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Pokémon The Legendarian Chronicles

Chapter 26: The Johto Force

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
NaNoWriMo is finally over! Regular updates resume now!



~ Chapter 26: The Johto Force~


A sharp autumn wind cut through the air, tossing my hair into my face and forcing me to hold it back. I was seated on a bench in the middle of a training park in southern Viridian—the only familiar sight I’d allowed myself throughout this entire ordeal surrounding the Viridian base. Rudy and I always used to come here to watch matches between kids older than us—or rather, older than him—who had already started their journeys. In the summer, it was so popular that battles often cropped up over who could train on which field—with the field at the top of the hill at the center of the park being the most heavily contested spot. We’d make meaningless bets on the combatants and excitedly call out whenever anyone sent out a Pokémon that was definitely going on our team someday.

It was a place full of memories from a time when the biggest concern in my life was whether or not I’d finally pass the training exam and be able to join that world. It was also the place where I’d decided to break the news to my Pokémon regarding what had just happened not more than an hour ago. And where I’d received pretty much exactly the response I’d been expecting:

“*You’re kidding.*”

They didn’t even need to say anything—the reaction was plain from their faces and body language. Aros flared his wings like the news was a personal attack. Stygian drew herself back, eyes narrowed, claws digging into the dirt. Swift cocked his head to the side, his gaze soft but concerned. Firestorm stared downward, more confused than upset, although he couldn’t keep his tail flame from crackling in agitation.

Yep, couldn’t say I was surprised at all.

“*Say it again,*” Stygian said, her voice low and dangerous.

I took a deep breath. “The head of the combat unit betrayed Team Rocket and joined our side.”

The dark-type’s piercing, crimson eyes dug into me. “*And it hasn’t remotely occurred to you that this is a trap?*”

Of course it hadn’t. Because the idea of it being a trap was completely absurd. My right eye twitched, and I fought to keep a stern face as I said, “Did you miss the part where I said the boss himself has rejected her?” The Absol gave a dismissive huff and turned away sharply.

“*So what if she’s a traitor now?*” Aros growled, baring his teeth. “*I’m more concerned with all the shit she’s pulled in the past.*” My eyes couldn’t help tracing all the faint marks on the dragon’s scales from where Starr’s Arcanine had viciously torn through him not even a month ago.

“I’m not asking you to forgive all of that stuff,” I said plainly. Hell, I wasn’t so sure if I’d forgiven any of it yet, even if I did want to move past it. “I just want you not to attack her on sight.”

“*She attacked us first,*” the Flygon shot back, lashing his tail from side to side.

“*Many of our allies have attacked us. Chibi tried to kill us when we first met him,*” Swift chirped, obviously trying his hardest to sound calm and measured. Maybe a bit too hard, but the effort was appreciated.

Aros tilted his head, antennae twitching. “*Was he even sane at the time?*”

Swift paused, shifting his wings a bit. “*I suppose not.*”

The Flygon snorted in a ‘well, there you go’ sort of way.

“*She didn’t just attack us,*” Firestorm spoke up suddenly before fixing me with a serious look. “*She attacked you. That doesn’t make any sense, if you say she was your old friend.*”

I groaned, rubbing my eyelids in frustration. “Look, I know this sounds weird as hell. But you guys weren’t there. You can’t imagine what it was like. She risked her life to help me and Ajia. She was… she was willing to throw her life away rather than betray us,” I said, feeling my throat clench up from the memory of it.

No one had an easy retort for that. Aros opened his mouth like he wanted to say something, but decided against it. Firestorm made eye contact with me, his brow furrowed. Skeptically at first, but then slowly relaxing into something more… uncertain.

“*She risked her life for you…?*” the fire lizard asked.

I nodded as forcefully as I could, hoping that as least some of that force would show how adamant I was about this. “Yes. Definitely.”

The four Pokémon shot confused glances at each other. The head of the combat unit, risking herself for me. Even I had to admit it sounded strange.

“*I still think you’re insane,*” Aros said, folding his wings.

I closed my eyes. “I know.”

“*If this bites you in the ass, I’m not saving you.*”

“That’s fine,” I said, standing up from the bench and stretching my legs. I walked a few steps and then pivoted to face the others. “I’m gonna go back and talk to her now. I’ll let you know if anything else comes up.” With that, I recalled them.

Good thing I’d decided to have that conversation with them away from Starr. Not that I could really blame any of them for having that reaction. After all the things she’d done… A shiver ran through me, and I suppressed the memory. Didn’t want to think about any of that now.

I cast one last wistful glance around the park before turning and walking down the trail in the direction I’d originally come. On the other side of the park, Starr was doing much that same as I had done—informing her Pokémon of what had just happened. Which was far more important for her team than it was for mine, considering that her entire life was going to be different now.

She’d removed her hat, vest and gloves, all of which made her Rocket status pretty obvious. I shivered again upon seeing her sitting there in a tank top, but she didn’t seem too bothered by the cold. Then again, she was surrounded by fire-types.

“Need me to come back later?” I asked upon seeing that she was still in the middle of talking to her team.

Starr glanced in my direction. “No, I’m pretty much done,” she said, motioning for me to join her.

My eyes swept over her Pokémon warily as I stepped forward into their midst. Feraligatr jerked its head upward, leering suspiciously the entire time. Arcanine, on the other hand, refused to look at me—the firedog kept its hateful gaze firmly on a tree further down the trail, as though it were trying to set it on fire with just its eyes. Flareon glanced around at the others uneasily, folding its ears back and swishing its fluffy tail from side to side. Rapidash stood calmly off to the side, eyes closed and flames flickering gently in the wind. Raichu… I could hardly look at Raichu without feeling sick, so I didn’t.

At least not until the electric-type dashed up to me and I almost flew out of my skin.

“*So you’re not the enemy anymore!*” the mouse said cheerfully. Oh god why.

“*She’s not the enemy anymore because she pushed our trainer to treachery. Don’t forget that,*” Feraligatr growled.

“*I know that, I heard what Starr said,*” Raichu said, puffing out his cheeks in a pout.

“Alright, easy with the growling, Feraligatr,” Starr said, giving the water-type a stern look. The gator immediately stopped glaring and stood at attention.

Starr motioned for me to sit and I did, slowly relaxing onto the bench next to her, but keeping a wary eye on all of her Pokémon. Especially that one.

“I told them what’s up. They’ll, uh…”—she made eye contact with Feraligatr—“they’ll get used to it.” She hesitated a few seconds, then took a deep breath and added, “I’ll get used to it.”

“Might take a while for my team to do the same,” I admitted. “In the meantime, it’s… probably best if I not let them out around you.”

Feraligatr scoffed at my words. “*Might not like any of this, but wouldn’t ever disobey a direct order. Not much of a trainer, are you?*”

I bristled. There was something bizarre about being insulted by a Pokémon claiming I didn’t have enough control over my team. Granted… I really didn’t, but that was none of its business.

And then Raichu jumped into my lap and every muscle in my body tensed up instantly and every thought dissolved into a torrent of oh god, oh god, get him off, get him off.

“*I think it will be fun being on the same side,*” the mouse said, cocking his head to the side. “*Even if I don’t get to act scary anymore.*” God, why’d he have to talk like that, all bubbly and friendly like he wasn’t Starr’s torture Pokémon of choice. Didn’t he remember what she’d had him do to me?

“Does—does he have to sit here?” I stammered, desperately attempting to force my facial expression into something neutral even as every instinct devolved into an endless loop of nope.

“No, he doesn’t,” Starr said flatly, giving the electric-type an unimpressed stare—he instantly jumped over to her lap and I could breathe again. Raichu sat there drumming his paws on Starr’s arm and giving playful flicks of his tail, all while continuing to fix me with an oblivious grin. I looked away. That was really not the sort of thing I felt like dealing with right now. Maybe later. Or never.

“It’s still hard to believe that all of that actually happened,” Starr said distantly, staring at the clouded sky. “Part of me still thinks it’s a dream, and I’m gonna wake up and be back in my room. Part of me still wants that to be the case,” she added with a hollow laugh.

I clenched my teeth and glanced away. It was only natural for her to feel conflicted about it. But it was still an uncomfortable thought—imagining what would have happened if she hadn’t turned her back on Team Rocket.

“But this is real,” she went on. “I’m a traitor now. The thing I’ve spent the last five years hating with all my guts.” She sighed deeply. “Can’t afford to get caught now, so I’ve started thinking about what I’ve gotta do from now on,” she said, gesturing to a duffel bag on the ground by her feet. “I already pulled all the money out of my bank account. The team has that on record, so the last thing I need is them tracking me that way.” I blinked at it, taking more than a few seconds to realize that it was packed full of cash. When had she had time to do that?

“It’s gonna suck carrying so much cash around, but anyone stupid enough to try and rob me deserves what’s coming to them.” She scoffed at the thought. But then her expression hardened. “What I’m actually worried about is my license. They have contacts in the Pokémon League. They could have my trainer ID flagged for anything—and odds are it’ll be something I’ve actually done, too,” she added with a grimace. I didn’t even want to think about how long her list of arrestable offences probably was.

“I could always get a new ID under the table, but all the providers I know have ties to Rockets,” Starr said, setting Raichu on the ground and then leaning forward to rest her elbows on her knees. “We’ve got the region’s black market on lockdown, pretty much, so any rival dealers are gonna be hard to track down. Maybe we could take a quick trip to another region? Figure out who runs the show there…?” She shot an inquisitive look my way as though hoping to see what I thought of that idea. But I just stared at her blankly.

Starr raised an eyebrow at my clueless response. “What? It’s not that hard if you know what to look for. There are a lot of tells. Like if you go up to a shop and they’ve got—”

“You sure know a lot about this kind of stuff.” The words were out of my mouth before I’d really thought them through.

Starr paused, blinking. A crooked grin slowly crossed her face, and she gave a slight laugh. “Come on, I’m—I was an executive. I know there’s that stereotype that combat unit execs are only good at bashing skulls in, but we had to know our stuff too.”

“Mm,” was the only response I gave to that, shuffling a foot awkwardly against the dirt. The less I thought about combat unit execs bashing skulls in, the better.

Starr leaned back against the bench, crossing her arms behind her head. “Anyway, point is, it might take me awhile to get a new license, so I won’t be able to book us a Pokécenter room. The real question is whether your ID was compromised,” she said, giving me a sideways glance.

I snorted. “Well that’d be hard considering I don’t have one.”

It took several seconds for the full implications of what I said to hit her. But it was obvious when it did—her eyes snapped open and she suddenly turned to face me, one eyebrow raised as high as it would go. “You’re joking.”

I just responded with a deadpan stare. Slowly, her face split into an incredulous smirk, until she finally burst out laughing.

“Seriously, you’ve been training Pokémon illegally this whole time? Oh man, that’s rich!

I felt my cheeks go red. “Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m an idiot.”

“No, I’m serious, I’m legit impressed,” she said, elbowing me. “I never would’ve expected that from you.”

I shoved my hands in my pockets. “Yeah, well, I only got this far because of the Rebellion’s resources. I never would’ve been able to do it on my own.”

“Okay, okay, that’s fair. Still hilarious though. Anyway, let’s hit Goldenrod first. It might be a Rocket hotspot, but it’s also frickin’ huge, so I think I have a decent shot of finding what I need there.”

I shrugged. “Fine with me. But how should we get there? Flying?” Starr didn’t have any flying Pokémon, to my knowledge. We could both probably fit on Aros? But that’d be pushing him too hard, especially for long-distance flight. Not to mention he didn’t trust her at all.

Fortunately, Starr cut down that train of thought immediately. “Hell no, do you have any idea how far that is? We’re taking the bullet train.”

I blanched. “All the way to Goldenrod? Aren’t the tickets like 10,000 pyen?”

Starr gave me a look that plainly said I was an idiot while gesturing both hands at the duffel bag full of money.

“Eh… right.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It had been years since the last time I’d ridden a high-speed bullet train. While the southern Pokansen line wasn’t near as fast as the northern line that ran directly from Saffron to Goldenrod in an hour, it had the perk of making additional stops, one of which was near Viridian. Starr bought the tickets, and we boarded the train, where I wasted no time in finding a seat to collapse into. Honestly, I was just plain exhausted. I hadn’t exactly slept much the previous night because of the looming anxiety of the Mewtwo mission, and I’d been running on fumes ever since the adrenaline from the mission had worn off. I wound up sleeping through most of the trip. Not like I missed out on much scenery. The forests on the southern edge of the Tohjo Mountains were gorgeous most of the year, but by now they’d lost most of their leaves, leaving the surrounding draped in shades of brown and gray. And it was too foggy to see Mt. Silver anyway.

Three hours later, I awoke to Starr grabbing my shoulder and shaking it to pull me out of a shallow half-sleep. I blinked groggily, taking more than a few seconds to realize that the train had stopped and almost all the other passengers had already left. I grabbed my bag and followed her off the train and onto a huge, densely-packed platform. Starr led the way through the station, weaving around the crowds effortlessly while I trailed after her. And then we set foot outside onto the streets of Goldenrod.

Sunlight glimmered off the windows of the tall buildings around us. The dreary fog we’d left behind in Viridian had been replaced with an impossibly bright sky, forcing me to shield my eyes the moment we were outside. Or at least until we walked under the shadows of the huge arches supporting the overhead railways. No longer blinded, I could instead focus on the sounds of nearby traffic and the chattering crowds and overhead planes. I’d barely been here five minutes and I was already certain this was the busiest city I’d ever been to.

“Man, it has been a while since I’ve been here,” Starr said, stretching widely. “Course, the last time I was on vacation, not… whatever this is.” She sighed and turned to face me. “What about you? Ever been to Goldenrod?”

I shook my head. “Furthest west I’ve ever been was visiting relatives in Cherrygrove when I was a kid.”

She clicked her tongue. “Huh. You’ve been on your own before, though, yeah? I mean, I’d have assumed yes, but if you’re not even a real trainer…” She trailed off, smirking.

I raised an eyebrow. “Yes, I’ve been on my own.”

Starr nodded. “Good, cause I gotta go check out some shady places, and I don’t want you coming with. Wanna say we’ll meet up at the central district Pokécenter?” I was about to respond, but she had grabbed a Pokéball and opened it. The flash of light took the shape of an oversized mouse, and I immediately averted my eyes.

“You’re letting Raichu out?” I asked, all too aware of how immediately tense I’d become.

“He’s my best defense if I get jumped,” she said, a bit defensively. “I’m kinda surprised you don’t have number nine out. You still have it, right?”

My stomach curled inward on itself. “Yeah. I have him.” I hadn’t talked to him since… since the morning after it happened. Which was only two days ago, but still. I’d deliberately kept him in his ball while explaining things to my team because I’d wanted to talk to him in private. But now I needed to actually go through with that.

“Hey, wake up. You good for meeting at the central Pokécenter? I dunno what time, but probably after sundown.” She stared at me expectantly.

I shook my head to clear it. “Oh, sure.”

“Alright, see you then,” she said, giving a slight wave before turning and walking off. She made it about ten steps before she spun around and called out, “Oh yeah, avoid the west side of town!” Five more steps and she added, “Oh, and the underground!”

I chuckled a bit under my breath. That probably wouldn’t be too hard. It seemed best to just head straight to the central district and kill time there.

Bus stops lined the streets outside the train station. It wasn’t hard to find one of the iconic red and white buses that led to the Pokécenter in most towns. No license meant fishing coins out of my pocket to pay the fare (and enduring the confused looks as to why someone my age wouldn’t just pay using a license), but I’d gotten used to that by now.

Twenty minutes later, I was standing in front of largest Pokécenter I’d ever seen—several stories tall and practically covered in posters showing off new trainer tech they had available inside. The nearby buildings weren’t much different, dwarfing their surroundings and lined with signs and ads. Central district was clearly the most popular destination for both tourists and trainers, as the streets were packed with both. It would’ve been nice to be here as a tourist. To just forget everything going on with Team Rocket and get lost in the sights and sounds of the city. But then again, was there anything stopping me from doing that, at least for the afternoon? It wasn’t like I had a destination. Heck, I still hadn’t even heard back from Stalker. The only thing stopping me from enjoying myself was, as usual, myself.

So it was decided. I was here as a tourist after all. With that, I set off in a random direction, cyclists weaving around me as I vaguely followed the flow of the foot traffic. My first priority was food. The last thing I’d eaten was a simple Pokécenter breakfast with Ajia six hours ago—although it felt closer to six days ago from how much had happened. But if there was ever a place to be looking for food, this was obviously it. Restaurants and food carts were everywhere, practically lining the streets no matter where I went in Central district. And each one had a line of trainers out front too. I bought something resembling a bacon pancake (a local specialty) from a food cart and then sought out one of the many training parks in the area. I soon found one on the edge of a river that cut through the city. Trees lined the walking paths, but the fields were wide, open, and full of short-cropped grass and dirt battlefields. I sat down at a picnic bench and ate while watching a group of trainers in the closest field as they practiced a tag team attack with a Growlithe, Wooper, and Chikorita.

It wasn’t until that moment that I managed to properly appreciate the fact that I was in Johto now. Not only that, but I was on my own in the biggest city in Johto. That would’ve been completely unthinkable five months ago.

At some point, I unclipped Chibi’s black Pokéball from my belt and rolled it around in my palm. It had only been two days since the attack on Midnight. Two days. And he had spent most of that time in stasis, inside his Pokéball. It’d be crazy to expect him to have recovered at all. At least, not emotionally. But still… I needed to talk to him. No matter how much he didn’t want me to. Even if he put himself back in the ball the moment I let him out… I had to try.

I held my breath and pressed the button. A flash of light, and the Zapdos-Pikachu hybrid materialized in the grass next to me. Slowly, he opened his eyes. He didn’t look at his surroundings, or even make eye contact with me. He just stared straight ahead and said, “*What do you want?*”

“I just want to talk,” I said gently.

“*What’s the point,*” he said. It wasn’t a question. His tone made it clear that he didn’t want an answer. But I was going to give him one whether he liked it or not.

“The point is that I want to help you through this.”

For several seconds, he didn’t say anything. He just stood there, unmoving aside from his eyes flickering back and forth as he considered his words.

“*What do you think…*”—his eyes slowly slid upward to meet mine—“*you can possibly say that will make anything better?*”

I almost flinched. His eyes were cold and dead, devoid of any energy. I took a deep breath to steel myself and said, “Nothing. I can’t fix this. I know that.”

“*Then why bother?*”

I swallowed hard. “Because I don’t want you to suffer through this all by yourself?” I said, trying to keep the edge out of my voice. “You suffered alone for how many years because they took him? I can’t let you go through that again.”

The Pikachu bristled. “*It’s none of your business.*”

“Of course it is,” I said, gripping my knees tightly. “You’re a part of my team. I’m not just going to ignore you. Not when I need to be there for you.”

He paused, flattening his ears. “*If you’re worried about whether or not I’ll still fight for you—*”

“You know that’s not what I’m worried about.”

“*—I’ll do it. I’ll fight.*”

My mouth hung open. That was completely not the answer I’d been expecting. “I’m… I’m not just going to throw you into danger while you’re like this.”

“*I can let myself out.*”

I put a hand to my forehead slowly, trying my hardest not to let the exasperation show. This wasn’t right. I was supposed to be comforting him, not getting frustrated with him.

“*I have to fight them,*” Chibi said, suddenly fixing me with a serious glare. “*Don’t you see? That’s why I exist.*”

My throat clenched up. “That’s… not true. I know we’re still going to be fighting them, but that’s not your purpose. You don’t have to—”

“*I called Razors a coward,*” he said, eyes wide and desperate. “*I accused him of hiding from the fight while the rest of us risked our lives. That’s the last thing I said to him before he died. That’s why he put himself at risk like that.*” He was shaking all over, fur standing on end. “*It’s my fault. I did this. It’s my fault,*” he muttered over and over to himself.

“It’s not—”

“*If I can’t hold myself to what I said to him, then what am I worth? I have to fight them. They have to pay. It’s the only reason I’m still here.*”

I exhaled slowly. “Don’t do this. You don’t have to live for revenge. He’d… he’d have wanted you to live for yourself.”

“*Don’t you dare try to say what he’d want,*” the hybrid snapped, suddenly livid. He jabbed his tail at me and said, “*I joined you because I knew it would give me the opportunity to fight them. That’s the only reason. And if that changes, then I have no reason to stay with you. I don’t need you. Don’t try to stop me.*”

He swung his tail around to hit his Pokéball and dissolved into it. I sat there, completely dumbstruck, staring at the place where he’d been as a burning pain wormed its way through my chest.

I didn’t feel like watching any of the trainers in the park anymore.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was past 5 when I made my way back to the central Pokécenter, and the sun had already set, leaving the sky streaked with the red glow of twilight. The surrounding hadn’t darkened, though—far from it. Between the glow of the nearly-full moon and the overwhelming glare of the huge billboards and screens that lined the buildings, Goldenrod was somehow just as bright and lively as it had been a few hours ago. That fact was comforting. It was hard to imagine getting ambushed by Rockets in a place like this.

I was about to walk inside the Pokécenter when someone waving caught my eye in my peripheral vision. It was Starr, seated at one of the benches out front, although I almost didn’t recognize her. She’d gotten a haircut—shorter than it was before—and completely changed her outfit. She was now dressed in a leather jacket with gray leggings and a dark violet skirt. Her signature oversized combat boots were gone, replaced with lighter, lace-up boots.

“You look… really different,” I said as I walked up.

“Yeah? Well, that’s the idea. Make it harder for any Rockets to recognize me from a distance.” She paused for a bit, then added, “I think this is the first time you haven’t flinched when you saw me. First time in recent memory, anyway.”

I winced. “Really?” I hadn’t realized I’d been doing that.

“Yeah. I… I’m glad,” she said, glancing away.

It made sense. I’d hardly just be able to turn that instinct off. The instinct that associated her with nothing but pain and misery. The part of my mind that still couldn’t understand how she’d done those things.

“So, uh… no luck on the license,” Starr went on awkwardly. “This would be so much easier if I could just hit the underground, but that place is practically owned by Rockets.” She muttered some miscellaneous obscenities regarding the Johto force before continuing with, “With my luck, this’d be the one time they actually got their sorry asses in gear and came through on a hit issued by the Kanto force.”

Yet another weird bit of internal Rocket politics that I had no real say in.

“Whatever. No Pokécenter tonight, so we’ll have to stay at a hotel,” she said, standing up and motioning to me. “Come on, I know a few on the west side of town that don’t ask for ID.”

I raised an eyebrow. “I thought you said to avoid the west side of town.”

“Yeah, well, you got me with you now,” she said bluntly.

It was hard to argue with that. She did know way more about this city than I did. It was a strange thought, but I glad to have her by my side.

“Probably better that we stay away from the Pokécenter,” Starr went on. “Place’ll be crawling with kids. We’d stand out pretty bad. Or at least, I would.” She flashed a smirk at me from over her shoulder.

I rolled my eyes. She was really dredging up that old joke? “I’m almost fifteen. You can’t call me a little kid forever.”

“Watch me.”

And for that moment, even just a tiny bit, it felt like old times.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

That good feeling didn’t last. Not with my dreams dragging me back into the Rocket base, just like they had in the week following my capture. Maybe it had something to do with us staying in a tiny hotel room in the shadiest part of town. Or maybe it was falling asleep and being completely vulnerable in the same room as the person who’d tortured me. Either way, the night was an endless chain of sinking into a shallow, restless sleep, only to be jolted out of it minutes later. I kept seeing Astrid standing over me, and she’d tell me it was all a trick, and that I was a naïve idiot to have ever believed that she could change. Then she’d snap her fingers and suddenly Raichu would appear, only this time he’d grin stupidly as his electricity tore me apart. Sometimes Mewtwo was there, and he’d clench his fingers together and I’d feel an unbearable pressure from all sides, forcing the air from my lungs and crushing my bones with a sickening crunch. And I’d be certain that I’d died, only to feel another string of lightning shoot through my heart.

Sometimes the experiments were there too, and Stygian would give me a look of cold disgust while Aros would laugh and say, “I told you so.” Chibi would scold me and say that I wasn’t any use to him dead, and then he’d leave, and I’d try to run after him only to abruptly realize that my legs didn’t work anymore. Then I’d blink, and I’d be back in the hotel room, and I could feel my pulse, but my limbs still wouldn’t move, and for some reason Astrid was still there, standing across the room, glaring at me. But then I’d blink again, and she’d be in bed, asleep. And I’d be left with a sickly feeling of unease worming through my insides until I rolled over and buried myself in the blankets and started the whole thing all over again.

I didn’t mention any of it the next morning. Not when we got ready for the day, or when we rode the bus back to the central district. When Starr joked that I looked like a zombie, I just replied that the bed was uncomfortable. And then we parted ways at the Pokécenter, and I was left to wander the city with my thoughts still stuck in the twisted mess of nightmares and the realization that it would be impossible to just erase the memories of what she’d done. No matter how badly I wanted to.

The rest of the day passed by in a dull haze. I wandered through department stores looking at items I couldn’t buy and stumbled across more parks where I debated training but found that I wasn’t up to it. I spent hours arguing with myself over whether or not it was worth it to talk to Starr about it, and at the end of those hours, I was no closer to having an answer, so I wound up just asking Swift.

“*Of course you should tell her,*” he had said. “*She joined you for a reason.*”

And in a way, I had already known he would say that. But actually hearing it from him still helped. So before the afternoon was over, I made my way back to the Pokécenter early and waited out front for Starr.

She returned before sundown, disembarking a bus that had come from somewhere that wasn’t part of the typical trainer circuit. From the look on her face, I could already guess that her search had gone better today than it had yesterday.

“Guess what?” she asked sitting down next to me. “Got lucky and found a guy who was able set me up with a new trainer ID. Gonna take him a few days to get around some of the League checks, but it should be good to go after that. Won’t be able to use it to enter any official tournaments or the like. But for everyday use it should be fine. Nice to finally have things go right for a change.”

My chest tightened. Great, now I was going to ruin her good mood. But I couldn’t ignore this. Not if I wanted to travel with her without turning into a ball of nerves all the time.

“Hey, um… can we talk?”

She raised an eyebrow. “Yeah?”

I gripped the edge of the bench so hard my knuckles turned white. “I can’t stop thinking about that night in the detention cell.”

Starr’s face fell immediately. “I really don’t want to talk about that,” she said, glancing away.

“I need to talk about it,” I forced myself to say. “Maybe you can brush it aside or pretend it didn’t happen but I don’t have that luxury.”

Starr flinched, like the words were a slap to the face. She turned away, screwing her eyes shut. Slowly, like she hated every word: “Right. Say what you want to say, I guess.”

I really only had one question. One single, burning question that consumed my thoughts and made it impossible to think about anything else. I took a deep breath and said, “I, just… why? Every single time we ran into each other, it’s like you were dead-set on seeing me suffer. I don’t get it. You said you had to keep the others from suspecting you, but… why’d it have to involve that?

I didn’t want to be angry at her—not after everything we’d been through yesterday. But dammit, that wasn’t the kind of thing I could just forget. I’d tried.

Starr couldn’t look me in the eye—she just stared downward for the longest time, looking absolutely miserable. “I was afraid they were going to kill you,” she whispered, her voice trembling. “I couldn’t make the same mistakes I made with Ajia. I couldn’t take the risk that anyone would find out that we knew each other. I thought if I put on a good show and got you to confess, then maybe no one would care if I let you go after we finished off the rebel team.”

I winced. It hurt to hear her talk about the death of my teammates with such… casual language.

Starr buried her face in her palms. “I didn’t care if you hated me, or if you never wanted to see me again… I just wanted you to live.” She paused, dragging her nails against her forehead as she balled her hands into fists. “I know that doesn’t fix anything. I know I can never take it back, no matter how badly I want to. That was… the most painful thing I’ve ever done.”

I stifled the urge to sarcastically reply that it had been more painful for me. Because the truth was… I didn’t envy her. The idea of being forced to torture someone I cared about without breaking character… it was nauseating.

Starr finally pulled her face out of her hands, staring brokenly into the distance. “I could have betrayed them sooner,” she said bitterly, her words dripping with self-loathing. “I could have refused, taken you, and tried to escape. It’s just… I’ve seen what happens to those who betray Team Rocket—I’ve done it to traitors myself. I was a scared, selfish idiot, so I did what I’ve always done and just buried it all away.” She swallowed hard and inhaled deeply. “But… I’m glad you and Ajia didn’t give up on me. I still hate the way she tricked me, but…”—she exhaled slowly—“it’s better this way.”

I was silent for a long while. I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t even sure what kind of answer I’d been hoping for.

“There’s still a part of me that’s afraid of you,” I admitted.

She closed her eyes. “Yeah, I know.”

“I do still want to start over,” I added quickly. “It’s just… going to be harder than I thought.”

“That’s fine. It’s the best I can hope for.” She stared downward for a few seconds, then abruptly stood up. “Hey, how about we get something to eat? My treat.”

“You’ve been paying for everything this entire trip,” I mumbled. I still hadn’t puzzled out how I felt about that.

“Yeah, well, I’ve got a lot of lost time to make up for. Five years?” she asked, offering a hand to me.

I stared at it for a long time. Then my eyes slowly slid upward to meet hers. That wasn’t the face of someone who just wanted to brush aside my pain or act like it never happened. Not by a long shot.

“Yeah. That sounds good,” I said, taking her hand.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dinner was nice. Starr led the way down a maze of side streets to some backroad full of restaurants that would have been impossible to find unless you were looking for it. I ordered what ended up being the best bowl of noodles I’d ever had, and we swapped stories about our early training days. Stories like the time when Starr’s Totodile and Ponyta refused to train together. Or the time when I’d used Swift against Sandshrew and had forgotten what moves Pidgey could use. Her stories were from five years ago and mine were only from four months ago, but mine might as well have been from five years ago, that’s how distant they felt.

At some point around the end of the meal, it occurred to me that I hadn’t checked my R-com ever since we’d left for Goldenrod. I fished it out of my bag and turned it on to see that I’d gotten two texts yesterday. Around the time Starr and I had been on the train, from the looks of it. I tapped the first one and read:

Hey, Rudy said more than five words to me today so that’s progress. Btw, where’d you go? You sorta just vanished, lol. Went to get your license I’m guessing? When you getting back?

Oh my god, I’d forgotten about Rudy and Darren. I’d completely ditched them without saying a word, and then forgot about them for three days. Granted, three absurdly stressful and eventful days, but still.

“You shouldn’t use that,” Starr said, snapping me out of my thoughts. “Get a Pokégear.”

“Yeah, with what money,” I said flatly.

“I’ll get you one then, just don’t use that. They can track—” Her eyes went wide, and she fixed me with a skeptical glare. “Wait, hang on. If the rebels all had legit Rocket accounts, why didn’t we ever have a record of you guys spending time on Midnight Island? I had my people check the new recruits, too. They all came back clean, nothing suspicious.”

“Stalker told us he tampered with the trackers in our R-coms,” I replied.

She smacked her forehead. “Of course.”

I went back to the texts. The second one was from a number I didn’t recognize. Intrigued, I tapped on it. My eyes widened instantly. It was from Stalker.

I can’t tell you my current location. However, I can meet with you if you’d like.

My heart jumped into my throat. This was the first I’d heard from Stalker since the night of the attack. Finally, I’d be able to talk to him and figure out what I was going to do from now on.

“Where do you want to meet? I’m in Goldenrod right now,” I typed back immediately, my fingers flying across the screen. Did he have his R-com on him at the moment? How long would I have to wait for a reply? The next few seconds seemed to drag on for ages. Until finally:

Johto National Park. West Garden. One hour.

Johto National Park… that was nearby, wasn’t it? I brought up the GPS app (it loaded lightning fast—a perk of being in Goldenrod?) and checked it out. Just north of the city. Perfect—wouldn’t take more than twenty minutes to get there by flying.

“Mind sharing what you’re reading over there?” Starr asked dryly.

I glanced up to see a rather unamused look on her face. Okay, so maybe staring at an R-com while we were trying to move past the time she spent on Team Rocket was a little tasteless.

“Uh. Just talking with a friend. We’re planning to meet up at the Johto National Park.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Who?”

I sucked in a breath. She definitely wasn’t going to like the answer. I could have just lied. But I didn’t really want to do that. I wanted things to be more open between us. But at the same time, why did it have to be this?

I exhaled slowly and said, “Stalker.”

Her eyes widened instantly. “You’re meeting the rebel team leader?” she asked in a low tone, leaning forward across the table to stare at me face to face. “Who is he?”

I narrowed my eyes. “Why do you ask?”

“Because that asshole was the bane of my existence for months. I’ve got to know.” I gave her an unimpressed stare. She threw her hands up and said, “Come on, it’s not like I can turn him in now.

“Well, I don’t know who he is anyway,” I said matter-of-factly, leaning back against my seat.

Starr snorted. “He really didn’t tell you his name? Some leader. He must have really trusted you guys.”

“He didn’t tell us so we couldn’t have that kind of info forced out of us,” I muttered without thinking.

Starr froze, looking like she’d just been slapped. She blinked a few times, then turned away sharply and said, “Right. Whatever… just go.”

I frowned. “Now?”

“Yes, now,” she said without looking back at me. “I’m covering the bill anyway, so there’s no reason for you to stick around. I’ll be at the same Pokécenter as before.”

I sat there for several seconds, still processing the turn the conversation had just taken. Finally, I grabbed my backpack, stood up from the booth, and walked out the door. It wasn’t until I got a few steps away from the diner that I really stopped and thought about what I’d said. And… alright, maybe I was too harsh, especially since we were making an effort to heal the bad blood between us. But honestly, I wasn’t gonna deal with that Rocket crap after everything we’d been through. Not anymore.

I wandered around until I found a park that doubled as a takeoff and landing point for flying Pokémon. From there, Aros and I took to the skies, and within minutes we were soaring over the city, the buildings below us glowing golden in the light of the setting sun. The crisp November air swept over us as we flew north of the city. I was glad that it was November. October had… well, it had sucked. Not to mention my birthday was coming up. Something about the idea of not being fourteen anymore sounded extremely appealing, and I couldn’t wait for that day to come.

Eventually the buildings of the city gave way to open fields, and I spotted the National Park in the distance. It would’ve been hard to miss the iconic Pokéball shape that its trails formed through the grass. I pointed Aros in the direction of the west garden, and the dragon spiraled down to land. And then I waited for Stalker to arrive. He’d requested that we meet in an hour, but with how quickly I’d left the diner, I’d gotten there far earlier than I needed to. But that was fine. I found an empty picnic table and sat down, watching bug Pokémon flit in and out of the tall grass as the sky slowly darkened and the majority of the park’s visitors left.

And then I heard the sound of heavy wingbeats. My pulse quickened, and I glanced around hurriedly until I caught sight of a Pokémon flying high above the park—broad-winged, orange, and flame-tailed. And on its back was a trainer.

“It’s really you,” I said, standing up from the bench as Charizard landed in front of me and Stalker dismounted her. Part of me was having a hard time believing it. Last time I’d seen him, he’d been desperately flying off into the night sky, closely pursued by Moltres.

He recalled Charizard and turned to face me, taking a few steps forward. “How have you been?”

I bit my tongue. If that wasn’t the hardest question to answer right now, I didn’t know what was. So much had happened in such a short amount of time. I was still pretty sure that it was all going to hit me in the face at once.

“This has probably been the hardest week of my life,” I admitted.

Stalker nodded. “I’m not surprised. I only wish it hadn’t been necessary for me to leave.”

My mouth went dry. Did he have any idea how hard it was for us to make it through the aftermath of the attack without him? For four months, we’d looked up to him and relied on him for everything, and then he was suddenly gone with only a text message telling us that he was even alive.

“Why didn’t you come back?”

He gave me a pointed look. The hurt in my voice clearly hadn’t escaped him. “I’m a huge target. That night proved as much—approaching the rebels in that situation would have been a death sentence. For them as well as me.”

I’d known that all along. Part of me had just hoped that there was more to it than that.

“You’re one of only a few rebels to contact me, you know that?” he said.

Probably because I didn’t have a choice. My identity had been compromised. It wasn’t safe to return home. Not to mention everything that happened with Starr in the Viridian base. Even the boss himself knew my name now.

“Yeah. I believe it,” I said flatly. “I can’t go back to my old life, so I might as well make the best of this one.” I couldn’t help but get the feeling that his eyes were carefully analyzing my every reaction—almost like being x-rayed. It was a little unnerving, so I decided to turn the conversation back to him. “What about you? What have you been doing? You know, now that the Rebellion’s over.”

“Lots of catching up on things,” he replied. “I’ve been busy ever since I got here. But it’s nice to finally be back in my home region.”

“You’re from Johto?” I asked. For some reason, it had never occurred to me to ask where he was originally from. He didn’t have much of a Johto accent either, so I never would have guessed.

Stalker nodded. “It was convenient that you came to Goldenrod. It’s not far from where I live.”

I shuffled a foot against the dirt. “Huh. I had no idea. I was only there because a friend suggested it,” I said. But then I was suddenly struck by how strange that was. “So, hang on… why didn’t you run the Rebellion from Johto? Have us infiltrate the Johto force instead?”

“That’s actually what I hoped to talk to you about,” he said, the corners of his mouth turned up ever so slightly. “You see, I needed to weaken the Kanto force.”

I tilted my head. “Wait, really? But… both halves of Team Rocket are working together toward the same goal, right? What’s the difference?”

“The Kanto force is the real threat in this situation,” he said matter-of-factly. “They invented the Legendary control technology. They created Mewtwo.”

Mewtwo. I hadn’t told him yet!

“Mewtwo’s been freed,” I immediately replied, feeling my heart swell a bit with pride. Sure, Ajia had been behind most of it, but still.

Stalker’s eyes lit up. “I heard. And I can’t thank you enough.”

“Wait, what?” I asked, taken aback. “You heard?”

“The news spread like wildfire. Mewtwo caused a great deal of damage to the Viridian base before it was forced to flee,” he explained. “I don’t know if you’ve realized this, but freeing Mewtwo was probably the most important thing that’s happened in the entire fight against Team Rocket. More important that all the other missions combined.”

I paused. There was definitely something strange about the way he’d said that. Almost like he’d been planning the Mewtwo mission all along.

“Did… did you create the Rebellion specifically to free Mewtwo?” I asked.

Stalker blinked, gazing at me curiously, as though the thought had never really occurred to him. “It’s hard to say. I didn’t know much about number thirty-six back then. But I can’t help feeling like it was always our most important task.”

I don’t think I could have given him a more weirded-out expression. But before I could say anything, his eyes slid past me, and he chuckled. “Well, this is unexpected. I think we’re being watched.”

I jolted. What? Someone was watching us? And he wasn’t concerned by that? I whirled around to look in the direction he was facing. And then my jaw fell open when I saw who it was.

“Starr?! What are you doing here?!” I blinked a few times, half-expecting my mind to be playing tricks on me. But no, it was really her standing there, half-hidden in the bushes, watching us. Her arrival was so completely random that I was having a hard time processing it. How had she even gotten here? I had flown but it would’ve taken way longer to get here any other way.

For several seconds, she didn’t say anything. She just stood there, staring at me like she was having just as hard a time figuring out why I was here. Finally, in a low tone of voice, she said, “Jade, what are you doing with him?”

I scowled, taking several steps toward her. “Come on, don’t change the subject. Were you seriously that desperate to find out who Stalker is?”

He’s Stalker?!” she exclaimed, staring at me incredulously. She threw a glare at Stalker, and he nodded softly. And then she broke into a fit of manic giggles.

“He’s Stalker. He’s Stalker. Oh man, I knew it had to be one of the creeps from the Johto Resistance, but him?!” What the hell was she talking about? Did she know him?

Starr forced herself to regain control of her breathing, wiping her eyes as she shook her head in disbelief. “Jade, do you have any idea who the hell you’re standing next to? That’s Sebastian Shepard, the fucking commander of the Johto combat unit.”






~End Chapter 26~
 
Chapter 27: The Revolt

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
Hope you're ready for a big ol' pile of reveals~



~Chapter 27: The Revolt~


I stared at the two of them, a feeling of unease growing inside me. Stalker appeared relatively unfazed by Starr’s revelation and was simply watching us with a calm, expectant look, like we’d go right back to our conversation as soon as this minor interruption was taken care of.

“What’s she talking about…?” I asked hesitantly.

He put a hand to his chest. “She’s not wrong. That is what I’m known as, and I am the Johto commander.”

Stalker was the Johto commander. Not the former Kanto commander like everyone had thought. That’s how he had access to so much of the team’s inner workings. That’s how he’d been able to bypass security checks for the rebels, give out admin rights left and right, and draw suspicion away from us by modifying things behind the scenes.

I took a wary step back from him. “What? How? You were… helping us defeat Team Rocket.”

“In a manner of speaking, yes,” he said simply.

“But… why? If you’ve been a commander all this time?”

“Because the Kanto force can’t be allowed to capture the Legendaries.”

I paused, giving him a skeptical glare. “You say that like the Johto force is different. Like they’re not also catching Legendaries. Well guess what, they caught Entei, and that’s what started this whole mess. How do you explain that?”

Stalker appeared completely unconcerned with that accusation. “Every Legendary that my force catches is one that the Kanto force cannot.”

A wave of anger suddenly flared up inside me. “So, what, you were only having us prevent the Kanto force from catching the Legendaries so that you could get them all yourself?”

He chuckled under his breath. “Of course not. We’re only catching certain ones.”

Certain ones?” I said incredulously. “Why would it matter which ones you catch? What difference does it make?”

“It makes all the difference in the world,” Stalker replied immediately. His expression had turned darkly serious.

“Well, it’s good to see that you’re just as full of shit as you’ve always been,” Starr cut in all of a sudden, stepping out of the bushes and folding her arms behind her head. “I don’t know what the Legendaries have to do with anything, but I do know that spouting hypocritical garbage to trick people into following your cause sounds exactly like you.”

Stalker closed his eyes. “Astrid, I don’t think any of this concerns you.”

“Like hell it doesn’t,” she spat. “Jade’s my friend, and if you think I’m gonna let you pull one over on her, you’ve got another thing coming.”

He paused, both eyebrows raised, looking impressed. “Ever the loyal one, I see.”

Starr glared at him. “Maybe I am. Not that you’d know anything about loyalty with all your lying and double-crossing. By the way, don’t think I didn’t notice the way you up and left your little rebel team the moment things got too risky for you.”

“You’d do well not to talk about things you know nothing about,” Stalker shot back coldly. “The Rebellion accomplished what it needed to. My decision to end it was as much a tactical one as it was for their protection.”

“What, don’t tell me you actually cared about your pawns this time?” Starr said with a laugh. “You never did before. Where were you when we caught your followers after the revolt, huh? You didn’t exactly step in to stop their executions. No, that would’ve required actually owning up to something for a change.”

“A better question perhaps is where were you? Carrying out said executions, I presume?”

Starr clenched her teeth. “Yeah. I’m a screw-up. I know that. Least I don’t try to pretend I’m not.”

“I was under the impression that’s what you’re doing right now.”

“Oh, screw you,” she spat. “You don’t get to act all self-righteous after what you did. Especially since the rebel team was you pulling the exact same shit you did last year, only with kids this time.”

“And what of the fact that your unit was responsible for those kids’ deaths?” Stalker asked calmly.

Starr’s face went red. “You want me to beat your ass right here and now?!”

Stalker closed his eyes. “I highly recommend that you don’t try that.”

Starr’s hand flew to her Pokéball belt, and that was enough.

“Okay, stop!” I yelled, holding out both arms and staring down the both of them. “I am sick and tired of hearing about all this stupid Rocket drama through vague rumors and sideways accusations, and I want answers. You two are finally going to tell me what this freaking revolt was about, and what the hell it has to do with anything, now. In detail. I’m sick of always being in the dark about everything.” I was seething, fists clenched, breathing hard. No more. I was not just going to accept any of this crap anymore.

Stalker raised both eyebrows, looking impressed. “Fair enough. I’d say it’s time you knew the truth as well,” he said, grinning slyly. Starr rolled her eyes, but then swept her hand in a “go ahead” gesture. He paused for a moment, and then began.

“It all started spring of last year. I’d just turned seventeen, was promoted to executive, and finally in a position to start making changes in the team. You see… I’ve had plans for the Johto force for a very long time. Right after I reached officer rank and learned about the Legendary Project, in fact. So I’d been making it my goal to forge as many connections as I possibly could—I wanted to know everything that happened on the team.”

He closed his eyes, carefully considering his next words. “So imagine my surprise when I heard that a teenage girl was causing discreet mischief amongst the lower ranks.”

I took a step backward. No way. He couldn’t be talking about Ajia, could he?

“It was nothing too serious—ambushing grunts, stealing assets, that sort of thing. At least, that’s all it was at first. She has a real knack for reading people. She found anyone on the team who felt scared or trapped—namely younger Rockets who had nowhere else to go—and started convincing them to turn traitor. Of course, most of them had already come to me with the same concerns at one point or another—it wasn’t hard for me to hear about what she was doing.

“One day I finally confronted her. She wasn’t afraid—she could immediately tell that I was no ordinary Rocket, and that I had my own agenda. I decided I could use her, so I told her the identity of several high-ranking Kanto agents who were conflicted about the things they’d done.”

He paused again, carefully taking in my reactions to what he’d said. It felt like his eyes were boring straight through me.

“You might be wondering how the former Kanto commander factors into all this. I trained under him for a year when I was stationed in Kanto, shortly after being promoted to officer. He wasn’t the commander yet, but he was the most powerful trainer I’ve ever known. Unfortunately… when he did get promoted to commander, he was forced into running the Legendary Project. I’ve never seen a Rocket break so quickly. He hated the idea.

“I talked to the commander and proposed the idea that we use our position to capture the Legendaries ourselves, so they would be safe from Rockets who would abuse their power. He utterly refused. I think he was already planning to quit Team Rocket, but just needed the final push.”

Stalker paused again, the corners of his mouth turning up slightly. “I’m sure you can see where this is going. I told Ajia to go meet the Kanto commander.”

Starr let out an exaggerated sound of disgust. “Okay, I like how he’s conveniently leaving out all the bullshit. First of all, Ajia was pulling a lot more crap than just spreading treasonous ideas and screwing up grunt jobs. Oh sure, it started as that, but then even the combat unit started reporting subtle things going wrong here and there. Second, he’s the one who gave her the ability to do half that stuff. I started looking into it ‘cause it always looks impressive if you catch a traitor. I was officer-rank and a candidate for becoming executive so I was under a lot of pressure, okay?” That last part was forcefully directed at me.

I raised an eyebrow. “I… wasn’t going to say anything.”

“You were giving me that look,” she said with a huff. “I was a loyal Rocket, and I did what had to be done. Until I found out that Ajia was the traitor. I tried the same thing I did with you—making sure they never caught her while trying to keep suspicion off myself. Of course, she eventually figured out that I was the one shadowing her. I tried to get her to leave Team Rocket alone, but she wouldn’t listen to me. We argued a lot, she tried to convince me to quit, I was pissed that she’d even dare to try that. Well… you know how that ended up.”

Stalker chuckled. “So you wouldn’t have even had anything to lose from the revolt if you hadn’t pursued her.”

“Don’t think I don’t know that,” she said, glaring fiercely. “I’ve lost a lot of things from trying to protect my friends. But you wouldn’t know anything about that.”

Stalker ignored her. “So Ajia met up with the commander, he found others like him who didn’t want to catch Legendaries, and he started training everyone who was part of their growing rebel band.”

“Oh, and by the way,” Starr cut in, “the only reason Sebastian told Ajia to go to Kanto was to get her out of the way while he built more of an influence in Johto. That and the fact that he wanted to get rid of the Kanto commander to weaken the Kanto force.”

“No arguments here.”

I stared at them. This wasn’t getting anywhere. “Okay, I still don’t get what specifically happened between you two, and I kind of think it needs to get mentioned.”

Starr snorted. “Well for starters, he’s a traitor and he didn’t get caught. And second, I found out that he was getting everyone else to do his dirty work, setting the Kanto force up for failure without actually doing anything himself, so he’d never get connected to any of it. I threatened to turn him in, but… he was one step ahead of me,” she said through gritted teeth. “He knew I’d done far more traitorous things trying to keep Ajia from being caught, and he made it very obvious that I’d be screwing myself over if I did anything against him.”

Stalker held up his arms defensively. “Just covering my tracks. So long as neither of us reported the other to the admins, we’d be alright. And we were.”

“Easy for you to say,” Starr growled, still giving him the death glare.

I glanced between the two, feeling more awkward by the second. “Alright, enough of that. What happened next?”

Stalker folded his arms. “Well, as the number of rebels grew, so did the tensions on the Kanto force. Rumors of treachery started flying around and a lot of members were taken in for questioning. Quite a few important rebels found themselves on the chopping block,” he said with a wry grin. “But then one day Ajia got a little too cocky with her sabotaging and was captured. I suspect it might have been intentional, but I never did find out for sure.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Why on earth would it have been intentional?”

“Because that was the tipping point that got the commander to turn traitor,” Stalker said darkly. “He gathered all the rebels, declared their betrayal, and broke her out of captivity, causing massive damage to the base before they all escaped together with her.” He paused to let the moment sink in. “That was the revolt.”

The infamous day that no one on the Kanto force wanted to talk about. They’d lost their commander, a chunk of their forces, and had failed to hold onto their most wanted criminal.

Starr clenched her teeth and closed her eyes, like the memory was painful. “It… took us a long time to recover. Losing dozens of agents, just like that. It was impossible to track down all of them. We had our hands tied just trying to get things back on track. And my loyalty was… called into question. I’d previously been under orders to hunt down and eliminate Ajia. I got closer than I’d like to admit, but… obviously I didn’t succeed. The boss always suspected that I had some connection to her, but he never had any definite proof—that’s the only reason my punishment wasn’t as severe as it could have been,” she said, wincing.

“I did become executive the following spring, but the boss always kept me under a close watch after that. And of course, Sebastian and his Johto pawns got off scot-free,” she added, shooting a nasty glare at him. “So, in case you don’t get it, Jade, this is what he does. Draw people in, get them to do his dirty work, and let them take the heat when things go south.” She paused, then added, “Just like what happened to the rebel team.”

I stared at her, unwilling to believe it. But at the same time, there was a part of me, deep down, that knew it wasn’t a lie. Which meant that the Rebellion had only ever been an extension of the revolt—a way to weaken the Kanto force to put him in a better position to take control of the team. He wasn’t trying to put an end to Team Rocket. He wasn’t even trying to prevent the Legendaries from being captured.

I swallowed hard as a sudden feeling of numbness overtook me. “So then… all along… we really were just pawns in something that’s been going on much longer?”

Stalker stared at me with a frustratingly blank expression that was impossible to read. I at least wanted him to get defensive, or gloat, or something.

“Go on. Tell her that you were just using them. Just like you used me.” Wait, what? Why was I hearing that voice?

Everyone spun around suddenly. Sure enough, there at the edge of the trees stood Ajia with her Pichu perched on her shoulder. Relief welled up inside me. And then it immediately transformed into confusion.

“Ajia? How…?” I barely managed.

“Well, this is a new one, Astrid,” Stalker cut in. “When you figured out that Jade was a few steps away from joining my side of the resistance, you had to make sure you’d have backup before coming here. What, afraid to face me alone?”

Starr’s smirk immediately changed into a scowl. Ajia walked forward to stand alongside us, her expression strangely cold. Everything about her looked tense. On-guard. Like she was expecting a fight to break out any second and had to be ready for it.

“It’s been a while, Ajia.”

“Sebastian,” she said, nodding. “I should have realized you were the rebel team leader. Nice touch having them call you Stalker, by the way.”

“Judging by the fact that Jade knew nothing at all about the revolt, I’m guessing you kept all of your encounters with Team Rocket a secret from her,” Stalker said.

Ajia sighed. “That’s true. But did you seriously tell your newest set of pawns that you were trying to stop Team Rocket?”

“I never said anything of the sort. I said I wanted to stop the Legendary Project.”

Ajia turned to me. “Do you believe him, Jade?”

I bristled. It definitely made sense for Starr to hate him after what she’d gone through on Team Rocket, but it still seemed like Stalker and Ajia held a common goal, even if they were going about things completely different.

Everyone was still looking at me, waiting for my answer. Unsure of what else to do, I nodded.

Starr chuckled. “Yeah, he’s really done a number on her.” I shot her a glare—she really didn’t have to talk about me like I wasn’t there. If they wanted to talk about how this affected me, the least they could do was get my opinion on it.

Ajia gave Stalker a sideways glance. “Yeah, well, he can be pretty convincing. After the revolt, I met up with him again, ready to work together from then on. That’s when he told me that he had no intention of giving up his position on Team Rocket, and that everything we’d done would make it easier for him to take control of the team. And of course, he became the Johto commander not long afterward.”

Stalker didn’t say anything. He just continued to regard her with the same neutral expression.

“I’ve gotten over the fact that I was just a pawn,” Ajia went on, staring downward with a pained face. “I was naïve, and I wasn’t prepared for it. I just don’t want to see anyone else used for his goals like I was.”

Stalker exhaled slowly through his nose. “If that’s the way you want to see it, then fine. But don’t try to pretend that you know how things were between me and the rebels. I’ve hid things from Jade, but so have you, and I don’t think that—”

Ajia cut him off. “Jade, did Sebastian even tell you what the Johto resistance is actually working towards?”

“I was ready and willing to tell her before you two showed up,” Stalker snapped, looking cross for the first time in the conversation. But then he closed his eyes and took a deep breath, and his calm, collected air was back. “Our goal is to prevent Giovanni and the Kanto Rockets from abusing the power of the Legendaries by capturing them ourselves.”

Ajia snorted. “And somehow it’s alright if you’re the one doing it.”

Stalker raised an eyebrow. “You know, Ajia, you’re not exactly one to talk about not using Legendaries.”

I stared. What on earth was he talking about? I shot a glance at Ajia, but she looked just as confused as I felt.

Stalker put a hand to his forehead. “Right, I don’t suppose you told them that, either. Jade, Astrid… do either of you know exactly how you three escaped from the Viridian base?”

“Are you saying that you do know?” Starr asked, fixing him with an incredulous glare. “You weren’t exactly there.”

It would have been easy for anyone else to miss it, but I’d known him long enough to catch the tiny glint in his eye. Like he’d been waiting for someone to ask him that, and was already relishing the chance to explain.

“I admit that it took me a long time to figure it out. I watched the security footage and reviewed the reports all night. You two somehow managed to disappear within a crowd that was actively looking for you, then make it all the way to the transport wing without any Rockets or cameras spotting you. And you did it all with an Umbreon at your side for seemingly no reason.”

That’s right—Umbreon had been with us the entire time. And he hadn’t done anything until the fight with Mewtwo. Of course that was strange, but when I asked Ajia why, she’d just said he was there for luck. Of course there was more to it than that.

Stalker fixed his gaze on Ajia, lips curled into a smirk. “You were very thorough, I’ll give you that. But there was the slightest weirdness about the flash of light when you sent out your Espeon. And why did your Umbreon look like it was concentrating at that exact moment? A moment which took place immediately after the anti-teleport field went down. That wasn’t your Espeon at all, was it? It was something teleporting to you from outside the base. But I don’t think I would have suspected that of being an illusion if not for the fact that no one saw what happened to Mewtwo’s Master Ball. Your entire mission was hidden within an illusion, wasn’t it? And that would explain your Umbreon—or should I say… your Zoroark?”

Zoroark? What? I’d never heard of that Pokémon. And how could it disguise itself as an Umbreon and somehow hide a bunch of other stuff going on around it? I glanced at Ajia, hoping for answers, but she was staring at the ground, brows furrowed in concentration.

Stalker went on, “But what could have been so important to hide? Something strong enough to land a hit on Mewtwo and drop its defenses long enough to break the Master Ball. Something that not only had the ability to teleport, but also to disguise itself—because everyone saw it as an Espeon, even when it was nowhere near Zoroark. And you would never put such a high-stakes plan into motion without some kind of trump card.

“There aren’t many options. I know who the seven are. The only one that fits is Mew. You’re Mew’s chosen.”

What. Ajia was Mew’s… chosen? What? He didn’t honestly believe that Mew had shown up to help us free Mewtwo… did he? Why would the Legendary Mew get involved in our personal drama?

Starr burst out laughing, completely unimpressed. “Are you insane? You don’t seriously think Ajia’s got a friggin’ Legendary, do you?”

I shot another glance at Ajia, desperate for some indicator of what the hell Stalker was talking about, but… she was just staring at him, impressed. She wasn’t denying it. And from the slow grin spreading across Stalker’s face, he knew he was right.

Starr glanced between the two of them, her amused smirk slowly fading into a suspicious glare. “Hang on. He… is just making shit up… right, Ajia?”

He had mentioned “the seven.” The seven Legendaries who would form an alliance with humanity? Mew was one. And it had chosen Ajia? Chosen her for what? I clenched my teeth, desperately forcing every ounce of thought into piecing together the scraps of information.

Stalker knew about the legends. And the Johto force owned Legendaries, but only certain ones. Did that mean there were certain Legendaries he didn’t want to catch?

“You’re only trying to protect the seven special ones from the legend, aren’t you?” I said slowly, my eyes widening as the realization hit me. “The seven that will pick a chosen?”

“What the hell is up with this ‘chosen’ thing that you and Sebastian keep going on about?!” Starr demanded all of a sudden. She then turned toward Ajia and added, “Don’t tell me he’s actually right about this. Was that seriously Mew that broke Mewtwo’s Master Ball? Why didn’t you tell us?!”

And with that, Ajia’s silence finally broke. “I already told you guys that I couldn’t tell you, remember?” she said desperately. “The chosen aren’t supposed reveal their position to anyone; it’s too dangerous at this point.”

“That still doesn’t explain what it is,” Starr said flatly, fixing her with an unimpressed stare.

I turned toward her expectantly, waiting for an answer. Ajia hesitated, her eyes flickering between me and Starr. Both of us staring her down, no longer willing to accept a lack of answers.

“It means I was picked to fight alongside Mew and protect her as the conflict gets worse,” Ajia said slowly. “And… if necessary, she can lend me her power.”

That legend… it was more than just a myth? If the Legendaries were actually making deals with humans, then it had to be real. But why were they doing it? What possible reason could there be for Legendaries to get help from humans?

“I thought you were against humans using the power of the legends, but I suppose not,” Stalker said, folding his arms with a smug grin.

Ajia scoffed. “It’s not the same.”

“Explain to me, then. Why isn’t it the same?”

Ajia raised both eyebrows incredulously. “Mew chose me and I accepted. Your force’s Legendaries didn’t have a choice.”

“Neither did any of the Pokémon you’ve captured, but they accept that and fight for you just the same,” he said, gesturing to her with one palm up.

Ajia threw her arms in the air. “Oh, come on! I’m not having this conversation with you again. No one who fights for you ever really has a choice in it. You just make it look like there is.”

“If you’re going to keep saying things like that, then you’d better be willing to back it up with force,” Stalker muttered, his eyes cold. He had grabbed a Pokéball from his belt, gripping it so tightly his knuckles turned white.

Ajia smirked. “I’ve beaten you before. If it’ll make you leave Jade alone, I’ll do it again.”

Wait, what? Hang on… didn’t I get a choice in any of this?

“You honestly think you can beat me now that I’ve got a Legendary?”

“You just told everyone I’m partnered with Mew, so yes.”

“And how are we different, exactly?” Stalker asked, throwing his arms to the side.

“Stop it!” I yelled, stepping in between them. If I wasn’t careful, we all risked a Legendary fight breaking out right here and now, and that was definitely something I wanted to avoid.

“I get that this conflict between all of you goes way back. But this is about me, and what I’m planning to do from now on,” I said shooting a glare at each one of them in turn. “If you’re gonna talk about what I should do, you should at least talk to me about it.”

Ajia paused, looking taken aback. She threw a confused glance at me, like she honestly hadn’t realized she’d been talking about me like I wasn’t there.

Stalker nodded slowly. “That’s a fair request. You should know that my side is the one that’s going to make a difference in this fight. What can the outer resistance do without access to the inner workings of the team? I accomplished more with twelve-year-olds in four months than the resistance has in the past year.” He turned to Ajia. “You don’t even have the commander on your side anymore, do you?”

Ajia bristled, and for the first time in the conversation, she didn’t have a comeback ready for him. She just glanced away, avoiding his gaze.

“Why does there have to be a ‘side’?” I asked quietly.

“An excellent question,” Stalker said, throwing a significant look towards Ajia.

She screwed her eyes shut. “I tried that. He was the one who used me. He’s the one who thinks imprisoning the Legendaries counts as saving them.”

And then, just as Stalker was about to respond, the muffled sound of something buzzing caught everyone’s attention. It was coming from Stalker’s direction. He sighed, then reached into his pocket and pulled out his R-com. He took a look at the caller, raised an eyebrow, then answered it.

“I said no calls.” Several seconds passed, and then, “How urgent?” His eyes flickered back and forth as he listened to what the caller was saying, then at once, he raised both eyebrows in surprise.

“…that is urgent,” he said slowly.

And then out of nowhere, Ajia stiffened, mouth hanging open like she’d just made a horrible realization. She blinked a few times, eyes darting around until they fell on Stalker.

“This is bad,” she announced.

“I expect you just got the same message I did,” Stalker replied, pocketing his R-com. What? She hadn’t gotten any messages at all. How did he—

“What’s going on?!” Starr demanded.

“Legendaries are attacking the Viridian Rocket HQ,” Ajia said.

A moment of heavy silence followed as Starr and I gaped at each other incredulously. Legendaries were attacking the Viridian base? What? Where the hell had that come from?

“What?” we both said in unison.

Ajia was now pacing back and forth, rubbing her temples. “This is bad, this is really bad,” she said repeatedly.

“Why? So let the stupid Legendaries clobber the Kanto force. I really couldn’t care less anymore,” Starr grumbled.

“It’s not that. The battle’s happening over the city. Just think of how many innocent people are gonna get caught up in that.”

Starr clenched her teeth. “So…?” she asked in her best attempt at nonchalance, despite the obvious concern crossing her face.

“Don’t forget—the Kanto Force isn’t exactly a pushover, even without Mewtwo,” Stalker interjected. “They might be scrambling now, but they will organize. We don’t want them adding to their selection of captured Legendaries, do we?”

That crushing sensation I’d felt after Articuno and Moltres had been captured… I didn’t think I could handle that for a second time. Not if there was something I could do about it.

“I’d go, but after the Entei fiasco, I don’t think I’d be welcome there,” Stalker continued. “And if I caught one of them while disguised, my forces could never use it.” The slightest trace of a grin crossed his face. “But it doesn’t matter, because you three will make sure none of them get caught, won’t you?”

“Like hell we will,” Starr spat.

But Ajia didn’t respond for some time. She was still staring at him, both eyebrows raised incredulously. “Of course. Just like old times. Why take action yourself when you can get everyone else to do your dirty work?” With a half-hearted chuckle, she added, “The funny part is even knowing that, I have to do it.”

Stalker turned away. “There’s no need to be so dramatic. We both want the same thing here. I’m unable to take action right now. You’re able. It’s as simple as that.” And with that, he started walking away.

“Wait, you’re leaving just like that?” I asked.

Stalker paused. “I know better than trying to turn friends against each other. I’m not making the same mistake Giovanni made.” He made eye contact with me. “You would have made a good ally. You had one of the most drastic transformations out of anyone on the Rebellion. But you still lack resolve. What are you really fighting for? I’ll be interested to find out.”

A Pokéball opened, and a flash of light took the familiar form of an orange dragon. He mounted his Charizard and whispered something in her ear. With a nod, she flapped her huge wings and took off to the north.

Starr glared at the space where he’d left. “Of all the arrogant, lying, hypocritical, traitorous shitheads, it had to be Sebastian.”

Even knowing the reason why she despised him so much, her words still stung. That was my leader she was talking about. The leader who’d taught the rebels how to fight people like her—of course she’d hate him. But then… if it was only ever to serve his own agenda… Damn it, what was I supposed to think anymore?

Ajia sighed. “Never mind him. We can’t afford to let him get our spirits down, right?”

Easier said than done. My mind was still reeling from everything I’d just learned. Most of all, the revelation that after all our hard work to protect the Legendaries, he’d been catching them himself anyway.

“I have to know which Legendaries he’s caught,” I said slowly, fighting back the feeling of numbness that was spreading inside me.

Starr gave me a sideways glance. “The Johto force has both Raikou and Entei. And Sebastian has personal ownership of Latios,” she said, her voice dripping with contempt.

My heart sank through the floor. Raikou? After all that effort we went through to save Raikou last August, he just went ahead and caught it? Not to mention… Latios?

Starr turned to face Ajia, arms crossed and looking reluctantly impressed. “So you’ve got a friggin’ Zoroark, huh? No wonder you escaped from Team Rocket as many times as you did. I swore I was going crazy a few of those times you gave me the slip.”

I was still having a hard time wrapping my head around that fact. “So… you don’t even have an Espeon and an Umbreon? It was Mew and Zoroark?”

Ajia shook her head. “No, I do have them. You saw them both for real after that plane crash.”

“But then in the server room… when you let out Espeon, it was actually Mew?”

“I never let Mew or Espeon out of a ball in that room. Sebastian was right; it was all one of Zoroark’s illusions, to hide the fact that Mew teleported to me. I would never ask Mew to go into a Pokéball, even for the sake of a mission like that. And against Mewtwo, Umbreon was the perfect cover—you might not know this, but Zoroark can’t maintain illusions when they’re hit by attacks.”

Ajia had ‘Umbreon’ out with her the entire time we were in the Viridian base. That’s why we had such an easy time getting around the base without incident. It wasn’t that she had better luck than me. She’d made her own luck. She’d always made her own luck.

Ajia was pacing again, muttering to herself. She did this for several seconds while Starr and I watched, then abruptly turned to face us. “I’ve got to help out in Viridian,” she said firmly. “You’ll help too, right Jade?”

I bristled. The idea was honestly terrifying, but… I didn’t have a choice. I couldn’t just let that kind of disaster strike my hometown. Not if there was something I could do about it. Slowly, I nodded.

“I’ll come too,” Starr said.

I gaped at her. “Wait, seriously? You got pissed off at Stalker for even suggesting it.”

This whole situation is pissing me off, so I might as well go with you and beat the crap out of my dumbass subordinates,” she muttered, folding her arms. But then her eyes widened with realization, and she suddenly added, “But if you think for even a second that I give a crap about your rebel cause, you’re dead wrong, you hear me?”

“Alright, alright,” Ajia said, holding both palms out defensively. “Anyway, you’ll both want to brace yourselves. We’re gonna teleport to Viridian now.”

It took several seconds for the weirdness of that statement to sink in. But when it did: “How? You don’t have Espeon out.”

Ajia made eye contact with me, grinning sheepishly. “Espeon doesn’t know how to teleport.”

And then, while I was still processing what that meant, a small, pale-rose cat appeared before us in a flash of shimmering light. I blinked stupidly at the sight, barely able to get out the word, “Mew?” before its psychic aura took hold of us, and we all vanished.






~End Chapter 27~
 

windskull

Bidoof Fan
Staff
Partner
sneasel-nip
I’ve heard a lot of good things about this fic through the discord and I’ve been meaning to check it out for a while. This seems like as good of a time as any.

Prologue
Right away, we get to catch a glimpse of the obviously important Lugia, as well as get a hint at some greater plot. Six other Legends are mentioned - I wonder who they might be? Based on the original publication date of this fic, I would assume that they’re other Kanto and Johto legends, but 18 years is a long time for a fic to change, so we’ll see. We’ll see…

I get the feeling that Starr is going to be important later. -not because I’ve seen the name mentioned on the discord nope this is 100% my prediction and mine alone.-

I do wish the main character’s name was mentioned at some point in this. I get the feeling it was intentional, to make the prologue feel more… distant, I guess, since I can’t think of a better word, but at the same time, it makes it a little bit harder to connect with the character and build a relationship with her before things hit the fan. I do appreciate the little worldbuilding things here though, like the fact that pokespeech classes are a thing.

1
Every so I glanced up at the sky through the trees, hands drifting from the handlebars as my mind wandered back to the previous conversation.
Missing a word (often?) between “so” and “I”

So we’ve got a main character that has failed to become a trainer… twice now. Third time’s the charm am I right? … I’m totally certain she’s going to do things the right way and that nothing bad is about to happen.

So we start out in a pretty bad place huh? A kid with no pokemon facing off against Team Rocket - the same team rocket, mind you, that catches Entei. Not good, not good at all. And she’s got a card on her about some secret resistance (Really tho man don’t you think you shoulda got her to safety away from the rockets first?)

2
A zapdos. They expected to tame the power and fury of a zapdos? Incredible.

I figure it’s just a matter of being early in the fic, but I’m having a little bit of a hard time getting a read for some of the characters. Jade has some self-confidence issues (probably stemming from her failures at becoming a trainer. Spencer is a bit snarky, but I don’t know much beyond that, and Rudy just feels like a great big question mark. Then again, pretty much everything that happened in between chapters 2 and 3 took place over the course of. Like. an hour? So I haven’t had a lot of time to get to know these guys yet. So I’ll have to wait and see how things go on that end.

3
I feel like the fight was pretty darn well choreographed. The action was very clear (or as clear as it needed to be, considering the pov) and I could easily follow what was going on.

It looks like our hero has found herself in quite the pickle. I get the feeling she’ll be starting off on a journey soon. Just… not the type she was expecting.

This seems like a good spot to cut off. Every chapter has left on a hook to keep the reader invested. Which so far is a good thing. At this point, I’m still not really all that invested in the characters themselves, but the plot is enough to carry my interest for now. Hopefully I’ll get more invested in the characters after they’ve had some time to grow on me. Until next time.
 

Virgil134

PMD Writer
Partner
weavile
Chapter 8

A hand firmly grasped my right hand, and before I knew what was going on, a set of claws had taken hold of my left and both were pulling me upward at the same time. I blinked twice, trying to clear my vision before seeing that both a crewman and Firestorm had a hold of me.
I don’t know why I find something as simple as Firestorm helping Jade up sweet, but I do.

At these words, countless trainers pulled out Pokéballs, and flashes of white light filled the air around the deck’s outermost edge. The crowd thinned as the trainers with flying-types didn’t hesitate to jump onto their rides’ backs and take off, flying in low circles around the ship. That just left the rest of us. Sure, we were already soaked to the bone and being in the sea wasn’t gonna be much different, but the waters below us had grown increasingly violent. And I didn’t have any water Pokémon.
Well you definitely did a good job at making this situation with the bombs seem terrifying. Also Jade mentioning having no water Pokémon while the ship is sinking is giving me anime flashbacks when the SS. Anne was also sinking because of Team Rocket lol.

The sudden impact stopped my thoughts cold as every inch of exposed skin burned like fire from striking the water.
Dammit Jade, this is why you pencil dive when falling into water from height. That way you can use your legs fine and your body doesn’t feel like it just hit concrete.

A squad of rescue boats was speeding toward us as though nothing had ever happened.

Rescue boats. How on earth had they gotten here so quickly?
Inb4 it’s Team Rocket.

I spun around to stare at the olive-skinned, dark-haired face behind me. And really, all I could do was let my mouth hang open in shock.

“…What are you doing here, Rudy?” I managed to say.
And we got an ally!

“It was a little creepy, but way awesome,” he said. “This dark shadow seemed to block out everything, even the moonlight, and there was a giant gust of wind and then suddenly the storm stopped and the waves calmed down. Then this huge… thing dove down into the water. It was so fast, I couldn’t tell what it was.”
Oh hey, it’s Lugia.

“To make things more convenient, you’ll be teleporting there,”
I’m gonna go ahead and guess that this is the controversial part I’ve heard you talk about on Discord?

Footsteps echoed off the side hallways. We all held our breath in anticipation as Stalker walked into view, wearing the black mask and long cloak.
Oh, I guess it wasn’t Team Rocket after all who rescued them. Got that impression because of how fast those rescue boats got there, but maybe Jade just lost track of time or something. Regardless, this seems well organized so it should be interesting to see how things go.

Chapter 9

As I knelt to get a better look at it, the flower-backed reptile drew itself up proudly and shook its leaves.

“Yeah, ever since he evolved he’s been kind of a showoff,” Darren said, rubbing the back of his head. “It’s even worse when we’re battling and he thinks someone’s watching.” Ivysaur folded his ears back and shot his trainer a glare for that comment.
I love this Ivysaur already XD

“Sandshrew, use Defense Curl!” Darren ordered.
Maybe I missed it, but when did they move onto a battlefield? I thought they were still on the sidelines.

“Uh, Swift try another Quick Attack!”
No Jade, use Whirlwind! Blow that Sandshrew away!

Of course—Gust. How could I have forgotten about that?
Or Gust, that works too.

Also that awkward moment when the Pokémon is the better tactician than the trainer. Oops. Good thing Swift cares a lot about Jade, since I imagine that a lot wouldn’t be happy about having to do the work of the trainer for them.

My heart curled inward on itself, and I fought back the sudden urge to disappear from the conversation.


He looked over his screen for a bit before saying, “Mm, here you are. Now, for your Rocket ID, I’ll be randomizing your name, birthday, hometown, and Rocket initiation, so…”—he paused to click a few things—“it looks like from now on, you’re Allie Farias from Cerulean City; first registered at Northern HQ, born on the 6th of September, 2983. Once you get your ID, you should memorize all of the information so you don’t slip up when an executive asks you about yourself. There are other things like evaluation status, rank, department, and commanding officer, but those aren’t the sort of info I can fake—they’ll be assigned to you when you make your first trip to an actual Rocket base.”
Given her previous two encounters I can’t help but wonder how risky this is. Even with this fake ID, wouldn’t she be kinda screwed if she ever runs into Tyson or one of the Rockets from the SS. Anne?

Darren waved when he spotted me. “Hey Jade, I’m just healing him up after that last battle.”

The Charmeleon stared up at me with a sulky expression. “*I lost to Ivysaur. Ivysaur. I feel humiliated.*”

Darren gave me a helpless look. “I… tried to tell him that he’d be at a disadvantage without a trainer to strategize for him.”

Ivysaur muttered something that sounded suspiciously like, “*Even with a trainer, he’d have still lost,*” but luckily Firestorm didn’t hear him.

“*I want a rematch,*” the fire lizard said, standing up the instant Darren was done healing him.

“No, you don’t. Food. Now,”
Firestorm is quickly starting to become one of my favorite characters. XD

“*We… only ever made it to the first city on our journey. That’s where I was stolen from him.*”
Wonder if we’ll see that original trainer appear on screen at some point. Though this would also explain why Firestorm is eager to fight Team Rocket.

“You’d better, if you want to stay alive.” That got everyone to shut up. “There’s a higher learning curve, but multi battles will let you get a lot more synergy out of your Pokémon.”
Stalker makes a good point. You know those Rockets aren’t gonna fight nicely one at a time.

two dragons emerged, one of which was the Charizard I’d seen him riding several times
Ha, that Charizard sure wishes he was a dragon.

Tyranitar regained itself first and stomped the ground, tearing loose chunks of rock and sending them hurtling through the air at the dragons.
Oh cool, it seems you have a similar depiction of Rock Slide as Fledglings where the rocks come from the earth. Seems like a lot of people have them appear out of nowhere.

No way. They’d done it. They’d actually pulled off beating two rock-type Pokémon.
Thought this was an entertaining little battle! Makes me look forward to seeing what you can do and some of the harder battles Jade will inevitably get into later down the line.

I couldn’t help noticing Firestorm clapping even harder at that point, his eyes wide with admiration.
That’s adorable.

“Well, that settles it. In a few months, the Rebellion will be a force to be reckoned with.”
And that’s it for chapter 9. I thought it alongside chapter 8 were fun and I’m excited for things to get started. Since these first 9 chapters did feel a little bit like the setup for the real thing.

Also I wonder when Jade will be able to get Chibi back from Rockets. I definitely expected her to get him back before she left the SS. Anne, but looks like that didn’t happen, so props for keeping things unpredictable in that regard.
 

qva

Pokémon Trainer
Location
florida
Pronouns
she/her
oof, as with tcats, i've sort of fallen off my review train here, but here's to keeping it up from here on out! it's truly amazing that you've managed to drop so many bombshells these past couple chapters, and i'm kind of wondering if you'll even be able to keep it up, but even if it tones down from here... it's been a wild ride, and it's fair to say i'm hooked on this fic. i read this chapter when you posted it some time ago, but i'll give it another quick skim to offer some specific comments:
He put a hand to his chest. “She’s not wrong. That is what I’m known as, and I am the Johto commander.”

Stalker was the Johto commander. Not the former Kanto commander like everyone had thought. That’s how he had access to so much of the team’s inner workings. That’s how he’d been able to bypass security checks for the rebels, give out admin rights left and right, and draw suspicion away from us by modifying things behind the scenes.
man, this totally puts so many of stalker's actions into perspective. i mean, i guess that's the point, but. even weeks after having read this revelation, i can't get over how heartless he was to leave the resistance behind and allow all that death and destruction. he's definitely only looking out for himself here, and starrreiterates that later, but it stands in such stark contrast to jade, who puts herself out on the limb for the sake of others constantly... it seems like she takes every loss she experiences onto herself, and stalker pretty much throws lives away as it suits him, it seems. he's a pretty good foil to her in that regard, and i'm curious whether that disparity will come up again later.
“Okay, stop!” I yelled, holding out both arms and staring down the both of them. “I am sick and tired of hearing about all this stupid Rocket drama through vague rumors and sideways accusations, and I want answers. You two are finally going to tell me what this freaking revolt was about, and what the hell it has to do with anything, now. In detail. I’m sick of always being in the dark about everything.” I was seething, fists clenched, breathing hard. No more. I was not just going to accept any of this crap anymore.
GET EM!! god bless you, jade. never thought i'd be excited for an infodump, and yet...
What. Ajia was Mew’s… chosen? What? He didn’t honestly believe that Mew had shown up to help us free Mewtwo… did he? Why would the Legendary Mew get involved in our personal drama?
hmmm... it's been a while since i read the suicune scene, but jade is kind of in this boat too, isn't she? with the Mysterious Orb she lifted and whatnot? curious that she isn't making that connection herself. that said, this explains so much... i remember saying in a previous review that the lack of intervention during that one mission was suspicious, and that it felt weird that you never addressed it, but i guess you were just playing the long game there, huh? really well done. these kinds of twists are really fun... like, there's no way i could have predicted this, but it really illuminates some of the confusion i had in a way that feels earned.
“Neither did any of the Pokémon you’ve captured, but they accept that and fight for you just the same,” he said, gesturing to her with one palm up.
ah, stalker is THAT guy, isn't he? i can totally imagine stalker on twitter passionately arguing how pokémon training is unethical and is basically just slavery and whatnot. pretty rich coming from him though...
“I get that this conflict between all of you goes way back. But this is about me, and what I’m planning to do from now on,” I said shooting a glare at each one of them in turn. “If you’re gonna talk about what I should do, you should at least talk to me about it.”
yes!! i was waiting for her to say that. jade kind of owns in this chapter tbh. it seems like a lot of the stuff that occurs in this fic is kind of outside of jade's control, even when it appears that she's on top of it, so it's really great to see her exert some agency. that's not a criticism of the writing, mind, but a lot of the stuff that's going on here is just so far over jade's head... she truly was a pawn in everything for most of the fic up to here. good to see her sort of asserting dominance and getting to the heart of the matter. jade is a great protagonist in that she does dopey shit sometimes and you're kind of smacking your forehead over it, but she can also be very no nonsense, and her judgement often mirrors mine.
“I’d go, but after the Entei fiasco, I don’t think I’d be welcome there,” Stalker continued. “And if I caught one of them while disguised, my forces could never use it.” The slightest trace of a grin crossed his face. “But it doesn’t matter, because you three will make sure none of them get caught, won’t you?”

“Like hell we will,” Starr spat.

But Ajia didn’t respond for some time. She was still staring at him, both eyebrows raised incredulously. “Of course. Just like old times. Why take action yourself when you can get everyone else to do your dirty work?” With a half-hearted chuckle, she added, “The funny part is even knowing that, I have to do it.”
dang, stalker back at it again. get pawned on, ajia. even with the revelation that stalker is kind of a douche, he's definitely got his own agenda and he's pretty efficient at enforcing it... i wonder what role he'll play going forward, now that jade has been sort of disenchanted.
Stalker turned away. “There’s no need to be so dramatic."
hello...? stalker...?? mask guy????? come on now bro, you know you love the drama.
Stalker paused. “I know better than trying to turn friends against each other. I’m not making the same mistake Giovanni made.” He made eye contact with me. “You would have made a good ally. You had one of the most drastic transformations out of anyone on the Rebellion. But you still lack resolve. What are you really fighting for? I’ll be interested to find out.”
honestly, this is a good bit here. these are some of the same questions i'm asking myself about jade, and as someone sort of above jade's league as far as Plot Drama goes, i guess he's sort of looking in from above in the same way that i am. i'd argue that jade doesn't really lack resolve; if anything, she's proven time and time again that she can really put her pedal to the metal and achieve the things she believes in with conviction. it just seems like that conviction is mostly situational... i'm excited to see the moment that jade sort of figures out her own overarching motivation, whenever that time comes.
“I never let Mew or Espeon out of a ball in that room. Sebastian was right; it was all one of Zoroark’s illusions, to hide the fact that Mew teleported to me. I would never ask Mew to go into a Pokéball, even for the sake of a mission like that. And against Mewtwo, Umbreon was the perfect cover—you might not know this, but Zoroark can’t maintain illusions when they’re hit by attacks.”
this is some real galaxy brain shit. for some reason, something like a zoroark would have NEVER occurred to me... maybe because most of the pokémon in the fic so far are from older generations? i assume this is a twist you've added into the story somewhat recently... i'd be curious to know the history of the Giovanni Confrontation scene... if it's older than this revision, that is.

anyway, solid chapter! unlike the last couple, not much actually OCCURS here, but honestly that's welcome after the nonstop high-stakes swashbuckling we've been getting for a while here. this chapter still manages to drop a TON of bombshells, and the payoff is huge. your ability to tie these details into the plot organically and then just, drop these big twists about them later... i think that's where your writing really shines through, so far. among other things, you're a really good planner, and a really good foreshadower. it seems like the action is going to pick up from here, so i'm excited to see where it goes. the ajia-starr-jade dynamic we've got here is interesting, and i feel like it's kind of building towards a permanent cast for the fic. they've all definitely got very conflicting personalities, but they're also a deadly team... and, plus, girl power!!! hell yeah. i didn't feel strongly about any of the resistance characters, but these three all feel so distinct and real in my mind, and their pokémon are very memorable and full of personality too, so i'm glad we're seeing more of them, and i hope they stick around.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
Hoo boy! I picked a good time to get lost in NaNoWriMo and other catchup activities, because it would’ve been a lot harder had I left off just one chapter later. So, I’m just going to give some broad statements for most of this, save more specific feedback for what’s updated, but overall: Good job on the final act of the Kanto saga. I personally am a little conflicted at the relative ease of the outcome, all things considered, but it was still a thrill to read.

Three major things come to mind.

One: I didn’t expect Starr to become an ally so quickly, at least in the sense that she is now on Jade’s side. In fact, I didn’t expect ANY of this to happen so quickly, for the Kanto arc to wrap itself up within a few chapters. It’s half-disappointing that it’s all resolved like that, even if there are still a few loose ends, but it’s also intriguing for what’s coming in the next arc. Anyway, back to Starr, it seems like it’s going to be a rocky start, but I’m surprised it’s a start at all. And, obviously, the “Giovanni’s daughter” twist was equally unexpected. Very good job on this front.

Two: I think Aija’s elite nature is a little too heavy here. She comes off as that elite unit you get at the start of Fire Emblem who mows down absolutely everyone because why not. The super secret powers that she gets isn’t much of a help there, either. (Note: I've read the following chapters since this review was posted, and I understand why now, but my point still stands for blind impressions.)

Three: I kind of wish this story wasn’t following Jade. All of the exciting stuff happened before her story truly started, and I’m way more interested in reading about how that all happened than her hearing about it, and I hope that changes in the future. It gives me vibes of the story of Galar and how the Big Boys are doing their thing and we just hear about it. I think her being lost all the time is getting kind of old. I mean, I’ve expressed similarly in the past, but it’s sort of resurfacing.

Hmm, oh, and a bonus thought, and this is sort of more like a nitpick at a ball of yarn: The way that the Pokémon are controlled is sort of a head scratcher for me. So, it’s a microchip that somehow controls their brains, and it’s that easy? I mean, sure, I’ll buy that… but why did nobody notice this in the rebellion until now? Scarring where the chip was planted in their head? Metal detectors of any kind, or any sort of abnormalities seen? How do you even do that on something with an exoskeleton? I find it hard to believe that nobody in the rebellion figured this out, even intuitively.

Somewhat related, but why didn’t they just use a sniper and shoot Mewtwo’s Poké Ball or some other remote method that’s difficult to detect, instead of taking him on so directly? I don’t know. This whole plan and these revelations left me sort of scratching my head, and I kind of wished it was better addressed instead of me having to wait for either an explanation from you, or just a “they didn’t think of that,” or something along those lines.



Anyway, the following two chapters, which I read next, were a whirlwind of revelations that at least addresses Jade being in the dark (and outright saying as much, too, which got a laugh from me) and also revealing who Stalker is! It didn’t really pack as huge of a punch as I would have hoped, but it still helped to change around the dynamics of everything from how it had been at first. In particular, I like how it’s not totally clear who the good guys and bad guys are in this situation, since it seems more like a black and gray morality so far, and maybe a little white from the Legends’ side of things. I wonder if that’s going to change~

Oh, right! Speaking of which, Aija being Mew’s Chosen was probably the highlight of the past few chapters, because it actually gave me a sense of progress in the main, ACTUAL plot going on compared to what had been happening previously. I feel like it took a little too long for that to come up, so I’m happy to finally see Jade and Lugia team up (unless the cover art is a complete lie.)

It certainly explains a lot about Aija, but I do wonder if her “elite Fire Emblem earlygame unit” status will fade sooner rather than later. I’m almost positive it’ll fade at some point, but where and why is what has me curious. Seven, right? Is Stalker another one? That didn’t feel confirmed one way or the other, but for sure Jade and Aija are two of them… Five left.
 

windskull

Bidoof Fan
Staff
Partner
sneasel-nip
I’m only reviewing 2 chapters this time, since 5 has a nice cutoff point, but I also looked over the bonus scene afterwards so it ends up balancing out. Onwards!

4
I like what you do with TMs. Not only do you acknowledge the fact that TMs from earlier games break but newer ones don’t. I also like the idea that it only gives them the potential to use the move, but that they still have to practice.

A friend? Well thats.. Convenient. And that was one intense fight and escape. Things kept going back and forth, to the point where I really wasn’t certain what side was going to win! I figured the heroes would because of plot reasons, but it would not have surprised me if they did not escape unscathed. I’m sure whoever the mystery person that told Ajia that Jade was in trouble is will come up and be important later. They’ve got to be based on how things went, in my opinion.

5
And there it is. Our protagonist is now headed out on a less than normal adventure! I’m sure everything will go exactly as she expected and that nothing bad will happen at all! 8D

Ahhh so this is the Stalker everyone talks about? Now I understand why people were joking about Stalker being Leon over in discord.

Bonus
Even if she was hesitant, Mom took things a lot better than I expected. I suppose that’s the way things are in the pokemon universe. Still, looks like Jade’s got a bit of a deadline to get her license, though I wonder how important that will be in the grand scheme of things… Probably not very, since it’s in a bonus scene, and not part of the main story. Then again, I could be totally wrong. Good to know that the punishment for training without a license (at least for a kid) is relatively minor at least.


Anyways, Now that we’ve gotten through that intense opening arc, I guess I can put some thought into our main character. She definitely strikes me as someone with some real confidence issues, though she’s trying to do better because she has to now. I still get the feeling that she’s jumped into something that’s way over her head though, and I’m certain some not good things are going to sprout from that.

I’m also pretty certain that we’ll be seeing more of Starr at some point in the future, though when is still up in the air. I kind of get the feeling that there was more to her moving than meets the eye, though I do wonder how integral to the plot that reason was. Another reason to keep reading, I guess.

As a quick note, I didn’t catch any typos or flow issues this time, so good job on that! And your action continues to flow well, which is something that I’m always happy to see.

Of course, things could still go totally different from how I’m expecting them. Guess I’ll find out next time just what type of people signed up for “Stalker’s” army, and what his plans entail. Until then, happy writing
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
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Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
Right away, we get to catch a glimpse of the obviously important Lugia, as well as get a hint at some greater plot. Six other Legends are mentioned - I wonder who they might be? Based on the original publication date of this fic, I would assume that they’re other Kanto and Johto legends, but 18 years is a long time for a fic to change, so we’ll see. We’ll see…
You assume correctly. xP That said, there are a few more recent Legendaries the play significant roles in the plot. Gen 4, in particular.
I get the feeling that Starr is going to be important later. -not because I’ve seen the name mentioned on the discord nope this is 100% my prediction and mine alone.-
what nooooo ;P
I do wish the main character’s name was mentioned at some point in this. I get the feeling it was intentional, to make the prologue feel more… distant, I guess, since I can’t think of a better word, but at the same time, it makes it a little bit harder to connect with the character and build a relationship with her before things hit the fan.
Her name was mentioned! Starr called her by name when they first started talking.
I figure it’s just a matter of being early in the fic, but I’m having a little bit of a hard time getting a read for some of the characters. Jade has some self-confidence issues (probably stemming from her failures at becoming a trainer. Spencer is a bit snarky, but I don’t know much beyond that, and Rudy just feels like a great big question mark. Then again, pretty much everything that happened in between chapters 2 and 3 took place over the course of. Like. an hour? So I haven’t had a lot of time to get to know these guys yet. So I’ll have to wait and see how things go on that end.
Ah, yeah, the action didn't leave a lot of room for character-building in the beginning. Rudy in particular is meant to be a deconstruction of the typical overeager shonen protagonist, so he'll get a lot more development as time goes on.
Ahhh so this is the Stalker everyone talks about? Now I understand why people were joking about Stalker being Leon over in discord.
well see, he used to be Lance, and then at one time he was Blue I think, then he was Commander Shepard, and now he's Leon. It's not the worst thing to be, I guess. :P
And there it is. Our protagonist is now headed out on a less than normal adventure! I’m sure everything will go exactly as she expected and that nothing bad will happen at all! 8D
I love this
Even if she was hesitant, Mom took things a lot better than I expected. I suppose that’s the way things are in the pokemon universe. Still, looks like Jade’s got a bit of a deadline to get her license, though I wonder how important that will be in the grand scheme of things… Probably not very, since it’s in a bonus scene, and not part of the main story. Then again, I could be totally wrong. Good to know that the punishment for training without a license (at least for a kid) is relatively minor at least.
Yep, Mom's reaction took aaaaages for me to nail down, but I finally settled on her agreeing to it simply because the idea that kids go on training journeys is such an important part of this world's culture, and she was mostly just concerned by the method that Jade chose.
Anyways, Now that we’ve gotten through that intense opening arc, I guess I can put some thought into our main character. She definitely strikes me as someone with some real confidence issues, though she’s trying to do better because she has to now. I still get the feeling that she’s jumped into something that’s way over her head though, and I’m certain some not good things are going to sprout from that.
Yep, feeling in over her head and nowhere near as capable as everyone around her is basically the centerpiece of her character arc!

Thanks tons for checking the fic out! Glad you're enjoying it! ^^
Well you definitely did a good job at making this situation with the bombs seem terrifying. Also Jade mentioning having no water Pokémon while the ship is sinking is giving me anime flashbacks when the SS. Anne was also sinking because of Team Rocket lol.
Okay funny story time--this arc was not just inspired by that anime arc, it was originally meant to be the same event. LC's original draft was implied to be taking place in the same universe as the anime! xD
I’m gonna go ahead and guess that this is the controversial part I’ve heard you talk about on Discord?
Yeeeep. xP It's been fixed though (finally!)
Maybe I missed it, but when did they move onto a battlefield? I thought they were still on the sidelines.
Ah, yeah, the whole conversation was on the battlefield, it's just a pretty big battlefield, so there were a couple of other small skirmishes happening in the background (all the mons/attacks involved are pretty small/basic.)
Also that awkward moment when the Pokémon is the better tactician than the trainer. Oops. Good thing Swift cares a lot about Jade, since I imagine that a lot wouldn’t be happy about having to do the work of the trainer for them.
Yep, he wants to see her improve, and he enjoys strategy anyway. ^^
Given her previous two encounters I can’t help but wonder how risky this is. Even with this fake ID, wouldn’t she be kinda screwed if she ever runs into Tyson or one of the Rockets from the SS. Anne?
Yeah, that'd be pretty bad, but fortunately there are a lot of Rockets, and the base she goes undercover at is one of the more minor ones where none of those
Oh cool, it seems you have a similar depiction of Rock Slide as Fledglings where the rocks come from the earth. Seems like a lot of people have them appear out of nowhere.
Ah, neat! The recent shift in the fandom is interesting, seeing as I got my depiction from the Stadium games! I always liked seeing the Pokemon swing its arm up to literally pull rocks from the floor in those games.
Also I wonder when Jade will be able to get Chibi back from Rockets. I definitely expected her to get him back before she left the SS. Anne, but looks like that didn’t happen, so props for keeping things unpredictable in that regard.
Yeah, I wish it was sooner, but sadly the next arc is going to center around the first Legendary mission. After that comes the Chibi retrieval arc though!
it's truly amazing that you've managed to drop so many bombshells these past couple chapters, and i'm kind of wondering if you'll even be able to keep it up, but even if it tones down from here... it's been a wild ride, and it's fair to say i'm hooked on this fic.
Ahhhh, I'm so glad to hear that. ^^ The past few chapters have definitely had the highest density of reveals outside of maaaaybe the grand finale itself, and setting up reveals is one of my favorite things to do in fanfic, so I love when it makes an impression on readers.
man, this totally puts so many of stalker's actions into perspective. i mean, i guess that's the point, but. even weeks after having read this revelation, i can't get over how heartless he was to leave the resistance behind and allow all that death and destruction. he's definitely only looking out for himself here, and starrreiterates that later, but it stands in such stark contrast to jade, who puts herself out on the limb for the sake of others constantly... it seems like she takes every loss she experiences onto herself, and stalker pretty much throws lives away as it suits him, it seems. he's a pretty good foil to her in that regard, and i'm curious whether that disparity will come up again later.
I think this is the first time anyone's gone into such detail at how ruthless Sebastian is and I am living for it. Tear into my favorite character, yessss.
hmmm... it's been a while since i read the suicune scene, but jade is kind of in this boat too, isn't she? with the Mysterious Orb she lifted and whatnot? curious that she isn't making that connection herself.
Ahh, perhaps? Jade still believes she's not supposed the have the orb, and the orb itself is kind of separate from the whole chosen thing.
ah, stalker is THAT guy, isn't he? i can totally imagine stalker on twitter passionately arguing how pokémon training is unethical and is basically just slavery and whatnot. pretty rich coming from him though...
Bwaha, he is absolutely the sort to say things he doesn't even believe just to highlight others' hypocrisy.
i'd argue that jade doesn't really lack resolve; if anything, she's proven time and time again that she can really put her pedal to the metal and achieve the things she believes in with conviction. it just seems like that conviction is mostly situational... i'm excited to see the moment that jade sort of figures out her own overarching motivation, whenever that time comes.
Aha, you pretty much nailed it. Jade has gained quite a lot of Determination throughout the fic, but to Stalker, the end-all, be-all will always be ambition. Not just reacting to things, but having a goal, and pursuing it no matter what.
this is some real galaxy brain shit. for some reason, something like a zoroark would have NEVER occurred to me... maybe because most of the pokémon in the fic so far are from older generations? i assume this is a twist you've added into the story somewhat recently... i'd be curious to know the history of the Giovanni Confrontation scene... if it's older than this revision, that is.
Oboy! It is indeed. So, the idea that Ajia summoned Mew, who freed Mewtwo--that's ancient, dating back to at least Revision 2. But the method she uses to conceal it was, uh... pretty dumb. For starters, it used to actually just be an Umbreon. And he like... used Night Shade? Which is... a move that Umbreon doesn't learn. Okay. The day that I came up with the Zoroark thing was pretty dang satisfying.
anyway, solid chapter! unlike the last couple, not much actually OCCURS here, but honestly that's welcome after the nonstop high-stakes swashbuckling we've been getting for a while here.
My crowning achievement has been making everyone fall in love with a chapter in which nothing happens. :'D (Side note, but the fact that nothing happens made coming up with an illustration for this one a real pain, haha.)
the ajia-starr-jade dynamic we've got here is interesting, and i feel like it's kind of building towards a permanent cast for the fic. they've all definitely got very conflicting personalities, but they're also a deadly team... and, plus, girl power!!! hell yeah. i didn't feel strongly about any of the resistance characters, but these three all feel so distinct and real in my mind, and their pokémon are very memorable and full of personality too, so i'm glad we're seeing more of them, and i hope they stick around.
Jade, Ajia, and Starr have always been intended to be the core of the fic, so I'm really glad you're looking forward to them! (and yesss, girl power main trio, lol)
I didn’t expect Starr to become an ally so quickly, at least in the sense that she is now on Jade’s side. In fact, I didn’t expect ANY of this to happen so quickly, for the Kanto arc to wrap itself up within a few chapters. It’s half-disappointing that it’s all resolved like that, even if there are still a few loose ends, but it’s also intriguing for what’s coming in the next arc.
Yeah, that is one thing: I do wish this arc was a bit slower. It's because, believe it or not, the Starr arc used to be one chapter.
I think Aija’s elite nature is a little too heavy here. She comes off as that elite unit you get at the start of Fire Emblem who mows down absolutely everyone because why not. The super secret powers that she gets isn’t much of a help there, either. (Note: I've read the following chapters since this review was posted, and I understand why now, but my point still stands for blind impressions.)
Ahh, but see, you perfectly captured exactly what I was going for here. (And that is an excellent way to word it, I love it.) Ajia basically embodies the "ideal" sort of person who is "supposed to" get involved in conflicts like this, so Jade can feel inadequate by comparison. But of course, that kind of hero worship has its own problems, which will only become more apparent as Ajia gets the chance to be more flawed as time goes on.
I kind of wish this story wasn’t following Jade. All of the exciting stuff happened before her story truly started, and I’m way more interested in reading about how that all happened than her hearing about it, and I hope that changes in the future. It gives me vibes of the story of Galar and how the Big Boys are doing their thing and we just hear about it. I think her being lost all the time is getting kind of old. I mean, I’ve expressed similarly in the past, but it’s sort of resurfacing.
Ahh, that's fair, but it's funny you mention this since I recently was talking about the fic's themes over on Serebii, and just how important it is that those characters aren't the protagonist. One of the core themes of this fic is that there's no such thing as insignificance--that's why I'm writing a protagonist who's not the kind of person that "should be" a hero. And this chapter was a major turning point in Jade refusing to sit on the sidelines, refusing to accept things happening around her without her input. It's only going to go up from here.
Hmm, oh, and a bonus thought, and this is sort of more like a nitpick at a ball of yarn: The way that the Pokémon are controlled is sort of a head scratcher for me. So, it’s a microchip that somehow controls their brains, and it’s that easy? I mean, sure, I’ll buy that… but why did nobody notice this in the rebellion until now? Scarring where the chip was planted in their head? Metal detectors of any kind, or any sort of abnormalities seen? How do you even do that on something with an exoskeleton? I find it hard to believe that nobody in the rebellion figured this out, even intuitively.
See... now I'm sitting her scratching my head at how they would have noticed. :P Razors was the only one that had it, and he didn't exactly go through a full body physical exam or anything (actually, he spent very little time around the rebels at all) and, like... metal detectors??? How... why would they have those?
Somewhat related, but why didn’t they just use a sniper and shoot Mewtwo’s Poké Ball or some other remote method that’s difficult to detect, instead of taking him on so directly? I don’t know. This whole plan and these revelations left me sort of scratching my head, and I kind of wished it was better addressed instead of me having to wait for either an explanation from you, or just a “they didn’t think of that,” or something along those lines.
...I gotta admit, I'm a little ??? at why that seems like it would be the go-to, enough to warrant an explanation as to why they didn't do it. xD; (I assume you mean, like, a Pokemon acting as a sniper?) There's just so many problems with that: he never pulled the ball out until Mew grabbed it, they would've had to hit him directly with a destructive attack and Ajia isn't the murdery sort, they were surrounded by Rockets, there was nowhere for a mon to hide, no real cover to speak of. It definitely doesn't feel as solid as "just have Mew take it lol."
Oh, right! Speaking of which, Aija being Mew’s Chosen was probably the highlight of the past few chapters, because it actually gave me a sense of progress in the main, ACTUAL plot going on compared to what had been happening previously. I feel like it took a little too long for that to come up, so I’m happy to finally see Jade and Lugia team up (unless the cover art is a complete lie.)
Okay, the fact that something relating to the chosen was that big of a highlight is a huge success to me! It's very quickly going to become the main focus of Book 2 (which we are... rapidly approaching!) so you won't have to wait long!

Thanks for the reviews everyone! They were a ton of fun to read, and it's so great to hear your thoughts on these chapters since they're some of my favorites. Next chapter is the action-packed climax of Book 1!
 
Chapter 28: Legendary Revenge

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
~CHAPTER 28: LEGENDARY REVENGE~


We’d been warned. I already had some idea of what awaited us when we appeared on the edge of Viridian, looking down on the city from atop the hills to the east. But that didn’t compare to seeing it in real life. Nothing could have prepared me for the sight of my hometown crumbling under a hail of wind and fire and explosive power.

A giant pair of silver wings beat against the night sky, lit by the full moon above and the city lights below. Their owner—a sleek, long-necked dragon-bird—fired a blindingly orange beam from its beak, lancing through several blocks of northeast Viridian. Cries of fury echoed through the air like a haunting melody, sending chills down my spine. And the bird wasn’t alone—the unmistakable silhouette of a humanoid feline circled the skies alongside it, firing concussive pulses of psychic energy nonstop, flattening entire city blocks at once. Below them, vicious winds tore through the streets, flipping cars and shattering glass storefronts. Suicune, if the flashes of blue and the unearthly howls in the air were anything to go off. And then, just when I thought I’d seen all of them, a burst of flames illuminated the night sky. A brilliant golden phoenix soared into view, its wings shimmering with the colors of the rainbow.

Seeing Mewtwo here was one thing. Hell, even Suicune wasn’t too surprising—not after the fury it had displayed toward the Rockets last time. But the other two—the pair of gold and silver birds. Ho-oh and Lugia. The guardians of the skies and the seas. And here they were raining destruction upon my hometown. The only consolation was that the damage was limited to the northeast side—far from my old home—but for how long? The Viridian Gym had already been reduced to a smoldering crater. No doubt about it—the Legendaries knew the Rocket HQ was under there. And they didn’t care how much of the city they’d have to destroy to get at it. How many people had already been killed? How many more would die before the night was over?

I turned away, swallowing a lump in my throat. It was too much. I’d seen the power of the legends firsthand. But this was different. Before I could at least pretend it was alright because the Rockets had brought it on themselves. Not anymore.

Mew hovered a few feet in front of us, gazing at the enraged Legendaries in the distance. <Of all the stupid, risky actions… I don’t blame Mewtwo, but Lugia should know better. At this rate they’ll be captured, and for what? Senseless destruction.> She shook her head sadly.

“Why is this happening?” I asked weakly. “Why now? What triggered this?”

Mew sighed. <Not all the Legendaries agree on how to handle the human threat. Mewtwo’s escape hurt the Rockets. Some of our number wish to use that opportunity to land the finishing blow. But it’s not that simple.>

“We can’t just murder a bunch of random Rockets and expect that to fix things,” Ajia cut in, speaking to no one in particular. “I don’t care what they’ve done—it’s not worth it. It wouldn’t even put an end to Team Rocket.”

<And what of the innocent humans and Pokémon that will die in the crossfire? Ho-oh and I have been doing all that we can to stop them, but it’s not enough.>

I blinked. Ho-oh was on our side? I had just assumed, when I saw it there… My eyes snapped back to the ongoing battle, where the blazing phoenix spiraled low over the city, tailing Lugia relentlessly and diving in front of it every time the silver bird attempted to charge an attack. Lugia drew itself back, visibly annoyed, then beat its wings rapidly, stirring up a fierce whirlwind and knocking the sky guardian out of its way. The silver bird then began gathering energy for another beam attack until a fireball stuck it in the belly, sending it reeling backward. It snapped its head in the opposite direction to see Ho-oh soaring upward to meet it once again, flames licking the edges of its crooked beak.

Mewtwo paused, glancing back at the gold and silver birds locked in combat with each other. It was only a momentary pause, though—within seconds, he’d gone back to ripping up chunks of concrete and asphalt with his mind, effortlessly tossing them aside. And then, from the trees, a jagged blue beam and a jet of flames shot right at the clone, forcing him to loop out of the way. A dazzling phoenix shot into the air, its wings scattering embers as it zeroed in on Mewtwo. Seconds later, Articuno’s cry filled the air, and the cobalt falcon flew upward to join Moltres.

Weirdly enough, I was glad to see them. Even though it was another reminder that we’d failed to save them. Even though that might have been the only reason they were fighting Mewtwo, which meant that in some small, twisted way, I was actually glad that the Rockets had control of them right now. It was completely messed up, and sure as hell wasn’t a reason to want the Legendaries to get captured, but right now, in this moment, it was fortunate. If Mewtwo was busy with Articuno and Moltres, that would give people time to evacuate, right?

“Holy shit, you guys. You really think this was worth letting Mewtwo go free?” Starr asked, fixing me and Ajia with an incredulous glare. “Cause I know for a fact the Rockets weren’t planning on using its power like this.”

“Starr, the only reason we made it out of Viridian base alive was because we freed Mewtwo,” Ajia calmly replied.

“Bullshit, you had Mew,” she shot back. “You didn’t need to let Mewtwo go free. But you two had been planning it all along, right?”

I swallowed hard and glanced away. Of course we’d been planning to free Mewtwo all along. And until now, I’d never remotely questioned if it was the right thing to do. It just went without saying that he deserved to be free. Which meant that in a way, the destruction of Viridian was our fault. Except… the Rockets had started it by targeting the Legendaries in the first place—that had to count for something, right? But the Legendaries weren’t even attempting to prevent any collateral damage, and to any unknowing observer it looked like the Rockets’ legends were protecting the city, and damn it all, why did this have to be so backwards?

“Don’t tell me you’re okay with the way Team Rocket brainwashed Mewtwo and used him to catch the others,” I mumbled, trying and not quite succeeding at driving away my own uncertainty. Freeing him was the right thing. It had to be. Nothing made sense if it wasn’t.

Starr squinted at me. “I haven’t figured out how I feel about that, alright?” she snapped. “My issues with Team Rocket are all personal—the Legendaries have nothing to do with any of it. But this?”—she gestured to the ongoing chaos—“This is not okay.”

<No. It’s not,> Mew agreed. <But neither Mewtwo nor Lugia intends to back down today. No matter the cost. They intend to end the threat. We must stop them.>

My stomach dropped through the floor. Would we be… actually fighting Legendaries?

Seeing the look on my face, Ajia quickly added, “Mew and I will try to stop them. You and Starr should stick to the ground and find out how the Rockets are reacting to all of this.”

“You guys do know we had a plan for something like this, right?” Starr cut in.

All eyes turned to her. She paused, then hastily added, “Er, the Rockets, I mean.”

<Any information you can provide will be invaluable,> Mew said, fixing her large eyes on Starr imploringly.

Starr blinked, obviously still having a hard time grasping the fact that a Legendary was right in front of us, asking us for help. I could hardly believe it myself.

“Riiight, so…” Starr began, glancing back and forth at all of us. “It’s pretty obvious Articuno and Moltres are both sticking to defensive tactics. But their handlers will be nearby in case either gets knocked out. The boss, the admins, and all the other important members will have already been evacuated through one of the secondary entrances. Grunts will probably be moved away from the commons and to the storage and acquisition divisions—they have service elevators connecting to a few warehouses across town. That just leaves the combat unit. Bet you anything they’ve moved the ALRs above ground through the transport ramp, and they’re not going anywhere. So if you don’t want them catching more Legendaries, that’s what you’re gonna have to deal with.”

“Destroying ALRs sounds a lot better than fighting Legendaries,” I admitted.

Ajia tapped a fist against her open palm. “That’s perfect—if the combat unit’s defenses go down, they’ll have no choice but to retreat. That way, no one will be captured. And with the Rockets gone, the Legendaries won’t have any reason to attack Viridian.”

It was an optimistic plan. Too optimistic. But at the moment, that’s what we needed.

Mew’s eyes turned steely. <I will take us closer to the battle. Prepare yourselves.>

Within seconds, the surrounding trees and hills melted away into the tall grasses on the outskirts of Viridian. From here, we no longer had a clear view of the city’s destruction, but the sounds—the explosions tearing through the streets, the blare of the emergency sirens, the engines revving from cars no doubt trying to escape—the sounds made it impossible to forget why we were here.

Ajia wasted no time in letting out her Aerodactyl and mounting the flying-type. Mew glowed for a few seconds, then suddenly ballooned outward in size. Arms, legs, and tail thickened; ears receded; wings and antennae sprouted, until finally the light faded to reveal golden-orange scales where there had once been pale rose fur. The newly-transformed Dragonite gave her wings a few test flaps before turning to face Starr and me.

<I wish you the best,> she said. <Both of you.>

Starr raised an eyebrow at that last bit, but Mew had already launched herself into the air, closely followed by Ajia on her Aerodactyl.

“Let’s get this over with,” Starr muttered, releasing her Arcanine and climbing onto its back. An instinctive shudder ran through me upon seeing her like that—seated atop the firedog, wearing that stern expression. In that moment, it was really, really hard not to see her as Astrid, no matter how badly I wanted to burn that image out of my brain forever.

I forced my eyes shut, taking a deep breath to steel myself. Then I grabbed Aros’s Pokéball and released him. The Flygon appeared in front of me, glanced around at his surroundings, then promptly tensed up when he laid eyes on Starr and her Arcanine, flaring his wings outward and hissing.

Damn it, I should have realized he’d have just as much reason to instinctively see her as a threat. I carefully laid a hand on his shoulder, rearranged my face into one that was as calm and reassuring as possible, and said, “Aros, listen to me—Rockets and Legendaries are fighting over Viridian City. Starr’s going to help us stop them, but I need you to—”

“*No. No, I don’t like this,*” the dragon growled.

“I don’t like this either,” I replied, ignoring that our use of ‘this’ was referring to two entirely different things. “But we have to hurry. The longer we wait, the more damage gets done.”

Aros wouldn’t look at me. His red-lensed eyes were fixed squarely on Arcanine, fangs bared in what probably looked like an intimidating snarl to anyone who couldn’t see right through it.

And then, in the same authoritative tone she’d always used as a Rocket, Starr snapped, “People are dying, Twenty-four. Listen to your trainer and let’s get a move on.”

Aros drew himself back like he’d just been slapped. The former head of the combat unit had just ordered him to listen to me. He glanced back and forth between Starr and me, lost for words, but slowly lowering his wings until they lay flat against his sides. I paused, unsure what his posture meant, but then a quick tilt of his head over the shoulder and it was obvious he wanted me to climb on. So I did.

I didn’t want to ignore his discomfort. I wanted the chance to talk to him about it, but right now was not the time. Later—I’d talk to him later. Even if the list of conversations I owed my Pokémon was steadily lengthening.

Starr gave a rapid series of hand signals to her Arcanine, and the firedog took off running north. I pointed after her and, after a few seconds’ hesitation, Aros fluttered his wings and took off in pursuit. We raced across the grassland, aiming for the forest on the northeast edge of the city, the sounds of the raging battle growing louder all the while. It wasn’t long until we crossed the treeline and Starr motioned for her Arcanine to slow down as we approached the area surrounding the transport ramp.

The combat unit was here, just like Starr said. Lights from their jeeps pierced the darkness, illuminating the ring of ALRs encircling the ramp entrance on flatbed semi-trucks. All around the clearing, Rockets were scrambling, some of them taking up guard posts with Pokémon at the ready. Others piled into jeeps and took off toward Viridian, while others still grabbed machinery from transport trucks before taking flight on their Pokémon, following after the jeeps.

As Arcanine shifted its weight, getting ready to leap forward, Starr glanced back at me and said, “You’ve fought enough Rockets that I’m gonna assume you know what you’re doing. Stay out of the line of fire and don’t you dare get yourself killed, you hear me?” She fixed me with an intense stare that didn’t let up until I nodded.

She gave a sharp nod in return. “Good.” Then her Arcanine dashed off so fast it was practically a blur.

I nudged Aros, and the two of us shot after her. Arcanine led the way, barking out flamethrowers in front of us and forcing Rockets to leap out of our way. It was dark, visibility was against them, and half the combat unit was busy dealing with rampaging Legendaries. We actually had the advantage here, and damn it if I wasn’t gonna take full advantage of that. Aros and I stuck close to Starr until we reached the ALR circle, then we broke formation and zeroed in on the closest machine. I ordered a Dragon Pulse, and the Flygon breathed out a lick of violet dragonfire, but it just crashed against an unseen energy field with a wave of sparks.

So the ALRs were in barrier mode now. But they’d have to drop the barrier eventually to let their transport vehicles escape the base. That’s when we’d make our move. Right now we had other concerns, though…

“Feint Attack!” I called out just seconds before gunfire rang out. The dragon-type barreled out of the way, dark aura already flaring up. I caught a glimpse of combat jeeps racing past us, full of armed Rockets, right before we faded into the shadows and slipped behind their lineup.

“Now Sand Tomb,” I ordered.

Aros dropped to the ground just long enough to dig his claws into the dirt, instantly dissolving a wide swath of land around us into quicksand. He just as quickly bolted back into the air the instant the gunfire started up again. The jeeps didn’t pursue; their tires spun uselessly against the sand.

A rush of satisfaction flooded my mind, mixing with the ongoing adrenaline shooting through my veins. It was nuts. I was supposed to be afraid. I was supposed to hate this. But the only thing I could think about was the next move, the next target, the next way to take advantage of the Rockets’ disorganization.

We swooped back down to fly past Arcanine, who was deftly leaping out of the line of fire with erratic bursts of Extremespeed. Then a flash of orange caught my eye as Raichu shot out of nowhere—tail glowing metallic—and slashed holes in the Rockets’ tires. Not too surprising that Starr was doing alright against them, but I was still glad to see it.

Nothing else took priority, so I ordered another quick Dragon Pulse against the ALRs. Same result—how much longer was that barrier going to stay up? We could only avoid the Rockets for so long. And we didn’t have nearly the numbers to pull the same trick the Rebellion did last time.

An explosion of light burst from nowhere so close it practically blinded me. I shielded my eyes, squinting as stars danced in my vision. A Pokéball flash? But how was it right in my face when there was no one else around? Unless… it was one of mine. Only one of my Pokémon knew how to break out of a Pokéball.

My heart sank through the ground as my eyes finally adjusted enough to see the Pikachu that had materialized in front of me. Strings of lightning coursed through his fur as he surveyed the Rockets’ forces.

“Chibi!” I cried. The hybrid’s ears twitched. He turned his head just enough to glance at me out of the corner of one eye.

“*I told you I was going to fight them,*” he said in a low tone of voice.

My stomach curled inward on itself. I had to do something. I should have done something before. Should have helped him. Should have tried talking to him again. Should have…

“At least stay close by so I can—”

He shook his head. “*Not this time.*” Then he raced off.

I swore under my breath before hastily grabbing a Pokéball from my belt and throwing it forward, releasing Stygian in a flash.

“Follow him,” I said, pointing. “I’ll need you to bail him out if he knocks himself out.”

The dark-type nodded wordlessly before slipping into the shadows and dashing away. She’d never failed yet. In fact, she’d proven herself to be a master of getting out of tight spots. And this was the perfect opportunity for her to abuse her Feint Attack to slip in and out of the shadows. I didn’t have anything to worry about. Just had to keep telling myself that.

A brilliant orange glow suddenly lit the clearing, and I jerked my head in its direction to see Arcanine spouting massive fireballs at the cargo hold of a truck attempting to leave the base. A squad of Pokémon suddenly materialized nearby, half of them launching jets of water at the firedog and the other half extinguishing the raging flames. Arcanine crouched down, raising a Protect around Starr and itself. The Rockets’ refused to let up; their Pokémon increased the pressure on their waterspouts. Raichu jumped in front and fired off series of Thunderbolts, dropping two of them before retreating behind the truck to avoid the Mud Shots launched back at him.

And then the important detail in all of that action finally jumped out at me: trucks. Leaving the base. The ALR barrier was down! Had to attack while we had the chance!

I tapped Aros’s side and pointed at the closest target. “Another Dragon Pulse!”

The Flygon’s dragonfire struck the ALR’s metal shell in a blaze of violet sparks and I couldn’t help pumping a fist. Finally, no more pesky barrier to deal with. Finally, we could do what we’d set out to do.

And then a sound caught my ears. An unearthly howl, echoing in the wind. A shiver ran down my spine, and I couldn’t help glancing around uneasily. I knew that sound.

A waterspout burst through the trees, knocking a combat jeep flying backward so hard it flipped over in midair and landed on its roof with a metallic crunch. Seconds later, a cobalt beast burst through the trees, gale force winds slashing outward from it, sweeping enemy Pokémon off their feet and slamming them to the ground just as hard.

I clenched my teeth. Suicune. One of the Legendaries responsible for this mess. A major problem for the Rockets, sure, but I still wasn’t happy to see it here. I turned back to check Aros’s progress on disarming the ALR and—my face fell. The metal was glowing hot but had only just barely started warping from the dragonfire. Dammit, this was taking too long. Even in offense mode, these things were still ridiculously armored and almost impossible to take down alone.

A high-pitched wail split the air. I whirled around to see the adjacent ALR firing a bright yellow beam at Suicune. The beast staggered backward under the force of the attack, snarling furiously and opening its mouth to retaliate with a Hydro Pump. Then Aros and I had to duck as the ALR we’d been attacking suddenly rotated its upper half 180 degrees to fire at the water-type. Suicune let out a pitiful cry and sank to its knees, caught between the force of the twin beams.

Without thinking, I grabbed two Pokéballs from my belt and threw them forward, yelling, “Air Cutter, Fire Blast!”

Firestorm and Swift appeared in front of me. Their eyes widened at the sight of Suicune paralyzed and howling in pain, but they knew better than to question things in the middle of a mission. We’d trained for this. A massive five-pointed blaze and a relentless flurry of wind blades joined Aros’s dragonfire in tearing through the ALR armor.

This was stupid, focusing all our efforts on offense while we were out in the open and could be attacked at any time. I threw a glance over my shoulder and caught a glimpse of more Rockets approaching from the shadows of the forest. Too dark to count them. Had to flee. Had to save Suicune. Couldn’t do both. Flashes of light signaled more Pokémon being let out. We were running out of time. Chunks of molten metal slowly slid down the ALR, exposing the machinery within. We were so close!

Then the unmistakable sound of attacks crashing against Protect reached my ears. Slowly, I turned in its direction, then blinked in surprise. Arcanine, Feraligatr, and Rapidash stood firm between my Pokémon and the Rockets’, using the same alternating Protect technique that the Rebellion had perfected. Starr barked out orders to Flareon and Raichu, who darted in and out of the fray, attacking with electrified punches and glowing hot fangs.

“We need to target both ALRs!” I yelled, throwing an arm toward the machine on the opposite side of Suicune.

Starr didn’t look back at me; her attention was held firmly by the battle. But then, after several seconds, she called out, “FF, machine target, strongest moves!”

Feraligatr and Flareon broke from the lineup, racing toward the ALR. Arcanine and Rapidash stayed behind to keep using Protect. Raichu kept up the offensive pressure by switching to Discharge, catching both the Rockets and their Pokémon in a web of lightning. I flinched and turned away—I knew what that felt like. I didn’t need to see it.

Firestorm paused to catch his breath, embers dripping from his mouth, before pressing the attack once more. Aros’s dragonfire was down to a narrow stream, only half as bright as it had been. We had to be getting close—we had to. On the second machine, Feraligatr’s claws tore jagged holes in the armor while the internals glowed white-hot from Flareon’s breath. Both beams flickered once… twice… come on! Just a little more—!

Finally, an explosion of sparks shot out of the ALR cannon as the top half of the machine literally collapsed inward under its own weight. On the second ALR, the middle portion finally melted enough for Feraligatr to rip the cannon off entirely, instantly shutting down the beam. We’d done it.

Raichu dashed over to us, looking rather self-satisfied. A shiver ran through me when I saw that the entire squad of Rockets was now on the ground, out cold. Without any more gunfire to worry about, Arcanine and Rapidash had rushed forward to engage the enemy Pokémon, unleashing a barrage of fire on all of them.

“I’m… I’m honestly surprised more of them didn’t attack us,” I said, my voice shaking from… exhilaration? Stress? I couldn’t tell.

“They’re a little busy dealing with number nine,” Starr said dryly, jerking a thumb toward the other side of the ALR circle. Now that I was paying attention, I could see the occasional lightning flash in that direction. So he hadn’t run out of power yet. That was good. Although part of me hoped that he would so he’d pass out and then Stygian could bring him back.

A low growl snapped my focus back to Suicune. The beast took a few trembling steps, its eyes dazed and unfocused. Then it shook its head as though trying to clear it before glancing around hurriedly, its gaze falling onto Starr and me. The Legendary squinted as though trying to identify us. Then its eyes went wide.

“Interlopers… I should have known,” it muttered. “Your intervention is neither wanted nor needed!” Just as pleasant as always, then.

Movement in the trees above caught my eye. Dammit, what now? Couldn’t we have five minutes without another problem showing up?

I barely had enough time to recall Swift and Firestorm before a mounted squad of Rockets on flying Pokémon dove at us. Suicune took off running, firing a lightning-fast Bubblebeam volley that knocked three Pokémon out of the air. The remaining Rockets broke formation, circling around the beast, those in front taking defensive positions while the ones in the back swooped in closer. Light glinted off metallic devices strapped to their arms. I squinted at one, trying to make out the details, when the Rocket wearing it grabbed hold of a handle with their opposite hand and pulled back sharply. In the blink of an eye, an explosion of energy shot a ball straight at the water beast, instantly transforming it into bright red light. I gaped at where Suicune had just been standing, where there was now only a violet Pokéball vibrating furiously on the ground.

The Rockets had Master Ball cannons now? That wasn’t allowed! How were we supposed to stop that?!

A Xatu’s eyes flashed blue and a psychic glow surrounded the ball, lifting it upward. The ball. Had to get the ball before the Rockets did. Had to get the ball.

“Feint Attack!” I hissed, pointing forward.

Time slowed. Dark aura flared up as Aros dove for the ball, wings straining. The Rockets turned. Their mounts charged up attacks. Flames and poison darts and rocks shot toward us, missing their mark, the shadows hiding our true position. Just a little further, had to destroy the Master Ball, just a little further—

The white glint of stars caught my eye. I turned at the last second. Too late—the Swift attack hit Aros’s left wing, sending our flight path spiraling out of control. I clung to the dragon’s side as tightly as I could, desperately trying to keep my eyes on the Master Ball even as our surroundings blurred into a dizzying whirlwind. A flicker of blue shot by, but by now it felt a million miles away and there was no way we could possibly reach it in time.

And then, in a burst of dark aura, a white-furred shape emerged from the shadows. A blade flashed through the darkness, striking the ball and shattering it with a wave of sparks.

Yes! Stygian had got it! Suicune emerged in a flash of light, lashing out in snarling frenzy the moment it took shape. Oh crap—no way was it in the mood to tell friend from foe. Had to back off now.

Vicious torrents of water shot in every direction. Aros darted upward, only narrowly avoiding one that passed so close I felt the icy mist spray against my arm. I held tight as branches scraped at us until Aros burst above the treeline and into the open air. I blinked at the sudden brightness assaulting my eyes, then glanced around quickly, trying to take in as much of my surroundings as possible. I saw the streets of Viridian backed up with cars evacuating the area. The news choppers hovering overhead. People wearing brightly-colored uniforms—rangers?—flying on Pokémon, ducking and weaving through the chaotic sky battle, actually trying to calm the rampaging legends. Squads of police Pidgeot patrolling the air above the major roads, using Protect to shield cars from flying debris as Mewtwo tore apart more buildings. Still the same number of Legendaries flying around—good. Or bad, in a way. None had been captured, but none had left either.

Moltres and Articuno circled around Mewtwo like vultures, spouting fire and ice at him repeatedly. The clone raised a psychic barrier, but the sheer strength of their attacks was making it spark and flicker with each strike. Finally, Mewtwo turned to face the pair of birds, lifting an entire building over his head. With just the tiniest flex of his hand, cracks shot across the walls, crumbling the building in midair. Then, before either of the birds could make a move to dodge, Mewtwo hurled an avalanche of concrete through the air, knocking the pair to the ground and burying them in a makeshift Rock Slide.

But Mewtwo didn’t go back to demolishing the Rocket base. He remained in the sky, scanning his surroundings for more opponents. Lugia and Ho-oh were still locked in combat, trading wind and flames and dragonfire at each other. For the moment, Mewtwo had no one to fight. In fact, the only thing within his line of sight was one of the news helicopters that had strayed closer to the battle than the others.

Wait, he wasn’t going to…

The clone drew his arms to the side, charging up a blue ball of aura between them.

Seriously?! Collateral damage was one thing, but now he was going out of his way to attack innocents? I had to do something. If there was even the slightest chance I could convince him not to…

Too late—I’d barely opened my mouth to call out to him before he fired the Aura Sphere forward. I stared, frozen in shock as the orb shot through the air, zeroing in on the helicopter. And then an orange blur shot out of nowhere, right into the Aura Sphere’s path. The attack exploded in a burst of light, which faded to reveal a Dragonite hovering lightly in midair, steam leaking from its body.

“*You must stop!*” the dragon cried.

Mewtwo paused, turning to gaze at the dragon hovering in front of him and tilting his head ever so slightly. Then his eyes narrowed. <That form does not fool me. I can feel your presence. I know it’s you.>

Mew ignored his comment and simply replied, “*Nothing good can come from any of this.*”

Mewtwo turned away, refocusing his attention on the aerial combat unit squads gathering in the skies above the Rocket base. He spread his arms wide, wisps of psychic energy leaking from his bulbous fingertips.

“*You’re only putting yourselves in danger! Do not underestimate the humans!*”

In an instant, Mewtwo spun around and shot towards Mew, stopping right in front of her so that he was staring her dead in the eyes.

<I have no reason to fear the humans,> the clone said, his words slow and meticulous. <I have captured myself in a Pokéball and hidden it where no one can find it. I cannot be captured now, correct?>

Holy crap. I had never thought about it like that, but he honestly had a point. Not only that, but if we hadn’t destroyed Suicune’s ball… if we’d just let it out and kept the ball… the beast would have been immune to capture too. Why hadn’t I thought of that?

“*You can still be defeated!*” Mew countered. “*And imprisoned. Even without a Pokéball. And what will you do then?*”

Mewtwo narrowed his eyes. <Just stay out of this.> He swung an arm forward, already charging an orb of black energy in his hand. But Mew put on a burst of speed and zipped away instantly.

A flash of flames and a burst of ice shot up from the ground. No way—hadn’t the birds been defeated? But then, sure enough, Articuno and Moltres soared upward, their wounds freshly healed. The Rockets—they must have healed the two birds while Mewtwo was distracted. Now the aerial combat unit squads were gaining altitude to join their Legendaries. If they weren’t just leaving this fight to Articuno and Moltres, that could only mean one thing—they had Master Ball cannons. They were going to capture Lugia and Ho-oh.

My brain froze up and instinct took over and before I’d even worked through my own plan, I found myself pointing forward and yelling, “Sandstorm!”

Aros’s wings buzzed into overdrive. Dirt and dust and debris from the ground rushed upward to form a swirling vortex of sand all around us. No shortage of material to work with—the storm grew and grew, fed by the rubble scattered across the city blocks to our west. It clouded the sky, blotting out the moon and obscuring the Rockets and their Legendaries. I couldn’t help grinning. They didn’t have goggles on or anything—try taking aim at the legends in that.

And then a sudden rush of cold crashed against us. Aros’s wings faltered with the impact, fluttering erratically for a few seconds before the vibration stopped and I felt them brush limply against my legs. And for a single, heart-stopping moment, we were weightless, and then we were falling.

“Aros? Aros!!”

All I could do was hang on for dear life as we plummeted through the trees. Aros hit the ground, and the impact from the blow shot through me, breaking my grip and knocking me flying into the underbrush. I landed in a crumpled heap, arms limp, head spinning, and pain wracking every inch of my body.

Damn it. What the hell had just happened? I grit my teeth, forcing all my effort into flexing each limb, one after the other. Everything hurt, but nothing felt broken at the very least. I took a deep breath and winced as I braced myself against the roots of a tree and slowly lifted myself from the ground. First one leg. Then the other, until I was on my feet, swaying a bit from dizziness and brushing snapped twigs and dead leaves from my jacket with scraped-up hands. Once I’d finally got my bearings, I whirled around to find Aros splayed on the ground several yards behind me, his belly covered in glittering ice crystals.

Damn it, why hadn’t I been paying more attention?! I’d already been pushing him hard all night and he hadn’t even wanted to be a part of the fight, and now this?

Wait. He’d been hit from below. We’d been attacked from the ground. Our enemy was nearby! In a flash, I recalled Aros and let out Swift and Firestorm, just as I heard footsteps sprinting toward me.

“Protect!” I yelled.

Both my Pokémon raised shimmering barriers around themselves, and I ducked behind them as an Ice Beam shot past me, right where I’d been standing. Heart pounding, I glanced up to see a Rocket grunt jump out from the thick of the trees. What looked like an ice-type Eevee—how had a grunt managed to get her hands on one of those?—stood pawing the ground in front of its trainer.

Just a grunt—no firearm. No other Pokémon. I had two, and enough experience in double battles to keep track of both of them. Firestorm had an overwhelming advantage. Swift could stay in the back and offer support. We could win this.

“Glaceon, Icy Wind!” the Rocket yelled.

“Flame Burst; Air Cutter!”

Frigid air rushed toward us. Swift took to the air and beat his wings rapidly, sending out blades of wind that cut through Glaceon’s attack, but not before a layer of frost had formed on both my Pokémon. Firestorm stood his ground, retaliating with a blazing fireball, but the ice fox was quick enough to dodge. The fireball landed in the bushes, setting them ablaze and casting a bright, flickering firelight throughout the trees. Swift dove at Glaceon, hurling more wind blades at it and leaving dozens of tiny cuts on its frost-colored pelt.

“Ice Shard!” the Rocket ordered.

The Pidgeotto didn’t even have a chance to react. A thin sheet of ice instantly formed on Glaceon’s head crystals, then shot forward like a bullet, striking him right in the heart. I winced, practically feeling the impact as Swift fell backwards, crashing to the ground in an awkward heap. Firestorm took that opportunity to spit another fireball at the Glaceon, who just barely managed to leap out of the way at the last second. But this time the attack hit the dirt and exploded into a cloud of embers, singeing the fox’s coat.

Swift was struggling to stand, chunks of ice embedded in his feathers, muscles quivering from the cold. And then he started glowing. Feathers dissolved into a bright white light before his whole body expanded outward—talons thickening, wingspan doubling, head crest lengthening—until the light faded just as suddenly as it had appeared, and I found myself staring at a Pidgeot. I blinked at him in surprise and awe, mouth hanging open. He’d evolved? He’d evolved!!

The Rocket swore under her breath. Firestorm grinned wildly. Swift—the Pidgeot—took to the air with a mighty flap and circled overhead, the firelight gleaming off his glossy head feathers. And in that moment, I couldn’t help feeling really good about our odds.

“Another Flame Burst and Air Cutter!” I called out.

Swift was faster now—a single flap of his wings instantly sent a flurry of wind blades flying at our opponent. Firestorm took a deep breath, gathering a bright ball of flame in his throat, but then—

“Mirror Coat!”

Oh no. No no no. Just those two words were enough to bring cold reality crashing back down on my head. An iridescent sheen rippled across Glaceon’s coat as the fireball shot toward it. Time slowed to a crawl. I saw the fire fly through the air, striking the Glaceon dead-on. A shudder ran through the fox’s body as it staggered backward… and then a blinding burst of shimmering light erupted from the spot where the fire had landed. Firestorm’s eyes widened. He took a half step back before the light consumed him.

I shielded my eyes. Both from the brightness and because I couldn’t handle seeing him take that kind of attack. When I finally looked again, the fire lizard was on all fours, coughing hard with steam leaking off his body. My heart sank through the ground, and my hand drifted toward his Pokéball, until—

“*Don’t recall me!!*” Firestorm hissed, digging his claws into the dirt. No way. I had to recall him. There was no way he could fight in that condition. And yet… he was still our best shot at winning this fight. And he’d been devastated the last time I didn’t let him help out against Team Rocket. And he’d never forgive me if I recalled him now.

Slowly, muscles trembling the entire time, the Charmeleon dragged a foot forward and put his weight on it. Then the other, until he was standing on two legs again, swaying slightly, body glowing with the red aura of Blaze. I swallowed hard. So it was decided—he was going to keep fighting. I wasn’t in a position to play it safe. If Glaceon could rebound our distance moves, then we needed to take the fight to it.

“Get closer and use Fire Punch! Swift, use Aerial Ace!”

By the time Firestorm even managed to take a step forward, Swift had already closed the gap with Glaceon, beak glowing. He struck the Glaceon once, then immediately followed it with an upward slice. But he still wasn’t done. While Glaceon was reeling, the eagle was already banking around for another strike.

“Ice Beam the Pidgeot!” the Rocket called out.

A frigid blue beam shot toward the flying-type, nailing him right in the belly. Swift recoiled backward, shaking off the blow before diving at the fox once more. But then a second beam fired at him, and this one hit a wing. The Pidgeot’s eyes widened as his wing froze mid-flap, and he plummeted straight to the ground with a heavy thud. But by this point, Firestorm had actually managed to stumble his way closer to Glaceon while it was distracted with Swift. He blew out a fireball into his palm and drew it back in a fist before slamming it hard into the side of Glaceon’s face. The fire went out with the impact, but he pulled his arm back to follow up with another punch. Suddenly, his fist burst into flame right before smashing into the fox’s head crystals, scorching them black, the ice-type crying out in pain.

Firestorm paused, staring at his fist incredulously and at the flames licking his claws that had flared to life without him needing any fire breath.

“*I did it,*” he whispered. “*For real this time!*” And in spite of our situation, I couldn’t help but feel a swelling of pride.

Glaceon sank to its knees, panting hard and trembling all over. The Rocket took a few steps backward, glancing back and forth between Swift and Firestorm. We had her beat, and she knew it.

“What’s going on here?!” a voice called out through the trees.

The grunt’s eyes widened. “I need backup!” she yelled.

Damn it. Not more Rockets. We’d only just barely managed to beat one. This wasn’t the time for more!

An officer burst through the trees, running toward the cornered grunt. Without warning, Firestorm spat a glob of embers at the ground near the newcomer’s feet before he could get too close to any of us.

“*Stay back!*” the fire lizard snarled.

The man jumped back, one hand on a Pokéball and the other hand on his firearm. He glanced from Swift and Firestorm to the beaten grunt and her Glaceon. And then his eyes fell on me, mouth curled into a smirk.

He leveled the gun at me, and my blood ran cold.

“*No!!*”

The next few seconds lasted forever. I saw the gun pointing straight at me. Saw the man’s finger tighten on the trigger. Then his eyes abruptly slid to the left and his face twisted up in alarm. Firestorm lunged, the man turned his gun on him at the last second, a gunshot split the air. Then a spray of blood, a cry of pain, and horrified shouting as the fire lizard sank red-hot fangs into the man’s arm, his tail flame blazing with rage. What the hell? The other Rocket panicked; her Glaceon fired Ice Beam repeatedly, but Firestorm was unfazed, his body consumed by the blazing red aura. Blood poured from wounds, claws slashed about in a frenzy, the Charmeleon held tight and refused to let go.

“Firestorm? Firestorm!!” I screamed.

And then he started glowing. A blinding white light engulfed his body as it doubled in height and expanded outward. His neck and jaws both elongated; a huge pair of wings suddenly sprouted. With a terrifying roar of pain and rage, the Charizard easily overtook the Rocket and threw him to the ground. His jaws were still clamped around the man’s arm—snarling in fury, Firestorm jerked his head back, ripping the shredded limb off and throwing it aside.

“Firestorm, what are you doing?!!” I screamed, gaping at him in horror.

Still hopelessly reaching for the gun with his other arm, the Rocket gave one last frantic cry of, “G-get this thing off of me!!” before Firestorm slashed open into the man’s torso and oh my god what was happening.

“*Not again…*” the dragon muttered, oblivious to the man’s screaming. “*Not again!!*” He expelled a vicious blast of heat that enveloped the body under him, blackening the flesh. The other Rocket had long since run off, which left Firestorm alone with the man’s charred remains, blood spattered across his face and claws.

I stood frozen on the spot, breathing shallow and limbs trembling and brain still trying to piece together what the hell I’d just seen. My Pokémon, the one who had once been that helpless little Charmander, had just brutally murdered someone. Someone who was going to kill us, but still.

“I—you… you saved my life, but… you… why did you… that?” I stuttered, still reeling with shock. I’d never even imagined that he’d be capable of anything like that. I couldn’t stop seeing it, even when I closed my eyes. His crazed desperation in a blaze of blood, and—

“*First with my trainer in the city… then with you on that ship… I was always too weak to do anything about it, but not again!!*” the Charizard roared, looking practically deranged.

I took a step backward as Swift hopped between us, flaring his good wing defensively. Pulling out Firestorm’s Pokéball, I carefully said, “Okay, okay, ‘not again’… whatever that means. I’ll just, y’know, recall you now…”

“*No! You can fly on me out of here! Finally, I can do it!*” he exclaimed with a crazed expression. No, definitely not. I pressed the button on his Pokéball, and the fire lizard dissolved into a beam of red light.

I stood motionless, staring at his Pokéball in disbelief, part of me desperately hoping that I’d imagined the last two minutes. But the evidence was right there. My eyes unconsciously slid back to where he’d done it, and oh god why did I look. The body was charred so thoroughly it might as well have been anything, but the blood splattered around it said otherwise, not to mention the arm lying ten feet away. And in a weird way I was still glad he’d saved us, but for the love of crap, why this? He was a Charizard; a single punch would have knocked the guy flying.

I sank to my knees, arms clasped around my middle, struggling to hold back a wave of nausea. Eventually failing and throwing up onto the ground.

“Why… why did he think that…” I said, choking on the words before wiping my mouth on the back on my hand and furiously rubbing the hand into the dirt.

Talons cautiously stepped into my field of view. Huge talons, not those of a Pidgeotto, but a Pidgeot. Something about seeing my first Pokémon now standing over me, even if it was because I was kneeling, made me feel unbearably small and helpless.

“*He wasn’t able to handle the evolution. And there are… some things he hasn’t told you about himself,*” Swift replied, his words slow and careful.

I didn’t ask what he meant. I didn’t want to know.

Something touched me out of nowhere, and I flinched before realizing that Swift was resting his head on my shoulder. “*It’s not safe here,*” the Pidgeot said gently.

All at once, something inside just broke, and I threw my arms around his neck, burying my face in his feathers. And even in the midst of all this, the back of my mind kept screaming that we had to keep moving, had to get back to the fight. Viridian was in danger. The Legendaries were in danger. I was in danger, if I just stayed here. But right now, I wanted nothing more than to ignore all of that and just stay here, holding Swift like this forever.

After some time, I finally managed to pull away. My eyes slid over to Swift’s frozen wing. He couldn’t even fold it against his side—it was just hanging there, stiff and useless.

“Your… your wing,” I said lamely, pointing at it.

Swift craned his neck back to look at it. “*I’ll be fine. But I won’t be able to fly until it’s healed.*”

Had to get a hold of myself. The mission wasn’t done yet. Not until either the Rockets or the Legendaries retreated. But then the cold truth hit me. Aros was unconscious. Swift was injured. Firestorm was delusional. Chibi and Stygian were elsewhere. I couldn’t do anything without their power.

Maybe I could find healing supplies. Unlikely, but worth a shot given that the Rockets were currently emptying their transport hangar. Either that or meet up with Starr or find Stygian or any number of other things that didn’t involve sitting here feeling sorry for myself.

“I’m gonna get back to the others and then I’ll heal your wing, I promise,” I said, grabbing Swift’s Pokéball.

“*Stay safe,*” the Pidgeot said as he dissolved into red light.

Everything still hurt like hell from the fall, but I pulled myself to my feet and set off toward the sounds of the ongoing battle. I hadn’t fallen far from the Rocket base; it wasn’t long until I reached the clearing where the ALRs had been set up. They were down to about half—Suicune must have destroyed more of them, although I couldn’t see the beast itself, and could only hope that it hadn’t been captured. I saw flames and lightning flying through the air across the clearing, but I was too far to tell if it was Arcanine and Raichu… or Chibi. If I could just get to them… The only problem was the squads of Rockets patrolling the ALRs like vultures. Without any Pokémon, I didn’t have a shot in hell at making it through.

But I had to do something. I spotted an overturned jeep and crept closer to it, heart pounding the entire time. Several crates in the back seat had spilled out when the jeep flipped and now lay scattered across the ground, some of them cracked, others half-crushed. Maybe one of them had healing supplies?

Worth a shot. My hands flew to the closest box, prying open its broken lid to reveal jars of battle enhancements. Fished through the shards of a second box and found nothing but Pokéballs. After that, communicators, scope lenses, power bracers, and none of this was helpful. There had to be something I could use. Anything. Some way I could help. Some way to not be totally useless.

Last box. Opening it revealed stacks of sleek, metallic arm cannons. Master Ball cannons. Dammit, those wouldn’t do me any good.

Or… would they? Mewtwo was immune to capture. Because he’d already technically been captured. Why couldn’t all the Legendaries do that?

The staggering weight of that realization took several seconds to fully process. I stood there, frozen on the spot while my brain attempted to work through the implications of such an idea.

This was what Stalker had been trying to argue. He’d said that his side was catching Legendaries so the Kanto Rockets couldn’t get them. At the same time, he was still willing to use their power to his own ends. But… if someone else were to do it. Someone with no intention of stealing their power and using it for themselves?

No. It was wrong. But… why? It wasn’t wrong to catch Pokémon in general. Why the Legendaries? Because no human should even have access to that kind of power. Maybe if their power was being abused? But if it wasn’t…

Mew had said that she didn’t expect Mewtwo or the others to back down. Not even if the odds were against them. They’d do anything to end the fight against Team Rocket today. But even if they managed to destroy the entire Viridian base, that wouldn’t end the fight, not by a long shot. The boss and the other higher-ups were long since evacuated. All this battle was doing was endangering both them and everyone else.

I had to protect the city. I had to protect the Legendaries. I had to do something. And I couldn’t possibly fight the Rockets head-on. But what if there was another way? I was tired of doing nothing. Tired of being powerless. I actually had a chance to make a difference this time. How could I turn that down?

I was running. At some point I’d grabbed a Master Ball cannon and strapped it to my arm, and now I was running as fast as my legs would carry me, away from the Rockets, the ALRs, the entire forest. I didn’t stop running until I’d reached the grasses on the outskirts of Viridian, and then I doubled over, gasping for breath but high on the surge of adrenaline shooting through my veins.

I couldn’t see Mewtwo. Had Mew managed to drive him away? Not likely. In any case, he’d already captured himself, so he wasn’t a factor. I could hear Suicune’s howling wind echoing throughout the streets of Viridian—so at least it hadn’t been captured, but there was also no way for me to get close to it without walking straight into ground zero. And then there was Lugia. Soaring low overhead, knocking Rockets out of the sky with only a light fluttering of its wings. Aside from a few scorch marks, the bird looked practically untouched. Just how tough was it? If the fight had been going on this long and it still had plenty of fight left in it, then at this rate… it would either level all of Viridian or get captured by the Rockets, and I wasn’t willing to let either one happen. It wouldn’t be expecting an attack from the ground, not when all of its enemies were in the air and all the ground Rockets were either evacuating or guarding the base. And the Rockets wouldn’t have any reason to think that a rebel had captured their target before them. I could escape into the trees. I could actually save a Legendary all by myself. Without anyone’s help. Not Stalker. Not Ajia. Not even my own Pokémon.

I had to do it.

Lugia wasn’t looking this way. Occasionally it raised a psychic barrier to block an attack from Articuno or Moltres, but that was easy to anticipate. I had a clear shot. I held out my arm and leveled it at the Legendary. And then I froze, arm trembling. My heart thundered in my chest. Sweat dripped down my forehead. My hand refused to move.

I couldn’t do it.

Had to do it.​

Had to leave.

Had to put a stop to this.​

It was wrong.

It was the only way.







I pulled back on the handle.

An explosive force knocked me off my feet, shooting the Master Ball towards its target. I didn’t see the hit, but I did see the look of utmost terror that struck Lugia’s face as its body transformed into blood-red energy. It flailed its wings in a desperate bid for freedom, but nothing could stop the capture process now. I flinched as a wave of horrified screeching assaulted my ears. Then the energy was drawn into the ball, which snapped shut and fell to the ground, vibrating furiously. I half-expected the ball to burst open any second. But it didn’t. It gave one last futile shake and grew still.

Lugia was caught. No single fact mattered more than that. Not the Rockets. Not the other Legendaries. I had done it? Had I meant to?

The image of its terrified expression flashed through my mind, and I couldn’t help wincing. If I was saving the legend, it sure didn’t feel like it anymore. What was I supposed to do with it now? Take it far away from the Rockets and Viridian City? Explain that it was immune to capture just like Mewtwo?

My legs trembled as they carried me closer to the ball now lying motionless on the ground. Gingerly, my fingers reached out to touch it, still expecting it to lash out at any moment. But the ball didn’t move. My fingers wrapped around it. Still trembling, I lifted the ball to my face.

“*What…?*” a voice gasped in Pokéspeech.

I almost jumped out of my skin as I whirled around to locate the source of the voice. My eyes fell on a small, yellow shape amidst the grass, lit by the light of the full moon. Chibi?! What was he doing here?! Had he followed me?

“Chibi! I can explain… at least, I think I ca—this isn’t what you think!” I stuttered, dumbstruck. This wasn’t what it looked like. What was it, then? What was it?

The Pikachu just stared at me, mouth agape. Finally, he shook his head as though trying to regain himself before hissing, “*What the hell did you do that for?!*”

What the hell did I do it for? All my reasons and justifications suddenly felt hollow and trite. It had made sense in my head, in a world where the consequences of catching a Legendary didn’t exist. But in this world, where everyone I knew was so adamantly against the thing I’d just done? I was the same as Stalker. But was Stalker really wrong? Ajia certainly thought so.

Wait… Ajia. How would I explain it to her? How would I explain it to Lugia? Did I think it would be okay with this? Did I care?

I only wanted to protect the Legendaries. But they wouldn’t get a choice this way. Capturing them took that away. Even if their power wasn’t being abused… to steal their freedom, even for the sake of protecting them…

It was wrong. Absolutely. I wanted nothing to do with it. I drew back my arm and hurled the Master Ball as far from myself as I could.

“*No, don’t!!*” Chibi shouted, absolutely horrorstruck.

The ball struck the ground and burst open, unleashing a brilliant surge of white light taking the Legendary’s giant form. Lugia shrieked in surprise and rage, flapping its wings rapidly to steady itself in the air as it glanced around, frantically searching for its captor. The avian dragon fixed its gaze on the Rockets in the distance, then suddenly whirled around to face me, its eyes blazing with unparalleled fury. My heart stopped and my body froze up. My eyes took in the sight of it charging a ball of energy in its mouth, but somehow my brain couldn’t piece together what to do. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. I could only stare in paralyzed terror at the deadly beam of energy that was going to end me.

I was an idiot and I was going to die for it.

And then a giant lightning bolt flew out of nowhere, striking Lugia head-on. The giant silver bird recoiled backward, its Hyper Beam flying off wildly into the air. It blinked in surprise, as though it couldn’t believe what had just happened. And then, slowly, it turned its gaze past me, to where I knew Chibi was standing. I glanced back at him, dumbstruck. The Pikachu was sparking wildly and out of breath, trembling all over. He’d… he’d put his entire remaining power supply into that one bolt, hadn’t he? And he was still conscious?

“*Please don’t!!*” he pleaded in between gasps for breath. “*She’s not with Team Rocket, she’s fighting against them! That capture was stupid and impulsive and it didn’t mean anything! So please… don’t!!*” Tears streamed down his face.

The birdlike dragon paused, and for a moment, it honestly looked taken aback. At least… for a moment. Then its gaze hardened. It lifted Chibi into the air psychically before tossing him into the forest unceremoniously. And then a telepathic voice filled my mind, chillingly bitter and overbearingly powerful, its sheer presence threatening to crush me.

<The half-legend speaks on your behalf, human. But it does not matter if you are opposing the ones who seek to overthrow the legends. Alliances mean nothing. Ambitions run awry no matter the side. It is all the same to me.>

It flicked a single wing feather.

The world dissolved into pain. Psychic energy tore through my body and a blinding pain suddenly dug into every inch of me at once. I was on fire, every nerve ablaze with agony. I tried to clench my fists, cry out, do something, but nothing would respond. I was helpless. Drowning. Couldn’t do anything, couldn’t see anything, my senses were gone, my body didn’t exist, nothing existed but pain—god, why wouldn’t it stop? Couldn’t tell how long it had lasted. Seconds, minutes? Couldn’t keep track, thoughts wouldn’t flow straight. Couldn’t do anything… couldn’t stop it… couldn’t keep going… Just end it now, Lugia. Anything but this. I didn’t want to… hadn’t meant to… no way to take it back…

The last thing I saw was Lugia’s eyes glowing in a void, terrifying, beautiful, and unreal. Then everything faded to nothingness.






~End Chapter 28~
 
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qva

Pokémon Trainer
Location
florida
Pronouns
she/her
wow, scary chapter art! let's get right into it.

Nothing could have prepared me for the sight of my hometown crumbling under a hail of wind and fire and explosive power.
dang, that can't be fun. i'm kind of surprised jade doesn't think of her family here? she hasn't seemed to think of them much at all so far, so maybe she just isn't all that attached, but i definitely would've expected some seed of worry there. maybe it'll come up later.
The only consolation was that the damage was limited to the northeast side—far from my old home—but for how long?
ah, that'll do it.
so we finally meet lugia! my understanding is that lugia is a pretty major character in this story, so i'm surprised their introduction is so abrupt. however, i think it's fitting as well—there's kind of a theme in this fic of legendaries being kind of... unlegendarized, if that makes any sense. they seem to be these larger-than-life, quasi-mythical figures in the minds of the characters, but a lot of the events of the fic deal with their subjugation. on the other hand, my impression is that there might be several lugia in this story? not sure where i'm getting that idea from but it seems right. so i guess we'll see.
The rose cat shook her head sadly.
we talked about this in chat already, but here’s one of those epithets. i think you put them to decent use in this chapter in ways that (mostly) aren’t clunky, but i’ve definitely been tripped up a few times by them. this was probably the worst case, and i think maybe that’s because there’s really no ambiguity here—it would’ve been MORE clear if you just said “she” or “Mew.” you do this with a few other pokémon too, and it’s mostly okay except for that it’s pretty easy to mix up moltres and ho-oh when they’re both in the same scene and you’re not referring to them by name, and also i definitely do not parse lugia as a dragon so seeing it get called that a few times had me scratching my head a bit until i figured it out.

moving on, i really enjoy that the legendaries have separate motivations here. i guess that's sort of a weird thing to be struck by since it's sort of logical that this group of wildly disparate monsters wouldn't behave monolithically, but it's interesting to see that the interplay of the legendaries is complex much in the same way as the interplay between the human characters is. ho-oh and lugia being at odds feels kind of right... good thing lugia doesn't have the water typing it seems like it ought to. :p

“*You can still be defeated!*” Mew countered. “*And imprisoned. Even without a Pokéball. And what will you do then?*”

Mewtwo narrowed his eyes. <Just stay out of this.>
i love this. mew totally shoots down his plan and he’s just like “... shut the fuck up mom.”
I grit my teeth, forcing all my effort into flexing each limb, one after the other.
* gritted
Heart pounding, I glanced up to see a Rocket grunt jump out from the thick of the trees. What looked like an ice-type Eevee—how had a grunt managed to get her hands on one of those?—stood pawing the ground in front of its trainer.
haha, i love this. i don’t know if they still do this, but when i was a kid they used to have these “delta” cards where they retyped pokémon, and i used to think that was the coolest thing. i was always designing my own delta pokémon, and this brings to mind that feeling. ... ... oh it’s a glaceon. well, the idea of an ice-type eevee is still cute, okay.

i like this battle with the glaceon overall. it’s been a while since jade’s pokémon (other than the clones) have really gotten any serious time in the spotlight, and the growth that firestorm and swift show here is really cool. pidgeot is an awesome and underrated mon so i’m glad to see him evolve, and firestorm pushing through his pain and mastering fire punch was cool and felt pretty in-character (i can’t lose!!!!). i don’t think i’ve seen blaze portrayed in a fic before, so that was pretty neat. and although both pokémon powered up throughout the course of the battle, they still only defeated some grunt’s glaceon very narrowly, and firestorm had the type advantage at that... jade still has a lot to learn, it seems.

given that swift and firestorm have kinda taken the backseat for so long, though, it feels like a bit much to have them both evolve at the same time... it almost takes away from each other’s moments to shine, know what i mean? it would’ve been good to have a different scene dedicated to that moment for each of them, i think. that said, his frenzied attack on the rocket was really well-written, in the same sense that chibi’s Sicko Moment on tyson was. more of that pls. on the other hand, i feel like jade’s reaction to it was a bit muted, and i kind of get that feeling from her in general—there’s sort of a lot of really gruesome stuff going on all around her, but she doesn’t usually seem very shaken up by it as far as her thoughts go. she does throw up, and that’s something, but her internal monologue/the narration at that time doesn’t seem all that freaked out. i think i brought this up before when moltres laid waste to the resistance base, and i felt it a bit in the beginning of this chapter, too, when jade’s watching her hometown get blown up and is just kind of describing to us what’s going on and how it feels sorta bad. i think you can (and should) afford to lean into her mental state here and go a bit deeper into the way she’s feeling. i think her torture by astrid did a really good job with that.

honestly i still love swift so much... he is very Mom Friend, and now he’s a badass giant eagle too, so that’s cool. hoping he gets more screentime (pagetime?) in the coming chapters.
This was what Stalker had been trying to argue. He’d said that his side was catching Legendaries so the Kanto Rockets couldn’t get them. At the same time, he was still willing to use their power to his own ends. But… if someone else were to do it. Someone with no intention of stealing their power and using it for themselves?
and at that moment, jade formed Team Rocket... 3!

this sequence with lugia’s capture is really cool. i’ve talked before about how jade kind of feels like an agent of the plot, someone to whom things happen rather than someone who makes them happen... but also that it was sort of realistic, and felt okay. nonetheless, it made her frustration here feel very real. in general jade seems to struggle with this pattern of her being used as a pawn, and constantly seems obsessed with what she can do... we’ve seen her sort of throw reason to the rain in order to achieve something before, with ajia, so this felt in-character. it’s all too perfect that chibi, the half-legendary clone who knows the horrors of the rockets’ plan to capture the legendaries all too well, should catch her doing this. really good bit altogether, and feels like a pivotal moment in jade’s character arc, like everything has been culminating in this. and yet, rather than giving into the rage that’s consumed him these last few chapters, he vouches for her... it says something about their relationship, although maybe chibi is just afraid of losing another friend. then jade gets punished intensely for her foolishness, and we sort of see in real time her facing the consequences of this habit she’s developed of throwing good sense to the wind in order to “achieve” something for ostensibly vain purposes. all things considered, this is a really good scene, and a powerful end to the chapter.

i’ll admit that bits of this chapter dragged on a bit for me—some of the action sequences just didn’t hold my attention all that well, and though i can see looking back how they were integral to the plot, they just didn’t engage me very well. i had similar feelings regarding parts of the previous ALR scene. however, once again, even the more sluggish action sequences had huge payoff, and this chapter overall is a super good one. i do, after all, love seeing kids get hurt. >:3c looking forward to the next one!
 

Umbramatic

The Ghost Lord
Location
The Yangverse
Pronouns
Any
Disclaimer: This is a review of Chapters 26-27

Chapter 27 in a shellnut:
50
I should probably start with Chapter 26 though. It was the chapter I last left off on for this fic, on ye old far off-land of Serebii, and it was a good point to get me reoriented with the fic. Starr had just joined the party and there is delicious TENSION going on. Also Starr's Raichu having a very warped sense of social skills.

Starr's Raichu: Friend! :D

Jade: -screaming-

But then comes the end-of-Chapter-26-reveals which THEN springboard into Chapter 27 reveals and those are... hoo boy. They answer several questions but raise several more, and amid it all there's a lot of Stalker being
51

All these Rockets fucking hate each other don't they?

Also! A Zoroark! I didn't expect to see that in a Kanjoh-centric fic! That's cool!

Also it seems everyone has Legendaries now. Is Jade going to have to... catch all the fucking legendaries? Wait, wrong fic.

Anyway, big battle coming up! Those are FUN! Will Jade, Star, and Anja receive HORRIBLE INJURIES? Will their Pokemon? Will my heart be broken like with Razors? Will Stalker say

52

Stay tuned! For when I read this fic again! Eventually.
 

windskull

Bidoof Fan
Staff
Partner
sneasel-nip
Alright, let’s talk about chapter 6! Looks like we’re starting something new here, so it’ll be fun to see how things work out.

Oh no, will her journey end before it can actually begin? … Nah we got tons more chapters I think we’re good.

Joking aside, good job portraying her anxiety. I even found myself worried something was going to go wrong for a second. Fortunately, it didn’t. Yet.

Also, the worldbuilding regarding how a ship might handle pokemon trainers having their pokemon out and about was pretty neat. I’d imagine it would be pretty hard to keep track of who a pokemon belongs to if they got separated from their trainer, so it makes sense to want them to stay together. The weight thing also makes sense, I think.

Everything was going to be fine.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Everything was not fine.
God I love transitions like this. They never cease to make me laugh.

Okay. I really liked the scene when Jade and Chibi finally talked to each other about that one important thing. It only took… what a month? But it was needed, and I’m glad they finally got to it sooner rather than later. It was already a tense moment, but imagine how much worse it could have been in a heat of battle moment? I’m glad they cleared things up and I’m glad Pikachu has a name now. I’d imagine things aren’t totally settled, but they’re settled enough for the moment.

Well, the stakes certainly grew fast!

I do kind of wonder if her room is really somewhere where they can’t find her. Though I suppose it’s better than just about anywhere else at the moment.

Of course the ship is pay per call. Well, sounds like things are about to get very intense very fast. I’ll have to check back soon to see what happens, because I need to know!

Huh, I thought I’d have more to say about this chapter, but I really don’t. It had a lot of good little moments that are quickly building up to the bigger arc, and I think it worked really well in that regard.
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
dang, that can't be fun. i'm kind of surprised jade doesn't think of her family here? she hasn't seemed to think of them much at all so far, so maybe she just isn't all that attached, but i definitely would've expected some seed of worry there. maybe it'll come up later.
No, I agree, there really ought to be more mentions of her family in the fic. It's a side effect of the time that writing a scene of Jade interacting with her parents managed to send the fic into a two year hiatus. Even just writing that silly littler phone call extra felt like a major accomplishment. As you saw, I later handwaved it by saying that the damage was on the opposite side of town, but it's still pretty flimsy. I do wish there were more writing resources geared toward writing how a character should feel about their family, because it's just sort of assumed that everyone will already know? But for me it's the hardest thing I've ever written by far. :S

At least I think I'm ok at siblings. The fic's gonna have several of them.
there's kind of a theme in this fic of legendaries being kind of... unlegendarized, if that makes any sense. they seem to be these larger-than-life, quasi-mythical figures in the minds of the characters, but a lot of the events of the fic deal with their subjugation.
Definitely keep this in mind for later. :)
we talked about this in chat already, but here’s one of those epithets.
thaaaaat one was pointed out in a previous review and somehow slipped through the cracks. Hotfixing~!
moving on, i really enjoy that the legendaries have separate motivations here. i guess that's sort of a weird thing to be struck by since it's sort of logical that this group of wildly disparate monsters wouldn't behave monolithically, but it's interesting to see that the interplay of the legendaries is complex much in the same way as the interplay between the human characters is. ho-oh and lugia being at odds feels kind of right...
Ah, I'm glad! Because believe it or not, Ho-oh and Lugia were both attacking Viridian in the old version, but I changed it because it was just super ooc for Ho-oh.
haha, i love this. i don’t know if they still do this, but when i was a kid they used to have these “delta” cards where they retyped pokémon, and i used to think that was the coolest thing. i was always designing my own delta pokémon, and this brings to mind that feeling. ... ... oh it’s a glaceon. well, the idea of an ice-type eevee is still cute, okay.
Ahaha, I hadn't realized it could be read as literally being an ice-type Eevee. (Also, fun fact: Glaceon hadn't been released yet when this chapter was first published! All we had were Japanese leaks to go off, so I was just like "man, I really hope Glaceon winds up being the English name or I'm gonna look really silly.")
given that swift and firestorm have kinda taken the backseat for so long, though, it feels like a bit much to have them both evolve at the same time...
Ahh, yeah, I can see what you mean, but I'm just a huge sucker for the fact that Pidgeotto and Charmeleon evolve at the same level, and I'd been wanting to write them having a double evolution since long before this chapter was first published.
on the other hand, i feel like jade’s reaction to it was a bit muted, and i kind of get that feeling from her in general—there’s sort of a lot of really gruesome stuff going on all around her, but she doesn’t usually seem very shaken up by it as far as her thoughts go.
Hm. See, I totally saw what you meant with the Moltres scene, but I'm having a harder time here, because Jade's freakout in this chapter is actually one of my favorite scenes I've ever written, to the point that I actually worried that I overdid things a tad. So I am having a bit of trouble reading it as muted. :S
i’ve talked before about how jade kind of feels like an agent of the plot, someone to whom things happen rather than someone who makes them happen... but also that it was sort of realistic, and felt okay. nonetheless, it made her frustration here feel very real. in general jade seems to struggle with this pattern of her being used as a pawn, and constantly seems obsessed with what she can do... we’ve seen her sort of throw reason to the rain in order to achieve something before, with ajia, so this felt in-character.
My big, big goal with the Lugia capture in this version of the fic was to make it the culmination of every bit of frustration and helplessness that Jade has felt in the story thus far, and it's been great to read your comments following the progress of that arc throughout Book 1.
i’ll admit that bits of this chapter dragged on a bit for me—some of the action sequences just didn’t hold my attention all that well, and though i can see looking back how they were integral to the plot, they just didn’t engage me very well. i had similar feelings regarding parts of the previous ALR scene.
A couple other reviewers mentioned a similar sentiment when then chapter was first posted, so I can see this, yeah. Couldn't really come up with any ideas on how to change it in this round of edits, but it is something I kept in mind for the action scenes in Book 2.
Chapter 27 in a shellnut:
I want you to know that the Kaiba memes gave me life.
All these Rockets fucking hate each other don't they?
They really do. xD
Also! A Zoroark! I didn't expect to see that in a Kanjoh-centric fic! That's cool!
The moment when I realized I could use Zoroark like this was one of the best feelings in the world. :D
Also it seems everyone has Legendaries now. Is Jade going to have to... catch all the fucking legendaries? Wait, wrong fic.
the rumor come out: does LC is QftL?
God I love transitions like this. They never cease to make me laugh.
Aha, that transition was actually added in during a later round of editing, so I'm glad it went over well. ^^
Okay. I really liked the scene when Jade and Chibi finally talked to each other about that one important thing. It only took… what a month? But it was needed, and I’m glad they finally got to it sooner rather than later. It was already a tense moment, but imagine how much worse it could have been in a heat of battle moment? I’m glad they cleared things up and I’m glad Pikachu has a name now. I’d imagine things aren’t totally settled, but they’re settled enough for the moment.
Yeah, it took a while, but I really do enjoy writing Jade and Chibi, and they'll get to have a lot of scenes together as the fic progresses.
Huh, I thought I’d have more to say about this chapter, but I really don’t. It had a lot of good little moments that are quickly building up to the bigger arc, and I think it worked really well in that regard.
Thanks! This chapter is the first one to lean into the suspense angle, so this chapter is sort of a picture of what's to come, in a way.

Thanks for the reviews, everyone! Chapter 29 is coming soon. Only two more chapter until the end of Book 1!
 

Umbramatic

The Ghost Lord
Location
The Yangverse
Pronouns
Any
me @ Chapter 29:

55

The whole goddamn thing was. One long action scene. I'm impressed! I don't think I could do that if I tried (even if I lost track of some things like Aros getting KOed even though wow I can clearly see that reading it again)

Also it's impressive that Jade manages to be. Immensely relatable even in situations like this. Her thought processes and manners of speech had me laughing in places I probably shouldn't have. Like Firestorm doing a murder. That Rocket should have known guns are redundant in a setting where everyone has their own collectable murderbeasts.

Also we're catching Legendaries now! And of course it immediately backfires. I do wonder what Lugia is going to do with Jade. And the Master Ball. Lugia is Plot Important so hopefully it'll be good.

But yeah if we are nearing the end of book 1 i am excite. I'm hoping things get weird.
 
Chapter 29: Aftermath

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
Thanks for the review, Umbra! And apologies to everyone for the long wait. Two more chapters in Book 1, let's wrap things up~


~ Chapter 29: Aftermath~


After spending forever lost in a hazy void of nothingness, the tiniest bit of awareness slowly started returning to me. How much time had passed, I had no idea. Scattered images and senses drifted to the front of my mind—a dizzying patchwork of memories that I wasn’t entirely sure were mine. A burst of cold before falling out of the sky. Someone’s Charizard tearing a man limb from limb. A giant silver bird soaring overhead, eyes flashing murderously.

Something deep inside gave a terrified lurch at that last image as a flood of memories spilled out of my head. I saw a violet Pokéball strike the bird, and somehow knew that I was the one who’d thrown it. Saw the terrified look on its face when it realized what had happened. Saw that terror distort first into fiery rage, then into cold hatred as it flicked a single feather and tore my existence to shreds.

I sucked in a breath as my head split open again just from the thought. That had actually happened. I’d really done that. And then Lugia had… It had…

A thick haze of fear and regret suddenly flooded my mind. No. No way. I couldn’t be dead. No. I was still here, wasn’t I? And… and I could still move, right? Right? But… when I tried to, my body felt distant and unresponsive, like it wasn’t even there. Almost. A dull, aching pain consumed every inch of me, and the idea of trying to fight that pain was too exhausting to think about.

Wait. If I could still feel my body’s pain, then—

At once my eyes snapped open and I sat bolt upright, then immediately regretted it as a wave of dizziness struck and I clutched my forehead for dear life. I sat there, heart drumming uncomfortably and head spinning from the sudden movement, but most importantly, very much not dead. Hard as it was to believe.

It took several seconds for me to pry my eyes open again and take a proper look at my actual surroundings. When I did, I found that I was… in a hospital room? With a Pidgeot standing next to my bed and an Absol sprawled out on the floor.

Swift beamed. “*You’re awake.*”

“*Told you two she wasn’t gonna die,*” Stygian said, yawning widely.

The Pidgeot gave her a bemused look. “*You were not so confident of that before we got here.*” The dark-type scowled at his comment and rotated herself so that she was facing the wall.

I coughed as a random jolt of pain shot down my spine, followed by my legs clenching up and my vision going dead for a second. Right, okay, sitting up—way too draining. I slowly sank back against my pillow, willing myself to relax as muscles kept twitching and random senses blinked in and out. Swift was saying something, but the tones were all distorted and I couldn’t make out any words without the tones.

“*—shouldn’t push yourself,*” he finished.

I gave him a weak smile. “Wasn’t planning on it.” But then I couldn’t help glancing around at the unfamiliar scenery. “Where are we, anyways?”

“*Some human building,*” came Stygian’s muffled reply. Yes, because that narrowed it down. Shouldn’t have expected Pokémon to know or care about such things. At the very least, the sunlight streaming through the drapes told me I’d been out cold all night (maybe longer?). I glanced at my watch—it was a little past noon on Tuesday. So I’d been out for less than a day, at least. But sixteen hours was still a long time to be unconscious.

My eyes fell on Swift’s left wing. It was folded at his side, good as new. “At least it looks like whoever brought us here healed you guys,” I said.

“*Fed us too,*” Stygian piped up, only slightly concealing the satisfaction in her voice.

I smiled. “That’s good.”

And then, I finally noticed the small, spiky yellow shape curled up in the blankets alongside me. I stared at it for a few seconds, not entirely convinced that I wasn’t just imagining it. But no, it was really Chibi. I wasn’t sure if a part of me had expected to never see him again after he ran off during the fight, but…

“I’m glad you’re here.”

For several seconds, he didn’t give any indication that he’d heard me. He might have even been asleep. But then, the Pikachu’s ears flattened against his head. Slowly, he turned to glare at me out of the corner of one eye.

“*Don’t ever do anything that stupid again,*” he growled.

I glanced away sheepishly. He wasn’t wrong—it was stupid. And now that I finally had a chance to think about what had happened, and how he’d reacted at the time… I’d really scared him, hadn’t I? Almost as much as he’d scared me when he ran off.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

After a long moment, the hybrid relaxed slightly, ears lifting, fur lowering. “*I’m glad you’re here too,*” he said quietly. Then he paused, like he wanted to say something else, but was having a hard time finding the right words. “*…I was lying.*”

I tilted my head, confused.

“*When I said that I didn’t need you,*” Chibi went on. “*That was a lie.*”

Oh. The conversation in Goldenrod. The one that had hurt far more than I was willing to admit.

His paws gripped the sheets tightly. “*I can’t lose you too. I won’t.*”

I couldn’t really explain why, but I found myself reaching out and stroking the fur on the Pikachu’s back. It was a weird thing to do, and moving my arm felt sluggish and unnatural. But in that moment, it just felt right. I half expected him to glare at me or swat my hand away, but he didn’t. He didn’t protest either. He just curled up into the sheets again, and within minutes, his breathing grew soft and steady like he’d fallen asleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I wasn’t quite sure how much time had passed, but eventually, the door swung open and in walked a woman dressed in a brightly-colored uniform covered in belts and pouches. Her tired eyes and mile-a-minute movement gave off the impression of someone who’d been working all night and was only functional thanks to caffeine.

“Good, you’re awake, I was worried I’d have to come back later again. My name’s Jen, I probably don’t look it, but I’m your nurse,” she said rather quickly while removing her gloves and washing her hands at the sink. “Our staff’s been stretched pretty thin thanks to the disaster, and I just got back from working in the field, so you’ll have to excuse the getup.”

I blinked. Her outfit was the least of my questions. “Where am I?” I asked.

“Medical wing of Viridian’s Pokémon Ranger HQ,” she replied, grabbing a chair from the wall and pulling it over to my bedside.

Ranger HQ? Not where I would have guessed. Though it did explain the uniform. But then the rest of what she’d said began stirring up memories in my still-clouded mind. Things that had been there, buried underneath the rush of pain and fear from my last conscious memory. The entire reason I’d been in harm’s way to begin with.

“Wait, what happened?! Is Viridian still in danger?!” I exclaimed, sitting bolt upright.

She raised both hands disarmingly. “Calm down, calm down, everything’s under control. The attack stopped hours ago, and we’re all still busy helping out with the recovery effort.”

I settled back against the pillow, head already spinning and having to force back a wave of nausea. I grabbed my face with both hands and took a few deep breaths to try to steady myself. Why did something as simple as moving have to suck so much? The nurse offered me a plastic cup of water and I took it gratefully, grasping it with both hands and downing it in just a few gulps. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized I was probably thirstier than I’d been in my entire life. I handed it back, immediately wishing I had more. But she just picked up a clipboard and began writing something onto it.

“Why am I here?” I asked.

Jen raised an eyebrow. “Well I don’t know if you’ve noticed your condition, but…”

I shook my head (ow, why) and said, “Er… that’s not—how did I get here?”

“Ahh, I know what you meant. Your friends brought you here. Anyway, enough worrying about that. Your scans came back normal, but now that you’re awake, I need to run you through some tests.”

Scans? I’d been scanned while I was unconscious? I guess that made sense, but it was still a strange thing to hear.

“What kind of tests?” I asked warily.

“I’ve got to check your motor skills, senses, balance, coordination, reflexes—things like that. If there’s any nerve damage, we want to know.”

I clenched my teeth. Somehow, in the wave of relief I’d felt just from waking up alive, it hadn’t occurred to me that my current state could be permanent. I really, really hoped not.

Jen went on to run me through a hopelessly long list of actions that seemed to go on forever. Bending my limbs in certain ways, holding things, pushing against her hands, you name it. She tapped various instruments on my joints to check the response and had me identify various sensations, from cold to hot to sharp. And in between giving instructions and taking notes on a clipboard, she talked almost constantly. My suspicion that she’d been up all night had proven to be correct, but when I asked why she didn’t just trade off with someone else, she said that everyone on the force had been working just as long. Even after the Legendary attack had ended, the recovery effort wasn’t going to be over any time soon.

Standing up to check my balance was definitely the worst part of the exam, as my legs had apparently decided to become gelatin and refuse orders… at least at first. With each movement, it was like they were remembering more and more how to be legs. But by that point I’d started to feel lightheaded again and had to sit back down.

“So… how bad is it?” I asked, wincing.

Jen tapped her fingers on her clipboard with a thoughtful look. “Well, you’ve got some pretty obvious psychic sickness, but thankfully it doesn’t look like there’s any nerve damage. Looks like whatever got you was only trying to cause pain. Oh, that reminds me—can you tell me what Pokémon attacked you? None of your friends had any idea.”

My throat closed up and my heart dropped like a stone. Couldn’t tell her it was Lugia. Had to think of something else. Anything else, but my brain chose that moment to conveniently forget the names of every other psychic Pokémon in existence.

“It was dark. Didn’t see it.”

Jen tilted her head, and for a second, I was sure she was going to call me on the obvious lie. But then she just clicked her tongue and said, “Shame, that would’ve made it easier to treat. Oh well, like I said, no long-term damage, so you got off lucky, eh? We’ll have you stay here another night to make sure, though. You’ll probably feel random dizziness and numbness throughout the day but be sure to give a holler if anything worse crops up.”

I nodded softly. At least doing that didn’t hurt.

“Anyway, before you leave—or whenever you feel comfortable holding a pen—I’ll need you to fill out some paperwork. I got as much info as I could from the friends who brought you here, but I need a little more from you, plus your signature on a few things. Also…” She paused, and this time her expression grew more serious. “I couldn’t help but notice you don’t have any legal ID. Seeing as you’re a minor, that wouldn’t normally be a big deal. But then there’s the fact that you have Pokémon…”

My stomach dropped through the floor. Not this. Not now. I was supposed to have gotten a license by now! But then everything had happened with Starr, and then we’d had to go to Johto and then—

Jen sighed, eyeing me closely. “Look, technically our organization is separate from the Pokémon League, so while I could report you, League bureaucracy isn’t exactly my biggest concern, especially right now. I just need to know if there’s any reason you shouldn’t have Pokémon. Like if you had your license taken away, or—?”

“Of course not!” I cried. “I just… I failed the exam, that’s all. But that was a long time ago, and I’ve learned a lot since then! You—you can ask my Pokémon if you don’t believe me,” I said, gesturing wildly in their direction even as my limbs protested.

But Jen’s face softened, and she chuckled a bit. “Relax, I’m just giving you a hard time. Just… do me a favor and go get your license after you leave here, okay?”

I stared downward, cheeks burning red. “Right. Okay.” No more delays, then. I was finally going to get one. But first… “You said my friends brought me here. Can I see them?”

Jen gave me a curious look, but then she stood up and said, “Alright. I’ll send for them.” Then she stood up and exited the room.

I didn’t have to wait long. Even with my hazy time sense, I could at least trust my watch. A few minutes later, the door swung open and Starr practically burst into the room, storming over to me with such conviction that I half expected I was about to be punched. But instead she flopped down into the chair next to my bed and grabbed my hand so hard I thought she was going to crush it.

“Dammit Jade, don’t ever scare me like that ever again, you hear me?” she snapped, staring me dead in the eyes.

“I didn’t mean to,” I mumbled sheepishly, glancing away.

“Glad to see you awake,” Ajia said with a smile, shutting the door behind her and taking a few steps toward us. Starr still had my hand in an iron grip and I suspected I wouldn’t be getting it back anytime soon. And by now my mind had finally cleared enough to realize that I had about a million questions.

“How did you guys find me?” I asked.

“Number nine,” Starr replied.

I blinked, throwing a sideways glance at where he was sleeping. “Wait, what? How did he…?”

“Starr and I met up near the end of the fight,” Ajia explained. “She wasn’t sure where you’d gone, and we were getting ready to go looking for you. Then your Pikachu and Absol came running up to us, and… they said you’d been attacked by a Legendary,” she finished, her expression turning grim.

“We thought you were dead,” Starr said bluntly, fixing me with a very serious stare.

My chest tightened. A distant, echoing shadow of the psychic blast radiated throughout my whole body. I couldn’t help visualizing it. Ajia and Starr following my Pokémon out of the forest and seeing me lying there, presumably dead, because what else could they have expected if I’d been attacked by a Legendary. And Chibi knowing that it was my own damn fault, but apparently not saying anything.

“Did they… say anything else?” I asked cautiously.

“You implying there’s something else we should know?” Starr asked, raising an eyebrow.

I closed my eyes, massaging my forehead with my left hand. “Never mind. I’m still out of it.” That answered that question at least. But something still didn’t add up. Even if they hadn’t revealed why I’d been attacked, what about the Master Ball cannon I’d been wearing? That would have been a dead giveaway.

“What happened with the Legendary battle?” I asked, desperate to get my mind off that topic.

That question finally got Ajia’s eyes to light up. “Our efforts worked. You two plus Suicune took down enough of their offenses that once their evacuation was done, the combat unit gave up on trying to capture any of the others and retreated. Mew finally managed to convince Mewtwo to lay off after that, and the others followed him.”

I blinked at her in disbelief. Our efforts had worked? We’d actually made a difference? Part of me couldn’t help feeling cheated that I hadn’t gotten to see it. And I still couldn’t help feeling like there had to be more to it than just that. Lugia had left me alone—why?

“Mew told me you rescued Suicune, by the way,” Ajia added with a reassuring smile. “She wanted to thank you, since you’d never hear that from Suicune itself.”

Right. I had rescued Suicune. Or at least, Stygian had, but I’d been going for it too, she’d just gotten there first.

“Hey, did you hear her? We won. You can stop looking so miserable,” Starr said, nudging my shoulder with her free arm.

I was about to protest, but honestly? She was right. There was no point dwelling on all the things that had gone wrong when so much had actually gone right. All three of us were still alive, and none of the Legendaries had been captured. It really was the best we could have hoped for.

“So why’d you guys bring me to the Ranger HQ anyway?” I asked.

Ajia grinned and held up two fingers. “Two reasons. Hospital was overfilled. And I’m familiar with this place since my dad used to work here, I’ve got friends interning here… aaaaand, rangers don’t really pry too much,” she added with a sheepish grin. “Huh… I guess that’s three reasons. Anyway, we brought you here, said you’d been hurt in the attack, and that was that.”

At this point Ajia grabbed one of the visitor chairs and pulled it away from the wall so she could sit facing both Starr and me. “So Starr and I were talking while we were waiting for you to wake up,” she said. Something about her words sounded rehearsed, like she’d been eagerly awaiting the chance to say them. “We both think it’s pretty likely that after the attack, Team Rocket’s gonna be lying low for a while. They’ve got a lot of recovery to do after this.”

I squinted. Where was she going with this?

“So like, now’s the perfect time for us to team up and slow them down, while they’re having a low point,” Ajia went on, eyes shining with the same energy and enthusiasm she’d shown when she first came up with the plan to free Starr from Team Rocket. “We can actually fight them together now, you and me. Won’t that be awesome?”

Wait, what? Why was she talking like we’d already decided that was how it was going to be from now on? I mean, yeah, it was a nice idea, fighting Team Rocket alongside her. But I still didn’t know if I even wanted to be in the fight anymore. I’d finally gotten a chance to walk away from it all after the Rebellion ended. And I hadn’t even gotten to decide if that was what I really wanted before being thrown right back into even more deadly situations. The only reason I had even approached Stalker to join his resistance was because I’d wanted its protection. And he’d just been using me.

This whole time… I’d just been a player in Stalker’s games, and now I was a player in Ajia’s, and what if I didn’t want to follow anyone’s plans? I was tired of only considering how I could be useful to others. Was that all I was good for? Helping other people achieve their goals, while not even being important enough to tell all the details of how or why? And yeah, okay, maybe it was an important goal, but still.

Starr glanced back and forth between Ajia and me, squinting like she was trying to figure something out. Finally, she came right out and said, “Hey, uh, Ajia? Me and Jade are gonna talk alone for a bit.” I shot a confused glance her way, but she didn’t look at me.

Ajia paused, blinking in surprise. She made eye contact with me, and I just shrugged, so she said, “Uh… sure? No problem. Just… come and get me when you’re done?” She stood up, threw one last confused glance between us, and then walked towards the door.

“What was that about?” I asked once Ajia had left.

Starr sighed deeply and let go of my hand, allowing feeling to return to it. “Look. I don’t have any interest in opposing Team Rocket. With my situation, I don’t ever want to see, hear, or think about them ever again.”

That was wasn’t too surprising. I’d already kind of assumed that much. Why did she need to say that now?

Starr went on, “And I’d prefer if you two didn’t go getting yourselves into trouble with them from now on. But I know better than to expect that, so—”

“I don’t want to either,” I replied immediately.

Starr froze, staring at me incredulously. “You don’t?”

I shook my head slowly, mind reeling. Had I finally come to a decision on the question that had been plaguing me since the end of the Rebellion?

Starr stared at me for several seconds before closing her eyes and exhaling through her nose. “Mostly because of me, right?”

I clenched my teeth. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say yes.” While the dangers of being captured by Astrid were a thing of the past… there was no denying the effect that she’d had on me.

She crossed her arms behind her head. “No, I get it. But I guess that kind of means we’re in the same boat. In a way… I’m kinda glad you’re not buying into all of Ajia’s resistance crap—and no, not just because I hated rebels when I was a Rocket,” she added quickly. But then her expression softened, and she glanced away. “I just… was really looking forward to us traveling together. And there’s no way that would work out if I had to deal with you going off to fight Rockets all the time. I know it’s selfish, but I don’t care.”

Selfish or not, it was what I wanted too. It was why we’d headed to Johto together in the first place. I still wanted that, even with the various detours that had come up. I wanted that more than I wanted to fight Rockets, that much was certain.

“Figured out how you’re gonna tell Ajia?”

I swallowed. “Not quite. She was so excited to work together.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty hard to say no to her,” Starr said, chuckling under her breath. “Might as well get it over with.” She stood up and walked over to the door, opening it and gesturing outside. A few seconds later, Ajia walked in, still looking rather perplexed.

Starr leaned back against the wall and folded her arms. “Right, so Jade’s not joining your resistance.”

“My resistance?” Ajia asked, giving us both a puzzled look.

“Yeah, you and all the Rockets that left with you during the revolt, and all that,” Starr said, waving a hand dismissively. “You were talking like she was gonna join you guys, and she’s not. So… yeah.”

Ajia glanced back and forth between us, confused at first, but then slowly, a look of understanding spread across her face. She smiled awkwardly and said, “There is no resistance.”

She’d said it like it was some big revelation, but the significance was somewhat lost on me. Starr, on the other hand, was gaping at Ajia in disbelief.

“What.” Her voice was a flat deadpan. “You’re… you’re kidding me.” She stared at Ajia, as though waiting for her to confirm that she’d been joking. But Ajia just closed her eyes and shook her head.

“But… you and all the agents who left us… you’re not… working together? Sabotaging us with all your inside info?”

“We’d been planning on it,” Ajia said. “Or at least… I’d been hoping we’d get to do something like that. But it didn’t work out that way.”

Starr blinked repeatedly, mouth hanging open like she’d just had her entire worldview shattered and was desperately trying to find some grain of truth in what she’d been assuming all this time.

“What about the former commander?” she asked.

Ajia sighed and glanced away. “We… had a falling out shortly after the revolt. No one’s seen him since.” She paused, folding her arms tightly around herself. “The commander was the real face of the revolt. When he left… everything fell apart.”

The room fell silent. Twice, Starr tried to say something, but couldn’t find any words. The Rockets had spent all that time paranoid that the Rebellion was led by their former Kanto Commander when no one had heard from him in over a year? It was almost laughable.

“So like… you weren’t just bullshitting me when you said you weren’t actually that big a part of the revolt?” Starr asked, still disbelieving.

Ajia shook her head. “I was just… Sebastian’s pawn. And without the commander’s influence, none of the other deserters wanted to join me, so they all just…went their separate ways, trying their best to avoid being hunted down. I still have a few friends on Team Rocket, and that’s where I get all my info. But other than that…”

From the moment Ajia had first showed up out of nowhere on that fateful day I’d been captured by Rockets, I’d seen her as someone who was far more deeply involved in the fight against Team Rocket than me. It just went without saying that she was part of something greater. But in reality, it was just her, a couple of friends on Team Rocket, and Mew.

Ajia lowered her gaze to the floor. “That was the lowest point in my life. I was so, so tempted to just run away from it all. Pretend it never existed. Live my life far away, oblivious to what was going on in my home region.”

What? None of that sounded like Ajia at all. I couldn’t imagine her running away from anything, let alone something so important. Which of course was hypocritical of me, since I didn’t want anything more to do with the fight against Team Rocket. But Ajia… Ajia was supposed to be stronger than me. She wasn’t supposed to feel the same fears and regrets that I had.

“But I couldn’t stay out of it for long,” she continued, looking up. “Even moving far away wouldn’t keep me out of it forever. If the Rockets get free rein to do whatever they want here, who’s to say that’ll be the end of it? What’s gonna stop other gangs in other regions from doing the exact same thing? The Rockets would make a killing selling goods to their own copycats in distant lands.”

“We already are,” Starr added with a scoff. “Where do you think all the funding for the anti-Legendary tech came from? Not out of our own pockets, that’s for sure.”

“You keep saying ‘we’ to refer to the Rockets.” The words were out of my mouth before I’d put any thought into them.

Starr groaned exasperatedly. “Jade, it’s been two days, give me a damn break.”

All this conversation was doing was reminding me why the fight against Team Rocket was so important. I already knew that it was important. That wasn’t the problem.

“I guess that explains why you were so hopeful that I’d join you,” I mumbled, tapping my fingers together.

Ajia nodded. “Sounds like you’re pretty set on staying out of it from now on, though.”

Was I set on it? I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure of anything anymore, other than the fact that way too many things had happened this past week and I still needed time to process all of them, and I’d never get that if I jumped back in right away, and especially if it felt like it wasn’t even my decision.

“I get that you have to keep fighting them—you can’t exactly turn your back on Mew,” I said quietly. “And I guess there’s six other people out there who are in the same boat as you. I don’t know if you’ve met any of them yet, but they should be able to help you, right?”

Ajia opened her mouth to speak but then paused, heavily considering her words. “Right.”

So it was decided then. I wasn’t going to fight alongside her. Part of me still wasn’t sure if this was the right decision, but there was no taking it back now.

After several seconds of silence between us, Ajia let out a sigh, putting a hand on my shoulder. “I think I need to apologize.” I sat there, staring blankly until she continued, “It wasn’t right to drag you into that mess even further. That was the one thing I wanted to avoid when we first ran into each other last summer, and then I went and did it anyway.”

I tilted my head. “I mean… you did tell me not to back then. I decided to join the Rebellion anyway.”

She smiled weakly. “Maybe so. That didn’t give me a free pass to string you along for the past few days, though.” She glanced between me and Starr, her face falling. “You both had to go through a lot of pain because of me. I know things worked out in the end, and I honestly thought that made it alright, but… it doesn’t.” She bowed her head deeply. “I’m sorry.”

Starr raised both eyebrows. “Well, this is a switch,” she said, looking reluctantly impressed. “I’m still pissed about the past few days but… I’ll get over it. It’s pretty obvious by now that I needed this.” She glanced away. “So… thanks, or whatever.”

I stared at the floor, unsure of how to put my thoughts into words. “I guess… I would’ve preferred not being in the dark all the time. I get why you couldn’t mention anything about Mew, but even with the rest of it…”—my throat clenched up—“it felt like I wasn’t good enough to know anything.” I hadn’t realized it at the time, had I? But like most things, looking back at it hurt a lot more than it had in the moment.

“Yeah, no more of that secrecy crap from now on,” Starr added, glaring at her. “We’re all on the same page now, right?”

Ajia glanced between us, her face slowly splitting into a relieved half-smile. “Right. I can promise that.”

Starr nodded firmly, as though glad that we had that settled. “In any case…” she went on, folding her arms with a bit of a smirk. “I hate to admit it, but it’s pretty cool that you’ve got a Legendary in your head. If we—if the Rockets didn’t have a reason to fear you before, they sure do now.”

Ajia closed her eyes, shaking her head. “That’s nice to hear, but nothing I’ve done is special. All the access I had to the inner workings of Team Rocket was only thanks to the commander. And anything I’ve done since then was only possible because I had Mew’s help.”

Starr put a hand to her forehead. “Just take the stupid compliment.”

Ajia laughed. “Alright, alright,” she said, rubbing the back of her head. “Anyway, I guess now I’m wondering… what are you two going to do from now on?”

I glanced at Starr. “We were planning on traveling around Johto. We want to stay away from the Kanto force, and, well… make up for lost time.”

Ajia nodded. She was smiling, but her eyes held an air of hesitation. Like she wanted to say something but was holding back.

“Oh, just say what you want to say,” Starr grumbled, waving a hand in her direction.

Ajia clasped her hands in her lap, debating her words. “Right. So… I know I’m on my own when the time comes to fight Rockets, and I really mean it when I say I’m not gonna drag either of you into that. But… I’d love it if I could meet up with you two on your journey… at least occasionally?”

My eyes widened. “What? Of course!”

Starr threw me an incredulous glare. “Dammit Jade, how am I supposed to say no if you go and agree to it immediately?” she muttered.

I jerked my head toward her, blinking in surprise. She wasn’t okay with it? I hadn’t thought… I wasn’t trying to decide for her, but—

She rolled her eyes. “I’m joking. God, and people say I’m the one who can’t take a joke.”

It took several seconds for her words to sink in. But when they did, I found myself laughing like an idiot and not even sure why, because it wasn’t exactly funny, but something about the deadpan in her voice and the way I’d walked right into it was hilarious in a way that didn’t make any sense. I was laughing, and it hurt like I was sore all over, but I never wanted it to stop. Then Ajia grabbed both my hand and Starr’s, and Starr tugged her arm in a half-hearted show of disapproval even though she obviously could have gotten free if she’d really wanted.

Five years. Five years since the three of us had talked and laughed and actually been able to enjoy each other’s company. No less than three days ago Starr had been my mortal enemy and Ajia had been practically a stranger with all the secrets she held.

And now the three of us actually had a road forward. To heal from our pasts. To find a new tomorrow. Together.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The next day, I was cleared to leave the Ranger HQ, and save for some general pain and dizziness, the psychic sickness was largely gone. I still had a hard time believing that I was walking away unscathed from a Legendary attack, but after the fifth time bringing it up, and the fifth time hearing Swift tell me not to worry about it, I was finally taking his advice to heart. In any case, I had more important things to think about. Like my upcoming training exam.

I’d left the Ranger HQ alone after insisting to Ajia and Starr, for what felt like the millionth time, that I’d be fine on my own, and that I didn’t want them to call me a taxi. I could hardly blame them—I still felt weak, and it was almost certainly obvious in my movements. But there was something I needed to take care of away from them.

It was easy to find an empty park not far from the Ranger HQ. The air was cold enough that no one was outside, especially considering that the city still had yet to recover from the disaster two days ago. I pulled out two Pokéballs, opening one of them to let out Swift. The other was Firestorm’s. Something told me I didn’t want to be alone while confronting him. Not because I was afraid he’d attack or anything. I just… needed the support.

“Has he even been out since it happened?” I asked, feeling the pit in my stomach starting to swell.

“*They let him out when they healed us,*” Swift explained. “*They had to give him something to calm him down before he’d let anyone get close though.*”

Maybe he’d still be feeling the effects of whatever it was. Since he’d been in a ball this whole time, his condition shouldn’t have changed. I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not, but it was… something.

I opened the ball. The burst of light started to take shape, and half of me still expected to see the waist-height, red fire lizard standing in front of me, not the huge, orange dragon that he’d become. But no, there he was, wings folded at his sides, arms resting limply on his belly, neck hanging low with his eyes on the ground.

He’d obviously been cleaned up since it had happened. The only image of his new form in my memory was one with blood splattered across his face and claws. It suddenly struck me that someone was dead because of him, and I immediately wanted to put him back in the ball and forget everything. But no. I had to deal with this. And so, swallowing every doubt and hesitation and lingering suspicion that I could have done something to prevent his breakdown, I opened my mouth to speak.

“Do you want to talk?”

“*What’s there to say?*” Firestorm replied without looking up.

I shifted a bit. “Well, I can think of a few things.”

The Charizard exhaled sharply through his nose but didn’t say anything for some time. He just stood there, head low and eyes glued to the ground.

“*I know what you must think of me,*” he finally said.

I took a deep breath. “I don’t know what to think. Do you want to explain?”

“*I should have told you ages ago,*” he said through gritted teeth. “You even asked me.*”

I furrowed my brow. “What are you talking about?”

The fire lizard glanced away, eyes screwed shut like he’d rather be doing anything other than having this conversation right now. But eventually he turned back and, without making eye contact, said, “*You’re not my first trainer.*”

I tilted my head. “I… already knew that,” I said cautiously.

“*I never told you why I had to leave my first trainer.*”

I frowned. “…Didn’t you? You told me you were stolen from him.”

He flinched, claws balling into fists. “*That’s not what happened. We—my trainer and I—came to the first city on the path. We couldn’t find the Pokémon Center, and… I guess we wandered into an area we weren’t supposed to go through. These older guys showed up and… their Pokémon attacked me, just for fun. I didn’t stand a chance… it was pathetic…*”

So far, it all seemed to match up with what he’d told me before. It didn’t… seem like he’d lied.

“*I wasn’t strong enough,*” Firestorm whispered, his voice quivering. “*I was supposed to protect my trainer. I failed. And it would have been me if he hadn’t tried to save me.*”

…Oh.

I exhaled slowly, searching for the right words to say, but everything felt hollow and tactless. “Your trainer… he’s dead, isn’t he?”

Slowly, the Charizard nodded.

“Were you two close?”

Much to my surprise, the dragon let out a low, raspy laugh. “*No. He was only my trainer for a few days. But why should that matter? I didn’t serve my trainer well, I didn’t protect him, I didn’t do anything. I never have—even with you.*”

How could he say something like that? “I don’t get it—how have you failed me?” I regretted the question almost immediately.

“*Are you joking?*” Firestorm asked, lifting his head and staring me dead in the eyes. “*How many times have the Rockets almost killed us and I haven’t been able to do anything about it? Do you know how many times I’ve re-lived that day? Do you know how many times I’ve seen you lying on the ground, dead?*”

I took a half step back, pulse quickening, fears and regrets flashing through my mind. Times I’d felt the same as him. Deaths that I could have, should have done something to prevent. But… no. No more of that. I’d been down that road. I’d blamed myself enough. It only led to pointless misery.

I stepped forward, struggling to keep my face calm and collected. “It’s not your fault that you couldn’t protect me before. You didn’t need to do what you did back in the forest,” I said quietly.

Slowly, he lowered his gaze to the ground once more, looking utterly miserable. “*It was the first time I was able to protect you.*”

I put a hand to my forehead. “Firestorm, that’s… I already told you a long time ago, didn’t I? You honestly can’t expect yourself to get me out of every crazy situation that I get myself into. And I don’t want you considering what you did last night as your only success in a history of failing at life or something.”

“*I was always too weak to kill.*”

I paused, staring at him directly, a chill running down my spine. “Firestorm, what are you talking about?”

He twiddled his claws, tail lashing back and forth. “*Anyone who would kill my trainer… I wanted them to die. But the thought scared me because I was too weak to handle it. I was hoping that once I evolved, I could—*”

“Do you feel stronger now?”

He looked up at me with a broken expression.

“We could sit here and try to work out the morals of killing Rockets all day, but I’m more concerned about you,” I said harshly. “I don’t want you protecting me if it means obsessing over it and losing yourself.”

Firestorm turned away again, unable to meet my eyes. A tangible silence fell over the area as he stared at the ground in deep thought.

“*…I don’t feel stronger,*” he said finally. “*And… that’s not what I wanted to be like when I was finally able to protect my trainer. Not even strong enough to control myself? I just… no… it’s not what I wanted.*”

I let out a long breath and slowly took another step closer. “Look, I’m… sorry that you had to go through that… with your old trainer. I should have realized something was up. Looking back, it’s pretty obvious how it affected you.” So many signs. So many things I’d brushed aside. Careless mistakes that had led to someone’s death. “I want to be a better trainer for you. If you felt like you had failed me, well… I didn’t do the greatest job telling you otherwise.”

One last step and I was able to put a hand on the Charizard’s shoulder. It was weird standing so close to eye level with him. Just last summer he’d been that wide-eyed, naive little Charmander. Now, all these months later, he was taller than me.

“Just… please promise me you won’t lose yourself again. It… hurt to see you like that.”

Firestorm didn’t reply. But then, slowly, he lifted his arm to lay his claws over my hand, squeezing gently as he gave a small nod. We stood there for a long time—wordless, motionless, not even making eye contact. And yet I didn’t want it to end.

“Come on,” I said finally. “We’ve gotta head to the other side of town. I figured it would be a good chance for Swift to teach you how to fly.” At my words, Swift, who had been silently watching us this whole time, stepped forward to stand alongside us, giving a light flutter of his wings. Firestorm craned his neck back to look at his own wings and flexed them experimentally, as though he’d only just now noticed that he could actually control them. Then he turned back to face me and Swift, eyes relaxing for the first time since his evolution.

“*I’d like that.*”






~End Chapter 29~
 
Chapter 30: To a New Tomorrow

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
Aaaand, here's the final chapter of Book 1! Thanks to everyone who's followed the story thus far! Book 2 will begin on March 1st~



~ Chapter 30: To a New Tomorrow~


I arrived at the League registration office and barely even had to wait—it wasn’t as if very many people applied for their license in November. And I was already in the system as having passed all the required classes. All that was left was the exam. The dreaded exam that had thwarted my last two attempts to become a trainer.

As the examiner led me into the back room, I expected to feel… something. Fear. Anxiety. The pain of past failure burning a hole in the back of my mind. But now? After everything I’d been through? Enduring countless battles, calming unruly experiments, facing down raging Legendaries? This was nothing.

The test ran through everything from wild Pokémon interactions, trained Pokémon handling, conflict resolution, trainer interactions, League policies, Pokémon rights, and yes, even the dreaded battling that had once been the bane of my existence. Two hours later and the results were in my hands and I was staring down at a passing grade. For years I’d imagined how this moment would feel. I’d imagined it would be my grandest triumph, finally beating the unjust system that had kept me trapped in Viridian for two long years. But now, in the moment… I mostly just felt relieved to finally have it finally over with. No rush of excitement. No explosion of joy. Just… relief.

I was finally, finally going to be a real Pokémon trainer. And I’d done it before my fifteenth birthday, just like I’d said.

So I told the staff I wouldn’t be needing a starter Pokémon, as I already had one lined up elsewhere. The first Pokémon registered under my ID would get logged as my starter, in this case. It only seemed fitting that it should be Swift—the only one who had been with me since before it all began.

I’d pick up a Pokédex later. I’d need one if I wanted access to things like the automatic payment system, online storage system, or automatic Pokémon registration. And I’d want those things eventually, but for now, just having a trainer ID was enough.

And so I found myself walking down the streets of Viridian, staring at the glossy card in my palm, part of me still not convinced that it was real. What next? There were almost too many options. I could go meet up with Ajia and Starr right away. I could finally follow up with the texts that Darren had sent me. I could call home and show that I’d finally upheld my end of the bargain, the one that had gotten me allowed to go on this journey in the first place. But first, and perhaps most importantly, I had to share the news with my Pokémon. After all, this was going to have a big impact on their lives from now on. And… there was still one thing I hadn’t considered until now—the experiments. All three of them had only joined me because I’d been fighting Team Rocket. Turning my back on that fight meant saying goodbye to the one thing that had brought us together. And for all I knew, it was the only thing keeping us together. The sooner I told them, the better. And if they wanted to leave, then…

I sighed. No sense putting it off. I veered off from the sidewalk into an open lot between two buildings. Then I grabbed all five of my Pokéballs and opened them. Seeing them now, lined up together—Pidgeot, Charizard, Pikachu, Flygon, Absol—I couldn’t help but feel a swelling of pride in the team I’d brought together throughout the past few months. Even if a few of them might not be around for much longer.

“*So you two really evolved, huh?*” Aros asked, tilting his head to get a good look at Swift and Firestorm. The latter blushed and glanced away, his evolution obviously still a sore topic.

“*Well, congrats,*” the Flygon went on. “*Our fights might be a bit fairer now.*” He smirked. As if he cared at all about having a fair fight.

“So, I’ve got a bit of an announcement,” I said, holding up my trainer ID for all of them to see. “I’m finally a real Pokémon trainer.”

The significance of this was lost on the experiments, whose expressions varied between confusion and apathy.

“*You weren’t a trainer before?*” Aros asked dismissively. “*Then what were you?*”

But before I could figure out how to answer that, Firestorm cut in with, “*You passed the test?*” His eyes glinted with an enthusiasm that I hadn’t yet seen on his face as a Charizard.

“*I knew you’d be able to do it someday,*” Swift added, beaming.

It was silly, but seeing my first two Pokémon looking so proud of me, well… now I really couldn’t help but feel proud of it. Even if it wasn’t that big a deal—the kind of accomplishment that kids three years younger than me commonly pulled off.

Aros glanced back and forth between us, still confused. “*Huh. So you’re a trainer now, or whatever. Does that actually change anything?*”

I almost chuckled under my breath. “No not really. Just makes things easier for me, that’s all.” But then my mind snapped back to what I’d really called them all out to tell them. “It’s… not the only news, though,” I went on slowly, my mouth going dry. “I’m still going to be training in Johto, but I’m not going to be meeting up with Stalker and I’m not joining his resistance.”

The Flygon tilted his head, antennae twitching. “*Why not?*”

I exhaled slowly through my nose. “He’s… on the Johto force. He was just using us to get back at the Kanto force. He wasn’t trying to protect the Legendaries—his force has been catching them after we save them.”

That got more of a reaction out of everyone.

Firestorm jerked his head toward me. “*What?*” he asked, eyes wide. “*You can’t be serious.*”

Unsure of what else to say, I just nodded. Several seconds passed with nothing but stunned silence from all of them.

“*I’m so sorry,*” Swift said, lowering his head. “*That must have been hard to learn.*”

I clenched my fists and looked away. “Yeah, it… it definitely hurt.”

“*So that’s why you’re not going to fight Team Rocket anymore?*” Stygian asked, fixing her large, crimson eyes on me.

Aros jolted, throwing a glance at the Absol. “*Wait, you knew about this?*”

“*Just the part about leaving the fight. I didn’t know about Stalker.*” Right, she’d been in the room when I’d told Ajia. So had Chibi, for that matter. My eyes slid toward the Pikachu, who hadn’t given any visible reactions to anything so far. He was just staring at the ground, deep in thought.

“*Wait, but… what does this mean for us?*” Aros went on, still confused. He glanced back and forth between Stygian and Chibi, then back at me with an imploring look.

I sighed. “Well… I know you three joined me because that’d give you the opportunity to strike back against Team Rocket. You won’t be able to do that if you stay with me now. So… I guess what I’m saying is you’re free to go, if you want.”

“*Go where?*” the Flygon asked blankly.

I shrugged. “I don’t know. You’re all strong Pokémon, you could probably live wherever you wanted. I guess we can look up where your kind is from, if that’s what you mean.”

He shook his head, tail lashing back and forth. “*That’s not…*” His voice trailed off.

Stygian gave him a rough nudge with her shoulder. “*Just say what’s on your mind,*” she said bluntly.

The Flygon shot a glare at her, but then stared downward, twiddling his claws. Finally, he said, “*I don’t want to live in the wild.*”

I blinked. “I mean, you don’t have to go if you don’t want to,” I added quickly.

Aros flattened his wings. “*But I can’t just stay with you if you’re not fighting the Rockets anymore.*”

Firestorm gave him a skeptical look. “*Why not?*” I couldn’t help wondering the same thing.

The Flygon squinted at us from behind his red eye lenses. “*How am I supposed to…? How would I ever…*” He let out a frustrated huff and vibrated his wings to float a couple dozen yards from us, sulking over by one of the buildings lining the lot. Stygian stared after him as he left, shaking her head slightly.

“What about you?” I asked her.

She turned to face me, considering me carefully. “*I’d be fine with the wild. He’s just soft. Couldn’t even catch his own prey.*”

I winced. Well that seemed a bit harsh. Lots of human-raised Pokémon had trouble with that, and it wasn’t exactly hard to see why.

“*That whole ‘needing to get back at the Rockets’ thing has always been an excuse,*” she went on.

“What’s stopping him from just staying, then?” I asked her.

The Absol pawed the ground, furrowing her brow. “*Well… okay. There’s a bit more to it than that. But that’s the gist of it.*”

I stared. That really didn’t answer my question at all. But by now Aros was looking back at us from where he’d flown off to, swishing his tail fan in agitation. Stygian let out a sigh, then trotted over to him. The two experiments conversed away from the rest of us for a few minutes while I just stood there feeling awkward. Firestorm made eye contact with me and gave a clueless shrug, so at least I wasn’t the only one confused. I glanced down at Chibi, who still hadn’t said anything. He didn’t give any sign that he was going to, either. Which meant that it was probably best if I speak with him alone, like we usually did.

“*Just go if you want to, then!*” Aros yelled out of the blue, grabbing all of our attention.

Stygian smacked his leg with a paw. “*Idiot! I’m not leaving without you.*”

I jammed my hands in my pockets and did my best to look like I hadn’t noticed. And I was suddenly struck by the realization that out of all my Pokémon, I knew the two clones the least. Sure, Chibi wasn’t very open with his emotions, and Firestorm had held his fair share of secrets until recently. But at least I knew them. And, well, it kind of made sense. The two of them hadn’t even technically been on my team until… what, five days ago? Longest five days of my life, but still.

After several minutes, the two clones slowly made their way back to the rest of us.

“So… is it alright if I ask what that was about?” I asked, halfway expecting to get chewed out just for asking.

Aros snapped his eyes to mine, wings flaring. “*Look, I could live in the wild just fine if I wanted to. I just don’t want to,*” he said, pointing a claw at me.

I really didn’t believe that at all anymore, but I nodded to spare his feelings on the matter.

The Flygon relaxed slightly, lowering his wings. He glanced once at Stygian, then back to me. “*Okay, look… If we’re gonna stay with you, then you owe it to us to do something that isn’t boring.*”

I blinked, completely not expecting that kind of one-eighty. I flashed a questioning look at Stygian, as if to ask ‘what the heck did you say to him?’, but the Absol didn’t respond.

“We’d… be traveling across the region,” I began slowly. “Seeing new places. Having new experiences.”

Aros cocked his head to the side, unimpressed.

“…And battling new opponents, yes,” I added. Typical.

The Flygon exhaled sharply through his nose, giving a curt nod. “*That is acceptable.*”

I gave a sigh of relief and smiled weakly. “Alright, glad to have that settled. And… thanks. I appreciate it.” That last part was mostly directed at Stygian, who just shrugged dismissively.

I recalled all of my Pokémon except for Chibi. And I was about to ask him his thoughts on the news, but then… something occurred to me. Something else I’d been wondering since I’d first woken up after the attack.

“Can I ask you… what you think of me? After what I did to Lugia.”

The hybrid took several seconds to mull the question over. “*I think you were an idiot. But you already knew that,*” he said simply.

That was it? Nothing about how I’d basically betrayed the cause that we’d dedicated ourselves to for months? How I was the same as the Rockets?

“Nothing else?”

He opened a single eye and peered at me through its corner. “*I trust you had your reasons. I also trust you know to never do anything that stupid ever again.*”

He wasn’t wrong. I’d done what was probably the stupidest thing I’d ever done in my life. And yet, I’d survived. How? That single nagging question had returned in full force.

“Did you see what happened after I blacked out?”

He shook his head. “*After Lugia threw me away, I ran to get Stygian and your friends. By the time we got back, Lugia was gone.*”

“What about the Master Ball?”

“*I wasn’t exactly looking for it. I had more pressing concerns,*” he said flatly.

I rubbed the back of my head. “Eh… right.” In any case, that wasn’t the main reason I’d wanted to talk to him in private. “So… when I asked the others if they were alright with me leaving the fight… What are your thoughts?” I asked, already anxious to hear his answer.

He stared at me, unblinking. “*You know I can’t just ignore what they’re doing to the Legendaries. It’s too big a part of what I am.*”

I closed my eyes. “I know.”

Several seconds passed. He let out a sigh and then said, “*But I don’t want it to be all that I am.*”

My eyes snapped open, meeting his. The hybrid’s gaze had softened, his ears raised slightly.

“*It’s like you said. I want to live for myself. It’s what he would’ve… It’s what I want. But I have to discover what that means first.*” He paused. “*Same as you.*”

Chibi had a point. After all, that was what I was planning right now, wasn’t it? Traveling around, finding my own path as a Pokémon trainer, free from the pain and trauma of the past.

Hesitantly, I replied, “I’d like it if we could both figure out what that means… together.”

He smiled faintly, giving a slow head shake. “*We can’t hide from the past forever.*”

“Maybe not. But I think we deserve a break,” I said, giving a weak smile of my own.

I held out my hand, just the same way I had when I’d asked him to join me in the fight so long ago. And now I was asking him to join me in leaving the fight.

The Pikachu stared at my hand for a long while. Finally, he reached out a paw and said, “*You’re probably right.*”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My next destination took me to Route 8, past the expansive urbanization of Saffron and over the rolling grasslands crisscrossed with roads that led towards Lavender on the coast. I’d flown this same path plenty of times—mostly when returning to Midnight Island from Celadon HQ—but it had always been at night, and I’d never quite gotten to appreciate the waves of gold sweeping through the fields with the wind.

It wasn’t hard to find Darren. Since we were still using R-coms for communication, I had the exact coordinates. I pointed out a cluster of trees running along the trainer path, and Swift folded his wings back to spiral down towards it. I clutched his feathers tightly as we descended. I still hadn’t quite gotten used to how much swooping momentum there was to his flight—nothing like the straight-line hovering of Aros’s insect-like wings—and there were times it felt like I was going to slide right off his back. But the Pidgeot levelled out his flight gradually, and the two of us landed softly on one of the dirt paths that cut through the grassland. Not too far from us, I spotted Darren reclining against his Venusaur, who appeared to be napping against a tree.

“Hey, good to see you’re not dead,” he said, waving as I walked over.

I snorted. “That’s more relevant than you know.”

His face fell. “Oh geez. And here I thought we were done with that. But I guess you said you were joining Stalker in Johto, huh?”

I shook my head. “Not anymore, I’m done with Stalker. This was a different thing. And it’s… kind of the reason I ditched you in Lavender,” I said sheepishly.

“Yeah, I was starting to think you weren’t just getting your license,” he said, chuckling a bit. “Guessing it was something more important?”

I grimaced. “Yeah, I… there was a bit of an emergency situation with an old friend of mine. It’s hard to explain, but—”

The awkwardness on my face must have been blatantly obvious, because he cut me off with, “You don’t gotta tell me if you don’t want to. But did it work out in the end?”

I blinked. I hadn’t really been expecting that kind of question, but looking back at it… all the fear, all the pain, all the stress from the past few days, and in the end, things had mostly worked out.

“Yeah. It did.”

He folded his arms behind his head and grinned. “Sounds like it was worth it then. Better than we can say about some of our missions.”

I couldn’t help giving a small laugh. “You can say that again. In any case, you weren’t wrong about one thing.” I reached into my pocket and held up my shiny new trainer’s license.

Darren’s eyes lit up. “Heeyyy, nice job, told you you’d pass,” he said, elbowing me lightly.

“Yeah, I really shouldn’t have waited this long, but… I’m just glad to have it done with,” I said with a relieved grin.

Darren nodded, putting a hand to his chin. “So what’s your plan now? Gonna do the Kanto League with Rudy? Well, wait, you said you didn’t want to go into competitive battling, right?”

I winced. I would’ve had to explain it eventually, even if I didn’t want to. “Actually… that situation I mentioned with my old friend. It’s not really safe for either of us here in Kanto. And she doesn’t really have anywhere to go, so… I told her I’d be sticking with her.”

Darren gave me a sideways glance. “Only came back to say you’d be ditching us again, I see how it is,” he said with a smirk.

I opened my mouth to protest, but before I could get the words out, he cut me off with, “I’m just messing with you. It’s not like you said you’d be traveling with us or anything.”

“I was gonna say,” I said, laughing slightly. “You had me worried there.”

Darren leaned back against Venusaur, idly stroking the reptile’s leaves. “Besides, I’ll be sticking with Rudy. He acts like he doesn’t want me following him, but he hasn’t told me to leave yet.”

I glanced around. “Where is Rudy, anyway?”

“Out in the tall grass that way,” Darren said, pointing toward the hills to the south.

“Cool, thanks. I’m gonna go talk to him,” I said, setting off in that direction.

“Also, just so you know, I’m not letting you off the hook for those two Pokéballs,” Darren called after me.

I spun around and called back, “Wasn’t expecting you to. Since I’ve got my license now, I can actually make good on that.”

I trudged through dry, crunchy grass that reached up to my knees. A pair of Growlithe atop the nearest hill leered down at me as though looking for a fight, but then saw that I didn’t have any Pokémon out and realized they probably weren’t going to get one. Then something grabbed their attention and they tore off into the grass.

I continued walking deeper into the field until a flash of black caught my eye off in the distance. I squinted at it until I was able to make out the form of a lithe, black dog leaping in and out of the grass. A Houndoom. So I was close. Sure enough, once I rounded the hill, there he was, dressed in a winter jacket but also still wearing his usual cargo shorts despite the cold autumn wind.

“Hey, how’s it going?” I asked, giving a small wave as I neared.

Rudy turned. He smiled, but his eyes held a faint heaviness.

“We’re just working on some of her dark moves,” he replied. “Never really practiced them before ‘cause I always just stuck with fire.”

I cupped my hands over my eyes as I squinted out at the rolling grassland. Now that I was paying closer attention, I could see that Ebony wasn’t just vanishing into the grass, she was literally vanishing, her body fading in and out in a flash of darkness. But once she noticed that she had another onlooker, the Houndoom quickly came trotting back to us, her tongue hanging out of her mouth.

“That was… really good,” I said.

Rudy gave me a sideways grin. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure she learned it from the experiments, I just never drilled her on it ‘til yesterday.”

Ebony bounced lightly in front of me, eyes shining. “*Absol taught me!*”

“Really? I’ll have to let her know you’re doing so well with it.”

The Houndoom beamed. Then her tail pricked up and she swung her head roughly in the opposite direction. I followed her gaze to see the same pair of Growlithe that had been eyeing me earlier, now leering at Ebony from the top of a nearby hill

“Looks like you’ve got some new opponents. Go get ‘em, Ebony.”

She took off bounding through the tall grass, full of endless energy as she tackled the opposing firedogs. Just like all the times I’d seen her roughhousing with Chloe back in the days before Rudy became a trainer. How was the Growlithe doing, anyway? She’d probably been sadder to see him leave with Ebony than I ever was.

We stood there, watching the Houndoom blink in and out of view with wisps of black smoke clinging to her body. It was actually a bit weird seeing her battling without managing to accidentally set fire to everything and needing… and needing Wartortle to put out the flames.

“So. How are you really doing?” I asked, giving Rudy a meaningful look.

He gave me a sideways glance, then closed his eyes with a low sigh. “Trying my best to stay together. Y’know… for hers and the others’ sakes.”

I nodded softly. That was probably the most that anyone could ask.

“How are the others doing?”

He exhaled slowly, shuffling his foot against the grass. “Aside from Ebony, Nidorino took it the hardest. I never even noticed he was close with Wartortle.”

I hadn’t noticed either. I hadn’t noticed a lot of things. I hadn’t been there for a lot of things either.

“I’m… I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you after the attack.”

Rudy didn’t respond for some time. He just gazed off into the distance, his expression blank. “I can’t really blame you for that. You were dealing with a lot of crap, too.”

“You tried to be there for that, though.”

“Yeah, well…” He sighed, staring downward and running a hand through his hair spikes. “We all had crap to deal with, in our own way. No one was really in a spot to be helping anyone out.”

I grimaced, mind flashing back to that night. Still in shock from Razors’s sacrifice, unable to help him, or Chibi, or myself, or anyone.

“I don’t think I ever took the Rebellion seriously,” Rudy spoke up, suddenly turning to face me. “It was all just a game, y’know? Like, it was dangerous, but somehow… things would always work out. They just… would.”

I swallowed. “It wasn’t like either of us were really ready for it.” We were just kids. Stalker had known that. In retrospect, he’d probably been banking on that. Sure, I’d spent all my time constantly worrying about everything that could go wrong, but there were times where I’d envied Rudy’s carefree view. Maybe that was also naive of me.

We’d both been naive. It felt like we’d aged years in just the past few months.

“I’ve thought about quitting training, you know.”

I jolted. “Why?”

Rudy shuffled his foot against the dirt, mulling over what to say. “I guess… I wasn’t sure if I deserved to be a trainer. After what happened.” He clenched his fists. “I keep trying to think of ways to make up for it, but there’s nothing. It was only him. He was the only one I treated like that, and I don’t even know why. How screwed up is that?”

It was only Wartortle. And now it was too late to change that.

I sighed. “It sucks, but trying to do better is, well, better than nothing. Even if you don’t know how to do that.”

He was silent for a long time. But then his face relaxed slightly. “Y’know Darren said the same thing. Hate to admit it, but he’s right. Giving up, quitting… that’s the easy road.” He straightened his back, clenching his fists at his side. “I… think I’m gonna keep training. I owe it to my Pokémon. And, I dunno… maybe I’ll figure out how to do better from there?”

Rudy unclipped a Pokéball from his belt and stared at it for a few seconds, rolling it around in his palm. “I caught a Buizel the other day. I don’t know, I just felt like… like I needed a new team member and it should probably be a water-type to make up for the way that I…” He paused and shook his head. “That’s a stupid reason to catch a Pokémon. I think I knew it was stupid, because I haven’t even let the Buizel out at all. It might not even know I caught it.”

Several seconds passed. I wasn’t quite sure what he was getting at until he roughly thrust the Pokéball in my direction. “Here.”

I stared blankly. “What.”

“Take it. I shouldn’t have it,” he said, giving the ball a shake for emphasis.

My eyes flickered between the ball and his face, which was deathly serious. “Are you… sure?”

He glanced away. “I still owe you for letting me train Pikachu. Consider it my half of a trade.” It was obviously just an excuse. But not a bad one. It at least got me considering it. The chance to train a new team member. One who didn’t have the same awful past with Team Rocket as the rest of us. Something about it felt… symbolic. A clean start to training.

I held out my hand. “Yeah. Okay, thanks.”

Rudy dropped the Pokéball into my open palm and then shoved his hands in his pockets, nodding forcefully like he was glad to have that settled.

“So where you off to now?” he asked.

I opened my mouth to answer. But then something grabbed me about the way he’d said it, and I realized that he wouldn’t have asked if he hadn’t already known that I wasn’t going to be joining him. Or at least, he’d already figured.

“I’m going to Johto. After all that Rocket stuff, I wanna stay away from the Kanto force as much as I can.”

He folded his arms. “Johto, huh? Can’t say I had any plans to head out there until after I’ve seen all of Kanto.”

I’d already expected that much. Which meant that this was the last time we’d be seeing each other for a long while. And yet…

“I… don’t see why I couldn’t stop back here from time to time though,” I added quickly. “I’m sure my team would love having a battle at some point.”

The faintest trace of a smile crossed Rudy’s face. “We’ll see. If I’m up for it.” He paused. “If my team’s up for it.” He held out his fist.

My chest tightened. I’d come here to say goodbye, and he’d straight-up acknowledged that, and now I was the one having a hard time with it. It hurt, but… we both needed different things out of our journey right now. And hopefully this was the best way for both of us to heal.

I tapped his fist. “See ya around.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A flock of Pidgey took to the air as I stepped out of the tall grass and into a clearing on the western half of route 8. The towering buildings of Saffron rose above the horizon in the distance, and the sun was starting to near them. I pulled my jacket tighter to myself, then took out the Pokéball Rudy had given me. This was as good a spot as any—I opened the ball. A burst of white light spilled out and condensed on the ground in front of me, forming a small, orange-furred creature lying on its side. A Buizel—my new Buizel. Twin cream-tipped tails curled around its body, which still bore the scuffs and scrapes from the battle where Rudy had caught it. Nothing too serious—a potion would handle it. I grabbed one from my bag and began spraying down the weasel’s pelt.

At least, until its eyes snapped open. Without warning, the Buizel leaped away from me, flaring its arm fins to the side to look as big as possible.

“*You’re not the human who caught me,*” it hissed. “*What gives?*”

I paused, a wave of awkwardness washing over me. Right. It had no idea what was going on. How was I supposed to explain it?

“Er… the trainer who caught you… he traded you to me, and—”

“*You can shut yer yap cause I ain’t heard enough humanspeak to know it yet,*” the Buizel said, sticking… her?—it sounded like a her—nose in the air.

And… yeah, trainers didn’t exactly make a habit of trying to hold conversations with freshly-caught wild Pokémon. It usually took a couple weeks for Pokémon to understand human speech, if they hadn’t already heard enough of it from battling trainers while in the wild. Which this one obviously hadn’t.

Feeling rather silly, I grabbed Swift’s Pokéball and let him out.

“Gonna need you to translate,” I told him before launching into an abridged retelling of how Rudy hadn’t felt right about catching the Buizel and had given her to me in return for Pikachu. The sea weasel’s eyes twitched impatiently as Swift relayed the message. Then, without warning, she fired a stream of water right at me. I ducked instinctively, feeling the cold spray as it shot over my head.

I snapped my attention back to the Buizel. “What was that for?!”

“*You didn’t beat me. You didn’t catch me. I don’t gotta listen to anything you say.*” She stuck out her tongue.

I sighed. “Fair enough.” I held up the Pokéball that Rudy had given me—the one that she’d been originally captured in. Then I pressed the center button to open it before tossing it in front of her. She didn’t waste a second. The ball had barely touched the grass before the sea weasel spat a narrow stream of water, soaking the inside of the ball.

The outer shell of a Pokéball was incredibly durable. The internal circuitry? Not so much. Her captured status was as good as gone.

“Run away or battle,” I said firmly.

Some things didn’t need translating.

With a wild, toothy grin, the Buizel generated a swirling pulse of water around her body, shooting forward in an instant. Swift braced himself against the impact, flaring his wings to the side to keep his balance as the weasel struck. He winced a bit from the blow, but other than some soaked belly feathers, didn’t look too damaged. The Buizel’s face fell. She jumped back, aiming a Water Gun at his face, but the Pidgeot took flight in that instant, and the water missed its mark. He flew in a tight circle over his opponent, dodging two more water streams before diving forward, beak glowing brightly.

The Buizel didn’t try to dodge; she braced herself for the hit, obviously hoping to follow up with a counterattack. But Swift’s Aerial Ace completely bowled her over, tearing a streak of red across her fur in the process. I winced. Okay, I might have overestimated how tough this Buizel was. Or underestimated how strong Swift had become. Either way.

But the sea weasel wasn’t down and out yet. She pushed herself up off the ground, staggering slightly, but ultimately managing to keep her footing. Then her paw stomped the dirt and another swirl of water enveloped her, sending her shooting into the air.

This time Swift was ready. Even with the Aqua Jet’s incredible speed, he had the altitude advantage. All he had to do was clap his wings together, unleashing a violent whirlwind below him. The Buizel pushed against it, water spraying everywhere as she struggled to keep her trajectory on-point. And with just a bit more force, she might’ve been able to pull it off. But her jet faltered, and in that instant, the winds swept her up in a tight vortex before slamming her into the dirt.

This time she wasn’t so quick to stand back up. In fact, it wasn’t until several seconds passed that it hit me—I was fighting a wild Pokémon, and I’d just knocked it prone. This was supposed to be where I’d catch it.

I fumbled with my bag. Pokéball, needed to grab a Pokéball (why didn’t I already have one in hand?) I hadn’t even thought to buy any yet—thank god it was standard for new trainers to get five Pokéballs with their license, otherwise I might not have even had one. Finally, my fingers managed to grasp something small and round. I yanked my arm out of the bag, Pokéball now in hand, hit the button to expand it, and then—

Wait. This was actually the first time I’d ever even attempted to catch a Pokémon. What if I missed? The mental image was too embarrassing to bear. And so, resisting the urge to do a full overhand windup like they always did on TV, I gave the ball a light underhand toss. It made contact with the Buizel’s fur and sucked her prone form inside before falling to the ground. I held my breath as it shook once, twice, three times, the center button flashing all the while. And then the flashing stopped.

I exhaled slowly. I’d done it. I’d caught my first Pokémon. After five months of being on this journey, I’d hit the milestone that most trainers hit within the first week. It was surreal. It was also the coolest I’d felt in a long, long time.

After the shock had worn off, I cautiously walked over to where the Pokéball lay motionless.

For the second time today, I let Buizel out of her ball. She materialized on the ground and gave me a dirty look before turning her back to me and setting to work licking her wounds.

“You wanted me to catch you fair and square, so I did. Willing to listen now?”

After Swift repeated my words, Buizel turned from licking her cuts and shot me an incredulous glare. “*Your Pidgeot is way tougher than me. Whaddya need me for, huh?*”

“I don’t ‘need’ you, but I’d like to have you on my team if you’re willing.”

That gave her some pause. She tilted her head, considering my words carefully.

“*How many badges you got?*” she finally asked.

I blinked. “Well… none, but—”

“*What good are you, then?*”

“Look if you’ll just listen…” But Buizel had already gone back to cleaning herself.

Alright. I wasn’t exactly doing a good job of selling myself. Granted, I wasn’t entirely sure why it mattered so much to me, but it just didn’t feel right to take her from Rudy only to immediately release her. Of course, I’d still do it if that was what she really wanted, but…

“If you’re worried that I can’t make you stronger, then you’re wrong,” I said, not really sure where I was going with it.

Buizel didn’t turn to face me, but her ears did twitch slightly. And her licking noticeably slowed.

“I was… part of a team,” I went on, struggling to find the best way to explain it. “A secret team. And we were trained to protect Legendary Pokémon from people trying to hurt them.”

That got a reaction. The water-type spun around, flashing me a skeptical brow raise. “*Nuh-uh.*”

I nodded forcefully. Buizel’s eyes darted toward Swift, and he nodded as well.

“*You’re telling me you guys were heroes?*”

‘Heroes’? That was… a weird way to put it. It didn’t feel quite right to call us that. Not after all our failures. Not after all my failures. But…

“Sure. If that’s how you want to put it.”

Buizel’s mouth hung open in shock. After several seconds, she finally regained herself enough to ask, “*What was it like? What were the Legendaries like?*”

So she was curious now?

“I can tell you all about it if you want. But it’s kind of a long story. You might have to stick with me for a while if you wanna hear all of it.” I gave her a sideways smirk.

Buizel snorted, clearly wise to the game I was playing. And yet, the water-type stood on her hind paws and began walking toward me, shaking her head like she couldn’t believe what she was doing.

“*Yeah, alright fine.*”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Wings beat heavily on either side of me—nothing like the smooth, rhythmic buzzing of Aros’s wings. But at the same time, I could get used to flying on Swift. His takeoffs might not have been as smooth, but his feathers made for a warmer, softer grip. And once we reached a high enough altitude, we could just soar effortlessly for miles. There was something undeniably calming about watching the clouds drift by underneath us as the sun slowly sank below them, painting the sky a vibrant pink and tingeing the edges of the clouds a brushfire orange.

Swift was leading the way, and I trusted his navigation well enough to leave it to him. After all, Viridian City and its outskirts had once been his home too. And now, after all this time, we were heading back to Route 22. Where it all began. Where I’d been riding my bike all those months ago, Swift flying overhead as a tiny Pidgey. Where I’d first seen the blazing hillside and Team Rocket trying to catch Entei. Where I’d first been dragged into a war with absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into, all just because I’d wanted to go on a training journey with my friends.

It was weird to think that now, after all this time, that wish was finally coming true. Not at all in the way that I’d thought it would, but it was still happening.

Swift dipped below the clouds, wisps of water vapor trailing from his wingtips. I scanned the ground below, my eyes tracing the dirt path snaking its way through the tall grasses, skirting the edge of the forest as it led up into the highlands, and eventually, to Johto. Swift spotted them long before I did and began his descent. Then I saw them too. Ajia was laughing about something. Starr gave her a light shove but started laughing just the same.

And in that moment, soaring on the back of my first Pokémon, preparing to set out on a journey with my best friends, it stuck me properly that for the first time in a long while, things felt sort of alright. It was easy to forget that Team Rocket wanted all of us dead. It was easy to forget that we had to stay on the move to avoid them. It was easy to forget all of the terrible things that had happened to us.

In that moment, it was easy to pretend that everything was alright.



~END BOOK 1 OF THE LEGENDARIAN CHRONICLES~
 

Namohysip

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Nice to be all caught up here for the Book's end.

I will say, these last few chapters have been very nice to go through. Unlike a few other segments, I didn't really have any curious hangups or anything of the sort, and in general I really liked going through all those beats. I can tell that you were really building toward these moments, because the way it all panned out was really polished.

In particular, Firestorm's breakdown / berserk instances were really well done, though maybe I'm a little biased there. I also thought that the ending scenes with the male trainers that the story more or less forgot about for a handful of chapters were a nice way to cap off how they're doing, though I do hope we see more of them later, because I kinda forgot them to the point where I don't have a good image of what they "look like" in my head compared to how Jade, Starr, and Ajia are starting to shape up.

One small nitpick that crossed my mind. I guess it could just be a matter of Legendary pride to keep the plot going, but if Mewtwo was able to just capture himself and then store away his Poke Ball so he was immune to capture... Why didn't Mew just waltz into a store, buy a bunch of Poke Balls, and do the same thing with Moltres and company, and everyone else? Like, I'm all for divine pride, but this seems like a pretty huge oversight to not even be acknowledged by Jade and the others.

I also thought that chapter 30 ended a little too late. When I was going through the story, I felt that it would have been a much more appropriate ending spot, in some way, for it to be when Jade is taking off into the sky. It was really fitting, so I was kinda just waiting for the chapter to wrap up after that was over.

Still! One thing that I like about the way this book ended is that I'm not entirely sure what's in store. I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing, but it at least has me curious on where the next chapter will start off. At the beginning of the new adventure? After a time skip, midway through to when things get exciting again? Not really sure, but I guess I'll be waiting until March for that.

Until then~
 

Chibi Pika

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In particular, Firestorm's breakdown / berserk instances were really well done, though maybe I'm a little biased there. I also thought that the ending scenes with the male trainers that the story more or less forgot about for a handful of chapters were a nice way to cap off how they're doing, though I do hope we see more of them later, because I kinda forgot them to the point where I don't have a good image of what they "look like" in my head compared to how Jade, Starr, and Ajia are starting to shape up.
I had a feeling you'd enjoy Firestorm's breakdown, but I'm still glad to hear it. ^^ As for Rudy and Darren, yeah, I'm not surprised, they've definitely taken a backseat to the main trio, but they'll get more screentime during the League arc and its aftermath.
One small nitpick that crossed my mind. I guess it could just be a matter of Legendary pride to keep the plot going, but if Mewtwo was able to just capture himself and then store away his Poke Ball so he was immune to capture... Why didn't Mew just waltz into a store, buy a bunch of Poke Balls, and do the same thing with Moltres and company, and everyone else? Like, I'm all for divine pride, but this seems like a pretty huge oversight to not even be acknowledged by Jade and the others.
Ohohoho, so you've zeroed in on this. So, not to spoil too much, but this is actually going to be a huge debate in Book 2. I do have to apologize that it takes so long to come up, but it will be important. ("Divine pride" indeed, heh.)
Still! One thing that I like about the way this book ended is that I'm not entirely sure what's in store. I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing, but it at least has me curious on where the next chapter will start off. At the beginning of the new adventure? After a time skip, midway through to when things get exciting again? Not really sure, but I guess I'll be waiting until March for that.
Yeah, I really wanted to make it feel like Book 1 was the end of an era, so to speak, with Book 2 being the clear start to a new story (despite the obvious plot threads that will carry over.)

Thanks for the review! ^^ And now, without further ado~
 
Chapter 31: Eight Months Later

Chibi Pika

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THE LEGENDARIAN CHRONICLES
BOOK 2: RESISTANCE





~Chapter 31: Eight Months Later~


July 3

Sweat dripped down my forehead as my hand hovered over a Pokéball, and the audience waited with bated breath to see what my final Pokémon would be. On the other side of the arena, Gym Leader Jasmine considered me with the same calm, composed air that she’d always shown. In front of her, a gigantic ironclad serpent slowly traced a circular path in the center of the battlefield, his body segments rotating rhythmically and massive jaws grinding against each other.

Three on three, no substitutions, and both of us down to our final Pokémon. Steelix hardly looked worse for the wear after his brief scuffle with Aros, which he’d brought to a crushing end through a well-timed Ice Fang. I’d watched Jasmine take down dozens of opponents with him throughout the past week—he had the endurance of a champ and could shrug off small hits all day long. But I already knew who I wanted to use against him. We had to clear out all the electric-types first, but now she was in the clear.

“Go!” I called out, throwing the Pokéball forward. The burst of light condensed into the form of an orange weasel, who bounced lightly on her hind paws, spreading her arm fins wide before sizing up her opponent. She had to crane her neck back just to make eye contact with him. But rather than flinch or show any sign of apprehension, the Floatzel just grinned.

Technically Jet had the advantage. Technically. Our opponent was still huge metal snake that was not gonna go down easy. The referee waved both flags to start the round, and the match was on.

“Aqua Jet!” I called out

Jet crouched low and sprang into the air, a swirling pulse of water propelling her forward. The water jet traced a jagged line in midair, zeroing in on Steelix’s lower body and striking the joint between two segments with a fierce spray of water. Steelix jerked slightly, eyes tensing for a moment. A solid opening hit, but nothing too devastating.

“Thunder Fang,” Jasmine said, her voice so soft I could barely hear it.

But Steelix definitely heard. The iron snake slowly turned his oversized head, keeping his eyes on Jet as she dashed around to his other side. Suddenly, he lunged, massive jaws opening, boulder-sized teeth crackling with lightning. Jet saw him coming though, and deftly backflipped away just in time for his jaws to snap shut on open air.

“Nice dodge!” I exclaimed.

Jet landed a good twenty feet away from Steelix and spun around on her front paws, sticking out her tongue at the giant snake.

Jasmine frowned. “Autotomize,” she said. Again, I could barely hear her over the grinding of dirt as Steelix pivoted in the middle of the battlefield, keeping his head trained on Jet the entire time. But this time, rather than pursue her, he began rotating his body segments. Slowly at first, then building in speed. Fast, faster, past the point that he should have been able to, moving so fast that his spines were just a blur. Finally there was a powerful crunch, and the outer layers of his metallic skin snapped off, clattering to the floor with an echoing clang. The freshly-shed Steelix gave a swish of his tail and did a quick loop in the center of the battlefield, segments still whirring like an engine, dirt grinding beneath his body. Satisfied with the increased speed, he leveled his head at Jet, body tensed with potential energy, ready to strike.

Well, there went our mobility advantage.

“Now. Another Thunder Fang.”

Steelix lunged at Jet with so quickly he was almost a blur. The Floatzel dashed to the side, using a spurt of water to push herself faster than she’d normally be able to run. But neither of us were ready for how quickly he managed to turn and zero in on her, teeth already sparking. He was right behind her. Only a few more seconds and he’d close the gap.

“Jump now!” I yelled.

Jet leaped upward the instant before Steelix would have struck, somersaulting over his head in a wide arc. But the steel-type snapped his head upward at the last second, and his jaws locked tight around one of her tails. Electricity surged through the Floatzel’s body, and I flinched as her pained screeching filled the air. When it finished, she was left dangling from his jaws, flailing indignantly, punching his teeth repeatedly, to no effect.

Oh crap. Jet was stuck. Steelix’s teeth began sparking again. He’d have no problem just repeating the attack, over and over. Unless—!

“Water Gun!” I blurted out.

The reaction was immediate. Jet used the momentum from her flailing to swing her body upward and spit a narrow stream of water straight into Steelix’s eye. The iron snake recoiled backward, grunting in pain, and that was all the opening that Jet needed to wriggle her tail free and drop to the ground.

Shouldn’t have wasted a moveslot on Water Gun of all things, but it managed to get her free, so it was worth it. But now I was stuck on what to do next. With Steelix’s increased speed, we couldn’t just go for repeated light blows. I could have Jet stop and try to pull off a Bulk Up, but the benefits likely wouldn’t outweigh the damage she’d take from being an open target. Come on—what was the best move?

Jasmine pointed a finger forward. No need to give a command, there was no reason not to keep going with Thunder Fang. Jet couldn’t take too much more of that. Had to think. Some way to get our advantage back.

Then, out of nowhere, an idea struck, and I shouted, “Whirlpool!”

Jet flashed a toothy grin, then dove at Steelix within a pulse of water, swerving around his lower body as he lunged with his jaws. Tighter and tighter she spiraled around the steel-type, until the outer circles joined together with the inner ones, forming a swirling vortex that swallowed up his lower body and held him firmly in place. There! It’d be that much harder for him to pivot now.

Steelix gave a small snort of annoyance, then lunged again, but the swirling waters held his lower body in place, and he couldn’t pull himself out. Jet laughed and pelted him with a few spurts of water now that he had no way to close the distance.

Jasmine paused, observing the turn of events carefully. Then she said, “Bulldoze.”

Ah, crap.

From within the watery grip of the swirling whirlpool, Steelix wrenched his tail free. Then he struck the ground, letting loose a rolling shockwave that churned up the dirt floor as it traveled across the battlefield. Jet stopped laughing abruptly, then attempted to leap over the wave, but the moment she landed, the dirt under her paws crumbled into chunks, then dug into her body from all sides. The Floatzel grunted in pain as she sluggishly wrenched herself free, swaying a bit on her feet once she stood back up.

On the plus side, that was Jasmine’s fourth move command. No more surprises now. On the downside, Jet’s legs had taken the full brunt of that shockwave, and her movements had noticeably slowed.

“Don’t worry about it, just use Aqua Jet!” I called out.

That’d make up for the loss of speed, in any case. Once the burst of water flared up around her body, Jet shot forward like a bullet, using it to close the distance much faster than she’d have been able to run. The Floatzel swerved around Steelix, narrowly avoiding another tail smash, then dove into the whirlpool surrounding him, following the momentum of its current. Her silhouette was little more than a blur as she pelted the serpent with repeated Aqua Jets from within the swirling waters. He flinched with each blow, eye twitching. I knew that tell. The attacks were getting to him. Slowly. But at the same time, he was just watching her do it. Carefully waiting for the right moment…

“Keep your guard up!” I warned.

But there was a moment’s pause after her next Aqua Jet. She hesitated for just a second too long. Suddenly Steelix’s head zeroed in not on where she’d been, but where she was going to be the moment she darted forward. Boulder teeth locked around her midsection, crackling with electricity. Jet gasped in pain and shock as lightning coursed through the entire whirlpool with her trapped inside.

No!

But the Floatzel hadn’t gone limp yet. She was still struggling against Steelix’s hold, bubbles streaming from her mouth with each thrash. Only a few more seconds before she’d run out of air and we’d have to forfeit.

Last chance, had to make it count.

“Waterfall!”

I wasn’t even sure if she could hear me over the rushing water of her own whirlpool. Or if she’d register the command with how much pain she had to be in. But then, without warning, the whirlpool broke, and all the water in the vortex suddenly collapsed together in a rushing wave, shooting straight upward with Jet right at the center of it. Steelix’s eyes went wide just a second before the wave crashed into his face, snapping his head backward with a grinding crunch. For a single, heart-pounding moment, he leaned back as though suspended in midair. Then his weight dragged him down and his head crashed into the dirt, where he lay unmoving.

The referee swung a red flag towards Jasmine. “Steelix is unable to battle. The challenger is the winner!”

A sudden wave of noise burst from the audience stands, where all the gym trainers had been watching their leader’s match—half of them cheering for our victory and the other half groaning at Steelix’s defeat. The waterfall collapsed, streaming over the battlefield, and Jet emerged from within, coughing and sputtering. It didn’t last long though—she quickly regained herself and flashed a wide grin at the audience. Jasmine recalled her Steelix without a word, but then folded her arms behind her back and gave a gentle smile.

We’d done it. We’d won the gym battle.

I realized too late that Jet was bounding towards me now. Eighty pounds of wet furball collided with my chest and knocked me to the ground.

“*I did it! That’s right, me!*” she called out, posing for the onlookers in the audience.

“Yep. You sure did,” I gasped, thoroughly winded. “Now, could you please get off.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It had been eight months since the rebellion against Team Rocket was brought to a crushing end, and some days, when I was particularly distracted, I could forget about everything that happened and just be a normal trainer enjoying their journey throughout the Johto region.

There were, of course, reminders. My friend Ajia, who was still deeply involved in the fight against Team Rocket, but avoided bringing it up, for my sake. My friend Starr, who had once been a top Rocket leader and my greatest enemy, but who had thrown it all away to save my life. My Pokémon, half of which were genetic experiments, rescued from Team Rocket’s labs. Sometimes the memories would creep up on me when I was least prepared for them, like the dead of night, lying in bed, suddenly flashing back to the floor of a Rocket detention cell. My dreams were laced with threads of lightning, pierced by the mindlessly glowing eyes of Mewtwo, and haunted by the looming spectre of a giant avian dragon, glaring murderously, ready to end me.

But for the most part, life had gone on. Each day on the road in Johto was another day that I’d survived beyond all of that. And each day brought new experiences that had nothing to do with any of it.

After a quick stop at the Pokécenter, I found myself and all six of my Pokémon—Swift the Pidgeot, Firestorm the Charizard, Chibi the Pikachu-Zapdos hybrid, Aros the Flygon, Stygian the Absol, and Jet the Floatzel—seated at the trainer area of an outdoor cafe, eating lunch and listening to Firestorm recount his battle with Magneton for his teammates that hadn’t seen it.

“*So that was a direct hit with Thunderbolt, yeah? Didn’t think I could take another one, even if it was real slow and I was dodging everything, eventually one of them was gonna land.*”

The Charizard was standing back from the table, giving him room to spread both his arms and wings to accentuate the dramatic beats of his story. On his opposite side was Aros, listening to the story with as disinterested a look as possible, though he couldn’t help giving a nod of approval at certain parts. Chibi stared off into the distance, the salty sea breeze ruffling his pointed head feathers. Stygian was sprawled out under the table, pawing at something beneath the deck floorboards and not particularly paying attention. But Swift was hanging on every word, beaming with pride at his teammate’s success.

“*So then, uh…*” The Charizard paused, tapping his claws together. “*Wait, what was next?*”

“Smokescreen,” I offered.

His face lit up. “*Oh yeah! Jade ordered Smokescreen. So Magneton starts using Swift a ton. I mean a ton, there’s stars everywhere, and they’re all hitting me, even with the smoke.*”

I smirked. “When are you gonna remember that Swift is a sure-shot move?” He’d forgotten during the match, too.

But the fire lizard just snorted. “*That’s your job.*”

Alright, that was fair.

“*So I had to land and cover my face with my wings and just slowly walk toward it, taking the hits. And I couldn’t see, but neither could it, but I could feel where the stars were coming from. So I just let off this huge Flame Burst that explodes right in the middle of all three magnets and boom!*”—Firestorm clapped his hands together with a small wisp of flame between his claws—“*Down it goes.*”

Jet leaped onto the table, throwing a paw up to give him a high five—which would have knocked my food tray to the floor if I hadn’t managed to catch it before it slid all the way off. I gave her an unamused stare, and she grinned sheepishly before jumping down.

“*I took down Magnezone. That’s a lot harder than beating Magneton,*” Aros pointed out to me in the kind of tone you’d use for something helpfully informative and not stating the obvious.

“You know, you might have forgotten this, but I was there, and I saw the whole thing,” I said with a laugh. “In any case, sorry about that whole Hidden Power thing. No one else used any dragons against her, so I had no idea it would hit so hard.”

“*It’s not that impressive,*” Jet chimed in. “*Aren’t those magnet guys mad weak to ground?*”

Aros opened his mouth to protest but I cut him off with, “Actually, in his defense, it had used Magnet Rise, so we had to totally change our strategy.” The Flygon gave a satisfied huff at my explanation. Jet just shrugged before dropping to the ground and hunting under the table for lost fries.

All of a sudden, I felt my Pokégear start buzzing. I grabbed it from my pocket and checked it to see that Starr was calling me.

“Hey, how’s it going?” I answered.

“Terrible. When are you gonna save me from Ajia?” Starr replied in an exaggeratedly defeated tone. I heard a laughing voice in the background call out, “Oh, whatever!” Starr snorted and then added, “Yeah, okay, I might be lying. It’s been nice.”

Since Starr and I had been primarily travelling together, with Ajia only meeting up with us once a month or so, the two of them had spent the past week in the Sevii Islands, just the two of them. Plus it had given me the chance to spend some time with just me and my team. Having both our teams out together could sometimes get a bit… tense. Not outright hostile like eight months ago, but still. (Not that any of that had affected Jet. She’d immediately gone up to Starr’s team and tried to make friends with all of them, to varying degrees of success.)

“So, you still up for Blackthorn?” Starr asked.

“Of course!” I said with a grin.

“Sweet, it’s been ages since I’ve been to the hot springs there. Looking forward to that.”

I chuckled under my breath. “Yeah, you have fun with that.”

She scoffed. “Don’t think you’re getting out of it. Anyway, when do you think you can meet us there?”

“Tonight’s fine. I’m done with my gym battle so we’re just wasting time in Olivine.”

“Oh nice, you’ll have to tell me how that went. So see you tonight?”

“Yup, see you then,” I said, ending the call.

Swift turned to face me once I had put my phone away. “*So where’s our next destination?*” he chirped.

“Sounds like it’s gonna be Blackthorn City.”

“*Who’s flying?*” Aros asked.

“It gets pretty cold in those mountains, even this time of year. So I was thinking Firestorm.”

The Flygon shrugged. “*Fine with me. But we should stop at the beach before we leave town.*”

Firestorm snorted and rolled his eyes. “*You always want to do that.*”

“*I like sand,*” Aros replied defensively.

“Yes, we can hit the beach,” I said, standing up. “Might as well enjoy the sun before we head up into the mountains anyway.”

I was pretty much done with my food, so I picked up the tray and went to throw its contents in the trash. At least, until Jet poked my side and made grabby-hands at it.

I rolled my eyes and lowered the tray so she could reach it. “Here.” She shoved the remaining fistful of fries into her mouth.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Olivine City was a heavily industrial town, with the majority of its coastline taken up by piers and shipping yards. That said, there were still a few nice public beaches out on the western edge of town. My shoes kicked up sand as I left the main path and walked down the gleaming white shore, shielding my eyes from the sun as I went. Maybe I should have thought to pick up sunglasses, but it was a little late for that now.

Once I’d located a stretch of sand that was relatively clear of other beach-goers, I set down my bag, kicked off my shoes, and let all six of my Pokémon out of their balls. Jet dashed forward and dove into the water immediately, surfacing a few seconds later and playfully squirting a few streams of water at the others. Firestorm shielded himself with his wings and gave an annoyed snort before turning around, giving a few flaps, and taking off, soaring low overhead. Stygian pawed at the sand for a bit, then took off running down the shoreline and through the flocks of Wingull that lined the beach, scattering countless fluttering white shapes into the air. Meanwhile, Aros had set to work digging out a massive hole and constructing a large mound of sand around himself.

“You better smooth that back out when you’re done; the lifeguards don’t like it when people leave holes everywhere,” I told him.

“*I got it, I got it,*” the Flygon replied, giving a swish of his tail.

I grabbed a towel from my bag and laid it on the sand. I wasn’t much in the mood for swimming, and the ocean was always too cold for my tastes anyway. I could at least relax on the beach while everyone else had fun though. Swift wound up settling down next to me, fluffing out his feathers to absorb maximum warmth and closing his eyes contentedly. The only other one who hadn’t gone off to busy himself was Chibi. The Pikachu was sitting by himself in the sand, gazing out at the ocean with a troubled look on his face.

“Something up?” I asked.

“*It’s nothing,*” the hybrid replied.

I made sure he wasn’t looking at me before I smirked. “With you, it’s never nothing.”

He gave a small huff but didn’t dignify that with an answer.

I tilted my head. “You weren’t hoping you’d get to be in the gym battle, weren’t you?”

Chibi turned and gave me a face that said, “who do you think I am?” Alright, so I didn’t really think it was something as dumb as that. Just wanted to rule it out.

Several seconds passed in silence. Finally, he opened his mouth and said, “*I know we said we both needed to take a break from it all…*” but his voice trailed off before he could finish.

Oh. It was this again. Seemed like every few weeks, he’d start asking about the situation with Team Rocket again. It was making it harder and harder to pretend that we’d left that world behind.

I took a deep breath. “Okay, look. I’ve been asking Ajia about it practically every time I see her, which is what you told me to do, by the way. She still hasn’t heard anything.”

His ears pricked up at my words. “*That’s even worse. Eight whole months and nothing?*”

“She said they’re probably just working on gathering funds to recover from their main HQ being totally fried last November,” I said pointedly.

He paused, taking a few seconds to think of a response. “*That, or they’re working on something big and they don’t want anyone to know about it.*”

“We don’t have any proof of that.”

“*We can’t disprove it.*”

I put a hand to my forehead. “No, I guess we can’t, but that really doesn’t tell us anything.”

Chibi turned away, flattening his ears in frustration. He sat there like that for several seconds before standing up suddenly and announcing, “*I’m going for a walk.*” He then wandered off down the beach, kicking at the sand as he went.

I sighed. I wasn’t like I didn’t understand his anxiety. There were times that I felt it too, no matter how many times I told myself that the fight against Team Rocket wasn’t my problem anymore. But there wasn’t any sense in stressing out over something that we had literally no information on. It wasn’t like we could do anything about it now.

I was dragged from my thoughts by a sopping-wet Floatzel leaning into my field of view and staring me straight in the eyes.

“*Hey. I’m bored.*”

I smirked. “We’ve got a whole ocean here,” I said, gesturing to it as though she hadn’t noticed.

The sea weasel flopped down into the sand next to me, sending a wave of it into my lap. “*Whatever. Tell me one of the rebel stories.*”

“You’ve already heard them all,” I said with a snort.

“*I don’t care. Tell me the one where your friend was gonna kill you but then she didn’t. I like that one.*”

I let out an exaggerated sigh. “Alright, you asked for it,” I said, sitting fully upright and spreading my arms for dramatic effect. “So there we were in the main Rocket base. Alarms blaring, Rockets all around us with no way out…”

And so, like I’d done a dozen times before, I told the story of how Starr betrayed Team Rocket. From the unruly lightning that tore the air from Pichu’s battle with Raichu, to the crushing checkmate at the hands of Mewtwo. From the overbearing presence of Giovanni to the smothering feeling of certain death when he gave Starr his ultimatum. Halfway through the story Floatzel flipped onto her back and stretched out widely, sunning her belly. It was always hard to tell if she’d dozed off or not. But either way, I kept going. It felt good to tell the story. Especially when I got to that single, unbelievable moment when Starr had decided to turn her back on the Rockets, despite the fact that there had been absolutely nothing in it for her. By all accounts, it should have been a death sentence. And yet she’d done it anyway. And that was why I’d known without a doubt that her change of heart was genuine. Even though there had been times when it had been difficult to move on, or difficult to forget the things she’d done, that moment always managed to stand out more, like a flame piercing the rest of my memory.

The afternoon stretched into early evening, with Jet dozing off periodically (but still opening one eye every so often to make sure I was still talking.) At some point Chibi wandered back, and he and Stygian passed the time by racing each other up and down the shoreline, thus ensuring that no Wingull could safely land there for the rest of the afternoon. But eventually Stygian took a break from that and went to pawing at Aros’s now quite formidable sand mountain, knocking down some of its spires. Aros was content to deal with this by occasionally swatting the Absol back with his tail. At least until Firestorm swooped over them and upped the ante by breathing out a small, concentrated spurt of flames at the mountain, melting its tip into a brightly glowing lump of glass.

“*What are you doing?!*” Aros demanded, standing up in one swift motion that knocked most of the sand from his body.

“*It looks better this way,*” Firestorm said, landing next to Stygian and flashing an innocent grin.

The Flygon glared at him, then dug his claws into the sand. Seconds later, the ground underneath Firestorm and Stygian collapsed into a sinkhole, sucking the two of them down and ensnaring them in a Sand Tomb.

“Oh my god, you guys…” I said, chuckling under my breath.

“*I want in on this!*” a voice cried out near me. I glanced to my left, where there was now a Floatzel-shaped indent in the sand, conspicuously empty. Now Aros had to defend his rather sad and abused-looking sand mountain from invaders on three different sides.

“You know, if you guys wanted to battle, we’re not on the right beach for it,” I said, gesturing towards the designated battle area on the other side of the volleyball courts. No one heard me, and even if they had, I doubt they’d have cared.

For the second time today, my Pokégear started buzzing. I reached for it, careful not to get sand on it, and half expecting to see Ajia or Starr calling me back. But nope, it was the name I hadn’t been expecting, but really should have been.

I answered the call with, “Hey Rudy.”

“Got your text, how’d the battle go?” he asked immediately.

I grinned. “It was great. Came pretty close to the wire, but we pulled through and got the badge,” I said, unable to keep myself from pulling it out again and admiring its metallic surface in the gleaming sunlight.

“Awesome, you gotta send me a pic of it later,” he said rapidly, his words ending in a sudden pause, as though he was waiting for something with bated breath.

I waited a few seconds for good measure and then slowly asked, “…So what about you?”

“Oh man, thought you’d never ask!” he exclaimed, and I could practically hear the grin behind his voice. “Just got to the plateau. Man, you should see this place, it’s freaking huge. I can’t even tell how many stadiums they got here. I think five. It’s at least five. Man, even the side ones make Midnight Stadium look like kid stuff. They’ve got huge-ass shields too, so you can just cut loose and practice your attacks as hard as you want.”

I couldn’t help smiling. Rudy had been looking forward to the Kanto League tournament for months, and now that it was finally on the horizon, it was hardly surprising that it was all he could think about.

“So I got registered, got my Pokémon approved and everything, so we just spent the day checking out everything. You wouldn’t believe it, there’s gotta be like a million shops here. Everything’s freaking expensive, but I did get some sweet gear for my team—I’ve gotta show you when you get here.” He paused for about two seconds but then immediately kept going with, “Well, alright, I’ll tell you one of them; Nidoking’s wearing an Expert Belt. But that’s the only spoiler you’re getting. Oh, did I tell you how many people are here? Well, actually, it’s not that many yet, I think I was one of the first ones.”

I laughed. “Honestly, when you said you were gonna get there early, I didn’t believe it. Since when do you arrive early to anything?”

“Hey, if you wanna be serious about the tournament, that’s what you gotta do,” he said matter-of-factly, like nothing was more obvious.

I shrugged. “Alright, that’s fair.”

A couple seconds’ pause followed. “So… you sure you’re not entering the tournament?” he asked in an overly-hopeful voice.

I put a hand to my forehead. “Rudy, there’s a month left, and I have zero Kanto badges. I’ve been traveling through Johto. And I only have four of those badges. So no.”

He gave an exaggerated sigh. “Lame. I don’t think they let guests enter the tourney site until August.”

“I can wait.”

“Fine. Guess I gotta bother Darren then,” Rudy said. “If he ever shows up. I swear, it’s like he’s not even trying.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Where’d you two get separated, anyway?”

“I went on ahead of him on Route 23; he wanted to take it slower.” All of a sudden Rudy gasped. “Hey wait, I haven’t even told you about Victory Road yet!”

Oh no. That was definitely going to take a while.

“You can tell me all about that in person, okay?”

“Seriously?”

“I’m heading to Blackthorn soon, and I wanna make it there before sundown. Aaand I get the feeling this is a long story,” I added with a slight laugh.

Rudy snorted. “Yeah? Alright, you got me there. I wouldn’t be able to do it justice over the phone anyway.” In the background, I could just barely make out a muffled barking sound. “What? Oh yeah, Ebony says hi.”

I chuckled. “Tell her I’m looking forward to seeing her.”

There was the muffled sound of Rudy saying something with the microphone pointed away from him, then a much louder and clearer voice barking out, “*Really?! Oh boy, oh boy!!*” Then some other scattered background noises, some of which sounded vaguely like Pokéspeech. Then Rudy’s voice came back with, “Gotta go now talk to you later!” all in one breath before he ended the call.

I couldn’t help snickering as I pocketed my phone. Now I had that to look forward to as well.

I stretched widely before standing to my feet, dusting the sand off my shorts, and calling out, “Hey, guys!” Aros, Stygian, Jet, and Firestorm all glanced over at me from their wrestling pile surrounded by lumpy mounds of soaked or melted sand.

“We’re heading out soon. Come on, let’s get the beach cleaned up.”

My words were met with scattered grumbling, and it took me repeating it several times before everyone took the suggestion to heart. (Granted, it mostly involved Aros using Sand Tomb to dissolve the mountain and Firestorm flying the melted bits off to sea.) After that, I gathered up all my stuff, recalled everyone except Firestorm, and braced myself for our flight into the northern mountains.

“Well, we’ve got a month until we meet Rudy in Indigo,” I said as the fire lizard spread his wings. “What do you think the odds are we can get the Blackthorn gym badge in that time?”






~End Chapter 31~

Two more chapters of normal trainer fic. Enjoy it while it lasts.
 
Chapter 32: The Kanto League

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
~Chapter 32: The Kanto League~


The Tohjo Mountains stretched out in every direction as Firestorm and I soared eastward from Blackthorn with Starr riding Swift not far behind us. By now, the sheer slopes of Mt. Silver towered over the southern horizon as we crossed over into Kanto, and from there the terrain gave way to rocky highlands, and then forested hills. Until finally, a wide, flat-topped mountain appeared on the horizon ahead of us, the only landmark for miles.

“*Is that it?*” Firestorm asked.

I grinned. “Yep. That’s Indigo.”

The massive rock face practically glimmered in the mid-morning sun, its surface streaked with red and purple. I caught sight of the cave entrance at the base of the mountain, beyond which lay the sprawling labyrinth of Victory Road that any first-time competitors would have to pass through before being allowed entry. Good thing I wasn’t actually participating in the tournament.

Warm updrafts sent us soaring upward until we were flying directly over the city, and I finally caught my first glimpse of the tournament site. A massive central building was ringed by an impressive array of stadiums. I had spent so long training on Midnight Island that I thought I had a good idea of what stadiums were like, but like Rudy had said, these put Midnight Stadium to shame—able to fit an endless number of spectators and boasting towering screens to report ongoing battle statistics. Surrounding the main stadiums were smaller battlefields and lines of training ground, where trainers’ Pokémon could be seen launching attacks into the air.

As we neared the airspace over the plateau, it became increasingly obvious just how many other trainers were making the same journey, as the sky was absolutely swarming with flying Pokémon. A scattered group of uniformed people riding Pidgeot circled the area, waving colored flags to direct the aerial traffic. I nudged Firestorm’s side in a way that told him to slow down, and then we waited until one of the rangers gave us the go-ahead to land in a roped-off patch of dirt on the southwestern edge of the plateau.

Everyone making the flight today had to be guests. Most of the competitors had probably been here for at least a month, training and preparing for the tournament to begin tomorrow. There was still the occasional frantic and out-of-breath trainer sprinting up the grand stairs from Victory Road at the last minute, however.

“*I’ve never seen this many trainers in one spot,*” Firestorm said, craning his neck around to take in all the details surrounding us. “*Just think of how many people we could battle here.*”

I gave him a nudge. “Hey, remember we’re not here to compete, we’re just supporting Rudy and Darren.”

Firestorm shrugged. “*Doesn’t mean we can’t have fun in the meantime.*”

A sudden burst of air rushed into my face as Swift landed alongside us. Starr jumped down from his back right before I recalled both him and Firestorm to make room for the other fliers landing all around.

“Man, that took way too long,” Starr said, stretching widely.

I raised an eyebrow. “It was only a thirty minute flight?”

“Yep. Too long, if you ask me. Shame Ajia can’t just have Espeon give us a lift everywhere.”

I snorted. ‘Espeon’—in other words, Mew. “I think ‘Espeon’ has better things to do,” I said dryly.

Starr shrugged. “Whatever. Speaking of, is Ajia here yet?”

“I texted her earlier. She said she was busy and that she’d be getting here later today.”

“Attention all guests!” a recorded voice blared from speakers mounted around the landing area. “Please see the visitor’s booth for a spectator badge and a map of the tournament site outlining which areas are off-limits to all non-competitors. Tickets for designated seats can also be purchased at this time.”

Well, that wasn’t going to be a problem. I’d already reserved a basic spectator badge, which was enough to get me into the tournament site and let me watch the preliminaries. If anyone I knew made it into the top cut, I’d think about buying seats for it, but otherwise it was too expensive to consider.

“So I’m gonna go meet up with some friends,” I said, pausing slightly. “You can come with me, if you want?”

“No thanks. I’ll just entertain myself around the city until Ajia gets here,” Starr replied.

“Alright, I’ll catch up with you two later,” I said, waving to her before I walked off.

After sending a quick text to Rudy to let him know I’d made it here, I waited in line to pick up my badge at the visitor’s booth. Within seconds, I’d received his reply of, “Alright! I’m over at public battlefield C. See you there!”

All I had to do was show the attendant my ID and she handed me a glossy card that read ‘99 Kanto League Championships’ with the word ‘spectator’ under it in big, bold font. Simple though it was, I couldn’t deny that it felt really cool to hang the badge around my neck and freely set foot inside the tournament site. Who didn’t dream of visiting Indigo Plateau during tourney season? Granted, that dream usually included being an actual participant, but I’d long since abandoned the idea of being a competitive battler, and just being here was cool enough.

So I wandered the tournament site, passing under the shadows cast by the grand stone arches at the entrance. My eyes traced the ridiculous array of vendors’ stalls that had been set up along the walkway, which was absolutely packed with trainers. I saw battle enhancements of every shape, size, and color, the majority of which I didn’t even know the names of. An absolute rainbow of different types of Pokéballs. Walls upon walls of TMs. An assortment of League-branded merch like shirts, bags, and plushies (including a ridiculously huge plush of Bubba the Venusaur, this year’s tournament mascot.) It was almost dizzying.

I really wasn’t too keen on draining my account while I was here, and that was almost definitely going to happen if I stayed here too long. Instead, I pressed on through the vendors’ alley and made my way toward the public battlefields that rimmed the eastern edge of the tourney site. Once there I was met with the sight of dozens of trainers, all with Pokémon by their side—some of them studying new moves, others holding mock battles. Attacks were kept fairly low-key. A quick glance at all the signs lining the area revealed why: ‘Moves with ratings exceeding 90 are strictly prohibited on the public battlegrounds. The complete list of League-approved moves with ratings can be found here,” followed by a code that could be scanned to visit the webpage. Well that made sense—there weren’t exactly any shields out here to keep big, explosive attacks from going out of control.

I wandered along the outskirts until I reached battlefield C, then weaved through scattered groups of trainers. I passed by a crowd gathered around a Dragonair practicing looping figure-8s in the air, then a duo of Marowak and Scyther doing a synchronized Swords Dance. And then when I reached the far corner of the battlefield, I finally caught sight of an olive-skinned, spiky-haired boy standing alongside a full team of Fearow, Nidoking, Pupitar, Houndoom, Breloom, and Tauros. He turned in my direction. Then his eyes lit up and he waved, proudly holding up the competitor badge hanging from a cord around his neck. Before I could respond, the Houndoom dashed forward in a blur of black, rearing up to put her paws on my shoulders and licking the side of my face. Some things never changed.

“Well about time you got here, Jade,” Rudy said in a mock scolding tone as he strolled over, hands on his hips.

“I got here as soon as I could,” I said, laughing as I shoved Ebony down. “This is literally the first day that the tourney site’s open to non-combatants.”

“I know, I know, just trying to give you a hard time,” he said, elbowing my arm. “I still think it sucks that you’re not actually in the tournament. But at least you’ve been keeping up with badge collecting, yeah? How many you up to now?”

“Five,” I said.

He nodded approvingly. “Ever considered entering the Johto League?”

“I’m a little late for that this year,” I said with a laugh.

“Next year, then.”

I shook my head. “Nah. The gym battles were just the best way to keep my team from getting bored.”

“Fine, whatever works for you,” he said, shrugging. “I can’t say it’s too different for me either. After the rebellion ended, training and badge collecting has kinda been what’s kept me going, yeah?” It was kind of a surprise to hear him mention that. Neither of us exactly brought up the rebellion’s end very often.

“Anyway, it doesn’t matter that you’re not entering,” he went on, waving a hand dismissively. “In fact, it’s a good thing. Y’know, it’s getting close enough to the preliminaries that I really shouldn’t train with anyone who I could be fighting in the tournament. So you need to be my training partner. My team needs all the practice it can get!”

I couldn’t help chuckling a bit under my breath. There hadn’t been a single time we’d met up that he hadn’t challenged me. And while I’d always left out the experiments in the past, Rudy’s Pokémon had been making leaps and bounds in strength lately. It could actually be a fair fight now.

“How does three rounds of one on one sound?” he asked, taking a few steps back to put some distance between us.

“Fine by me,” I said. “You send out first.”

He spun around, sizing up all of his team members. Ebony hopped up and down in front of his face, but he gave her a pat on the neck and said, “Not this time,” with a small laugh. He glanced at each of the rest of them in turn, muttering various things to himself. And then his gaze fell on the rock-armored cocoon sitting off to the side, ignoring everyone else.

“I choose Pupitar!” he exclaimed.

The rock-type gave no response at first. Her eyes were half-lidded with the usual bored expression, which I would have chalked up to her species not being very expressive, although she’d never exactly showed much interest in anything or anyone as a Larvitar either. Rudy didn’t seem too fazed by her (lack of) response though. He just waited patiently while she seemingly considered the idea. Finally, after a lengthy pause, the rock-armored cocoon hopped forward heavily, the pointed end of her shell digging into the dirt with each hop.

“So you’re entering the Indigo League tournament, and you haven’t gotten one of your team members to their final form yet?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Ah, screw you,” he said, giving me a shove. “No one gets a pseudo-legend to its final form in their first year of training.”

I smirked. “I know, just giving you a hard time.” It wasn’t like I’d have been able to do any better.

I took a good twenty or so steps back to put some distance between us before I let Stygian out of her Pokéball. The Absol appeared in front of me in a burst of white light, then glanced around briefly before her eyes fell on her opponent.

“*Interesting,*” she just said. Probably referring to the fact that I normally didn’t use her or the other experiments in my battles with Rudy. He must have noticed too, because his eyes widened slightly, but then he just pumped a fist and shouted, “You got this, Pupitar!” Pupitar gave a slight rock that seemed to be her species’ equivalent of a shrug.

“Let’s open with a quick Night Slash,” I said.

Stygian dashed forward, dark aura flaring to life around her forepaws as she ran. Pupitar didn’t move. Sure, it was unlikely she could dodge in time. But she just sat there as Stygian closed the gap between them. Within seconds, the Absol reached her opponent and swung a paw down, carving shallow gashes into Pupitar’s shell.

Then Rudy suddenly yelled, “Headbutt now!”

Stygian was mid-move and didn’t have a chance to react. Without warning, the rock-type shot upward and smashed into her face. The Absol staggered backward, clutching a paw to her forehead and glaring daggers at the pupa.

Alright, shouldn’t have rushed in like that. If he just had Pupitar go for the counterattack on every move, her endurance would win out over Stygian’s strength. Had to play this smarter.

“Swords Dance!” I called out.

Stygian circled back to where her opponent most likely couldn’t reach and began honing her claws in a complicated, rhythmic series of forms, her movements growing sharper and more forceful in the process.

Rudy watched her dance, furrowing his brow. Then he just shrugged and said, “Alright, we’ll go with Rock Polish.”

Shoot. I’d expected him to press the attack while Stygian was setting up, not respond with a setup of his own. Since when did Rudy use setup moves, anyway?

As Stygian finished her dance, Pupitar began spinning against the dirt, slowly at first, but quickly increasing in speed. The rocky surface of her shell smoothed over, the plates of armor clicking against each other, almost like they were loosening.

“Alright, now for a Rock Smash,” Rudy said, grinning.

The rock-type vented a burst of gas from her shell, instantly propelling herself forward like a rocket. Whoa—I’d definitely never seen Pupitar do that before.

“Cut her off with a Night Slash!” I ordered.

Stygian dashed forward. Her claws, honed from the earlier dance, flared up with a far larger and more vicious aura. She rushed forward, intent on landing a hit first, hopefully knocking her opponent prone, and then we’d be free to dish out a follow-up attack.

The two met at the center of the battlefield. The Absol’s claws landed first, cleaving deep gashes into the rock-type’s armor. But the move didn’t stop her momentum, not by a longshot. The pupa plowed straight into Stygian just as fast, bowling her over like she was a ragdoll. She tumbled over her side, but then sprang to her feet quicker than I’d thought possible and smacked Pupitar in the back before she had a chance to react.

And then I realized the same thing that Stygian just had—Pupitar was fast, but only in a straight line. She still had trouble turning on a dime.

Rudy shook his head. “Alright, you are still too fast and we gotta fix that. Bulldoze!”

Pupitar burst up into the air before Stygian could slash at her once again. She reached the apex of her leap and closed her eyes in concentration before plunging back to the ground, unleashing a shockwave of rolling dirt all around her. Stygian leaped back in a hurry, but the waves reached her in seconds. She jumped once, twice, avoiding the first two, but then tripping over the churned-up earth left in their wake.

Damn it, now Stygian’s paws were covered in mud and she was obviously fighting the urge to stop and kick it off but also had to keep moving to avoid the nonsensically fast Pupitar and argh. None of her hits were doing enough damage. Granted, there was always Iron Tail… We hadn’t exactly perfected it after learning it from Jasmine while training in Olivine, and it was hard to land, but…

Pupitar let out another burst of gas, shooting forward.

Ah, screw it.

“Iron Tail!” I yelled.

Stygian’s bladelike tail began to glow, flickering at first, then gradually increasing in brightness. But it was slow, and the Absol had to jump back to avoid the oncoming attack. Finally, the light faded to reveal a metallic sheen, and the dark-type lunged at her opponent. She stopped, pivoted on her front paws, then swung her tail in a wide arc—

—and went completely over Pupitar’s head.

“Dammit!” I hissed under my breath.

“Another Headbutt!”

Alright, bad idea, bad idea, had to salvage this. Something, anything—!

“Sucker Punch!” I blurted out.

The second before Pupitar made contact, Stygian ducked down and slipped behind her in one smooth motion. Before the rock-type had a chance to react, Stygian caught her with a heavy strike right to the back of her head, right between the armor plates. Pupitar pitched forward, eyes going wide for a second. Then she kept going, faceplanting into the dirt at full speed.

I pumped a fist in the air. And in the seconds it took Pupitar to begin wrenching herself free from the earth, I almost forgot to order a follow up.

Now go for the Iron Tail!”

Stygian crouched low, tail glowing again. Pupitar struggled, the boost gas digging her horns deeper into the dirt. Not fast enough. The Absol’s tail shed its glow, fully metallic. She swung it in a downward arc, striking the pupa in the back of the head with a resounding clang and knocking her flying. The rock-type tumbled across the battlefield before finally coming to a halt.

Pupitar picked herself up from the dirt, giving us… what would have looked like an either annoyed or pissed-off face if it weren’t her default. Though there was also subtler tells. The way her body had started trembling. Her eyes twitching. Our moves had done more damage than I’d thought.

The next few seconds dragged on weirdly long as Pupitar paused, seemingly considering something. Then, without warning, she let out a burst of gas… and shot right past Stygian and back to her trainer’s side.

“Done already?” Rudy said, staring at her incredulously.

The rock-type gave no response, continuing to eye me and Stygian with the same annoyed (?) glare.

He rolled his eyes. “Alright, alright, you’re the boss.” He gestured to me and Stygian. “First round is yours, I guess.”

I stared blankly. “What was that about?”

Rudy shoved his hands in his pockets. “Ah, you know how she is. Doesn’t always wanna battle, but then gets grumpy when she doesn’t get to.” He gave the cocoon a playful jab before recalling her.

Huh. Then, again, now that I thought back, that had been the case when we trained on the Rebellion as well. Back then, he’d always brush it off with the fact that it’d all be worth it when she became a Tyranitar. At least, before he got bored and switched to training Ebony nonstop. I’d never seen him so calm about it.

“But like, it’s not her fault!” Rudy added quickly. “Just part of being a Pupitar, y’know? Prob’ly more boring for her than it is for me. That’s part of the reason I wanna get better, so that she can evolve. I think she’ll like having legs again.”

I smiled. “I think you’re right. In any case, that was a lot tougher than our last match.”

“Yeah? I’ll take that as a compliment then, cuz she won’t,” he said with a slight laugh. “Anyway, you won that round so you send out first.”

I nodded, recalling Stygian. My hand hovered over the rest of my Pokéballs, but then settled on one.

“You’re up, Aros!” I called out. The buglike dragon took shape in front of me, already tensed for battle. But then his red-lensed eyes fell on Rudy and he relaxed slightly, mouth curled into confident smirk. “*Well this should be fun.*”

“Don’t underestimate him,” I warned. “He’s entering the league, after all.”

“*I got it, I got it,*” the Flygon said waving his tail fan. His tone wasn’t too convincing.

Rudy grinned upon seeing my pick. “Time for the real star of the show,” he said. “Nidoking, you’re up!”

The armored, rabbit-like beast lumbered forward, striking a dashing pose once he reached the center of the battlefield. Nidoking. One of the Pokémon that Rudy had been training the longest. The team’s powerhouse.

“Did you see his new belt?” Rudy asked. “It’s pretty badass, isn’t it?”

Nidoking lifted his bulky arms to better show off the tattered black belt tied around his midsection.

“Oh yeah, I remember you mentioning that. Guessing you taught him some new fighting-type moves?”

“You’ll see,” Rudy said, still grinning cheekily.

I snorted. “Alright then.” I motioned to Aros and said, “Open with Dragon Pulse!”

The Flygon opened his mouth wide and breathed out a jagged burst of violet dragonfire. Nidoking responded by lunging to the side in one deceptively fast motion; his thick hind claws scraping the dirt as he skidded to a halt. He flashed a grin that seemed to mirror his trainer’s, then flexed his foreclaws as if asking for more.

Egh, what a waste. Aros was way too far away to guarantee a hit. We’d have to close the distance.

“Alright fine, fly closer and use Dragon Claw!” I yelled.

Rudy’s grin still hadn’t lessened. And he wasn’t the sort to fake confidence to psyche out his opponent. He was planning something. Nidoking stamped a foot and held both arms forward, clearly readying himself for a counterattack. Aros vibrated his wings and shot forward, claws flaring up with dragonfire. The poison beast made a lunge at the last second but Aros swerved around him effortlessly, drawing back his claws and slashing down right alongside the row of thorns running down his back. Nidoking grunted in pain, stumbling forward. But then he swung his heavy arms in a wide arc before the Flygon could make a move to get out of the way, catching hold of his tail.

“What the hell?” I muttered.

Rudy’s smirked. “Ice Beam.”

Oh, hell no.

Nidoking pointed his horn, ice crystals glittering around it before a jagged beam of bright blue energy shot forward, striking Aros right in the face. The bug-dragon let out a pathetic cry as his wings slowed and he crashed into the dirt, shivering like mad.

Ice Beam. He knew freaking Ice Beam, the one thing Aros was hopelessly weak to. He couldn’t possibly endure another one of those. Had to do something fast.

“Get in the air!” I yelled desperately.

It’d take Nidoking a good couple of seconds to charge up the energy for another beam. More than enough time to put some distance between them. It’d buy me some time to think, anyway.

Aros shook the frost off his wings, shaking all over. But he grit his teeth with a look of determination and wrenched his tail out of Nidoking’s grip before taking to the air. His flight faltered a bit at first, but he quickly put on speed, flying so high I had to squint at the sunlight.

“Coming back down anytime soon? You know regulation battlefields have a height limit,” Rudy pointed out, sounding far more amused about it than he had any right to.

“Oh, quiet,” I shot back. He was right, but I wasn’t about to admit it. I motioned to Aros and yelled. “Dragon Pulse, and spread it out!”

Aros inhaled deeply before breathing out another burst of dragonfire. But this time instead of a single jet, it exploded into wide flurry of embers raining down on Nidoking. The poison beast raised his heavy forelimbs overhead, shielding his face. His horn glittered with ice crystals, and I sucked in a breath. But then Nidoking paused, eyes tracing Aros’s path through the sky. There was no point in wasting the energy on a move that was so easily dodged from far away.

Rudy clearly realized the same thing too, because he nodded and called out, “Toxic!”

Nidoking opened his mouth wide, gathering a pool of sludge in his throat and spitting it out so that it splattered apart in the air. Aros turned away to shield his face, but several drops of the stuff splashed against his side. He shook them off with a sound of disgust, but the damage was done—his scales remained tinged with a sickly purple. Couldn’t afford to waste time, then. Had to go for an all-out offensive. While also avoiding Ice Beam. Ugh, what a pain… Judging by the smirk on Rudy’s face, that was exactly why he’d done it, too.

“Sand Tomb!” I called out.

Aros pitched his wings backward and shot toward the ground, keeping his eyes on Nidoking the entire time. The Flygon reached the earth within seconds, digging his claws into the ground and clenching them tightly. At once, the dirt around Nidoking dissolved into a vortex of sand, sucking him into its center no matter how hard he thrashed against it.

“Alright, he’s immobilized! Now stay behind him so he can’t hit you!” I yelled.

Aros took off flying in a wide arc, quickly putting himself out of Nidoking’s prime Ice Beam range and pelting his back with more dragonfire. The poison-type struggled to pivot, but the sand weighing down his lower half made it difficult. Wrenching his legs upward only made him sink deeper.

“Dig!” Rudy called out, and I had to stop myself from laughing out loud. Was he insane? Using Dig against a ground-type. Nidoking would be a sitting duck while he was underground!

Nidoking didn’t waste a second diving headfirst into the sinkhole, scattering fistfuls of sand behind him as he tunneled downward.

I pointed forward with what must have been a manic grin on my face. “Get him with Earthquake!” And then, for whatever reason, the alarm bells went off in my head. Moves rated over 90 were banned on the public battlefields. Earthquake was definitely on that list.

“Wait! Wait wait wait!” I called out frantically just as Aros was preparing to slam his legs into the ground with all his might. God, the last thing we needed was toppling over a dozen trainers and Pokémon. What other moves could hit Nidoking while he was underground? Bulldoze maybe? I wasn’t so sure. But wait—I’d already used up all four of my move commands with that stupid Earthquake.

Nidoking popped his head out of the dirt a good twenty feet away from where he’d submerged, now perfectly free from the Sand Tomb.

“Now!”

Ice Beam fired, striking Aros perfectly while he was still waiting for me to order something. A wave of frost rushed over his body from the impact point, and he flailed his wings in an attempt to get away. But it was too much. His tail thrashed desperately against the air for several seconds, then his wings gave out and he crashed to the dirt, unmoving.

I let out a low groan, screwing my eyes shut while I grabbed his Pokéball to recall him. Then I shot Rudy a glare. “Been using TMs, I take it?”

He grinned. “You noticed.”

“Well it’d be a little hard not to!” I yelled, laughing slightly.

“Also, it’s an Expert Belt, not a Black Belt,” he added, jerking a thumb toward Nidoking, who was now flexing.

I rolled my eyes. “You think I can tell the difference?”

“Obviously not.”

Ouch. I’d walked right into that.

“Whatever, we’re one round apiece and you have the first sendout again,” I said with just the tiniest bit of irritation leaking into my voice.

Rudy pivoted on his heels and had barely looked over his lineup before turning back and announcing, “I’ll use Tauros, then.”

A recent addition to his team. The young bull gave a snort and trotted forward, shaking his mane proudly.

After that Ice Beam nonsense from Nidoking, I was fully expecting more unexpected moves. I just obviously didn’t know exactly what kind, which made it hard to anticipate. Obviously, the best choice would be the team member with the fewest exploitable weaknesses. That was Chibi, but… I still wasn’t totally sure if anyone on Rudy’s team was a match for him. And there was no point to this if it wasn’t an even match. So, in that case…

“Your turn, Firestorm!” I called out, releasing him. The fire lizard took shape in front of me, flaring his wings and spitting a few embers.

“Let’s open with Work Up!” Rudy exclaimed. Tauros gave a flick of his tails before launching into an energetic march, tossing his head with each hoofbeat.

I pointed forward. “Get in the air and use Flame Burst!”

With a mighty flap, Firestorm shot skyward. He opened his mouth wide, gathering a large ball of flame, then launched it downward. But Tauros was fast. By that time, he seemed to have somehow finished his march already, because he was able to break into a full gallop and avoid the worst of the fireball. It hit the dirt right behind him and exploded into a flurry of embers.

Firestorm was too high to land a direct hit without Tauros being able to dodge everything with ease. At worst, he’d take a few minor scorches. Same tactic as last time, forcing us into close quarters. Fortunately, Firestorm was good at that.

“Fly down behind him and use Fire Punch!”

Firestorm pitched his wings back, shooting into a steep dive. He flared his wings out once he neared the ground, aiming to close the distance before his opponent could try anything. Tauros lunged with his horns, but the Charizard was moving much too quickly and tilted a wing to instantly loop behind. He drew back an arm, flames bursting to life around his fist, then swung it, landing a scorching blow to Tauros’s back. The bull recoiled backward, pivoting on his forelegs, face scrunched up with pain and then—

“Rock Tomb!”

Dammit. There it was.

Firestorm’s eyes went wide, and he spread his wings to gain altitude again. But he’d already lost too much of his momentum from the Fire Punch, and wasn’t ready for the giant boulders that erupted from the ground around him, smashing into his belly and knocking him to the dirt. Tauros didn’t waste any time charging at him the moment he crashed to the ground, which had the added impact of knocking him flying right back into the rocks.

“Get back in the air!” I yelled frantically, clenching both fists tight.

Firestorm struggled to pull himself free from the rubble, but his movements were slow, and he had to raise his arms to catch Tauros’s horns before the latter could ram him again. What was I doing? This was the same gambit Rudy pulled last round. Couldn’t get flustered just from one unexpected move. Rock Tomb was weaker than Ice Beam anyway, and it wasn’t like Tauros had any equipment powering it up either. Firestorm wasn’t down and out yet.

“Another Rock Tomb!” Rudy yelled.

“Smokescreen!” I blurted out.

Tauros reared back, ready to strike. But the Charizard breathed out a billowing cloud of black smoke right into his face, and he stumbled backward, coughing. And in the moment it took for him to regain himself and slam his hooves into the dirt, Firestorm shot into the sky, one wing slightly crooked. Stones erupted from the ground right behind where he’d been just seconds earlier.

Rudy’s eyes followed Firestorm turning tail back into the air. Then he just shrugged and said, “Alright, another Work Up then.”

Ughh no, not more setting up. That was the whole reason we’d pressed the attack in the first place. Did Tauros even have any long-range moves? I could maybe play it cheap and just have Firestorm stay out of reach the whole time? Either way, couldn’t waste time, had to give a command.

“Flame Burst!” I called out, because I really didn’t have anything better to say.

The Charizard breathed out another raging fireball, and this time his aim was true, striking Tauros right on the back and exploding with a plume of embers that made him grunt in pain. But the normal-type had already finished his march, and despite the damage, his movements were as sharp and energetic as ever.

Rudy put a hand to his chin, thinking. Then the corners of his mouth turned up and he ordered, “Swagger!”

Really? That was awful bold of him.

Tauros slowed down, fighting back the pain from the previous hit. And then he began to strut, tossing his mane and whipping his tails with an overconfident smirk. Firestorm glanced away, determined not to look at it. But as the seconds went by, his eyes darted back more and more frequently. He muttered something under his breath. I saw his muscles tighten up with anger. Saw him go slightly cross-eyed.

“You wanna power him up? Alright fine.” I stamped a foot to the dirt and yelled, “Fire Punch! But don’t get too close to the ground! Be ready to dodge the rocks!” Man, that was a tall order right now, especially with him flustered by the confusion. I already regretted it, but taking it back would be even more confusing.

Firestorm dove. I flinched, half expecting him to just crash into the dirt, but he flared his wings and caught himself, moving so fast that he’d hopefully be hard to hit with more rocks. Tauros braced himself, ready to meet his opponent head-on. The Charizard drew back his fist, raging flame licking his scales, and then—

The fire went out. Firestorm stared stupidly at his own fist for a few seconds, then forgot to flap his wings and crashed to the ground with a dull thud.

I smacked a palm to my forehead. Dammit.

“Wild Charge!” Rudy called out.

Tauros drew himself back, his body crackling with… electricity? Yeah, strings of lightning leaped off his fur as he charged forward, slamming himself into Firestorm with full force. The fire lizard faceplanted into the dirt and didn’t move after that.

I stared, my brain taking several seconds to process the full weight of what had just happened.

“Heeeellll yeeeaaah!!” Rudy yelled, jumping three feet into the air

“Oh my god, I am never gonna hear the end this, am I?” I asked, putting both hands to my forehead in what was only slightly exaggerated defeat.

“Hell no!” he exclaimed, pumping both fists above his head

I’d lost, and it wasn’t even a close loss on the last two. And I hadn’t even really won the first match, Pupitar had just gotten bored. That was even worse. Granted, we probably would’ve won that round anyway. At least I could tell myself that.

I recalled Firestorm and put my hands on my hips. “Well fine, if you call getting a single cheap shot with new moves your strategy, let’s see how that carries you.”

“Not my fault you weren’t expecting it,” he said with a smirk. And in his defense… any opponent in the League would be expecting those moves. I just didn’t care to do any research because I wasn’t entering.

“Alright, you asked for it, next time you’re fighting Chibi,” I said, sticking out my tongue.

He scoffed. “Bring it on, we’re not scared of him anymore.”

“*I beg to differ,*” Fearow cut in dryly.

He craned his neck to glance back at the shaggy bird. “Well hey, no one said you had to fight him.”

I tilted my head. That wasn’t the first time today that he’d just casually replied to his Pokémon without thinking about it. “You’re getting better at Pokéspeech, huh?”

Rudy paused, considering it. “Yeah? I mean, I never cared too much about it in school, but then… I guess you guys made it look cool, so I started working on it again.” He shoved his fists in his pockets, like he was making an embarrassing admission and not describing something really cool.

“I think it’s neat,” I said.

He just shrugged and turned around, grabbing a potion from his bag and spraying down Tauros’s scorched fur. Behind the two of them, Breloom was chatting with Fearow about something while Nidoking posed for random passersby. And Ebony… well, Ebony was currently running circles around Pupitar, trying in vain to get the latter to play with her, while the pupa slowly rotated herself so that she wasn’t facing the energetic pup.

He had a pretty solid team. The six in front of me, not to mention Raichu, who must have been in storage at the moment. And they’d all obviously been training a lot. It honestly seemed like they had a shot at making it to the top cut.

“Hey, good to see you here!” a voice behind me called out. A familiar voice. “Let me guess, this one already dragged you into a battle, yeah?”

I whirled around and sure enough, there was Darren strolling up to us, a soda in one hand while he waved with the other.

Rudy jerked his head toward us. “Well look who decided to show up!” he exclaimed, throwing his hands forward dramatically.

“He’s exaggerating,” Darren said, raising a hand to the side of his mouth in a mock whisper. “I’ve been here for two weeks.”

“Slacking off for two weeks, more like it,” Rudy shot back. “Are you a tourist or a competitor?”

Darren rolled his eyes, but then my attention was stolen as a furry black shape dashed up my side, clinging to my shoulder.

“Ow! Claws, claws!” I cried, freezing with my arms out to the side—moving only made the claws dig in more. A huge fan of pink feathers edged into my peripheral vision, and it wasn’t hard to guess who the culprit was.

“Alright, get down Weavile,” Darren said, struggling to lift her until she finally jumped down herself. The dark-type grinned up at us toothily. Then she immediately dashed off as Ebony rushed after her, correctly identifying her as a much better playmate than Pupitar.

“So you’re competing too?” I asked upon seeing the competitor badge hanging from his neck.

“Yeah, this one bullied me into it,” he said, jerking a thumb towards Rudy.

“Oh whatever, you wanted to do it too,” Rudy said dismissively, standing up and shoving the empty potion bottle back into his bag.

Darren shrugged. “Mostly for the novelty, but whatever.”

While he’d insisted in the past that the competitive battling scene wasn’t his thing, I couldn’t help but notice that he’d been keeping pace with Rudy’s badge-getting throughout the past nine months.

“Anyway, are your teams hungry?” he asked. “I was just about to take mine to the feed tent.”

Rudy gave him an indignant look. “We just barely got started on our training. We’ve got at least two more hours before it’s time for a food break.”

The rest of his team didn’t seem to feel the same, in particular Ebony, who took that moment to conveniently reappear next to us and yell out, “*Snacks!!*”

Rudy glanced back and forth between his team and us before putting his arms up in mock defeat. “Yeah, alright fine.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

We stopped by the Pokécenter for a quick heal (none of our team members were too terribly injured) before following Darren out to a huge tent where they had a Pokémon feeding station set up. It allowed trainers to pay a flat fee for each member of their team and the Pokémon could eat as much as they wanted from a wide variety of foods.

With all three of us letting out our teams at once, I got the opportunity to see Darren’s full team of Venusaur, Sandslash, Golduck, Alakazam, Weavile, and Skarmory. All of them but Skarmory had been on his team during our Midnight Island training (the steel-type had joined the party sometime a few months ago.) Even if Darren wasn’t as big into competitive battling as Rudy, there was no denying that he had a solid team.

Rudy chattered nonstop about the strategies he’d been developing for each of his team members, then badgered me until I spilled the details of my most recent gym battle. Compared to my previous one versus Jasmine, it hadn’t been the most interesting win. Gym Leader Claire’s Kingdra had been kicking my ass with crazy fast moves until I sent out Chibi and took advantage of the rain by spamming Thunder over and over. Normally I wouldn’t have wanted to win like that, but… Chibi had been wanting to let off some steam for a while, and it had seemed to do him some good.

Now, on the other hand, the one who seemed like he most needed to let off steam was Aros. He kept glowering at Rudy in between shoving fistfuls of food into his mouth like he was trying to show the food who was boss.

“Got something to say?” I asked dryly.

The Flygon glanced away. “*He’s gotten better.*”

I gave him a pointed look. “Well yeah, of course he has. He’s been training a ton. I mean, he’s entering the Indigo League tournament. There’s no shame in us losing to him.”

Aros huffed. “*I’ll just have to go all-out next time.*”

I rolled my eyes. Either he was just lying to look better, or had actually been giving a weak effort—I wasn’t sure which one was worse.

Around twenty minutes later, and just as we were preparing to leave the Pokéchow tent, I received a text from Ajia that read, “Hey, I just got here. Already found Starr. Wanna grab lunch and chat?”

“Sure thing,” I texted back. Then I turned to Rudy and Darren and asked, “Mind if I take off? Gonna grab lunch with a friend who just got here.”

“Leaving us again, I see how it is.” Darren said with a smirk.

I rolled my eyes. “Ha ha. I’ll be back later this afternoon, alright?” At this rate I was never going to live down that time I left for the afternoon and then vanished for five days.

Rudy gave me a look that said I was insane. “Um, how about no. I’ve still got like a billion moves I wanna practice.” He paused for a bit before adding, “And you need more practice too.”

I snorted. “I’m not even in the tournament.”

“All the most reason to improve,” he said earnestly.

“That doesn’t even make any sense!” I yelled, but for some reason it was just dumb enough that I was laughing all the same. “Like I said, I’ll be back in a few hours, and we can all beat the stuffing out of each other just like old times. Deal?”

Rudy scoffed. “I don’t need multi battle practice, this isn’t the Hoenn League.”

“Ah, come on, it’ll be fun,” Darren said, elbowing him.

“Whatever. But I swear, if you two gang up on me again, you’re gonna get it.” What exactly we were going to ‘get’ remained to be seen.

After checking to make sure that my team was done eating (and having to stop Jet from shoveling treats into my bag for later) I recalled them all and gave one last wave to Rudy and Darren before taking off.

Ajia texted me the name of the restaurant and I found it on my Pokégear map. It was a smaller place about 10 minutes out from all the stadiums. And while it still had plenty of trainers inside, it wasn’t anything like the wall-to-wall packed establishments that filled the tourney site.

I quickly spotted Starr and Ajia after the latter waved to me from a booth in the far back of the room. I waved back, then went and placed my order at the front counter before going back to join them.

“Good to see you,” Ajia said brightly as I sat down across from her.

“I’m just glad you could make it,” I said, grinning.

“Of course!” she said with a wink. “In any case, you said you had friends competing in this one, right?”

I nodded. “Yeah, I just got done meeting with them.”

“How d’you think they’ll do in the tournament?” Starr asked with the slight edge of a smirk.

I paused. “Well, I don’t know if Darren is all that into it, but his team is really well-balanced. And Rudy… he’s gotten really hardcore recently. I actually lost to him, just now.”

“Niiice,” Starr said, laughing slightly. I rolled my eyes, determined to not let it get to me.

Ajia put a hand to her chin, as though thinking about something. “You three trained together last year, right?”

“Yeah,” I said.

The unspoken implication was clear. It was unlikely that the three of us would have gotten as good if we hadn’t trained under Stalker. But Ajia didn’t continue that train of thought. She just leaned back, glancing wistfully around the restaurant, and all the League memorabilia lining the walls. “Man, being here brings back memories.”

“What year did you compete here again?” I asked.

“It was in ‘96. I made it to the top 16, though I honestly don’t know how, I was pretty terrible back then,” she said, giving an embarrassed smile.

I waved a hand dismissively. “Ah, you couldn’t have been that bad.”

Ajia chuckled. “I dunno, you should’ve seen me. I took a break from training after that, and then I started traveling in Johto. And then I got mixed up in all that Rocket stuff, trained under the commander, and, well… for better or worse, I got a lot, lot better. That’s definitely the only reason I won the ‘97 Johto Championships.”

I smacked my forehead. “I still can’t believe I didn’t watch that one live. Spent that whole stupid summer sulking because I failed the trainer exam.”

Starr snorted. “Wow, really? Even I watched that one.”

Ajia raised an eyebrow. “Oh really?” she asked with just the slightest bit of a wry grin.

Starr scowled. “Oh, don’t get the wrong idea. We were enemies, alright? I had to stay informed on your location and your strengths and your—”

“Uh huh, sure,” Ajia said, elbowing her playfully. Starr just rolled her eyes with an exaggerated scoff.

The side mention of Team Rocket had dragged up the memory of what Chibi had been badgering me about, though. I really didn’t want to bring it up, but at the same time, it wasn’t fair to just ignore it.

I glanced around a few times, just to make sure that I wasn't in danger of being overheard. But with all the noise in the restaurant it was almost impossible to pick up individual voices.

“Hey, uh… I know I’ve asked you a million times, but… Chibi was wondering if there’s any news on the Rocket front,” I said. Starr raised an eyebrow at my words, but then turned to Ajia just the same.

Ajia leaned back in her chair, folding her arms. “Same as last time, I’m afraid,” she said. “No more targeted Legendaries, no more major combat unit missions. It’s all business as usual.”

“That’s what I told him, but he wouldn’t buy that,” I said. “Kept saying that they’re probably working on something big.”

She paused, considering something carefully. “Well… he could be onto something there.”

“What? But you just said—”

“Nothing’s actually happened,” Ajia added quickly. “But one of my contacts keeps hearing about how the higher-ups are really, really upset about losing Mewtwo.”

Starr laughed. “Of course they are. Take away their ultimate weapon, they’re gonna be pissed.”

“Not just pissed,” Ajia said, shaking her head. “They straight-up can’t proceed with any of their plans until they have a way to deal with it.”

I tilted my head. “Well, that’s good, right? That’s why we haven’t heard anything.”

“Probably just afraid if they try anything, Mewtwo’s gonna show up out of nowhere and kick their ass,” Starr said with a smirk.

Ajia gave her an exasperated look. “Starr…”

“Alright, I’ll stop.” She let out a sigh. “Look, we all know they’re not gonna give up. Just means that when they do try something it’s gonna be fast and decisive. Something that’ll get them the biggest advantage in the shortest time, before there’s any chance for a counterattack. Also something that is totally none of our business,” she added, giving me and Ajia a pointed look.

Eh… right.

None of us brought up Team Rocket again for the rest of the conversation. I was also fairly certain that I didn’t want to relay anything we’d said to Chibi.






~End Chapter 32~

Next Chapter: A certain estranged sibling shows up to stir the pot.
 
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