"Strike! Strike! STRIKE!" Yelled a large machoke from the front of a large, well lit room.
Two machops, a hitmonchan, a mankey, and a hitmonlee all stood before him punching or kicking five thick blocks of wood. Splinters flew off with every hit.
The floor they stood upon was made of dull, dark brown wood. Large windows on one side of the dojo flooded the room with the warm fading light of day. Pokemon could be seen walking along the sidewalk out front. Some stopped to watch, but most kept on their way.
"Today is cut off day, so every one of you better look sharp," the large machoke belted. His eyes narrowed as he looked at the mankey, "Especially you, number 5."
Cut off day meant that somebody was going to have to leave the dojo. Shyft, number 4, knew this already. They all did. Sensei Crush didn't have to remind them. Nevertheless, the reminder made him punch harder. He knew Tet, the mankey, was going to fight his heart out today. He also knew he would be matched up against him, and if he lost, well, he would be the one that gets cut. He couldn't imagine losing. That wasn't an option. He had come too far to get cut on the final day.
This was Saffron dojo, the most prestigious fighting gym in all of Kanto, not to mention the only one. Every fighting pokemon parent wanted their child to get accepted, but the acceptance process was beyond rigorous. The dojo only took the best ten, 12 year old fighting pokemon in all of Kanto. This year's group started out with 2 mankeys, 4 machops, 2 hitmonchans, and 2 hitmonlees. After 100 days of training for more than eight hours a day, all except for the five who were present had been cut through periodic elimination rounds.
Shyft, the smaller of the two machops, looked around the room at the other fighters. Tet, the mankey, was number 5. He was struggling compared to everyone else, but lately he had been working harder than usual to have a chance of staying on the team. He came from a family who lived near Viridian. He needed to win this, and the way he kicked that wooden block showed it. Delt, the hitmonchan, was number 3 and a phenomenal boxer. He came from a rich family that lived here in Saffron. His father at one time had been named the best fighter in all of Kanto. He had a lot of potential, but compared to the rest he was somewhat lazy. Red, the hitmonlee, was number 3. Nobody knew much about him. He never talked. It seemed like the most he said was, "Yes, Sensei" or "No, Sensei." Regardless, he could kick faster than any of the others could react. Char, the other machop, he was number 1. More than Delt, he came from a family of fighters, the Champ family. They lived at victory road cave. Usually some member of their family entered the Saffron dojo every few years once they turned twelve. Char was huge. He was almost the size of a machoke, and no matter how hard you hit him, it seemed to have no effect. Shyft, himself, he was born into a poor mining family from Rock Mountain. He hadn't seen his family for a while, but after this day if he won he would get the weekend to go see his family and tell them the good news. If he lost, well, he would still see his family, but he would have to go back to working in the mine with his father and two older brothers. If he won this, he would move on to being a member of the team, and if his team wins a few matches against the other gyms he would get some prize money and hopefully one day with that money he could buy his family a good house in the suburbs around Cerulean where they would no longer have to work in the mines. But as number 4, he was just as nervous as Tet. Whoever won the battle between them would stay. The loser, he would have to leave.
"Snap out of it number 4!" Sensei Crush shouted. "Clear the room. It's time to fight."
The room was cleared. A space in the middle was opened. All types of Pokemon huddled at the large windows out front to see the fight. They didn't know the significance of it. They didn't need to. They could tell just by the look determination in the fighters' eyes that it would be a great match.
Tet stood on the far side of the room wrapping his hands in tape. Shyft on the other side took off his hooded sweatshirt which uncovered his toned, bruised body. Each stared silently at the other.
Sensei Crush glanced at each of them. "Are the fighters ready?"
Both gave a slight nod.
They started out fast. Jabs, punches, and kicks flew between them. Shyft tried to stay focused, but all he could think of was his family. He thought about his father, a large machoke, wearing his red bandana as he broke huge rocks with his pickaxe. He thought of his two brothers one a machop the other a machoke loading the ore onto carts. And lastly he thought of his dear mother helping push the cart out to the surface. It was a very dangerous profession, but it was the only way to get by.
Just then Shyft took a strong uppercut to the jaw. He felt dazed. He had to get his focus back.
Pushing those thoughts out of his head, he looked hard at Tet. There was a smirk on Tet's face. He knew he had the upper hand. Just then, Shyft got an idea. He would play Tet's overconfidence to his own advantage. Shyft started to act dizzier and more confused than he actually was. Tet went in for a series of easy punches and kicks. Shyft let himself get beaten farther and farther back until he was almost against the wall. He could hear the onlookers shouting behind the glass. Shyft paid them no attention. Instead he watched Tet carefully as the mankey wound up for a crushing blow. But as he did so, Shyft saw that he left his torso completely unguarded. So immediately, faster than Tet could think, Shyft grabbed onto Tet's shoulders and thrust his knee straight into his gut. Tet's eyes widened. He realized his grave mistake, but it was too late. Shyft ran at him with a fury of powerful well-placed punches. Tet tried to retaliate, but Shyft covered himself up too well. It wasn't long before Tet's movements had become sluggish. Seeing this, Shyft decided now would be a good time to end things and swept Tet's feet out from under him and held him down in a strong hold.
Shyft got up and then offered Tet a hand. He refused it. Shyft couldn't blame him. He would have been just as angry if he had lost.
"Pack up your things, number 5. It's time for you to leave. Everyone else stick around for a short talk."
Shyft was out of breath, but he was happy. Very happy. He walked over to the circle where everyone else stood. They all stared at him.
"That was a good match, number 4," said Sensei Crush. "But that doesn't mean that you will fight in any matches. Since you are number 4 you are still the backup."
At this Char snickered. Shyft sent him a mean look.
"I'll get better. Just wait and see," He thought to himself.
"But to the point. Here is our schedule for the up coming events. You have this weekend off, but on Monday we start training for our first match, which will be held in only one week from today. It will be on the road at Cerulean City." Sensei Crush looked at all of them. "Well, that's that. Get going now."
Shyft and the rest left to go to their bunks to pack up for the weekend.
"Hey, Shyft." Delt called from across the room. "Where are you going this weekend?"
"Oh, me?" Shyft said. He was confused that Delt was talking to him about his plans. The other fighters almost never talked about their personal lives. Their conversation almost always centered around fighting. It was strange to talk about anything else. I guess they were becoming a sort of team. "Oh, just to visit my family. How about you?"
"I live here, so just going back to my house."
Next Delt turned to Red. "Where are you going?"
He didn't give an answer.
"He isn't going anywhere," Char laughed. "I don't think he has a family. He was probably grown from the ground like a plant." He laughed some more.
All of the rest of the fighters glared at Char. None of them liked him. Delt didn't bother to ask where he was going. After a little more small talk, Shyft put on his hoodie, slung his dufflebag over his shoulder, and exited the building.
"Long walk home," he thought to himself.
But as soon as he exited he looked up and saw somebody familiar. He recognized her immediately. It was his mother. He hadn't seen her in the last 100 days and therefore was very excited. He began to run to go meet her.
"She must have known that today was cut off day and came to see how things turned out."
As he got closer, their eyes met. And suddenly it hit him. She looked sad. Something must have happened at the mine. Shyft's heart was struck with a pang sorrow. He dropped his dufflebag on the ground and ran to her as fast as he could. Moments before he reached her he saw his father's red bandana in her hands. That's when he knew for certain and collapsed knees first on to the ground. His mother knelt down and they embraced.
"What happened? He can't be..." Shyft gasped between sobs.
Silent tears rolled down his mother's face. "Your father was mining, and he hit a loose rock and and... another large rock from the ceiling came loose. They say it was at least two tons. It came down. Your brothers they ran as fast as they could to help, but it was too late..." She couldn't continue.
Shyft bawled even harder. He stood up and stared at the sun setting between the sky scrapers. A large knot stuck in his throat. He wanted to run, but there was nowhere to go. Pokemon walked by, their shoulders brushing off of his. His mother came up from behind him.
"The funeral is tomorrow." She said quietly.
He couldn't bare to move. She handed him the bandana. He turned it over and looked on the inside. In it, he saw rows of tally marks. Looking at it longer, he realized there were 19 complete sets of five and one last set nearly completed. It totaled to 99. Ever since he left, his father had counted how long every day he had been making the cut at the dojo. This hit Shyft the hardest of all. Nevertheless, he mustered the strength to begin the long march back home.