Chapter 33: Family Reunion
~Chapter 33: Family Reunion~
“Breloom, use Drain Punch!” Rudy yelled.
The bouncy, mushroom-capped Pokémon fired his back legs to leap forward, driving an arm into his target’s thorax. The opposing Scizor tumbled backward and slumped over, still passed out from the earlier Spore attack. Beads of orange light clung to Breloom’s fist from the impact point, slowly settling into his body. Rudy smirked and threw a hand forward, ready to order another move.
And then Scizor’s eyes snapped open. The armored bug shot to its feet in one sharp motion, shaking its head to clear the haze of sleep before its eyes focused on the opponent now standing right in front of it.
“Yes! Use Aerial Ace!” its trainer called out.
Breloom sprang backward, but Scizor pursued, blades of white light forming around its pincers. It swung once; Breloom slipped under it with a smooth dodge, but the follow-up came impossibly fast, tearing into him first with a downward strike before smashing him back with the upward one.
“And a brutal Aerial Ace attack sends Breloom flying! Rudy’s in a tight spot—Connor might just be able to turn this match around!” the commentator’s booming voice called out over the speakers, whipping the audience into a frenzy. I clenched the armrests of my seat. Rudy was probably wishing he’d brought Ebony to this match—would’ve been nice to just make short work of Scizor with a Flamethrower or two. Then again, his opponent’s team was stacked with rock-types so he’d opted not to (though part of me had still half expected him to bring her anyway.) Now he had a way tougher fight ahead of him.
It was down to the final one-on-one in Rudy’s fourth preliminary and he couldn’t afford to lose. He’d already lost one match. Same as Darren. Not the end of the world, but it did mean that neither of them could take a second loss without seriously hurting their chances at making it to the top cut.
The past week had blazed by in a nonstop whirlwind of activity with the preliminary rounds of the tournament in full swing. Each of the five stadiums held ten matches a day with a strict time limit of thirty minutes to a match. When combined with the plethora of side events and activities going on in the city outside the tournament site, every single hour of the day had something to do. The result was me, Ajia and Starr crashing at our hotel room each night feeling utterly drained. (Or at least, Starr and I were drained, Ajia seemed to have infinite energy as usual.) I’d basically just alternated between watching matches with Rudy and Darren or Ajia and Starr—it always just felt too weird mixing friend groups, especially with the former being several years younger than me and the latter several years older.
From hearing the talk of the town, Rudy was quickly becoming one of the favorites to win this year, and footage from his matches was spreading like wildfire. It was honestly kind of cool to be able to say that I knew one of the fan-favorite competitors. Knowing how many people in the audience all around us were cheering for him… I couldn’t help glowing a bit with pride.
Breloom picked himself up from the ground, wincing from the large gash running through the mushroom cap on his head. The Aerial Ace had knocked him clear across the battlefield, but that meant he had a moment to regain himself before having to deal with a follow-up attack.
“Go for another Substitute!” Rudy ordered.
Connor pointed forward. “Aerial—” He paused sharply, then shook his head and yelled, “No, Bullet Punch, before it finishes the sub!”
I barely caught a glimpse of Scizor’s pincers flashing metallic right before the bug shot forward, a red blur too fast to see. But Breloom had already put his foreclaws together in concentration, pushing his aura out from his body. The sheer speed advantage from Bullet Punch didn’t mean much when Scizor had to clear half the battlefield just to reach Breloom and he’d already started the move. Within seconds, the aura had condensed into an identical copy of Breloom. Scizor smashed its pincers into the substitute in a rapid-fire frenzy, and the copy recoiled backward, wisps of lights breaking off from the main mass. But it was still standing, with the real Breloom unharmed behind it.
No way—it didn’t shatter? The first one had! Had that earlier Bulk Up really made that much of a difference?
“Alright, another Bulk Up!” Rudy called out.
Scizor hammered away at the aural Breloom, but each blow didn’t have near as much force as the first one without the momentum from the dash. Meanwhile, the tangling vines growing between the steel-type’s armor plates constantly sapped tiny bits of its energy, sending beads of green light flying back to Breloom.
Darren nudged my shoulder, and I leaned over so I could hear him over the crowd. “With Scizor packing a move that hits Breloom that hard, you can tell that Connor didn’t think he’d need anything else to bring it down. He’s scrambling now.”
I had to admit, even I had almost counted Rudy out too soon. But it was hard to blame his opponent for sticking with all-out offense. After all, his initial attempt to setup had backfired completely when Breloom opened with Spore, ironically giving Rudy the free setup instead. And Scizor had already wasted its fourth move on Knock Off earlier, so he didn’t have that many options.
With a flash of light, the substitute finally burst wide open, torn to shreds by the relentless barrage of punches. And without the sub, Breloom was wide open.
“Now Drain Punch!”
“Another Aerial Ace!”
Breloom was faster. It nimbly ducked under Scizor’s claws and fired a springy forepaw forward, driving a punch clean into the bug’s thorax. But Scizor took the hit and kept going, tearing at the grass-type with a jagged pincer. Yellowish liquid leaked from his mushroom cap. He recoiled backward, and for a second, I thought he was going to retreat and try a different approach. But Rudy just pointed forward again, and Breloom took that as a sign to push the attack. Strange… it didn’t seem like the best idea. But then I noticed what he must have already seen: this Aerial Ace had done far less damage than the previous one. Each punch was met with more and more of that orange glow leaking out from the impact and flowing into Breloom. More beads of green light shot from the vines ensnaring his opponent. The gashes on his mushroom cap were slowly closing up…
He was healing almost as fast as Scizor was dishing out damage.
“You can do it Breloom!” I yelled, adding to the incomprehensible mass of cheers and shouts from the audience.
Breloom dropped to the floor, compressing his back legs like a spring, drawing a fist back. He then launched himself upward and caught Scizor with a vicious uppercut right to the chin. The steel-type’s head snapped backward. The white light around its pincers flickered and died. Breloom paused for a moment, realized that he didn’t need to brace for the counterattack, and then sprung forward, driving another punch straight into his opponent’s face.
And that did it. Scizor stumbled backward, eyes screwed shut, pincers flailing as it struggled to gain its bearings. It sank to one knee, then fell flat on its face and didn’t move. I held my breath until the referee raised the red flag.
“Scizor is unable to battle! The winner is Rudy Fierro!”
And with that I jumped to my feet, cheering at the top of my lungs as the stadium burst into applause. Breloom staggered over to grab the equipment pouch that Scizor had knocked off at the start of the battle, swinging it over his shoulder before stretching a clawed forearm into the air. On the far end of the battlefield, in the trainer’s box, Rudy mirrored his Pokémon, throwing a fist upward repeatedly.
That was it—that was the third win Rudy needed. He actually had a shot at making the top cut now. Of course, it wasn’t a guarantee. The actual score came down to how many matches his opponents had won, and how many matches their opponents had won, and a lot of math that I only pretended to understand. But he had a shot, and that alone was exciting enough that I found myself cheering my throat raw even after the results faded from the scoreboard.
Next week was apparently when the tournament site would really explode with activity, seeing as the majority of the spectators who weren’t accompanying a competitor would usually opt to save their trip for watching the top cut. The idea that the tourney site in its current state was comparatively less packed compared to how it would look next week—that was mind-boggling.
“Well, he’ll be happy,” Darren said, leaning back in his seat with a grin. “I know he’s been real stressed about making it to the top cut.”
I tilted my head. “He has?” He’d been the picture of overconfidence all week. Bragging nonstop about how he was a shoe-in for the finals and that none of the other competitors could possibly measure up.
“Yeah. I mean, not that he’d show it, but you know how he is,” Darren replied. Upon seeing my confused face, he added, “Can’t let anyone know, least of all his team. Doesn’t want them to stress out too.”
I… actually hadn’t realized that until now. And in a way, that kind of bothered me. I mean, it did make sense—Darren had been traveling with Rudy for the past nine months, so of course he had a better read on him by now. But still… I should’ve been able to spot things like that.
By now, scattered members of the crowd were starting to get up from their seats and make their way to the stairs. There were still plenty of preliminary matches left after this, though, so a lot of them were electing to just sit and watch the next match. At least the exits wouldn’t be totally clogged.
I motioned to Darren. “Wanna go meet up with him?”
“Can’t. I’ve got a match in half an hour,” he replied simply.
I almost fell out of my seat. “What?! I didn’t know your next match was so soon!”
Darren just shrugged. “I practiced a bit this morning, and my team’s already been checked in.” He motioned to his belt, conspicuously devoid of Pokéballs. If it had been Rudy with a match so soon, it would’ve been the only thing out of his mouth for the past hour.
“Are you gonna be late?” I asked.
“I’ll be fine. Tell Rudy I said congrats, yeah?” Darren said, standing to his feet and stretching. He then waved and said, “See you later,” before making his way to the end of the seating row.
“See you. And best of luck with the match!” I added.
“Same to you,” he replied automatically. And then he paused, gears slowly turning in his head. “I don’t know why I just said that.”
“Force of habit maybe?” I said with a laugh.
“Yeah? Probably. Anyway, later.”
After Darren left, I waited for a minute or two for more people to leave the stands, then got up and started making my way down to the hallway that led to the competitors’ entry and exit. It seemed like the best thing to do would be to catch up with Rudy real quick, then find Ajia and Starr and grab seats for Darren’s next match. Granted, I probably should have asked which stadium it was going to be in, but I could probably check the match listings online once I got a free moment.
Despite my waiting, however, I wound up getting stuck behind a huge group of people all exiting the stands at once. So I stood a couple yards back, leaning against the railing as I waited for an opening. And then, rather unexpectedly, I felt a tap on my shoulder.
“Hey, your name wouldn’t happen to be Jade, would it?” a voice asked.
I spun around to see a boy around a year or two older than me, with gray eyes and reddish-brown hair (dyed lighter in the front) looking at me with a rather curious expression.
“Er… do I know you?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.
He chuckled, reclining back against the same railing as me. “Probably not. I don’t think we ever saw each other much way back in Viridian, and I mostly hung out with Ajia anyway. My name’s Lexx. I’m Starr’s brother.”
I blinked. If I’d been expecting anything, it hadn’t been that. But now that I thought back, he did look vaguely familiar. In my mind, I could imagine a six-years-younger version of him alongside Ajia and Starr at our old school.
Seeing the blank look on my face, Lexx went on, “Sorry, I know it’s been ages. I really didn’t expect you to recognize me. I was wondering if you knew whether Ajia or Starr was around here. I haven’t been able to find either of them.”
“I can try calling Ajia,” I offered.
“That’d be great,” he said brightly.
I grabbed my Pokégear and tapped Ajia’s number, throwing a side glance at the newcomer every so often. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something about this whole situation felt strange. Why couldn’t he just call her himself, if he knew her? In any case, Ajia soon answered the phone.
“Hey, Ajia? Your, uh… your old friend Lexx is here?” I said, unable to keep the confusion out of my voice.
“Lexx? What’s he doing there?” Okay, so she was more surprised that he was here than the fact that he wanted to speak to her at all. They’d clearly kept in contact at some point within the past six years.
“I don’t know, I was hoping you could tell me.”
I heard the muffled sounds of talking in the background as Ajia had apparently covered the microphone with her hand.
“He didn’t say?” she asked.
“No, he just said he was looking for you and Starr.”
“Oh, figures,” she said, slightly exasperated. “Alright, where are you two?”
“Uh, we’re…”—I glanced around to locate some sort of identifier—“We’re by stairway D. In stadium 4.”
“Kay, we’ll be right over,” Ajia said before hanging up.
I replaced my phone in my pocket and then just sort of shuffled a foot against the concrete while I waited for her to show up. Now that I thought about it, it was kind of weird that I’d been traveling with Starr for nine months and she hadn’t mentioned her brother once that entire time. I mean, sure, I hadn’t thought to ask, but… He hadn’t come up once in any of the countless stories she’d told about her training journey. Not even a single side mention?
We were just standing there in silence with the chatter of the crowd all around us. I glanced around aimlessly to avoid eye contact, feeling like it’d be too awkward if I stared. Lexx tapped his heels against the railing, humming to himself while he browsed something on his phone.
…I should probably say something to him.
“So have you… seen Starr lately?” I asked with an awkward half-smile.
He chuckled. “Well, I’ve tried to. She kind of avoids me.”
I raised an eyebrow. “...Why?”
“I’ll let her do the honors of explaining,” he said with a wink.
Well, now I was really confused. But I was spared having to think too hard about it because right then I spotted Ajia entering the stands from the nearest entryway. I waved to grab her attention… and then spotted Starr following close behind her, looking like she’d rather have been anywhere else.
“Seriously, I don’t get why you’re making me come along, I do not want to talk to him,” I heard her say rather loudly as they approached. Ajia said something quietly in reply, and then Starr shot back with, “No, I don’t care that it’s been over a year since we last spoke, what does that matter?”
And then she froze as if she’d suddenly realized that she now had the misfortune of actually being in her brother’s presence, and hadn’t yet figured out how to handle it.
“Hi Starr,” Lexx said brightly.
For several seconds, she didn’t respond. Then her gaze hardened, and she stormed over, grabbing him by the collar and pressing him against the railing.
“What do you want?” she demanded, staring him dead in the eyes with a murderous glare.
“Ah, come on,” Lexx replied, hardly looking fazed. As if this was a perfectly normal greeting from her. “I’ve been trying to contact you for a while now. You can’t ignore me forever.”
“Watch me,” she muttered, letting go of his collar and turning away, refusing to look at him.
I glanced back and forth between the two of them, thoroughly lost. “I don’t get it. What’s going on with you two?”
Starr gave me the expression she reserved for when she thought I was being especially dense. “Well, for starters, he’s the traitorous scum who sold me out during the revolt. Not to mention he’s friends with Sebastian.”
It took me several seconds to process the implication of what she had said. If he was involved in the revolt and knew Stalker, then…
“You’re on Team Rocket?!” I blurted out, spinning towards Lexx.
Starr burst out laughing. “Of course he is! I got caught up in that damn team because the boss is my dad—why would it be any different for Lexx?”
I shot a glance at Ajia, but it was obvious from her lack of reaction that she was already aware of all this. I couldn’t get a read on how she felt about it though.
“And hey! I just realized something!” Starr exclaimed suddenly, all amusement gone from her voice. “Ajia, you’ve known for ages that he’s on Team Rocket, but you never tried to screw him over because of it! What, was I just special?”
Ajia gave Starr a sympathetic look. “I’ve talked it over with him in the past. We can’t really work together because our aims are so different. But we’re not being actively pitted against each other either.”
“It’s because Sebastian doesn’t care if we were friends,” Lexx added dismissively. “He’s fighting the Kanto force. If you guys get involved, that just helps us. It’s not like what happened with you being loyal to the boss and all.”
Starr folded her arms and glanced away, muttering various obscenities under her breath.
“Congrats on your betrayal by the way,” Lexx added. “I didn’t think you had it in you.”
“You better not try to compare my treachery to yours,” she snarled, whirling around to face him. “I didn’t get a choice. They betrayed me first.”
“Don’t tell me you wish you were still on the Kanto force?” Lexx asked tauntingly.
“Of course not,” Starr muttered. “I just… I… it’s complicated.”
Lexx smirked. But then he made eye contact with me, and it was obvious he could tell that I was still confused. “Alright, look. You already know that we need to use the power of the Legendaries. And yeah, that means catching them. So if you try to stop us, just know we won’t hold back. But you already knew that, so outside of the battlefield, there’s no reason for bad blood. We’re both trying to stop the Kanto force, right?”
Starr gave an exaggerated sound of disgust. “Why are you even here anyway? What, did you come here just to piss me off or something?”
“Ha, that’d be fun. But no, I’m here on business.” He turned to face Ajia. “Sebastian wanted me to give you a message.”
She blinked. “He what?”
“Great,” Starr said with an eye roll. “Couldn’t even be assed to come tell us himself, so he sends his gopher boy to do it.”
“He didn’t want me to text it, either. Had to be in-person.” He paused to make sure all three of us were paying attention. And from the tiniest trace of a grin on his face, I suspected that part of it was for dramatic effect as well.
“Team Rocket is going to attack the League.”
It was like everything around us had stopped existing. I gaped incredulously, jaw hanging open. He couldn’t possibly be serious. It took several seconds for any of us to find the words to respond, but when we did, all three of us spoke at once:
“Are they insane?!”
“It’s not going to be a serious attack or anything,” Lexx quickly added, raising both palms. “More to get people’s attention, really.”
“But why?” I asked, thoroughly lost. “Are they trying to, like… draw the Legendaries out of hiding?”
“Doubt it. Seems more like they’re trying to stir up some anti-Legendary sentiment. What better place to do that than the League?”
What? Anti-Legendary sentiment? The hell was that supposed to mean?
Ajia took a deep breath. “When are they going to attack?” she asked, her tone darkly serious.
“‘Fraid we don’t have word of that,” Lexx said, giving an exaggerated shrug. “Soon enough that Sebastian’s got his hands tied. He was hoping you three could do something about it.”
“Why don’t you do something about it, huh?” Starr asked heatedly.
Lexx folded his arms behind his head. “Sorry, but I’ve got a prior engagement.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Oh really? And what’s that?”
He winked. “Sorry, can’t tell you. Don’t wanna spoil the surprise.”
Starr clenched her hands like she wanted to strangle him.
“Okay, wait, wait,” I said, sweeping my hands to the side while trying to clear my thoughts. “If Sta—if Sebastian really cares about this, why doesn’t he warn the League? What makes him think we’re the best defense here.”
“Ah, I’m sure the League already knows,” Lexx answered with a casual tone. “That’s probably what the Rockets are banking on.”
I gaped at him. “What the hell?” Nothing about this made any sort of sense. And something else kept nagging at me in the back of my head. His vague, backhanded responses… they all pointed to one thing.
“Why are you talking about this like you’re in the dark?” I asked, the realization slowly dawning on me. “You know exactly why they’re doing this, you’re just not saying anything.”
Lexx’s grin widened for just an instant, and in that moment, it was obvious that he’d been waiting for someone to point that out. But he still didn’t answer the question.
Ajia sighed exasperatedly. “Lexx… come on…”
He held up his arms. “I’m not trying to toy with you guys, honest. There’s just certain things I can and can’t say, that’s all. Besides, now that you guys know what’s coming, you’ll be less likely to get hurt, right? I’m still doing you a favor.”
Ajia opened her mouth to speak, but then she paused before any words could come out. “You said they wanted to stir up anti-Legendary sentiment,” she said, furrowing her brow in that way she did when she was putting the puzzle pieces together on something. “In other words, they’re going to attack the League and pin the blame on the Legendaries. They don’t plan on anyone knowing it’s them.”
For several seconds, there was no response. Then a slow, satisfied grin made its way across his face. “That’s my favorite thing about you,” he said. “I don’t even have to say the things I’m not allowed to say; you just figure it out anyway.” He clapped his hands together with a look of finality. “Welp, that pretty much covers everything I needed to say. I should probably get back to Mahogany now.”
Starr snatched his collar again, yanking him towards her. “What makes you think you can drop a bombshell like that and just leave, huh?” she growled.
“Oh, do enlighten me as to what you’re going to do to me,” he said, his voice lilting with amusement.
Several seconds passed, during which it felt like nothing else around us even existed. Not the crowds, not the stadium, nothing. Starr’s hand hovered over a Pokéball, and she muttered, “if we weren’t in public…” but then she shook her head and clenched her fist before shoving him away roughly.
Lexx smoothed out his collar with a smug grin. Then he gave a small wave and said, “Nice seeing you all,” before walking off.
I stared blankly at the concrete floor after he left, my mind swirling with a million different things. Ajia was still pondering his words while Starr was muttering incoherent half-sentences laced with profanity. While I couldn’t say that my first impression of Lexx was a positive one, I also couldn’t say that I felt the same… vitriol as she did. There was definitely more to it than that.
“So… you really can’t stand him, huh,” I said, desperate to have one comment that didn’t relate to the revelation he’d just given us.
Starr snapped her head in my direction. “That little weasel got out of the revolt scot-free, while the boss never let me forget what happened,” she spat, gripping the handrail so hard her knuckles turned white. “Then he had the nerve to mock me for following the boss, as if I had a choice in it.”
I tapped my fingers together awkwardly. “…Maybe you guys could put that in the past now that you’re not a Rocket anymore?” After all, I’d done a lot of stuff that had outraged her as a Rocket.
Starr scoffed but didn’t say anything.
“Look, this whole thing has got us on edge, so I think we should go do something to take our minds off it,” Ajia suggested, gesturing for us to follow her outside. I exhaled slowly, only just then realizing how much tension I could feel in my shoulders. Yeah, finding a distraction sounded like a good idea.
I grabbed Starr’s hand and tugged lightly on her arm.
“Yeah, alright fine,” she muttered, clasping her hand around mine. “Let’s go find a side event or whatever.”
Team Rocket was going to attack the League.
That single thought wouldn’t leave my mind for the rest of the day. And while entering a couple of one-on-one pickups with Ajia and Starr had helped (Ajia ended up winning a couple of rare berries), I was soon back to obsessively dwelling on it.
Was what Lexx said true? What reason would there be to tell a lie like that? He was friends with Stalker… So was I, at one point. Well… had I ever really been his friend? Or was everyone on the Rebellion just his pawn? How many times had I asked myself that same question?
I wound up missing Darren’s match. I’d have to explain myself later. He probably wouldn’t mind that much, but it still bothered me. That was a few hours ago; now I was using the battle equipment section of the vendor’s alley as a distraction. I was in the middle of trying to wrap my head around why anyone would give their Pokémon equipment that poisons the holder when my Pokégear started buzzing. I answered it.
“Hey!” Rudy’s voice blared in my ear, way louder than it needed to be. “Darren was looking for you earlier.” That was usually code for ‘Rudy was looking for me.’
“Yeah, I was busy,” I just said.
“Well I just stopped by one of the food carts. Why don’tcha head over, I’ve got loads to tell you.”
I closed my eyes. I couldn’t really think of any excuse not to, so I said, “Sure, I’ll be over in a few,” before hanging up.
I went and found Starr debating whether or not to buy a Choice Band, and told her I was heading off. Of course, Rudy hadn’t bothered to tell me which food cart he’d stopped at, and I knew by now that texting him for more info was pointless. It was probably within the tourney site grounds at least. So I just wandered down the alley that had the most enticing smells, now painfully aware of the fact that I’d missed lunch. Rocket business sure had a way of killing my appetite.
It didn’t take long for me to find Rudy. He was seated at one of the many outdoor picnic tables in the adjacent park. I wandered over to him and couldn’t help staring at the ridiculously large tray of fried snacks sitting on the table in front of him.
“Geez, did you order that for your entire team or what,” I said as I sat down across from him.
“Oh, shut up, I didn’t know how many came with it,” he grumbled.
“Yeah, well, I’m stealing a few,” I said, grabbing a toothpick and spearing a ball of fried seafood before popping it into my mouth. Having something to chew on helped fill an otherwise awkward silence at least. Wasn’t long before I got the itch to say something though.
“I missed Darren’s match,” I said, my voice weirdly monotone.
“Aw really? Lame,” Rudy said through a mouthful of food. He chewed for a bit and then said, “You, uh… you saw mine though, right?”
I chuckled weakly. “Yeah, I did.”
“Ah, okay.” He nodded, looking pleased. “So you saw how long Pupitar lasted in that match. I managed to find someone selling an eviolite and she’s been loving it. Or at least, I think she has. It’s hard to tell, y’know?”
He rambled on for a bit about his team. About how Nidoking had beat some kid’s Dragonair in a practice match and how he could totally take on a Dragonite if anyone here actually had one (no one did). About how Fearow had been helping Breloom get over his fear of flying-types, and how he’d actually managed to stall her out recently. About how Raichu had managed to use Substitute four times in a single match. I felt bad about zoning out for most of it, but it was hard not to with how distracted I felt.
“And I think Fearow actually wanted to be on the tournament roster? Even though she volunteered to sit out ‘cause you can only bring six. But now she’s complaining about how I used Pupitar even though she doesn’t care, and now they’re not talking to each other, and I’m just like ‘I don’t know what’s going on anymore.’ I dunno how to make them both happy. It’s dumb!” He folded his arms with an overly sulky expression. Then, for whatever reason, he must have finally noticed my face. “So what happened to you? You look like you just got your ass handed to you or something.”
Darren’s words from this morning echoed in my head. Couldn’t stress Rudy out with Rocket BS. Not when he’d come so far.
I forced a laugh. “Yeah, I did.”
He held back a snicker. “Again? Seriously, I know your team’s better than that. You just giving bad orders again, or what?”
I snorted. “Yeah, that’s probably it.” Well, it was a handy excuse, at least.
Rudy gave an exaggerated sigh. “Well, only one thing to do. Come on.” He stood up and motioned for me to follow him. “Let’s run through some strategies or something.”
“I already did a bunch of battles this morning.” I did two. That counted as a bunch.
“Nah, we wouldn’t be battling,” he said dismissively. I raised an eyebrow. “I mean, like, tactics and crap. The kinda stuff we used to do back on Midnight. I can show you some of the stuff my team’s been working on. Maybe it’ll help yours, I dunno.”
Rudy, the strategist. What bizarro universe had I stepped into.
“Oh, and you’re not allowed to tell Darren any of this, got it?” he added, jabbing a finger at me. “I know he’s acting like he doesn’t give a crap about the tournament but he mostly… sort of… always won when we used to spar.” The words looked physically painful. “So I gotta hold onto any advantage I got, you hear?”
“I got it, I got it,” I said, waving a hand. More distractions couldn’t hurt. And it wasn’t like I could do anything about the impending attack right now. So what point was there in making myself miserable? As usual, none. I was here to enjoy myself, dammit.
So I stood up and prepared to follow him out to the public battlegrounds. And then a distant rumble reverberated through the air, sending a small tremor through the ground. All around us, the chatter of the crowds slowly trailed off as everyone’s attention was caught by the unexpected quake.
“What the hell was that?” Rudy asked, glancing around in confusion.
I froze, pulse quickening, a pit of dread slowly building in my stomach. That couldn’t be it. That had to be some random training accident or something. Some overpowered attack had gone wild and hit a building. Get enough trainers in one place and it was bound to happen.
And then I felt another tremor radiate through the ground. The distant call of an alarm split the air.
It couldn’t be. Now? Why now? So soon?!
This was it. The Rockets’ attack was now.
~End Chapter 33~