less time to get to the cliff than it was taking to get back...yes, she'd been running, but even still... She took a serious look around her, and frowned. Had that tree been there last time? Hadn't that roof been painted green?
“Oh no,” she whispered. “Again?”
Gwen pulled out her Pokegear and dialed Adrian. He wouldn't be impressed, that was for sure, but he was the only person who could get her out of this mess.
“Hello?” she head him ask, through a mouthful of something.
“Adrian, I -”
“Gwen!” He cheered. “I told you she'd be back soon,” he continued, though muffled. Gwen figured he'd put his hand over the 'gear while he was talking to someone else – the kid, maybe? “Where are you?” he asked, loud and clear again.
“Um,” she said. “Look...I got the Teddiursa back, but there's been a bit of a problem. I think I might be -”
“Don't say lost,” he hissed.
“Lost,” she finished. “Kirlia and I thought we were going the right way, but uhh, clearly not.”
“Oh! Dude, Ralts evolved!”
“What? Congratulations! When?”
Gwen laughed. “Look, help me get back to the station, and I'll tell you the whole story, I promise. Can I get a Rufflet Rescue?”
“That's a good name for it,” Adrian admitted, and she could hear a smile in his voice. “Maybe I'll have to start advertising.”
They said their quick goodbyes, and Gwen hung up. She kept an eye on the sky, and soon enough Rufflet flew overhead, keen eyes on the ground.
She waved, and he flew down to her, chirping madly.
“I know,” she sighed. “Lost, again? You must think I'm an idiot.”
Rufflet chirped agreeably before soaring back high, traveling back towards the station at a slow enough pace that she could follow him. In no time, she began to recognise her surroundings, and soon enough she was back at the station.
Adrian and the kid were sitting on the porch of a nearby cabin that was larger than most of the houses, eating ice cream cones.
“Gwen!” Adrian called, waving her over.
When she reached them, the kid looked up at her hopefully. “Did you get him back?” he asked.
Gwen nodded, pulling out the Teddiursa's pokeball. “Here you go, little dude,” she said, passing it over.
“Thanks,” he said solemnly, taking the ball and tucking it into the inside pocket of his jacket. “Brady and Jackson keep taking him. Will they stop now?”
“Aw, maybe?” Gwen said, crouching down so that she could be on his level. “Brady seems like a total jerk, I'm not surprised this isn't the first time he's taken your pokemon. Have you thought of training him up so you could battle them? That might stop them.”
The kid scrunched up his face. “Me and Teddiursa are friends, I don't want him to get hurt.”
Gwen felt like she'd been slapped, considering the battle she'd just forced Kirlia – well, Ralts, then – through.
Adrian saw the look on her face, and stepped in. “Harold,” he said, crunching down the last of his cone. “Battling isn't like that. Sure, your pokemon can get hurt, but they're strong. Teddiursa could protect you from those bullies if you trained together.”
Harold shook his head, a determined set to his little chin. “Pokemon who battle get hurt,” he said firmly. “That's what my Gramma says, and she's always right. Teddiursa and me just want to hang out.”
Gwen and Adrian looked at each other, and shrugged. They didn't want to force the kid into doing anything he didn't want to do, after all.
“Um, sure,” Gwen said. “Hanging out with Teddiursa sounds lovely to me! I hope Brady and his friend leave you alone from now on.”
Harold nodded, then jumped up from his seat. “I should go home now,” he said solemnly. “I'm not supposed to talk to strangers.”
Without a glance back, he trotted off into the forest.
Gwen laughed. “What a strange little kid,” she said.
Adrian sighed. “You don't know the half of it,” he said. “You're not the one who had to hang out with him! You just got to battle. Speaking of which – dude! Tell me all about it, already!”
As Gwen related the events of the battle and the evolution, Rufflet led them to the Pokecenter he'd seen from the air. It was starting to get late, and they decided they'd go to the town hero the day after, once they'd gotten a good night's rest.
“Hopefully this quest isn't gardening,” Gwen laughed as they were eating dinner in the Pokecentre cafeteria.
“Amen to that,” Adrian agreed. “Hey, you think we'll see the others tomorrow?” He continued thoughtfully.
Gwen shrugged. “Maybe? The girl at the counter hadn't seen them, but that just means they're not staying here. They could be in Tanzanite.”
Adrian sighed, getting a hazy, faraway look in his eyes. “I hope they're here,” he said. “I haven't had a chance to talk to Celia in days.”
“Talk,” Gwen repeated, raising an eyebrow. “Yeah sure, that's what you want to do to her.”
“Gwen!” Adrian cried, scandalised.
“You know, you're going bright red,” Gwen continued with a cheeky grin.
Adrian buried his face in his hands. “Stop,” he groaned. “I command it!”
Gwen cracked up. “Sure, sure,” she agreed. “I'll back off, Mr Innocent.”
Adrian had an embarrassed scowl on his face for the rest of the meal, which Gwen found absolutely hilarious.
As it turned out, the others did not show up for the quest the next day. When Gwen and Adrian finally found the small cabin deep in the woods, they were the only Adventurine graduates there.
They knocked on the door for what felt like hours before they heard a soft voice telling them to come around the back. Behind the house, in what was probably supposed to be a backyard, but what was actually just a fenced-off portion of the forest, was an ancient Shiftry sitting next to an even more ancient lady. They were tiny and wizened, perched on what looked like hand-carved stools in front of an enormous cauldron bubbling away on a fire.
“Hi,” Gwen said slowly. “Um..we're...”
“The other graduates, of course,” the old lady said, her face-crinkling grin showing off the handful of teeth she still had. “Minnie and I were wondering where you were!”
“The other graduates,” Adrian repeated. “So Celia and the others have already been here?”
“Yep!” the old lady said, hopping off her stool and coming closer to them. She barely came up to Gwen's shoulder. “They were here yesterday. Where were you lazybones?”
“Um, we were helping a little kid,” Gwen said, kind of annoyed. “Sorry we were too busy retrieving a stolen pokemon to come do some quest!”
The old lady cackled, clapping her hands delightedly. “Oh, you've got some fire in you!” she said. “Excellent. Those girls yesterday were so meek.”
Gwen exchanged a look with Adrian. Meek wasn't exactly how Gwen would describe either Celia or Zoe, but they'd probably tried to be polite to this little old lady. Gwen knew she wasn't always the most polite person in the universe, but she'd never had that be a point in her favour before. It was kind of awesome.
“Sorry we weren't here yesterday. I'm sure that would've been easier on you, Mrs...?” Adrian began, trailing off when he realised he didn't know her name.
“Ms Ainsley,” she corrected. “But folks round here just call me Ida.” Then to Gwen she continued, saying “Boy, he sure is boring! You can definitely do better, girl.”
Gwen didn't need to look at Adrian to know he'd just gone bright red. “Oh, we're not together,” she said with a laugh. “We're just friends.”
Ida shrugged. “I call it how I see it,” she said, ambling back to the fire and giving whatever was in the cauldron a stir. “Now, you'll be wanting a quest.”
“Yes please, Ida,” Adrian replied with a hopeful smile. Gwen elbowed him, Ida clearly wasn't the kind of person who appreciated being sucked up to.
And indeed, she gave Adrian an unimpressed look. “Now, the quest I planned was finished yesterday by your friends. Most years, you kids all travel together; I didn't know I needed two quests,” she scolded. “You ought to phone ahead and let the other heroes know you'll be coming separately!”
“I guess we didn't consider that,” Gwen admitted. “But we'll definitely call Port Peridot tonight, that's a good idea.”
Ida huffed, apparently mollified for now. “Alright, well. My grandson is coming around later for lunch, and I need more food.”
“We'd be happy to go to the market for you,” Adrian tried.
Ida rolled her eyes at him. “No thank you, young man,” she said. “My grandson's favourite food is the fruit that grows on Tropius, which needs to be fresh to be any good. I believe there are still a few of the pokemon in the forest, so you can hunt them down and bring me back the fruit. That will be your quest.”
Gwen could have hugged her. She'd grown up around a Tropius, she could totally convince one to let her harvest its fruit, no problem.
“Sounds good,” she said, trying to hide her satisfaction. “We'll see you back here in a bit, Ida!”
Three hours later, and they had seen hide nor hair of a Tropius.
“You said this would be so easy,” Adrian said, elbowing her. “Miss I Know Everything About Tropius!”
“Whatever,” Gwen scoffed. “I do know things about Tropius, you know my mum has one! And I'm sure this is the kind of area they'd love! There has to be one or two around here somewhere.”
“You said that already,” Adrian said long-sufferingly. “Five times.”
Gwen groaned. “Shut up already!”
“No, you shut up!”
“No, Gwen!” Adrian whispered, putting a hand over her mouth. “I think I heard something!”
It came again – a high, melodious keening sound.
Gwen's eyes went wide, and she gestured wildly at Adrian.
“Is that it?” he whispered. When there was no response, he sheepishly moved his hand.
“So gross,” she whispered, wiping her mouth. “Your hand is super sweaty, did you know that?”
“Is that Tropius?” Adrian repeated, ignoring her comment.
“Yes! Let's go get it!”
Adrian quietly released Rufflet, asking it to work out where, exactly, the noises were coming from. They didn't want to accidentally run in the opposite direction.
After a moment, Rufflet returned, flying in a slow circle before winging its way back to Tropius. This time, they followed.
The Tropius was grazing from the top of a tall tree, its wings flapping lazily to keep it in the air, where it could reach the fruit it was eating. It hadn't noticed Gwen, Adrian and Rufflet.
Until Gwen stepped forward, waving her arms.
“Hey!” she shouted. “Tropius, down here!”
“Gwen?” Adrian whispered furiously, stepping forward to grab her arms. “What are you doing?”
“Tropius loves attention,” she said. “Trust me, I'm an expert!”
“On one Tropius,” Adrian groaned, but gave in. “Hey!” he cried half-heartedly. “What's up, Tropius?”
Tropius, by now, had noticed them, and had decided that they might just be more interesting than fruit. It dropped out of the sky towards them, landing a little too close for comfort. It snaked its long neck down towards them curiously, regarding them with huge, limpid eyes.
“Aw, you softie,” Gwen cooed, reaching up to pat it. “You just love this attention, don't you!”
As soon as she touched its neck, Tropius recoiled sharply with a loud hiss. Its eyes narrowed, and it glared at Gwen.
“Um, I don't think it does love this attention,” Adrian said nervously.
“Nonsense!” Gwen cried. “Tropius, we just want some of your fruit! Don't worry, we're not going to hurt you.”
But Tropius wasn't listening. It spread its wings, trying to look larger and more menacing – which it didn't need to do, since it was already quite large and menacing. It gnashed its teeth and hissed some more.
“Ummmm,” Adrian said. “Gwen, this really doesn't look so great.”
“Tropius,” Gwen tried once more. “Please, calm down!”
Tropius opened its mouth and spat out a cluster of glowing leaves. Gwen and Adrian tried to duck out of the way, but the leaves followed them, smacking into them at high speed.
“Ow!” Gwen cried, rubbing a spot on her arm where she'd been hit. “What the heck was that?”
“I think that was Magical Leaf,” Adrian said, eyes wide. “Dude, I don't think Tropius can learn that until it's really strong."
“Typical,” grumbled Gwen. “Can we fight it, do you think?”
Adrian shook his head. “With Kirlia and Rufflet? No way. All we can do is run.”
“No way,” Gwen echoed. “No way are we leaving without that fruit!”
“You made Tropius super mad, dude. I don't think it's gonna happen.”
They glanced back at Tropius, who was pawing the ground in a distinctly pre-Body Slam manner. Adrian shivered, but Gwen just looked determined.
“Adrian,” she said, with a small smile. “I've got a plan.”
The plan involved running, causing a ruckus, and also Rufflet, so Gwen later dubbed it Plan R. The idea was that they would distract Tropius by running around and being super loud, while Rufflet Pecked some fruit off its neck. Then after they'd lost it, they could come back around and pick up all the fruit.
“This plan is genius!” Gwen cried as they ran full-tilt through the forest.
“This plan is going to get us killed!” Adrian replied, voice tinged with hysteria.
They ran for what felt like forever, until the sounds of Tropius crashing through the trees after them faded into silence. Gwen collapsed to the ground, and Adrian bent over, trying to breathe.
“That was awesome,” Gwen said.
“It was definitely something,” Adrian wheezed. “Now fingers crossed Tropius didn't stomp on all that fallen fruit.”
Thankfully, it hadn't. Thanks to Rufflet's skill at freeing fruit – or maybe thanks to how much they'd distracted Tropius – there was plenty for them to gather as they crept back along their trail, hoping that Tropius wouldn't think to come back here.
Once they'd picked up as much fruit as they could possibly hold, they returned to the cabin, where Ida and Shiftry were still sitting around the fire.
“The heroes return,” Ida cackled, without looking at them. “How did you find your quest?”
“It wasn't too hard,” Gwen said, aiming for nonchalant. Ida turned, almost falling off her stool in surprise as she registered the armfuls of fruit. Then her eyes narrowed, and she laughed again.
“I see you got a little injured,” she said with a grin. “Tropius wasn't the dear lamb you thought it might be?”
Gwen sniffed. “We got the fruit,” she said. “That's the important thing.”
“Was it, though?” Ida asked. “Did you manage to calm Tropius down? Did you defeat it, or catch it? How did you get the fruit?”
A little awkwardly, Gwen related Plan R. Ida wheezed with laughter, but when she stopped, her expression became stern.
“Angering a pokemon isn't heroic,” she said. “And stealing its fruit while you run away is cowardly.”
“Cowardly?” Gwen cried. “Are you kidding me?”
“Let her finish,” Adrian said, but Gwen could see his grip on the fruit was white-knuckled.
“I'm afraid I cannot count this quest as a success,” Ida said. “You need to respect pokemon, especially the ones in the wild.”
“We totally respected Tropius!” Gwen couldn't believe what she was hearing. “We didn't even hurt it!”
Ida shook her head. “You don't even understand how poorly you behaved. I'm sorry, but I cannot give my town's emblem to such immature heroes.”
Gwen wanted to cry, and a glance at Adrian told her that she wasn't alone.
“Fine,” she choked out, staring at the ground. “Okay. Do you even still want the fruit?”
“You can put it inside,” Ida said with a sigh. “My grandson will be here soon.”
As soon as they were inside the cabin, away from Ida's sharp gaze, Gwen burst into tears. Adrian looked hugely awkward.
“Uh, don't cry,” he said, hurriedly putting his fruit down, and taking Gwen's bundle from her. “It's okay, Gwen.”
“Is it?” she asked. “Is it? Because so far all the heroes I've met have been so disappointed in me.” She scrubbed her hands over her face, sniffling.
“You tried your best.”
“I'm not cut out for this,” Gwen whispered. “Adrian, I just want to go home.”
He wrapped her up in a hug. “You are totally cut out for this,” he said into her hair. “Gwen – you're made to be a hero! You're just new at this.”
Gwen sighed, extracting herself from the hug. “Maybe,” she allowed. Her green eyes were red-rimmed, and her usual tidy black hair was a total mess. She ran her hands through it, trying to calm it down.
“Gramma!” The high, childish voice cut through the tension in the room.
Gwen turned to Adrian. “Is that-?”
He nodded at her, wide-eyed.
As one, they dashed out of the cabin, just in time to see Ida sweep Harold into a crushing hug.
As promised, here is my first review of your story. As of right now, I just got done reading the prologue and I have to say that I was genuinely entertained by its premise. I like how you immediately got into the action of the girl hiding in the dumpster. The whole prologue had a traditional and cheesy superhero feel to it (which is not a bad thing if that's what you were going for). Nonetheless, I definitely found myself smiling while reading it.
I will continue to read this story today, but I do want to say this: don't try posting so many chapters at once. It's very discouraging (in some cases) for potential readers to catch up with the story if you're posting multiple chapters in a day. Now, if you have an ample amount of muse, then, certainly, continue writing. However, just save the chapters to a Word document (or whatever writing software you use) and post them at a later date. It gives your readers time to enjoy the chapters without the psychological mindset of being overwhelmed by the multitude of chapters.
I will continue to read this story!
& yeah ok, fair call. the other times I've tried to write long stories, I've spent forever on each chapter making it perfect, and I never end up actually finishing the story haha. this time I'm trying to just get the whole thing down on paper, even if it's not perfect the first time around, and posting it here is kind of a motivational tool? like, I gotta write the next chapter so I can post it! but I can see how it would put people off - I'll start posting a little slower :)
thanks for the feedback, dude! I hope you continue to enjoy the story, & please let me know what you think could be better :)
CHAPTER 10: In Which Everybody Is Grateful
“We had no idea,” Gwen said with a laugh, once they were all sitting around the enormous table on the back porch of the house, eating delicious bowls of stew fresh from Ida's cauldron. “How could we know you guys were related?”
Ida ruffled Harold's hair. “You don't see the family resemblance?” she asked with a cackle.
Gwen really didn't. Ida was shriveled and pointy, all knife-sharp angles. Harold was – stout. But after Ida had treated them to lunch, she didn't really feel like she could point that out.
“Uh, sure,” she said instead, scraping the last of the stew out of her bowl.
“Ida,” Adrian said, mouth full, waving his spoon around. “This stew is seriously delicious, please give me the recipe.”
Ida laughed. “It's an old family recipe,” she said. “And it's top secret!”
“That's a shame,” Gwen sighed, licking her spoon. “I could eat this every single day.”
“Can't you?” Harold asked, blinking up at her behind his enormous glasses. “Can't you come for lunch every day?”
“Um,” Gwen said with a laugh. “Sorry, little dude, but Adrian and I can't stay in Tanzanite forever. We've got a quest to finish!”
“A quest?” Harold's large eyes went round. “Really?”
“Really,” Adrian said, standing and taking Gwen's bowl. “We're on a quest to become pokemon heroes!”
“Like my Gramma?”
“Exactly,” Gwen said with a fond smile that faded as she continued. “But our quest hasn't actually been going so great, lately.”
Gwen and Adrian exchanged glances. “We...failed your Gramma's quest,” Adrian explained after a pause.“So...we're not exactly sure what to do next.”
Harold rounded on Ida. “What was your quest? Can I help them?”
Ida gave Gwen a sharp look. Gwen shrugged with a shamefaced grin; she hadn't meant to recruit the kid. “They were to retrieve fresh fruit from a Tropius.”
“But...” Harold looked at the bowls on the table, full of fruit, with a furrowed brow. “Didn't they...do that?”
“Technically yes,” Ida frowned. “But they didn't treat the pokemon with respect.”
Harold didn't give in. “But they saved my Teddiursa and gave me ice cream!”
Ida sighed. “Fine,” she said, throwing her hands up. “I can see this old lady's been outvoted!”
“Wait -” Gwen started.
“Does that mean -” Adrian cut in.
“Yes,” Ida said long-sufferingly. “You can have the emblem. I suppose you earned it.”
Gwen cheered, waving her arms and almost punching Adrian in the stomach. “Ida!” she cried. “Thank you!”
Ida cracked a tiny smile. “Thank you for helping my grandson,” she said.
After Adrian had cleared the table, and Gwen and Harold had washed the dishes, the four of them sat on the stools around the fire, watching their pokemon chase each other around the trees. Rufflet had the advantage of flight, but Kirlia could teleport. Add to that Shiftry's ability to know what the other pokemon were about to do, and the three of them had Teddiursa hopelessly confused in minutes.
Gwen couldn't help laughing as she saw the tiny bear pokemon stumble around after the others, trying to keep up. It was entirely adorable.
“Hey, Harold,” Adrian said, after a long, companionable silence. “I know you said you and Teddiursa don't battle, but do you train it at all?”
Harold shook his head. “I wanna be peaceful with Teddiursa.”
Gwen caught Adrian's eye and grinned. She knew he was thinking about Ursaring, Teddiursa's enormous, aggressive evolution. She hoped Harold really wasn't training Teddiursa; she was sure he wouldn't like what happened if he did. Of course, once Harold got a little older, maybe his opinion would change.
“Hey,” Gwen said suddenly, as a thought occurred to her. “Didn't you say your Gramma told you not to battle with pokemon? Ida, you're a pokemon hero, you battle all the time! Why would you tell him that?”
“I want Harold to respect pokemon,” Ida said seriously. “Battling to solve problems is easy, but the easy solution to a problem is not always the best solution.”
“Huh,” Gwen said slowly. It was an attitude she hadn't known about, and something about it resonated with her. It was true enough that sometimes she used pokemon battles as a solution without considering other options. And it was also true that sometimes those battles were a poor decision: sure, Ralts had evolved today, but if she'd known how the battle would go, she would have found another way to get Teddiursa back. She never wanted to see Ralts that hurt.
“I guess your silence means you're actually thinking about it?” Ida asked. “You might not be respectful, but at least you've got a brain in your head.”
“Debatable,” Adrian said with a smirk. He shrieked when Gwen pushed him off his stool, before pulling on her stool, causing her to fall.
“I'm surrounded by children,” Ida sighed.
When the sun began to go down, Gwen and Adrian said goodbye to Ida, and escorted Harold back into the main part of Tanzanite. They had a quick dinner at the Pokecenter, before Adrian started to yawn and excused himself to go to bed. Gwen waved him off, but then tracked down the small communications room in the Pokecenter. It had been days since she last spoke to her parents, and she knew they'd be waiting for a call.
Thankfully, there was nobody already using the video phone, so Gwen was able to claim it immediately. She tapped in her home phone number from memory, shifting from one foot to the other as she waiting for the call to connect.
Then – a click, a flicker, and her mother was onscreen.
“Gwen!” she gasped. “Hi!”
“Hi, mum,” Gwen said with a grin. “What's up?”
“Hang on, I'll get your father,” her mum said, before dashing off-screen. Within moments, she was back with Gwen's dad, the two of them squished close together so they could both be caught by the camera.
“Gwen,” her dad said, a smile spreading across his weathered face. “Where are you? How's it going?”
“I'm in Tanzanite Town,” Gwen said. “Adrian and I just got our second emblem!”
Gwen's parents beamed proudly, and her mum had to wipe away a tear. Then her dad frowned. “Why do you have a bruise on your face?”
Gwen sighed, before giving them a basic explanation of the quest she'd been on. “...and then it hit us with a Magical Leaf attack! It totally sucked.”
Her mum looked worried. “Gwen, that sounds really dangerous! Maybe you should come home...I don't want you to get hurt.”
“Dear, Gwen's old enough to get herself out of trouble,” her dad said, placing a hand over her mum's. “We have to trust her. Plus, she has Ralts.”
“Speaking of Ralts,” Gwen said with a secretive smile. “Wanna say hi?”
“Always!” her mum gushed. Gwen's mum had always loved Ralts. Ever since Gwen had pointed him out in the Pokecenter's starter catalogue, he'd had a staunch supporter on his side. Gwen's mum thought he was adorable and refined, and Gwen thought the only reason she'd ever agreed to Gwen going on this journey was because Ralts would be there too.
Gwen slipped the pokeball off its chain, releasing Kirlia.
Her parents looked a little puzzled.
“Kirlia, you remember my parents,” Gwen said, waving at the screen. Kirlia gave them a wide grin and a happy trill.
“Wait...” her mum said. “Did Ralts...evolve?”
“Surprise!” Gwen cried.
So then she had to tell them all about the battle that led to evolution, and then the quest from Galenaville, and that no, they hadn't decided to keep traveling with Zoe, Celia and Jason. The one thing Gwen didn't tell them about was the fight with Zoe; she figured they had enough things to worry about, with both of their children out on the same journey.
By the time she'd gotten them totally up to date, both Kirlia and Gwen were yawning. Her parents told her to go to bed, blew her five million kisses, told her they loved her, and then hung up. Gwen knew they were right, it was totally bedtime, but an impulse had her knocking on Adrian's door before she went to her own room.
After a moment, he opened it a crack.
“Gwen?” he yawned. “What's wrong?”
“Nothing,” she said. “Did I wake you up? I'm sorry.”
“Nah, it's fine,” he said through another jaw-cracking yawn. “Why'd you knock?”
“I guess I just wanted to chat,” she said with a sheepish grin. “But I should let you sleep. We can work out a plan in the morning.”
“Sounds good,” Adrian said, eyes already slipping closed. He shut the door, and Gwen hoped he wouldn't fall asleep leaning against it.
In moments, Gwen was in her own room and in her bed, fast asleep, still wearing most of her clothes. She'd fallen asleep halfway through getting changed.
The next morning, she and Adrian admired their new Tanzanite emblems while they ate breakfast.
“It's just so -” Gwen gestured, trying to find the right word.
“It's so shiny,” Adrian finished. And it was.
The emblems they'd received in Adventurine were modest things; little matte shields with the logo of the academy emblazoned on them. Galena's emblems were hardly more exciting, glossy red discs made to look like a Scizor's claw, obviously modeled on Mason's partner.
But the Tanzanite emblems they'd somehow achieved the day before were little Seedots, the first form of Ida's ancient Shiftry, but they were the wrong colour. Instead of a grey cap, they were a bright silver, and the body was a gleaming copper. Its mask and feet were gold instead of beige, and the overall effect was eye-searingly shiny.
“It's kind of spectacular,” Gwen said, tilting her emblem to see the flash of the sun reflecting off it.
“I guess,” Adrian said doubtfully. “I'm a little worried I'll blind someone.”
Gwen laughed. “I know how you feel,” she agreed. “But still! I hope the other emblems we get are this cool!”
“I hope we get other emblems at all,” Adrian said with a groan. “These two were way too troublesome, and I don't see the others being any easier.”
Gwen felt a little awkward. She knew most of their problems had been because of her, and they'd really only gotten the emblems through luck. She'd always been the kind of person who wanted to work for success, and she'd excelled at the academy. She'd kind of gotten used to being successful.
So this... this was new for her, and she hated it. It made her feel embarrassed and useless, which led to her overcompensating, which led to more failure. It was a gross cycle.
“Adrian...” she started, but Adrian must have recognised the expression on her face, because he cut her off.
“No,” he said sharply. “Gwen, no! You're great, okay. It's just taking you a little while to get your hero legs, but that's all. You and Ralts – sorry, Kirlia – are going to be great heroes, I know it. I mean – who else has even evolved their partners yet?”
Gwen laughed, feeling her cheeks heat. “Um, I don't know,” she said. “I mean, Celia's Nidoran evolved before graduation, so now she'll need a moon stone to get Nidoqueen. And everyone else's pokemon evolve way later than Ralts.”
Adrian tutted. “Don't make excuses for us,” he said. “We're a bunch of lazybones! You're the first to evolve your pokemon on this journey, that's awesome! I wonder if there's some kind of reward for that, actually,” he continued thoughtfully.
“Reward?” Gwen sputtered. “Like what?”
“Maybe a special emblem?” he asked. “I don't know! I think I'll email the academy, see what the deal is.”
Before Gwen could stop him, he was tapping out a message on his Pokegear.
“Tell me you're not actually going to send that,” Gwen said, not sure if she was amused or horrified.
His Pokegear beeped, and he gave her a cheeky grin. “Does that answer your question?”
After a long breakfast, and one last wander through the cool forest, Gwen and Adrian got on another train. This one would only take them to the edge of the forest, from where they decided they'd walk to Port Peridot. They'd had to catch the train to Tanzanite; travelers rarely managed to make it through the depths of the forest, and the train was a much safer option, but the countryside from the forest to Port Peridot was pretty much safe. There'd be some pokemon around, but there'd also be a trail they could follow, with supply wagons going past fairly frequently.
Or so they'd thought.
Hours into the walk, Gwen and Adrian weren't so much walking as trudging, trying to avoid stepping in as much Tauros muck as possible. The path they were following was windy and uneven, and Gwen could feel a blister starting to form on her toe.
At least the scenery was gorgeous. They were walking over rolling hills, with tall trees and hazy mountains in the distance. Flowers were in bloom everywhere, and their fragrance was sweet and thick. The sky was clear blue, with only a few puffy clouds in the distance that Gwen wasn't entirely convinced weren't Altaria.
Since they'd been walking, they'd watched only one wagon trundle past, pulled by a mean-looking Tauros. It had run through a puddle near them, splashing them both. But the sun was hot, and they had almost dried out.
But they were sick of walking.
“This kind of sucks,” Gwen said at last, when they had stopped at a crossroads. Adrian was staring at the signpost, trying to work out which way they needed to go. “Like, it's pretty? But it sucks.”
Adrian laughed. “For reals,” he said. “I'd almost rather fight Tropius again than do this.”
“Dude, you didn't fight Tropius. You ran away from it.”
Without looking back at her, Adrian punched her in the arm.
“Ow!” she complained.
“I didn't even hit you that hard!” he cried. “And I think we need to go...left?”
“Maybe? I think we need to follow this path, anyway.”
Gwen sighed. “Please don't get us lost again. That's all I ask.”
“Me? You're the one who got lost all by herself!”
Gwen scrunched up her face as they started walking down the left branch of the crossroads. “Whatever,” she said. “I was distracted by Ralts evolving!”
“Sure, sure,” Adrian said with a grin. “I believe you. Thousands wouldn't, but I believe you.”
She punched him.
CHAPTER 11: In Which Needs Must
They had lunch in a pub they found along the way, sitting in the garden out the back munching on enormous sandwiches. The owners had been impressed with the story of their journey, giving them a jug of their homemade ginger ale for free, which was delicious.
“I seriously gotta get this recipe,” Gwen said, slurping the last of it. “Or at least, I need to remember where this place is!”
“Way ahead of you,” Adrian said, pulling up a map of the region on his Pokegear and putting a marker on their current location. “When we've got our final emblem, we'll come back here to celebrate, yeah?”
“Totally,” Gwen said with a grin. The thought of their final emblem...it was kind of bizarre to contemplate. Only a few days ago, she'd been terrified of starting this journey. And now she had two emblems already! The other towns were a lot further away from each other, she knew, so she couldn't expect this trajectory to continue...but it was still cool.
“So what kind of pokemon will be the partner in Peridot, do you think?” Adrian asked, pulling her from her thoughts.
“Well, it's a port, right?” Gwen said. “So...maybe a water type? I know the hero used to be some big-shot gym leader from Kanto, but I don't think she hung around.”
Adrian shrugged. “Like I know anything about gym leaders,” he said.
Gwen laughed. “Yeah, like that would ever happen. Because it's not like your whole family are gym leaders, or anything.”
Adrian scowled. “Whatever.”
It was kind of a sore spot for Adrian, Gwen knew, but what kind of friend would she be if she never teased him about it? She knew his family were kind of disappointed that he hadn't followed in their footsteps, but she knew they were proud of him all the same.
“Have you messaged your parents at all?” she asked. “Or called?”
Adrian's mouth tightened into a thin line.
“I only called mine last night,” Gwen said. “Don't feel bad!”
“Can we not talk about this?” Adrian said sharply.
Gwen's eyebrows went up sharply. “Hey, what? Dude, I'm not trying to upset you.”
“Well you're doing a great job,” he said, voice hugely sarcastic. Adrian turned away from her, and kept his eyes fixed on the scenery outside the pub.
Gwen had no idea what to say. She and Adrian had always teased each other about stupid things, expressed friendly affection through punches and jokes. She'd seen him get embarrassed, but she'd never seen him get upset like this before.
After a moment, she couldn't stand the tense silence.
“Dude,” she said softly, reaching out a hand. “I'm sorry. But I don't know how I upset you, and I kind of need to know so I don't do it again.”
Adrian glared down at the table. “We had a fight,” he mumbled. “Me and my folks, the day I left.”
Gwen was stunned. He'd seemed so happy that day, she'd had no idea anything was wrong. “What about?”
He shrugged, the gesture made sloppy with anger. “I don't know,” he said. “Things? Being a hero, I guess. They figured the academy would get it out of my system, that I'd come to my senses after grad.”
“But you didn't.”
He laughed shortly, no amusement in his voice. “But I didn't,” he agreed. “Dad told me I had to stay home, that I had a duty to take over the gym. I said I was leaving, and he said...”
Adrian trailed off, swallowed hard. “He told me not to come back.”
“What?” Gwen shrieked, slamming her hands on the table hard enough to rattle the cutlery. “Are you serious?”
Adrian nodded, looking down at his hands. “Whatever,” he said. “I was going to move out soon anyway, so it's no big deal, but...” he trailed off awkwardly.
Gwen knew that he was just trying to save face – of course it was a big deal! He loved his family, this would have totally gutted him.
She reached out her hand again, covering his with her own. “Hey,” she said. “Forget about those lame-os. We've on the coolest adventure ever! Their loss if they can't see how awesome it is – and how awesome you are.”
He looked up, and gave her a watery smile. “Yeah,” he agreed softly. “Their loss.”
The rest of lunch was quiet; Gwen and Adrian more focused on their food than each other. Gwen was silent, but her mind was racing. She'd had no idea that Adrian's problems with his family were so severe, and the thought that he might never see them again was sad. She couldn't help but hope that his dad would have cooled down by the time they got back.
Finally they were finished, and if the lady who collected their empty plates noticed the awkward silence, she didn't say anything.
Gwen cleared her throat. “I guess we should head off?” she said.
Adrian nodded, eyes not meeting hers.
They managed ten or fifteen minutes of walking down the dusty road in silence before Gwen couldn't stand it any longer.
“Hey,” she said, reaching out to poke Adrian. “You never said what kind of partner pokemon you thought might be at Port Peridot!”
Adrian sighed loudly, but she thought she could detect a note of relief in it. She knew Adrian must have been as uncomfortable with the silence as she was.
“It depends on the hero, I guess,” he offered. “But probably a water type?”
“Maybe it'll be a water/flying,” Gwen said. “Like a Pelipper or something? That'd be cool.”
“Dude,” Adrian groaned. “What is with your terrible opinions on pokemon? Pelipper isn't cool. Gyarados is cool.”
“I think you mean it's lame,” Gwen said solemnly, a cheeky smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. “It's got nothing on a good old Tentacool.”
“Okay, now I know you're messing with me,” Adrian grumbled, elbowing her. Gwen hadn't been expecting it, and she shrieked as she almost tumbled off the road. Adrian grabbed her just before she could fall, and they stood motionless for a moment before he gave her a sheepish grin. “Sorry?”
Gwen narrowed her eyes at him, then lifted her chin with a superior sniff. “I suppose I can forgive you,” she said, mimicking a posh girl in the year above they'd both hated fiercely, for wildly different reasons. “This time.”
Adrian cracked up, and when they began to walk again, their moods were lighter, and the silence was, for once, comfortable.