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The Ties that Bind

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    Hey there! My name’s Sara Sommerlade and I’m a fourteen-year-old Pokémon Trainer about to begin her journey through Sinnoh! Of course, if you couldn’t tell my by late start, my journey is a bit different from your average one. You see, I was actually born and raised in Hoenn- in Mauville City, to be specific- and my family moved to Sinnoh (Pastoria City) about four years ago.

    I could have started my journey after we moved but that move was really hard on me. You see, my dad is a Pokémon Researcher and my mom works for the Pokémon Daycare so I was quite literally raised alongside Pokémon and had a lot more detailed interaction with them than most children. Mom and dad were always telling me about this and that regarding Pokémon and I spent a lot of time playing with Pokémon in the daycare. In fact, thanks to that and the fact that I was homeschooled, pretty much all of my friends for the first several years of my life were Pokémon. I got especially close to a rather lonely looking Torchic.

    Thanks to all of that, I always had a strong desire to learn everything there is to know about Pokémon. More than that, I wanted to put my knowledge to use by becoming the Regional Champion of Hoenn. I can’t really say what made me later focus on that one goal rather than becoming a Breeder or Researcher or Professor but I did. By the time I was six (according to my parents since I don’t really remember that far back very well), I started seriously researching everything I could about the Hoenn Pokémon League. I learned the locations and types of every Gym in Hoenn as well as the favored Pokémon of the Elite Four. I could tell you what Trainer Routes to take to get you anyplace you wanted to go. I knew all of the type advantages and weaknesses and could quote the entire Hoenn Dex forwards and backwards. I knew the typical habitats of every Pokémon in the region and had my entire team planned out.

    Eventually, my parents started to take me to the local playground more and I actually made some human friends. While my parents supported my obsession, I think they wanted me to expand a bit and actually spend some time learning about other humans rather than focusing singularly on Pokémon. Of course, this backfired somewhat when I ended up just pulling my four friends into my madness. All it took was a few stories about some of the Legendaries sighted in the region and mentioning some of the cooler, lesser known details about certain Pokémon and they were right with me.

    I still remember all of the long nights we spent staying up way past our bedtimes as we talked about Pokémon. One night, as we were all about to pass out, we promised each other that we would all reach the Hoenn League at the same time and have an all-out battle to see who would become Champion while the rest became the Elite Four. We’d take the rest of the Pokémon League by storm and show those old guys how to really battle. Honestly, in hindsight, some of our talks sounded like we were plotting some grand revolution and would change the entire world for no other reason than because we could. We were all born in the same year so we would wait until my birthday when everyone was ten years old and we’d all start our journey together.

    Of course, then everything changed. About six months before I turned ten, my dad got offered a position at Pastoria City branch of Professor Mahogany’s (the guy who replaced Professor Rowan when he retired) lab. Dad’s particular field of study was deemed a lot more useful to the research going on there and his knowledge and talents would be put to much better use. Since my mom had no issues just using her credentials to get a job at Pastoria City’s Pokémon Daycare, he naturally took the job offer.

    I don’t really blame him for taking it but I was devastated. We’d leave about two weeks before my tenth birthday and I’d never be able to keep the promise I made with my friends. I was leaving every friend I ever made- human and Pokémon alike- and was leaving the place where all of my knowledge and planning mattered. Truth be told, I had actually contemplated taking a Starter and running away. I’d be basically on my own once I turned ten and started my journey anyway so what difference did a few weeks or so make? Of course, in the end, I loved my family too much to go through with it.

    It wasn’t all bad, though. The other researchers who worked with my dad all knew me since he’d often take me to the lab when I was old enough if nothing major was happening and they felt bad for me so they decided to give me a present during my dad’s going away party. After clearing it with Professor Birch, they decided to let me take a piece of Hoenn with me and choose my Starter before we left. I had the standard choice between a Torchic, a Treeko, and a Mudkip but, despite it not being my original plan, the choice was obvious to me. The Torchic I could choose just so happened to be the same lonely looking Torchic I had befriended in the daycare so I chose her as my Starter and named her Reighnel (Rey for short).

    After we moved, I was super busy. I had to help get everything moved in and then had to help my mom get the house set up since my dad had to start working on a big project basically the day we arrived. After that, my mom ended up needing my help at the surprisingly understaffed daycare so I had no time to really contemplate things. When I wasn’t unpacking boxes or helping my mom, I’d often end up kinda moping in my room with Rey (who was rarely in her Pokeball). I just didn’t have the drive or energy to do much of anything. When my tenth birthday came, I ended up locking myself in my room with Rey and spent pretty much the entire day looking at the picture my friends sent me of them in their travelling gear with their Starters and imagining what kind of crazy adventures I could be having if I was with them. I was already super depressed so I couldn’t imagine what I’d have been like if Rey hadn’t been cuddling up with me to try and get me to cheer up.

    Eventually a year passed and things finally quieted down. We finished moving in, Mom got more help at the daycare, Dad’s project hit a stable period, and there was nothing for me to focus on. That’s when I became really depressed. With nothing to do, I just kinda stopped doing much of anything. I was staying indoors basically all the time, I’d be locked in my room all hours of the day, I was hardly eating, and I just wasn’t doing much of anything. Pretty much the only thing I would do on my own was play with Reighnel who could never fail to make me feel a bit better.

    My parents naturally noticed my downward spiral and were greatly concerned. Going from the Number One Hyperactive Pokémaniac to basically a blob of slush superglued to the couch was a pretty startling change, after all. My parents wouldn’t stand for such a change, of course, and they knew exactly what buttons to push to get me to motivate myself. You see, I have a perfectionist streak a mile wide and a competitive streak ten miles wide so, when my dad just casually mentions that there are more Pokémon in the Sinnoh Dex than the Hoenn Dex and that he’s not sure if anyone can remember them all, it starts nagging at me. On some level, I knew that he was just manipulating me but he did it subtly enough that said knowledge didn’t really affect the challenge laid before me. A bit later, my mom got in on it when she bought me a bicycle (complete with a little basket for Rey to ride in). She’d have me go to Valor Lakefront or even Hearthome City to pick up this or that and would tell me to be careful since she heard about this rare Pokémon or that shiny Pokémon appearing on the route (even though I never took the Trainer Routes). Then she’d tell me stories she’s heard at her job about rare Pokémon from all over Sinnoh and wondered aloud where other rare Pokémon could be found.

    Then my parents took me on a picnic to Lake Valor where my dad started talking about some Legendary Pokémon said to live in the lake and about some massive explosion that took place there twenty years ago. How could my depression stand a chance in the face of all that? I really don’t know if curing someone of their depression by drowning them in their past obsession is a good idea but, hey, it worked for me.

    So I got back on it. I didn’t really have the time for all of the research I had done back in Hoenn but I spent the next year-and-a-half making my plans. I familiarized myself with the Sinnoh Dex, planned my route, planned my team, and made sure everything was prepared. With my parents supporting me and Reighnel at my side, I was ready to finally do what I should have done years ago:

    I’m gonna become the Champion of the Sinnoh Pokémon League!

Chapter Text

    I stood in front of my full body mirror as I made sure everything was absolutely perfect. My shoulder-length brown hair was done up in a ponytail;  my knee-length red dress and light gray bolero jacket were pristine; my black thigh-high stockings were damage free and properly secured; my gray shoes were clean, and my sole Pokéball was clipped to my white belt. Checking my white satchel, I made sure I had my five Potions, one of every status healer, ten Oran Berries, my Pokévice (short for Pocket Device; a nifty little gadget that was fairly new and can do all sorts of thing), some trail rations, a canteen of water, some Pokémon food, and five thousand Pokédollars.

    With everything else in place, I put on my most important item: My black student cap that had a gold belt and Pokémon League button. Why was it my most important item? Simple: If you look through history, you’ll notice that every truly greater Trainer- including the Pokémon Grand Master- wore a hat so, if I wanted to be a truly great Trainer, I needed a hat. Why a student hat when I never even went to a school, much less one with a dress code? Also simple: As a Pokémon Trainer, it is my duty to not only teach my Pokémon how to be good battlers but also to learn from my Pokémon and the Trainers that came before me. As such, in my opinion, I will always be a student.

    With everything absolutely perfect, I did a quick twirl. “So? How do I look?” I asked Rey as I looked over to where she stood on my desk. Rey chirped with delight as I walked over to her and held out my hand so she could climb up to my shoulder. “Thanks! Okay!” I clapped my hands together, “We’ve got a really big day ahead of us and we hopefully won’t be back here for a long time. Are you ready to go?” Rey gave me another excited chirp and I took one last look at my room before taking a deep breath. “Let’s go!”

*******

    The trip to the Pokémon Labs was so weird. I’ve made that trip easily hundreds of times since my dad works there but this time was different. Excitement and apprehension were building with each step and I took and I only barely managed to stop myself from running to the labs as fast as I could. Judging from the way Rey was fidgeting on my shoulder, I certainly wasn’t the only one feeling antsy. I know I could have taken my bike and made this a lot easier on myself but that was another thing I needed to do to be a great Trainer. All truly great Trainers I knew of didn’t use a bike so neither will I.

    After what felt like an eternity, I finally reached the Pokémon Labs. The front lobby was surprisingly empty- there were only a few workers and some guy sitting in a chair in the corner. I had hoped to maybe see another Trainer or two starting off on their journey but I guess I was late in more ways that one. While that was disappointing, at least I didn’t have to wait to get registered and not being pestered for a fight right from the start was nice, I guess.

    As I approached the front desk, the receptionist, Jessica, turned away from her computer and smiled at me. “Hey there, Sara! Have you come to see Dr. Sommerlade again?” she asked in a cheery voice. As implied, I was somewhat familiar with her and other members of my staff since my dad would still have me help out with his projects on occasions.

    “Hey, Jessica. Not this time. I’m here to register myself as a Pokémon Trainer and get my Pokédex.”

    “Oh! Your father mentioned you getting ready to start your journey. Better late than never, I guess. Just one moment.” She worked on her computer for a while. “Okay, I see you already have your registration papers all filled out. You’re in luck! Professor Mahogany happens to be here today so you’ll be getting your Pokédex from him. If you’ll kindly wait over there, an assistant will come get you when he’s ready.”

    “Alright. Thank you very much!” I walked over to the corner of the lobby where the man was and took a seat. I was curious as to who the man was and what he was doing here but it wasn’t my place to pry so, to keep myself from fidgeting, I pulled out my Pokévice and started fiddling with it.

    The continued use of the Pokédex even after the rise of the Pokévice was rather interesting, I think. I might as well tell you about it while I’ve got time to kill. You see, the Pokévice is more than capable of doing everything the Pokédex can do and then some. After the Pokévice appeared on the scene and spread like wildfire, it took no time at all for people to use the network to aggregate information on all kinds of things, Pokémon included, and unofficial Pokédex apps appeared shortly thereafter. In fact, it was thanks to such an app and a wiki that I managed to plan out my entire team from the start.

    When the Pokévice started becoming widespread, the Pokémon League International actually looked into using them in place of the Pokédex in order to cut down on expenditures. However, it was soon discovered that doing so created a major weakness in the system. You see, each Pokédex is tied to a Pokémon League Trainer ID which, in turn, is tied to the Pokémon Storage System. Something about the way apps work on the Pokévice allowed some gang in Alola, where the app was being tested, to crack into Pokémon Storage System and steal a lot of Pokémon. Things got so bad there that the Pokémon Grand Master was actually called in to deal with it. So, because of that, the Pokémon League International decided to stick with the older, harder to crack system.

    An assistant finally came to get me after I checked my inbox for the fifteenth time. A short walk later and I found myself standing in a surprisingly subdued office. Nothing about the place felt like the office region’s leading Pokémon Professor. It didn’t even feel like the office of someone important. In fact, if I didn’t know any better, I would say I had been led to my dad’s office by mistake; they certainly look the mostly same. The plain walls were only adorned by framed Ph.Ds, papers were scattered about a few tables and more than a few filing cabinets, and the computer monitor was somehow completely covered with sticky notes while leaving the screen perfectly visible. The only things that set it apart were the mahogany (of course) desk, a special machine for handling the registration of a Pokédex, and a really comfy looking chair that was currently occupied.

    “Ah! Hello there! You must Sara Sommerlade! I’ve heard a lot about you from Greg! It’s a pleasure to meet you! I’m Professor Mahogany!” the man in the chair said. He was rather young for a Pokémon Professor, being in his late 30s to early 40s, and the air about him matched the air given by the room. With his messy ginger hair and stubble, rather plain clothes, and slightly wrinkled lab coat; Professor Mahogany looked more like “one of the guys” than anything else.

    I shook the Professor’s hand, “It’s a pleasure to meet you too, Professor.”

    “Listen, before we begin, I really am sorry about pulling you and your family from Hoenn. Such a big move is hard on any kid and, from what I’ve heard from Greg, you really had things planned out so it was even harder for you. I really needed your dad’s help, though. We’ve managed to do some great things here thanks to what he adds to the team.”

    “That’s okay, Professor,” I interrupted him before he could continue his apology. It surprised me how sincere he was. “I understood why we had to leave and I’ve gotten over it. That’s why I’m here now.”

    “That’s good to hear,” Professor Mahogany said as he relaxed in his chair. “Greg said that you’d say something like that. So, let’s get down to business, shall we? You’re opting out of using one of our starters and are going to be using the Torchic Reighnel, correct?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “And I take it that’s Reighnel right there?” he gestured with his head to Rey who chirped a few times in response. Professor Mahogany chuckled slightly before continuing. “I’ll take that as a ‘Yes.’ You are aware of the rules and regulations of the Sinnoh Division of the Pokémon League and of the responsibilities placed upon you as an official Pokémon Trainer of the Pokémon League International, correct?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Good. Now, if you’d be so kind as to return Reighnel to her Pokéball and hand her here, I’ll register her and you to a Pokédex.”

    I looked at the Pokémon on my shoulder and smiled sadly, “Sorry, Rey. It’ll only be for a little bit, okay?” Rey chirped sadly and closed her eyes as I got out her Pokéball and returned her.

    “She doesn’t like being in her Pokéball, huh?” Professor Mahogany asked as I handed him Rey’s Pokéball.

    “Yeah. I don’t really know why but she’s never really liked being in there even before I got her and it seems like she’s liked it even less after we moved. It works out for me, though, since I like having her around as much as possible.”

    “Ah, I see. I’ll make this quick, then.” Professor Mahogany placed Rey’s Pokéball in a slot on the machine in the back of the room before pushing some buttons on the display. A few moments and one catchy jingle later, the machine spat out a Pokédex which the Professor took along with Rey’s Pokéball. “Here you are,” he said as he handed Rey’s Pokéball back to me. I immediately let her out on the Professor’s desk and smiled as she ran up my arm and nuzzled my cheek. “Now, before I give you your Pokédex, I have to go over a few things. I know you already know what I’m about to say but I’m literally required to say it so… yeah. Sorry.”

    Professor Mahogany cleared his throat and pulled out a paper then began, “As an official Pokémon Trainer, you henceforth act as a representative of the Pokémon League International. As such, you will be granted all of the privilege, authority, and responsibility such a title holds. If, through your actions or inactions, you abuse your position and/or tarnish the name of the Pokémon League International, we, the Pokémon League International, reserve the right to revoke your Trainer License and all Pokémon captured or otherwise in your possession. Any further legal action will be determined by the severity of the crime and by the appropriate authorities.” He stopped reading the paper and then looked at me, “Do you agree to these terms and conditions?” I swallowed thickly before nodding. “Good. Just sign here and you’ll be ready to go.”

    After I signed the paper and received my Pokédex and complementary Pokéballs, the Professor said, “Why don’t you test it out? The Sinnoh Dex usually doesn’t include information on Torchics but I went ahead and tweaked yours a bit so it’ll display it.”

    “Thank you, Professor! Let’s see… ‘Torchic: The Chick Pokémon. A fire burns inside, so it feels very warm to hug.’” I giggled as Rey made a point of nuzzling my cheek again. “‘It launches fireballs of 1,800 degrees F.’”

    Professor Mahogany hummed and nodded. “Alright, that should do it. Good luck, Sara. Here’s hoping I see you at the Hall of Fame.”

*******

    I kept my pace nice and slow as I passed the city limits and officially entered Trainer Route 212. If the weather forecast was right- which it usually was- I had picked a perfect day to begin my Pokémon Journey. With this being the tail end of Spring, the temperature was about as close to perfect as it could get and it hadn’t rained in a few days so I wouldn’t have to worry about the marshy portion of the route more than usual. With all the rain this route and Pastora City get, it was really hard trying to find a string of days where it wasn’t raining and I ended up delaying my trip even more because of it. Given my planned route, my journey was going to get really tough in the not-too-distant future and I wanted an easier time starting out so I could get used to traveling like this.

    Speaking of traveling like this, not being on my bike was kinda weirding me out. Normally, when I made this trip for my mom, I’d take my bike down Public Route 212 (Public Routes being more roundabout routes that are made specifically for vehicles and non-Trainers) and get there in about eight or twelve hours and would spend the night with a friend of the family. At my current pace, if the weather held and I didn’t get into any major battles, I would reach Hearthome City in about two days and would actually have to camp out. Not only that, once I reached Hearthome City, I wouldn’t be staying with that friend but at the Pokémon Center instead. While a part of me was super excited to finally do all of this official Trainer stuff, I’ll admit that another, more pampered part of me was already yearning for my bed and a nice, hot bath.

    Setting that aside, this entire experience was so unreal for me. Even if I’m in the wrong place, this is something I’ve literally dreamt of doing for years and now I was actually doing it. I was walking down a route with my Pokéballs and Pokédex strapped to my belt, Rey perched on my shoulder, and on the lookout for any other Trainers or wild Pokémon (even if I didn’t plan to capture any here). I feel like I’m just repeating myself now but my mind was just having trouble accepting that this was really happening. However, I couldn’t help but notice how wrong it was. I was in the wrong place, walking down the wrong path, heading towards the wrong goal, and competing in the wrong League. I had already made peace with the move but sometimes I just can’t help it.

    My thoughts naturally drifted to the friends who I had left behind, the very same friends who would have started their journey with me four years ago had things been different. We still kept in touch even after all this time and I know what they’ve all been up to while I’ve been gone.

    It turns out that things didn’t go nearly as we had planned. All four of them lost hard to the very first Gym and each one had different ideas for what they wanted to do to get stronger so they split up. When they met back up a week later to rechallenge the Gym, that’s when quite a few things started changing.

    Before they even rechallenged the Gym, Spencer Thornton said that he was quitting here. It wasn’t all that surprising since Spence has always been a bit of a tagalong and hadn’t been all that interested in Pokémon to begin with. At least, not with battling them. Well, I suppose “quitting” was the wrong word before. He decided that he just wasn’t cut out for Pokémon battling and instead decided to try his hand at being a Pokémon Coordinator. The others were a little upset but they were fine with it since at least they’d still be together. When the other three won their first Gym Badges, they got together for a group shot in front of the Gym, the Trainers proudly displaying their badges while new Coordinator looked at them proudly. When I first saw the picture, I couldn’t help but insert myself into it and wonder if maybe I would have won on my first try and what I would have done if I had (well, I probably would have gone on ahead because I can be a jerk).

    The next Gym went smoothly but, on the way to the third, Irene Olson got into a big fight with Cedric Flynn. Nobody would tell me what the fight was about but it apparently nearly came to blows and it ended with Irene leaving the group to do her own thing. I rarely heard from Irene after that but, according to the others, she was still gathering badges and aiming for the Region Champion.

    The next to leave was Gwen Cole after they cleared the fourth Gym. She had seriously struggled during it and had been not really into her battles lately. As much as she loved traveling and her Pokémon, she had just lost her passion for battles and her Pokémon were right behind her. She didn’t really have much interest in being a Coordinator, either, so she decided to quit while she was ahead and go home with her Pokémon. A few months ago, she told me that she was thinking about becoming a teacher or maybe Pokémon Breeder. She still wasn’t sure yet but I know she’ll be happy doing whatever.

    That just left Spence and Cedric. Those two carried on; Cedric going after the Gyms while Spence took his performances to new levels. They ended up being really helpful for each other since Cedric would incorporate some of the crazy moves Spence would come up with into his battles which let him win several tough fights while Cedric’s eye for strategy really helped out in Spence’s competitions. Together, those two got far with Cedric reaching the Pokémon League after half a year while Spence managed to make it to Hoenn’s Grand Festival.

    Needless to say, they both lost horribly.

    It’s not that they’re bad, really. Quite the opposite, in fact. The fact that they got as far as they did at their age was commented on by a lot of people and some pretty important people said that they were going to keep their eyes on them in the future. It’s just that you can’t really expect a couple of ten-year-olds to go up against Trainers and Coordinators who are much older and have been doing it for years and win. Sure, it’s happened in the past but those cases are so few and far between. A study done by the Pokémon League International revealed that only one-in-seventy Trainers even got five Badges on their first journey and only one-in-two hundred made it to the Elite Four, after all. They didn’t let their defeats mess up them too much, though. Last time I checked, Cedric was gearing up for his third attempt at the Pokémon League while Spence was taking some time off to be with his family.

    While I crossed one of the route’s many bridges, I couldn’t help but think about how things might have gone if I had been there. It was a pointless thing to think about, to be sure, but I couldn’t really help it. While I’ve never really cared much for Pokémon Contests, I’ve always had an eye for style so maybe I could have helped Spence out? Cedric having a proper rival would also have done him a lot of good. While I don’t think I could have done anything about Gwen, maybe I could have settled whatever argument that made Irene leave. Of course, then again, maybe me being there wouldn’t have changed much of anything. Spence and Cedric made it to the finals of their divisions before they lost and I still don’t know what it was that made Irene leave the group. Again, it was all pointless to think about but I couldn’t help but wonder.

    My musings were interrupted by Rey chirping and poking my cheek with her beak. When I looked at her, she looked at some point in the woods on the opposite side of the pond we were crossing. In the treeline, I could see what looked like an East Sea Shellos staring at us. It was too far away to be any threat and it was even too far away for me to add it to my Pokédex so I couldn’t see why Rey pointed it out. When I gave Rey a confused look, she looked at me very intently for a moment before chirping and gesturing to something on my right. When I looked over there, I could see another Trainer with a Staravia battling a Quagsire. I was confused as to why you’d battle a Ground-type with a Flying-type but I was even more confused as to why Rey felt the need to point all this out. I swear she was about to Growl at me before she began looking this way and that. I followed her gaze as best as I could but still didn’t see anything of interest. I was about to give up when an idea clicked into place.

    “Oh, I think I get it. You want me to stay focused on where we’re going, don’t you?” I asked. Rey chirped and nodded. I giggled and pet her head, “Yeah, I guess I should do at least that much. It wouldn’t do for me to not pay attention and fall into the marsh, now, would it?” Rey nuzzled my cheek and I giggled again. “Okay. Let’s keep going.”

    Now that I was actually looking at the route, I had to admit that the scenery was rather pretty. I had already been walking for a few hours so the sun was more or less overhead now and was reflecting off of the water rather nicely. The gentle breeze was just cool enough to keep perfect temperature from earlier in the day and I couldn’t help but notice that some of the fishermen I saw were struggling to stay awake. Honestly, I couldn’t blame. If I hadn’t just started my journey, I’d probably find nice, dry spot and curl up for a nap.

    Of course, being a Pokémon Trainer on a Trainer Route meant that this peace couldn’t last forever. A bit down the road from me, heading in my direction, was a guy who was clearly a Pokémon Trainer and was itching for a battle. You see, there’s a bit of etiquette when it comes to Trainer battles. While the rule of thumb is that you battle if you lock eyes, it’s a bit more complicated than that. If two Pokémon Trainers pass each other, there are certain signals one can send to convey one’s willingness to battle. If you lock eyes with the other Trainer and hold their gaze, that’s a sign that you want to battle. If you glance at them or just otherwise keep your gaze straight ahead, that’s a sign that you’re okay with battling but you’re not necessarily looking for a battle. If you purposefully look away from the other Trainer, that’s a sign that you’re not wanting to battle at that moment. Naturally, this guy was looking straight at me and I had no reason to deny him.

    “Hey there,” the guy said as he got closer to me. “The name’s Derek.” He was a pretty average looking guy from what I could tell; kinda stocky and not terribly tall. He only looked to be a couple years older than I was.

    “I’m Sara.” I shook his hand.

    “So, how much are we putting on this?”

    “Well, I just started out and don’t have much money so how does one hundred fifty Pokédollars sound?”

    “That’s fine by me. I just got thrashed at the Gym the other day so I don’t have much on me, either. So, since you’re just starting out, how does 1v1 with no substitutions sound?”

    “That works. Okay! Let’s do this!” Derek and I quickly backpedaled away from each other to give our Pokémon plenty of room. “Let’s go, Reighnel! Our first battle!”

    While Rey hopped off my shoulder and moved forward, Derek threw out a Pokéball. “Let’s show these newbies what we’ve got, Sam!”

    There was a bright flash of light as the Pokéball released Derek’s Pokémon. It was a cute little squirrel-looking thing that was white with a cyan stripe going from the top of its head all the way to the tip of its tail. Its two cyan ears were rather pointy and a perfect match for the pointy bits on its tail. The big yellow circles on its cheeks would have been more than enough to tell me what its type was if I didn’t already know it.

    I already knew this Pokémon but I scanned it into my Pokédex anyway.

    Pachirisu - the EleSquirrel Pokémon. A pair may be seen rubbing their cheek pouches together in an effort to share stored electricity.

    Just as my Pokédex finished giving me the entry, I heard Derek cry out in dismay, “What‽ ‘No data’‽ What gives‽”

    I giggled, “My Pokémon’s from Hoenn so the Sinnoh Dex doesn’t have any information on her. Rey here’s a Torchic, a Fire-type Pokémon.”

    “Ah. Alright, thanks,” Derek nodded as he put away his Pokédex. “I don’t know how you got a Pokémon from Hoenn but this is my first time fighting a Pokémon not from Sinnoh before. Let’s hope you give me a good battle!”

    “We’ll certainly try out best! Reighnel, use Ember!” I opened the battle by going on the offensive. Rey took a quick breath in and spat out multiple tiny flames towards the Pachirisu.

    “Sam! Dodge to the side then get in close with Quick Attack!” I grunted as Sam dodged the attack and charged Rey at high speeds. Even if I had given an order, Rey wouldn’t have had enough time to follow through before being hit. Given what Pachirisus can typically learn, depending on how good of Trainer Derek is, Quick Attack may very well be the only damage dealing move it has if I’m careful.

    While that Quick Attack didn’t do a lot of damage, dodging it right now would be tricky. After a bit of time, when Rey’s Speed Boost has had time to work its magic, then maybe a counterattack would be possible but I needed to stay in the game until then. The second Rey was on her feet again, I gave out my next order. “Rey! Use Growl!” Without hesitation, Rey let loose an impressive growl that rippled the air and slightly pushed Sam back.

    “Don’t let that little chick scare you! Quick Attack again!”

    “Try to dodge it!”

    Sam blurred towards Rey as she tried to dodge out of the way but she was still too slow. The EleSquirrel Pokémon slammed into Ray and knocked her back onto the bridge we had just gotten off of. Now that I knew where Rey’s Speed Boost was at, I could now get an estimate of how long I’d need to wait until she could probably dodge Quick Attack. Making it to that point would still be an issue but I was already starting to get ideas.

    “Don’t let up! Keep pushing her back with Quick Attack!”

    “Use Ember! Aim in front of him!”

    Rey let loose another torrent of tiny embers at the ground in front of the Pachirisu. With his momentum, he had no time to dodge and was forced to plow headlong through the fire. That slowed him down just enough for Rey to execute my next command. “Growl!” The pressurized air from Rey’s Growl pushed back against Sam’s Quick Attack, slowing him down even further. Rey didn’t have time to dodge but, between the slower speed and his attack being lowered two stages, Rey barely took any damage and wasn’t forced off of her feet like the last two times.

    “Hey, not bad,” Derek complimented as his Pachirisu retreated off of the bridge. Rey began to walk off of it but I signaled for her to stop just before she did. “When you called out that Ember, I fully expecting you to aim at Sam and was going to command him to jump over it.”

    This was unexpected but it certainly worked in my favor. “I figured that might happen. That’s why I counted on the shock of the bizarre order to throw you off long enough to be unable to react. It looks like it worked.”

    “That it did but don’t expect it to work twice. Sam didn’t take much damage from that Ember while, even with those Growls, your Torchic took three direct Quick Attacks. I doubt this fight will last much longer.”

    “That we can agree on but don’t count us out yet,” I paused as I shrugged and shook my head theatrically. “I think this battle’s gone on long enough so we’re going to settle this with the next move.”

    “Settle this with the next move? Are you crazy? What, is your Torchic hiding Flamethrower or something? Well, alright, then. Let’s settle this match! Sam! Use Quick Attack! Knock that Torchic out!”

    The Pachirisu blurred forward again and I waited. What I was going to do was very risky since I needed the perfect timing to not allow Derek to change his command while giving Rey enough time to register my command and follow through. Not only that but complicated commands like this carried an inherent risk in them when done without practice. All I could do is place my faith in Rey.

    At the perfect time, I gave my command. “Dodge inward and using a rising Scratch towards the pond!”

    The crux of my plan and why I had Rey stay on the bridge. Pachirisu’s movement has a natural arc to it where none of its paws are touching the ground and this moment only gets longer the faster he goes. When using Quick Attack, there’s a period of about half a second or so where none of his paws are on the ground leaving him completely vulnerable. If an attack where to hit him during this time, the force of the attack wouldn’t have to compete with the static friction keeping him in place or his preparedness for an attack and instead only has to overcome his kinetic friction with the air. Of course, if I were to try to make a drastic change to his direction then the attack would also have to compete with his inertia and that wouldn’t work. As such, I had Rey dodge inwards and to the side so that way the angle of attack would be perfect. The changes made to Pachirisu’s inertia would be relatively minimal and thus would require a relatively small amount of force which is perfect when dealing with a beat up Chick Pokémon. I went with Scratch over Ember because, while Ember would be much more powerful thanks to Same Type Attack Bonus, Scratch has the benefit of being a physical move and having far more force behind it. Besides, the damage from the attack is unimportant.

    Everything worked out beautifully. Rey quickly stepped towards and to the right of Pachirisu before catching him in the chest with a spinning, rising Scratch the instant his paws were off the ground. The sideways angle of the attack was enough to change his direction towards the edge of the bridge and the slight rising motion was enough to ensure that he sailed clean into the pond.

    “Aw shoot!” I heard Derek cry as I smiled at our handiwork. “He can’t swim!” Indeed, his little Pachirisu was struggling to stay afloat. I felt kinda bad for the little guy but it wasn’t long until a red beam struck him and he returned to his Pokéball. “Jeez, I can’t believe you beat me. I thought I had that battle in the bag.”

    I smiled at Derek, “To be fair, I kinda got lucky. If your Pachirisu could swim or if you hadn’t decided to talk with me a bit, this might have turned out differently.”

    “Oh yeah, how did your Torchic manage to dodge Quick Attack anyway?”

    “She has a Hidden Ability called Speed Boost. The longer she’s in a fight, the faster she gets.”

    “Ah, that explains it. Jeez, I really did screw up, then, didn’t I? Well, a deal’s a deal. Here’s your winnings.”

    “Thank you!” I accepted his one hundred fifty Pokédollars and put them in my bag.

    “So, I take it that you’re heading for the Gym in Hearthome City, right?”

    “Yep.”

    “Well, I wish you luck. That Gym Leader’s no pushover.”

    “Well, it’s a Ghost-type Gym and your Pachirisu only knows a Normal-type attack so….”

    “What, you think Sam is my only Pokémon? No, I didn’t use him in that Gym at all. I just used him since he was my weakest Pokémon. Why do you think I specified 1v1 with no substitutions? If I had used my strongest Pokémon, this wouldn’t have been a     battle at all.”

    I paled slightly at that. It seems that my confidence at my planning and victory had gone to my head. “Right. Well, thanks for the warning!”

    “No problem. If you keep it up, you should be able to handle it. Who knows? Maybe I’ll see you later.” With that, Derek waved his hand and headed off towards Pastoria City.

    I took a deep breath to calm down before crouching down and holding out my arms. “Good job, Rey! You were amazing!” My little Fire-type chirped happily as she jumped into my arms and nuzzled my chest as I hugged her. “I can’t believe we actually won our first battle! Looks like all of those drills we did the past few months really payed off, huh? If we keep this up, we just might take the Gym on our first try!” I put Rey back on my shoulder as I stood up. “Let’s keep going. We’ve still got a long way to go until we reach Hearthome City.”

*******

    The sun was just starting to set when I finally made camp. I found a nice clearing not too far from the path and pitched a tent while Rey roamed around, checking for nearby wild Pokémon nests. The rest of the trip had been relatively uneventful- after Derek, we only ran into a few wild Pokémon which we handled easily enough- and we managed to make pretty good time. Before I had walked off the path, I could faintly see the outline of the Pokémon Mansion so I’d probably reach Hearthome City around 9 P.M.-ish if I was lucky.

    By the time I finished setting up, Rey had returned. She seemed pretty calm so I guessed that everything was alright. With everything basically taken care of, it was time for something pretty new that was very important. “Alright!” I said as I clapped my hands and looked at Rey. “Right now, the only move you have that can hurt Ghost-types is Ember and just one move isn’t going to be enough. So we’re going to start you training to learn a new move; specifically Peck. Peck, being a Flying-type move, will not only help us out with the Gym but will also help out with any Fighting-types we run into between now and Trainer Route 208. You probably won’t be able to do it by the time we reach the city but that’s fine.

    “Now, if I remember the Official Move Trainer Handbook correctly, you need to focus your power into your beak as much as you can. If done correctly, it should glow white and appear to elongate into a point but we’re just looking for it to harden right now. I grabbed a branch as we were walking that I’m pretty sure you can’t break normally so I want you to practice on it. Just stand over it and hit it in the middle with your beak as hard as you can when you’re ready. It may hurt a bit at first but I’ll be sure to give you a few Oran Berries with your dinner. The goal here is to just get it to the point where it doesn’t hurt to hit it anymore. Are you okay with that?” I smiled when Rey nodded with a serious look on her face. “Alright. Good luck!”

    While Rey worked on her training, I sat down in front of my tent and got out my Pokévice. While I already knew my route and my final team (neither of which I’m going to go over because there’d be no fun if you knew all of that), I wanted to reaffirm a few things as well as check the week’s forecast again. The next couple of days promised to be clear but it was going to rain three days from now. If all went well, my plan was to arrive in Hearthome City tomorrow night, train against the Gym Trainers the next day, rest during the day that it’s raining, then challenge the Gym Leader the following day. After that, well, we’ll have to see if I win or lose my first Gym Battle.

    I looked up from my Pokévice to check on Rey after a fair while had passed. She was still pecking (but not Pecking) away at the branch and didn’t appear to be making much progress. Every time her beak hit the branch, she’d wince a bit before pulling back and going at it again. It was a little hard to watch, honestly, but I knew it was something that had to be done. So long as Rey was fine, I guess I’d have to be fine as well. Now that I look closer at the branch, I take back what I said about her making no progress. I could see that she had actually chipped through a bit of it. It’d probably take her another solid half-hour to break through the three inch branch at her current pace but it was progress I hadn’t been expecting.

    When the sunlight was almost gone, I called a halt to Rey’s training and let her eat two Oran Berries and rest as I prepared dinner. Well, I guess I can’t really call this preparing dinner. I can cook reasonably well but I hadn’t bothered bringing anything to cook with for this leg of the journey since I wouldn’t be needing it. So “preparing dinner” was just popping the top on a can of Pokémon food and busting out my beef jerky and trail mix. As we ate, I went over tomorrow’s plan with Rey while also examining the progress of her training. She seemed really proud that she managed to make more progress than expected but was disappointed that she hadn’t managed to break the branch before dinner.

    After we ate and laid down in the tent, I decided to go over the battle with Derek. It went pretty well, all things considered. I had gone over some exercises and drills with Rey the month or so leading up to today to make sure she was fit and to get a feel for her Speed Boost but I didn’t do any serious training since I felt that would be cheating. Given that, the fact that I managed to win my first battle against a more experienced Trainer was nothing short of amazing, even if he was holding back and going easy on me. That being said, I got really lucky. If we had fought on a different route or a little further from the bridge, I’m not sure if I could have come up with a plan to defeat that Pachirisu. Maybe I still could have squeaked out a victory but it would have been awfully close. I could have tried using Rey’s secret technique but her body can’t handle it very well right now and potentially seriously injuring my Pokémon on my first day just wouldn’t do.

    While snuggling Rey closer to me, all I could do is wish that my future battles went just as well as I went to sleep.

Chapter Text

    The next day, at the break of dawn, we packed up and started down the route again. The weather was good, as expected, and I decided to move at a rather brisk walk this time. I was past the marsh-covered part of the route where it frequently rained and ahead of me I could see the Pokémon Mansion where, if I wanted, I could visit the Pokémon Garden and maybe battle some Trainers but I wasn’t intending on stopping there. The Pokémon that usually appeared there didn’t interest me and I didn’t feel confident enough to challenge the maids and their odd game without a more prepared team.

    The mansion aside, this part of Trainer Route 212 was certainly a lot more beautiful than the previous part but I suppose that was to be expected. The grass was better maintained, the path was neater, and there was even groomed shrubbery well outside the mansion’s walls. Honestly, it gave the place a more artificial feel that I wasn’t entirely sold on but I could still appreciate it and Rey seemed to be enjoying the sights.

    The wild Pokémon seemed to be pretty calm today. We didn’t encounter many- only two or three- but that’s okay because a lot of people like to loiter around the Pokémon Mansion and that meant a lot of Trainer battles. I won’t go over all of them here since that would take too long and a lot of them boiled down to a lot of back-and-forth attacking until Rey’s Speed Boost let her basically never get hit. Of the five battles, the only noteworthy things about most of them were the 900 Pokédollars I got and the fact that I managed to sneak some Peck training into a few of them.

    The third fight, however... That’s worth talking about. It was against this nice looking guy named Steven and it went something like this:

    “Well hey there! You have the look of a new Trainer about you!” he said with a smile.

    “Is it that obvious?” I giggled.

    “To my eye, it is. Say, is that a Torchic? How’d you get a Hoenn Starter?”

    “I’m surprised you even knew what she was. I was born and raised in Hoenn and moved from there just before I turned ten. Rey here was a parting gift.”

    “So, you’re a bit of a traveler, eh? Well, that makes two of us. I’ve never actually been to Hoenn but I’m from Unova and I’ve been to Kanto.”

    “Wow! You’re from Unova! I’d love to ask you what it’s like over there but we should probably get this started. My name’s Sara, by the way.”

    “Steven. Nice to meet you. How’s about 1v1 with 500 Pokédollars on the line? No items.”

    Five hundred Pokédollars was far more than I put on a battle until now and that condition was strange but I was confident. “Agreed.”

    “Great! Since you’re using a Pokémon not native to Sinnoh, I guess I’ll do the same. Go, Panpour!”

    Out from Steven’s Pokéball came a blue-and-cream colored monkey looking Pokémon. I had never seen anything like it before but, from its coloration, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a Water-type. I was in trouble.

    “Is that a…?”

    “A Water-type? Yup. Panpour is one of the three elemental monkeys of Unova.”

    I gulped nervously as Rey jumped down. “Well, let’s do this, Rey.” I should calm down. While I didn’t have type advantage, maybe his Panpour didn’t—

    “Panpour! Use Water Gun!”

    Uh oh. “Dodge it!” Rey jumped to the side as fast as she could but was just a hair too slow as the jet of water clipped her side and made her spin around while dealing super effective damage. I already had a bad feeling about this fight.

    “Use Water Gun again!” Steven commanded. I repeated my last command and was thankful when Rey’s momentum allowed her to fully dodge the attack.

    “Serpentine forward! Close the gap and use Scratch!” While Ember had a Same Type Attack Bonus, Scratch would be doing more damage if all else is equal. That aside, Rey stood the best chance of dodging Water Gun at point-blank range given how the move worked and her Speed Boost.

    “Oh no you don’t! Panpour! Keep away from that Torchic and keep using Water Gun!” The Panpour quickly backpedaled before stopping and firing off another jet of water. I didn’t even have to give the command for Rey to dodge that one since it seemed like it was really bad at hitting moving targets and Rey wasn’t dumb enough to walk into the attack. Still, it gave me an idea of how I could pull out another win despite the type disadvantage.

    I let the two Pokémon go back and forth a bit as Rey’s speed rose. When the time was just right, I waited for the Panpour to pause to ready another Water Gun before issuing my command. “Charge now! Use Scratch!”

    Steven smirked.

    Rey stopped zig-zagging and charged straight ahead, quickly closing the gap thanks to her Speed Boost. However, before she was in range to use Scratch, Steven said: “Use Lick.”  His Panpour didn’t prepare Water Gun and instead stuck out its long tongue and Licked Rey. Rey was knocked back by the attack and paralyzed, indicated by the trouble she had standing up.

    “Your next line is gonna be: ‘How did you know I was going to do that‽’” Steven said.

    “How did you know I was going to do that‽” I gasped when I realized what he did.

    Steven chuckled, “You’re too predictable. That was a good strategy but only if your opponent can’t guess your Torchic’s ability. While I’ll say most people you run across won’t even know their own Pokémon’s ability, you can’t rely on that being a fact. I knew what it could be and I knew that you were a newbie Trainer so I figured you’d probably rely on it. As such, I used a strategy tailor-made to bait you into using a strategy that relied on using Speed Boost to get in close since you seemed so focused on dodging rather than letting her tank the hits. Lesson number one: Never rely only on your opponent’s ignorance.”

    I took a half step back and I struggled to maintain my balance. To lose a Pokémon battle was inevitable but to be defeated so utterly this early on was something else entirely. “Th-then I’ll just-” I started to reach for my satchel but Steven’s voice stopped.

    “Ah, ah, ah. This battle was over the instant you agreed to my terms. No items, remember? Lesson number two: Always be aware of the terms of battle and think carefully before you agree to them. If someone specifies a term for item usage outside of gym battles, they usually have something up their sleeve.”

    I collapsed to my knees as I stared at the ground ahead of me in shock. I said nothing for there was nothing that I could say. “So, what do you wanna do? Wanna forfeit the battle?”

Forfeit the battle? There was certainly no way I could win. Rey’s Speed Boost would be maxed out by this point but, with her speed effectively halved and her randomly being caught in paralysis, there’s just no way she could avoid Water Gun without more luck than I felt I had at the moment. “I… I surrender.”  Rey turned to stare at me in shock and I had to look away from her.

    Steven sighed and shook his head, “Lesson number three: Never surrender no matter how bad things look. Even if things seem hopeless, there may very well be a chance to win. Still, I’ll accept your surrender since it seems that all of your spirit is gone.” He returned his Panpour to his Pokéball before continuing. “C’mon, get up. You look pathetic like that.”

    I quickly got to my feet and shook my head after picking up Rey. That had been a little much, even for me. “Here,” I said as I fished his winnings from my satchel. “You earned this.”

    “Thanks. So that was your first loss, huh?” I nodded. “Don’t let it get you down. I lost track of how many times I lost a long time ago. Besides, nothing about this fight was fair. I have three badges, after all.”

    That statement was enough to restart my system. “Then why did you challenge me?” I asked incredulously.

    “Because you looked like a newbie Trainer who was getting too confident. If you kept that attitude up, your first loss would be really hard on you later on. You probably would have lost at the Gym after being backed into a corner and then sulked for a few days. Since your first loss came before your ego got too big, the fallout isn’t so severe.”

    I hummed and nodded. This guy sure loved to talk. “Well, thanks… I guess. How do you know all this stuff?”

    “I learned the hard way. I’ve also seen other Trainers go through the same thing, too. Well, I think I’ve kept you long enough. You should probably get going if you want to make Hearthome City before nightfall.”

    I looked at the time and grimaced. While I had no real reason to rush, I had made a schedule and I wanted to stick to it. While this hadn’t taken too long, I’d probably have to do some jogging if I wanted to make good time. Maybe some light running. “You’re right. Thanks for the battle!” I said with a wave as I started making my way down the route again.

    “No problem. Maybe we’ll cross paths again later,” he called back.

    I was of two minds about Steven. On one hand, I kinda didn’t like how forward he was with his advice and that battle was absolutely unfair. Type matchup aside, I held no delusions that the current me and Rey could defeat someone skilled and experienced enough to win three badges. Even if he had used a Pokémon that was quad weak to Fire, we still probably wouldn’t have won. There’s a reason Gym Leaders specifically choose their Pokémon and plan their strategies based on how many badges you have, after all.

    On the other hand, I had to admit that his advice was sound. As it was, I was still stinging from my loss so I actively avoided challenging other Trainers for a while. How much worse would that sting have been if my first loss had come much later? That being said, he might have just been putting ideas into my head. I knew very well that I’d lose eventually and I had already had my ego deflated from my battle with Derek so surely I wouldn’t have reacted that strongly. Cedric’s first loss came at the Gym and he had no major issues so surely I wouldn’t have, either. Surely.

    I shook my head to clear it as I kept going down the route at a light jog. All of that stuff really didn’t matter right now. What did matter is that I had to pick up the pace if I wanted to reach Hearthome City by a reasonable time. My battles didn’t take that long but my little chat with Steven lasted far longer than it had any right to. When I felt like I was more or less back on schedule, I slowed down a bit and let myself challenge two more Trainers. Those went far more smoothly but I tried my best to end them before Rey’s Speed Boost became too much of a deciding factor.

    When I entered the terminal between Route 212 and Hearthome City, I let out a sigh of relief. My first time on a Trainer Route had gone fairly well, all things considered, but there were a number of things I was unhappy about. For starters, my travel schedule was just way too tight. While I managed to make it in time and have a fair number of battles along the way, I wasn’t fond of basically always being on the clock. I wasn’t in any real hurry since my journey should only take, at most, two months and I had pulled three months ahead in my schooling for this so I’d have to allow for more potential breaks in my travel plans going forward. While I was excited to get to my first Gym, it wouldn’t have hurt me to spend some time battling in and around the Pokémon Mansion before spending the night there.

    Another problem that I had, which is also kind of a symptom of the first, was that we had only battled a couple wild Pokémon. While the other Trainers provided a decent variety, if I wanted to be the best, I needed to have experience fighting as many different Pokémon as possible. The more experience we had against the various type combos and specialties, the easier time we’d have facing new challenges in the future. Even if there was an easy solution for gyms, I’d rather be honing my strategies against the gym’s type during my battles against the gym Trainers rather than making them up like I would be this time.

    My problems aside, I was really glad to finally be in Hearthome City and the sight of the city in dusk was really welcoming. I had to fight off the urge to take the familiar path to my family friend’s house and instead make my way to the Pokémon Center. I knew I would eventually become intimately familiar with the layout and quirks of Pokémon Centers since they would be the only familiar place for quite a while once I left the city so I made a point to take some time to actually look at the place.

    I had never actually been in Hearthome City’s Pokémon Center before and had only been in Pastoria City’s one a handful of times. Aside from the reading material, I couldn’t really tell a difference between the two. Both had the same color scheme— orange walls with a darker orange border that was somehow pleasing to the eye and a yellow-ish tiled floor— and the same basic layout with a little lounge area with a TV off in one corner, a small reading area in another, a few doors that led to other rooms (some for employees only), a staircase that I believe leads to the guest rooms, and the front desk. I wonder if I’d be able to tell the difference between the various Pokémon Centers by the time my journey was over.

    Anyway, I had made it with about half an hour to spare before the eleven o’clock curfew so I quickly got out my Trainer ID while approaching the front desk.

    “Good evening and welcome to the Pokémon Center! How may I help you?” the nurse— her name tag said she was called Annabel— asked.

    “Hello! I’d like to rent a room, please,” I requested as I handed over my ID.

    “Alright. How long do you plan on staying?”

    “At least four nights. It depends on how my Gym Battle goes.”

    “Alright then. You’re all set! Here’s your room key. It’s up those stairs, down the hall, fourth door on your left. Would you like for your Torchic to have a checkup?”

    “Yes, that would be nice, thank you.” I held up my hand to my shoulder and let Rey jump into it before handing her and her Pokéball to Nurse Annabel.

    “If you would kindly wait just a moment, I’ll be back with your Pokémon as soon as I can,” Annabel said before walking off into a back room. With nothing better to do, I took another look around the Pokémon Center. There were a couple of Trainers in the lounge area watching TV but I didn’t feel much like socializing so I went over to the empty reading area. Nothing really jumped out at me as I perused their selection and I was just settling on reading some fashion magazine when the pleasant jingle alerted me to the nurse’s return.

    “Here you are!” Nurse Annabel said as she returned Rey and her Pokéball. “Your Torchic is perfectly healthy! With a good night’s sleep and a healthy breakfast, she should be ready for your gym challenge!”

    “Thank you very much.”

    “It’s no problem! Will you be needing anything else?”

    “No, that’ll be all, thank you.”

    “Alright then! Now, remember that curfew is at 11 PM, no exceptions, and that breakfast will be served in that room over there at 8 AM. I hope you have a good night and please don’t hesitate to call on me if you need anything!”

    With that taken care of, I decided to go ahead to my room. There wasn’t any time left to roam about the city and roaming about the city during the night wasn’t the best idea anyway. Especially not for a rookie Trainer with a Pokémon that can’t naturally be found in this region. My room was what I assumed to be the standard for all Pokémon Center rooms: It was about as large as could be expected and featured two bunk beds, a small desk with a chair and lamp, a mini fridge, and a door leading to a bathroom that lacked a shower (turned out that showers in Pokémon Centers were communal). It was fairly nice considering it was free (well, as free as anything funded by donations and local taxes could be).

    I sat Rey down on the bed and let her roam about it while I changed into the pajamas I packed and set my day clothes on one of the other beds. I picked up Rey and sat down at the small desk before retrieving my journal from my satchel. As I got everything ready for the start of my new tradition (which Rey watched with interest), I had time to reflect truly reflect on the past couple of days.

All in all, not a whole lot really happened. My first loss aside, nothing terribly interesting happened and it had mostly just been me being lost in my thoughts as I walked. It had certainly been pretty bland compared to the start of some other journeys that I had heard and read about over the years— even Derek and the others’ first couple days had been more exciting when they encountered a rare Pokémon— but that was fine by me. Not every story starts off full of action and drama and I appreciated being able to get all of my thoughts sorted out so quickly. From here on out, I’ll be able to devote my full attention to the path ahead of me rather than what lied behind. Regardless, I made sure to note the events of the day alongside what Pokémon I encountered. I even made sure to include some observations regarding my fights with said Pokémon in case I needed that knowledge later.

    With everything finished, I put away my journal and did my nightly routine before turning in, Rey already fast asleep. Starting tomorrow, Rey and I were going to be in for some serious training to make sure we were prepared for our first Gym Battle three days from now. It seemed that the walking had tired me out more than I had thought because I was fast asleep not long after my head hit the pillow.

OoOoOoO

    The next day found Rey and I standing in front of the Hearthome City Gym. Being the Ghost-type Gym, it was everything you expected it to be: A rundown looking manor situated on the city’s outskirts. The windows were dirty and cracked or broken (funnily enough, I could see signs of bug screens in the broken ones), the paint was chipped and faded, strange shadows flittered across the windows, and the whole place looked like a strong breeze would knock it down. It was a pretty solid atmosphere except for the bright neon sign that advertised it as the Hearthome Gym right next to it.

    I walked up the stairs to the ancient looking (even though I’m pretty sure this building was built three years ago) double door and slowly opened it, trying to decide whether I should grin or roll my eyes when they squeaked loudly (I settled on both). I had only taken three steps inside the building when, just as expected, the doors “mysteriously” closed behind me. I couldn’t see any mechanism to automatically close the doors so, while I had no proof since I’m sorely lacking in a Silph Scope, I was pretty sure that a ghost was actually responsible for that. A Ghost-type Pokémon, that is.

    The inside of the gym matched the outside perfectly. It was set up like an old, fancy hotel with faded wallpaper, squeaky floor, spooky paintings, dusty suits of armor, and… a modern computer terminal at the front desk which was manned by a rather perky looking woman. I guess even dedication to the theme must give way to the convenience of modern technology. That aside, I admired the dedication to the theme. It was incredibly cheesy but I loved it. All it needed was a spooky thunderstorm and transvestite doctor and it’d be perfect.

    “Hello! Welcome to the Hearthome Gym! Can I help you?” the receptionist asked as I approached the counter.

    “Yes, I’d like to schedule a battle with the Gym Leader the day after tomorrow.”

    “This Thursday? Okay. When would you like the fight to be? There’s one at 10 AM, one at 12:30 PM, and one at 3 PM.”

    “Hmm… The one at 10 AM sounds good.”

    “Alright. If you’ll give me your Trainer ID and Pokédex, I’ll schedule you right away. I see you only have one Pokémon on you so I take it you’ll be using her for your fight?”

    “That’s right.”

    “Okay. All set. Your battle with Leader Shannon is scheduled for Thursday, 10 June.”

    “Thanks! Is it okay if I battle with the gym’s Trainers now?”

    “Go right ahead! Oh! But first…“ the receptionist turned off the computer monitor and disappeared behind the desk. I heard a faint ruffling sound and some muttered curses before she came back up again, this time dressed like an old crone. She even wore a cheap-looking rubber mask that was slightly askew.

    “Well, hello there, dearie,” she said in a voice that matched her new appearance. It actually wasn’t that bad. “Welcome to the Hearthome Hotel. I hope you enjoy your stay, dearie, but do be mindful of the other guests. They can be a bit… restless .” I covered my mouth to try and hold back my laughter while Rey was busy burying her face in my neck out of exasperation. “Oh, and, whatever you do, don’t go into Room 205.”

    “Right,” I said, my voice squeaking. “Thank you very much.”

    “Oh, don’t mention it, dearie. Have a good time!” the receptionist waved me off as started towards the stairs. When I was halfway up, I saw her quickly pull off the mask out of the corner of my eye before saying something I probably wasn’t supposed to hear. “They don’t pay me enough for this.”

OoOoOoO

    I stood on the opposite side of the room from my first opponent, Valerie, our Pokémon at the ready between us. The room, as expected, was fashioned a bit like an old hotel room but run down and a fair bit larger. Most of the room was barely illuminated by flickering candlelight but the center of the room, where the battles took place, was well lit by an overhead light.

    This was to be a one-on-one battle, my Torchic versus Valerie’s Misdreavus, with free item usage for me and 300 Pokédollars on the line. This being our first time battling a Ghost-type, I was more than a little nervous and I could tell that Rey was too, even as she kept her sights locked on her opponent.

    “Misdreavus, use Astonish!” Rey’s ears (as well as mine) were instantly assaulted by Misdreavus’ piercing shriek and I inwardly grumbled as dodging a sound-based attack was probably basically impossible. At least it was a weak attack and a physical one at that so the damage wouldn’t be all that great.

    Thankfully, Rey didn’t flinch so we could immediately counterattack. “Rey, use Ember!” Rey let loose a torrent of little flames towards her opponent but, following its Trainer’s command, the Misdreavus quickly floated out of the way. I could see Valerie taking a breath to issue her next command so I preempted her with one of my own. “Move forward, Rey!”

    “Astonish again!” I frowned as the scream hit Rey full force yet again. I doubted that the attack was omnidirectional so there had to be some way to dodge it. Until I could figure out how, though, I needed to mitigate the damage Rey was taking.

    “Rey, use Growl!” At my command, Rey puffed up her little chest and let loose her most ferocious growl. Personally, I never understood how this worked since I found it to be absolutely adorable but I knew for a fact that Misdreavus’ already meager physical power would be reduced.

    “Misdreavus, use Psywave!” Misdreavus’ body glowed blue before releasing an undulating wave of pink-ish energy at Rey. Quite luckily for me, the angle of the attack and the timing of the wave happened to be absolutely perfect. At the last moment, I gave my command.

    “Step back, Rey!” As it so happened, everything had lined up just perfectly so that the low point of the wave would collide with the floor and the attack just barely missed. “Counter with Ember!” Mine, however, didn’t miss this time since Valerie had been a bit too shocked to issue any command to dodge. As a result, Misdreavus was sent reeling back by a face full of fire.

    “Misdreavus, use Astonish!”

    “Move left, Rey!” Another fruitless effort on my part but at least Rey (and I) didn’t suffer as badly thanks to the earlier Growl. However, as luck would have it, the sound caused Rey to flinch so she couldn’t move in time to avoid the follow-up attack.

    “Use Psywave!” As expected, the attack hit dead on this time but, thanks to the way the attack worked, it probably did less than the Astonish did. Regardless, Rey wasn’t looking too good while the Misdreavus was more or less fine. This was worrying since there was one thing nearly all Ghost-types could do that Valerie had yet to utilize. I was starting to come up with a plan, though, and I’d consider this battle a moral victory if I could at least force her to use that.

    “Use Ember!” As expected, the order was given and the Misdreavus floated out of the way. I could tell that Rey was getting frustrated and wanted to move in but a simple rushdown like that wouldn’t work at all here. If I could get Rey’s Ember to do what I wanted it to do, it’d probably work in the future, though.

    “Astonish again!” This was what I wanted. Rey’s Speed Boost had done all that it could and I really hoped it’d be enough.

    “Run forward-left!” Rey did as commanded and I got to see something fascinating. It was almost as if a physical force clipped one of Rey’s legs and made her spin around. I had wondered if the affected area from Astonish extended outward in a cone and I might have been right. While Rey was slightly off balance, she was fine for what I wanted her to do. “Use Ember!”

    Valerie gave the order to dodge but Misdreavus was just a bit too slow and a few of the flames caught her side, causing her to spin around. I pushed the advantage and ordered Rey to leap at the Misdreavus before unleashing a point-blank Ember. The attack landed perfectly but I decided to not press my luck and ordered Rey to retreat while making her stay close enough to where she could hopefully dodge Astonish.

    Valerie looked shocked for a moment but quickly recovered and analyzed the battle. Despite the lack of action, I decided against ordering Rey to attack since I knew it wouldn’t work unless it was Growl and I wasn’t certain another Growl would be worth much now.

    After a moment, Valerie seemed to come to a decision and smirked before giving the order I had been waiting for. “Misdreavus, vanish!” Seeing as how Misdreavus was, well, a ghost, it did the one thing ghosts love to do and just faded from sight. Unless I happened to get crazy lucky or had a stroke of genius, this fight was basically over. We couldn’t see it, it made no sound due to it being able to levitate, and none of our other senses could locate it, either. If I happened to have a Silph Scope (or something similar) then this wouldn’t be an issue but I didn’t since those things are kinda expensive.

    I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I couldn’t just wait for Valerie to give a movement order and try to predict Misdreavus’ location based on that since, unless she was really stupid, she would have worked out a strategy ahead of time to get Misdreavus moving the moment she vanished. I had an inkling of an idea as to how I could get around that but I hadn’t even told Rey my idea so testing it now wouldn’t be smart. No, all I wanted from this battle was to see a Ghost-type in action so we could have a better feel for fighting them. Testing counters comes later.

    Naturally, given all that, I made the only logical move: “I surrender.”

    "Huh? W-what?” Not only was Valerie shocked but her Misdreavus was shocked enough to actually come out of hiding. Rey looked disappointed but she accepted it seeing as how she knew I was planning this from the start. After all, our training time would be used a lot better if I didn’t have to wait as long for Rey to recover.

    “I surrender,” I said as I walked up to Valerie and handed her her winnings. “That was a really great fight; I learned a lot.”

    “Uh, s-sure, no problem,” she said somewhat dumbly as she took her money. With that, I picked up Rey and we made our way out of the gym. We had some training to do before we challenged another Trainer.

OoOoOoO

    It was now in the late afternoon and I was relaxing on a park bench, Rey napping on my lap. Rey and I had spent the day fighting the other three Trainers in the gym while pausing to rest and work on new strategies in between each bout. Things had worked out pretty well since, while I had lost my second match, I had managed to win the two after that. I even managed to come out ahead on my winnings by 150 Pokédollars. I was quite confident in the strategies I had developed to counter the inherent advantage most Ghost-types had and I was really proud of Rey for being able to learn these strategies quickly and execute them almost flawlessly. With any luck, we just might be able to pull out a win against the Gym Leader without having to resort to Rey’s secret technique. It’d be really useful in the upcoming fight but Rey’s unevolved body had trouble handling it so it tired her out after one or two uses.

    As I pet Rey, I closed my eyes, relaxed into the bench, and just enjoyed the gentle breeze blowing through the park and warm rays of the setting sun. This had been a very fruitful day and now it was time to rest. No hard training, no thinking too much about battles, just some peaceful time with my wonderful little Pokémon. Tomorrow would certainly be a lazy day but after that? After that, it’d be time to truly test my mettle as a Pokémon Trainer.


    A lazy, rainy day preludes a fierce battle. Though the ghosts of the past still linger in Sara's mind, she faces her future with all of her strength. Next time on The Ties that Bind: "Lost in the Haunting Melody!" Sara's journey is only just beginning.

Chapter Text

    The falling rain gently pattered against the window as I leaned against my chair, looking out it to see the buildings of the city. As expected of such a rainy day, not too many people were out and about and the few that were moved quickly, running from cover to cover in a vain attempt to keep dry. The rain was very much a welcome sight, though. Due to being located so far to the north, Sinnoh was usually very cold and so we got snow more often than rain. If I recalled correctly, this was actually the first rain of the year in this area so all of the muck left from the snows could finally be washed away.

    I loved the rain. Sitting in a comfy chair, wrapped in a warm blanket, and drinking a cup of cocoa while Rey napped somewhere on me was always one of my favorite things to do when it rained. The chair I was sitting in wasn’t that comfortable, the blankets on the bed weren’t terribly warm, and there was no cocoa to be had but I still took the time to appreciate the rain. As pleasant as it was, I didn’t want to spend the entire day in my room so dragged myself away from the window to get ready for the day before collecting Rey and heading to the main lobby.

    It was still pretty early as I made my way to the lobby— breakfast hadn’t even been served yet— so the place was almost completely empty. A nurse, a different one from when I checked in, was sitting behind the front desk while flipping through some kind of magazine and there were a couple other Trainers milling about but that was it. Given the weather and early time, I imagine that most of the other Trainers had just opted to sleep in or stay in their rooms and that was fine by me.

    I made my way over to the small lounge-like area and took a seat, relaxing on the couch. The TV had been set to a local news station by the other Trainer in this area so I politely watched it as well. Being a local news station, there was talk about a lot of things I didn’t have the context for but it was nice to know that the rain was predicted to let up around five this evening. If it did, I might have to go out and explore the city before curfew.

    “Man, some weather today, huh? I haven’t seen rain like this in a long while,” the other Trainer, a scruffy looking man who appeared to be in his mid-to-late 20s, said after a while.

    “Yeah, tell me about it. I’m happy for it, though. I love the rain,” I replied.

    “I can’t stand the stuff. Being stuck indoors all day is a real pain and getting caught in it is just the worst.”

    “While I wouldn’t want to go out in this, I don’t mind being in the rain. I think it can be really refreshing.”

    “Eh, to each their own, I guess. Jim Goodman. You here for a badge?”

    “Sara Sommerlade. That’s right. I have a match scheduled for tomorrow. You?”

    “I tried taking on the League a few years ago but I didn’t get far and I just couldn’t get into it. Instead, I’ve been traveling around the world as a sort of freelance agent.”

    I tilted my head in curiosity, “The Pokémon League allows for that?”

    “Oh, yeah. The League allows for a lot of stuff. My official title is that of a Pokémon Ranger.”

    “You’re a Ranger‽” I asked as I quickly leaned closer, nearly pushing Rey off my lap.

    Jim closed an eye and smiled, “That’s right. Here, take a look.” He pulled out his Ranger ID that proved that he was telling the truth.

    “Wow, that’s so cool! What are you doing here in Sinnoh?”

    “We’ve gotten reports of a pretty high profile Pokémon Hunter in the region so I was sent to investigate. I was born here in Sinnoh— in Celestic Town, specifically— and I was pretty close by already so I was a good pick.”

    “Do you have any leads yet?”

    “Nothing solid so far. The creep’s a real slippery one; we’ve been chasing him for years. He’s actually wanted in five different regions on charges of poaching.”

    “Oh jeez. I hope you get him. Hey, since I’ll be traveling the region, what should I do if I run into this guy?”

    “Stay away. That guy and his Pokémon are crazy strong. You’d probably have to be on par with the Elite Four if you wanted to take him down and that’s with hoping he doesn’t just shoot ya. If ya do catch wind of him, call the police immediately. Actually, better yet, call the Ranger HQ for the area and they’ll take care of things. Do you know their number? Here, I’ll give it to ya.”

    “Thanks. I’ll try to keep that in mind. So, since you’re a Ranger, who’s your Partner?”

    “My Partner’s a Salazzle named Jessica.”

    “Salazzle… I’m not familiar with that Pokémon. Where’s it from?”

    “She’s from Alola. She’s the evolved form of Salandit.”

    I gasped before inching to the edge of my seat, “Can I meet her? I’ve never seen a Pokémon from Alola before!”

    “Sure thing, kid,” Jim said with a chuckle as he pulled out a Pokéball. “Come on out, Jess.”

   There was a flash of red light and before me stood the Salazzle known as Jessica. She was a bit over a meter tall and had mostly dark grey scale-like skin with a light purple underside and had pink markings on her torso; the underside of the tail was also pink. Looking at her, there was something… oddly… attractive about her, as weird as that sounded. Something smelled ridiculously good and I could practically feel my mind start to fog up as the desire to throw myself at her grew stronger, almost too strong to resist.

    “Jess, knock it off,” Jim said, his voice cutting through the haze in my mind as my senses returned to me. “Sorry about that,” Jim said to me. “Salazzles have this little thing where they can emit pheromones to attract mates. I thought I had told her not to do that to random people but I guess she’s just a troublemaker at heart,” Jim said the last part as he glared at Jessica who simply chuckled in a lizard-like way before sitting on the couch next to her Partner.

    “D-don’t worry about it,” I said with a shake of my head. I guess the pheromones had a lingering effect since Jessica still looked kinda attractive to me. “Oh! Right! This is Reighnel, my Torchic. I guess you could say she’s my Partner,” I said while gesturing to Rey who was still on my lap. She was warily eyeing Jessica for some reason.

    “A Hoenn Starter, huh? You from there?”

    “Yeah, that’s right. Oh! Hold on!” I picked up Rey and sat her down on the coffee table that between the two couches and the TV. “Why don’t you go talk with Jessica? I’m sure it’ll be nice for you to talk to someone who can actually understand you for a change.” Rey looked at me for a moment, uncertain, before hesitantly nodding and walking towards the end of the table closer to the other two. Jim looked at Jessica and inclined his head towards the table so she slid off the couch and sat cross-legged in front of Rey, her tail wrapped around her waist.

    As those two talked in that weird language only Pokémon could understand, I turned my attention back to Jim. “So, yeah, I was actually born in Hoenn. My family and I moved here a few years ago.”

    “Hoenn, huh? That’s a pretty region. Pretty much the exact opposite of this place. I can’t imagine the system shock that must have been.”

    “Yeah, it was intense. I took me a couple of years just to get used to having to wear warm clothing during summer.”

    “I can imagine. Hey, why I don’t I share some of my stories from Hoenn?”

    “Yes, please!”

    Jim chuckled before saying, “Alright, but let’s grab some breakfast first, yeah? Hard to tell a story on an empty stomach.”

    After we had our breakfast, we returned to the small lounge area where I happily listened to Jim talk about his adventures in Hoenn. It was great to hear stories about my old home and he was last there only two years ago so I even got to hear updates about things my old friends hadn’t told me about.

    We didn’t stay completely alone in our conversation. After a bit, another Trainer wandered over and joined in. She hadn’t been to Hoenn herself but she had some stories of her own to share about Sinnoh. Soon another Trainer joined in and then another and we ended up having a little party going. People were breaking out small snacks they had bought and various special drinks as we all laughed and swapped stories. It was an absolutely wonderful experience, even if I couldn’t contribute much due to my inexperience.

    The scene before me, a group of strangers getting along so well, coupled with the discussion that kicked off this little event made me a little homesick. Not for my home in Pastoria but for my old home back in Mauville. I couldn’t help but think of all the times we had gotten together not unlike this. Just being together, laughing, talking about whatever, and having a good time. It’s not like I really had friends I could talk to here in Sinnoh, after all. Not friends my age, anyway. Between how busy I was with the move, helping out my parents, my studies, and the depression; I never really had that much of a chance.

    Rey apparently has some sort of ability to sense my mood because she suddenly looked back towards me from where she was with the Pokémon the other Trainers had let out and hopped up onto my lap. She looked up at me with a concerned chirp and I smiled down at her, petting her head. My adorable little Pokémon was always so worried about me. If I was being honest, she was easily the brightest light in my life and I have no idea what I’d do without her.

    After another minute of silent contemplation, I excused myself from the little party and made my way back to my room with Rey. The rain was still coming down hard and wouldn’t be letting up anytime soon but that was still fine by me. I sat Rey down on the bed before flopping onto it and then pulling myself up so my back rested against the headboard. I pulled out my Pokévice and opened up an ebook I had purchased a few days ago and started reading. Rey made her way over to me and sat herself down on my lap, looking between the Pokévice and me expectantly. With a small smile, I went back to the beginning and began reading to my beloved little Pokémon.

OoOoOoO

    It was now just after 6 PM and the rain had finally stopped about half an hour ago. I was walking through the city with no destination in mind, enjoying the crisp air that always came after a rain like this. Even though the rain had just stopped, I made sure my travel umbrella was at the top of my satchel. While I didn’t mind getting caught in the rain, having to spend money to dry my clothes would be a pain.

    I wasn’t the only one taking advantage of the break in the rain, of course. There were quite a few people walking about now and quite a few of them were just leisurely ambling about, no doubt enjoying the feel of the air much like I was. I even caught a glimpse of one of the other Trainers who I met at our impromptu party, so that was nice.

    As I made my way through the city, moving towards the mall, I had a somewhat unexpected but very welcome encounter. “Aunt Marie!” I called out to the woman who had just rounded the corner a bit ahead of me. She took a moment to look in my direction and I saw her eyes light up as she recognized me.

    “Sara!” she said as she hugged me, which I returned. “It’s so good to see you again! What are you doing in Hearthome?”

    Aunt Marie (not actually my aunt, by the way) was a woman in her 40s (even though she insists she’s only 39 despite what her ID suggests) who had kinda attached herself to my family pretty much ever since we arrived in Sinnoh. She had actually been our neighbor and had lived in Pastoria until a few months ago when her job demanded that she move to Hearthome. Even though I had never been particularly close to her, she was still super fun to be around and was a great help to us during those first few months. She was somewhat stereotypical, though, what with her whole denying her age thing and occasional complaints about being unmarried despite her age. She’d often say that no one would want her old body but, honestly, I  pray to Arceus that I looked even half as good when I was her age.

    “Didn’t you know? I’ve started my Pokémon Journey! I’m here to challenge the gym!” I answered.

    Aunt Marie gasped in surprise, “No one told me! Jeez, I’ve only been away for a few months and you’ve gone and forgotten all about me! How long have you been here?”

    I chuckled nervously, scratching at my cheek, “I’ve kinda been here since the night before last.”

    “Awwww. You’ve been here an entire day and never stopped to check in on me? Jeez, I really feel the love.”

    “I-I-I’m sorry! It’s just that I’ve been so busy with the League stuff and being a new Trainer and I have to get used to staying at Pokémon Centers and-”

    Aunt Marie interrupted me by breaking out into laughter. “It’s okay, I understand. I was just messing with you!” She pulled me into another hug, “Ooooooh, it’s so good to see you again! And you too, Rey!”  She pulled away from me and used her index finger to play with Rey’s beak, causing her to scrunch up her eyes and make a funny sound as she pulled her head away.

    “So, are you heading anywhere?” Aunt Marie asked.

    “No, not really. Just enjoying the air after being cooped up all day.”

    “Well, why don’t we go to the mall? It’s been ages since we went on a shopping trip together.”

    “Hmm…. Okay! I can’t really buy much, though. I need to travel light and make sure I have enough money for food and items and stuff.”

    “That’s fine. Window shopping, then! Come on, let’s go!”

    And so Aunt Marie and I went shopping. We didn’t actually buy anything but it was great to spend some time hanging out with her. I enjoyed our time together while it lasted since, after I left Hearthome, I couldn’t expect to see a familiar face until I returned to Pastoria to challenge the gym there and that wouldn’t be for quite a while.

    After we looked around for about an hour or so, we ate dinner at a place in the mall and left just as it was closing. It was just before 8 PM and curfew wasn’t until 11 so we decided to walk around some more with no real destination, talking about this and that. We actually ended up stopping by her place where we drank some tea, played some board games, and watched some TV. It was a great time and I was truly thankful for it but, when 9:30 PM rolled around, I knew I had to be getting back to the Pokémon Center. Aunt Marie offered to walk with me but I politely declined. After all, between the two of us, I was the one with the Pokémon for protection.

    It was about 10:15 when I finally got back to the Pokémon Center. Nurse Annabel was on duty again so I greeted her before making my way to my room to drop off my satchel. I grabbed my pajamas and left Rey to roam about the room as I went to grab a quick shower. A lot sure had happened despite having been such a lazy day and I was surprisingly rather tired. I suppose today had been about the most social interaction I’ve had since I left Hoenn. Still, it had been a lot of fun and I hoped that this would be far from the last time I got to have days like this.

    As I finished my nightly routine and tucked myself in next to an already sleeping Rey, I couldn’t help but be excited for the day when I would be the one telling stories to a young Trainer.

OoOoOoO

    Once again, I stood outside the doors of the Hearthome Gym. Unlike last time, however, I barely paid attention to the building’s appearance and instead had my focus solely on the door. I had to admit that I was more than a little nervous and had to take several deep breaths just to calm the shaking of my hands. Once I stepped through that door, there’d be no going back. No more preparing. No more planning. No more training. Once I stepped through that door, I was going to be having my first Gym Battle. Taking one last deep breath, I walked through the door.

    Inside the gym, everything was quiet. Eerily quiet, if I was being honest. No one was at the front desk this time and the computer monitor had been turned off. As far as I could tell, there were no signs of life— or death, for that matter— in the entire building. The door didn’t even close by itself this time. If it weren’t for the fact that the door was unlocked and the lights on the sign were on, I would have thought that they were closed.

    I fully realized what was going on as I walked farther into the building but, even so, I couldn’t help but feel a creeping sensation of… wrongness come over me. It was like I could feel that something was building up somewhere. It was something dark and ominous and it got my pulse racing and my senses, heightened by adrenaline, were now picking up on every little thing.

    As I approached the stairs, I barely managed to stop myself from jumping out of my skin as I heard a piano start up somewhere. The melody was slow and melancholic but something about it was strangely familiar. Naturally, I couldn’t tell where it was coming from, no doubt thanks to the acoustics. Remembering my conversation with the receptionist the other day, I shook my head to clear it and made my way up the stairs and straight to Room 205. I was warned not to go there so that had to be where the Gym Leader normally battled challengers.

    I approached the plain-looking door to Room 205 and tried the handle only to find it locked. I frowned in confusion, trying it for a second longer before I decided to just knock on the door. “Hello?” I called out. As expected, I got no response.

    Now this was odd. Surely this had to be the Gym Leader’s room. Everything pointed to that being the case. Even so, the door refused to open so I was left with no other choice but to look elsewhere. It was already five minutes past my scheduled time and I couldn’t help but be a little annoyed by this. As much as I loved the dedication to the theme, this seemed to be taking it a little too far.

    I walked around the rest of the gym, making sure to check every room as I went. As expected, there were no signs of life and that familiar piano melody never stopped playing. No matter where I moved, the piano never sounded any louder or softer. As annoyed as I was, I had to admit I was a little impressed by that.

    With an annoyed huff, I slammed the last door closed. I didn’t know if I was annoyed by the fact that I couldn’t find anyone despite it being ten minutes past my appointment or the fact that I was legitimately kinda freaked out but I was certainly annoyed either way. I started to march down the hall at a brisk pace, intent on leaving and complaining to TPLi, when something caught my eye. Something that honestly set my hair on edge.

    The door to Room 205 was gone.

    I cautiously approached the wall where the door should have been and felt around. There was nothing. No sign of a door hidden by an illusion. It was just a wall.

    I took a few steps back. I shook my head again and turned to leave only to run face first into a wall and fall down. I stared up at the wall in shock for a moment before jumping to my feet and turning around. I was somehow at the end of the hallway again, on the opposite end of where Room 205 was.

    Taking a deep breath, I started walking back towards the stairs. Battle or no, I think I was done with this gym for today. Chickening on out my first Gym Battle seems horrible but how in the world could I have possibly expected this? I came here prepared for a fierce battle, not whatever this was.

    I reached the stairs without trouble and quickly made my way down them, focusing on my feet so as not to fall. When I reached the bottom, I looked up and saw the door to Room 205. Startled, I looked around me and found I was back on the second floor again. The only thing I could really say at this point is that I’m glad that the building wasn’t becoming more dark and decrepit as I got warped around. I wasn’t sure I could handle it if it was.

    Figuring that I had no other option, I gathered up my courage and grabbed the doorknob, throwing open the door and quickly stepping inside. Whatever this madhouse had in store for me, I was ready for it.

    I was not ready for it.

    The instant I had stepped through the door and blinked, I found myself staring up at the ceiling. I was back on the first floor, it seemed, and was sitting on an old couch that had been off to the side but this time things were very different. This time, the receptionist (a different one from last time) was sitting behind the desk and I could hear the faint sound of battles coming from upstairs. Rey was sleeping soundly in my lap and I somehow only now realized that she hadn’t been with me through all that.

    “Oh, you’re awake already? Wow, that was quick. Not quite a new record but easily top ten material,” the receptionist said.

    “Awake? Quick? Wha?”

    “It’d probably be best for the Gym Leader to explain. It’s a little early,” indeed, the clock on the wall said it was only 9:55 meaning I had apparently been asleep for maybe a minute, “but go on up. Room 205. And don’t worry, it’s perfectly normal this time.”

    Utterly confused, I woke up Rey and made my way to the real Room 205. The door easily opened and inside was fairly empty room, lit very much like the others. The only real piece of furniture inside was an honest to Arceus wooden coffin with who I could only assume was the Gym Leader, Shannon, sleeping inside, her arms crossed over her chest.

    As I entered the room, the door quickly shut and locked behind me before Shannon started to levitate out of the coffin, her long black hair flowing mysteriously behind her as she was righted and set down on her feet. From her black, gothic clothing to her pale skin and red eyes (which she had just opened), she looked every bit the perfect vampire. I probably would have loved it if I wasn’t still horribly confused by whatever had just happened.

    “Greetings,” Shannon said in a deep, somewhat sensual voice. “I am Shannon, the leader of this gym. I take it you are Sara Sommerlade, the one who would challenge me for the Relic Badge?”

    “Uh… Yeah, that’s right. But first, can you, uh, please explain what in the world just happened?”

    Shannon chuckled, “Yes, of course. You see, everything you had experienced from the moment you set foot inside the gym earlier this morning to the moment you awoke on the couch had been a dream brought about by hypnosis.”

    “Hypnosis? You mean you had a Pokémon use Hypnosis on me?”

    “That is correct.”

    That certainly explains why Rey had been peacefully sleeping. “But wait a minute, how did you hypnotize me the instant I entered the gym? That move takes a second to get off.”

    “In truth, you were not hypnotized today but rather when you were last here. The move had been used on you while you were distracted by the receptionist’s performance.” The clever little sneaks! “Did you notice how the front doors squeak loudly when opened?”

    My eyes widened in realization, “You don’t mean—”

    “Precisely. That noise acted as the trigger for your hypnosis. After that point, everything you experienced took place in a dreamscape created by my ghosts. For every six minutes that passed in there, one second passed out here.”

    “Wait, what‽ Then it took me…” I quickly did some math in my head, “a bit over six hours to get out‽”

    “No, nothing of the sort. As a precaution, the hypnosis ends after you’ve experienced two hours. You were under hypnosis for 5.59 seconds meaning you experienced roughly 34 minutes.”

    “Whoa. So that’s what the receptionist meant by me being in the top ten.”

    “Indeed. The average time it takes a Trainer to escape the dream is about 11.37 seconds.”

    “What’s the fastest time?”

    “One second flat. That one was quite amusing. My ghosts had barely even touched him before he awoke. Evidently, after the door to this room vanished, he ran away at full speed without really paying attention to anything and ended up making it to the exit.”

    At this point, Shannon had completely dropped the vampire act and was speaking normally. “If the maze can be solved that easily, why don’t you change it?”

    “Well, you see, that’s the thing. This is actually the seventh version of my maze. The others were a lot less obvious and straightforward and more terrifying— the first two even pulled your darkest fear from your mind to use— but the first couple had to be changed because they were placing too much stress on the Trainers and then the maze had to be repeatedly simplified. You’d be amazed at how… unobservant… people can be. When I had five Trainers in a row spend the full twenty seconds in my maze and then complain to TPLi, I was kinda given a warning.”

    I actually felt bad about wanted to complain to them myself now. “Oh jeez. Well, why have the maze in the first place?”

    “Oh, that’s easy. The exit is the door to this room and I wanted Trainers to learn how to face their fears in order to find the way forward. If you run away or give up every time you’re afraid, you won’t get anywhere. Especially not as a Pokémon Trainer.”

    “I see. Well, that’s certainly an admirable goal. So how about we move onto the reason I came here?”

    “Oh! Right! I’m sorry! Um… Ah jeez. The mood’s been completely destroyed so there’s no point in me getting back into character.”

    “No, go ahead! I honestly love this sort of stuff!”

    “Really? Alright, then!”

    “Do you mind if I go first?”

    “Oh, alright. Go ahead.”

    “Die, monster! You don’t belong in this world!”

    Shannon’s eyes lit up in recognition as she broke into a silly grin. “It was not by my hand that I’m once again given flesh. I was called here by humans who wish to pay me tribute.”

    “Tribute‽ You steal men’s souls and make them your slaves!”

    “Perhaps the same could be said of all religions.”

    “Your words are as empty as your soul! Mankind ill needs a savior such as you!”

    “What is a man?” Shannon made a quick sweeping motion with her arm, “A miserable little pile of secrets! But enough talk! Have at you!”

    “Let’s do this, Rey!”

    “Come forth, Gastly!”

    Rey hopped down off my shoulder as a Gastly materialized in front of us and the battle was on.

    “Let’s start off with Ember!” As commanded, Rey let loose her flames towards her opponent who weaved out of the way and came charging forward at great speed on its Trainer’s command. That move was both exactly what I expected and exactly what I wanted. I held my tongue and waited just half a moment, waited for the Ghastly to almost be close enough to use Lick, before revealing my first plan.

    “Shotgun Ember!” Shannon looked at me curiously as Rey prepared the attack, letting it build up for just a split second before opening her mouth wide. Instead of a vague line of embers, Rey’s attack instead came out in a spread pattern much like the shot from a shotgun, hence the name. While the Ghastly probably could have dodged a normal Ember even at this range and with its momentum, the spread of the attack made it impossible so it was forced to take a direct hit.

    “Impressive,” Shannon said after she ordered her Pokémon to move away. “Not many Trainers think to push the limits of their Pokémon’s attacks like that. If you keep that up, you should be able to complete at least half of Sinnoh’s gyms.”

    “Thanks but it’s not like I have much of a choice. Our attack options are pretty limited, after all.”

    “Indeed. If you have prepared for that then show me how you’ve prepared for this: Gastly, vanish!”

    I kept my expression carefully neutral as Gastly vanished from sight. I had a couple ideas on how to handle this and I needed to be careful as not to reveal my hand before she sent out her ace.

    We stayed silent, staring at each other while her Gastly no doubt moved about the room. For this one, I needed her to give the order to attack first and hope my observations from the other day held true now. Her Gastly should only have one attack, after all, and it was a melee attack with really short range. Well, it could have one other way to deal damage but I really hope it didn’t know that move. If it did and she used it, this fight would be instantly over.

    Finally, the moment came. “Use Lick!”

    I had no way of knowing where the Ghastly was so I had to use my instincts for the timing here. “Spinning Peck!” Rey’s beak glowed with power as she bent forward and spun around in a circle beak first. The idea was that the Peck would clash with the Lick and let me know where the Ghastly was so I could have Rey follow up with another Shotgun Ember but it seemed my timing was completely off since Rey whiffed and was hit by the attack a moment later. Thankfully, it didn’t paralyze her this time.

    “Not a bad idea but it relies too much on luck,” Shannon commented.

    I smiled ruefully, “Yeah, I was hoping to get lucky on that one since it wasn’t one of my better ideas.”

    “Let’s hope that wasn’t your only one. Lick again!”

    I hated using it this early but I was willing to bet Shannon already knew what my next order was going to be. “Spiral Ember!” Once again, Rey spun in place, a trail of embers spiraling out from her. My plan worked this time as a couple of the embers seemed to hit thin air. “Shotgun Ember, three o’clock!” Another direct hit. This was going fantastically well.

    “That’s certainly what I thought you’d do. I’m glad you didn’t disappoint. It’s clear to me that my Gastly has no hope of defeating your Torchic but I can’t let you have this win without at least a little more effort on your part. Use Lick!”

    The trap had been set and the bait had been taken. “Shotgun Ember above!” As expected, since coming at her from the sides didn’t work, the Ghastly tried coming at her from above. However, instead of running its inflated tongue across Rey’s scalp, it got a mouthful of fire for its trouble and was knocked out.

    “Bravo, bravo!” Shannon said while clapping theatrically after returning her Gastly to its Pokéball. “I thought for certain that you’d go for your little Spiral Ember again.”

    “I knew that you’d think I’d go for that and figured that other Trainers have done something similar in the past so you’d naturally have your Gastly trained to attack from above in the event such a Trainer was encountered.”

    “I see. So it was a bit of I know you know I know.”

    “Precisely.”

    “Very clever indeed. Your Torchic deserves just as much praise for being able to respond so quickly and precisely to your commands and for being able to pull off those variants. Still, you’re only halfway through this battle and not only is your only Pokémon no longer at her peak, you’ve also shown all of your tricks. Do you think you stand a chance against my ace?”

    I rolled my right arm as Rey glared defiantly at Shannon, “We’re just getting started!”

    Shannon smiled, “Very well. Come forth, Drifloon!”

    As the Gym Leader’s next Pokémon was sent out from its Pokéball, I chewed on my bottom lip. This was a rather unexpected Pokémon to be fighting and potentially a very dangerous one. While Drifloons weren’t terribly defensive, they could still take a serious beating before going down and they were fast for this stage in the game. It also almost certainly had at least three different damaging moves on top of Minimize which would give me a serious headache. I also had to pray that it didn’t have Aftermath as its ability or this battle was as good as lost.

    I decided to start things off in a fanciful manner. “Let’s heat things up!” At my “command”, Rey attacked her opponent with Ember. However, my attempt at trickery didn’t work out as the Drifloon swiftly avoided the attack at its Trainer’s command.

    “Clever but not good enough! Drifloon, use Gust!” With a wave of its “arms”, the Drifloon summoned up a mighty gust of wind, the blast of air slamming into Rey and pushing her backwards.

    “Start circling it, Rey!” With her speed already maxed out, I was pretty sure that Rey could dodge Gust so long as she kept moving.

    “Mirror its movements!” Shannon ordered in return.

    “Mix up your movements! Move on your own but keep circling!”

    “Don’t let it out of your sight! Keep within five meters of it!”

    “Push it back with Shotgun Ember!”

    “Blow that fire and Torchic away with Gust!”

    Like that, the battle turned into a dance, our Pokémon constantly moving this way and that, attacking at seemingly random times and even seemingly random places while Shannon and I tried to stay one step ahead of each other.

    “Growl!”

    “Astonish!”

    Our orders came at almost the exact same time. The two sound-based attacks clashed in the middle and resulted in a sort of sonic explosion that forced Shannon and me to cover our ears even as our Pokémon were thrown backwards. While both Pokémon recovered, Shannon recovered a fair bit faster than I did and was able to order her Drifloon to close the gap and capture Rey with Constrict.

    Naturally, this was exactly what I wanted to happen which is why I pretended to take longer to recover. “Use Ember!” Since Rey’s beak wasn’t being forced closed, she managed to get off the attack which the Drifloon had no choice but to take head-on. As the pain and shock from the attack forced it to let Rey go, I gave my next command. “Shotgun Ember!” Again, the Drifloon was forced to take the attack and it was forced further back by the blast. Shannon ordered her Pokémon to back off and I was back to trying to find a way to get an attack in.

    It was at this moment that I was absolutely sure of something. I had been paying careful attention to Shannon this entire battle and the only expressions I saw on her no matter what I did were ones of interest and approval. I had been finding holes in her strategies, yes, but her reactions, or lack thereof, pointed to one inescapable fact: Shannon was holding back considerably in more ways than just the strength of her Pokémon. I could tell now from how Shannon and her Drifloon reacted that, if she had been going all out, I couldn’t defeat her unless I had an absurd power advantage.

    This fact didn’t surprise me in the slightest, of course. Gym Leaders were meant to act as challenging hurdles for a Trainer’s level, not insurmountable walls for all but veterans. That was why Gym Leaders adjusted their difficulty based on how many badges the challenger had, after all. Still, knowing about this fact and seeing this fact in action are two totally different things. The gap between the current me and Shannon felt impossibly large and the idea that I could close that gap in a few months seemed laughable at best.

    Setting that aside, Shannon at her current level was still an obstacle I needed to overcome. That dance from earlier hadn’t been as entirely clean as I had made it sound. Despite our best efforts, that Drifloon’s aim and Shannon’s prediction were just too good and Rey had been clipped by more than a few Gusts. While none of them had been direct hits, a Torchic’s constitution wasn’t the greatest and Rey was no exception. As it was, I’d say that Rey could only take one more direct hit or three clips without fainting.

    In all honesty, I wasn’t entirely sure if I could win this. At least, not without taking a huge risk. Shannon, with her years of experience as a Gym Leader, has undoubtedly seen every possible strategy available at this stage in the game. Even the fact that I had a Torchic was meaningless since a Torchic and Chimchar weren’t all that different at this point. While it was true that Rey had Speed Boost rather than Blaze, not even that difference would be enough to affect her strategies. While she would naturally leave a flaw in her strategies so that I’d have a path to victory, the problem lied in the fact that I wasn’t entirely sure Rey could deal enough damage to the Drifloon in the one or two openings I’d probably get. My chances of victory following that path certainly weren’t zero but I didn’t like the odds.

    Given all that, my only choice seemed to be to rely on Rey’s secret technique. Connecting with that move just once should be enough to win now. Being forced to rely on that move left a bad taste in my mouth but it was either that or use a Potion and I’d rather fight Shannon on the more or less the same level. Still, that left the matter of getting the Drifloon in range and then making sure it couldn’t dodge. That would require a bit of doing but I already had a plan forming in my mind.

    “Ember Rain!” Rey aimed at a point above the Drifloon and attacked. Normally, the flames dissipated after a short while but Rey and I had worked it out to where she could make them stick around for a few seconds and be affected by gravity. The result was that the embers would fall down on an opponent instead of striking them head-on. This particular variant was pretty useless and the Drifloon dodged it easily but now Shannon knew about it and that was the point.

    “Astonish!”

    “Dodge it!” Rey dashed diagonally forward at full speed but the timing and positioning were all wrong. Just like the other day, the attack clipped Rey’s back leg mid-stride and spun her around. Just like the other day, this worked in my favor. “Ember Rain Spin!” Rey moved with the spin as she attacked with Ember Rain in a circular pattern. If things went my way, then Shannon would….

    “Move forward and—!”

    “Use Scratch!” Shannon looked at me in utter bewilderment, the rest of her order dying on her lips. As commanded, her Drifloon moved forward and dodged the attack. Rey met it and lept into the air, her right talons glowing white with power. As expected, the Normal-type attack phased right through the Flying/Ghost-type, doing no damage.

    I dramatically ran my index finger across the brim of my hat as I gave my final command. “Night Slash!”

    Shannon’s eyes practically bugged out of her head as she gave a cry of “What‽” Meanwhile, Rey’s left talon was surrounded by darkness as she attacked the Drifloon, dealing super effective damage.  Rey landed on the ground slightly behind the Drifloon, breathing heavily and clearly struggling to stay standing. If she had to so much as turn around, she’d surely faint.

    The Drifloon, meanwhile, crashed to the ground, completely out cold.

    The battle was over. Somehow, we had won our first Gym Battle.


 

     As the journey carries on, new bonds are forged while old bonds are threatened. A newcomer will arrive to change the destiny of the pair forever. Next time on The Ties that Bind: "The Second Step!" The ramifications are endless.

Chapter Text

    The instant I was declared the victor, Rey promptly passed out herself, no doubt completely drained. I quickly ran over to my little Torchic and picked her up, cradling her in my arms, as Shannon returned her Drifloon to its Pokéball.

    “Congratulations, Sara Sommerlade. You’ve successfully overcome your first Gym Battle,” Shannon said as she approached me. “You deserve top marks for your strategies and your Torchic likewise deserves high praise for its responsiveness to your commands and other capabilities. My only real complaint was your reliance on such a reckless move as Night Slash given the state it left your Torchic in. Tell me, why didn’t you heal her with a Potion? Do you not have any?”

    “Oh, no, I have plenty,” I said somewhat bashfully. “It’s just that it didn’t seem fair to fight you on unequal ground. You couldn’t use items so I didn’t want to, either.”

    “Honorable but potentially foolish,” Shannon said with a nod. “We’ll have to see where that attitude gets you in the future. Until then, I am proud to give to you this: The Relic Badge.” Shannon handed to me a badge about the size of my palm. It consisted of four circles, three on the outside overlapping a larger one in the center. The small ones were purple in color while the large one was grey and all of them were outlined in silver, the lines of the larger one being “broken” by the smaller ones to give the appearance of the smaller circles reaching for one of their neighbors.

    I took the badge in my hand and held it almost reverently as I stared at it. It was difficult for me to process all of my emotions as I looked at the proof of my victory but a smile slowly broke out across my face. In the end, I couldn’t help but hold the badge between my fingers before thrusting it into the air with a triumphant cry of “Yes!” With a smile of her own, Shannon also handed over a badge case and I quickly put the Relic Badge into it.

    “Good luck, Sara Sommerlade. It will be interesting to see where fate leads you,” Shannon said in farewell as I left her room. With my first gym challenge successfully completed, I really wanted to celebrate but I knew better than to get ahead of myself. There were things I needed to do first and there’d be plenty of time to celebrate after I became Champion.

OoOoOoO

    My first stop after the gym was, naturally, the Pokémon Center. My poor Rey was still passed out and I’d need to get her injuries healed and energy restored before I did anything else. As I entered the Pokémon Center, I was sad to see that no one from yesterday was hanging around but I suppose that was to be expected. As fun as it had been, no one wants to be stuck in a Pokémon Center if they can help it.

    I quickly took Rey to the front desk and presented her to the male nurse. “Wow, she’s really roughed up. Took on the gym, did ya?” he asked.

    “Ya-huh.”

    “How’d ya do?” I answered by showing him shiny new Gym Badge. “Wow, congrats! Shannon can be really tough on newbies so it’s always great to see someone beat her. I’ll be right back with your Pokémon so hold on tight, kay?”

    As the nurse went into a back room to take care of Rey, I decided to pace around the lobby a bit. I was just way too excited and too hyped up from that battle to sit still. I really wanted to take a picture of me with the badge to send to my parents but I knew I’d have to wait for Rey to get back before I did that. She’d be really sad if I took the picture without her. So instead I went through the battle over and over again in my head, trying to pick out any and all weaknesses in my strategies and Rey’s executions.

    It took about ten or so minutes for the nurse to finish up and I had managed to settle down and take to reading that fashion magazine that caught my eye. After they got back; I collected Rey, thanked the nurse, took that picture, and checked out of my room. It was just a bit after 10:30 and I really wanted to get a move on. From here on out, I’d be going to places I’d never been before and seeing things I’ve never seen. Why wouldn’t I be excited about that? Besides, something very special awaited me on the path ahead.

OoOoOoO

    Trainer Route 208 was another one of those routes that was split into two. You had the eastern part coming out of Hearthome that was pretty much just a clearing the in the forest surrounding Mt. Coronet with a small house in it and the much larger western part that was a series of bridges that spanned over a river that flowed down from somewhere on the mountain. In the eastern clearing where I now found myself, there was a large expanse of colorful flowers and grass before me that spread from the edge of the woods to path that led up the mountain and to the bridges. It was a very pretty sight but I couldn’t take the time to enjoy it since I had work to do that could very well take the entire day or possibly several days, depending on my luck.

    Together with Rey, I stepped off of the main path and entered the surrounding woods. The trees weren’t terribly dense here since this was the bottom of the foothills but they were dense enough to provide considerable shade, making the entire place noticeably darker. I wasn’t too terribly worried about getting lost thanks to my Pokévice but I still made sure to take careful note of my surroundings to stop myself from walking in circles.

    As it was, I was looking for a very particular Pokémon that I planned on adding to my team. They’d be an invaluable member not only for the upcoming gym but also quite a few other gyms as well as possessing a high amount of versatility. Going by the reported estimates, my chances of encountering just the Pokémon I wanted weren’t the greatest but they weren’t that bad, either. At least I didn’t have to worry too much about the time of day.

    It ended up taking me about three hours of wandering around (taking a break for lunch after about two hours) and quite a few random battles before I finally managed to find just the Pokémon I wanted. Standing about five meters away from me was a small Pokémon, about forty centimeters tall, with a white body, green “hair”, and two red protrusions sticking out of the front and back of its head. It was a Ralts and I planned to catch it.

    “Let’s do it, Rey!” At my command, Rey jumped off of my shoulder and got ready to battle. The Ralts, meanwhile, nervously stepped forward and get ready to fight as well. Ralts weren’t terribly strong, all things considered, so I wasn’t expecting much trouble but I needed to be cautious anyway. This Ralts would almost certainly know Teleport so, if it decided to flee, I couldn’t really stop it.

    The Ralts managed to start off the battle with Confusion and Rey stumbled backward as the invisible telekinetic force struck. Timed dodges of that were going to be basically impossible so I’d have to keep Rey from standing still for too long and hope for the best.

    “Close in! Serpentine!” Rey quickly closed the gap between her and her target, moving forward in a zigzagging pattern. I could see the Ralts eyes glowing beneath its hair a few times but it seemed that it didn’t have much experience hitting a moving target. I’d have to fix that if I captured it. When there was about a meter left between Rey and the Ralts, I opened my mouth to give the next command but stopped when the Ralts let out a particularly powerful Growl. While lowering Rey’s strength didn’t really mean much to me, the move was successful in stopping Rey’s charge and allowed the Ralts to turn around and run away. I thought that it was trying to flee and was about to just let it go when it instead turned around and quickly blasted the now motionless Rey with another Confusion.

    I had to admit that I was impressed by the little guy. That was a reasonably clever plan for a wild Pokémon, seeing as how wild Pokémon aren’t usually one for complicated plans. Still, it’d take more than that to beat us and all that did is make me want to catch it that much more.

    Thanks to the Ralt’s plan, things were now basically back to zero. There was, once again, about five meters between Rey and the Ralts. They stared each other down, muscles tense, while I carefully examined my options. Well, I say that but I was really just stalling out Rey’s Speed Boost in order to make our lives easier.

    After a few seconds, I gave my command. “Spiral inward!” As Rey followed my command, I carefully watched the Ralt’s actions and readied a number of plans depending on what it decided to do. When it decided to make about five copies of itself with Double Team, I gave my next order. “Shotgun Ember in the center of them!” Now, normally, Ember had an effective range of about three meters and Shotgun Ember had an effective range of about half that. While the farthest duplicate was about two meters from Rey, it was the only one who’d be out of range so it didn’t matter where the real one was.

    As it so turned out, the real Ralts was one of the other four so all of the clones dispersed once the flames hit it. With the real one revealed, I quickly ordered Rey to attack it with a normal Ember but it was even faster and quickly vanished via Teleport. I groaned in frustration and was about to call Rey back to me when Rey suddenly face planted very forcefully. I looked in the opposite direction Rey fell and saw the Ralts standing on a tree branch about seven meters away, its left arm held outward in Rey’d direction.

    I couldn’t help the smile that came to my face as Rey got back up. “You clever little sneak. After him, Rey!” Rey quickly ran towards the nearest tree and jumped almost all the way up the lowest branch before using her talons to find purchase in the rough bark and climbing all the way up. Rey started jumping from branch to branch, moving ever closer to the Ralts, and I was forced to give chase so as not to lose sight of them.

    I once again had to praise this little fella’s intelligence. By going up into the branches like that, he completely negated Rey’s Speed Boost. He could teleport about freely while Rey was forced to hop from branch to branch, the speed of which was completely independent of her ground speed. This little guy was actually putting up more of a fight than some of the Trainers I’ve battled. Even so, I wasn’t about to let him beat us. After all, there was a pretty major flaw in his plan.

    “Blast it with Ember!” Rey fired off her attack mid-jump even as the branch she had been standing on a moment before exploded into a cloud of splinters. The specks of flame raced towards the Ralts at high speed but he managed to teleport away at the last second, appearing on a branch about five meters away from Rey. “Keep after him and attack whenever you can!”

    Back and forth it went like this. Rey would close in while her perches were destroyed and fire an Ember at the Ralts only for the Ralts to teleport away at the last moment. Once, the Ralts’ timing had been spot on and he managed to hit Rey right as she landed from a jump, blasting her from her perch. I quickly dove forward and caught Rey before tossing her back up to land on another branch, giving her words of encouragement as I did so.

    There was one major flaw in the Ralts’ plan, as I mentioned before. Teleport, by my understanding, took up a lot of energy while and thus could only be used a few times in a row. Ember, meanwhile, took up very little and the energy Rey expended jumping around like that was also negligible. As such, unless the Ralts could somehow land a decisive blow, it was only a matter of time before it lost.

    After it performed a total of five Teleports, the Ralts was just a tad too slow on the next one and got a face full of fire for its troubles. It managed to catch itself mid-fall with its Teleport but it was clear to me that it was on its last legs. As such, it was the perfect time to take my shot. While it was focused on Rey, I pulled out a Pokéball and activated it before hurling it at the Ralts. Thankfully, I had practiced my pitching (it’s basically a required skill for Trainers) so I managed to hit it dead on. It was stunned for a moment as the Pokéball clonked it in the head but, before it could fall off, the Pokéball opened up and a beam of red light struck it, drawing it in. The Pokéball fell to the ground and began shaking as the Ralts put up one final struggle.

    Once, twice, thrice, aaaaaaaaand….

    There was a soft “click” as the capture was completed. I snatched up the Pokéball and held up triumphantly in the air as Rey jumped down onto my shoulder.

    “Alright! I caught a Ralts!” I cried. Rey let out a triumphant cry of her own as she did her best to pose valiantly on my shoulder. “Alright,” I repeated as I brought the Pokéball down and looked at it. “Now we just need to get this guy to the Pokémon Center and get him healed up so we can have a proper meeting. But first,” I looked all around me at the completely unfamiliar scenery. “Where are we?”

OoOoOoO

    One quick trip back to Hearthome’s Pokémon Center to get the Ralts healed up (where I learned that he was a male) and I was back in the clearing of Trainer Route 208. I went off to the side near the forest and sat cross-legged before pulling out my newly filled Pokéball.

    “Come on out, Ralts!” There was a beam of red light and the Ralts was before me, staring at me with what I could guess was a curious expression. “Hey there! I’m Sara and this is Rey!” As I introduced ourselves, Rey hopped off of my shoulder and slowly approached our new companion. The Ralts seemed to stare at Rey for a moment before quickly running around her and hiding behind me. I giggled as the Ralts peaked up from behind my back to look at Rey.

    “Hey, it’s okay. She’s not going to hurt you.” Rey, for her part, looked offended and something else I couldn’t identify. “Come here,” I picked up the Ralts and placed him on my lap. “We need to come up with a name for you. That sound good?” The Ralts nodded. “Now, I don’t want to pick a name you don’t like so I’ll list a few. Just nod when you hear one you like, okay?” The Ralts nodded again. “Alright! Let’s see….”

    This process ended up taking far longer than I had thought that it would. My name choice ran the gamut from normal names like Bill and Ted to more exotic names like Carth and Valbar. I was actually starting to get worried and contemplated pulling out my Pokévice since I was running out of names when I finally got lucky.

    “How about… Cameron?” I asked. The Ralts paused for a moment, looking thoughtful, before finally nodding vigorously. I smiled at him even as I rejoiced on the inside that this was finally over. “Alright then, Cameron. Welcome to the team!”

    When everything was said and done, it was about 4 PM. I carefully weighed my options and decided to press on. By the time the sun set, I should be near the entrance to Mt. Coronet so I could just set up camp there. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to get to my destination quickly as it was that being outdoors made it a lot easier for Cameron to practice. He was going to be my ace for the next gym, after all, so I needed to get him ready as quickly as possible. I could also just let Rey fight more than usual since she should be about to evolve and then she could likely handle that gym as well but I didn’t really want to do that for a number of reasons.

    As we walked along the path towards Mt. Coronet, Rey on my shoulder as usual and Cameron walking along beside me, I took out a handful of small rocks I had collected from the area. “Alright, Cameron,” I said to my newest Pokémon, “let’s get started on your training. I noticed that you had trouble hitting Rey when she was moving so let’s start with that. You can see these rocks, right?” I picked up a rock and held it between my fingers. It wasn’t terribly large; it was about four centimeters in diameter. When Cameron nodded, I continued, “I’m going to toss these in the air and I want you to try and shoot them. I also want you to keep walking as you attack since standing still to prepare something like that just won’t do. Think you can do that?” Though he was clearly uncertain, Cameron still nodded. “Alright! Let’s get started!”

    The practice was pretty slow going. It seemed to take Cameron a lot of effort just to walk and attack with Confusion at the same time and actually hitting the rock seemed to be more of a matter of luck than a matter of skill. I had picked up about thirty rocks and, of them, Cameron only managed to hit four. He also tripped and fell flat on his face about seven times. The only real result of this practice session was that I learned that Cameron, while pretty clever, was horribly uncoordinated. I supposed it made sense given his typing but it was still problematic.

    “Hey, don’t let it get you down,” I said as I crouched down to console the pouting Cameron, patting his head as I did so. “This is my fault. I should have had you learn one skill at a time instead of overloading you like this. I’m sure you’ll get this in no time once we do this properly.” I smiled at Cameron as he stared up at me from behind his hair and I could practically feel his admiration for me. I patted his head a few more times before standing up and stretching. “Why don’t you rest for a while in your Pokéball? Rey needs to get stronger, too, after all.” Cameron accented so I pulled out his Pokéball and returned him.

    After that, I focused on finding fights for Rey. There weren’t that many wild Pokémon now that I was higher up on the mountain so my only option was to look out for Trainers. I ended up battling three other Trainers but none of those battles were anything special. The only things worth mentioning was that I managed to win all three of them (although the second one was a really close call and I had to actually pass on a battle while Rey rested) and I got another thousand Pokédollars out of it.

    As expected, it was about 9 PM by the time I reached the entrance to Mt. Coronet and the sun was already setting. As such, I walked a ways off of the beaten path to a nice, level area and set up camp, letting Cameron out of his Pokéball so he could wander around and talk with Rey. After pitching my tent, I got out my trail rations and some Pokémon food for my Pokémon. To be perfectly honest, I had intended to purchase some stuff I could cook with back in Hearthome so that way we could have proper dinners but it had somehow completely slipped my mind. Thankfully, unless I got trapped in Mt. Coronet or something, I had plenty of Pokémon food and trail rations to last us until Oreburgh. Still, I made sure to set a reminder to buy cooking supplies on my Pokévice so I wouldn’t forget.

    As we sat around eating, I went over my plans for tomorrow. “Alright. Normally, I’d have you guys train for at least an hour before we went to bed but I’m going to make an exception today. I want to get up bright and early tomorrow so we’ll have plenty of time to train before moving on. It should only take, at most, about five hours to cross this part of Mt. Coronet but it will likely only take about three. As such, since spending the night on the mountain wouldn’t be the best idea right now, I want to be off by no later than two. That way we’ll have plenty of time to traverse the cave and find a spot to set up camp. Everything clear?” Rey and Cameron nodded so I nodded as well. “Good! Tomorrow’s going to be a busy day, especially for you, Cameron, so I hope you sleep well tonight.”

    It was fully nighttime after we finished eating so I returned Cameron to his Pokéball after cleaning up and crawled into my tent. Rey took her spot right next to me and it wasn’t long before she was fast asleep. As for myself, I was usually awake for at least another hour or two so, as expected, I was still full of energy. To keep myself from fidgeting, I decided to take out my Pokévice and started reading a book I had downloaded a few days before my journey began. Just as I finally started to get sleepy after about an hour or so and snuggled into my sleeping bag to go to sleep, a bright red light flashed in my tent.

    Standing next to me now was Cameron and his body language was quite curious. It was clear to me now that he was a pretty timid little guy and whatever it was that he was doing was taking all of his courage. He was fidgeting with his nub-like hands and his face was downcast. “What’s wrong?” I asked quietly, mindful of waking Rey. Cameron looked (even though it was kinda hard to tell since I couldn’t see his eyes) from Rey to me and back again and I knew at once what it was he wanted. “You want to sleep with me, too?” I asked anyway, just in case. When Cameron hesitantly nodded, I couldn’t help but smile. “Alright, come here.”

    I pulled my right arm out of my sleeping bag and held it out. Cameron, clearly overjoyed, raced over to my side and laid his head on my shoulder before snuggling in. I chuckled softly at the sight before closing my eyes and letting my mind drift to sleep. Right before I did, I could have sworn that I felt Cameron’s contentment.

OoOoOoO

    I was awoken the following morning by quite the commotion coming from outside my tent. Having been startled awake, the first thing I did was turn to Rey to issue a command only to stop when I realized she wasn’t there. For that matter, Cameron was no longer there, either. Fearing the worst, I bolted out of my tent, leaving my hat and jacket behind, ready to confront whoever or whatever was fighting my Pokémon.

    Imagine my surprise when I discovered that they were fighting each other.

    Rey and Cameron were in the middle of fighting each other and quite fiercely at that. The air was unusually warm from the intensity of Rey’s Embers while Cameron was taking small chunks out of the ground with his Confusion. I stared at the scene before me for a moment, quite perplexed, before my mind finally started working again.

    “Alright, you two! Timeout!” I called out. At once, Rey and Cameron screeched to a halt and slowly turned their heads to look at me, guilt evident on their faces. “Now, what’s going on here?” The second the words left my mouth, I regretted them. Rey started to frantically chirp at me while Cameron tried to explain things in the bell-like voice of his (I would later realize that this was the first time I heard Cameron vocalize something). Even if I could understand Pokémon speech, I probably wouldn’t have been able to understand their overlapping voices. Frankly, I don’t know why I asked such a pointless question.

    “Alright, alright! That’s enough!” I said as I felt the beginnings of a headache come on. “Uhg. I don’t know what I expected from that.” I close my eyes and crossed my arms, taking a deep breath to calm myself down as I tried to go over everything and figure out what might have caused this. Nothing was readily coming to mind, however, so I knew I’d have to try a different approach.

    “Okay, which one of you attacked first?” Naturally, they both pointed (or gestured, in Rey’s case) at the other but I had a plan for that. “Tell the truth. I doubt both of you attacked each other at the same time. When I find out which one of you is lying, you’ll be locked in your Pokéball for the rest of the day.” I could almost see Rey’s skin pale at my threat. She looked down guiltily while Cameron just pointed at her again.

    “Rey, did you attack Cameron first?” I asked, trying to mimic the stern yet caring tone my mother used on me countless times. Rey hesitantly nodded and I sighed. Somehow, I wasn’t surprised. “Why did you attack him? Did he say something to you?” Rey shook her head. “Did he try to do something to me?” No. “ To my things?” No. I hummed for a moment, trying to think of what it could be, when something occurred to me. “Is it because he slept with me last night?” Rey didn’t answer but that was all the answer I needed.

    I shouldn’t have been surprised. It’s only natural, after all. Rey had spent over four years being essentially the only target for my affections and suddenly there was another Pokémon who I was being affectionate with and even letting sleep with me. Now that I thought about it, that unidentifiable emotion on Rey’s face yesterday had to be jealousy. While this absolutely wasn’t a good thing, I also couldn’t really blame her. If anything, it was my fault for not anticipating this problem and preventing at least the fight. I honestly have no idea how I could have prevented Rey from growing jealous at all. It’s not like I could just be cold to my other Pokémon, that wouldn’t be fair to them, and not being as affectionate with Rey as I usually am before I left was also completely out of the question. I loved her way too much to do that.

    With a deep sigh, I turned to Cameron. “Do you mind going back in your Pokéball for a bit? I need to talk with Rey,” I said. Cameron looked at me for a long moment, his body language unreadable, before nodding and walking off back towards the tent. There was a flash of red light and then we were alone.

    I sat down on the ground in front of Rey, who hadn’t raised her head since earlier. I stared at her for a long moment, trying to figure out just what to say or do. While I had a lot of experience handling Pokémon, something like this was way beyond me. This was more like dealing with people and I’m not too good with them. While I didn’t really mind getting into fights with my old friends, I stayed away from this touchy-feely stuff like the plague the handful of times it came up.

    “Rey… What you did was wrong,” I decided to open up by stating the obvious. It was a meaningless statement since Rey very well knew that but I couldn’t think of anything good to say so I just said the first thing that came to mind. Naturally, Rey didn’t react to my words at all. “But… I understand why you did it. I think. I wouldn’t say I’m not mad at you but I also wouldn’t say that I am mad at you.” From what little I could see of Rey’s face, she looked confused at this but that was understandable. I was confused myself, after all. “What I mean to say is… Please don’t get mad at Cameron or any other Pokémon I capture in the future. I understand your feelings and I know you can’t help them but you don’t have to worry. No matter how I nice I am towards him, Cameron isn’t going to replace you. You and only you are my precious little Pokémon, my partner, and no one can take that away, okay? No one can take me away from you.”

    Towards the end of my speech, Rey looked up at me, unshed tears in her eyes. At that sight, I couldn’t help but to pick her up and hold her to my chest, my right hand cupped around her in something like a hug. “I love you, Rey, and nothing can ever change that.”

    I don’t know how long we stayed like that but I eventually set Rey down. The feathers near her eyes were damp with her tears but she looked a lot better. “Are you feeling better?” I asked anyway. When she nodded, I smiled at her. “Good. Why don’t I call Cameron back out so we can get started on our training?”

    Cameron’s return had been unsurprisingly tense. I pulled out my Pokévice and turned out, randomly fiddling with it so the two could have some semblance of privacy (even if I couldn’t understand them). They talked in low tones for a while and I waited for them to finish before turning back around. The feeling in the air had relaxed so it seemed like those two had managed to work things out.

    “Okay!” I said with a clap of my hands. “Cameron, you and I have a lot of work to do. You’re going to be my ace for the next gym and I need you to be ready for it. There’s a move I want you to learn but we’ll worry about that later. For now, you need to get better at hitting moving targets. Rey, for you, you’re going to learn how to focus your energy for a really powerful attack. It’ll be really different from what you’re used to but I know you can do it. But before that, let’s eat!”

    With the instructions taken care of and breakfast out of the way, we all got to training. Rey stood off a ways from the camp, silently focusing the natural energy that Pokémon use to attack, while Cameron and I continued what we were doing yesterday; I’d toss a rock into the air and he’d try to hit it with Confusion. We stayed like that for a few hours, Rey occasionally giving me a signal that she’s ready before attacking the air with Ember. When I finally called a halt to the training, both of my Pokémon were exhausted. While neither of them had reached their goals, Cameron was hitting his target more than half the time and I could tell that Rey would get it down pretty soon.

    By the time we were well rested and all my stuff was packed, it was going on one in the afternoon so, seeing as how we already ate lunch, we set out into the cave.

    The interior of Mt. Coronet, as to be expected, was pretty dark. At least, it got really dark really fast once you went off the beaten path. Thankfully, Trainer Route 208 (although there was some debate as to whether it should be included as a part of 207) was lit relatively well by electric lamps that were placed every ten meters or so. So long as one stuck to the main path, getting lost was impossible and getting through the mountain was easy. You wouldn’t even have to worry too much about wild Pokémon since, after losing quite a few lamps, the scientists working for TPLi found that the Pokémon in this region were averse to a certain frequency of light. It wasn’t harmful in any way, of course. It was just a mild irritant that discouraged their approach.

    That being said, sticking to the main path was a horrible idea if you were looking for any sort of battle. By my understanding, caves like this have an unspoken rule that no battle between Trainers is to be held on or near the main path and that it was to be used only by those who wished passage and nothing else. This rule had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that TPLi held Trainers accountable for any and all damages incurred during fights to public property (with some exceptions) and that those lanterns weren’t the sturdiest things in the world. No sirree.

    In order to accommodate the usual Trainer Battles and allow for random encounters, there were one or two unofficial routes through any given cave in Sinnoh. Aside from countless online maps (the one for this particular section I have naturally memorized while resting earlier), these unofficial paths were usually marked in a few ways. In this case, a bit off to my left, near the edge of the ring of light cast by one of the lamps, was a peculiar pile of precariously placed rocks.

    The journey through the cave was about what I expected. Quite opposite to most of 208, I encountered a lot of random battles and only one Trainer. The Trainer herself wasn’t anything terribly noteworthy. I didn’t want to use Cameron in a Trainer Battle quite yet and she had nothing too dangerous so I let Rey handle it (I got 300 Pokédollars out of it, by the by). That’s not to say Cameron got no battle experience here, of course. I had let him handle most of the wild Pokémon and I was impressed by how quickly the little guy adapted to being guided by a Trainer. I also figured that his Ability was Telepathy since there were a few times where he started reacting to my order before I finished saying it (I suppose he could just have really fast reaction time and be predicting my order based off fo the first syllable and the situation but I dismissed that theory as improbable since not even Rey was that good). The results of all of this training this morning were especially evident in this fights since he almost never missed with Confusion regardless of what the Pokémon did. Most Pokémon were significantly larger than a pebble, after all.

    We exited the surprisingly uneventful cave to be greeted by the evening sun. It had taken us about four hours to get through it which meant it was now about 5 PM. It’d take us about another six or seven hours to reach Oreburgh at a normal pace and it could probably be made in four or five if we rushed so I deliberately set off on a rather sedate pace. As I had remarked after reaching Hearthome, I didn’t like being on such a strict schedule so I had made adjustments to my plans to allow for more time. Provided nothing major happened, I expected my journey to last about two to two-and-a-half months which was up from my previous schedule of about one-and-a-half months.

    Route 207 was absolutely nothing like Route 208. Being situated well within Mt. Coronet’s foothills, the terrain was very uneven most places and there were many sidepaths one could take to travel further down. The rocky terrain, proximity to the main entrance to Mt. Coronet, and the nearby city made it a very popular spot for hikers. The route also served as an intersection between Oreburgh City to the south, Route 206 to the north, and Route 208 to the east so it got a lot of traffic. According to online guides, the intersection on this route was the best spot for meeting all kinds of Trainers and I have every intention of putting that to the test.

    For the first hour or so, we didn’t encounter anyone or anything so I took that time to admire the scenery. While the area immediately around me wasn’t anything to note, we were still a ways up the mountain so I could see all the way out to the horizon to the west and could likely do the same to the north and south if I found a good vantage point. Even without that, the sight was quite breathtaking. The rocky ground of the mountains quickly gave way to a lush valley before returning to the last vestiges of the mountains. Beyond that was a veritable sea of evergreens that I knew hid Trainer Route 203. Likewise, though I could not see it, I knew that further north of that lie Floaroma Town with Verdant Forest lying solidly northwest of my position. A bit to the southwest, I could just barely make out the outline of Jubilife City through the distant haze. With the whole scene being bathed by the evening light in a soft golden hue, I was struck by the desire to take out my Pokévice and take a few pictures; a desire I absolutely followed through with.

    This peaceful atmosphere couldn’t last forever, of course. The journey wouldn’t be much of a proper trial if it did. As such, it wasn’t long before we started getting periodically pestered by the local Pokémon who were easily fended off by Cameron. As expected based on my lack of encounters in the cave, there was not another Trainer on this portion of the route that I could see so the whole affair was relatively uninteresting. As exciting as they may be to experience, Pokémon Journeys were usually relatively dull if told in an unabridged fashion. While I would have told someone every last detail of my journey so far had the asked me at the time, when I looked back on them later, the only events worth retelling were the gym and the capture of Cameron. 

    It was with a somewhat heavy heart that I approached the intersection some five hours later. I was still about two hours out from Oreburgh but that didn’t bother me. What did was the fact that I had just realized that my timing was all wrong. I had been looking forward to making camp near this intersection earlier than I usually would and see what conversations or battles I could strike up with passing Trainers and try to learn more personal accounts of the surrounding areas. However, with it being 10 PM, the sun had already set and thus it was highly unlikely for any Trainers to be passing through the area. While it certainly wasn’t impossible, it was highly improbable since traveling the Trainer Routes at night was usually pointless unless one was seeking a nocturnal Pokémon. It seemed that, in my desire to take my time and enjoy myself, I had taken too much time. While spending a day here was certainly an option, it wasn’t one I felt like taking so I gave up on the whole thing as a missed opportunity and set up my camp.

    As I lied down to sleep that night, with Rey in her usual place and Cameron in his Pokéball, I couldn’t help but think back to this morning’s confrontation and the sparks of emotion I felt coming from Cameron. I knew very well what that was and wasn’t terribly surprised when I felt nothing else from him for the rest of the day but I couldn’t help but worry. I had no idea what to do or what would happen if something ended up hindering the psychic bond that usually forms between a Riolu et al and their Trainer so I’d have to seek help from a someone well versed in the subjected. The problem was that I had no idea who to go to for such help. There was no Psychic-type Gym in Sinnoh and thus no Gym Leader to turn to for advice and while one of Sinnoh’s Elite Four specialized in Psychic-types, there was no way I could realistically get in touch with them.

    My mind filled with such thoughts, I eventually drifted off to a troubled sleep.


Harsh training is followed by an even harsher battle. Sara's limits are laid bare as she overestimates her abilities. Next time on The Ties that Bind: Trial of the Earth Breaker. Will Sara be able to overcome herself?

 

 

Chapter Text

    Oreburgh City is a pretty interesting place. Despite being a city just like Hearthome and Pastoria, the feeling of it was completely different. Hearthome, being the largest city in Sinnoh, stood as a bastion of modern society with its many skyscrapers, dazzling lights, stores of every kind by the dozen, countless movie theaters, restaurants hosting every type of food imaginable, and many other things. If you wanted something and wanted to get it in person, chances were you could find it in Hearthome. Pastoria City, meanwhile, was still very much a city but its proximity to the coast and Valor Lakefront gave it a noticeably more laidback air. There isn’t a skyscraper anywhere in Pastoria— the largest building is only about three or four stories— and the permanent residents tended to be of the older age brackets; there aren’t many people there under 25, comparatively.

    Then there was Oreburgh. The whole place was buzzing with a natural energy completely different from Hearthome’s. Even if the mining operations slowed down considerably due to the advent of greener, more efficient energy sources, it was clear that the people who lived here didn’t let that even so much as slow them down. As I made my way to the Pokémon Center, I could see many people running to and fro; some is business suits, some in regular clothing, and more than a few in sturdy clothing smeared with dirt. Almost all of them seemed to be between the ages of 20 and 30 and the one thing that tied them all together was their unshakable spirit that was blatantly obvious even at a glance. Whatever it was these people were here to do, they wouldn’t let anything get in their way. Their spirit was highly infectious and I had to fight off the urge to pick up my pace.

    To the south of the main city— which was a rather subdued affair with even smaller buildings than Pastoria— was the entrance to the mine that helped this city thrive. I couldn’t see much of it from where I was standing other than the towering conveyer belt that moved rocks containing precious minerals about but even that looked fairly impressive. Even though the gym wasn’t located there, I fully intended to check out the publicly accessible portions of both the mining facility and the mine itself. Many Rock-type Pokémon lived in there, after all, so it was the perfect place to train up for the gym.

    Setting all of that aside for the moment, I entered the Pokémon Center and reserved a room for the next week. The interior of this Pokémon Center was, as far as I could tell, exactly the same as the ones in Hearthome and Pastoria. The only difference that I could tell was the different magazines on the rack. After I got my room squared away and Rey and Cameron taken care of, I confirmed the directions to the gym with the nurse and set out into the city again.

    With this being my first time in Oreburgh, I decided that my first course of action would be to explore the city and get a feel for it. Even back when I was following my original schedule, I made sure to give myself time to do this. After all, while my primary goal was to become the Champion of Sinnoh, I also wanted to explore my second home and learn as much about it as I could. After all, once I became Champion, part of my duties would be responding to Pokémon-related threats and I’d be needed in all corners of the region.

    While it’s true that the police and the Rangers existed, the former were primarily focused on smaller crimes and detaining human criminals while the later were an international organization who technically counted as a joint operation of TPLi and Interpol specifically trained to handle high profile criminals who used powerful Pokémon. The Elite Four and Regional Champion, as well as the Gym Leaders, meanwhile, acted against more local threats that were too much for the police to handle but also not large enough to warrant the Rangers’ attention. Similarly, the Pokémon Grand Master, with his incredible power, unparalleled skill, and extreme cleverness, was called in during times of extreme emergency when the full might of TPLi was necessary.

    Setting all that aside, I also wanted to explore the region for more personal, less pragmatic reasons. Thanks no doubt in part to my dad’s career, I’m a naturally curious person and I can’t recall ever turning down a chance to learn something. While I never went to a public school or even a private school, there’s no doubt that I would have driven my teachers crazy with all of my questions. I certainly almost drove my parents crazy at times. As such, I wanted nothing more than to explore every nook and cranny of Sinnoh that I could and learn everything that can be learned from a Pokémon Journey.

    Thankfully, Oreburgh was a city rich in history. While it couldn’t hold a candle to Celestic Town, there was still plenty of relics from the past here. Oreburgh holds the distinction of being the oldest city by the modern definition in Sinnoh with its origins going back some seven hundred years ago. There were stories of creation or relics of godlike beings to be found but this city served as a look into the history of mining and all technology related to it. While mining didn’t hold any particular interest to me (even if the Underground was, to this day, an incredibly popular place for Trainers and mining enthusiasts to explore and make a fair bit of money), I was still fascinated by the whole thing and seeing just how quickly humanity has advanced in the past few hundred years.

    There were also rumors that the ruins of some ancient civilization could be found deep in the mines but there’s been no proof of that so it's something I’ve ignored.

    I ended up spending a fair number of hours aimlessly walking around the city portion of Oreburgh and ended up eating at a small restaurant I stumbled across. The food wasn’t amazing but it wasn’t bad, either. With all of the major points of the city explored, I decided to take another hour or so at the Oreburgh Mining Museum, listening to the guide go on about old machines, the history of the mining company, and all kinds of related things. It was all quite fun and I found my head swimming with information by the time I left.

    Checking my clock, I saw that it was just after 3 PM so I weighed my options. Retiring to my room at the Pokémon Center sounded like a pretty decent idea since I had been constantly on the go since seven this morning but I wasn’t really tired and I wasn’t entirely sure if I’d leave my room if I let myself relax too much. I could also go to the mine and poke around there for a while, see if I could catch a tour of it. However, while I wanted to learn more about it and explore the place as much as I could, my head was still swimming with information and I was afraid I would get dizzy if I learned any more today. That left me with the option of going to a small park one could find in every city that served as an area Trainers could safely train or battle. Cameron hadn’t been out of his Pokéball all day except to eat and I really needed both him and Rey to get stronger for the gym so I decided to go with that idea.

    Once at the park, I let Cameron out of his Pokéball and let him and Rey walk around for a bit to stretch before getting to work. I wasn’t ready to move on with our training quite yet so I set them both back on the training they did the other day: Rey was working on focusing her energy while Cameron was trying to shoot the rocks I threw out of the air. When got a couple of civilians stopping to watch for a bit and even a Trainer or two took an interest but none of them were rude enough to challenge me while I was busy training.

    Cameron was the first one to get his training to a point where I was fine with moving on. When he managed to hit twenty rocks in a row without missing a single one, I picked him up and hugged him tightly, praising him for his progress. I felt Cameron’s own joy and minor embarrassment during that so it was great to know that our psychic bond hadn’t been hindered. Cameron’s success seemed to bother Rey a bit— no doubt she was jealous that a Pokémon who was just captured a bit over 24 hours ago managed to learn something faster than she did— so she doubled down on her training. If I had to guess, she was channeling her darker emotions into her attacks since the next Ember she did was almost out of control. Sadly, I had no particular way of know what Rey was doing wrong since this entire thing was internal so I could just give Rey vague words of encouragement while I judged her output.

    While Rey continued with her training, I moved Cameron onto the next set of his. After finding a good sized branch, I buried it part way in the ground, making sure it was sticking up, and had Cameron stand about ten meters away before circling it at a brisk jog while trying to hit it with Confusion. While his accuracy while stationary was pretty good, he needed to get used to moving and attacking at the same time. Without that very basic skill, he’d be next to useless in most battles. Thankfully, it seemed that the battles against the wild Pokémon the previous day, as well as all the previous training, have gotten him very used to using Confusion, he managed to get this down in no time. Rey also managed to use Focus Energy five times in a row without fail around the same time so I drew both of my wonderful Pokémon into a hug and congratulated them.

    It was around 6 PM by the time training was finished and both of my Pokémon were looking a little worse for wear (although Cameron didn’t look nearly as bad as he had the other day) so I decided to give them a little treat. With Rey on my shoulder as always and Cameron comfortably in my arms, I took them to a restaurant I had seen earlier that catered specifically to Trainers; serving not only regular human food but also food specifically made for Pokémon. Between that and my earlier lunch, I found my wallet 427 Pokédollars lighter but I was certain I could easily win that back when I challenged the Gym Trainers.

    After our dinner, I took my Pokémon back to the park. Our move training was done for the day but there was still so much work to be done before we were ready for the gym. I found a nice, quiet little spot and sat my Pokémon down before sitting down myself and going over strategies. Rey, being familiar with the process, learned quickly but Cameron had a small amount of trouble with some of the concepts. As my battle to capture him showed, however, he was a clever little guy so it wasn’t long before he started to understand my shortened orders and what I wanted to do when I gave them. With Rey, it was as simple as establishing when I wanted her to use Focus Energy before an attack and she had the theory down pat after a couple of minutes. With Cameron, I had to start from scratch and teach him all of my movement commands. Thankfully, he didn’t have any attack variations yet so I didn’t have to add yet another layer of complexity to his training (although I was already forming ideas for them).

    After I was certain they had the theory down, we followed up with some drills. Rey’s drills were more of a formality so I didn’t spend too long on those and instead spent the bulk of my time with Cameron. As expected, his reaction times were abysmally slow compared to Rey’s (I could feel Cameron’s frustration at this when I had Rey demonstrate how it’s supposed to go) but I knew he’d get better in time. His frustration also reminded me that I needed to study some meditation exercises for him to do to increase his psychic power and help keep it and his emotions under control. I already had a couple of sites bookmarked and had familiarized myself with the basics so it was just a matter of familiarizing myself with the peculiars.

    It was just after nine when I called a final halt to our training and I couldn’t be more proud of my Pokémon. They’d really given it their all in today’s training and the results of their effort was already noticeable. If they managed to keep up this pace, they’d be ready for the gym sooner than expected.

    With the curfew fast approaching, I returned Cameron to his Pokéball and hurried over to the Pokémon Center. I let the nurse give my Pokémon a once over one more time before turning in for the night.

OoOoOoO

    The next day, we were up bright and early and in the park once more. I wanted both of my Pokémon to learn one more move before we got started fighting in the area and the one Cameron needed to learn was of the utmost importance. Without that move, winning the Gym Battle would be an exercise in frustration. Since his was the most important, I pulled out my Pokévice and started with Cameron.

    The way Pokémon attacks work is interesting. It was the biggest mystery to us for the longest time until someone got the bright idea to just ask their Pokémon how they did it and what it felt like (since there are a number of ways for humans and Pokémon to talk to each other; telepathy being the most common). Pokémon, and some humans, possess a sensitivity to some sort of mysterious energy that permeated their air and flowed through all things, living and otherwise. This energy could be divided up into eighteen different types: Dragon, Ghost, Ground, Flying, Poison, Bug, Water, Electric, Rock, Grass, Dark, Ice, Normal, Fire, Fighting, Steel, Psychic, and Fairy. Every Pokémon held an affinity for at least one of these types although a fair number held two. Each of these types were strong against some and weak against others but I won’t get into that here since that’d take too long. Anyway, while Pokémon are most suited to use an attack that uses the type they have an affinity for (we call this a Same Type Attack Bonus or STAB for short), nearly every Pokémon (if not every) could use attacks outside of their type. It was a bit harder for them to channel that energy but it could be done.

    With all of that in mind, I set Cameron on his task of focusing on the energy coming from the grass and the trees and all of the (admittedly scarce in this area) plants and turn into leaves made of pure energy to attack. Sadly, other than vague words of encouragement, there wasn’t anything I could do to help him so I moved on to getting Rey started. The attack I wanted her to learn wasn’t likely to be helpful anytime soon but the amount of control it required would make learning other moves later far easier. In fact, since it required similar principles, the reason I had Rey learn Focus Energy was largely to make learning this next attack, Fire Spin, that much easier.

    Fire Spin was a pretty interesting move in that its usefulness varies greatly depending on a lot of factors. Most Trainers write the move off as completely worthless and don’t even bother having their Pokémon learn it and, frankly, I understood why. Even with all of my own cleverness and cheating ways, the number of instances where Fire Spin would be undeniably helpful were few and far between. The move works by creating a small fire tornado to trap your opponent in but not only is its damage output incredibly low, it’s also pretty easy to escape. However, as I said earlier, I wanted Rey to learn the move not for the sake of the move but rather for the sake of the great control a Pokémon needed to have over the energy to use it. If she can learn this move, learning most any other Fire-type move will be a breeze.

    Training was slow going, as I had expected. Over the next four hours, my little Pokémon toiled away trying to learn their new moves. Cameron spent most of the time deep in meditation, faint wisps of green energy occasionally forming around him for a brief moment before flickering away. Rey, meanwhile, ended up inadvertently using Ember over and over as she tried to get her fire to behave the way she wanted. After a bit of time and consulting various guides and advice columns on the Internet, I broke down Rey’s training into two parts and had her focus on maintaining Ember after the attack was launched. Once she managed to do that for five seconds, I pushed her goal up to ten seconds and left her to it while I helped Cameron as best as I could.

    We took a break for lunch, returning to the same place as before and costing me another 232 Pokédollars, before returning to the park. Instead of getting right back to the training, I led my Pokémon on a walk around the park, letting them trail behind me for a change. The training to learn new moves was all well and good but their bodies needed to be trained as much as their control over their life energy. While a slow walk wasn’t much of a workout, letting them stretch their legs like this was good for them and it served as a great contrast from their other training which was largely mental. Rey, in particular, needed to make sure her body was in good condition for when she inevitably evolved into a Combusken and gained the Fighting-type.

    When we once again found ourselves at the spot of our past training, I set my Pokémon back to work on learning their new moves. At this point, I had given them all of the advice that I possibly could so I busied myself with my Pokévice, scouting ahead a bit, checking the news, checking the weather, and generally contemplating my future plans. It was at this point that I saw the reminder I had left for myself to purchase cooking supplies so, not wanting to forget again, I let my Pokémon take a quick break and ran over to a nearby store to purchase everything I needed (this ended up costing me a relatively staggering 1,378 Pokédollars, for those keeping track).

    For those wondering how I kept a collapsible tent (which I just realized I had forgotten to list among my equipment starting out), an assortment of cooking supplies intended for camping, and various other goodies stored in my satchel; the answer is really simple. The technology used in Pokéballs to convert Pokémon into data (for that is what that red beam does) can be used on virtually anything. While Pokéballs are programmed to only work on Pokémon (this is done largely for the safety of Pokémon since other bits of matter being converted into data alongside them could have disastrous results), there existed similar devices for many things. The technology behind it was still a tad expensive and the energy cost to convert larger, more complicated objects into data was staggering (some of the largest Pokémon can just barely be contained by a standard Pokéball) so it was almost solely confined to objects meant for traveling (and thus largely marketed towards Trainers). What this all meant was that I could carry a great number of things in my satchel without any real difficulty. I was even carrying my bike on the off chance I found myself with a pressing need to get to someplace in a hurry and I didn’t have a Pokémon that could fly me there.

    With that detour taken care of, we returned to the park and thus to our training. When I finally called a halt to it at about 8:30, both of my Pokémon were completely exhausted but they had both made excellent progress. Cameron could now, with a bit of effort, create a handful of Magical Leaves and actually attack with them. It wasn’t nearly the amount normally created by the attack but he was almost there. Rey, meanwhile, could hold the flames of her Ember for over thirty seconds with only minor difficulties and could even make them very slowly rotate. I could tell that she was still a good ways off from learning the attack but I was proud of her progress nonetheless.

    For dinner, I decided to break in my cooking utensils and make something myself. Cooking had always been one of those skills I was peripherally interested in honing but I could never make myself really learn much beyond the basics when I was at home. I was hoping that, once my journey was over, I would be quite formidable in the kitchen and could use the habit of making my own food to properly explore the culinary arts in a full kitchen. With all that in mind, I decided to start off simply and made toast and jerky tomato sauce for myself and a special meat and vegetable blend for my Pokémon. Most Pokémon were perfectly capable of eating the foods we humans do but the Pokémon food is specially designed to keep their bodies healthy and energetic. A Pokémon on an unbalanced diet could be far more disastrous than a human on one, even if they’re not actively fighting or training.

    After our sufficiently tasty dinner (not bad for a first real effort, if I do say so myself), I picked up my drowsy Pokémon and carried them back to the Pokémon Center; Cameron fast asleep in my arms and Rey just barely staying awake on my shoulder. I decided to forgo having the nurse check them for the time being and just went straight to my room, letting Cameron sleep out of his Pokéball with me again. I could always get them checked in the morning.

OoOoOoO

    Around noon the following day, I found myself standing just past the entrance to Oreburgh Mine. Our training session that morning had good very well and Cameron managed to get Magical Leaf to a level where I was comfortable having him use it during a battle.  Rey had gotten her Embers to swirl a bit faster but it’d still be a good while before she was could do it. Depending on how things went, she’d probably learn it around the time she evolved.

    Comparing the interior of the mine of the interior of Mt. Coronet that I saw was interesting. It was only to be expected but there was a stark contrast between the openness and seemingly random geometry of Mt. Coronet and the orderly, almost claustrophobic tunnels of the mine. Electric lights were all over the place, keeping it fairly well lit, and there were wooden support pillars every so often. Railroad tracks were all over the place, leading to deeper parts of the mine, and there were a couple of workers and Trainers milling about, no doubt taking a break.

    When I entered the mine, I was stopped by a worker who informed me that certain parts of the mine were off limits to Trainers for their own safety, to respect all posted warnings, and to avoid using moves like Earthquake, Explosion, and anything similar. Then he made me sign a waiver stating that his company wasn’t responsible for any injuries and all that wonderful stuff. I wondered if this waver existed due to foresight or because of an accident but I didn’t bother asking. He probably didn’t know anyway.

    With all of that taken care of, I made my way deeper into the mine, following the posted signs and trying to keep track of my position on the maps they had posted every so often. I really didn’t want to get lost in this place but, thankfully, it seemed that only someone who would get lost in their own house could get lost in here. As it turned out, they had actually set aside a few passages and larger areas that seemed almost completely dedicated to wild Pokémon and Trainers. When I asked about this later, those areas had been deemed unusable for the miners for various reasons and so the used them to give wild Pokémon a place to roam around away from the miners and thus give Trainers a place to battle them. As for why there were wild Pokémon in a man-made mine to start with, the miners had evidently stumbled upon more than one natural cave and the Pokémon in those had spilled over into the mine. The company tried to corral them back into the caves but eventually gave it up as a bad job. The Pokémon rarely bothered the miners anyway due to the ancient pact Pokémon have with humans.

    Aside from the ever-present Zubats, the only wild Pokémon in the mines were Rock- and/or Ground-types so Cameron with his newly mastered Magical Leaf was perfect. He could even handle the Zubats easily enough— all of that training to get him to be able to hit moving targets really paid off here— so he was just all around perfect. I wanted to focus solely on training for the upcoming gym so I didn’t battle any of the handful of Trainers I ran across since I couldn’t ensure they had a Rock- and/or Ground-type Pokémon. The miners might but I didn’t run into any willing to battle.

    None of the battles were particularly interesting so I won’t bother to go over them. In case you couldn’t tell, I don’t really bother describing my fights with wild Pokémon since wild Pokémon can almost never match a trained one. Even Cameron, for all the fight he gave, had come nowhere close to actually beating Rey. The only noteworthy thing about all of it was that Cameron once again proved himself to be a quick learner as he was reacting to my commands smoothly and quickly by the time we wrapped up and that I was forced to use a potion on him due to the built up incidental damage. Cameron was thoroughly exhausted by the end of it and Rey was more than a little bored since I didn’t let her fight at all but I was pleased as punch with the results.

    With our training behind us, I made my way to the Pokémon Gym to schedule my match. The Oreburgh City Pokémon Gym was, sadly, very plain looking. Instead of using a specially designed building, it used a prefab one that TPLi usually builds if the city isn’t willing to shell out for a custom one. It was a single story, although a bit taller than most single-story buildings, and was about twice as wide as it was tall. I couldn’t see how long it was because of the surrounding buildings but I knew that its length and height were about equal. The walls were primarily a dirty grey color with the corner being almost black and there were many windows lining the front of it. The roof and awning were both a light brown and on the front of the awning was half of the logo of TPLi in white— a hollow circle with a smaller, solid circle in the center cut in half horizontally; it looks a bit like a Pokéball viewed head-on.

    The lobby of the gym was, naturally, also prefab. It had a plain tile floor whose color you’ve seen a million times yet can never really remember with off-white walls, optimally placed lighting, and bland furniture. I walked up to the front counter and was greeted by the man working there.

    “Hello. Welcome to the Oreburgh City Gym. Can I help you?”

    “Yes. I’d like to set up a fight with the Gym Leader.”

    “Very well. Have you cleared the gym’s challenge?”

    “Beg pardon?”

    “Leader Fernando has mandated that anyone wishing to challenge him must first fight through all three of the Gym Trainers consecutively. Once a Trainer has completed the challenge, they are given Leader Fernando’s seal of approval and may challenge him whenever they wish.”

    I pursed my lips at this. “Well, that’s kinda annoying but I guess it works out well enough. When can I take this challenge?”

    “They’re free right now if you want to have a go at them.”

    “Oh, no. My Pokémon just finished training and my ace can’t do any more fighting right now.”

    “Very well. How about tomorrow at 2:35 PM?”

    “That works perfectly,” I said as I handed over all of my credentials.

    “Alright, you’re all set. Your Triple Trainer Challenge,” I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the name, “is scheduled for Tuesday, 15 June.”

    While the challenge part was unexpected, it didn’t bother me too much. I wanted to battle the Trainers here anyway so it being necessary makes no difference to me. There was still about an hour or two before dinner so, after asking Rey, I headed back to the park and let Rey practice Fire Spin some more. Even though she knew as well as I did that the move she was learning was a lot more difficult, it seemed that she was a little sore that Cameron learned his move well before she learned hers. While I was uncertain if Rey’s competitive drive was completely healthy in this instance, it was a lot better than her taking her frustrations out by attacking him so I let her be.

    That evening, I decided to let everyone, myself included, rest. Cameron needed to be ready for three consecutive Trainer battles tomorrow and Rey had probably been pushing herself a little too hard with her own training. I let Cameron out of his Pokéball and settled into my bed with a book pulled up on my Pokévice. While I read, I made sure to keep an eye on my Pokémon to make sure nothing bad happened. After a while, Cameron hesitantly walked over to where Rey was sitting and began to talk to her in hushed tones. Rey responded in kind and I smiled as I turned my attention fully to my book. There was no tension in the air like there would be if a fight was about to break out and, while I couldn’t understand what they were saying, I could feel Cameron’s relief wash over me through our bond. Everything was going to be alright.

OoOoOoO

    The next day, I arrived at the gym at the appointed time. Since I wanted Cameron fully rested for the fight, I spent my morning reading for a while before exploring the city a bit more. I didn’t even let Rey train on the off chance I might need her for something.

    After checking in with the receptionist, I was ushered into a back room that contained a freight elevator and nothing else. My curiosity piqued, I rode it down and was really impressed by how far down it went. I had to have been twenty or thirty meters below ground level by the time it stopped.

    The room the elevator stopped in was just like the one it started in— completely devoid of features beyond the elevator and a door. I walked through the door and couldn’t help but let out a low whistle. I was now in a rather large cave that had been painstakingly dug to look as natural as possible while still making sure the layout was perfect for a Pokémon battle.

    On the opposite end of the room from me, standing on an elevated area in front of another door, was three Trainers. They all had fairly similar builds and wore matching uniforms— a bodysuit with white gloves, boots, belts, and a funny looking motorcycle helmet with a white stripe running through it— that differed only in color.

     “We are the Tunnel Trainers Three!” the one in the middle, dressed in red, said as he struck a valiant pose.

    “We stand here to stop the unworthy from challenging Tunnel Master!” the one on the left, dressed in blue, continued as he also struck a pose.

    “Defeat all of us, O’ Tunnel Terror, and prove your worth!” the one on the right, dressed in yellow, followed up and also struck a pose.

    I was completely speechless. I just had absolutely no words. I could only stare in awe at what I was seeing, my mouth hanging open. This was just too beautiful. It took me a good moment to get my mind working again but, once it did, I went all in.

    “Your time has come, Tunnel Trainers Three! I, the terrible Tunnel Terror, am here to turn your tenacious, troublesome trio into trash and thrash your tepid Tunnel Master!” I declared while striking the most villainous pose I could think of. Rey, meanwhile, was trying her best to look like she didn’t know me.

    The red one scowled fiercely as he thrust out his chest and crossed his arms, looking as heroic as possible. “Your words are meaningless, Tunnel Terror! We will show you the true power of our Tunnel Truth! Go, Tunnel Yellow!”

    “Tunnel Yellow, tunneling in!”

    As Tunnel Yellow slid down the rocky slope, I dramatically grabbed Cameron’s Pokéball and held it out to my side. “Come, Cameron, and crush these cretins!” As I sent out Cameron, Tunnel Yellow set out a Geodude and the fight was on. Well, I call it a fight but I use the word rather loosely. Even without STAB, Geodude is four times weak to Grass and its defenses against special attacks were pathetic. The poor thing had just enough time to use Defense Curl before it was hit by over twenty magical leaves and knocked out cold.

    Upon his defeat, Tunnel Yellow threw himself into the air with a cry of agony, his arms and legs flailing wildly as pyrotechnic explosions mysteriously appeared around him. He laid spasming on the ground for a moment before what I could only assume was Tunnel Blue spoke up.

    “Tunnel Yellow!”

    What had to be Tunnel Red’s scowl deepened. “So you have defeated the weakest of us. Do not get too cocky, Tunnel Terror! Go forth, Tunnel Blue, for tunnelry!”

    “Tunnel Blue, tunneling in!”

    The next battle started the instant Tunnel Blue sent out his Bonsly. While this one wasn’t quad weak to Grass, the chances of it knowing any particularly scary move was slim. It took a couple of hits to take down but it went down all the same and Cameron came away without a single scratch.

    Tunnel Blue went through the same song and dance that Tunnel Yellow had gone through. After he was quite done, Tunnel Red spoke once more.

    “I must congratulate you, Tunnel Terror,” he said as he calmly walked down the steps. “You have soundly defeated my Tunnel Teammates with no difficulty. Tunnelry dictates that I must warn you, however, that this next won’t go as smoothly. Now come at me, O’ Tunnel Terror! Tunnel Red, tunneling in!”

    Out of Tunnel Red’s Pokéball came another Geodude but I could tell that this one was made of tougher stuff than the last one. It opened up with Rock Polish before going into Rollout. It was a pretty smart idea, under other circumstances, but the thing about Magical Leaf is that, once the target is locked, dodging it is basically impossible. So, once the attack was launched (I had Cameron launch it twice to be safe), it was only a matter of time before victory was mine. Tunnel Red’s Geodude made a good show of trying to outrun Magical Leaf and had even managed to clip Cameron but it quickly got hit and went down.

    Tunnel Red staggered backwards a few steps. “Don’t think I shall go down as easily as my Tunnel Team! Witness the full power of Tunnel Truth!” Another Pokéball was thrown and out popped an Onix.

    This Onix was one tough customer. Despite its size, it was every bit as fast as Rey and incredibly agile to boot. Its quad weakness to Grass didn’t really matter much when it kept twisting around the leaves. Trying to hit it became even harder when it used Rock Polish. Cameron, meanwhile, not being the fastest little guy, had been forced to use Teleport to dodge out of the way of a number of attacks as countless rocks rained down on him. It was a tough fight and Cameron took his fair share of hits but eventually, after there were about a hundred leaves surrounding it, the Onix got nicked by one of them and it all went downhill for it from there.

    Tunnel Red went down in the expected fashion but quickly struggled to his feet along with the other two. “You have fought well, Tunnel Terror, and proven your worthiness to us. Take this Tunnel Ticket and use it to challenge Tunnel Master whenever you wish.” Alongside this Tunnel Ticket— which was, indeed, a ticket— he also handed by my winnings: a solid two thousand Pokédollars.

    “Farewell, Tunnel Terror,” Tunnel Red said as I made my way back to the door I came from. “May you find the path of true tunnelry.”

    What a terribly weird day this turned out to be. Weird but fun.

OoOoOoO

    Two days later, exactly one week after my first Gym Battle, I made my way back to Oreburgh Gym to take on my second. After the battle with the Tunnel Trainers Three, I dedicated the remainder of the day to training Cameron as much as possible. I needed to form counters to most of what I had seen in those battles and work on tightening Cameron’s response time. Rock-type Pokémon were primarily heavy physical hitters and Cameron was pretty squishy in that regard so I needed him to be ready to dodge precisely and at a moment’s notice. Rey’s exceptionally quick reactions had been what won me my first Gym Battle and, while I couldn’t get Cameron up to her level, I knew they’d help me win this one. When we turned in for the night, Cameron’s responses were about as good as they could possibly be given this time frame and I was reasonably confident in my counters, simple though they were. I had only one fancy move for this one and it would likely only work once so it’d come down to raw ability.

    The following day was a rest day and, unlike the rest day in Hearthome, it was bright and sunny outside. Without a gaggle of bored Trainers to talk to, I let myself sleep in for a bit then do some reading before heading out to explore the city some more. Nothing terribly interesting happened, sadly, but that was perfectly fine.

    So now the day of my second Gym Battle had finally come and I responded by confidently striding into the gym, showing my Tunnel Ticket to the receptionist and confirming my appointment.

    It seemed that the Tunnel Trainers Three weren’t around today. It made sense but it still made me a little sad. Because of their absence, my walk to the door leading to the Gym Leader was horribly silent aside from the sound of my footsteps echoing off of the walls.

    As I entered the next room, I prepared my planned speech to Tunnel Master and went through a number of possible responses. The Gym Leader’s room was surprisingly plain. It was a roughly cylindrical shape about fifty meters in diameter and fifteen meters tall. In the center, brightly illuminated by a light that hung from the ceiling, was a regulation Pokémon battlefield: a rectangle divided in widthwise that was 23.77 meters long and 10.97 meters wide with a semicircle 3.04 meters on the opposite ends for the Trainers to stand in and the Pokémon League logo in the center.

    The Gym Leader, Fernando, was absolutely nothing like I expected. He was a very sturdily built man with a tan complexion, black hair that had been cut short, and matching stubble. He wore a thick, button-up, plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up; denim pants that had clearly seen better days, and plain work boots. He looked nothing like nothing like a Tunnel Master and everything like what you’d expect a minner to look like.

    “I’m so sorry about those three,” Fernando said as soon as I entered the room. “I’ve tried to get them to knock that act off but they’re completely dedicated to it and they’re really good at their job.”

    “No, it’s okay,” I said quickly as I tried to not let my disappointment show. “I actually really enjoyed it.”

    “I’m glad someone did. When those three reported to me after fighting you, they couldn’t stop singing your praises. Not because of your battling— although they had plenty of good to say about that— but because you actually played along with them and apparently did so really well. No one’s ever done that before.”

    “Really?” I asked, more than a little embarrassed. I couldn’t believe that they had made such a fuss about it.

    “Yeah. I’d also watch out if I were you. Jacob, the one in blue, said that it was a shame you weren’t a few years older. He’d have asked you out if you were.” At that, all I could do is sputter incoherently, my eyes widening even as my face turned beet red. Fernando chuckled quietly at my reaction before continuing, “Well, why don’t we move on to what you came here for?”

    I shook my head, trying to clear it and force my blush down, before nodding fiercely. I took my place on one end of the battlefield while Fernando took his place on the opposite. Just like with the Tunnel Trainers Three, the rules of the match, as well as the stakes, had been set when the appointment was made so there was no needed to confirm them. I unclipped the second Pokéball from my belt while Fernando unclipped his first of three.

    “Let’s go, Cameron!”

    “Come on out, Geodude!”

    The battle started the second both Pokémon were out on the field. Fernando’s Geodude opened with Rock Polish while I had Cameron attack with Magical Leaf. Before the leaves could hit it, Fernando ordered his Geodude to dodge with Rollout. While it passed by the leaves unharmed, the quickly turned to give pursuit. When the Geodude had pulled a fair bit away from the leaves, Fernando ordered it to stop and get ready. When the attack was about two meters away, the Geodude threw itself into the air on Fernando’s orders. The leaves turned to follow but the Geodude wasn’t as helpless as I had thought. Right before they hit, Fernando ordered it to use Rollout again and it launched itself over the leaves. The Geodude stopped quickly after that and moved to directly under the leaves after it hit the ground. The leaves turned 180 degrees and dove for the Geodude. At the last moment, it moved out of the way with another Rollout and the leaves collided with the ground, dispelling.

    I could have very easily had Cameron interrupt this at any time but I let it play out. I was curious to see what plans Fernando utilized and seeing a way to avoid a homing attack could be really useful later. His strategy was very slow and reliant on his opponent doing nothing but I knew that he only did it specifically because I did nothing. He clearly didn’t want to reveal his hand too early but I now had a good grasp of how Rollout worked on his Geodude as well as its speed and general maneuverability. Even though the attack failed and Fernando had concealed as much as possible, I was still the clear victor of this little exchange.

    “Use Rock Throw!” The Geodude’s body glowed faintly as a nearby rock about the size of a basketball levitated off the ground. It was then launched at Cameron at high speed but this was no issue.

    “Blast it with Confusion!” All of that accuracy training really came in handy here since Cameron was already used to blasting rocks and the ones he was used to were significantly smaller, even if this larger one was faster. The psychic blast that came from Cameron collided with the rock and easily reduced it to dust and pebbles, the few bits of stone that went on to strike Cameron being nothing more than small annoyances.

    “Use Rollout! Run that Ralts over!”

    “Counter with Magical Leaf!”

    “Jump over it!”

    “Shoot it down with Confusion!” The psychic blast his the Geodude in midair, slowing it down and making it land heavily. It was still advancing, though. I had Cameron blast it twice more with Confusion, the Geodude unable to dodge even when started zigzagging, before the third hit made it tumble out of its Rollout, its eyes whirling as it fainted.

    “That Ralts of yours is a really great shot,” Fernando said as he recalled his Geodude. I felt Cameron’s pleased embarrassment flood through me even as I smiled and thanked Fernando for him. “Come on out, Onix!”

    I had a sense of double deja vu as the Onix used Rock Polish as Cameron used Magical Leaf. Just like the battle against Tunnel Red’s Onix, Fernando’s Onix twisted and turned expertly in the air to avoid all of the leaves. I was half tempted to repeat the “strategy” I used for that battle when Fernando’s next order made me reconsider.

    “Rock Tomb and hold it!” Balls of white energy appeared around the Onix before quickly forming into rocks. They hovered in place for a moment and Cameron’s Magical Leaf rammed into one of them, destroying it but also dissipating in the process. The rocks then surged forward and I said nothing as they surrounded Cameron, trapping him. “Tackle!” The large stone snake came flying down at Cameron, ready to turn him into a pancake. I kept my face neutral, regarding the charging Onix with the same expression I’d regard a sign advertising a doctor or lawyer, before giving my order at the last possible moment, my voice equally disinterested.

    “Teleport.” Cameron blinked away, appearing right in front of me, as the Onix crashed heavily into the ground. Stunned as it was, and being only about five meters away, I went in for the finishing blow. “Magical Leaf.”

    I frowned as Fernando recalled his unconscious Onix. That had been way too easy. It had honestly been even easier than his Geodude. There’s absolutely no way Fernando hadn’t know that Cameron knew Teleport. Even if he didn’t review the battle data from my fight with the Tunnel Trainers Three, basically every Ralts knows the move so assuming that mine did too was a safe assumption to make. He could have easily had his Onix use Rock Throw, which it undoubtedly knew, instead of doing something that would only result in his loss.

    The only reason I could think of for such a move was that he really wanted me to fight his ace and thus wanted to get through his first two quickly as possible. The fact that he let me knock them out instead of just opening up with his ace or sending it out after his Geodude could only mean that he would consider the victory mine if I managed to take down his ace and thus wanted to make the victory officially mine if I did. The only reason for all of that would be that he’s confident in his ace’s ability to defeat Cameron since there’s simply no way for Rey to take on a Rock-type as she currently is and thus is a non-factor.

    Fernando’s satisfied smirk as he pulled out his last Pokéball only reinforced my suspicions. The Pokémon he sent out all but confirmed them.

    “Come on out, Cranidos!”

    I gulped nervously as his final Pokémon appeared on the field. Cranidos was a powerful physical attacker, all things considered, and knew some pretty scary moves, even at this level. It’d also probably know Pursuit which was a Dark-type move and thus super effective against Cameron who’s a Psychic/Fairy-type. Given that Cameron was a pretty frail little guy, he’d possibly be taken out in just one hit and would absolutely go down in two.

    I breathed in deeply to steady my nerves before letting it out slowly. I needed to focus and remain calm if I wanted to pull out a win.

    “Cranidos, use Headbutt!” Cranidos came charging towards Cameron at full speed. I had Cameron fire off Magical Leaf but it didn’t even so much as blink as the leaves collided with it. At the last moment, I had Cameron dive to side, my little Pokémon just barely managing to get out of the way. The Cranidos had just begun to skid to a stop when its Trainer gave out his next command. “Pursuit!”

    The second the first syllable left Fernando’s mouth, I gave my command. “Teleport!” The Cranidos surged forward with unnatural speed, its form outlined by darkness, but Cameron managed to disappear a mere instant before the attack connected and reappeared in front of me. That had been way too close and my only hope was that moving at such speeds had a heavy toll on the otherwise slow Pokémon and thus it couldn’t be used too much.

    At my command, Cameron attacked with Magical Leaf but, once again, the attack was swatted aside by a Headbutt. Switching up my tactics, I had Cameron attack with Confusion, hoping that the invisible nature of psychic attacks would prevent it from nullifying it like it had been doing to Magical Leaf. The first one hit home, making the Cranidos stagger back a step, but the second one was nullified when it was suddenly surrounded by an aura of Dark-type energy before surging forward. I screamed out for Cameron to teleport away but there was no hope. My command had been too late, it’d been too close, and Cameron was still recovering from Confusion. I could only watch in horror as the Cranidos slammed into Cameron, launched him a good ten meters backwards until he slammed into a rock.

    “Cameron! Are you okay‽” I called out, barely restraining myself from running over to him. There was an odd groan-like sound coming from his direction as I felt a wave of pain wash over me through our bond before he picked himself up off the floor. He staggered once but he was still standing, still willing to fight.

    After that, I made sure to keep at least six or seven meters between Cameron and the Cranidos at all times. At that distance, provided I wasn’t too slow on my own reaction, Cameron would have just enough time to teleport away. Our Pokémon ended up entering into a bit of a dance with Cameron firing off a Magical Leaf or Confusion before teleporting away at the last moment to avoid the Cranidos’ Pursuit. However, while I was constantly dealing damage, I knew I’d lose if this carried on. Cameron was breathing heavily and was clearly running out of energy while Fernando’s Cranidos look more or less okay. It was a little roughed up but nowhere close to fainting. I needed to find a way to end this and fast.

    I got really lucky with what happened next. When the Cranidos got hit by Confusion mid-charge, its eyes started spinning and it tripped over its own feet, sliding to a stop right in front of Cameron. Confusion had finally lived up to its name and confused someone. As it shakily got back to its feet, I had Cameron attack it with Magical Leaf. Fernando gave an order for his Cranidos to counter with Headbutt but his Pokémon was too unsteady to react in time and the wave of leaves slashed across its body in many places, the energy forming them dispersing into the Pokémon’s body on contact to do damage.

    Wanting to take advantage of my good fortune, I ordered Cameron to teleport behind the Cranidos since it was starting to regain its bearings. Fernando ordered it to use Pursuit but, as it started to whip around, it lost control of itself and ended up flinging itself onto its side. Another blast of Magical Leaf and it was really hurting.

    Fernando growled in frustration as his Cranidos stood back up. “Take Down!” The Cranidos was outlined in a white aura before charged towards Cameron again. I wasn’t entirely sure if he had time to teleport out of the way so I decided to go with something risky.

    “Magical Leaf Shield!” Cameron held out his left arm as twenty or thirty energy leaves appeared around him. Instead of launching them at the charging Cranidos, he made them rotate at high speeds in a tight circle right in front of him creating a veritable wall. The Cranidos rammed into the shield and there was an explosion of power and light that forced my eyes shut as the two attacks clashed. When I opened them again, I saw that the Cranidos had completed its charge and now lay on top of Cameron, both Pokémon out cold. However, despite that, I had one Pokémon left while Fernando had none so the victory was mine.

    “Great job!” Fernando congratulated me as he clapped and walked towards me. “That was a well-fought battle!”

    I frowned and shook my head as I returned Cameron to his Pokéball. “Not really. I only won because I got lucky. If your Pokémon hadn’t gotten confused, I doubt I would have won.”

    “Maybe,” Fernando allowed, “but it still happened and you still won. Even if you only pulled through on luck, you still pulled through.”

    I hummed but didn’t make any other response. A victory that’s not reliably repeatable if everything else played out the exact same way was not a true victory to me. Sure, I had gotten upset when Steven had beaten me through sheer luck but not only had I been hamming it up, I was more frustrated that I lost because of something I should have seen coming rather than just because I lost. I had even been half tempted to turn down the Coal Badge when Fernando handed it to me with my winnings (1,000) but I thought better of it. I’d just make sure to train twice as hard and spend twice as much time planning. The next Gym Battle wouldn’t be won solely by luck if I had anything to say about it.

    With another gym down, I returned to the Pokémon Center and got Cameron healed up. It was about three now so I decided to go ahead and spend the rest of the day resting up in Oreburgh. In the morning, I’d be heading out bright and early. My next stop: Jubilife City.


The thirst for power lurks in the hearts of all men and evil waits in the darkness to stoke it. As Sara continues her journey in peace, shadows start congregating to bring an end to the world as she knows it. Next time on The Ties that Bind: "The Third Step!" Sara's destiny awaits.

 

Chapter Text

    I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, stifling another yawn, as I made my way down Trainer Route 203. It was just about seven in the morning and the sun was just now starting to show behind the peak of Mt. Coronet. Assuming constant and consistent travel, Jubilife City was about twelve hours away from Oreburgh and I didn’t have any real desire to linger on Route 203 so I made a point to get up extra early to ensure I reached the city before curfew. The last things I wanted to do were camp outside the city or fork over money for a hotel room.

    There’s actually a tunnel, called Oreburgh Gate, between Oreburgh and Route 203 but it’s pretty small and unimaginably dull so I’ll spare you the details. All you need to know is that absolutely nothing happened and it looked exactly like a cave.

    Route 203 itself was a very straightforward route and also a very pleasant one. A lot of Trainers liked to start out from Jubilife City (or one of the few towns a bit south of it) these days since the previous Champion, who was very famous for putting a stop to Team Galactic some 20 years ago, had lived in a small town called Twinleaf and people liked to follow the same path hoping to get some of the same luck and skill. Before that, Professor Rowan’s lab had been located in the nearby town of Sandgem so most Trainers had little choice but to start from there. Because of the way everything had worked out over the years, Trainer Route 203 had been made to be a very simple, easily navigable route and the wild Pokémon that lurked in this area were often not terribly strong.

    As it currently was, Route 203 ran from a small mountain in the east, where I had just came from, to the city of Jubilife in the west. To the north and south of the route were dense forests that looked fairly foreboding to a new Trainer but apparently contained a number of fantastic picnicking spots as well as a relatively undisturbed lake that was popular with the older crowd. There was actually a small pond roughly in the middle of the route but aside from not being terribly deep, it existed solely to keep a stock of Magikarp and Seaking available to Trainers just starting out that wanted one. There’s tell of someone having pulled a Gyarados out of it once but I had no idea how one would fit inside there.

    Other than the pond, there was nothing remarkable about the route. It was simply a gentle, grassy incline with a dirt path that faded into cement closer to the city and scattering of flowers and tall grass with a couple of lonely trees for good measure. It was altogether pleasant but completely forgettable.

    There were no other Trainers currently on the route that I could see. Given the couple of campsites I could make out, it seemed that none of the Trainers on their way to Oreburgh wanted to get up before the crack of dawn and I honestly couldn’t blame them. Rey and Cameron had looked at me like I had gone insane when I drug myself out of bed and blearily started to get ready— Rey had even willingly went inside her Pokéball to get some more sleep— and every step I had taken from my cozy bed in the Pokémon Center was heavy with regret. I was usually a morning person but it seemed even I had my limits. This was not something I intended to repeat if I could help it.

    Still, it was probably a good thing that there were currently no other Trainers on the route. After all, the chances were quite good that most of them were just like I had been exactly two weeks ago. Even though it hadn’t been that long, I now had two badges and a lot of experience, comparatively. It would likely be simplicity itself to play the very same role Steven had played for me back then. However, that wasn’t a role that I terribly wanted to play so I chose to keep to myself and only challenge anyone who looked strong.

    Of course, that didn’t stop me from completely thrashing this one rude kid who loudly challenged me when I had been looking away from him. He seemed to be a bit younger than I was so I made the wager a measly 100 Pokédollars and then lectured him on proper challenging etiquette. That knowledge could save him a lot of trouble one day and keep him from whiting out (which is to say, keep his entire team from being knocked out) again.

    Other than that one kid, there was no one else who seemed to be worth challenging on this route and the wild Pokémon seemed content to just look at me from a distance so I managed to reach my destination a bit quicker than I expected.

    Jubilife City was, by far, the most populated city in all of Sinnoh and was actually one of the more populated in the world (I think it’s somewhere in the low 20s). Because of that, a lot of people liked to call it the largest city in Sinnoh while others still (myself included) like to give that title to Hearthome since it’s physically the largest. There was quite a bit of debate over which city should have the title but that’s one debate I always steered clear of.

    Regardless of that title, one thing that was undeniably true was that Jubilife was easily the most technologically advanced city in the region. The residents and officials both highly prided themselves on this fact and thus were constantly incorporating as much cutting-edge technology as they could into their buildings and infrastructure. It was a terribly expensive task but the resulting higher quality of life drew in a lot of people who, naturally, spent lots of money to buy all sorts of doodads and technological gizmos and hi-tech massages and all sorts of other things. The labs located here were also top-of-the-line and thus a lot of important research was done here (the only reason Professor Mahogany didn’t have his main office here was because he preferred the more laid back atmosphere of Pastoria and often said that the energy of the Jubilife made it hard for him to concentrate).

    Of course, the higher the metropolis, the lowers its slums. Not only was the technology gap between the two like night and day, the crime rate and living conditions of the slums are so bad that a wall was erected between the slums and the city proper. It wasn’t a terribly effective wall, as to be expected, since the people who tended to live in the slums knew more ways to get about the city than most people even knew existed but its simple existence spoke volumes. There had been a lot of concern when the project was announced and there was even a bit of an outcry when it was constructed but the controversy didn’t stop it. I didn’t have any real opinion on the subject since I don’t usually pay much mind to politics outside of the Pokémon League.

    All that aside, the sight of Jubilife at night was awe-inspiring. I hadn’t been far enough away to see it for myself, sadly, but its said that the city’s lights make it look like another sun during the night. They were certainly no slouch up close. The vibrant, digital billboards that changed every so often advertising everything imaginable; the bright and colorful neon and LED signs marking the locations of various shops and eateries; the streaking lights and loud sounds of passing cars (some of which were hovering) in the distance; and the large television screens playing countless video ads were all so much to take it that it was almost overwhelming. Not helping matters at all was the sheer level of activity. Even though it was after 10, there were still a large number of people milling about, going in every which direction, and more Pokémon, both local and exotic, than I had ever seen in my life. While Oreburgh had been full of the energy of determination, Jubilife was overflowing with the energy of progress. Going from one to the other in the span of a day was such a shock that I was afraid I’d pass out.

    Shaking my head to focus my thoughts, I made my way through the crowds and towards the Pokémon Center, forcing myself to go over the directions again and again so as to not get distracted and get caught outside after curfew. It was with great relief when I actually made it and found it to look exactly like the others that I’d been in (although the PCs might have been newer). The building actually stuck out quite a bit next to all of the modern buildings but that just made it all the more comforting to me.

    It was about 10:30 when I reached the Pokémon Center so I had the nurse check over my Pokémon (even though they barely did anything today) and retired to my room. The second my door was shut, I let Rey out of her Pokéball (I put her in there before I entered the city since she’s so small. She didn’t like this but she liked the thought of getting knocked off and getting lost even less) and crashed onto my bed where I was promptly cuddled to death. Once Rey was finished, I let Cameron out and gave them both food and water before turning to my Pokévice and my plans.

    There was no Pokémon League Gym in Jubilife, a fact that some of Jubilife’s officials were displeased with. While TPLi has never given an official reason for this, it’s been that way since the League spread out to Sinnoh from where it started in Kanto so Trainers didn’t question it. When asked about it, TPLi always responded that the quota of gyms in Sinnoh had already been met and that there was no need to relocate one. Because there was no official gym (although there were plenty of unofficial ones that were perfectly legal so long as they didn’t claim affiliation with TPLi), I didn’t plan on staying here for that long. There was plenty to do and see here, of course, and there were even a number of great facilities to help Trainers but not only did I not have the funds for any of those (well, maybe one but it’d tap me out), I didn’t really have a desire to use them. While I couldn’t deny the results, I felt that the impersonal nature of the Technical Machines (machines which could help teach a Pokémon a new move) made them inferior to other methods. Sure, your Pokémon would learn new moves at a much faster rate but the bond between you and your Pokémon also wouldn’t grow. Some have even theorized that the reason TPLi hasn’t moved a gym to Jubilife is to subtly show their disapproval of those methods but there’s no evidence either way.

    As it was, I only planned on spending a day or two here before moving on to my next destination. I didn’t even plan on doing any real training here since, while there were certainly countless facilities and a few parks and dedicated areas for it, I knew that the noises of the city would not only distract me but also my Pokémon. It was a lot easier to learn something when a million other things weren’t trying to draw your attention away, after all. Besides, a part of me was a little nervous at the idea of being in such a crowded city with only my very small Pokémon as company so I didn’t want them to be tired out from training just in case.

    On a different topic, my psychic bond with Cameron was forming basically as it should be (it was faster in some areas but slower in others so I figured it all evened out). I had gone from only feeling particularly strong emotions to being able to feel them at random and now I could feel them constantly if I focused on them. It was kind of like a gentle tickling in the back of my mind: I could always feel that it was there but it wasn’t distracting in any way. This was excellent since the forming of a psychic bond is a very important step when training the Ralts line (as well as several other Psychic-types, a handful of Ghost-types, and the Riolu line). At this rate, he could probably start sharing images with me around the time he evolves. Eventually, we’ll even be able to hold telepathic conversations but that was a ways off.

    Since I didn’t have anything terribly important to do, I played with my Pokémon for a while before settling down with a story until I eventually fell asleep.

OoOoOoO

    It was hard to say but I think Jubilife might be even busier during the daytime. It was time for the work day to start so I knew it’d calm down in a bit but, as it was, there were so many people that it was almost hard to move and there wasn’t a street anymore so much as there was a line of nigh constantly moving cars. The cacophony of the night was amplified ten times and it was almost impossible to even hear myself think. I was immensely grateful that there was no gym here and decided that I’d spend only one day here to satisfy my curiosity before moving on.

    How people live in this day after day and don’t go insane is beyond me.

    While Jubilife was like a man-made sun during the night, it was like a shining jewel during the day. The sunlight reflected brilliantly off of the many tall towers and it made the entire place so bright that I wished I had sunglasses. I followed the sidewalk every which way it went, going whatever direction felt the most interesting at intersections while frequently checking a map on my Pokévice to make sure I didn’t get lost.

    There’s so much to see in Jubilife and so much to say about it that I honestly have no idea where to start. Do I talk about one of the Jubilife’s three parks that I walked down? What about Life Square with its magnificent fountain the size of a small house? Or the Jubilife TV building which serves as the epicenter of Sinnoh’s broadcast television? Maybe I should start with the Sky Deck; a ridiculously large structure made of a thick, sturdy plastic suspended over a hundred feet in the air that connected most of Jubilife’s major buildings together? How the Skyview Colosseum where large specialty Pokémon Tournaments and Contests were held that was located on top of the tallest building in not just Jubilife but in all of Sinnoh? Maybe the LOVELESS Amphitheater were the most popular and famous plays from all over the world were shown? There was so much here that I felt like I could spend my whole life just exploring the city and not even see half of it.

    I got so caught up in the wonder and splendor of the city that I completely lost track of time until my hunger pains became bad enough to snap me out of the trance I had been in. It was now well after five in the afternoon and I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast at eight. I quickly looked up a good and cheap place to eat nearby and ended up spending 460 Pokédollars on a late lunch/early dinner. I also had to apologize to my Pokémon for making them miss lunch as well. Rey in particular was very displeased at being cooped up in her Pokéball for so long.

    After I had eaten and tended to my other bodily functions, it was back to wandering the city. It was about an hour later than I ran across a very large concrete wall that was about fifteen meters in height. It was a very imposing and foreboding structure that I at once realized was the dividing wall between the city and its slums. I stared up at the wall for a good while, wondering what the slums were like and trying to decide how bad of an idea it’d be to find an entrance to explore it, before the sounds of a struggle broke me out of my reverie.

    Off a few blocks down to my right were two guys who looked to be around seventeen and an older man who appeared to be in his thirties. The two younger men seemed to be harassing the older one who, judging by his lab coat and the documents he was fiercely clutching to his chest, appeared to be a scientist. That alone would be cause for alarm but what really set off all the red flags in my head was how the two teens were dressed.

    Both of the teens were almost identical in dress; they seemed to be wearing a uniform for something. They were dressed fairly smartly in form-fitting, long-sleeve shirts that were worn loosely over long pants that were tucked into tall boots that came halfway up their calves. Their clothing was primarily a deep purple that was so dark it was almost black but running down their sides and the inside of their arms in a thick band was a dark blue. Their boots were primarily black with blue highlights. The most telling feature, however, was the insignia that was over their left breasts. It was that of the white King chess piece that was standing inside a black “D” that was outlined in purple; the bottom of the King was behind the “D” while the top was in front of it.

    As I watched the two teens push the man down an alleyway, I couldn’t help but get excited as my blood started pumping. I took off towards them at a full run while already formulating a plan, pulling out six empty Pokéballs and clipping them to my belt while putting Rey and Cameron’s Pokéballs back in my bag. While I wanted to help that man, I also wanted to intervene because I happened to have the good fortune to encounter what was undoubtedly a newly formed Team; groups of evil or otherwise misguided people who used Pokémon to do harm to others. Very few Trainers got a chance like this and there was no way I was doing to pass this up.

    “Well, what do we have here?” I called out loudly as I turned down the alley. All three of them turned from each other to stare at me and their expressions were interesting. The two teens looked freaked out at first but they quickly became smug when they saw that the person who discovered them was just a little girl. The scientist had much the opposite reaction: looking at first like I was some sort of guardian angel before going back to looking terrified.

    That wouldn’t do at all.

    “Get out of here, little girl,” one of the teens said, his voice laced with venom. “Run back home and we won’t have to hurt you.”

    “You? Hurt me?” I looked at him with an expression that I hoped was halfway between incredulity and humor. “I guess you’re dumber than you look.”

    “What’d you say‽” he said as he turned towards me, his partner half a step behind him. The scientist looked torn between wanting to save me and wanting to save himself.

    “Let me lay down some facts for you, okay? I’ll make this real simple. Fact one: You have to be at least ten years old to challenge the Pokémon League. Fact two: I am currently fourteen years old. Fact three: I am a Pokémon Trainer affiliated with the Pokémon League; the Pokédex clearly visible on my hip is proof enough of that.”

    “What the hell are you getting at?” the other one asked. They had stopped coming towards me and instead looked somewhat confused which was good enough. I took a deep breath that I disguised as an exasperated sigh to steady my nerves.

    It was time to start bluffing. “I’m getting there. Fact four: I’ve been training Pokémon for the past four years. Fact five: I have a full team of six, highly Pokémon with me,” I gestured to the six Pokéballs on my belt. “Fact six: For punks like you, the two I started training just this month will be more than enough.”

    That last comment seemed to work. The veins on the side of the first guy’s head looked ready to burst. “Alright, that’s it! We’ll show you the power of Team Dominion and then we’ll have some fun with you!”

    I swallowed thickly as I pulled out Rey and Cameron’s Pokéballs from my bag while they both drew what looked like the only Pokéball they had on them. Cameron and Rey had never fought together before and I had never even gone over the fundamentals with them so making this their first go at a Double Battle was a horrible idea. Of course, I was the idiot who absolutely has to be a Great Trainer™ and do all the things that Great Trainers™ do so I had no one to blame but myself. Regardless of the fact that my initial excitement had now worn off and left only terror in its wake, I maintained a look of casual confidence. This was no big deal. I’ve done this hundreds of times. This was more of a test of two Pokémon I just started training rather than a real threat. If I repeated those things to myself enough, maybe they’d become true.

    They sent out a Zubat and a Glameow while I sent out Rey and Cameron who both looked rather determined. “Is that all you got?” I asked before giving a fake yawn. “Maybe these two are too much for you. If you give me a minute, I can go catch a couple of wild Pokémon on Route 203. Make this a fair fight.” My smirk at they sputters of rage wasn’t feigned. I needed to keep them angry and off balance. If they didn’t think and try to work together, I’d probably be fine. Neither of them gave off the impression of a stronger Trainer to me— I could probably defeat them handily in a one-on-one battle— so I’ll be fine if I can just neutralize their only real advantage.

    “Oh, one last thing,” I said as I took in my surroundings. “Fact seven: I called the cops before I showed myself.”

    We were fighting in a small alleyway. It was pretty narrow— about five or six meters wide— so mobility would be pretty limited for most of the Pokémon. There was a dumpster about seven meters behind the two teens but that wouldn’t help me. To my right and a bit in front of me were a couple of cardboard boxes that could be useful. The only really useful bit of environment was the fire escape to my left. I glanced at it to make the image fresh in my mind and then put all of my willpower behind the image as I tried to force it through my psychic bond with Cameron. The second someone so much as twitched, I’d have to keep track of a lot of things at once and the more I could do without words, the better.

    I decided to take the initiative. “Teleport!” Cameron must have gotten the image as he teleported onto the fire escape as the other two gave their orders.

    “Fake Out that Torchic!”

    “Use Supersonic!”

    The Glameow rushed at Rey with incredible speed before stopping just short of hitting her. It brought up its paws and clapped them together, causing Rey to get blown backward by the shockwave. The Zubat, meanwhile, emitted a high-pitched shriek that almost forced me to cover my ears. Thankfully, it didn’t have any effect on my Pokémon.

    I wanted to call out to Rey but I needed to keep my focus and my cool. She was still recovering from the Fake Out and couldn’t do anything so I needed to order the only one who could. “Confusion on the Zubat!” Cameron’s weak psychic blast hit true and the Zubat was slammed against the wall.

    “Scratch that Torchic!”

    “Dodge back and use Ember!”

    “Use Astonish on the Ralts!”

    “Teleport away!”

    Trying to keep up with two different battles against two different Trainers was really hard. If they got smart and started giving out orders at roughly the same time, I’d be done for. As it was, I was just barely keeping up.

    “Confusion on Zubat!” This time, the psychic blast missed its target as the Zubat swerved in the air. I opened my mouth to give Cameron another order when the first teen took advantage of my distraction.

    “I said Scratch that Torchic!” My eyes shot downwards just in time to see Rey get slashed across the face by the Glameow’s glowing claws and get sent tumbling backward.

    “Rey!” With all of my attention now on Rey, I couldn’t hope to give a command in time for the next attack.

    “Use Bite on the Ralts!”

    I looked up in time to see the Zubat shoot forward, its mouth open much wider than it should be able to. Cameron took a half step back and tried to teleport away but he was just a hair too slow. I could only just watch as the Zubat bit down hard on Cameron’s head, my little Ralts screaming out in pain.

    “Rey, Ember the Zubat!” I ordered quickly. Rey attacked as soon as she could but the attack was too slow and the distance too great. The Zubat managed to easily avoid it but at least he was no longer biting Cameron.

    With Cameron now freed, I decided to make taking that Zubat down my top priority. “Confusion on Zubat!” Cameron’s psychic blast wasn’t as strong as it normally was, that attack clearly took a lot out of him, but it still connected.

    Regrettably, that moment of distraction was just what my opponent needed. “Feint Attack that Ralts!” The Glameow, moving at crazy speeds, leaped onto the cardboard boxes, off of them and onto the wall, and then off the wall to launch itself towards Cameron. The entire thing happened so quickly that I just barely realized what was happening before the Glameow crashed into Cameron and launched him into the air.

    “Use Astonish on the Ralts!” With Cameron still in the air and totally defenseless, the Zubat let out an ear piercing shriek that caught him square in the chest, sending him flying towards Rey and me before crashing hard on the ground. He was somehow still conscious but just barely.

    While the teens were smirking and congratulating themselves, I gave my next command. “User Ember on the Zubat!” Shocked by how I seemed to completely ignore Cameron, the teen who had the Zubat could only gawk as the small flames smashed into his Zubat. Already weakened from the previous Confusions, it fell to the ground, completely unconscious.

    “Cameron, use Confusion!” With only one target left, I didn’t need to specify who to aim at. Sadly, Cameron was extremely shaky from that last combo and the attack went wide, not coming anywhere close to the Glameow.

    “Feint Attack that Ralts! Take it out!” The Glameow rushed towards Ralts with its crazy speed again. Just as I was about to give my next command, the most amazing thing happened. Rey, acting on her own, threw herself between the rushing Glameow and Cameron. However, instead of hitting Rey, the Glameow ended up hitting a sphere of energy that was primarily the color of fire but also had a bright red mixed in. The energy sphere shrunk in places and formed the outline of a new Pokémon before shattering.

    Standing between Cameron and the Glameow was no longer Reighnel the Torchic but rather Reighnel the Combusken.

    I shook my head to get rid of the shock and took advantage of a rather peculiar thing about Pokémon evolution. “Use Double Kick!” Rey’s legs glowed faintly white as she sent a hard left kick right into the Glameow’s side. Before it could recover, Rey followed up with a roundhouse kick to the same area that sent it careening into the wall. There was a great thud as it hit before falling to the ground, unconscious.

    The two teens looked panicked as they recalled their unconscious Pokémon. They kept glancing at me, the Pokéballs on my belt, and the newly evolved Rey who stood protectively in front of me and the barely conscious Cameron. When the wail of police sirens and flashing lights came from the street behind me, they made up their mind and turned to run.

    I had broken character when I heard the sirens and turned around to face that direction shock— I had never actually called them— so I almost missed what one of the teens said. “You’ll regret the day you messed with Team Dominion!” Team Dominion, huh? I’ll have to file that away for later.

    A couple of police officers and their Pokémon ran past me to chase after the teens as I quickly bent down to grab the collapsing Cameron. While I normally preferred using berries for this kind of thing, he didn’t have enough energy to eat one so I pulled out a large capsule from my bag and flicked the top open. “Here. Drink this,” I said as I held the Potion up to his mouth. As he drank the liquid, I could see the cuts and scrapes he received from the attacks fade away.

    “Will your Ralts be alright?” a voice from behind me said. I looked back and up to see a female police officer with long, bright red hair staring down at me with some concern.

    “Yeah. I’ll need to take him to a Pokémon Center but he’ll be fine.” I returned the now sleeping Cameron to his Pokéball before standing up and facing the policewoman. “What are you doing here? I didn’t call anyone.”

    “I did,” said another from behind me. I spun around to see the scientist I had supposedly set out to rescue was waving his Pokévice. I had honestly completely forgotten about him. “Thanks for that, by the way. I don’t know what those two punks would have done if you hadn’t stepped in.”

    “Speaking of,” the policewoman said, “I’ll need to take you both down to the station to get a full report of what happened. I take it you’re a licensed Trainer?”

    “Yes, I am,” I said as I presented both my Pokédex and my Trainer ID.

    “Alright. I’ll need to report your involvement to the Pokémon League. Come with me.”

OoOoOoO

    I ended up staying at the police station for nearly an hour as the police interviewed me and checked my background. I was simultaneously commended for my bravery and chided for my foolishness. While I had certainly not taken action that went against my duties as an officially sanctioned Pokémon Trainer (quite the opposite, actually), my level of experience still had to taken into consideration. Even if had I two badges to my name, I still had been an official Trainer for only two weeks and one day. I had done nothing illegal or anything to be ashamed of but they still urged me to use greater caution in the future. It wasn’t all bad for me, though. I did learn that this Team Dominion had been causing trouble all over Sinnoh for the last few months.

    As I left the police station, I was immediately stopped by the scientist I had saved. “Oh, you’re finally out! I was afraid I had missed you. Thanks again for what you did.”

    “Don’t mention it. It actually helped me out since my Torchic evolved sooner than expected.” Speaking of, Rey was currently in her Pokéball again at the insistence of the police.

    “Even so, I still need to thank you properly. Come back with me to the lab so I can reward you.”

    “You don’t have to but, if you insist, I won’t stop you.” I started following him to his lab before asking the question that had been on my mind. “What did those two want with you anyway?”

    “They wanted my research. My work is on the behavioral psychology of Pokémon, you see. Although I can’t imagine what those two would want with it.”

    “What were you doing near the slums?”

    “I could ask the same of you. Some of the people working for us live in the slums and they gather data on the Pokémon living there. I was just on my way back from getting their weekly report when I ran into those two.”

    “Behavioral psychology… You’ve must have learned a lot of useful things. I can’t recall coming across the subject before.”

    “That’s because this field is still relatively new. The idea to study Pokémon the same way we study other humans isn’t one that many people have had before. Even though a lot of people recognize Pokémon as being intelligent and as partners, it often doesn’t occur to them to think of them like they would another person.”

    “I don’t think that’s true among most Trainers. The first piece of advice most new Trainers get is to treat their Pokémon like they would their best friend.”

    “This is true but Trainers are still very much in the minority. A lot of people see Pokémon as little more than pets or, at best, children. While we are trying to learn more about Pokémon, the main thrust of our research is actually to prove that there is little difference between a human and a Pokémon.”

    “Isn’t there an really old legend that humans and Pokémon were once one and the same and even married?”

    “That’s right. It’s an old Sinnoh legend at that. Many people like to dismiss it as just a legend but countless legends have proven to be true and there are a few more things that support the idea.”

    “What do you think will happen if you prove it?”

    “We have no idea. If we find undeniable proof of our connection, it could potentially change everything. Or it could change nothing. Who knows? Whatever might come afterward, we’re just reaching out to the truth. The purpose of science is to unveil the truths of this world, after all.”

    “My dad says pretty much the same thing.”

    “Oh, your dad is a scientist as well? That certainly helps explain the curiosity.”

    “Yeah, he works for Professor Mahogany in Pastoria.”

    “Really now? What’s his name?”

    “Jackson Sommerlade.”

    “Hmm… I think I’ve heard of him. I’ve never met him but I’m sure I’ve heard of him. So you’re his daughter?”

    “Sure am! I’m Sara Sommerlade!”

    “Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Sara! I’m Jacob Anderson!”

    On our conversation went, talking about Jacob’s research and my journey so far, until we reached the lab Jacob worked at. Star Laboratories was a relatively small lab, all things considered. It was certainly a lot smaller than the ones my dad worked at. According to Jacob, this branch of Star Labs was primarily used by fringe groups doing research that wasn’t considered important at the moment but had the possibility to be groundbreaking. As such, it was fairly well supplied and funded but its funding wasn’t nearly that of the major labs.

    Jacob talked to a man at the front desk for a moment before leading me further into the building. “I had called my boss after I got out and he gave me the go-ahead to do this,” he said as we walked to a side room. The room was largely unfurnished outside of a decent sized table with a few chairs and a water cooler. It seemed to be some kind of break room. The only thing noteworthy about it was the metal case on the table that was designed to securely carry multiple Pokéballs. Most of the slots were empty except for one. Jacob walked over to the case and grabbed the Pokéball before handing it to me.

    “In this Pokéball is an Eevee we’ve been using as a test subject. She’s just the sweetest thing and is usually pretty docile but she has a bit of fire in her. We can spare her and I think she could use a good Trainer.”

    I stared at the Pokéball for a moment before carefully taking it. To be gifted a Pokémon like this was a rare honor and wasn’t one anyone in their right mind would turn down. I had no plans to use an Eevee or any of its evolutions on my team but that was easily changed.

    “Thank you very much. I’ll be sure to take good care of her.”

    “Why don’t you let her out and meet her?”

    I nodded and pressed the button on the Pokéball before holding it towards the table. “Come on out, Eevee!” There was a flash of red light and then there was an Eevee sitting on the table, as happy as can be. I stepped up to the table and slowly reached out to pet her and was pleased when she pushed her head into my hand as I scratched behind her ears. “Hey there, girl. I’m Sara and I’ll be your Trainer.” She looked at me, her eyes twinkling with excitement, before looking over at Jacob who nodded. With that confirmation, she leaped off the table and into my arms before madly licking my face. I laughed at let her be for a moment before pulling her off and setting her back down.

    “Do she have a name?” I asked Jacob as I went back to petting my new Eevee.

    “No, she doesn’t. Once we’ve learned all that we can from them, we usually donate our Pokémon to other institutions so we let them name them. Why don’t you give her one?”

    “Alright then. Hmm… How about Stephanie? Do you like that, girl?” The Eevee wrinkled her nose at me. “Okay. How about….” This went on for some time but thankfully nowhere near as long as it did with Cameron. “How about Florice?” The Eevee thought for a moment before nodding happily. I smiled in relief. “Great! Let’s get going, Florice! I need to introduce you to my other Pokémon!” After I returned Florice to her Pokéball, I followed Jacob out of the building. “Thanks again for the Pokémon!”

    “Don’t mention it. Thank you for saving me back there. Well, good luck with the Pokémon League, Sara! I look forward to seeing you battle the Elite Four!”

    “Thanks! I’ll make sure I get there!” I waved goodbye and quickly made my way to one of the parks. I had planned on giving my Pokémon a heads up when I planned on adding a new member to our team but it couldn’t be helped in this instance. I just hoped I didn’t have any problems with Rey this time.

OoOoOoO

    Thankfully, I didn’t have any problems with Rey this time. Both she and Cameron took to Florice well enough and she to them. Since Cameron was still weak from the battle, I decided to not take the opportunity to train and instead just let me Pokémon talk to each other and play a bit while I went over my old plans and changed them to accommodate my new Eevee. I had to decide which one of its evolutions I wanted to go for and I was leaning towards Umbreon but I wasn’t quite sure yet. I also took the time to properly congratulate Cameron and Rey on a job well done and celebrate Rey’s evolution. She was really sad that she wouldn’t be able to ride on my shoulder anymore but she liked the idea of walking beside me from here on (although that was countered by her dread when she realized she’d have to go into her Pokéball more often).

    I let my Pokémon play around for a solid hour or so before I returned them and headed back to the Pokémon Center. It was now about eight and I was more than a little drained from the events of today. I was seriously looking forward to a nice, long, hot shower and maybe seeing if the breakfast center carried cocoa before doing basically nothing but playing on my Pokévice the rest of the night.

    Once I had returned and taken care of just about everything (they only carried coffee, which I absolutely hate, so I settled on green tea from the lounge), I discovered something that should have been very obvious to me in hindsight: Sharing a bed with a Combusken was a lot harder than sharing one with a Torchic. Thankfully, it wasn’t that much harder than sharing one with a Ralts so we got everything squared away quickly. However, Cameron decided that he wanted to sleep with me again so I let curl up on my right while Rey was on my left. This made Florice curious so she came out of Pokéball on her own and curled up on my lap. Rey was obviously a little jealous (which was even easier to tell than before since her features were now a bit more humanoid) but she pushed her jealousy down.

    As I laid on my bed surrounded on all sides by Pokémon, I came to the realization that I should probably stop doing this. My bed was already really crowded with just these three small Pokémon. It wouldn’t be very long until trying to do this would result in breaking the bed or otherwise pushing someone into the floor. While I’d probably make exceptions for Rey and maybe the others depending on the circumstances, I knew this had to be the last time I let this happen. I didn’t really like the idea since I greatly enjoyed this but it had to be done.

    With that last thought, I let myself drift off to sleep.


An unexpected appearance leads to new discoveries. A bond thought lost is rekindled. However, with the passage of time always comes changes and what once was may no longer be. Next time on The Ties that Bind: "A Blast from the Past!" What will become of this new development?