I loved flying. The freshest of air whipped at my face and blew through my hair. When I leaned forward and buried my face into Baron’s feathers the roaring in my ears ceased as the air was pushed around me, and I could feel my Pokémon’s every move. The slightest dip pulled at my gut in an excitable, almost friendly way, and every turn felt like a roller coaster ride on its own. That’s what this was like: a roller coaster. But on this ride I had freedom. The whole region, no, the whole world was at my fingertips, waiting for me and my Pokémon. All I had to do was give Baron a slight mental prompt, the simplest of tricks that Sabrina taught me.
The sun was shining brightly, reflecting bright white off of the fluffy clouds that spotted the heavens. I could see nothing else but blue skies above and sapphire seas below.
I sat up and looked around me to my friends. Tim sped by overhead on Charizard, clearly enjoying himself as much as I. Seeing the fire-type as competition, Baron decided to show off its famed quickness by lurching forward at a speed that forced me to lean into its neck to prevent the gust of air from blowing me out into nothingness.
I could feel the wind tearing at my clothes. Indeed, it felt like it would pull them off if I wasn’t careful. The thought made me smile as I looked over to my left, where Criss flew on her perfectly trained Aerodactyl, hunched over Flareon, who rode in front of her, in an aerodynamic posture similar to mine. She saw my gaze and smiled back at me. From her, that was like laughing out loud with glee. It was nice to see her in such a good mood.
The hook of inertia yanked my gut again as Baron made another dip downwards. I looked around Baron’s head to see why but there was nothing except ocean and clouds. On a hunch, I glanced at my watch. By Criss’s estimates we would arrive at Pallet Town within the next few minutes. Baron’s keen eyes were obviously seeing something that mine couldn’t.
Sure enough, it wasn’t long before my Pidgeot dipped again, a little steeper this time. The resulting lurch made me glad that I had eaten a light breakfast that morning. I doubted Baron would ever have forgiven me if I had blown chunks all over its beautiful head-feathers.
This time I could see land ahead. The familiar rolling fields of green and surrounding forests that made up the terrain of my childhood sent waves of nostalgia through me stronger than the wind. Eight months… eight whole months! I could hardly believe it. I was finally returning home. A grin on my face, I waved to Criss and Tim, pointed to the shore, and leaned low over Baron’s neck, urging it onward.
A whirlwind of sand billowed around us as each of our flying-types bore down onto the beach, prompting me to put an arm in front of my face to protect my eyes. Once the storm settled, I gave Baron a pat on the neck and whisper of thanks. Upon sliding off onto solid land, I discovered that my feet seemed to have forgotten how to stand. My knees gave out beneath me and I crumpled into a heap with a yelp.
Struggling to maintain some sense of dignity, I scrambled shakily back to my feet. Looking around, I saw with relief that Tim had had the same problem. Criss, of course, had remained upright and had already returned Aerodactyl back to its Poké Ball. Following suit with my Pokémon, I beckoned to the two of them and pointed to a sandy trail that led off the beach, through the tall grass to the seaside village not half a mile away. “Let’s go!”
We hadn’t exactly arrived in the best spot, I’m sure we could have gotten away with landing right on the small docks; although that would probably have caused an uproar among the dockworkers.
Pallet Town started as a little outpost on the shore where someone decided that it was convenient to have a port, however small. It was split into two parts. “Downtown,” as it were, was the collection of fishermen houses, motels, markets, and Pokémon Center (a recent addition) that made up the actual port. That was where we were headed. It was like a smaller and less crowded version of Vermillion City, complete with cobblestone streets and salty sea air.
The rest of the town was the outskirts. Various houses, farms, and other buildings spotted the green fields that spread for miles in every direction, connected by dusty dirt roads. Most prominent among these was the small group of buildings (including the high school) around the lab of the renowned Professor Oak. I honestly had no idea why he had decided to set up shop in such a hick town. I had asked him once and received an earful of science-babble about diverse ecosystems or something of the sort. He used a lot of big words that were more up David’s alley than mine.
The Professor was a good guy, the closest thing I had to a father figure in the years after Dad died. He gave my mom a job, connected my brother Spencer with some friends of his at Silph Co, and helped me get through my last year of high school. He was very kindhearted and helpful, as well as incredibly passionate about his job. I would even say that he was obsessed with discovering new information about Pokémon. I think he was a little disappointed that I decided to go on a journey. He probably wanted me to stick around and help him as a lab assistant. Nevertheless, as there was no Gym Leader in the town, he was the one who had given me Rainer and my Pokédex and sent me out on this crazy adventure.
I gave a long exasperated sigh that was lost in the wind that billowed off of the ocean and across the waves of grass to my left. Flareon darted ahead of me, glad to be on the ground again but constantly looking back to check on Criss. Thinking about Dad or Rainer always left me in a melancholy mood.
Our little trail led us between two fences that defended the backyards of two townhouses and out into the street. Without really thinking, I let my muscle memory carry us off towards the main plaza. I shivered slightly and pulled my jacket tighter around me as we walked. The wind continued to pick up and was carrying in some ominous gray clouds. Weather was wont to change fairly rapidly out here.
It was a mark of how small the town was that we didn’t see a single pedestrian on our way to the plaza. The court itself was a little marketplace bustling with merchants and buyers on days where big ships came through (rarely), but today I doubted many people would be there.
As we rounded the final corner, I saw that I was right. Not forty people walked around the little square, from merchant to merchant. On the other side of the cobblestone plaza sat a man, softly twanging on a guitar. The familiar smell of baked goods mixed with salty sea air carried a strong sense of nostalgia. The buildings that made up the sides of the square included a restaurant, a warehouse, a small café, a motel, a book store, and a little tourist shop that rarely got visited. For a tiny town like Pallet, this was the hub of activity and excitement.
Our entrance didn’t go unnoticed. In fact, I doubted a single person didn’t turn their head to stare for a brief moment. Even the guitarist’s fingers stumbled. Tim and I were hardly popular in the town, but people knew who we were and there was a little hubbub when we left. To see us return so long after leaving was probably a shocker for most of them. It didn’t help that Criss was likely the first stranger they had seen in the last week. After all, even the few sailors who came through here were regulars and well recognized.
But after that second of surprise, everyone went back to their business, now sounding a little more excited. I was sure that we would be the talk of the town that night and for several more to come. I turned to my friends. “Now what?”
Criss gestured to me and Tim. “You two probably want to visit home, so I’ll just hang out here I guess.”
“Oh come on,” said Tim, “you’ll die of boredom! At least eat dinner with us. I’m sure my folks’ll have Keith and his mom over, as well as the Roses, and maybe even the Professor.”
Tim’s mom never let an opportunity for celebration slide by. Having some people over for dinner was probably the least she would do when Tim showed up out of nowhere. We had, after all, decided to let our visit home be a surprise. Neither of us had told our family. “If you can be back here in a few hours I’ll come back and pick you up,” I told Criss.
She shrugged. “If you insist. If I’m not here then I’ll be out in the fields training, just do a flyover. It’ll be nice to train in this open space. See you then.”
We bade her goodbye and left the town by the road heading north. As soon as it left the buildings behind, it turned from pavement to dirt. Tim and I gazed out over the rolling hills of dull, green-brown grass.
“You alright?” Tim asked me.
“You just seem a little down.”
“I dunno, I’m just nervous to see my mom again I guess.” I watched a Pidgey try desperately to fight the increasing wind by furiously flapping its wings, but all in vain. It tumbled backwards for a second before finally righting itself and apparently deciding to make do with flying towards the forest with the wind at its back. “It hit her really hard when Dad died. Especially after Spencer left, I tried to do what I could to help, but she just kept getting more and more depressed. I’m just not sure what I’ll find…”
Tim didn’t respond. That’s what I liked about him: he talked a lot when there were silences to be filled, but he also had the invaluable skill of knowing just when to shut up. There was really nothing to say in this situation.
Soon we reached an intersection. One way went towards Tim’s house and the Professor’s Lab while the other way went off into nothingness. That’s where I was headed. My friend smiled and gave me a pat on the shoulder before adjusting his pack and trudging away towards his house. He turned around a second later, “I’m gonna say to go ahead and come over at six-ish.”
I waved. “Thanks.”
The last mile was a lonely hike even if you had a companion. The surrounding forest was a long ways away, leaving you in a giant open field. I reflected on the fact that this was the first time since my training in Fuschia that I was truly alone. To combat the feeling of solitude, I let Flareth and Dratini out of their Poké Balls. Seeming to sense my mood, neither of them made a noise, simply following me without question. It was reassuring to know that I had friends so loyal. I laid a hand on Flareth’s massive shoulder. It was warm to the touch.
Before long, the little house of my childhood crept up over a hill. It was relatively small: only one story with two bedrooms. The dirt road tapered off and became a trail, quickly morphing into the quaint little red brick walkway that Dad had laid down years ago. Nostalgia hit me like a wave as I made my way through my Mom’s flower garden and up to the front door, with Flareth and Dratini right behind me.
Standing on the porch… my porch, staring at the plain wooden door, I wondered if I should knock. Was it necessary? I did live here after all. Or did I anymore? Mom would probably be at work anyway… I eventually decided to rap sharply on the door three times.
A moment of silence passed in which my two Pokémon moved up onto the porch, closer to me. They made me feel safer, but safer from what?
Then the door opened and there stood my mother. She was getting on in years, somewhere in her late fifties, but she looked much older than that. Her hair, which I still vividly remembered as once being raven black and tied up in a pony tail, was now cut in a short bob, completely gray. She was shorter than me by about a head, but well built, which came from all the working out she did, or at least used to do. Looking her up and down I realized how skinny she looked, dressed in what appeared to be her pajamas.
She stared at me for a second, like she wasn’t sure who I was. Her bright blue eyes reminded me of Criss’s. Then she suddenly threw her arms around me.
“Oh, Keith! You’re home!”
I put a hand on the back of her head and hugged her tightly, my eyes wet. “I’m home, Mom.”
I twirled a spoon around absentmindedly in the soup that my mother had set in front of me. Seated at our dinner table, I looked around the small kitchen and connected living room. Our house was of modest size, especially compared to those of my friends. Down the hall was my bedroom, which had once been shared with my brother Spencer, Dad’s old office, and my parents’ room. I frowned into my lunch, it was odd how I still referred to it as my parents’ room, despite the fact that it was really only Mom’s room now.
My mother was currently busy bustling around the kitchen, washing dishes, cleaning house, and making sure I was comfortable. She had talked nearly nonstop since I had come in, barely letting me get a word in edgewise. It was obvious that she had been lonely.
Glancing into the living room, something caught my eye. On the floor next to Flareth, who lay with one eye open and a sleeping Dratini curled up at its side, was a green foam mat. I asked Mom what it was.
“Oh, that’s my yoga mat,” my mother smiled.
“Since when did you do yoga?”
“My therapist recommended it. It’s very relaxing and a good way to stay physically active. You should try it sometime.”
I grunted noncommittally, which made her laugh. That had always been my stock reply to questions and suggestions that I didn’t really want to answer. Something was off, though: since when did she have a therapist? It must have slipped her mind. She seemed much more forgetful than I remembered, she had already asked which Pokémon I had on my team twice. Both times she didn’t realize that Rainer was not among them. I decided not to mention it.
“You know, I almost didn’t recognize you,” she said. “I think you’ve grown some more. And you need to shave, you’re looking a little grizzled, but you’re too young to wear proper facial hair.”
The comment caught me by surprise. I stroked my chin and upper lip with my hand, indeed feeling a bristly layer of whiskers. It struck me as odd that I hadn’t noticed, and then I realized that it had been ages since I had actually critically looked in a mirror. I wasn’t even quite sure what I looked like anymore. How had I changed?
I excused myself to go take a shower so that I would at least be somewhat presentable at Tim’s.
“Alright, get yourself cleaned up.” My mom whisked the empty soup bowl off the table. “Then you can tell me all about your adventures.”
Indeed she had been talking so much that I hadn’t even told her what I had been doing these past months. When I did I needed to be sure to… censor things a little. I didn’t want her to worry.
Grabbing a fresh set of clothes from my pack, I trudged into the master bathroom, the only one with a shower, shut the door behind me, and stripped. As I was waiting for the water to warm up, I looked at myself in the mirror. The thin layer of facial hair on my chin was only visible as a slightly darker shade from any sort of distance, but definitely changed my appearance. That wasn’t all that had changed. My upper body and biceps were now… defined. There was no way else to describe it. I had never been pudgy, but neither had I been muscular. It was satisfying to know that my work with Koga had paid off.
It felt good to shave and get clean again, especially in a comfortable environment, not like the public showers available at Pokémon Centers. I understood even more so now why Criss preferred hotels. Getting out of the shower and getting dressed in a simple white shirt and jeans, I paused before clipping the fabric carrying my badges onto my belt.
I looked long and hard at each one, reveling in the memories that they brought back…
The Boulder Badge… my first real league battle and a very close call. It was the only gym battle that I ever used Locustod in… I wondered how the Butterfree was doing in the Safari Zone. Hopefully it was happy. No… it had to be happy. I moved on to the next badge to get my mind off of it, which hardly worked.
The Cascade Badge… It was still broken after my fall in Pokémon Tower on that fateful day. I pushed the two pieces together. The battle had taken place right after catching Tesla. Good old Tesla… Taking my fingers off of the badge, it fell apart again, hanging on just barely by the glue affixing it to the metal backing of the pin. I missed Rainer.
The Thunder Badge… My crowning moment. I remembered challenging Surge in anger, eager to show off my newly learned skills. They had worked, with Psyke sweeping all three of the Lieutenant’s Pokémon.
The Rainbow Badge… Without doubt the most difficult battle of my career. I was immensely proud of all three Pokémon who had fought for me. Especially Baron, who had always been there since the beginning. We shared a connection deeper than any of my other Pokémon.
The Soul Badge… Although I hadn’t won the badge in a battle, I felt no guilt. I had worked hard and I had earned it. Best of all, Koga had said I was champion material! David, here I come…
The Volcano Badge… A symbol of my friendship with Tim, I treasured this badge much more than I would if I had beaten Blaine on my own. We had been a seamless team, unstoppable.
And what was next? With luck the Battle Festival would bring me an Earth Badge, but then what? Would I go back to face Sabrina, which was surely an impossible battle, or would I go to Johto?
The question lingered on my mind as I went back into the kitchen, where I helped Mom prepare a casserole to bring over to the Skeeviches’ for dinner. I told her the story of my travels from the beginning, although I omitted almost all of what Tim liked to call “the exciting parts.” As far as my mom was concerned, nothing much had gone amiss on my journey. I didn’t want her to think I was too lame, though, so I kept the adventure in Viridian Forest, the doubter at Nugget Bridge, Surge’s anger, and told about Aerodactyl’s escape like it was the highlight of my adventure. Criss was made out to sound like a friendly journeying trainer, and nothing was mentioned about the Rockets.
“Wow, Kieth. You’ve been busy! But don’t you need eight badges? Or is it six?”
Oh no… she thought I was staying. “I’m…” I wasn’t sure how to break it to her. “Tim and I are going to the Spring Battle Festival in Viridian in a couple weeks, then we’re going on to get badge number eight. This is just a visit, we were in the neighborhood.”
“You… oh… How long are you staying then?”
“A week, maybe? Not sure…”
We were silent until we left to walk to Tim’s. I didn’t want to let my Mom make the trek alone, so I left her at the front door before getting on Baron and taking off back into town.
Flying felt so good. The air was where I belonged, whipping along at blazing high speeds above the plains of Pallet Town. I had noticed on the flight over, however, that things would often get in my eye and the air was thin at high altitudes. I would have to look into that.
I couldn’t wait until Dratini evolved and I had a Dragonite, then I would be able to go even higher and faster. I hated myself for thinking that almost right away. It sounded like favoritism, which wasn’t fair, especially to Baron, now my oldest and most loyal Pokémon.
I landed on the road just outside of town, not wanting to frighten anyone not used to having large Pokémon come out of the sky. Nevertheless, a small boy playing in front of his townhouse paused in his game and stared as I withdrew Baron back into its Poké Ball.
I found Criss in almost the exact place that we had left her: leaning against a streetlight in the plaza with Flareon resting at her feet. I waved and walked up to her.
“Have you even moved?”
She laughed. “Yes, I went and trained a bit, but people watching here is too much fun. Especially since it’s obvious that everyone wants to talk to me, but no one has the backbone to actually approach me.”
I looked around. Sure enough, each person to pass glanced in our direction, but determinedly avoided eye contact. “We don’t get a lot of strangers in this town,” I explained. “Now follow me, let’s go eat and you get to meet the wonderful people who raised Tim and I.”
“I’ll be sure to express my sympathies at them having to saddle that particular burden.”
The party was immensely enjoyable. As quickly as they had come, the clouds that had gathered overhead blew away, leaving us with enough sun to eat dinner outside. The home cooked food made my mouth water, but I was nothing compared to Tim. He had always been a big eater, but this was just plain impressive. He would pile his plate high with a little of everything that was on the table, polish it off in minutes, and then go for more.
Pulling my attention away from my best friend’s dietary feats, I looked up and down the table. At the head was Professor Oak himself, deep in discussion with Mr. Rose, David’s father, who was a retired, yet wealthy, businessman. Mr. Rose had been around when Silph Co. was just a startup. Although he was hardly one of the founding members, he had made off with a tidy sum of money after the company hit it big. He seemed to be talking to the Professor about the lack of news coming out of Silph Co. lately.
I blinked. I had forgotten about the Rocket occupation of Saffron City. I thought the Pokémon League or the Interpol would have done something about it by now. But could it be that no one knew anything was wrong? I made a note to talk to Criss about it later; surely she would have the answers.
Criss was herself sitting to my left, engaged in polite conversation with my mother, who was asking a nonstop flood of inquiries about journeying and her personal life (she avoided the latter questions rather tactfully). I would probably have to step in and stem the flow before Criss’s antisocial tendencies reared their head and she left the party altogether.
Tim’s parents were sitting on either side of him in the middle of the table, bickering good naturedly. His dad was an aide to the Professor, which is why they lived so close to the lab. My dad could have done the same, but he turned down the offer. Private research didn’t make as much money, but he found it much more enjoyable.
David’s mother was sitting across from me, and was busy regaling me with stories of David’s accomplishments. I was only half listening. She seemed a little self-centered and arrogant, but as someone who knew her I could tell that she was just immensely proud of her son.
As she should be, I thought. He is the Champion after all. I still had a tough time believing that my childhood friend was now the most powerful trainer in the Kanto and Johto regions.
As she wound down the tale of how David had gotten over Mt. Moon and nearly caught a Clefairy (“He almost got lost! Can you imagine?”), I nodded politely, smiled, and excused myself from the table.
I left the talkative group behind me to go join the Pokémon, who we had each let out to play and socialize in Tim’s sizable fenced backyard. It had been so long since I had seen all of our Pokémon in one place, their sheer numbers caught me by surprise. Baron, Aerodactyl, and Charizard had all flown off together, but would be back by nightfall. Flareon was, of course, lying under the table at Criss’s feet. Tesla, Haunter, and Cubone were all off to the side near where Arbok lay asleep, coiled in the setting sun. Flareth and Victreebel stood dignified, watching Criss’s Nidorino and Nidorina, who were growing at a surprising pace, play with Dratini and Beedrill.
I walked over to what I assumed would be the trouble spot, where Omanyte played by itself in the small garden pond. Kabuto was perched on a nearby rock, watching it with the eye of a predator, but didn’t dare to do anything in front of Psyke, who was meditating a few feet away. I got the impression that Kabuto both respected and was intimidated by the psychic-type. Perhaps I could use that to my advantage when training it to behave?
The fossil Pokémon glared at me with its glowing red eyes as I sat down next to its perch. Hearing someone approach, I turned to see Professor Oak. He was not a big man, about as tall as me but with a slight build. He walked with a permanent limp, most likely a relic of getting too close to some dangerous Pokémon while researching it. Wispy gray hair flew out in all directions from his head, and big, curious eyes peeked out from under bushy black eyebrows. He normally wore a white lab coat, but was dressed only in a purple dress shirt and slacks for this occasion.
“How you doing, Keith? I haven’t really had a chance to talk to you. How has your journey been so far?”
This was a man who wasn’t going to be dissuaded by as vague an answer as “fine,” so I took a deep breath and told him the shortened version of what I told my mother. Despite my summarizations, the story took long enough for the rest of the group to finish dinner and start cleaning up.
“Sounds like a productive trip; although I have a feeling you aren’t telling me everything.”
I looked at him and started a protest, but he interrupted me with a wink. “No, no, I understand. I would like to know what happened to the Squirtle you left with, however. Rainer, wasn’t it?”
I looked away with a frown. “I don’t want to talk about it.” In the fit of frustration that always accompanied the sorrow of being reminded of Rainer, I kicked out at one of the ornamental rocks surrounding the little pond, accidentally knocking it into the water. It made a splash that caused Omanyte to leap out and scuttle away in fright back to Criss, who was inside watching some tournament on TV with Tim.
“I… see…” Oak sat down in the dirt beside me. Its prey gone, Kabuto lost interest in the pool and closed its eyes, beginning to nap. The Professor looked at it.”Interesting specimen you’ve got here. I haven’t seen many revived fossils before. And they almost always have behavioral problems. That Omanyte seemed especially skittish, for example. Usually they’re just overly aggressive, though.”
I gave a sarcastic laugh. “That’s this one. I’m shocked that it hasn’t tried to kill all of us yet, this is the most it’s ever been out of its Poké Ball. I’m planning on working on that before we leave for the Battle Festival.”
Oak chuckled, a warm, throaty sound. “Sounds like my first Pokémon. You have a name for him yet?”
I shook my head. I hadn’t had any inspiration for one. “What was your first Pokémon?”
Smiling nostalgically, he answered, “He was a Pikachu named Gideon. Quite the troublemaker, although age took him around the year you were born.”
I frowned empathetically. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. Life happens, so does death. If you’re lucky then a piece of you will outlast your body, but that’s the best you can hope for.”
A piece of you…
“Would you… would you mind if I named Kabuto after your Pikachu?”
“Would I mind?” Oak smiled and put a hand on my shoulder. “I would be honored.”
I put a hand of my own on Kabuto’s stony shell. It didn’t even flinch at my touch. “Gideon… perfect.”
Like I said, Professor Oak was the closest thing that I had to a father. He made life with only one parent seem like it wasn’t’ even an issue. Speaking of which…
“Professor? Why wasn’t my mom at work today?” It had only just occurred to me that Mom wasn’t even supposed to be home when I had arrived.
He let out a long, tired sigh. He had expected this to come up, and he wasn’t looking forward to talking about it with me. I must have been right, something was off with Mom.
After a pause, Oak finally responded. I could tell that he was picking his words carefully. “Keith, your mother hasn’t been doing so well lately. I’m sure you can imagine that between Dan’s death, Spencer going off to the Orange Islands, and you setting out on a journey, she’s been feeling… well, her mental state isn’t quite the best.”
I bit my lip. “What do you mean? She said she had a therapist now… and she seems really forgetful.”
“She does, and I think it’s helping some. I’d given her the week off, so you picked a good week to visit. She’ll only be working four days a week from now on.”
“Do… do you…” I almost didn’t want to ask it for fear that he would say yes, as selfish as that was. “Do you think that I should stay to take care of her?”
He abruptly stood up and looked down at me. His face silhouetted by the setting sun, he said, “Absolutely not. You should focus on making your own destiny, not worrying about that of others. Your mother knows that.” He held out his hand to help me up. “Come on; let’s go inside, it’s getting dark.”
Returning my Pokémon as I walked past them (most were napping), I followed the Professor back inside where everyone was now watching the battling on TV.
“What tourney is this?” I asked Tim.
“It isn’t. It’s just some footage of exhibition matches in the stadium that they built for the Festival.”
“There’s a new stadium? What was wrong with the old one?” Professor Oak asked curiously.
“It was old. I dunno. New one looks pretty flashy though, I’m excited to battle in it.”
Criss laughed. “That’s only if you make it through the prelims, Tim.”
“You kids will have a tough time. I heard that the top badge holders in the region are expected to attend,” said Mr. Rose.
The top badge holders? That made me nervous. Badge holders was the name for amateur trainers who weren’t in the competitive circuit or a position in the Pokémon League, but still had badges. Competition was going to be ruthless, but I absolutely had to make it to the final four. It was time to do some training.
I hadn’t gotten up before dawn since Fuchsia City, but it felt refreshing to get started early in the morning. After a quick run, I had taken all six of my Poké Balls out to the meadow behind my house. Only a few puffy white clouds dotted the sky, illuminated by a pink rising sun. It was going to be a beautiful day.
All of my Pokémon were out. Baron, who hardly needed any training, was out flying somewhere. Flareth and Tesla were working together. They were mature enough that they didn’t need my help for the basics anymore. It appeared that they were working on Tesla’s natural weakness to fire by practicing with a flamethrower against a light screen.
As for me, I was trying to come up with strategies for the two newest additions to my team. Psyke was by my side, intimidating Gideon into obedience while Dratini playfully wrapped itself around my leg. I held my Pokédex in my hand, reading the list of Dratini’s techniques.
“Hmm… it looks like slam and dragon rage will be our best bet.”
The serpentine Pokémon looked up at me with its huge, violet eyes.
“You aren’t powerful enough yet for twister to be of any consistent use… On second thought, I’ve heard slam isn’t very accurate, we’ll see about that one. What about wrap?”
The dragon-type mewled.
I thought for a second; strategies forming in my mind. It was the one skill I had that I was really proud of. “That’d work… Thunder wave could slow even the fastest enemy down to a manageable speed. Use that, and then go in for wrap. As soon as they break away, dragon rage.”
Dratini slithered out in front of me and turned around to look me in the eye. Its tail hovered in the air.
I put my Pokédex away. “I know you want to fight, but it’s tough without a training partner.”
As if on cue, there was a rush of wind behind me and a loud thump. Psyke didn’t flinch, Gideon growled, I jumped around, and Dratini hid itself behind my legs.
“You look like you could use some help.”
“Criss! You scared the shit out of me!”
I was envious of the grace with which she dismounted Aerodactyl. Brushing herself off lightly, she pulled a pair of Poké Balls off of her sash, returned the fossil Pokémon, and called out Omanyte. Flareon, ever present, looked at Gideon suspiciously from its hideaway behind its trainer. The fire-type seemed accustomed to flying with her.
“That’s my job.” Criss smiled sweetly. “So what do you say, battle with Omanyte? I haven’t trained it much yet, so I’ve got work to do before the Festival. I heard that fossils tend to be fairly close to evolving when awakened, though.”
“Sure, but I thought you did some training yesterday?”
“I’ve been working with Nidorino and Nidorina, I want them ready to evolve by the end of the week. I’ve been holding these moon stones for way too long.” She winked at me as she picked up Omanyte and carried it to a position about fifteen meters away. Turning around, she placed the water-type back on the ground.
“So one on one, then?” I asked.
“However many it takes for you to knock out Omanyte.”
I couldn’t tell whether she was serious or just teasing. Without a command, Dratini readied itself in front of me. To my right, Gideon tensed up, eager to strike at Omanyte, but wary of Psyke’s presence.
“Whenever you’re ready. I won’t connect, I need the challenge.” Criss seemed a little bored, standing with her hands in her jacket pockets, hiding from the cool breeze that swept over the fields.
For reasons I was unsure of, I had the urge to impress her. I wouldn’t use my psychic abilities either.
We stood still for a second, calculating, waiting for the other to make a move. Both the Pokémon, untrained, were getting tense and fidgety. Intrigued by the suspense, Tesla and Flareth ceased their sparring to watch.
I grew impatient; I was going to implement my strategy right away. “Thunder wave, then wrap.” I said it calmly, but Criss gave a command of her own the second a single word left my lips, like she had been waiting.
As Dratini unleashed a flash of blue lightning, Omanyte drew back into its shell. When the bolt struck, it warped around the surface of the water-type’s inflexible armor and dissipated into nothingness. Taught well by Flareth, Dratini did not hesitate. It lunged forward as fast as its slithering motions would carry it and whipped its tail around the Spiral Pokémon.
A pair of beady eyes peaked out from the shell as Omanyte squirmed to get free of Dratini’s crushing grip. I eagerly egged my Pokémon on. Criss didn’t seem too perturbed, despite the fact that I now had the obvious advantage. I probably should have foreseen what was coming next.
Her Pokémon pulled back into its shell once more and proceeded to give Dratini a whirling ride that dragged it along the ground. Damn it, the stubborn little dragon-type wasn’t going to give in.
“Dratini, let go, quick!”
Immediately, whether by my order or by accident, Dratini was sent flying into the air. “Dragon rage!” I was getting desperate.
Unfortunately, Dratini’s little spin had left it fairly dizzy. Despite the impressive feat of firing off a dragon rage in midair, it missed Omanyte wildly. Luckily, the purple and yellow flames seemed to slow the dragon’s descent a little bit. After crashing into the ground, Dratini struggled to regain its senses while Omanyte whirled around for another pass with rollout.
I cringed. It was like I was a novice trainer all over again. Where was all my experience? Where was my training, forget Dratini’s? I realized then what I needed to do: trust in my Pokémon. With luck, Dratini would be able to read what exactly I wanted given only vague instructions.
I waited for the proper moment. Seconds before the spinning missile that was Omanyte collided with my Pokémon, I called out, “NOW!”
Surprisingly, it worked. Using more intuition than I had ever given it credit for, Dratini let out an untargeted blast of blue energy. The thunder wave caught both Criss and her Pokémon off guard. Omanyte stopped rolling almost immediately and skidded through the grass straight into the waiting tail of Dratini. This wrap was going to be much more effective.
I took a leaf from Criss’s book this time. As soon as a command left her lips, I ordered Dratini to release Omanyte and hit it with a dragon rage. This tactic worked spectacularly, sending Omanyte flying backwards towards its trainer, rendering her escape strategy useless.
What happened next was a mark of how similarly Criss and I thought in battles. Both of our Pokémon were injured and only one or two good hits away from a loss. I just needed a good finishing move…
Criss got there first. “Brine!”
Omanyte sent a rocket of saltwater straight into Dratini’s face. The dragon-type gave a slight yelp of surprise and pain as it was knocked backwards.
And so the battle ended. Dratini lay crumpled at my feet, defeated in only three moves. I didn’t blame it, though. This loss was my fault. Returning Dratini to its Poké Ball, I looked up at Criss.
“Nice one. Who’ll you be using next?”
I never got a chance to answer. Giving a bone-chilling screech, Gideon leaped forward, baring its stubby claw-like legs at Omanyte only to halt in midair. I laughed at the sight of the fossil Pokémon floating a couple feet of the ground, struggling for control over its body.
“That’s enough Psyke. I’ll use it.”
With a grunt of assent, my psychic-type released the Kabuto from its mental grip. Gideon fell onto the ground surprised, and then rushed forward at Omanyte.
It raked a golden claw across the Spiral Pokémon’s shell, only to be blasted away by a water gun.
“Woah, woah! Gideon, wait for my command!”
The Kabuto ignored me, instead gathering a shield of water around itself and rushing forward once more. Aqua jet… okay, I guess that worked. Strangely, Gideon didn’t bounce off when it collided into Omanyte, it clamped on with its legs.
Criss’ Pokémon gave an audible whimper as it lay in the grass with the Kabuto latched onto it. Faintly, I could see trickles of energy being drained from its body through Gideon’s legs. Mega drain? I hadn’t ordered that! Not to mention, I knew just what Criss was going to do next.
“Gideon, get off!” The Pokémon ignored me.
“Omanyte, use rollout.”
The effects were largely the same as they had been against Dratini. Gideon was flung high into the sky, where it hung for a second before dropping back down straight into a second rollout by Omanyte.
I was practically tearing my hair out in frustration. Why wasn’t this damn Pokémon listening to me?
The sight in front of me was pitiful. Gideon had landed on its back and was know flailing its legs in the air trying to right itself. I could see Criss fighting a smile as she ordered another rollout. This was brutal. Fortunately, the attack set Gideon back on its feet again, but now it was even angrier than I was.
Then something happened that caught us all by surprise. As Omanyte came whirling around for a fourth rollout, Gideon began to glow.
“Already!? But I haven’t even got it under control yet!”
It was perhaps the most drastic evolution that I had ever witnessed. The small, bug-like Pokémon grew into a much larger bipedal creature a little over a meter tall. It was rather bony, but the vicious sickle-like blades that were its forearms overwhelmed any impression that one might get of it being frail. The brown and grey Kabutops gave a screech as it swung a violent slash straight into the trajectory of Omanyte’s rollout. The smaller fossil Pokémon went flying, and didn’t get up.
Criss returned the water-type to its ball. “Lucky you, I was hoping that mine would evolve first.”
I stared in horror at “my” beast. It glared back with piercing dark eyes and let out a growl. “How the hell am I supposed to train it now? Psyke and Flareth will have to beat it into submission!”
As if on cue, the two Pokémon flanked me in battle stances. The Kabutops did not look like it was going to try to be friendly with me, even if I was its trainer.
“You’re actually on the right track there.”
“Don’t have your Pokémon fight it. Didn’t Koga teach you anything? You need to show Gideon that you’re the one in charge, since you’re the better fighter. That’s what I did with Aerodactyl.”
I had trouble imagining her fighting Aerodactyl with her bare hands, and I had even more trouble imagining how the hell I could possibly beat this thing. I voiced my concerns to Criss.
“You don’t have to use your bare hands.”
I blinked. She was right. Slowly, so as not to alert Gideon, I moved a hand down to my belt. There, hung in its holster since the day I had bought it and trained with it in Fuchsia City, was my stun rod. I undid the button and slid the weapon out.
“Back off you two, I got this one.” A little skeptical, my two Pokémon stepped backward and prepared to watch their trainer get diced into pieces by a prehistoric demon.
My every move watched by the Kabutops, I cautiously got into a ready position, trying desperately to remember my training with Koga. I had managed to beat a Machoke, if just barely, but that was different. Machoke were humanoid and muscular, but without any other particularly dangerous traits.
I pressed the button that simultaneously extended the baton to its full length and turned it on with a crackle of electricity. The loud snapping noise frightened Gideon into charging me full on.
Only with luck was I able to block the fossil Pokémon’s first two slashes. As a rock-type, the electricity in the rod did nothing to Gideon’s blades. I jumped backward to avoid the third, but the tip of the Kabutops’ scythe nicked my chest, tearing through my old jacket and t-shirt, drawing blood. I gave a gasp of pain that caused Flareth to growl at Gideon threateningly.
Afraid of what would happen if I tried blocking or dodging again, I decided to go on the attack. Gripping the baton with two hands, I pulled back like a baseball swing and gave a shout. It had the exact effect that I wanted. Gideon crossed its blades to block the incoming attack from my right, but was oblivious to the foot that I sent swinging around into its shoulder from the left. It cried out and tried to slash at my leg but missed, giving me an opportunity to swing at its neck, which was all I needed.
With the stun rod on full power and a hard hit to a weak spot, I was surprised that Gideon didn’t fall unconscious immediately. Instead, it fell to its knees and swung at my legs in a valiant effort to continue fighting. I dismissed the attack with a lazy parry from my baton, then hit the fossil Pokémon under the chin. This time it was out. I released the trigger on the stun rod, ceasing the crackling noise.
I looked up at Criss. “Well?”
“Not bad.” She smiled. “Not bad at all.”
I returned each of my Pokémon and plugged my stun rod back into Tesla’s Poké Ball to charge. “I say it’s time to visit the Pokémon Center. I think Gideon will start listening once it wakes up.”
“Alright, that’s done.”
I pushed myself away from my dad’s old computer and rubbed my eyes tiredly. Getting up early in the morning was finally starting to get to me. I would want to go to sleep before normal tonight if I wanted to be ready for travelling tomorrow.
It was a week later, and I had just signed myself up for the Spring Battle Festival. The festival itself had already started, but the tournament portion wouldn’t kick off for another two days. Tim, Criss, and I had spent the last week training. As usual, Criss didn’t show much emotion, but Tim seemed as nervous as I felt.
I stretched my arms above my head, causing a shooting pain to sear across my chest. I gasped and clutched at my shirt. I kept forgetting about the scar left over from my duel with Gideon. The cut hadn’t been too deep, but I kept rupturing the scabs whenever I pushed out my chest, which happened a lot more than expected. They just needed time to heal. It had been worth it, after all. Gideon was now as afraid of me as it was of Psyke (its evolution had given it a touch of arrogance, so it had challenged the psychic type to a battle and promptly lost). We hadn’t done much training, but at least it was obedient.
I looked around the room, my dad’s old office. I hadn’t been in here since returning. It looked like Dad, smelled like Dad, felt like Dad. I couldn’t describe it.
Above the computer was a wall covered with photographs. Mom and Dad on their wedding day, Spencer’s first Christmas, my first steps. My personal favorite was a photo Mom had snapped of Dad and me playing Frisbee out in the fields. He was laughing as he watched a six year old me sprint off in pursuit of a throw that had been swept up by one of the frequent gusts.
The picture next to that one was the most recent. Taken just months before he died, it was a simple family picture: the four of us sitting on a big rock on the beach, smiling into the camera with our hair billowing in the breeze. That was back when we were complete; back when everyone was alive and healthy. I had no cares other than the chemistry test the next day and whether or not the cute girl in math would talk to me. I had no idea that in a matter of months the man sitting to my right would be violently ripped out of my life and I would set my heart on becoming the most powerful Pokémon trainer in the whole region. I blinked back tears.
I heard a knock on the door and looked over to see Criss.
“Hi, your mom let me in… Am I interrupting anything?”
I shook my head and wiped my eyes on my sleeve. “No… just reminiscing.”
She walked over and stood next to me, looking at the photographs on the wall. “That’s your dad? And your brother?”
I nodded and sniffed. She put a comforting hand on my arm.
“I know it doesn’t help at all saying this, but I know how you feel. Feel free to talk to me if you need it. It helps… it certainly did when I told you about Nathaniel… “
It was the first time either of us had said anything about that night in Fuchsia City since it happened. I had assumed that Criss simply didn’t want to bring it up. “Thanks,” I said. “Why not talk more, then? Why are you so secretive?”
Her hand tightened on my arm. “Am I secretive? Maybe you just have to pay attention…”
I looked at her. “That hardly answers my question.”
She sighed and let go of me. “There are some parts of my life that are better left a mystery. Trust me on that, if anything. Some secrets are worth more than a satisfied curiosity.”
The sun rose the next morning to illuminate a small group of figures in the rolling grass fields of Pallet Town. My mom, Tim’s family, and Professor Oak had all come to see us off. Unfortunately, none of them would be able to come to the actual tournament due to working, but would watch us on TV (the whole tournament was televised and widely popular).
Lined up and ready to go were Aerodactyl, Charizard, and Baron, each stretching their wings and shuffling in the grass, even more eager to go than we were. It was a cool morning and would be a cold flight, but I was looking forward to flying again. The short flight would only be a quarter of an hour or so, but we wanted to make it in time for opening ceremonies.
I adjusted my new backpack and gave my mother one more hug goodbye and shook the Professor’s hand. Mom had given me the new pack to replace the ratty old one that had been beaten up beyond repair throughout my journey, especially from falling onto the beach from Baron after being blasted by Aerodactyl’s hyper beam.
Then I extracted Tim from the arms of his mother and boarded my Pokémon. It was finally time to go. Pallet Town had been my home, but journeying had changed me. I wasn’t sure I even had a home anymore, or if I ever would. Be it the skies, roads, or trails, it felt good to be heading out again.
NEXT: TOURNAMENT TIME! A new challenger approaches! Welcome to the Prelims...