( I'm a little behind schedule, but work has been hectic for the last 2 weeks so I haven't had as much free time to write lately. This chapter is pretty short compared to recent ones, but it's not supposed to be a giant epic anyway; that's the next chapter's job. Expect that by mid-August at the latest! Additionally, this fic has been officially planned up to Chapter 25, which will cover the rest of the Galactic Battles episodes. And yes, I am inserting a scene at some point that will show Conway catching a Shuckle. A very fitting choice, indeed. Also, I'm copypasta'ing in FFN's formatting, which unfortunately means they neutered every sentence (except the few I fixed) that ended with "?!" and sort of kills the mood in my opinion. My apologies, but it's irritating enough coding in the italics throughout the chapter as it is. I do kinda-sorta have limits. Peace! )
Perilous weather seemed to be around every corner during Paul and Conway's journey, regardless of whether they were together or separated. The further up north they traveled, Mother Nature's natural disasters proved to be more challenging. Thankfully, at this point, both were granted a break from the blizzards that threatened to stall their progress. Conway was back in the southeastern area of the Sinnoh region while Paul was stable in Snowpoint City. While the latter still had to deal with the bitter cold temperatures, even he was graced with the sun breaking through the clouds, giving the northern tip of Sinnoh a reprieve at last.
Even Ash and his friends had a relatively easy time reaching Sinnoh's northernmost location, as they primarily traveled via a well-heated tunnel… the path that "normal" Pokémon trainers took; the beaten path Paul staunchly refused to take advantage of. Thus, regardless of the fact that Ash and friends' progress towards Snowpoint City was significantly slowed with Dawn's participation in the Sandalstraw Contest and the Pokémon Ping-Pong Tournament, the trio managed to reach their destination not too long after Paul, whose progress was only hampered by his own stubbornness.
Only two significant people were left dealing with the harsh winter elements: Reggie, who had to deal with the slick roads among other things on the way up to Snowpoint City…
… The second was none other than Brandon himself. Much like his second son, Brandon was not keen on taking the easy way up; after all, the only Regigigas book he had on hand still wasn't entirely specific about the exact location of the Colossal Pokémon. He circled around entire diameters of various mountains and often met with risky situations of his own. But Brandon was far luckier than Paul, so far surviving the brutal mountain habitat quite well. However, his extensive search through the mountains was the main reason why he had not yet reached Snowpoint City even though he had a huge lead over his son.
Despite Brandon's very thorough search, he remained empty-handed with no clues as to where to head other than Snowpoint City. While the fruitless search was understandably irritating for the Pyramid King, Brandon actually relished every moment of this journey. Being back in his home region for the first time in well over seven years and immersed in an adventure for the ages made Brandon feel young again. He only wished he had Byron and Palmer with him to share the experience of what their heyday was like. This was more than enough to convince Brandon to press on, of course.
This rugged adventurer was long ago taught to expect the unexpected; to go above and beyond, and to remain vigilant in pursuing a goal no matter how often one is met with failure.
But there was one thing he did not expect to come up in his journey: the Battle Pyramid he left behind in Kanto so long ago. Just as Brandon finished sliding down the base of yet another mountain (once again finding nothing of relevance to his journey), he felt numerous unnaturally powerful gusts of wind beat down over him. A massive shadow soon enveloped the Frontier Brain as he looked up, trying to find the cause of the powerful breezes, only to find that his view of the sky had become completely blocked. However, the whirring of certain engines was all too familiar for Brandon; it didn't take long for him to figure out what was hovering over him… and honestly, Brandon was not sure whether or not to be relieved or worried.
He had gone well over a month without contacting his fellow Frontier Brains, Scott, or even his assistant. Brandon knew this brash move was going to come back and bite him eventually… he just didn't expect it to play out quite like this. Impressed as he was with the fact that his Battle Pyramid was indeed fit for crossing lengths of ocean, the comfort soon became the concern and uncertainty of what this all meant.
One thing that was apparent, though: whoever was in the Battle Pyramid knew exactly where Brandon was, because as the vessel flew by the Frontier Brain, he noticed a very long and sturdy length of rope hanging from the edge. In the middle of the mountain range, there was no ample space for the Battle Pyramid to land properly; hence whoever piloted his facility inherently knew Brandon would be able to climb his way towards the Battle Pyramid, even in midair.
To know he had that kind of strength… it wasn't too hard for Brandon to figure out who had just discovered him. With very little trouble, he climbed his way back into the facility he had gone so long without seeing. No one was there to greet Brandon once he safely made it onboard, meaning there must be only one person inside, and that sole occupant was stuck at the steering wheel at the bridge. Brandon decided to pay the lone pilot a visit promptly.
"Sam!" he shouted out, effectively startling his assistant, but Brandon also cut himself off as he found his base of operations looking quite different from how he remembered it. Extra screens and various digital devices had been implemented flawlessly into the Battle Pyramid's structure. "What in the…?"
"Uh, nice to see you again, as well," Samuel nervously greeted. "I guess you're expecting an explanation right about now, aren't you…?"
Brandon sternly nodded, but was soon distracted with the new gadgets surrounding him. "First… find a place to land. I believe there's much we both need to be caught up with."
Samuel quickly agreed to that. "Say no more. Let's just hope I can find a space to land…"
The Frontier Brain couldn't help but be highly intrigued by all of this technology installed into his facility… without him knowing of it, especially. While he waited for Samuel to make a landing, Brandon recalled that he vowed to do something like this once he returned to Kanto in order to make himself available in case of emergencies, such as Reggie's recent incident. If there was one glaring weakness on Brandon, it was his lack of familiarity with certain forms of technology. A true old-school man, Brandon often shunned the newest ways to make life easier. He was at least able to pilot his Battle Pyramid, though he had the drive to learn that much: it enabled Brandon to continue his life as an adventurer while maintaining his duties of being a Frontier Brain. It was a worthwhile skill to learn, though he often left most of the technological work to his assistant.
Luckily, a stray area of stable ground was discovered and Samuel promptly landed the Battle Pyramid, loathing the silent tension in the control room. "So…" he finally said. "I guess this wasn't something you expected, right?"
"Indeed," Brandon agreed, looking rather indignant. "I'll admit you're impressive to be able to cross the ocean without any problems, but I was very clear about my intentions in the note I left you all. So why are you here?"
"I was sent by Scott's orders, Brandon," Samuel explained, sounding helpless about the matter. "The other Frontier Brains weren't very happy about the way you left us… but they were worried about you nonetheless, and I can see why. Sinnoh just gets more and more treacherous up north."
Brandon scoffed at the idea that his coworkers actually doubted his survival skills. "I was doing just fine," he claimed. "The search has been long and arduous, but nothing I can't handle. I assume these new bells and whistles you installed in the Battle Pyramid played a role in finding me so easily?"
"Easily?" Samuel almost wanted to faint. "I've been looking for you since the day you left, Brandon! And that was a long time ago, you know. I even stopped by your old house to see if you were visiting your family. Reggie said you had left days before I arrived."
"I only went there due to a family emergency," Brandon coldly explained. That was a very dark time for him, but also an important event that made him aware of his own faults for being impossible to communicate with. "But while I was there, I found the book I was looking for. I was in Veilstone City for only a few hours… aside from the time it took me to get there by boat from Canalave City, I've been fully dedicated in my search for Regigigas."
Samuel blinked. "Oh, right. Reggie told me about that, too. So you've had the book this long and you still haven't found it…?"
"Even the book was vague about its precise location," Brandon told him. "I didn't want to take any chances, so I've been scouring this mountain range and leaving no stone unturned."
To that, his assistant just sighed and shook his head. "I'm pretty sure it's very close to Snowpoint City, Brandon. We ought to set course for there immediately."
"What…?" That got Brandon's attention. "Why do you sound so sure of yourself?"
"Well, you've noticed by now the enhancements I made to the control center," Samuel explained with a nervous smile. "I'm able to cover a lot more ground with these updated GPS systems, which is how I found you while I was scanning the surface. I figured only you would be crazy enough to scale these mountains all by yourself…"
The Pyramid King just stared at Samuel, unimpressed with his attempts of making the conversation lighthearted. "Continue."
"Ah-… right, right," Samuel bowed sheepishly. Spending so much time restlessly searching for his boss made him quite flustered. "I did all of this not only to improve my chances of finding you, but of also finding Regigigas… you know, so you'd be more inclined to continue your journey here."
"The way you were talking," Brandon pointed out. "Before this explanation… you sounded like you knew of Regigigas' location."
"Aha, well…" Samuel thought he had done an adequate job in making Brandon's life easier like this, but wasn't sure just how well or badly the Frontier Brain would take it. "I wouldn't say I found it, per se, but since I've greatly enhanced our communication systems and increased our range, I decided to call up several people in Snowpoint City over the past few days to see if they knew anything about Regigigas. I also asked about your whereabouts, but no one's seen you set foot there yet."
Brandon tried not to look too anxious for Samuel to finish his explanation. "I am slowly but surely making my way up here. Now, who tipped you off about Regigigas?"
"I'm that easy to read?" Samuel asked him, but not expecting a response. "I'd rather not jump the gun just yet, but there's a nice lady who watches over the Snowpoint Temple where Regigigas presumably "sleeps", so to speak."
"Sleeps?" Brandon echoed, sounding bewildered. "Then its location is confirmed!"
"Well, the shrine maiden was still a little vague when I talked to her, but she promised she'd go into more detail once I found you," Samuel explained. "But from the sounds of things, capturing that Pokémon is going to be much trickier than you'd expect. I have faith that you'll succeed, but there's something you really need to know before we set off, Brandon."
His voice grew somber near the end, making Brandon both curious and wary of what was about to be said. "What might that be?"
Samuel found it difficult to look Brandon in the eyes by this point. "I meant it when I said I have faith you'll succeed, but the bottom line is that you have to succeed. As long as you capture Regigigas, you'll be in good graces with the Battle Frontier committee despite the way you abandoned your post." He took on an ominous tone from then on. "But if you come back to Kanto empty-handed… they're not going to forgive you so easily."
That feeling Brandon had about karma coming to pay him back for his actions? It came back to him, more powerful than ever before. "Then failure is not an option," he realized. "Thank you for letting me know, Sam. I'll do everything in my power to capture Regigigas… hopefully this shrine maiden will understand the situation."
"The committee was awfully vague about what your punishment would be," Samuel noted. "I guess the fact that you have tenure means that they're not sure how to punish you effectively, given that they can't really fire you on the spot after everything you've done for them over the years…"
"But that doesn't mean they won't try to find a loophole," Brandon countered. "For as long as it's taken me, I imagine they're all quite furious. The longer I take, the greater the consequence I'll suffer should I fail. It's very important that we execute this mission flawlessly."
Samuel smiled upon hearing this. "That's why I went out of my way to upgrade your facility. I know you're not really into that, but you're going to need all the help you can get when it comes to this. I want you to succeed, Brandon, so I'll do everything in my power to make sure that happens." He then smiled again, looking a bit embarrassed. "Besides, I kind of like working with this stuff. You were going to need this eventually, so…"
Brandon nodded. "Much as I disapprove of taking the easy way out of things, I'm not left with much of a choice here. The stakes are too high, and unlike some people, I know when to set aside my pride, as the risks involved simply aren't worth taking. You've done well." He had a clear person in mind when he spoke of overcoming pride… all too clear.
"We'll make it work out," Samuel assured him. "More importantly, it's relieving to know you're alright. It's not that we doubt your abilities, Brandon… but when you go a while without contacting us, it's only natural that we start to get worried."
"I understand," the Frontier Brain stated humbly. "And I was planning on having our communication systems upgraded anyway after what happened with my family, so I thank you for accomplishing that ahead of time."
"It was my pleasure," Samuel insisted. "But now we'd best hurry and reach Snowpoint City as soon as possible. I'll go ahead and contact the shrine maiden so we can officially set up an appointment for a visit to the temple."
As the Battle Pyramid ascended from its landing point, Brandon smirked, eager to speak with someone who might possibly know more about Regigigas than anyone else. For all the hardships he endured, after months of searching, the reward for his patience and persistence was almost within reach.
"Alright, I think we've got a connection going," Samuel reported a short while after; the Battle Pyramid swiftly approaching its destination. "Ready, Brandon?"
To that, the Pyramid King smirked. "I was born ready."
Shortly afterward, the large screen installed in the control room was activated, displaying only quiet static until the call was made. After a few rings, the static faded out to clearly display a modest-looking young woman wearing a typical shrine maiden outfit. Aside from her fringe and forelocks, her black hair was completely covered up as well.
"Ah, Samuel," she acknowledged. "It's a pleasure to hear back from you. I see you have a friend with you this time. Might this be…?"
Samuel smirked and gestured at his boss. "Right; this is Pyramid King Brandon, the one I was talking to you about last time."
Brandon nodded to her. "My assistant has spoken quite highly of you, miss…"
"Maria," the shrine maiden finished for him. "It truly is an honor to speak to one of the world's greatest trainers."
"So you watch over the Snowpoint Temple," Brandon acknowledged. "And you have extensive knowledge of Regigigas?"
Maria bowed to him. "I believe I may be able to help you in seeking what you find. You are aware of the legend behind Regigigas, correct?"
The much-coveted and rare book about Regigigas was brought up for Maria to see. "I've been following this book, which appears to be the only known book on that subject in every library across every region," Brandon informed her. "I already had some knowledge of the legend, such as the creation of the three subordinate Regis and how it towed continents with ropes, but it appears that there is much more to the story than that."
"Indeed," Maria affirmed. "Regirock, Registeel, and Regice aren't merely subordinates of Regigigas; it is also their duty to protect Regigigas from outside harm as it sleeps."
"So it's sleeping presently, you say," Brandon pointed out. "You know where Regigigas is?"
Maria nodded. "Legend has it that Regigigas and the others saved the Sinnoh region eons ago from a catastrophic volcanic eruption which destroyed a majestic forest that once existed in this area. Through the efforts of Regigigas, the rest of the region was saved. Afterward, Regigigas disappeared within the same bright, bluish light in which it miraculously came from. According to legend, Regigigas now sleeps within a precious jewel orb. Regirock, Registeel, and Regice transformed into a triad of pillars that protect the orb from malicious outside forces."
"A bit more detailed than what was written in this book," Brandon commented. "But I currently have a Regirock, Registeel, and Regice in my possession. If this legend is true, then there was a previous generation of the three Regis…"
"It is merely a legend," Maria reminded him. "But I've watched over this temple for years as it is a tradition in my family. The orb rests upon a pedestal where three large pillars surround it. Each pillar is purely made of the respective elements… rock, steel, and ice. My family has kept the shrine sacred for centuries now, as the temple is not exactly a secure residence…"
Samuel blinked upon learning about this. "Is that why it's so hard to find information on Regigigas? To prevent people from trying to disturb its resting place?"
"Precisely," Maria sternly answered. "The Snowpoint Temple is by no means a venue for tourism; even the residents of Snowpoint City respect that. If Regigigas' location was to be spread out across the world, thieves and others of ill intent would swarm this shrine, which has little in the way of defense for the sake of preserving this ancient establishment."
"A very wise move," Brandon commended her, but in the back of his mind he realized what Samuel meant about Regigigas being a tricky one to capture; how it in the world could he convince Maria to surrender the precious host of the sacred temple and leave the burden on his hands alone? "You and your family have done well to preserve this establishment, Maria. Would it be imposing of me to request a visit to the Snowpoint Temple?"
Though Brandon feared Maria would turn him down, he felt at ease when she gave him a warm smile. "Your assistant has told me much of your background as an archeologist in addition to your reputation as Kanto's finest Frontier Brain. It is only natural that you've been drawn here to Sinnoh, seeking the temple hosting a Pokémon so closely connected to the ones in your possession. You are always welcome to the temple, Pyramid King." She looked so gentle and trusting… almost too quickly, Brandon thought. "I know you will respect it… and I feel that you were destined to come here one day. Will I be seeing you two in the near future?"
"We're on our way as we speak," Brandon replied with confidence. "Shall we decide on a point where we will meet?"
Again, Maria looked completely agreeable and flexible to this arrangement. "There is a large clearing a few miles beyond Snowpoint City's limits that is situated between the city and the temple. I will escort you personally to the temple."
Samuel looked closely at the digitized maps displayed on the new GPS system he installed into the control room. "From the sounds of things, you're talking about the Valhalla Plains, right?"
"Yes, let us meet each other properly in the Valhalla Plains," Maria affirmed. "Let me know when you are about to arrive, and I will be punctual with my arrival as best I can."
"No pressure," Brandon assured. More than anything, he was grateful to get a chance to access this temple, thus had no heart to be stiff and professionally stern as he often was with others. "We look forward to meeting you, Maria."
"The feeling is mutual," Maria assured him, giving the Pyramid King one final bow. "I will see to it that we shall cross paths when the time is right."
This arrangement seemed to be going well so far… "No sooner and no later, Maria. Until then."
After one final bow from the shrine maiden, the call had ended. Both Brandon and Samuel remained silent for a while as they assessed their situation at hand.
"So you probably figured out why I said pulling this off won't be easy," Samuel finally said, looking to Brandon. "Nice as she is…"
Brandon did not at all feel confident about his chances, not expecting a moral roadblock to threaten his progress on this long journey he embarked on. "I can't help but wonder what the consequence would be for awakening Regigigas," he admitted. "We are not hostile, but even so…"
"I really doubt she'll just let you have Regigigas," Samuel told his boss, painfully honest in his tone. "Your qualifications are second to none, but that probably won't be enough…"
"All we can do is keep a low profile in regards to our motives," Brandon decided, sighing heavily. "Best not to give up before we even start. We've already realized that failure is not an option in this mission, Sam."
Samuel nodded in agreement. "It's a good excuse, but the committee's going to want some kind of result they'll be willing to pardon you for. Not to mention we'll have to be careful about how far we spread out this information…"
"That's right," Brandon realized. "Maria's kept Regigigas largely a mystery to the world in order to prevent the temple from being overrun. We can trust Professor Oak with this undeniably, but otherwise…" This was where being antisocial came in handy; Brandon at least was fully confident that he wouldn't let this precious information slip into the hands of untrustworthy people.
"We can keep a secret," the Frontier Brain assured his assistant. "It's too early to concede defeat at this point, so let's set our minds to our goal and think of a way to appeal to that shrine maiden. The fact that she respects us already gives us an advantage."
Reluctantly, Samuel nodded. The sudden weight of morality was set upon his shoulders just as heavily as it was on Brandon's, but he was also a witness to just how displeased Brandon's fellow Frontier Brains were with his actions. Samuel knew he wouldn't be able to do anything to help his higher-up if this mission were to fail for any reason.
While that worry lingered within Brandon as well, the detailed information he received from Maria was intriguing… particularly the part of the legend that insinuated that there was more than one set of Regi subordinates out there in the world. Or perhaps something else… the theories simply fascinated him.
"We're ready for liftoff," Samuel reported, setting the Battle Pyramid's course straight for the Snowpoint Temple. "From our position, if the weather cooperates, we should be arriving there sometime tomorrow afternoon."
For once, Brandon preferred not to rush things. "Good. We'll have some time to think this over before we meet her." He looked to Samuel. "Keep a steady course, but there's no need to rush, understand?"
"Completely," Samuel nervously agreed. Though he was more than familiar with just how amazing Brandon could be at times, it was hard to tell how well he would fare with a moral issue. After all, this was the man who went several years without even seeing his sons in person.
Knowing that he would soon be in Snowpoint City, Brandon remembered Paul's promise to destroy him in battle the second the two crossed paths in Sinnoh's northernmost civilization. That promise was made a month ago, making Brandon briefly wonder if Paul would really still be in Snowpoint City, given that Paul surely would have made it up there even by foot much sooner than that. He was completely unaware of the several mishaps that impeded Paul's progress, but Brandon also figured that Paul, even after winning his seventh badge, would wait for his father.
For rarely being around his own sons, Brandon knew them both very well as if had had been living with them all this time. Paul in particular... for all the similarities they shared, it wouldn't be a stretch to say Brandon knew Paul better than Paul knew himself.
Eager as Brandon was to face his fiercest child, he kept his priorities straight. After all, this battle would be an uphill battle for Paul; not him. There wasn't much need for Brandon to be concerned about, and if Paul were to surprise him, Brandon would be more than pleased. The battle was just a little treat for him to enjoy for this lengthy, arduous journey; as such, it was shoved into the back of Brandon's mind as he used what hours he had remaining to think of a way to appeal to Maria and finally capture Regigigas.
Around the same time much further south in the humid, swampy dwelling known as Pastoria City, Conway – or rather, "Colin" – had just stepped outside from the Pastoria Gym. He admired the gleaming Fen Badge in his hand that he had just earned from Crasher Wake after a hard-fought battle. While the likes of Paul and Ash had little to no trouble with this particular Gym Leader due to overwhelming him with strategies based on type advantages, Conway's current team didn't really have much in the way of super-effectiveness against Water-types. At the same time, save for Aggron, Conway at least didn't have a team completely susceptible to Water-type moves.
Thankfully, Conway made up for his lack of experience with his abundance of knowledge; since the night where he and Paul concocted plans for combating Maylene and Candice, the rogue trainer decided he would do thorough research of each Gym Leader he would face prior to battling them. As such, Conway had a plan for dealing with Crasher Wake, though it necessitated him to teach his team a new move or two (particularly Electric-type moves such as Thunder in conjunction with Rain Dance for Castform). Cases like Quagsire that made it even more difficult for Conway to land a super-effective hit were dealt with via the strong Psychic-type moves he already had in his arsenal. Crasher Wake was strong, but Conway managed to outlast him through his resistances to Water-type attacks in Slowking and Castform in its Rain incarnation while strategy took care of the rest.
His methods earned Crasher Wake's respect and was wished well with his pursuits to qualify for the Sinnoh League. Though Conway was interested in the prospect of participating in such a prestigious event, it was going to be televised across the entire Sinnoh region and that was something Conway knew he had to avoid if he wanted to keep his status a secret from his family, friends, and enemies. It was still quite a while before the Sinnoh League Conference would commence… perhaps if Conway dealt with Sloan before that time, he would entertain the thought of going after all… he had chosen the path of battling out of necessity, though as far as pure preferences were concerned, Conway was still a little unsure as he enjoyed Contests just as much as traditional battling.
The possibility of facing Paul in the League, however… or even Ash, Dawn's traveling partner… those were all interesting prospects to think about trying for if Conway could return to his normal life in the near future.
However, to get that far in the League and even to make it there to begin with, Conway knew he was going to need some more variety in his team. Not that he was dissatisfied with Slowking, Aggron, Heracross, Castform, and Smoochum (though Smoochum remained to easily be the least-experienced of the team and thus the one that needed the most work). There was still at least one more spot he needed to fill and more likely than not he would need to use Maylene and Reggie's services with the daycare in order to store future Pokémon he would capture. What he had now wouldn't be enough to conquer every major Gym Leader in the region for certain.
The difficulty of the battle with Crasher Wake was indicative of that. While Conway pondered over that issue, he also wondered where he would go next from here. One of two obvious options was to go east towards Sunyshore City (coincidentally where Paul would be aiming for once he conquered Candice's Gym) and face Volkner… though Volkner had quite the reputation across the region. Though he was widely considered Sinnoh's strongest Gym Leader alongside Byron, he had something of an attitude that made him very unpopular. Regardless, Conway knew he wasn't ready to take Volkner on yet with only two badges under his belt… not to mention his team was pretty weak against an Electric-type-themed team. He wisely decided to hold that match off for later, as most trainers did.
Pastoria City hosted a site called the Great Marsh: the Sinnoh region's answer to what most others would simply name the Safari Zone. While an unpleasant place in general with trainers forced to wade in waist-deep muddy water while practically glued to the surface with the muck covering it, it was an ideal place for catching a wide array of Pokémon species of varying types that Conway lacked on his side. He certainly didn't need any more Psychic-types, but Conway figured it would be beneficial for him to have a Grass-type like Shroomish, Carnivine or Tropius… or perhaps Poison-types like Gulpin, Roselia or Drapion.
But successfully capturing anything in the Great Marsh required a great amount of patience and skill; time and effort Conway couldn't afford to waste when he was so far behind in collecting badges. Most trainers were already past the halfway point as it was; Conway was going to need to work overtime in order to catch up. He was certain fate would bring him his next destined teammate, much like how he ended up with Smoochum. It was an illogical belief, sure, but Conway had gone through so much and learned that most of what he thought he knew turned out to be wrong all this time that he was willing to try anything at least once… even daring to dream. At least it gave him the strength to press on.
Finally, Conway decided he would face the less-extreme but more widespread swamps beyond Pastoria City to the west, circle around and reach Hearthome City next. This city was significant to Conway, having hosted the Tag Battle tournament in which he became a runner-up and was able to show off his glorious skills on live national television across the region… even if it wasn't appreciated by the people who were important to him. Not to mention it was the city where Conway first met Paul, Dawn, Ash, and Brock; the first two of which became very significant people in his life now… or were, before the tragedy with Mars struck. Now Conway was dead to Paul and might as well be dead to Dawn as well; it was a long time ago when he last saw her in person and the widespread news of his death might have gotten her attention. It just wasn't worth the risk, much as it pained Conway to force Dawn out of his goals and his life. But he was convinced he was damaged goods now anyway, all thanks to Mars. Conway refused to inadvertently drag Dawn into the dirt right with him; he knew she deserved better than that.
With no travel mate to interact with or slow him down, Conway made swift progress in his journey back to Hearthome City; obviously, his goal for this location would be to earn the Relic Badge from the eccentric and foreign part-Gym Leader, part-Coordinator, part-absentminded wanderer, Fantina. This classy woman was a specialist in Ghost-type Pokémon; something Conway knew he could manage with the team he had. Though it was risky as Ghost-type moves would be just as dangerous to Conway's Slowking and Smoochum as their Psychic attacks would be to her Pokémon, the nerdy trainer was confident at least in Slowking's abilities and thought this would be a good time for Smoochum to start taking notes on the sidelines. Since many Ghost-types were partly Poison-typed as well, this was a perfect opportunity for the Steel-type side of Aggron to completely negate any attacks of that type. Only Heracross was mostly unsuited for taking on this kind of challenge. Regardless, unlike with Crasher Wake, Conway felt completely secure in type coverage and security with what he had now, which made him quite eager to meet and defeat this foreign Gym Leader.
Still, though the journey progressed more quickly solo, Conway still couldn't help but feel a little lonely all this time. Contrary to his nerdy nature, Conway did not enjoy being this socially withdrawn.
Conway had little time to dwell on his situation any further as he heard a panicked "Make way…!" from a distance. Briefly startled, Conway looked around, trying to find the source of the voice, but was soon cut off from that as somebody crashed straight into him; Conway was absolutely flattened on the ground by a young man who appeared to be around his age, though that was certainly not the detail Conway cared about right this second.
Not far behind the boy pile was an orange bicycle, which looked as if it would fall to pieces at any time now, apparently being stopped by a rock jutting out from the ground, which promptly launched the rider straight into Conway.
On top of Conway was an energetic blond who was perhaps just a tad taller (and possibly a tad older) than him. Conway didn't get much of a word in edgewise before the stranger rudely cut in first to complain.
"What are you, deaf?" he whined, forcing himself off Conway's body while struggling to get back on his feet. "I told you to get out of the way!"
To this, Conway just frowned. "What exactly was stopping you from just making a turn to avoid me completely? All this road and you insisted on getting right behind me?"
"What was that?" the boy was immediately confrontational, it seemed. His large and furiously energetic (yet borderline adorable at the same time) amber eyes glared down upon his victim. His orange and white striped shirt matched his eyes while his distinctive green scarf blew with the gentle breeze coming by just then. "I don't like your tone. Just for that, I'm giving you a fine!"
While Conway managed to get up, he almost fell down again in bewilderment upon hearing that statement. "A… a fine?"
"And don't make me double it!" he threatened. "Nobody delays Barry's quest for greatness without paying the price. Now hurry up and pay your dues! You've got ten seconds!" He looked down at his Pokétch, which seemed to be a more advanced model than Dawn's. For some reason, he skipped the first half of the countdown. "Five, four, three, two…!"
"Wait! Just… wait!" Conway urged, already frustrated with this guy, holding his hands up. "Who are you to charge me for inconveniencing you? You certainly don't look like royalty."
"Shows what you know! And you weren't paying attention!" Conway's new acquaintance pointed out. "The name's Barry and don't you forget it!" Just then, he looked intrigued. "And you! You look kinda familiar."
That word… "familiar"… was an instant red alert in Conway's head. He assumed this meant Barry had seen the news of his apparent demise and recognized him, which would compromise his entire mission if Barry were to spread this news around. "F-familiar…? I'm sure it's just a coincidence," Conway insisted. "I don't get out much."
"No, I've definitely seen your face before!" Barry countered, invading Conway's personal space to get a closer look. The fact that Conway was wearing Paul's clothes as part of his "Colin" disguise went straight over Barry's head, ironically enough. "Believe me; I know a loser when I see one."
Conway couldn't believe this. All because Barry was too ignorant to avoid a crash, he had to deal with this hyperactive boy nosing around in his business, scrutinizing him. "I don't have to take this, you know," Conway reminded him. "I can't pay your fine anyway since I'm out of cash and I'm certainly not giving you my credit card…"
"Aha!" Barry had reached an epiphany. "I get it now! You were in the Hearthome Tag Battle Tournament!" Apparently Conway's words went in one ear and out the other. "You were that obviously newbie girl who lost to Paul!"
The fact that Barry knew Paul was quickly overridden by the fact that Barry assumed Conway to be the wrong gender. That statement was enough to make Conway fall over again, aghast at the statement. "A… a girl? Are you serious? I don't even sound feminine!"
"Huh, for real?" Barry asked him, genuinely surprised by his mistake. "No, you were definitely in that tournament…" It took a moment of awkward silence for him to realize the truth. "Ah, alright! Now I got it!" he said with a smirk, pointing directly at Conway. "You're that hopelessly geeky trainer who lost to Paul!"
His position changed suddenly, now looking up at the sky thoughtfully. "Isn't that what I called Dawn when I met her? I got you two confused, for real? Oh well; easy mistake…"
"For you, maybe!" Conway shot back, highly offended and not knowing that he was giving himself away. "It would be obvious to anyone else that I'm a boy!"
"I don't have time for your gender issues, man," Barry brushed off; his tone careless. "Alright, I think I've figured it out. You're not denying it!"
At least Barry wasn't identifying Conway with the recent death in the news incident… at the same time, he wasn't sure just how honest he could be with a guy like this and if he would really be safe admitting to participating in the tournament. But Barry seemed sure of himself now, and Conway really was in no mood to play mental games with a simpleton.
"Alright, fine," Conway quietly admitted through his clenched-together teeth. "Yes, I did participate in that competition. I'm Colin."
"Nah, that's not how I'm remembering it," Barry denied, pondering over this detail. "That's similar, but not really pronounced that way. Kinda sounded like "highway"…"
The last thing Conway wanted to do was give his real name to a total stranger at a time like this. At the same time, he was certain someone this simple-minded couldn't conjure his real name from thin air. "You just got my gender wrong and now you think you know my-"
"Conway!" Barry realized. "That's right! Mash "Colin" and "highway" together and you get "Conway"! It's so obvious!" He smirked at the shaken trainer before him, who couldn't believe he would deduce something like that on his own. "So what, is that like your secret alias to make you cooler or something? You'll never surpass Paul!"
Ah, the other relevant and surprising topic that had yet to be addressed. "You know Paul?" Conway asked finally, hoping to lure Barry away from any topics related to his true identity.
"Never met him, but I saw him wipe the floor with you on TV that one time and he just looked awesome," Barry recalled. "He won the whole tournament!" Neglecting that Ash had won alongside him… "One day I'm gonna be as strong and cool as he is," he proclaimed before holding his thoughts once more to realize something. "Oh, so you're saying you know him, too? Well, of course you do. You battled him and you're wearing clothes that look like his…"
Barry, in spite of his harebrained mannerisms, was awfully quick to pick up on details that he really cared to find. "So what, are you trying to be his biggest fan? Aren't you a little old for doing stuff like that?"
Conway was about to respond before Barry cut him off again. "Ack, I don't have time for chit-chatting with a poser! You just wasted a huge load of my time! I ought to fine you indefinitely for this!"
"Will you shut up and stop interrupting me?" Conway finally barked out, his patience having run out. "And stop expecting me to pay you; it's not going to happen!"
"Alright, nobody asked you to be that rude!" Barry countered, pointing at him. "Fine, if you're not going to pay up, then battle me!"
All of a sudden, a challenge to battle within a few minutes of meeting each other…? Actually, that was pretty common practice for trainers. It was merely something Conway went out of his way to avoid until he felt he was a safe distance from his hometown to risk being seen by someone who might have seen the newscast or simply remembered the incident. "Wait, you mean right now…?" Conway was still a little slow on the uptake of accepting challenges, nonetheless.
Barry whined and threw a fit while standing in place. "Just accept the challenge already! I'm in a hurry, you know…!"
"If for nothing else but closure on a case like you, I suppose I must accept," Conway conceded, taking out one of his Pokéballs. He smirked just before aiming to throw it; "What a perfect time to test your readiness before the next Gym…"
"Like I said, I gotta get a move on to Hearthome City!" Barry reminded Conway, though this was the first time he brought up his destination. "So let's make this a three-on-three, alright?"
The fact that he and Barry were headed for the same location only deeply bothered Conway, as he was not eager to run into this guy a second time after this encounter. Still, if he could defeat this opponent badly enough, Conway thought he could perhaps convince Barry that he simply isn't ready to face Fantina yet; as shallow and simple-minded Barry came off, Conway had a hard time picturing his new acquaintance as anything more than a first-year trainer with no more than a couple of badges earned.
"Just what I had in mind," Conway agreed. "By all means, go right ahead…"
"Fine!" Barry conceded, taking out a Pokéball before throwing it. "But only because you look indecisive! Let's get an early lead, Staraptor…!"
Seeing the Predator Pokémon made Conway smirk self-assuredly, as this further indicated that he was making the right first choice. "Your perceptive skills are betraying you," Conway told him before finally unleashing his competitor. "Smoochum, it's time to make your debut…!"
Barry just blinked, staring blankly at the cute little Pokémon that was designated his Staraptor's competitor. The fact that Smoochum by both her types was superior to Staraptor went right over his head as he couldn't believe he was facing something that looked so docile. The fact that Conway mentioned "debut" made it obvious that this was Smoochum's first battle against a trainer.
Conway was confident, knowing the advantage was on his side in spite of Smoochum's lack of experience. He was ready to make Barry regret that the two had ever met and he would do so in the most embarrassing way possible: by beating him with an unseasoned battler in Smoochum.
Smoochum was too eager at the prospect of battle to figure out what was going on in her trainer's head, but was ready to fight nonetheless.
"You're fighting me with that?" Barry asked Conway before slowly growing angry. "Wait, what… what is this, are you trying to insult me?"
"In the midst of battle? What a rude thing to do," Conway remarked, very amused. "But try and focus on the battle now. Smoochum, Confusion!"
Barry's reaction time was clearly lacking as he was far too late to give Staraptor a command before it was caught in the Psychic-type trap, only able to move as Smoochum wished it to. "Huh…? Staraptor!"
"Display the power of gravity before our guest, please," Conway calmly commanded; his smile widening as Staraptor swiftly hit the ground, and hard. Smoochum couldn't hold Confusion any longer, but looked happy at her early success.
"Gah!" Barry cried out, flailing in panic over a fierce first blow. He knew this wasn't the time to be joking around now; Conway apparently was a legitimate threat to him now. "You're not getting away with that! Come on, Staraptor!"
"I prefer Staraptor when they stand still," Conway suddenly said, somewhat randomly. "It's easier to admire their frightful beauty that way. Smoochum, Powder Snow!"
Of course, his aim was to confound his human opponent with vague words while his Pokémon took advantage of the break in the battle to attack preemptively. But this time, Smoochum was far too slow to effectively freeze Staraptor in time, as it broke free with ease and was soon high in the sky once again, circling over the Kiss Pokémon.
"Just for trying that, you're getting a mega-fine!" Barry cried out, well in the midst of another tantrum. "Staraptor, take that girly thing down with Steel Wing!"
Conway didn't even want to guess what a "mega-fine" would be, but he had to quickly think of a plan for Smoochum to brace herself against this attack. Inexperienced as she was, it would be difficult for her to match Staraptor in a direct clash.
"Sing!" Conway commanded, hoping Smoochum would get that much out before the clash, but Staraptor swept in and slammed into the poor, young Pokémon full-force. Being super-effective, Smoochum was already in bad shape as her defenses were absolutely pitiful. Seeing this firsthand left Conway horrified as Barry looked disappointed.
"Geez, it's still able to battle?" Barry complained. "Alright, whatever. Staraptor, Close Combat!"
"No…!" Even with neutral damage, Close Combat was a devastating move that was far beyond Smoochum's abilities to withstand. A few stiff kicks from Staraptor's talons knocked the baby Pokémon unconscious.
"That's more like it!" Barry celebrated, pumping his fist into the air victoriously. "Hah, so much for type advantage! At this rate we'll be out of here within the next minute, Staraptor!"
Insane as Barry was, at least he loved his Pokémon, unlike a certain former companion of Conway's, which was in a way refreshing. Still, exchanging the inability to care for a lack of sanity and common sense seemed in more ways than one an unfair trade in his eyes. After a sigh of acceptance that he had been defeated, Conway recalled Smoochum back into her Pokéball and looked to it sadly.
"I was in a little over my head, I suppose," Conway admitted quietly. "My apologies. I won't let it be at your expense in the future…" Glaring at Barry, who was still as smug (and impatient) as ever, greatly fueled his drive to compete. It was hard to explain, but something about Barry greatly livened up Conway's competitive drive. As a result, he felt a stronger desire to win this battle. "So you're not a complete imbecile," Conway somewhat complimented, which only made Barry frown back. "Good to know. This may not be such a waste of time after all."
"Bring it!" Barry challenged, shaking his fists. "And make it quick; I didn't battle just to hear you talk to yourself!"
Conway narrowed his eyes at this, unable to forget for even a moment why he wanted to defeat this guy so soundly. It wasn't going to be a complete shut-out, but Conway knew it was still early enough to make an impression, and the best way to pull that off would be to use his strongest, most reliable player on hand. "Come forth and conquer, Slowking…!"
Like Conway's previous Pokémon, Barry couldn't help but stare on, dumbfounded at his opponent's choice. "Wow, your taste in Pokémon is kind of… terrible, you know?"
"Famous last words," Conway replied with a smirk. "Slowking, Psychic!"
The much more powerful rendition of the Confusion attack was just as (and probably more) effective keeping Staraptor's movements completely controlled. Oddly, Conway wasn't doing anything other than keeping Staraptor in place for the first few moments, prompting Barry to complain again.
"Oh, come on!" he cried out. "This is an obvious stall-off! What, are your Pokémon just like you and too weak to throw a punch?"
Conway preferred to think of it as he was too "mature" to be throwing punches, but what was the difference? He made it no secret that he was more inclined to special attacks. "Strategic mental combat is an effective battling strategy, believe it or not," he claimed, unafraid to spill his own strategy out at a time like this because Conway had a feeling Barry would just forget it three seconds later and go off on a completely unrelated tangent. "Now, I just submitted you to the laws of gravity moments earlier… at this time, I would like to show you firsthand the laws of friction with objects in motion."
"Aw, I should've figured!" Barry grumbled. "A nerd would submit me to the most boring stuff in the world right in the middle of a battle… they're the worst!"
Conway couldn't help but be amused with this. "Believe me when I say this will be anything but boring. Now, pay attention: the laws of friction are largely irrelevant when the object – in this case, your Staraptor – is under the control of Psychic. This means I can make it move much faster than it can naturally on its own. Observe."
After a signal to Slowking, Staraptor, still helpless in Psychic's power, moved several times faster than it could naturally as it shot up and down like a rocket in the sky and past a tree, where several leaves were shaken from their limbs once Staraptor zoomed past. Barry watched both in horror and awe, as this was rather interesting to watch.
"Now, say I put a huge rock in Staraptor's way," Conway hypothesized. "Do you think Staraptor will be stopped by the rock, or is its friction plus its mass even stronger than that and will blast right through the rock?"
Barry grasped at his hair after hearing that. "Either way, that's not going to end well with Staraptor…!"
"Indeed," Conway agreed, as he gleefully planned for this all along. "Slowking, Power Gem!"
A large, golden rock formed in the air as Barry looked on helplessly. "You wouldn't…!"
"You've been quite a pain today," Conway admitted, sounding almost helpless himself about the matter. "But trust me; this will be fun. You wouldn't believe how much it pays off to train a Pokémon to handle two attacks at once. Slowking?"
The Royal Pokémon nodded, knowing this was its cue. At the very last second, it released its Psychic hold on Staraptor in order to focus on forcing it back with the Power Gem attack. Staraptor was completely helpless all this time and had no way to make a difference even with its freedom back mere moments before it smashed into the massive, sparkling rock.
There was an explosion that followed this; trails of glitter from the rock rained down over the trainers as they watched on to see the result of this catastrophe. Staraptor did manage to force its way a short distance into the rock, but that was it. What remained of the rock smashed Staraptor ruthlessly into the ground, and needless to say it was going to be out of commission for quite a while.
Barry gaped at the sight for a while before coming to his senses and recalling Staraptor back to its Pokéball. Apparently he didn't handle defeat with even half the grace of Conway. "… Staraptor… I'm gonna avenge you! I'll make that nerd pay in more ways than one and win this for both of us!"
"Then go ahead; show us what you've got next," Conway invited. "Slowking here barely broke a sweat."
"I'll make you sorry for what you did!" Barry promised as he threw his next Pokéball. "Roserade, gimme a hand here…!"
This was an interesting choice, as the type advantages and disadvantages were even. Conway could use his Psychic-type attacks to exploit Roserade's vulnerability in its Poison-type while its Grass-type could critically injure Slowking's partial Water-type identity if Barry played his cards right. He was realizing by now that Conway wasn't only inclined towards special attacks; his opponent was also keen on keeping his Pokémon well-defended even without directly using defensive moves. So far most of Conway's blows have been aided by Psychic or Confusion. While Barry had more of a melee strategy, Conway clearly preferred alternative options… which made him quite a threat, much to Barry's surprise. By being comparatively passive compared to Barry's battling prowess, Conway successfully created an air of mystery around himself by mostly hanging in the background without doing too much. He was clearly one frightful contender, and even Conway didn't give himself enough credit in that regard.
After some consideration, Conway decided to keep Slowking in this round. "Very well; I'll stick with Slowking. By all means, take the initiative.
Asking Barry to attack was already suspicious, but Barry really had no other choice. He tried to shove his concerns aside and focus on the match. "It's your funeral, then!" A funny choice of words considering what Conway recently went through. "Roserade, Poison Jab!"
A bum rush strategy could succeed or fail depending on the situation. Barry wisely decided to overwhelm Conway with a never-ending stream of physical attacks which would force Conway to fight back by traditional means.
"Protect!" Conway called out, wondering why Barry didn't just call for a Grass-type attack instead. He was fully expecting something like Grass Knot or Energy Ball; certainly not Poison Jab. Slowking successfully surrounded itself in a protective barrier of light, blocking the first wave of Poison Jabs.
"Poison Jab, Poison Jab, Poison Jab!" Barry repeated, shouting at the top of his lungs. "Protect's not going to hold out forever! We'll force Slowking out and beat it into submission! Go for it, Roserade!"
Conway frowned at this, hoping Roserade would back off with a recharge and then finally use a Grass-type attack like a sensible trainer would call for. What Barry said was true; Slowking's Protect barrier would soon break and Protect had a good chance of failing when called for a second time consecutively.
All he could think of for the moment was to attempt to hold Roserade off until it tired itself out, making it child's play to defeat. It wasn't very likely it would work out as Conway wanted it to, but it didn't stop him from trying his best. Fast-paced as battles were, Conway knew it was best to stick to his plan, as improvising was very risky for players like him.
"Keep defending, Slowking," Conway ordered. "You can outlast a Roserade easily."
"Doesn't that pink thing just make you mad, Roserade?" Barry asked his partner, smirking. "I know it makes me mad, and we're gonna make it go down no matter what! So just keep using Poison Jab! That geeky trainer doesn't know about the true power we've got inside!"
"True power?" Conway wondered out loud. "Are you just tossing out a red herring for me or are you going somewhere with this?"
Barry just pouted for a moment, putting his hands on his hips. "What, you claim to be smart and you don't even know who my dad is?"
"How is your father's identity even relevant to your own strength?" Conway asked him, looking skeptical. Father topics were never fun to talk about. "You're not your father; you're your own person and you make your own destiny."
"My dad's one of the strongest trainers in the world!" Barry proudly proclaimed. "I've got his genes and people say I fight like him all the time! Flattering, really. You know what the Battle Frontier is, right?"
Conway's jaw nearly dropped when he heard the words "battle" and "frontier" used together. "You're implying that your father is a Frontier Brain?"
"Who's implying?" Barry shot back. "It's the truth! My dad's Tower Tycoon Palmer of Sinnoh's Battle Frontier!"
To this revelation, Conway gasped. Since the Sinnoh Battle Frontier was relatively new, Conway wasn't as privy to all its dirty little secrets like he was with the longstanding Kanto Battle Frontier. But now it suddenly made sense why Conway was so pumped and ready to take Barry on… while vastly different, Barry had a special way of getting underneath Conway's skin; a way only pulled off by Paul in the past. Both were sons of the most powerful Frontier Brains of their respective chapters… it was hard to say it was just a coincidence now.
"Man, you must've been living under a rock to not know that," Barry mocked. "Everyone knows me and loves me!"
Conway had a very hard time believing that; maybe it was also a personality clash, but Conway couldn't figure out how Barry was by any means tolerable to the general public. He wasn't coldhearted and antisocial like Paul, but Barry made up for that by being outrageously obnoxious and possibly even haughtier than Paul himself is. Conway also wasn't exactly keeping up to date with everything considering what he had been through in the past month. Taking care of Paul was a full-day job in itself and life had been nothing but sheer disaster for him since the two split ways.
"What is it with these Frontier Brain children?" Conway muttered. "I swear, Reggie's the only sane one and he's emotionally unstable…"
"Hey, what's with the mumbling?!" Barry complained. "We're in the middle of a battle; why do I even have to tell you all of this?"
Conway just rolled his eyes, looking back at the fight where Roserade was still spamming Poison Jab at Slowking, who was clearly struggling to keep up its defensive barrier any longer. "Why in the world are you only using one move? And a Poison-type move, at that!"
"One move's all I need to beat you!" Barry replied. "You think you're so special with all your training and you think Roserade's gonna tire out… well, think again!"
Barry had a point: for all the minutes that had passed since this round's beginning, Roserade really didn't look all that burdened by the sheer amounts of energy it was putting into every single punch. "No Psychic tricks this time; we're gonna force you to fight!"
Conway was about to retort until he heard a piercing sound of something shattering; namely Slowking's barrier. Unprotected, Slowking was forced to take in these blows directly without being given much of a chance to counterattack. "Curses," Conway quietly grumbled, watching the battle closely. "I can't get Slowking to focus on a Psychic attack if Roserade keeps hammering at him. If he can't get out of there, we're sunk…"
"We've got 'im now, Roserade!" Barry victoriously proclaimed. "Just keep Poison Jabbing till there's nothing left!"
Cheap as this strategy was, it was genius against a trainer like Conway, who had no reliable method of countering it without possibly sacrificing his own Pokémon.
It was making Conway seriously consider a kamikaze move just to throw Barry off the trail. This opponent left much to be desired in regards to personality and brainpower, but otherwise was indeed more than the average trainer… the progeny of Frontier Brains seemed to be in a league of their own.
When it came right down to it, Conway was honestly out of options. Slowking needed to focus in order to truly use its power and it was impossible to do so while getting endlessly Poison Jabbed. A move that would take them both down would be abrupt and wouldn't require much time at all to execute.
"Guess we'll just have to shove back after all," Conway decided. "Time to let loose a bit, Slowking. Water Pulse!"
By sacrificing the control of its power, Slowking had a tendency to be unstable. This wasn't a strategy Conway often resorted to, but it was a desperation measure nonetheless. It at least allowed Slowking to conjure up power more quickly, and hence was able to haphazardly hurl Water Pulse straight into Roserade… which of course wasn't enough to keep Roserade down by a long shot, but it gave Slowking ample time to surround itself in a barrier of pure Psychic energy. While looking similar, this was nothing like Protect. A point blank ranged hit from Water Pulse at least knocked Roserade back considerably, but both it and Barry stared in shock as Slowking was no longer calm and collected.
"This is it!" Conway called out, pointing directly at Roserade. "Fire!"
Slowking was anything but slow on the uptake as it zoomed across the gap between its opponent in a split second and attached itself to Roserade, letting the built-up psychic energy loose, resulting in a massive explosion.
As the dust and smoke settled, the nerve-wracked Barry and Conway squinted at the battle site, seeing pretty much what Conway expected: Slowking and Roserade were unable to battle.
"I-… I swear, your Pokémon are all the same!" Barry spat out as he recalled Roserade. "Psychic this! Psychic that! A-and that was cheap!"
"No more cheap than your own strategy, thank you," Conway corrected as he much more calmly recalled Slowking, glad to have the odds evened out again. The final round would have both sides' Pokémon at full health and energy, which hopefully would conclude well. "Well, the next round should definitely decide the battle overall."
Barry growled and shook his fists. "Don't talk about what's obvious! What are you gonna have, another Psychic-type for me to smash?"
"Guess you'll just have to find out," Conway replied with a smirk, taking out his last Pokéball. "I'm rather interested in what you have in store for me as well."
"Like I'd tell you before you send yours out!" Barry barked back. He looked very stubborn about this minor detail.
To that, Conway nodded. "Understandable. Perhaps we should just send out our Pokémon simultaneously so we'll both be surprised."
"You're on!" Barry agreed, looking down at his Pokétch. "Alright then, in five! Four! Three! Two…!"
Conway nodded and threw his Pokéball. "Let's come forth…!"
Barry followed a couple of beats later. "It's your turn…!"
There were several moments of awkward silence after this; after all, it was rather unexpected on both sides that they would actually have the same species of Pokémon.
"Wh-what's this all about?!" Barry cried out in confusion. "What are you, a witch?! How could you know that I was going to send out Heracross next?!"
That was by far the most bizarre accusation that was ever directed at Conway. "… Oh, you were serious?" he asked Barry after a pause. "I had no idea that you had a Heracross."
"Well, one of us has to switch out!" Barry declared. "There's no way we can keep up the battle when our Pokémon look exactly the same!"
Conway hated to admit it, but Barry was right. "Well, you could tie your scarf around yours and that would solve the problem…"
"Not unless you tie something to your Heracross, too!" Barry protested. "That would be giving my Heracross an unfair weight handicap!"
"Well, unfortunately, I don't have anything to tie around my Heracross," Conway pointed out with a sigh. "It's also not fair if one of us switches out because we'll have the strategic advantage over each other. We would both have to switch our Pokémon…"
Barry was not satisfied with this at all. "What are you doing with a Heracross, anyway? That's totally unlike you!"
Never mind that Barry only just met Conway today… what would he know? "You said you wanted something different," Conway reminded him. "So I chose Heracross. What in the world are you complaining about?"
"I wanna see what your strategy is with something that's not gonna stall me or trap my Pokémon with Psychic!" Barry explained, still rather whiny. "And I've already decided on my strategy and I'm not gonna change my mind!"
"You're behaving like a petulant child," Conway grumbled. "You're insisting the match stays as it is? Our Heracross are even the same gender… what are the odds?"
Said Heracross looked at their trainers' bickering back and forth; both rather annoyed that their trainers were unable to tell the difference between them. Though visually, for humans it was rather difficult most of the time, many Pokémon species were offended regardless of the typical "All Heracross look alike"… disregarding the gender differences, of course, but that wasn't even relevant in this case.
"You're the immature one!" Barry claimed, pointing at Conway. "You oughta be honored to battle somebody like me! It's not every day you run into the son of a Frontier Brain!"
"Well, you ran into me, first of all," Conway corrected for him, very annoyed at how Barry could be as astonishingly wrong about his conclusions as he could be right. He couldn't help but notice the irony of what Barry was saying… for being a fan of Paul to this extent, Conway found it surprising that Barry apparently was unaware of the fact that his idol was also a Frontier Brain's son. "Second… your background remains irrelevant even now. So please stop wasting your breath and don't bring it up again. I only need to be told these things once." If even that.
"So even after learning that, you treat me like I'm not a threat?" Barry argued. "Like I'm below you or something?"
Conway was baffled at where Barry's mind must be at this time. "Er… what? I've never even implied that, much less ever said such a thing-"
"There you go, on the defense again!" Barry complained tiredly, not caring that he interrupted Conway at all.
"Because you keep accusing me of things that aren't true!" Conway barked back, about to lose his cool with this guy… he definitely stood out from Paul. Paul really never got Conway this flustered by himself. Barry was single-handedly driving him mad with his insanity. "Of course I'll defend myself against your lies!"
Barry just rolled his eyes and waved Conway off. "Whatever; you've so got issues. Let's just get this battle over with before I start sending you bills every week!"
"Fine by me," Conway stiffly agreed. "Now, let's…"
Something was wrong… very wrong. The second Conway refocused on the battlefield, he realized neither Heracross were present. He looked around frantically before finally looking up, seeing them both high up in the sky, flying away. "Oh no…!"
"What the heck is this?!" Barry cried out as he realized what was going on. "Where are they going?! Why?!"
"I have a feeling we may have offended them," Conway supposed, looking on thoughtfully. "All this time, we've been arguing and completely ignoring them… and maybe they wanted to battle after all."
"Heracross, you get back here!" Barry cried out, aiming his Pokéball into the sky. "Return, now!" Though he attempted to recall Heracross, it failed as the laser from the Pokéball simply couldn't go out that far.
Conway shook his head, knowing it would be hopeless to get them back unless they chased after their Pokémon to wherever they were headed. "We're out of range to get them back so easily," he told Barry. "We'll need to go after them."
"Then let's book it!" Barry decided immediately, forgetting about everything he had left on the ground. "Before they get too far away to catch up with…!"
Conway just gaped at how speedy Barry was and groaned when he realized he'd have to push his limits just to keep up with the guy. Physical endurance was definitely something Conway struggled with, but he just had to grin and bear it in order to reach his Heracross.
Barry was both disappointed and unsurprised about this weakness. Just as he considered complimenting Conway, he decided against it once he saw how pathetic Conway looked just by trying to match his pace. "Come on, get the lead out, nerd! We're losing them!"
Conway just coughed and moaned in response, wondering if this was what cardiac arrest felt like. Eventually, the pair did lose track of the Heracross and petered out… Conway especially, as they stopped at a road to catch their breath.
"I'm blaming you for this completely!" Barry breathed out. "You're such dead weight!"
"S-sorry," Conway quietly said in a rather pathetic tone. He was laying flat on his back on the ground. "I've really neglected improving my own physical endurance…"
"Well, we're lost and we don't have any idea where our Heracross went," Barry grumbled, kicking a rock. "Great, just great!"
While Conway was catching his breath, he cautiously watched the sun, realizing (without needing a watch to check) that it was late afternoon heading into evening. With that, he was able to at least tell which direction was west. "Well, we were both heading for Hearthome City," he mentioned. "And it looks like our Heracross went off directly east from our position. I wonder if they smelled a source heavy with tree sap or honey… they do tend to act on their own when that happens."
"Hold on; since when were you going to Hearthome City?" Barry asked him, sounding suspicious. "You can't be heading there… I am!"
"I was heading there long before you ran into me," Conway explained. "It has nothing to do with you. I'll be challenging Fantina."
"But not until I'm done with her!" Barry shouted defiantly. "Sorry, but I've got a score to settle with that lady. You'll just have to wait your turn, and since I'm a lot faster than you, I'm definitely going to reach her before you."
Conway shrugged, because he honestly didn't care who got there first. "Whatever you say. But this really isn't what we should be dwelling on right this second."
Barry blinked before it all came back to him. "Oh! Right, Heracross… uh, what are we going to do about that again?"
"We need to predict where our Pokémon are before we start the chase again," Conway instructed. "We won't find them if we run around haphazardly. How well do you know this area, Barry?"
"Uh, depends on what we're talking about," Barry answered, unsure of what Conway wanted from him.
Conway looked around, not expecting Barry to be of much help here. "Is there a forest or garden or a city nearby? To be flying off that quickly, they must have smelled something sweet."
"Well, let's see," Barry mumbled as he remembered his Pokétch had a map function that could make it easier to tell where they were. "If we're southeast of Hearthome City and north of the swamps, then the closest place from where we are would be… Angel Grove City. I think this road leads straight to it."
"Anything notable about it?" Conway asked.
Barry looked up and tried to think. "I know they've got a really big juice bar called Ernie's but that's about it."
Juice… yeah, that sealed the deal. "That's all we need to know," Conway assured, getting up and dragging Barry by the road immediately. "Come on! There's still time!"
Though taken off-guard from Conway's sudden revival, he followed along steadily. Mismatched as they were, they still were able to work together towards a common goal whenever necessary. They eventually made it to Angel Grove City by evening and were quickly directed to Ernie's Juice Bar, as it seemed their Pokémon had caused quite a commotion since arriving.
When Barry and Conway entered the juice bar, they were aghast at what they saw. Innocent civilians, what few still remained in the establishment after all this time, were backed up against the wall in horror as two ferociously hungry Heracross had torn the place apart to suck up every drop of juice they could find. Apparently they were very adept at scaring people off in order to have a monopoly on the juice and were very much enjoying their reward until they heard a loud, indignant "Heracross!" from both their trainers at once.
"How dare you be so rude!" Barry scolded, promptly taking out Heracross' Pokéball and managed to successfully recall it. "Good to see you're okay, but we're going to have a talk about this tomorrow; you better believe it!"
Conway just shook his head with disappointment as he recalled his own Heracross. "We didn't mean to hurt your feelings, but really, you're usually above this sort of nonsense."
While it was a relief to have their Heracross back, Conway and Barry both felt uneasy when they sensed a taller figure looming over them. Judging by the apron, bowtie and especially nametag, it looked like this was the bar's owner himself, Ernie.
"Ah, crap!" Barry cursed before turning around and bowing a bit, scratching his head. "Okay, right. We didn't mean for all this to happen. We're really sorry about your place, believe me! You'd believe the son of Tower Tycoon Palmer, right?"
At that attempt to pull rank, Ernie showed them both a bill with an outrageous price to pay… obviously for all of the damage and juice consumption.
"Ack!" Barry cried out. "Are you kidding me? What kid has that kind of money, I ask you? What, are you gonna make us work off the bill?"
The smirk and nod on Ernie's part indicated that… yes, if it came to that, he would go that far.
Barry brought his hands together, looking up at Ernie with fear overcoming him as he tried to beg for mercy. "Oh, have a heart! Just put it on my dad's tab, okay? Come on, please…?"
Conway sighed, bumping Barry aside to get Ernie's attention, which he did very well considering he was holding quite the flashy credit card in his hand. "I'll cover the damages," he offered. "You take cards, right?"
Without a word, Ernie took Conway's credit card and made his way over to where the register was. It seems that was enough to sway him. "Be sure to count both of us!" Conway reminded. "I don't mind covering for him!"
At first, Barry was baffled that Conway would be carrying credit cards of all things and was even more bewildered in regards to his offer to pull him out of the fire that was this mess when all Barry had done was antagonize him all day. At the same time, Barry was finally beginning to feel a bit of respect for Conway as a person. After doubting his integrity all day, the creepy guy went out of his way to save both of them with no benefit for himself to reap. It was very… noble, oddly enough. More importantly, it was something Barry couldn't ignore.
"But that bill… that bill was huge!" Barry exclaimed. "Conway, you didn't have to…"
Conway smirked and shook his head. "Nice to see you calling me by my name rather than "nerd". But still, you're just as innocent as I am; there's no reason to make you needlessly suffer a punishment you don't deserve."
Barry blinked at that statement. "But if it were the other way around, I totally would've ditched you…"
That made Conway just stare at Barry; the look clearly said that he wished he could be surprised by this. "Well, I at least appreciate your honesty," he said flatly, clearly annoyed by the mere thought. "Don't worry about it. You should be happy I'm actually paying considering how much you fined me all day."
"Hey, yeah!" Barry smiled, very content with that answer. "What goes around comes around, huh?"
"Uh, sure… let's go with that," Conway awkwardly concurred. "Too bad we're losing daylight now. I may as well stay the night in the city."
"Count me in!" Barry cheered, practically inviting himself along. "We're both going to the same place anyway."
Conway wasn't sure what to make of this. "That doesn't mean you have to stick by me or anything," he assured. "No need to feel obligated."
"Nope; made up my mind," Barry said, obstinacy coming to the fore. "You're clearly a trainer I've gotta look out for and I've been bored out of my mind by myself, so that's that. You're coming with me."
As a traveling companion… Conway wasn't sure if he wanted to go through that again. While it would be immensely useful to have an ally close by him, it was… Barry. Conway could make do with the hard-to-get-along-with Paul, but Barry flat out annoyed Conway most of the time. It was hard to explain, still.
Then again, Conway figured a different spin on a traveling companion might do him some good when it came to getting over the Paul thing. He'd keep himself from getting too emotionally invested this time… and with someone as flaky as Barry, it would be best to not take his partnership to heart to begin with. Through this, Conway would learn from his previous mistakes, and who knows? Perhaps this would even enlighten him on how to appeal to Paul again someday. Even now, Conway didn't like the thought of never seeing Paul again, and as crazy as Barry was over the guy, it was obvious that Conway wouldn't have an easy time getting Paul off his mind as it was.
"I suppose it would be a fulfilling experiment," Conway conceded, trying to remain open-minded about this. "So long as you behave, that is."
"Well, you'd better behave too," Barry warned. "I've still got my eyes on you, and if you try anything, I'll fine you and your kids and your grandkids and your great-"
Conway cut him off right there. "I get the point. We'll both behave."
"So that's settled," Barry decided, extending a hand. "Glad to have you aboard, Conway!"
Paul never did anything like this… for once, Conway wished he would have. After smiling sincerely, Conway accepted and shook Barry's hand. "Here's to wishing for many happy days by tomorrow, Barry."
This was not something Conway expected to come up in his journey, and he was almost certain that he and Barry would be parting ways in the near future for whatever reason… most importantly, Conway didn't want to get Barry too involved with his problems. Obnoxious as he tended to be, Barry was still a relatively stand-up guy and didn't deserve to have his life put on the line because of Conway's issues with Saturn.
Still, in a way, it was a pleasant surprise… and Conway was willing to take any opportunity to be lighthearted and fun-loving as he freely used to be on this long and depressing journey of his.
The chase had taken a lot out of both trainers, thus once all dues were paid for in full, Conway directed Barry to the finest hotel Angel Grove City had to offer for a relaxing night of expensive pampering.
"Magmar, Flamethrower one last time!"
The Spitfire Pokémon fired off what must have been the twentieth attempt at a widespread Flamethrower attack under the command of Paul, who, in order to last in the cold in spite of his weakened condition, finally caved and contacted Maylene briefly to bring out his Fire-type (exchanging Weavile to do so) for support against the weather. As Paul's newest Pokémon, Magmar needed all the training it could get, anyway.
The end of the third day since Paul's ultimatum was nigh as the sun started to set under the horizon. Upon noticing this, Paul sighed and held up a hand to Magmar. "That'll do for today," he called out. "It's been three days now… this should be enough," he determined. "This strategy will crush Candice."
He recalled Magmar back into its Pokéball and started to head for Snowpoint City, which was only a small distance away from where Paul was training. "It's not too late," he realized. "She's probably still at the Gym… if I could get this over with today…"
Then it would finally allow Paul to move on from this dreadfully frigid place and allow him to clear his mind of all the terrible things that have happened just by trying to reach Snowpoint City. Paul desperately wanted the ability to leave, and his strong desires would only fuel his drive to battle and defeat Candice properly. There's no time like the present, after all.
After resting up his Pokémon at the Pokémon Center for a few moments, Paul walked briskly towards the accursed establishment that revealed his true weaknesses to both the Gym Leader and a sizable crowd of local children. That was all in the past now… it wasn't easy, but Paul finally managed to push it in the back of his mind in favor of conquering the Gym he spent nearly a month trying to reach.
As he approached the Snowpoint Gym, he heard some commotion from a distance near the building, which proved that Candice was still there and available. However, Paul slowed to a stop as he got a good look at who was making the noise… who else would annoy him so badly (other than Conway)?
Ash Ketchum and his friends; all decked out in winter gear suitable for the climate (though it seemed Dawn still had something against wearing pants as her legs remained just as bare as they were in her normal outfit). Ash was all hyped up to the point where he forgot to put his coat back on once he was back outside, which Dawn gladly handed over to him. Candice was carrying a case of sorts… also present was a girl with short, spiky red hair. This was a new one for Paul as he was pretty sure he never met this friend of Ash and friends, but at this time he really didn't care.
But this was the kind of mindset Paul wanted to avoid; the mere presence of Ash alone would not deter him from accomplishing this task. Knowing it was too late to exit without making a scene, Paul took a deep breath of mental preparation before closing in on the group. The only sound coming from Paul was the sound of snow being crunched underneath his shoes, which was enough to alert the group of his presence.
"Paul…!" Ash called out with surprise, not expecting to run into him in a place like this.
Paul tuned it out completely and looked directly at Candice instead. The way his eyes pierced into hers was jarring… this was her first time seeing Paul this clearly and it wasn't really even hitting her yet. Still, her instincts told her to just play along for now until her memories would remind her of what this was exactly about. After a hard battle, she was understandably weary and therefore vulnerable to Paul's intense focus.
"So you must be Candice, the Gym Leader?" he asked politely, but the tone in his voice made it obvious that he was forcing it out… mainly due to his irritation that Ash was present now of all times.
"Y-yes," Candice uneasily forced out her reply, still a bit shaken by this young man's presence. Despite his question there was a feeling of inherent knowledge within him… as if he weren't really asking a question at all. It was perplexing to be caught off-guard like this.
Paul figured he might as well be straightforward with his intentions here and now. Getting his point across as soon as possible was priority one right now. Within that Gym laid dark memories of the weaknesses that Paul was now using everything in the fiber of his being to hide. He kept a strong tone in his voice as if to tell the world… "No, there really isn't anything wrong with me after all." It simply wasn't true no matter how convincing Paul could make the statement sound… but it was the impression that counted.
"I challenge you to a Gym Battle."
( TBC )