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So: you're trying to carve your own path, away from your family. Maybe you're searching for your muse. Hell, you could just be trying to prove that you're the strongest there is. People will root for you because you reflect them. If you're losing, you're the underdog. If you're winning, it's righteous victory. Anyone that doesn't share their reason must be a villain... right?

The Opal Conference of the Polska region was not a small event. Battling was among the more popular sports in the region. Challenges garnered television ratings almost as high as the Pokéathelon, while winners gained nearly as much stardom as Top Coordinators. It was not the largest sport, for there would always be other competitions of other genres and with greater safety, but it was up there.

The top eight of that conference were minor celebrities for the week that the finals would take place. Many of the trainers were in their peak, none over the age of thirty, none below the age of eighteen. It was an anomaly, the media noticed, that the age curve tended downwards. Four of them looked to be fresh out of trainer school.

There were thirteen seats behind the marble table. A curtain hung behind it, a garish crimson designed to make those in front of it stand out for the cameras. A veritable throne was at the center, winged by two of similar design on either side. The Champion, a muscular (and as biology seemed to require, incredibly bald) old man that looked very little like his age, sat with his arms crossed. His cloak flowed over the edges of the chair. For an event set around the winter solstice, Geno’s lack of a shirt didn’t match the wardrobe. It was an image thing, as one of the Elite Four claimed far too casually and far too often.

That specific member was sitting there, looking incredibly bored as the rest of the press filed in. He, similarly, didn’t wear a shirt, instead opting for bandages wrapped around his chest and a red cape. From the teal hair, the sharp red sunglasses, and his tan complexion, Kamina certainly stood out. For some, that was proof that anyone could make it in Polska. For others, it meant that the standards of “manliness” (as he defined himself when arguing against this) had dropped.

The other Elite Four member present, despite dressing like an old-fashioned school teacher, had not developed the patience of one. Half-moon glasses slipped down to the tip of her nose while she rested her chin on the back of her hand. A specially-built guitar case leaned against the back of her chair. Between the latches, six Pokéballs protruded seamlessly. Littner’s instrument and her Pokéball belt were one in the same and as such, it never left her side.

The other two had their own duties to attend to, and as a proper challenge for their challenge could not occur without notice far in advance, they were absent.
Szymon, the Guardian of the Gate, Ghost-type expert, and requisite final Gym Leader, was still sorting out the rogue Psychic-types not far away from Victory Road. They had attacked gatherings of trainers before, kidnapping and “deprogramming” (as a particular allied Hypno conveyed) Psychic-types that were otherwise happy where they were. For such a large event, the League needed to keep a lid on them lest the region turn into Unova.

Polska did not need a second war, not when their culture was still reconciling with the conclusion of the first.

Rosia, the regional head of the Helixian church and Rock-type Gym Leader, was away with the related duties for the winter solstice. It was said that Saint Jordan, Master of Air, had been brought into Helix’s services on that day long ago. If there was not enough work, the church had been partially destroyed earlier in the year due to the actions of miscreants. Lots of leading to be done, and lots of work to be carried out.

A deist descendant of Arceus’s avatar and a servant of the Spiraling Will. Truthfully, they were not as different as some believed.

The top eight were present and accounted for. These trainers were those that pushed through all eight Gym Leaders, the preliminaries in coal-covered Krakow, and further tribulations in the modern colosseum, Katowice.

There were, of course, the usual challengers; Gym Leaders that desired an Elite Four or Champion spot of their own.

Kite, Boots, Gimmy, and Nia. Four Gym Leaders who had gone all out so far. The Steel, Bug, (recently designated) Light, and Normal-type Gym Leaders respectively. They had one thing in common, and that was that they had something to prove. For the first, they wanted to prove themself to their siblings. For the second, they wanted to prove that bugs were a lot more important than everyone thought. The third was pushed by his sponsors to validate their “discovered” type. The fourth wanted to prove themselves to Szymon, to prove that they could stand side by side as guardians of the region. It was never made clear to the public what exactly she meant by that.

This line-up of qualified Gym Leaders stood out against the dark horses, the newcomers to the Opal Conference.

There was the wild force that was Valentine Darcy. After returning to society from a childhood in the wilderness, the regional professor taught her to read not too long before. Immediately after learning, she had picked two names out of the hundreds of books she devoured. Even in intellectual pursuit, she did as she felt and picked what felt right.

There was the compass of wisdom from the far east, a journeyer that asked to be called by both names, since referred to as Meryl Lee. She had not styled herself a battler and admitted as much, yet her placement among them said something else. Perhaps it was humility, perhaps it was obliviousness, but there were few that were able to tell. The question asked was why she had come to Polska, and she had answered that she was in pursuit of something she couldn’t understand. An appropriately mysterious answer for someone who left most things unsaid.

The third was the most well known and at that point, the most controversial. Lucena Beringer, the daughter of the scientist that had “discovered” the Light-type and fervently pushed for it to be recognized by the League. She did not answer questions about her family, nor the reasons she chose to specialize in Dark-types. With a heavy glare and a subtle shift, the question was all but answered. It was clear that she had something to prove as well, though she did not elaborate. The brooding persona, along with the lack of whining, made her that much more popular.

The last one flicked his hat up, looking out across the reporters. He repressed a growl as he saw things he would rather forget in the camera flashes.
“Let me clear something up for all of you,” he said, crossing his arms over his heavily worn leather jacket. “My name is Jones. I’m not here to make a point. I’m not here to prove anything to anyone. I’m not here to be the strongest there is. I’m not here because of the power of friendship or love or any of that crap. I’m here to win. That’s all. I don’t care about anything else.”

The three other newcomers looked over at him, some more concerned than others. A murmuring rose from among the crowd. He had a positive following before then, from when he had been less careful about seeming like someone he wasn’t.

A medallion pressed against his chest. Both the glass orb within and the golden key surrounding it seemed to grow cold, pressing against his chest. He closed his eyes and drew a stuttering, yet silent breath as the flashes continued, more numerous than before.

He was a liar through and through.

A liar way away from home.

This isn’t going to be a longfic. It’s only covering the top eight and a little bit of what happens afterward, with all of the necessary backstory and lore included. Think of it as a condensed journey fic.

Polska is a region I’ve been thinking about for a good five years but never put to the page. Based on Poland, the regional conflict is driven by crime families moving in on open territory, the areas still scarred by a war long past, the efforts of scientists to become greater than human, cultures colliding, and the people produced by those conditions. There are differences from canon, different pieces of lore, and differences that will only get an aside mention because really, they aren’t that important for the story.

Jones seems to be an asshole protagonist. This is completely intentional.

Also, he’s based on Indiana Jones. Meryl Lee is a combination of Marley and Cheryl from Diamond and Pearl. Valentine is based on the character from Ender’s Game, with some obvious differences. Lucena is just a bad pun, which is consistent with most of the stuff I make up.

The Elite Four and Gym Leaders are all based on characters from Gurren Lagann, naturally. You can’t get a MikaelBrigman story without Gurren Lagann. It’s, uh, illegal. Yeah. Not lying through my teeth here.

The fic itself is named after the album of the same name by Yellowcard. There will be thirteen chapters, each named after a track and using the track name as an arc word. Does that make this is a song fic? Eh, maybe. I think that clears my bases for plagiarism.
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A2: Breathing New


"Most people, trainers or otherwise, are only aware of Break Evolution due to its use as a mechanic in the Pokémon Trading Card Game. They assume that it is among the ranks of Lvl. X, EX, GX, and other fictional modifiers. While the island of Little Surrey, south of the Galar region (or Avalon region, depending on who you ask), is isolated from advances in Pokémon science, it seems that they have accurately portrayed this phenomenon for the most part. Notable differences include the mechanical exclusion of light mechanics.

As anyone who has seen a Break Evolution can tell you, a Pokémon must be in total darkness before the temporary change can occur. As well, Break Evolution breaks down over time, resulting in Compton scattering and the return to the initial form. The time period varies depending on the amount of light the Pokémon reflects.

It is theorized that the armor is made of photons infused with Infinity Energy, and that the breakdown is caused by external light taking photons as it reflects and compounds with the Pokémon's light. Of course, the obvious hole in that theory is that the photons have to come from somewhere, and that if total darkness is required, then the process becomes self-contradictory.

I would say that even if the shield isn't made of photons, well, the light has to come from somewhere, doesn't it?"

Professor Henry Johannson nee Walton, Ph.D., notable archaeologist and expert in Pokémon biology, circa 2011.

*For further information on Little Surrey's isolationist policies and physical distance from Pokémon, see Professor Mason's Pokémon Proclamation for Evading Terrifying Animals; or Pokémon PETA for short.

*For further information on the Galar/Avalon dispute, see H̶̲̬͈͚͑͐̚͘͜͝ɒ̷̨̛̠̠̣̣̅͛̄̾ɿ̵̨̞͎̟̪̒̂̓͘͝ɿ̵̨̣̱̮͊͊̈́̌͘ͅγ̵̡̨̭̗̯͊͗̄̇̚ ̸̢̢̺͔̾̎̔͛́͜Գ̷̦̠̱̥͔̾̈͂̇̅o̶͕̺̠̟̣̐̈́͛̓̏Ɉ̷̢͕̙̯͓̈́̋̔͑͊Ɉ̶̮̻̞͖̮̒̋̍͘͝ɘ̴̡̼͚̳̹͗̑̏̚͠ɿ̸̛̟̠̬͎̆͑̃̃͜:̸̲̠͕̱̻̄͒͑̓͘ ̶̘̠̥̝́́͊͆͝ͅԳ̵̧̛̗͈͇̖̀͒̌͝ǫ̸͈͎̪̔̋̃͊̚͜ʞ̴̡͔̙̬̩́̀̄̚̚é̶̜̦͇̻̅̑̉̓̑ͅm̴̡̤̱̻̟̃̾̎͝͝ȱ̴̱̗̭̟̥̆̐͐n̷̢͎͉͔̣̆̉́̑͂ ̵̫͍̭͉͍̅̃̈́͌͛M̸̰̯̜͇̟͊̇͌̎̈́ɒ̴̢͈̘̮̗̐̎̏͌́ƨ̸̡͕̥̙̻́̏̔͝͝Ɉ̷̱͓̖͙̥̉̀̃̎͘ɘ̴̡͚̥̼̙̈́̾̀̕̚ɿ̶̳̠͎̘̍̾̈́̄̕͜.

*If you have information on the recent disappearance of Professor Johannson, please contact his son at (XXX)-XXX-XXXX on cross-transceiver.

An ancient stone stadium was lit up by a thousand spotlights. Like the myth-birthing Dragonspiral Tower of Unova or the Sky Pillar of Hoenn, it stretched towards and seemed to reach the heavens. The only things above the many arches were the mountain and waterfall which granted Opole Colosseum its name. Even in mid-morning, the water spray glittered like a gem. The sun was still beginning to rise, and after the rocky press conference, there was a nervous energy among the crowd, even more so among the participants.

A screen embedded in a three-story slab of stone flashed away from a timer and towards a spinning star.

Guame Goodshow, a renowned commentator in the region, spoke. His voice rolled over, or rather, flattened the crowd's attitude, replacing it with a sense of anticipation.

Jones couldn't hear the words, nor could he feel their weight. He was still in the tunnel that led to the field, and all that he could hear was the blood pounding between his ears.

Standing in the middle of the darkness, just paces away from the light, he froze up. His knuckles strained against his skin and his palms turned clammy. His

A Pokémon pecked him on the scalp, just below the brim of his fath… his hat. He had grown far too accustomed to the clawed feet on his shoulder, and was surprised because of it.

Bravest, his Rufflet, his friend, stood proudly and glared at him. They flapped their tiny wings once, nearly throwing the hat from Jones's head.

As it had many times before, his hand shot up to keep it still, but in doing so, he had shaken himself out of his nerves.

"Thanks, bud," he breathed, before forcing a smile. "I needed that."

Bravest gave him a certain sort of look.

"Yeah, I know." Jones turned back towards his exit. He could only go forward from there. "We've come too far to stumble. I can't afford to lose here."

Bravest glared at him, their pink cowlick of a feather falling low over their eyes before they shook their head. Most of the time, they could speak the same language with only one set of words. Other times…

Jones walked forwards as Goodshow's voice thundered and echoed across the field. It was not the three-on-three matches of previous matches. Single battles with a full team of six from then on. That was, of course, assuming that he would go any further. If a Pokémon was still for ten seconds and unable to move afterwards, they were considered defeated. Change in environmental conditions was entirely allowed. If a Pokémon could hold it, they could bring it into battle.

Hundreds of Pokémon and their partners lined the seating sections, holding up Protects and Barriers against the inside of the arena.

The sand beneath Jones's cleats was black. The details of the field faded, having been nothing more than holograms used in their absence. It was an entirely level field with grates running off the side. Shields hung by their sides, designed to protect from the heaviest hails and the driest droughts.

His eyes narrowed as he made eye contact with Meryl Lee across the field, having just left the tunnel herself. She matched his motion, palming a Pokéball as her traveling cloak drifted in a light wind.

She mouthed something at him.

He signed for her to speak up, his face entirely still.

"It appears that Jones is flashing gang signs at his opponent! Is this some sort of mind game? I've never seen anything like this!" Goodshow shouted, the Sandshrew of a man clearly playing up the pre-show.

Meryl Lee sighed and signed back.

You. Change. What is. Wrong?

"Ah! Meryl Lee responds with sign language in an attempt at civility, would you look at that, folks?" called the commentator. The crowd bayed with laughter, and already, banners with her partner Pokémon on it were flying up.

He signed back.

You. Do not. Know.

He didn't bother with the final sign, instead pointing at himself then whipping his hand away.

Meryl Lee's brow furrowed.


Jones looked out over the Scorick desert from the peak of the Treacherous Path. Bravest and Short Round, the Ralts he'd caught pickpocketing him within a week of entering the region, were by his side. The moon hung high over them, the time far past the latest Bronzor Surfers departed down the mountain range. He had neither a Bronzor nor the magnetic boots required to safely ride one. His boots from all of the time he spent traveling with… the time he spent traveling, they were just fine even if they were worn down.

The boots had grip in most cases, which is why he was so surprised by the fact he lost his purchase when he turned to leave. His legs flew out from under him and went over the cliff. He would have been fine if the rest of his body hadn't followed them.

Just barely keeping his head and arms above the ledge, he couldn't turn to look down, but he knew that while not being a long fall, it would certainly be a long tumble. Long, flat cliff faces that were perfect for skimming were not great for high velocity flesh-bags.

Bravest had squawked immediately, and by the feeling of claws on his back, they were trying to pull him up.

Jones suddenly felt much lighter as a pink glow surrounded his chest.

Short Round's arms were outstretched and there were two magenta lights beneath the green bowl cut, but he just couldn't lift all of Jones's weight.

He slipped further. His fingertips scraped through sand and grass, peeling away the plants as he scrambled for purchase. His head dropped below the cliff and his heart rate skyrocketed.

Was that it for him? Would he just be a footnote in a newspaper? A story of some stupid tourist that went surfing without a board?

A patch of grass was pulled out by the roots, dropping to the rocks below in seconds.

He really, really did not want that to be him.

Holding on with just one hand, he looked down for a branch he could latch onto. Nothing. It was entirely smooth all the way down. On one outcropping, there was a bit of a ramp he could try to land on. It would hurt, but…

He lost more of his purchase.

"Short Round! Get me a vine, damn it!"

"I'm trying!" came the Psychic-type's reply, though they focused more on lifting Jones back up.

Something green came over the ledge, flowing in the wind. Was it a bunch of kudzu? It didn't matter, Jones realized, as long as it held.

He heaved himself up, rolling onto the dirt and gasping for breath. It was at that point that he realized Short Round was only a foot tall, nowhere near the height of whoever was standing over him.

That was when he first met her.

Some would be unintimidated by a barely-four-foot-tall Gallade, allowing the exceptional shortness to distract them from the reputed power of the Psychic-type. Some would even laugh.

Short Round did not take kindly to that attitude.

Meryl Lee had sent out her Blissey; a handy Pokémon for hiking that could give one enough energy to push through to their destination.

Those that laughed in the audience clammed up as Short Round's fists glowed. Not the blades on their elbows, no, his fists.

After their run-in with the rogue Psychic-types, who had kidnapped him and demanded he take the label of Psyker, he had refused to be weak anymore. He refused to be slow enough to be caught by a Teleport.

And so, he had become faster than most could react, discarding his outward psychic power and inherent strength.

Some reported the sound of a Mach Punch reaching their ears only after Blissey had already impacted the wall.

The Normal-type dissolved into red light, recalled by Meryl Lee. She tapped her forehead to the Pokéball before placing it back on her belt.

She nodded her head at Short Round but leveled a flat look at Jones before reaching for her next Pokémon.

"What's your name, stranger?" she asked.

Her camp was a bit off the path on a lower plateau, a small clearing surrounded by trees. A fire was already crackling between them, lit up without too much trouble.

A Skiddo slept behind her, piled high with gear without any discomfort. She leaned back against the bag while pouring a flask of tea into two metal cups.

Jones piled two branded foil packages on the fire. While food wouldn't spoil in modern traveling bags, pre-cooked meals did not get better with time. Fresh cooked on an open fire; truly, the only way to eat on a journey.

That was close enough to the slogan, anyway.

"Jones," he lied, before catching himself. "Well, just call me Jones."

"Alright," she said. "I'm Meryl Lee. Both names, if you don't mind."

"Right," he answered. Fair was fair, after all. He continued watching the foil packages while Rufflet and Short Round slept. They had utterly exhausted themselves trying to help him.

He would have to restock a little sooner than he expected, but that was not as much of a problem as he may have thought. With a savior, a temporary companion, and someone to share a meal with, he was breathing just fine.

Her second Pokémon was one of the Polskan Aegislash variants. Far too many wars had been fought there, and far too many weapons had been possessed. Their existence was something of a black mark on the region's history, though nowhere near the scale of the glassing of the Scorick desert.

The shield on one end of their ribbon was boxy and was likely emblazoned with a sigil at some point. By then, however, it had worn down to a rectangle of wood and iron. From a gap in the shield, there was an unmoving black eye with a violet pupil.

On the other end of the ribbon was a spear, one that was longer than a normal Gallade was tall.

That did not discourage him, however, and Short Round raised his fists again.

"Short Round! Cover your blades in sand!" Jones called.

He knew better than to doubt Jones's plans. He had learned otherwise.

The Aegislash (colloquially referred to as Aegistab) shot forwards, thrust the polearm at Short Round.

The Fighting-type jumped back, flipping in the air and landing by dragging the tips of his arm… things along the ground.

Any wooden spear would snap under a large amount of duress. That particular spear was made of wood, and it would splinter easily without Aegislash's energy running through it. Unfortunately, it would be as durable as the steel that made up Aegislash's proper body, thanks to the aura running through the polearm. It would have been a target in any other situation, as it would cripple the offense, and yet its greatest weakness was nullified.

He would have to end the battle quickly; and it was in that moment of realization that Short Round saw the effectiveness of earth.

The Fighting-type energy running through him would be useless against any Ghost-type, with the Psychic-type energy making him a liability.

Black sand clung to the tips of his arms, where the blades narrowed into fingers though not hands.

Short Round shot forward, holding one arm out to parry the spear from the side before punching directly into Aegislash's eye.

The Ghost-type flew back, vibrating in the air with confusion.

He didn't let up the assault.

"Jones's Gallade just put dirt in the eye of Meryl Lee's Aegislash! Why, this reminds me greatly of Ariados-man 3, in which…"

Meryl Lee glared at him across the field.

It was starting to hurt more when he pretended it did not.

"You from around here?" Jones had asked her after their food finished cooking.

"No. Neither are you, clearly," she said, stating her observation as she pulled at the foil wrap. "There are plenty of warnings around the trail mouth."

"I was…" Jones scratched the back of his head, just below the brim of his hat, and tried his hardest to not look like the idiot he felt like. "I was just looking around."

"Hm." She closed her eyes and nodded. "Are you looking to get into Bronzor surfing?"

Jones shook his head. "No, I don't have enough time. I've got to win the Opal Conference as soon as possible."

"This coming conference?" she asked. "As in, the conference in eleven months?"

"Yeah," he said.

She paused. "I don't mean to be rude, but good luck with that. I've heard it's usually filled with Gym Leaders."

"If I beat them once, I'll be able to beat them again," he said.

"That makes sense, I suppose," she replied. "Are you one of those guys that wants to be the Very Best?"

"Nah," he said. "I don't care about any of that. There's just… something I need to do."

"Do you have something to prove?" she asked. "Oh, that was rude. My apologies."

Jones waved her off. "Don't worry about it. Something to prove…" he trailed off, his head dropping slightly. "I don't know. Maybe, if that's what it takes."

Meryl Lee laughed. "Then we're in the same boat. Foreigners looking for something in this dangerous new land."

Something about that confused him. Maybe it was not as accurate as she thought. Had he been in Polska before?

Not wanting to talk about himself, he asked, "What are you looking for?"

She pulled a line taut around her neck, revealing something attached to a necklace. It was a flute with two spokes on either side, such that it could lay flat.

"This is a…"

"Eon Flute," Jones said thoughtlessly.

She recoiled, stowing the medallion away again. "You-"

He waved his hand again. "I'm an archaeologist. Was. Am. In training," he said, stumbling over his words as he looked for the correct ones. "Is that a replica?"

She paused for a moment. "...Yes, it's not real. Where did you learn about it?"

"My… I sorta know a guy who knows a guy," he said. "I saw some pictures of it once while he talked about meeting with the Legendaries associated with it. Laceration and Licorice?" he offered.

"Latios and Latias," she said. "I suppose I should tell you the story."

"Feel free not to." Jones shook his head. "Really, it's none of my business if it's personal."

"It's actually something of a problem back home," she said. "The Latis of the Hoenn region disappeared a few months ago, and- that's where I'm from, of course- I've been looking for them since I was young."

"Why's that?" Jones asked. "You're not trying to catch them, are you? That doesn't go well for most people."

"I'm…" a bit of color crossed her face. "I'm an artist, actually. When I was younger…"

Short Round was breathing heavily as Meryl Lee sent out her third Pokémon.

The Crobat took to the sky, their four wings flapping rapidly in the late morning sun. They inhaled, puffing up with air, before a cone of sound waves became visible and shook the arena.

Short Round tried to dodge around the Supersonic, but he simply could not gather the speed after defeating Aegislash. He stumbled.

Crobat swooped low, tracing bluish light behind it.

Jones recalled him before the Aerial Ace could strike, nodding before sending out his substitute.

The ground shook as a Nidoking as broad as it was tall took the field.

Doom. Doom.

She stood atop a small island out to sea. It was small enough that she could see the water in all directions without moving.

It was late at night. Meryl Lee painted the moon where it reached out to the stars. The wild Pokémon watched her with a sort of fascination, though none left the small safety of the trees and approached her.

The sky in front of the moon shimmered, glittering and darkening.

It took her a moment to look up from her canvas. When she did, her body flinched and froze while her mind tried to capture the moment forever.

Latios and Latias, appearing just in front of her, haloed by moonlight with symmetry and synchronicity so great that it would be a crime to leave it unknown.

And just like that, after that single moment. They were gone. A heavy wind washed over her supplies, though nothing fell out of place.

Just behind her, beneath the trail in the stars, a wooden flute fell to the ground.

Crobat had speed and poison, the ability to out-maneuver and the ability to outlast.

It was hard to out-maneuver an Earthquake that thought exactly the same way a Flying-type did. To be more accurate, it was a rapidly-shifting Stone Edge, but the magnitude in which they came made that impossible to determine.
Doom. Doom.

The Nidoking, two steps closer, continued approaching the area where Crobat would fall.

Doom. Doom.

A Stone Edge cracked against Crobat from behind. Its wings failed, sending it into a tailspin towards the ground.

It fell directly into the Nidoking's open grasp. Each of their claws wrapped around Crobat's face. He raised the Poison-type to the sky, rearing back and beginning a wind-up.

"Yield! Meryl Lee called, sounding almost panicky as she recalled Crobat before the Nidoking could slam it into the ground.

"Good job, D2," Jones called.

Doom. Doom.

The Nidoking roared and slammed a rock into its chest. The small boulder shattered and crumbled back into black sand.

Meryl Lee had her lips pulled into a snarl, though she seemed to be holding it back the best that she could.

She sent out her fourth Pokémon, her throw filled with anger.

Jones pulled his hat low over his eyes.

"I know the flute's not real because it doesn't call them," she said, still trying to discourage him if he was a thief. "It was probably just some junk they needed to get rid of. Alto Marens say that Latias is a bit of a trickster."

"So I've heard," Jones said, nodding along with the story while not taking it too seriously. It was just a story, after all, and artistic types tended to embellish important details to the point where they lost their importance. "That's your thing, then? Trying to capture a moment?"
"Well, it's more than-"

Jones was getting tired of waving, yet he did it again before standing up. "Don't justify yourself to me. It's whiny. If you believe in what you're doing, then do it." He sat down between Rufflet and Short Round before leaning against the tree. A bit of padding and it was as good as a hammock. He pulled his hat down over his eyes. "Who cares what anyone else thinks?"

She looked away from him and up at the stars in thought, not quite sure how to reply to that.

"I suppose so."

"Don't use filler words, either. It makes people think you're a pushover," he added.

"You're Unovan, aren't you?" she guessed.

"Got it in one," he muttered.

Meryl Lee laughed. Maybe they would cross paths again one day.

As it turned out, Polska was something of a web of pathways. Truthfully, it was more an effect of journeying that Al, one of their mutual friends, had put into words.

All roads lead to home.

A Smeargle appeared on the field in front of D2. Immediately, it latched onto a boulder, attempting to find high ground. It whipped around its tail, holding it aloft like a sword.

D2 was a Pokémon. They could not speak. However, it did sound very much like they laughed at that moment.

There were two things that occurred in a single moment.

D2's expression shifted from jovial to serious and they raised their foot.

An Air Balloon unfolded from around Smeargle as it let go of the earth.


An Earthquake shook the battlefield, making it seem to the audience that the sand was being blown around. Both Jones and Lucena stumbled.

The former chose not to palm his face, despite feeling very much like doing so. It would humanize him, meaning that people would sympathize with him. He did not need that. He needed them to hate him. He could not afford to crush them as a friend. It would not have been right.

Smeargle popped the balloon and touched down just as D2's Earthquake ended.

It seemed as if their tail had been dipped in Infinity Energy, as it still glowed blue and orange.

D2 raged, realizing that their attack had been worthless and that they were seemingly fighting a coward.

Smeargle matched their Earthquake with one of their own.

As the sand's shaking receded once again, Nidoking stood on their feet, fire practically pouring from their eyes.

Smeargle bowed in the very second a Hyper Beam left Nidoking's mouth. Purple chains appeared from nothingness and wrapped around the two Pokémon.

Blue fire blasted Smeargle from its paws, slamming it into the upper Barriers for a solid few seconds, before it dropped to the ground with a light thump.

Nidoking fell to the Destiny Bond in that exact same moment.

Meryl Lee recalled her fifth Pokémon, glaring at him across the field.

"What do you think you're doing?" she called, her breaths coming out in ragged pants.

"I have to win, Meryl Lee," he said, fighting to keep his tone even, despite how much he hated himself for it.

They both went for their last Pokémon, though neither of them knew it yet. Neither of them would accept that anymore, way away from doing so. They would never accept that if they were still breathing. If they did, neither of them could go home.
A3: Ocean Avenue New


You are more than yourself.

You are everything that you have seen, everything that you have done, everything that you have felt.

You are what you have done for others. You are both the promises that you have made and the promises that you have broken.

You are the people that you have helped. You are a person that has been helped before.

You have been led to where you stand today. You are the person that leads others to become who they are.

You are not alone.

There's a piece of you inside of everyone, and a piece of everyone inside you.

Don't forget that.

"And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."

Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

The sea breeze blew through a young boy's hair. The dunes on the coast of Polska were nice, he thought. None of the sand had blown inside his clothes.


He tripped over the peak of a dune. The barely-hatched Rufflet on his shoulder squawked and let go, hovering above him as he tumbled into the weeds at the bottom.

But that was fine, the boy thought, jumping up and pointing his bug net towards the heavens. Bravest landed back on his shoulder, picking at his feathers as if he had not just abandoned him to his fate.

Somewhere near, but not quite int the heavens, there was a beach house. It was… boring. Plain white and gray. It was so boring that it was interesting.

He stumbled over dunes until he could see more of it, careful to not spook Bravest from his shoulder.

There was a blonde girl standing on a balcony, distantly looking out over the Beartic Sea to the north.

"Hey!" he shouted.

She turned around, looking back to the house.

"Down here!"

She looked through the boards of the balcony.

"No! Out and over here! On the duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuunes!" he called.

She looked out and over at him. She blinked.



The boy's enthusiasm didn't cease even as a full minute of silence passed.

"I'll be going now," she said.

"Wanna catch bugs?" he asked suddenly.

She blinked at him again. "Why?"

"It's fun, duh," he explained.

"Oh. What's your name?"

He had told her.

"That's a weird name. Your name is Jones now."

He made a face in dismay. "That's not fair! What's your name?"

She had told him.

"That's a weird name."

Jones was not the most creative boy. He often looked for the most obvious trait of a new friend before giving them a nickname. Rufflet, in general, were supposed to be some of the bravest Pokémon there were, and so he named his Rufflet Bravest. Whether he lived up to the name was a serious topic of debate.

"Blondie!" he shouted, pointing at her with his net.

She shook her head. "That's demeaning. You shouldn't describe people based on their physical appearance," she said.

Jones blinked, the net in his hands dipping slightly. "Who to the what now?"

She shook her head. "You said something about bugs?" she asked.

"Oh. Yeah, bugs!" he shouted, pointing up at her with his net, scaring Bravest from his shoulder once again. "Wanna catch bugs?"

"Do you have two nets?" she asked.

He looked at the net. It refused to double on command, committing heresy against his nine year old mind.

"I don't need it," he said stubbornly, before a lightbulb lit and subsequently blew up inside his head. "Me and Bravest will weaken it. You hit it with the net!"

She looked closer at the net. It was embedded with a Pokéball where the grip met the mesh, with the button facing inward.

"Alright," she said.

Jones spent the next few minutes bouncing on his feet. Finally, another kid his age! Not those boring adults his father spent a lot of time arguing with. What even was a socioeconomic impact anyway, and why did his father care so much about it? His mother was great, honestly, but she spent too much time sleeping in the sun room to do anything fun.

None of that mattered, anyway, because he had a friend now!

Bravest pecked the back of his head.

Another friend, he meant.

The girl was down from the balcony quickly enough.

"My tutors won't be here for a while yet. My parents would want me to be studying, but they're meeting with colleagues."

"What's a colleague?" he asked, handing her the net.

"...Don't worry about it."

Soon enough, the two (three, Bravest squawked) of them were hunched over the peak of a dune, looking down into a nest. Most of the coastal grass was still upright, but there were patches where it was weighed down and Jones was certain he had not tripped over this dune. Yet.

Regardless, he whispered, "See those purple things? Those are Skorupi. If you let them sting you, my dad might get angry."

"Why would your father get angry if I got stung?" she asked.

Jones shrugged. "That's what he did when I got stung."

She blinked at him again before turning back to the nest. She made a face. "Does stupidity make people immune to poison?"

"Hey, don't call me stupid!" he shouted.

That, unfortunately, set off the Pokémon in the nest. A single Skorupi skittered out, looking around wildly.

"Darn it!" He grabbed the girl's hand and pulled her over the edge.

The Skorupi turned, scraping through the sand to face them and click its pincers menacingly.

Bravest dive bombed it from out of its view. The Peck did little, but it did distract the Skorupi enough to draw their attention away again.

Jones tackled it, clasping both sides of his shell before he flipped, rolling forward in the sand.

The Skorupi snipped in his face, and the sand he was dousing his hair in was well-worth it. His single white lock was flying around everywhere, sticking out like a sore thumb; it was shaped like that too.

"Smack it, Blondie!" he cried.

There was no reply; there was only the whoosh of air as the net swung downwards.

The Skorupi dissolved into blue light in his hands before swirling into the Pokéball.

The net vibrated as the Pokéball shook. She stared at it, eyes wide and unmoving, until the Pokéball finally clicked.

Bravest flew into the air, cawing with joy. Jones cheered and raised his hand for a high five.

She stared at him, stared at the Pokéball, then stared at him again.

"Good job!"

"What?" she asked, dumbfounded.

"You did a good job!" He took the Pokéball out of its holster and handed it to her.

The net dropped to her side and took the ball. "I… did a good job?" she said, asking him and herself.

"Yeah!" He took the net from her, leaving his other hand outstretched. "So, high five."

"What?" she asked again.

"You need to go out more," Jones said with an annoyed look. "Books can only teach you so much!"

"How many books have you read?" she asked.

"...Anyway, give me a high five! You just raise your hand."

She did, though only about half-way.


She matched him in height.

"Now, just slap my hand."

She stumbled as she did so, jumping up to do so, but she managed.

Jones caught her fingers between his and started dragging her off again.

"Now, let's look for more bugs!" Jones cheered, leading her over another dune with Bravest on his shoulder.

Hours later, both of them were exhausted on a sand dune. That first bug was the only one they ended up catching. It likely had something to do with having only one empty Pokéball between them, but that was out of their minds.

"I probably can't do this again," she said, hugging her knees. "My parents are really strict. They only let some of the people who work for them have Pokémon."

"What?" Jones recoiled as much as he could with his back pressed against the sand. "How do you even do that? That's like… a Magikarp without water."

"Magikarp can breathe outside of water," she said.

"It's a… fig? A fig of speed, yeah," he said with a nod.

For a minute, she did not say anything.

"Mom wants me to be a researcher like her," she said. "I don't think she'll leave me by myself in the house after this."

"Is she going to let you keep Skorupi?"

"She… no, she has to," she said, relaxing and nodding. "I'll keep them as a reminder."

"Of what?" he asked.

"Friends," she said.

Jones stared at the clouds. The sun was going to be setting soon. It wasn't incredibly late, but it was probably nearing five o'clock.

"Will you give them a nickname?"

She tensed up again. "Can you make me a promise?"

"Sure," he said with such a casual tone that it could only have come from a child. "Unless it's the kind my parents made in trainer school. I hear about that way too often."

"Will you come back one day? I don't… I don't want to lose my first friends," she said, burying her head in her knees.

Jones looked at her and sighed before rolling onto his feet. "Hey, don't start crying on me. You don't cry when you're happy! It's not right. I'm sure I'll visit again someday."

"...You really mean that?" she asked, just barely raising her head.

"I believe it!" he shouted, a hand pressed to his chest. "And if I believe in something, then it'll come true for sure!"

Her tears seemed to evaporate as she looked up at him. "That doesn't sound very," she choked, "Scientific."

"It is! My dad's a really smart guy, and he says science is just looking at the world around you and seeing what's connected." Jones nodded. "It's not all of that stuff with numbers getting pushed around and asking the wrong people about the wrong things. I've never gone back on a promise before! Let Skorupi out of their Pokéball!"

She did, and in a swirl of white and blue, they appeared in front of them, already chittering.

Jones dropped down, spraying sand all over them but not seeming to care. He hooked an arm around her and pulled her to Skorupi. "Hey, you!"
The Poison-type Pokémon recoiled, but moved back towards them after the shock wore off.

"You're gonna be our promise, y'got that?"

Skorupi tilted its head at him but nodded.

Jones jumped up and pointed at the sky. "See, that's all it takes! Words to hear and friends to help you, that's all you need."

She looked at Skorupi, reaching out to it with both hands. It settled into her grasp quickly enough, in fact loosening its tail so that it would not flinch at her. Looking into its beady eyes, she said, "I suppose that's everything you need to make a promise."

That was how he spent most of his days on the ocean avenue; stumbling through the dunes, walking on the beach (though never in! That was dangerous without adults nearby), and looking through his father's disused archaeology books when he was busy. Perhaps without asking.

Jones was halfway through a text about an unscalable gate of marble located in Polska when he heard shouting from the main room. His hand had been on the lamp switch the entire time; clicking it off and quietly slamming the book shut, he slipped out of the makeshift study.

The door to the main living area was cracked, letting in just enough light while behind far enough away that it was beneath notice.

"Henry, I need you to get me the findings by next week. I can't move forward with excavations until I have them." There was that woman in the lab coat again. Her hair always seemed too dark for her complexion; nearly jet black. Maybe she colored it with a marker, Jones thought, though it would have to be lighter to start with.

"I told you a million times. I. Can't." His father wiped his face again. His wide-brimmed hat was discarded on the coffee table, their Glameow curled around it. The tan button-up was stained, though it carried with it a sense of authenticity to his profession. "Johanna can barely stand and our boy's not old or strong enough to help her. What if she needs my help?"

"Listen, I'm not asking you to go out into the field, but just look through your books one more time."

"I'm an archaeologist. You're a scientist. I can't run the numbers on structures and civilizations that don't exist anymore, we've been over this."
"Yes, yes, I know, but I just need you to…"

A door creaked open.

"Henry?" came a groggy voice. "Oh, Daiya, you're still here… don't mind me, I'm just getting some water," she said. His mother, Johanna, stumbled into the kitchen, wearing an odd sort of nightgown.

"Has the aide already left?" Daiya asked.

Henry cautiously kept an eye on Johanna as she walked. "Yes."

The woman changed her stance. That usually happened when people were angry, Jones noticed.

"She can clearly walk, she doesn't need your help. Why don't you just have your Corviknight fly you to the dig site tomorrow, take some rubbings, and then-"

"Excuse me?" Henry said.

"I need this work done, Henry," she said.

His mother had not noticed, Jones saw. He had never heard about people have bleary ears, but maybe she was just that tired. She was tired a lot.

"Yes. Get it done. Not by me. I have a family to take care of," he said.

She scoffed. "Don't be like that. If we figure out how to enter the Gate, then that won't be a problem."

Henry stood. "Are you threatening my family?"

Daiya blanched. "No, no, that's not it at all! When we learn how to access that power- just think about it! We can create energy from darkness. A Break Evolved Heal Pulse, imagine it! We could-"

"Your fantasies are getting out of hand," he said. "You're not going to fix everyone's problems with science. Let me take care of my little slice of the world. Your tunnel vision is too broad. I've got people to take care of and you can't see them. I think it's time for you to leave."

Johanna, with a loose grip on a glass of water, began walking back to her bedroom.

"Now, listen here! This could change the world, Henry. You can't give it up because of- of- of-"

"Of what?" Henry asked.

"Your selfishness," she said.

Jones silently clapped a hand over his mouth. The air had become so stale that even breathing it would sound like a hurricane.

"I think it's time for you to leave for the night," Henry said. He turned to Johanna, who was just passing by the coffee table. "The stress is getting to you."

She waved her hands wildly. "Henry, I'm serious, you can't-"

Glass flew and shattered against the tiled floor across the room. Johanna gasped, collapsing where she stood.

Henry was next to her before she could hit the ground, catching her and hugging her close on his knees.

Daiya stared at them with wide eyes, her mouth moving but no sound coming out.

"Get out of my house, Daiya," Henry said quietly, looking down and hiding his expression

"I- I didn't intend to-"

"GET OUT!" he roared. "We're through. You hear me? Through. You need me, but I don't need you."

"Henry, please-"

"Leave. Leave, or," he began stuttering and his body began shaking, "I don't know what I'll do. You've crossed a line. I can see your problem now. I've been able to see it for a while. You're spending your whole time looking for light somewhere else when you don't have an ounce of anything but darkness beneath that lab coat of yours. How often do you speak to your husband? Hell, how often do you see him? What about your daughter? I ask and ask, but you never say anything. It's because you don't know, do you?" He brushed a hair out of Johanna's face, looking down at her and forcing a smile. "My wife… is sick. We didn't come to Polska to make you famous. We thought some air would do her some good. We really thought it would. But it's not enough. Your money isn't enough. There will never be enough."

"Does… does the boy know?"

"No. I hope I never have to tell him," he said. "You probably can't understand that, though. Can you imagine yourself telling your daughter that your husband is going to leave and not come back? I'm sure she won't notice, since she never sees either of you anyway."

"Now, see here-"

"No, it's not about your daughter. It's… it's not even about Johanna. You don't treat other people like people. When we met, did you think of me as an asset? When you met your husband, did you think of him as a tool for relief? When your daughter was born, were you proud of yourself? Or were you glad that you had an heir to assist you with your work?"


"No. Get out. I have nothing left to say to you. You'll never see me again. I'll never return to this region so long as I live and breathe."

There was a minute of silence. The front door creaked open and eased shut, a solitary whisper lost on the wind.

Jones stepped back from the cracked door, padding back down the hall to his room with a hand clasped tight over his mouth and Bravest tucked against his chest.

Jones spent an entire day in the sun room with his mother after that. He suddenly felt like sneezing whenever the sun shone too brightly, but that was perhaps because Bravest was always there on his shoulder to shield him.

"Mom, are you… going on a trip?"

She continued staring off into space, her eyes glazed over while she continued to blink.


"Oh?" She turned to look at him. "Oh, what did you say? I'm sorry, dear."

From a few feet to the right of where he was supposed to be, he asked, "Are you going on a trip?"

"But I'm on a trip with you right now, dear. Every day I spend with my family is practically a resort vacation," she said, smiling.

"Are you going on… another one?" he asked.

Her smile faded slightly. It was still there, but Jones had caught it.

"Soon, maybe… Dear, could you do something for me?"

"Yes, ma'am, anything."

"When I go on my little trip to see Dialga… please be kind to your father." She reached out a hand for where she thought he was.

He grabbed her hand with both of his and rested it on the bed. "Of course."

"I love you. I'll always believe in you. Wherever you go, I'll be wishing you the best. Remember the stars above you, dear. They're not your enemies, but they're not just stars, either. They're your friends, all adrift in the same ocean that you are."

Jones bowed his head. "Of course."

"And if the stars think you're their enemy, what do you say?"

He gulped. "Just… just who the hell do you think I am?"

She traced her hand along his arm until she found his cheek. She smiled.

"That's my boy. You're my son for sure."

They left Polska not too long after that. His mother boarded a spaceship not much later. He didn't understand why they would put a rocket underground, but maybe it was some sort of launch pad?

The question gnawed at him while his father dug. A golden key was clutched in his tiny fist.

His father had his old hat that day. He was about to drop it in along with the dirt as Jones spoke.

"Dad… Mom's not coming home soon, is she?"

Henry leaned on the shovel and stilled. He placed it beside the hole and picked up the hat.

In a moment, his father wrapped him in a hug, covering his eyes with the brim so that he would not have to see his father cry.

That day, he learned not to talk about his mother around his father, nor about their stay near the ocean avenue. It was way away from their home regardless. His father's breathing would stutter, and he would close his eyes. He had learned that location didn't matter and that nothing else mattered; because whenever he was with his father, he would be home.
A4: Empty Apartment New


Break Evolution is a light-based phenomenon, as most correctly assume. However, it's more complex than 'hard light.' The space of liminality between a Pokémon's body and the air, where its aura fizzles out, allows the light to refract and coil into itself, forming the 'shield.'

The greatest application of this is in Pokémon specimens which contain transparent body parts. Typically referred to as a Refracted Form, this causes the Pokémon's shape to change for the duration of the evolution. It may be as small as lenses appearing around the eyes, or as extreme as entirely new body parts forming.

The fact that some Pokémon gain lenses while others do not is a topic of discussion. It seems that Break Evolved Pokémon can see, even with their eyes covered in gold.

Some assume that the remaining senses are strengthened in exchange for sight, but Psychic-types have communicated that this is untrue, while similarly admitting they don't know either.

If a Psychic-type admits they don't know something, it will likely remain a mystery to humans for the next thousand years.

The theory I have developed is that Pokémon see something that we can't. Some ask, "With what?"

This humble researcher instead asks, "Through what?"

Professor Henry Johannson nee Walton, Ph.D., notable archaeologist and expert in Pokémon biology, circa 2011.

*For the scientific definition and properties of 'aura,' see Professor Bobbin Krane's analysis, deconstruction, and reconstruction of folktales surrounding the topic.

*If you have information on the recent disappearance of Professor Johannson, please contact his son at (XXX)-XXX-XXXX on cross-transceiver.

A Polskan Gogoat took the field. Unlike their native Kalosian cousins, whom maneuver on mostly flat plains, Polskan Gogoat adapted to the mountain ranges to the south and east of the region. Their hooves were seemingly built of rock, and the line between gravel and fur was blurred on their legs. Roots grew into the earth when stationary, leeching nutrients while attaching more armor to the body. Their head was brought low by the rocks weighing down their horns.

Meryl Lee tugged her necklace away from her neck. The cordage snapped and revealed the flute it was strung around. She raised the flute like a bow in front of her, peering through the Break Stones embedded within. She could not see the lights of Latios or Latias within. The earth beneath was lit up in the looking glass, but the air was dark. There was a splotch of light where Gogoat stood.

Bravest detached themselves from Jones' shoulder. The boy did nothing but nod.

"Create a Stone Edge all around you, Gogoat!"

Further instructions were not necessary. The black sands hardened and became a dome around them, sealing them off from the spotlights entirely and immersing them in darkness.

Meryl Lee looked through the Break Stone again. There was a spark of darkness within the shield of rocks.

"Gogoat!" She pulled the flute close, pressing the mouth against her heart. "BREAK!"

Most people could not place the sound of a Break Evolution as something heard on Earth. It had something to do with it being impossible to see under the naked eye. The hiss that resulted, if such a sound could travel in space, did not sound unlike the birth of a neutron star.

Gogoat's earthen shield shattered in front of it.

Meteors shot towards Bravest, but it was only caught by the spray of gravel.

Rocks melted and molded into Gogoat's horns, forging from common minerals a brilliant gold. Each of the leaves on their hide shifted like the surface of the sun and shone just as bright. It was a moving statue straight from a forge among the stars.

There was a crater. Then, there was Gogoat springing through the air like nature's vengeance. A thousand shards of gold detached from its back, spinning through the air and sharpening into pine needles.

Bravest dodged and dodged, but the Leaf Storm ripped through its feathers and blew it back into the air. A blade formed along its wing, glowing bluish-white as it shot forward.

"Steel Wing!" Jones called.

Bravest's cowlick feather blew back as the energy in its wings decreased but temporarily coated them in metal.

It clashed against Gogoat's horns, scratching against the armor. They began a Fury Attack, slashing and scratching against Gogoat's back, through they could not pierce the armor so easily. They continued flying, their momentum carrying them to the midpoint of the arena.

Gogoat landed on the edge of the arena, sliding along the angled Protect shields and Barriers and sliding only an inch before jumping back.

Bravest dodged downwards, flipping over and flapping upwards.

Gogoat dropped past them, sliding along the black sands.

Bravest flew down in front of Jones, watching Gogoat wearily as they reared back and waved their gleaming horns.

Jones's hat sunk low over his eyes as he crossed his arms.

There was a day when he was younger. Not much younger, only a year or so.

What a difference a year and a half could make.

It should have been a normal day. He explored Relic Castle a bit, mapping out everything that he could before it shifted. He was careful to stick to areas where there were no wild Pokémon. He was still technically in Trainer School, even if it was only for a few more months, so he could not go on a proper journey as of yet. Never mind his abysmal attendance; he often learned more on his father's expeditions than in the classroom.

It was strange that the door was unlocked, but maybe he had forgotten to lock it after leaving that morning? His dad was going to do some simple research and Bravest was a lazy bird, so maybe they had not noticed.

The welcome mat was in the middle of their entrance room. The mirror above his mother's old bureau was cracked and missing shards. Papers were scattered across the floor.

A wave of dizziness overtook him and he fell into the full coat rack. His father's jacket was still there. Had he left in a rush?

That day, Jones came home to an empty apartment.

Before he knew it, there was an Officer Jenny and a small team in the house, looking for signs of a struggle.

"He wouldn't just run off like that!" he shouted.

The old detective shook his head. "Son, parents abandoning their children isn't uncommon. When you're old, sometimes you need to go on a journey so that you can-"

The man caught Jones's fist with barely any effort. The boy was breathing heavily.

"He wouldn't… Shut up…"

"Sir!" called an officer whose Growlithe had still not evolved yet. "There's an unconscious Rufflet. Should we call in a psychic medium for testimony?"

Jones did not hear the detective's reply, instead rushing over to the pile of books that had fallen from the overturned bookcase.

The Flying-type was flinching in their sleep, their wing bending more than it should have been. Jones lifted them up carefully. "Bravest…"

The Rufflet recoiled at the name, shaking their head rapidly as tears poured from their closed eyes.

"You were brave enough, I'm sure," Jones said, holding the Flying-type close. "You did just fine."

Something poked out from beneath Bravest's wing. A scrap of paper?

Without disturbing the possible injury, he looked at the photograph.

The room was dark, but there seemed to be a lantern somewhere out of frame. There was a smattering of moss. It must have been damp, Jones realized thanks to his studies, near a waterfall if it had grown from so high up. There was a gate built into the cave wall, though it seemed immovable, as if it could never be opened. It was engraved with panels that were smooth like glass, spiraling towards the center where a cylinder had been cut out of it.

In that moment, he saw that it did not reflect light, but that it generated it. There was no lantern, there was only the ambient light it created.

The people in the photo were difficult to distinguish. A muscular man was shirtless, standing in front of it with his arms crossed. Next to him, there was a dark-haired woman in a lab coat waving her hands around, seeming to speak.

He flipped the photograph over.

The gate should not be opened. I can understand researching it, but the power readings are dangerously high. Daiya, I recommend we focus on the ancient Polskan societies that collapsed despite access to Break Evolution. There's much more to learn about than power. We should continue excavating the Lublin Castles. Perhaps there will be a Carbink that survived the war.

A coldness grew from the medallion on Jones's chest. He grasped at his heart through his shirt. The bluish Break Stone embedded within it seemed to be burning through his skin.

"Young man, could you interpret something for us?" another officer, one of the Jenny clan, asked, giving him a shake on the shoulder.

He stood while pushing the photograph back into Bravest's wing, keeping the Rufflet still. "Yeah… yeah, I can do that."

She gestured to something scrawled on the desk with a pen knife. It was half-hazard and shallow, as if done subtly and in a hurry.

Dont look for me

"You're certain that he didn't simply run away?" the detective asked.

"I'll find him," Jones said, staring blankly at Bravest.

The detective sighed. Some days he wished that a Munna could suck the stupidity out of the teenagers he had to give that talk. Parents sometimes left, simple as that. It was not like the people they left behind were without a support structure; it usually meant the absence of a parental figure at worst.

Most kids could power through that. Some could not. Regardless, it still happened.

"Sometimes, people don't want to be found, son," he said.

"He doesn't want me to look for him. It's not that he doesn't want to be found," Jones said. "I'll… I'll find him. No matter what's keeping him away."

He had to. He had to believe that. He could never come home to an empty apartment. Not again.

The detective's statistics of successful returns did not matter to him; he wanted to do it, therefore he would, and therefore, he would succeed. That was what it meant to believe.

And so, in the following days while Bravest healed, he packed up his belongings, stored his father's research away somewhere safe, and made a promise to himself. The photograph hidden in Bravest had to matter, it had to mean something; it was impossible for it not to. It was impossible for Jones to think of it, at the very least.

For the first time, he pulled on his father's jacket for longer than just a particularly cold expedition.

Hopefully, it would turn out to be the last.

Jones uncrossed his arms. His father's jacket swayed in the wind as he flicked his hat out of his eyes, revealing the steely gray pupils beneath.

"Faster than sound," he said in a low tone. His voice only reached Bravest, though the commentator caught that his mouth was moving.

The Flying-type dashed back.

Jones pulled out and tossed him a rod of charcoal.

Bravest spun in the air, shattering the rod and covering their wings in flammable dust.

The only thing that was important for him was the battlefield. The only thing he needed was to move forward. The only thing he could do was give them everything he had.

Bravest flapped his wings. They began blurring together, vibrating and beginning to spark up. Steel Wings began forming along the feathered edges.

Gogoat pointed its horns at him.

"Faster than light!" Jones shouted.

Bravest's form was lost, seeming like a rift in space. With a crack, a fire blazed to life around him and spiraled towards the sky.

Jones punched the air.

Bravest's wings expanded outwards, burning bright.

"Bravest Bird!"

Leaves exploded into the air and scattered over the arena before turning from gold to a glowing green. The wind blew and the leaves dissolved entirely.

Gogoat fell from the opposite wall of the arena, the golden armor cracked and dissolving around them.

Meryl Lee whipped her head around. Gogoat had landed not too far to her right, blasting sand out of the way around it.

"Where did…"

There was a gouge in the middle of the arena. Bravest weakly flew upwards, their wings lightly burned on the feather tips. They dropped to the ground and screeched.

The jumbotron flashed with a spinning star. A countdown began. Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven.

Gogoat pushed against the ground with a hoof, their limbs shaking. Six. Five. Four.

They rose to standing on all-fours, their horns still hanging low. Three. Two. One.

Gogoat collapsed, falling over on their side. Zero.

The spinning lights shifted to his portrait of him with four Pokémon remaining.

WIN. "Jones."

The holograms on the field reappeared, making his half seem red and her half seem white, patterned after a Pokéball.

Meryl Lee glared at him as she returned her partner Pokémon and began walking towards the center of the arena.

Jones pulled his hat low over his face and did the same.

They shook hands, but the words they shared were unknown to the audience.

"Why are you doing this?" Meryl Lee asked.

"I have to win," he said, looking away.

"That's not what I'm talking about," she spat. "I know your Pokémon wouldn't want you acting like this."

"That's none of your business," he said quietly.

She shook her head and turned back towards the tunnel.

He stood there for a moment, though not long enough for anyone to take notice. He turned around as well, trusting Bravest to land on his shoulder soon enough.

And he did.

So ended the first match of the quarterfinals.

Simply put, there was an uproar in the Polskan Royal Court. The murmurs and shouting echoed through the grand palace in Bialystok.

The court itself was a collection of figureheads, of course, and a remnant of the land's history that had not been wiped away. Unlike Kalos and Galar, the royalty had been elected once upon a time, which kept any tyrants from coming out of the woodwork.

The only hereditary positions in the court were distantly governmental; the Gate had been guarded by the same family since time immemorial, and with it so far away from the court and the capital, it was hardly of any concern.

However, due to the events preceding that conference, there was more to discuss than paperwork.

An orange-haired duke slammed his fist like a gavel on the luncheon table. "That boy is bringing dishonor to the sport of Pokémon Battling! How can we possibly keep our support behind him in good faith?"

The chatelaine, who was in charge of the grounds, raised her voice. "That boy was one of the few trainers that were willing to stand up to the rogue Psychic-types when they attacked us. We cannot forget our debts so easily. He sacrificed one of his own Pokémon to protect those of the court."

The region's media were still covering the attack on the annual Bialystok Ball. It was supposed to be nothing more than a party to make the upper crust feel good about themselves, though advanced Gym challengers, as minor celebrities in their own right, were invited.

That had turned out to work out for them in the long run.

A group of Psychic-types, calling themselves the Rzeszow psykers, had held the event hostage and demanded that all Psychic-types and sentient Pokémon be liberated. Intensified gravity had held all of the guests to the ground and would only be released after the demands were met.

Jones had crawled around the psykers, located the one with brightest-glowing eyes, and somehow gathered the strength to tackle them and cancel the gravitational field.

A lot of windows ended up shattered, but they had managed to fight

Jones had a Kirlia. Upon viewing them, the psykers believed that their height was a result of malnourishment. In a rage, they managed to capture only the Kirlia and Teleport away.

Immediately, without missing a beat, he had returned his Pokémon and stormed off into the night to hunt them down.

"He isn't even aware of our support," the duke replied. "If he is the victor, then a precedent will be set for his behavior. As his sponsor, we will be paying for his home in the Opole Village. What does that say to the common people? That they must be cruel in order to succeed? No, I won't support him."

"Mr. Jones has not acted this way in the previous rounds. It's far too soon to say that this is a permanent change in behavior," chimed in a duchess. "Let's sit on it for a day or two."

"This is a severe lapse in judgment, we can't simply "sit on it,"" the duke said.

There was a clap from the head of the table. The heated discussion quickly ceased.

The young queen, who had been idly watching them bicker, held her hands together. "It is as our dearest chatelaine said. We do not forget our debts. Jones has my support for as long as we can manage it."

The duke forcibly relaxed, but it was clear that he was still out of sorts. "Why, my queen?"

She smiled slyly, resting her chin on her fist.

"You should spend more time around the general public," she said. "It seems you haven't picked up the ability to tell when someone is acting like someone they aren't."

For the duration of the week, the top eight were granted housing in the Opole Village; a small community in the mountains that would only house conference winners year-round.

The security kept the media from invading residential housing unless they had specific invitations. They were a bit confused when a Top Coordinator showed up, but with an invitation, the coordinator only known as Alphonse was let through.

He was wearing casual clothes, which, for Alphonse, meant blue slacks and a loose button-up. None of the tailcoats, cane, and hair powder that he used on-stage. Only when people looked closely did his hair have that noticeable blue tint.

The temporary housing was small, but still extravagant by most standards. Spread out across the village for sake of privacy and/or to prevent sabotage, each of the top eight had their own villa.

Checking his cross-transceiver again for the address, Alphonse sought out one of the four friends he knew were competing.

He knocked on the door with his Polskan Crawdaunt calmly skittering alongside him. The roof was low, though the yard would likely fit a few larger Pokémon. Small. Practically one of the flats that he had often had to "collect" funds from back home.

No, that was not home, he reminded himself. A place that required him to abuse his strength was not a place he could return to.

The boy who answered the door was not one he recognized. A white lock of hair stuck out of the center of his scalp, and the bags under his eyes were not ones he had seen often.

Alphonse bowed. "Greetings. I thought that I should speak with you. May I come in?"

Jones blinked at him through the gap between them before stepping back. A few seconds later and with his ever present hat on his head, the door opened fully.

"Yeah, man, make yourself at home…"

Alphonse peered at the interior walls. Plainly painted, hardly aesthetically appealing. Then again, people would only live there for one week a year. There were notches carved in an ajar door that led to a bedroom. Hopefully that was just occupants noting that they had been there.

Jones sunk down on the couch into a heavily used cushion, scratching Bravest's feathers while he stared off into space.

"How are you feeling?" Alphonse asked.

"Fine," he replied automatically.

"I'll ask until you give me an honest answer," Alphonse said with an earnest smile.

Jones snapped out of it and leaned back on the couch. "You should ask Meryl Lee instead. I really hurt her."

Alphonse pointed at a chair. "Mind if I pull this up?"

Jones waved him off.

He took that as a confirmation and sat next to the couch.

"Why don't you lay down?" he asked pleasantly.

Jones lifted Bravest as he spread out across the couch. He stared at the ceiling while scratching the half-asleep Flying-type.

Alphonse crossed a leg over his knee, tenting his fingers. "Now, Mr. Jones, how are you feeling?"

"Don't try to use psychotherapy on me," he said. "I got enough of that with the Rzesow Psykers and Short Round."

Alphonse sighed and shook his head, still smiling. "You look like you need to relax. You're obviously not fine, and you weren't this winded during the preliminaries. Why did you turn into a jerk over the last three days?"

"I've got to win," Jones said.

"Ah," Alphonse said. He was not curious about the reason why. No, that was not it either. He was curious, but it would not have been fair to ask. All of his friends had their reasons for battling.

He knew well that their Pokémon loved fighting for them, and that was fine. Alphonse choosing not to battle was a personal choice, and they had just happened to make a different choice.

Of course, Valentine had the most direct reason for fighting, but her Pokémon were somehow more excited about it than she was.

Regardless, he was not going to ask why, because it was irrelevant. His friends all wanted to win, and he would support all of them. What he would ask was, "Why do you have to act like that to win?"

Jones had to find the words. "We all have the same dream but I can't afford to lose. I can't crush my friends' dreams without hurting them. Would you rather be betrayed by a friend or a villain?"

Alphonse shook his head. "You're not a villain. All four of you, you're rivals. Someone has to win."

"And it has to be me," Jones said as if it was a fact.

Alphonse nodded noncommittally. "They know that too."

Jones turned on his side, facing into the couch.

Alphonse stood. "I'll go talk to Meryl Lee. But… I think you should visit her yourself, alright?"

Jones didn't answer.

The door clicked shut, cutting off the sound of Alphonse's footsteps and his Crawdaunt's skittering.

Once again, he was in an empty apartment. Even after returning to the ocean avenue, he had not gotten back what he had lost.

His breathing became labored and heavy as he curled into himself. Still, even so close to his goal, he was way away from home.


There was a night when the three of them had reunited by sheer chance. After receiving their starter Pokémon from the Professor, they had kept in close contact even as they went their own path.

There was: Alphonse, the coordinator, Meryl Lee, the journeyer, and Valentine, the champion-in-waiting.

Valentine wanted to become the strongest trainer, owing to her origin in the wilderness. If you were strong, you could live however you wanted. More importantly to her, you could protect as many people as you needed to. And maybe, just a little, bit, she had a dream.

Warzawa, the City of Light, was a great place for modern, industrial life. Valentine, who was used to living without air conditioning and mass-produced clothing, tended to dislike most aspects of the city.

"Meryl Lee," she had said one day after the three of them met back in the Professor's Lab.

"Yes?" she replied.

"I have a dream," Valentine said.

Alphonse nodded. The speech was common enough. She was going to be the very best, make a ton of friends, and battle as many strong opponents as possible.

"After viewing a seminar by Professor Kukui, I have come to a revelation!" she shouted, spreading her arms wide.

That… was not how it usually went. Alphonse flinched.

"What is it?" Meryl Lee asked.

"When I'm Champion," she said, pointing a thumb at her heart, "All male Gym Challengers are going to go shirtless! No, scratch that; the entire League! Hell, let's just make it illegal entirely! Doesn't that sound great?"

"The current Champion and two of the Elite Four hardly wear shirts anyway," Meryl Lee said, killing the wondrous mood with cold hard logic. "It's more than common enough already. I'm not really into abs, anyway."

Valentine rubbed her chin. She nodded a few times, causing ripples in her overwhelming amount of hair.

"In that case; all men will be required to go shirtless and wear tight leather pants!" she decreed, pointing towards the heavens with stars in her eyes.

"What a glorious future! Valentine, I'll follow you to the end of the Earth!" Meryl Lee cried, wrapped around the future Champion's leg.

Alphonse began wondering if it was too late to delete his number from both of their cross-transceivers.

*FMA reference.
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