A/N: As promised, Chapter Eleven as well. Here it is: the end of my first arc, the Parodos.Chapter Eleven
. . . Guess I should explain that, huh. In classical Greek drama, the parodos is the part of the play following the prologue, where the Chorus comes forth and 'sets the scene' for the play, so to speak. The parodoi (plural) are also the passages on either side of the traditional stage, from which the Chorus would enter during this part. So the second arc will be called Episode the First - again, loosely derived from Greek drama.
The Fires of Battle
Roxanne remained silent for several seconds, the remainder of Golem's dust cloud still settling around her as the two Pokemon remained frozen in the centre of the battlefield. “Good . . .” she said at last.
“Good? What's good?” Ren asked.
“It's good to see that you've still got that fire,” Roxanne said with a smile. “Three years ago, you came to my Gym aflame with passion. You battled with unstoppable energy and drive, and that was how you won. When I saw you recently . . . you seemed to have lost some of that. I was hoping you'd come here to battle me so that I could make sure you hadn't.”
“And had I?”
“No,” Roxanne said with a shake of her head. “Not at all. If anything, you have more of it now. It's like you become a different person when you battle, but I can see . . . I can see that that's because you're doing what you love. Yesterday, you were a little quiet. Polite and cheerful, but you weren't showing that spark. You didn't show it until now, and I can understand why. I am, after all, a Pokemon Trainer like you. Even a couple of days without a battle can seem like forever, right?”
“Right,” Ren agreed. “So, now that you've reassured yourself that I am actually me and not a doppelganger left by aliens, shall we finish this battle?”
“All right. Don't think I plan to go easy on you, though.”
“I wouldn't ask for anything less.”
“Golem! Seismic Toss!” Roxanne commanded. Golem moved faster than Ren would have thought possible, grasping Zangoose by the upper arms with a vice-like grip and leaping high into the air.
“Damn it,” Ren muttered. He hadn't counted on Zangoose remaining at close quarters long enough for Golem to take a hold of it if Seismic Toss did come out of the bag, but he had allowed himself to be distracted. There was only one way out. “Aerial Ace! Go high!”
Roxanne's eyes widened. “What?”
Ren chuckled at the look on her face as Zangoose slipped free of Golem's grip in midair, darting upwards in a flash to leave its opponent tumbling towards the ground, its balance lost. “Now strike!” Ren yelled, feeling Zangoose's rage as it flipped agilely in midair and slashed down towards Golem at lightning speed.
The Pokemon collided at ground level with an impact that rocked the arena, trapping Golem between Zangoose and the unforgiving rock floor. “Good job, Zangoose! Now move out and keep an eye on that thing,” Ren ordered.
“B-but how?” Roxanne stammered. “Why did Zangoose know a Flying-type move?”
“It's useful for dealing with Fighting-types, mostly,” Ren said. “I got Zangoose to learn it in order to cover his biggest weakness. Still, it comes in handy in other situations, too.”
“No matter,” Roxanne said, though Ren could tell she was struggling to retain her composure. “It won't do much against my Rock-type, that's for sure.”
“You're wrong there,” Ren countered. “In more than one way, actually.”
“What? But Flying moves are ineffective against Rock Pokemon! They always have been!” Roxanne protested.
Ren held up two fingers. “One, due to the timing of the attack, Aerial Ace carried all the power of your Golem's Seismic Toss as well as its own. Not to mention that it had gravity on its side, which is uncommon for such a move. And secondly . . . the true power of any attack lies not in the move itself, but in how you use it. You were not expecting Zangoose to know Aerial Ace, so it took you by surprise, and that was the truly damaging part. If you hadn't been thrown off balance so much, you would have had time to counter. But as my mom always used to say, time's a-wasting! Zangoose! Brick Break, one more time! And make it good!”
Zangoose sprang towards Golem again, its claws glowing white. Before Roxanne or Golem could make a move, Ren's Pokemon brought down its claws on the top of Golem's shell in a fearsome blow, driving the Rock-type back a pace.
“Bulldoze!” Roxanne cried.
“Don't give it time to do that again, Zangoose! Press your advantage with a Crush Claw attack!”
Hissing rabidly, Zangoose grasped one of Golem's arms with its powerful claws. Driving its left shoulder into its opponent's body, it heaved the massive Rock-type over its right shoulder, sending it crashing into the ground behind it.
“Golem!” Roxanne cried. “Are you all right? Can you get up?”
Golem rumbled faintly, bracing itself on one arm as it tried to stand, but its limb gave out and it collapsed back to the ground with a final, creaking groan.
“I think we're done,” Ren said, stepping forward out of his box and hunkering down to scratch Zangoose's head. “Good job, my little brawler.”
“Yes . . . well done. You fought valiantly, Golem,” Roxanne congratulated her Pokemon, returning it to its Poke Ball. “I believe you win, Ren,” she said. “Congratulations. I'd award you the Stone Badge, but I think you may already have one.”
“If I win five times, do I get a free one?” Ren asked cheekily, pulling a potion from his bag to spray on Zangoose's wounds.
“No frequent flyer miles here, Ren,” the Gym Leader smiled. “But still, that was a fantastic battle. It always makes me happy to have a battle like that, regardless of whether I win or lose.”
“That's not what you said three years ago,” Ren teased. “At the time, you were quite reluctant to give up the badge.”
“I . . . that's not true, I – oh, never mind that now,” Roxanne said irritably. “Anyway, I'm glad to have been able to battle you again. Though I must say . . . you seemed different this time. It's not just that fire I was talking about earlier – you still have that in spades. What I mean is that you seem more . . . sure of yourself.”
“Well, I guess that's natural, isn't it?” Ren shrugged as he returned Zangoose to its Poke Ball. “I'm the Champion now, after all. Sure, I wouldn't be up myself enough to walk into an arena and expect to win, but I guess I do feel a certain confidence.”
“And all that stuff you were saying . . .” Roxanne said slowly as she made her way over to sit next to Natasha in the stands.
Puzzled, Ren followed her and sat down on Natasha's other side. “What stuff? I didn't say anything weird, did I?”
“Well, I don't know.” Roxanne looked uncharacteristically unsure of herself. “It was almost as if your personality changed once the battle got started. I mean, not only were you suddenly completely confident, but you knew exactly what you were doing. It was just a short battle, but that was the impression I got. It's almost like you were . . . calculating everything.”
“I was,” said Ren simply. “It's something I discovered about a year ago or so. If you force yourself to think through every single possibility, your chances of winning practically skyrocket. If you can plan for every eventuality, you can beat anybody. The weird thing is, I can't apply that to anything but battling. Once I start a battle, I suddenly go into 'logic mode'. Everything sort of slows down, almost, and I start going through all the likely possibilities in my head. I've tried it with other things – maths, video games, and so on; all kinds of stuff – but I can't seem to make it work.”
“That's . . . fascinating,” Roxanne said, staring at him intently. Ren had a sudden, sinking feeling that she was about to- “Say, do you think you could come into my class this morning? Just, you know, to talk to the students about battling.”
Dammit. Ren winced inwardly. For a moment, he considered refusing, but what excuse could he have made? His train didn't leave until noon, so he had plenty of time. No, he told himself firmly. You shouldn't be trying to think of excuses anyway. It's like Steven said – you just have to suck it up. And besides, this could be good for you. Even if you don't want to do it, it'll help you get used to it. It's just a small group! You did Hoenn Buzz yesterday – this should be nothing!
“Ah . . . Ren? Earth to Ren?” Roxanne was peering at him worriedly.
“What? Oh! Right, of course. No, that'd be fine.”
“More things we have to do?” Natasha complained half-heartedly.
“Nah, this should be fun,” Ren said decisively, trying to convince himself almost as much as his cousin. He stood up and took a couple of steps towards the door before turning back towards the two girls. “Coming?”
“Stop trying to act cool,” Natasha warned as she hopped down off her seat and walked past him. “It's not going to impress her.”
Ren spun and followed her briskly, avoiding Roxanne's amused eyes as they left the arena. Natasha was being a little too frank for his liking. And besides, it's ridiculous. She's wrong.
As it turned out, Roxanne's 'class' consisted of just two people, both of whom were waiting outside the Pokemon Academy when Ren, Roxanne and Natasha arrived. One was a tall, balding man in his late forties or early fifties, looking much like every corporate suit Ren had ever seen. He wore a shirt and tie and carried a briefcase, neither of which were particularly contradictory to that impression.
The other 'student' was a woman of about thirty, with straight, silvery-white hair that fell just past her shoulders, and a narrow, brown-skinned face with cool hazel eyes.
“Oh, are you two all that showed up?” Roxanne asked worriedly. “Where are the others?”
The woman shrugged, and the older man said, “I heard from Roger. His sister's getting married this weekend, so he couldn't make it and sends his apologies. I can't speak for the others, though.”
“Well, all right!” Roxanne spoke with a cheerfulness that Ren sensed was a little forced. “They miss out on the treat I brought for you all today, then!”
“What am I, a chocolate brownie?” Ren grumbled.
Roxanne ignored his comment. “Ren, this is Marcus Price. He's one of the most influential businessmen in Rustboro City and a good friend of Mr. Stone.”
“Nice to meet you,” Ren said, hesitating slightly before offering his hand to Price.
“Likewise,” Price said, clasping his hand with a curious look on his face. “Say, aren't you . . .”
“Ren Goodwin,” Ren supplied. “Yes, that's me.”
Price's face broke into a smile. “Good heavens, she's brought us the Champion.”
Ren nodded awkwardly. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“Of course, Ren is here as a personal favour to me,” Roxanne put in quickly, “so we must do our best to make him feel welcome. Oh, Ren – this over here is Vila Kashyenka. She came from overseas to study at the Academy.”
Vila bowed stiffly, her expression unreadable. “It is good to meet you,” she said, her voice layered with a musical accent that Ren couldn't place. “You are the one whom they call Champion, are you not?”
“Um, yes. I am,” Ren said, bowing back a little uncomfortably. It felt strange and foreign. He hadn't had to give such a formal greeting to anyone before, but he felt somewhat obligated in the face of the oddly polite Vila.
“Then you are the one whom I must defeat,” she said flatly.
“Uh . . .”
“I came to the Hoenn region because I was told that there are many strong Trainers here. In my country, there are few who train Pokemon. To learn to do so, I knew I must travel to a place other than my home. If I am to become a strong Trainer, I must defeat you. Is that right?”
“Well, not exactly . . .” Ren said, scratching his head awkwardly. “There are lots of strong Trainers who aren't Champions, you see. You don't have to be a Champion to prove you're good.”
“Perhaps not, yet still I feel I must defeat you,” she said frankly. “Will you promise to battle me some day?”
“O-of course,” Ren said shakily, not quite following her strange logic.
“Anyway, now that we're here, let's go inside!” Roxanne said brightly, clearly trying to regain control of the situation. Ren shivered slightly at the blank, emotionless look Vila was giving him. The woman was more than a little disturbing, but he supposed he shouldn't be judgemental.
“Inside. Right,” Marcus Price agreed. “It's cold out here.”
As Roxanne stepped past to open the door, Price sidled closer to Ren and muttered in his ear, “Don't let Vila get to you. She's like that with everyone.”
“You know her?” Ren asked, equally quietly, watching Roxanne struggle with the key out of the corner of his eye.
“Not as such. She's actually a member of the Qirfan diplomatic corps. They're based in Saffron over in the Kanto region, of course, but I hear she's on leave specifically to attend the Academy here. She's taken it upon herself to be as standoffish as possible to everyone, without actually giving anybody reason to take offense.”
“Sounds like an interesting woman,” Ren whispered drily.
“Oh, certainly,” Price chuckled. “But like I say, don't mind her. I have to say, though,” he continued at a normal volume, “it's quite an honour to meet you.”
“Is that so?” Ren said blankly, for want of something more intelligent to say. “So are you planning to be a Pokemon Trainer yourself, Mr Price?”
“Oh, it's Marcus. I insist. But in any case, you see, I plan on retiring soon. I'm not all that old, but I'm getting tired of the corporate world. And with my family all overseas, I figure I'm going to need something to do in order to pass the time. Trouble is, I'd never had time to train Pokemon when I was a youngster, so I have to start from scratch. It's a little embarrassing to go back to school and learn it from the most basic level, but there are a lot of people in my position. There are about eight people in the class most weekends, but I don't know where they all are today.”
“That's all right. To be honest, I don't think I could have managed any larger of a group,” Ren said weakly.
“Ah! Got it!” Roxanne exclaimed as the door swung open at last. “Come on in, all . . . three of you.”
Obediently, Ren, Natasha and Marcus trooped in behind Vila and Roxanne, the latter of which was already in full schoolteacher mode.
“We'll have to adjust the lesson plan for today to accommodate our guest,” she said as she led them down a long hallway, shoes clacking on the brown tiles. “As we're the only ones here today, the quad will be free, so we should use that. If Ren's all right with it, we'll have him assist me in the lesson.”
“Ah . . . I'm not sure if I'm just behind or something, Roxanne, but . . . what exactly am I supposed to be doing here?” Ren asked, suddenly realising that the topic hadn't actually come up.
“I'm sure we'll think of something,” Roxanne said airily as Ren caught up to her.
“You mean you hadn't already?” Ren asked in disbelief. “I was kind of under the impression you had something planned.”
“Well, we can't all plan for every eventuality. My lesson plan for today didn't account for the remote possibility of the Champion appearing in class.”
“You're gonna make fun of me for that forever, aren't you?” Ren asked with a sigh.
“I don't know what you're talking about,” Roxanne said simply. “Here we are.”
She had stopped before a door that looked little different to any other – painted that ubiquitous, sickly shade of beige that Ren had seen in every school he'd ever passed through, set with a pane of frosted glass that prevented anybody from seeing in or out. Ren had no idea why schools insisted on doing that. It wasn't as if they had anything in particular to hide.
This door, however, did not open onto a classroom. Instead, when Roxanne turned the doorknob, it revealed something quite unexpected. Ren had heard Roxanne say 'quad', so he had of course expected something outdoors, but what he saw was a little more than he had been expecting.
After passing through a short brick corridor, Ren found himself standing in an open area the size of a football field, a roughly rectangular quadrangle surrounded on all sides by the two-storey, brown-brick wall of the Pokemon Trainers' Academy. Trees lined the area, forming a miniature wall of forestry almost five metres thick. A neat cobbled path led through the layer of trees to the central part of the courtyard, a large, sunny expanse dotted with benches and tables. Spread between the assorted picnic paraphernalia lay three regulation Gym-sized Pokemon battlefields not unlike the one Ren and Roxanne had recently faced off across.
Ren noticed immediately that the battlefields had seen some use recently; there were furrows in the ground where the grass had not grown back yet and some of the vegetation had been wantonly trampled. Other than the battlefields, though, the courtyard could have been any park in Hoenn. The grass was perfectly manicured, and soft sounds of birdsong filtered through from the lush border of trees that hid much of the building's inelegant façade.
“Welcome to the Academy's outdoor training ground, Ren,” Roxanne said as she led them towards the nearest battlefield. “The Academy, of course, possesses multiple battlefields of many different kinds, but these ones are favourites for many of the students.”
“So how are we going to do this, then?” Ren asked, surveying the area critically. “Another battle as a demonstration?”
“Yes, I think that sounds like a good idea. But,” Roxanne said archly, “I can think of a better opponent for you than me.”
“Oh, really?” Ren glanced around. The five of them seemed to be the only ones present. “Who's that, then?”
With a slightly mischievous smile, Roxanne pointed. “Vila.”
For the first time since Ren had met the woman, Vila's face showed emotion. Her eyes widened and her lips parted slightly. “Are you sure?” she asked.
“Yeah, are you?” Ren added, frowning. “That's kind of a mismatch, isn't it?”
“You're right, of course,” Roxanne agreed. “That's why, rather than a straight-up battle, you'll participate in a contest.”
“What . . . kind of contest?” Ren asked suspiciously.
“Oh, nothing out of the ordinary for you,” Roxanne said casually. “You'll just be fighting a battle like normal. As Vila doesn't have her Pokemon Trainer's license yet, she can borrow one of the Pokemon owned by the Academy.” Roxanne produced a Poke Ball from somewhere and tossed it to the still flummoxed-looking Vila.
“So what is the catch?” Vila asked as she caught it, her eyes narrowed.
“There must be one,” Ren agreed. “Otherwise there's nothing out of the ordinary about the battle.”
“Of course,” Roxanne said. “The victory conditions will differ for each Trainer. Ren, as the more experienced party, will have to knock out his opponent's Pokemon entirely to win. Vila, on the other hand, has only to land a hit on Ren's Pokemon in order to be declared the winner.”
“What?” Ren exclaimed. Surprising even him, his mind began to tick into gear. Defeating an inexperienced opponent in a one-on-one battle would not be difficult, but if he had to do it without his Pokemon taking a single hit . . . The best bet would be to finish the match in a single blow. Given that Vila would be using a Pokemon owned by the Academy, it should be doable. Academy Pokemon were docile so as to be easier for rookie Trainers to handle, and were not overly powerful for the same reason. Of course, it would all come down to the type matchup . . .
“Huh?” He blinked in sudden surprise. “What is it?”
Roxanne sighed. “I said, I'll be choosing your Pokemon too, just to ensure it's fair.”
Ren winced slightly. “Err . . . do you have to?” That would remove any possible advantageous type matchup he might be able to create.
“I do.” Roxanne seemed to be enjoying herself far too much, he noted with some irritation. “In any case, you'll be using your Manectric. I think that will level the playing field a little.”
“In other words, you're setting me up against a Ground-type Pokemon. Am I right?”
“Maybe. In any case, you need to hurry up and get to the battlefield, Ren! Vila's waiting for you!”
It was true, Ren noticed with a start; Vila had already moved to take up her position at the far end of the nearest battlefield.
“Will you come, Champion?” she called, her face once again unreadable. “This promises to be . . . interesting.”
“Hmph,” Ren chuckled. “You sure know how to mess with a guy, don't you? Roxanne.” Moving swiftly, he stepped into his box on the battlefield and dug Manectric's Poke Ball out from his backpack.
“Undoubtedly,” Roxanne smiled. “But still, I'd like to see if you can do this. And because it's not technically a Pokemon battle, as such, it won't matter if you lose.”
“What makes you think I might lose?” Ren asked, tapping the release switch on his Poke Ball with a practiced movement. With a familiar crackling noise and the unmistakeable smell of ozone, Manectric burst onto the field, its crested yellow head held proudly high.
Its lithe blue body stretching powerfully, Manectric gave an eager howl overlaid with a tumultuous rumble of thunder. Ren smiled. “You're ready to go, I see.”
“He is not the only one!”
“Hm?” Ren glanced up to see Vila releasing a flash of red light from her own Poke Ball. With a squeak, it coalesced into a small, yellow, rat-like Pokemon with shiny black eyes that rolled up into a ball at the sight of its opponent.
“Sandshrew . . .” Vila said, with the air of somebody trying to figure out how to break down a wall with a toothpick.
“A Ground-type, just like I thought,” Ren noted. “Still, it's not going to do you any good.”
“Aren't we confident all of a sudden?” Natasha prodded.
“I can't afford not to be,” Ren said. “A Champion can't be afraid of anything."