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Pokémon: In a League of their Own (Chapter 12/??)

This is a fanfic I started about a month ago. I uploaded it on Fanfiction.net and Ao3 and I want to spread it around a bit more. Essentially I just wanted an excuse to use an original region I created. Most of the cast is OCs and I even threw in some original Pokémon as well.

In terms of warnings, there’s gonna be drug reference later on, but that’s about it. One character swears like a sailor but it’s censored. The Pokémon battles will generally be non-graphic.

I hope you enjoy!

Chapter 1: New Friends and New Challenges

"Heracross, use Rock Slide!"

The blue armored beetle began mercilessly pounding the ground, breaking it apart and sending chunks of the stadium's ground at the intimidating purple scorpion across from it.

"You can take it, Drapion!" Drapion's trainer, a woman with dark purple hair wearing a black beanie and a black jacket shouted. "Power through it and use Fire Fang!"

Drapion, crossing its large arms in front of its face, powered forward on its four legs, being pelted by rocks as it did so. Soon it was right in front of Heracross and it opened its mouth, its fangs beginning to glow red.

Heracross's trainer, a woman with long black hair tied into a ponytail and dressed in a martial arts gi, shot out her hand. "Now's your chance, Heracross! Use Megahorn!" Heracross reared back its head, building power in its forked horn.

Before it could slam it into Drapion, the scorpion used its large claws to hold Heracross in place, then bit down into the beetle with red-hot fangs. The impact created a massive burst of flames, and when the smoke cleared…

"Heracross is down!" The nearby referee shouted. "Mel is out of usable Pokemon! Once again, Raleigh is the champion!"

The crowd in the stadium went nuts as the League Champion was declared the victor of this exhibition match. Raleigh, the purple-haired woman, recalled Drapion into its Pokeball, the red light enveloping the Poison/Dark-type before it became one with it and zoomed back into the ball.

"It's hardly a surprise, but that didn't make the fight any less exciting!" sounded the voice of the announcer over the PA. "Mel certainly held her own, as to be expected from Feystone's Gym Leader, but Raleigh's team hardly even broke a sweat!"

Mel approached the downed Heracross, putting her hand on its carapace in a soothing manner. "Good job, Hera. You didn't let me down."

As the Gym Leader recalled her own Pokemon, Raleigh stepped into the center of the arena, which had a Pokeball pattern on the turf (though a good chunk of it had been torn apart by Heracross's Rock Slide and an earlier use of Earthquake) and raised her hands in a gesture to quiet everyone down.

"Thank you. Thank you, everyone," she spoke loudly as the cheering died down. "I'd like to thank Mel for the battle. But more importantly," she said to the now silent audience, "I have an announcement I'd like to make…"

—————

The morning sun rose over Shorevul Town. The suburbs were situated on a corner of land with a river to the west and the ocean to the south. Nestled against the dry field to the north, the brownish-red rooftops gave the town the appearance of rusted metal from above. The town itself was not big or bustling. If one were to see this town and only this town, it would feed the stereotype of Allanza being the nice, quiet next-door neighbor of Orre.

The Allanza Region's age requirement to receive a Trainer license was 14 years old, sort of a happy medium between Kanto's requirement being 10 and the Unova region's more strict 16. For Oliver Clairmont, his 14th birthday could not come soon enough.

The black-haired boy was facing away from his bedroom window, allowing him to easily ignore the rising sun shining in. It was the weekend, after all, and he didn't have his license just yet, so he didn't exactly feel the need to wake up at a timely hour, and figured he could sleep in.

It would seem the two small Pokemon who entered the room disagreed.

The door was swung open telekinetically courtesy of Ralts. The small, white, humanoid Pokemon with red, disc-like horns rolled her eyes from under her green hair that resembled a bowl cut. She turned to the other, a Joltik, which bobbed its yellow fuzzy body, as it didn't exactly have a head to nod.

On its four legs, it swiftly hopped up onto Oliver's bed and tapped on his head impatiently. Oliver merely groaned in response. Glaring at him with his four compound eyes, Joltik delivered a small electric shock. Not a severe shock, it was more the kind of shock you'd get if you touched the metal bit of a trampoline with your bare hands. Nonetheless it had the desired effect and Oliver jolted awake.

"All right, all right, I'm up! Geez…" Oliver rubbed the back of his neck where the electrical shock had taken place. Joltik had since crawled over to Oliver's left shoulder where it was sitting smugly. Oliver blinked a couple times then began feeling around on his nearby desk.

Squinting his hazel eyes, he peered at his desk and then frowned. "Either of you guys remember where I put my glasses?" Ralts waddled over to the desk and peered around it until she saw the missing eyewear, which Oliver had set on top of a notebook the night before that had the same black color as the glasses' frame, thus causing it to blend in.

She telekinetically levitated the glasses over to Oliver. "Thanks, Ralts." He put them on and stood up, stretching. Joltik had since moved down from his perch and was now rummaging around in a drawer in that same desk, before finally tossing a AAA battery out and onto the floor. Oliver smiled as the little bug jumped down to it and started feeding off of the electricity from it.

"Joltik's got the right idea, let's go get some breakfast," Oliver said as he picked up Ralts and proceeded to head downstairs to the kitchen. Ralts could walk on her own, of course, but she rather liked being carried.

"Morning honey!" Oliver's mother called, her loose, unkempt hair the same black color, though a bit lighter with age.

"Morning, mom. Did you send the wake-up call?"

"Yeah, I did. I didn't want to go up and get you while I had food on the stove."

"Why couldn't I just sleep in?"

"Didn't you remember? Our new neighbors' boat arrived today and they're going to start moving in soon."

Oliver's eyes widened. He completely forgot! A new family was moving next door from the Galar region and he had volunteered (read: was volunteered by his mother) to help do the heavy lifting. Normally a moving company would come in with some Machoke or something, but the family had opted to do the move the old-fashioned way.

Besides, they had a girl about Oliver's age and he could use more friends, his mother had reasoned.

Oliver hurriedly stuffed some hard-boiled eggs into his face and rushed back upstairs to get dressed. Now, Oliver didn't really spend that much time thinking about girls, but he did want to make a good first impression, and showing up to do some heavy lifting was a good way to do just that. Or so he had heard.

A couple minutes later, he dashed back downstairs dressed in a forest green windbreaker and khaki cargo pants. He also had a black backpack which Ralts was riding in, looking quite relaxed, while Joltik had resumed his post on Oliver's left shoulder. The boy and his two Pokemon went out the door.

—————

The move had already started when he arrived at the formerly vacant house, seeing a large, brick-shaped man lifting a sofa opposite a young man who looked to be about 3 years Oliver's senior.

"'Scuse me," he said, walking towards them, "You guys the Taylors?"

"Aye, that's us," the man said, smiling warmly at the new arrival. "Ye mist be Oliver, if ah'ament mistaken." He turned his head back towards the dock where they were moving their things from. "Gies a haun, wull ye? We aye hae a lot o' boxes left."

"I understood maybe half of that, but okay."

The boat was only a short walk away, as the house wasn't too far from shore. Luckily most of the boxes were already out on the dock. Oliver set his backpack on the ground and let Ralts out. "Alright, your psychic powers might work on some of the lighter stuff, so help out with that, alright?" Ralts nodded.

"And Joltik? Maybe stay up here, don't want anyone to accidentally step on you again." Joltik gave another full-body nod.

Oliver approached one of the boxes and crouched down to lift it, only to hear a girl's voice nearby.

"Na, na, na, dinnae tip ower, please na, oh f**k oh f**k oh sh**e-"

Not batting an eye at her pottymouth (he heard worse on an average school day) he turned to see someone holding a rather tall box that was on the verge of tipping over. Acting quickly, Oliver ran over and steadied it.

"You okay there?"

"Aye, thank ye, this is richt fragile, ah dinnae wantae break this. By th' wey, who the f**k urr ye?"

Oliver chuckled. "I'm Oliver. And you?"

"A'm Moira. Nice tae meet ye! Ye mind helpin' me carry this?"

"Oh, certainly!"

And with that, the two began awkwardly moving towards the house, the two of them looking like two Krabby as they shuffled with their awkwardly-shaped package.

They soon made it into the house and set the thing down, and Oliver finally got a good look at Moira. She was a couple inches shorter than him with brown hair in a bob, wearing a black shirt under a red hoodie and a pleated purple skirt.

"Thanks again," Moira said, rubbing her hands to get the soreness out of them. "Kin ye help me shift th' rest o' thaim?"

"Well I mean… that's why I'm here," Oliver said, running his hand through his hair, trying to sound smooth but only managing to vaguely confused. Moira chuckled.

"A' richt, let's git tae it then."

—————

The rest of the move went pretty smoothly. It was half past 10 when they finished, and they invited Oliver to stay for lunch, which he accepted. He learned that her older brother's name was Stephen and that they had moved here because Moira's mother worked for a shipping company, the name of which Oliver didn't recognize.

But more importantly…

"A'm a Pokemon trainer, whit aboot ye?"

"Oh, me? I mean, I'm not 14 yet, but I'm turning 14 in a couple weeks. Then I can get my license. Then I can use my Pokemon in actual battles-"

"Wait, hauld yer Mudsdales, fourteen? A got ma card a while back... oh sh**e, will mine e'en work here?" Moira asked with a worried expression.

"Oh, don't worry," Oliver reassured, waving his hand in the air as though swatting an invisible fly. "Allanza's pretty lenient about this sort of thing, if it's valid in Galar they'll let you keep it."

"Och, that's guid tae hear," she said in a sigh of relief.

"Hey, if you're already a trainer, does that mean you've got Pokemon?"

"O' coorse ah dae!" Moira proudly replied, producing two simple red Pokeballs. "Only thae twa though. Th' rest ur wi' mah uncle. Thay wouldn't let me bring th' rest wi' me," she explained. Oliver nodded. Galar was incredibly paranoid about invasive species and its border policies were famously strict about what Pokemon were allowed in or out of the region. He remembered hearing the story of one unfortunate fellow who was detained for trying to bring a Dunsparce, of all Pokemon, into the country.

"Well, let's see them!" Oliver eagerly asked, Ralts (who was currently eating a sandwich twice as big as she was) and Joltik equally curious to meet their potential new friends.

"Sure thin'. They probably want lunch ower. Come on oot!" she exclaimed, tossing the Pokeballs nearby, releasing a flash of red light as her Sobble and Wooloo came into view.

Sobble was a timid blue lizard with a round head, a yellow fin on top of its head, and big, innocent, teary eyes. Wooloo was almost perfectly spherical and covered in soft white wool with black spots, as well as having four cloven hooves and rectangular eyes on its black muzzle. The two looked around curiously, Sobble looking rather uncomfortable with his new surroundings, and Wooloo was annoyed because Joltik had already leapt into her fur and began to feed on the static electricity buildup within it.

Oliver laughed at Joltik's first impression as Ralts made to calm Sobble down from his panic. All in all, the first introduction went pretty smoothly once they fished Joltik out of Wooloo's wool.

It was then that an important question occurred to Oliver.

"Hey, Moira?"

"Aye?"

"Were you planning on taking the Gym Challenge?"

"O' coorse, bit dinnae a neit tae get a sponsorship tae tak part?"

Taking a moment to translate her accent, Oliver realized there was that hiccup. But then he smiled and waved his hand in the air again. "Don't worry. We should be able to get Professor Pine to help us with that. She lives in Searrow, the next town over. My old babysitter Scarlet works for her, and she's still a friend of the family. She'll vouch for us. Tell you what, I'll give her a call," he added, pulling his phone (a year-old Rotom phone) out of his pocket.

"That's guid tae hear. Whit's yer champion lik'?"

"Oh, Raleigh? She's awesome! She became the champ six years ago and hasn't lost a match since."

"Soonds kinda lik' Galar's auld champion Leon. He ne'er lost a match 'til some bairn cried Gloria teuk him doon a peg."

"We need to work on that accent," Oliver said as he unlocked his phone. Moira looked like she was about to fire back when Oliver got a strange look on his face. He tapped on the phone's screen, read something to himself, and suddenly the color drained from his face.

"Whit's wrong?"

Oliver turned the phone around so Moira could see. It was opened to a news article on the internet. She read the headline and gave a low whistle.

"Holy sh**e…"

—————

LEAGUE CHAMPION ANNOUNCES EARLY RETIREMENT!

Raleigh Gardener, age 27, has just announced that she intends to step down from her position as the champion of the Allanza Region's Pokemon League. After becoming champion, Raleigh successfully defended her title for six years without suffering a single loss.

"I understand a lot of my fans will be surprised, and quite frankly, upset by my decision," she stated, "But I feel like I already hit my peak, and I just don't get the same satisfaction out of victory anymore. I believe my own team feels the same as well. Besides, I feel like the Gym Challenge could do with some fresh blood."

When asked if she plans to retire from Pokemon training altogether, Raleigh affirmed that she does not intend to do so, though she expressed doubt she would take part in many official events in the future.

This announcement was made just two weeks before the start of this year's Gym Challenge, so it can be expected that the number of applicants will be much higher than the past few years. The Elite Four, the other four trainers who manage to place in the finals in every year's tournament, could not be reached for comment.
 
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Chapter 2: Graduation Day

The next two weeks passed by in a blur. Oliver was already excited to become an official trainer but the announcement of Raleigh's stepping down kicked it into high gear. Not only would Oliver become a Pokemon Trainer just in time for this year's Gym Challenge, but he'd actually have a shot at the title now that Raleigh had stepped down. Well, there WAS the little hurdle of the Elite Four, plus all the other trainers who had the same thought, but never mind that.

In the intervening time, Oliver and Moira had spent some time practicing. Oliver didn't have a license yet, so while Ralts and Joltik were ostensibly his Pokemon, they were considered to belong to the entire Clairmont household for legal purposes. That didn't stop Moira from showing Oliver a few things. She did have some experience as a trainer herself, after all, though every time Oliver asked her to elaborate on the specifics of her "career" she tended to dodge the question.

It was a couple days before the big day when Moira's father pulled him aside. "A juist wantit tae thank ye for bein' Moira's friend syne we movit here," he said. The man was absolutely massive but his eyes were full of light and kindness. "Ye ken howfur abrasive she kin be, she hud a trachle getting alang wi' fowk back in oor auld steid. It means a lot tae us that ye stuck wi' her."

"Oh, it's, uh, it's nothing really, sir," Oliver responded. Even though Moira had been working on toning down her thick accent, Oliver had grown accustomed to that West Galarian brogue of her family's.

Mr. Taylor simply laughed and ruffled the kid's hair. "Thir's na reason tae be sae formal, laddie. Ye twa aren't even dating yit." He had himself another good chuckle at Oliver's inarticulate stammering.

Finally, the third of May arrived, and with it, Oliver's fourteenth birthday. He woke up two hours before his alarm went off that day (because really, what kind of moron sleeps in on the day they officially become a Pokemon Trainer?) and because of her nature as an empath, Ralts was prematurely woken up, much to her annoyance. Joltik remained sound asleep though.

Eventually his mother woke up and, after wishing him a happy birthday, got to work making him his favorite breakfast- Kalosian Toast with more cinnamon than was probably healthy. Oliver was about halfway through his meal when Moira showed up. After she gave him a birthday present (a trade paperback collection of Crobatman and Fletchling) the two of them decided to play a few rounds of Pokken Tournament.

Finally there was a knock at the door. "That's probably her," Oliver said, shutting off his Switch and following his mother, who went to answer it.

She opened the door. "Oh, Scarlet! It's been too long! So you're the test proctor?"

"I sure am. Professor Pine let me handle it myself," Scarlet responded in a calm yet simultaneously cheerful voice. Scarlet Willow was five years Oliver's elder, a full foot taller than him and with an air of stoic confidence about her. She was dark-skinned with chocolate brown eyes and red hair tied back into a long, thick braid that went down to about the middle of her back. She was wearing a light brown sun hat, a black shirt dress and black knee-length boots.

Beside her was Cassandra, which was what Scarlet named her Absol. The white-furred Dark-type Pokemon looked like any other Absol except for the white bandage wrapped around her large black horn.

Oliver's mom crouched down and pet Cassandra, who simply purred in response. "I see you're looking well too, Cassandra."

Oliver and Moira walked up to the front door. Oliver had on his backpack, out of which Ralt's head was sticking out. Scarlet looked over to the bespectacled 14-year-old. "So, you and your Pokemon ready to go?"

"Yeah, I'm ready whenev- oh wait, I still need to wake up Joltik!"

He started to turn to go retrieve Joltik, before Ralts hopped out of her roost, held up a finger, and waddled up the stairs to retrieve the bug herself.

"So, Oliver," Scarlet began, "This is Moira?"

"That I am! It's nice tae mak yer acquaintance," Moira replied cheerfully. "Sae how is the test gang tae go anyhow?"

"Well, to sum up, Oliver is supposed to beat me in a 2-on-2 Pokemon battle where I'll be using two Pokemon that belong two the Trainer School. He already took the written test a few weeks ago."

"There was also an interview I had to do," Oliver cut in, "To make sure I was actually qualified. Felt like I was being interrogated."

"Really? Back in Galar ah juist kind o' git mah fairst Pokemon 'n' just stairted battling. Th' age wis lower tae."

"I can't speak for Galar, but in Allanza, we had to make the requirements a bit stricter once all that gang violence over in Orre started."

It was around that time when Ralts waddled back over with the Joltik in tow. Oliver opened up the backpack and set it on the ground. "Morning, Joltik! We gotta get going for the exam now, I think I have a AA battery lying around in the bag somewhere."

Joltik crawled in and Ralts hopped back in. Moira raised an eyebrow, but didn't say anything. Scarlet turned to leave. "All right, let's head to the training field. You can come too, if you want, Moira." The Galarian lass nodded, and the three and their Pokemon headed off.

"So, Oliver, why the f**k ye dinnae just use a Pokeball?" Moira finally asked as the three left the residential area of Shorevul Town to a more open area. The path they walked on was surrounded on both sides by yellowish brush, where you could see the odd wild Spearow or Ledyba out and about, doing their thing, likely deterred from trying to attack the trio by the Absol that was with them.

Scarlet looked like she was about to react to the expletive but Oliver responded first.

"Well, Ralts isn't really all that heavy, and I'd feel kinda guilty keeping them couped up in Pokeballs all the time," he explained.

"You know you probably won't be able to use the backpack once they evolve," Scarlet observed.

"IF they evolve," Oliver countered. "I mean, the Indigo League Champion made it without evolving his Pikachu, right?"

"That's just a myth and you know it."

"Yeah, well…" Oliver continued, his voice getting a little lower, "There's also Joltik…"

Scarlet's eyes widened slightly and she nodded her head. "Right. Yeah. Forgot about that. Sorry"

Moira was confused again. "Whit's wrong wi' Joltik?"

"Oh. Oliver's family adopted Joltik from a shelter after he was rescued," Scarlet began. "His original trainer released him, but evidently, it and the Galvantula out in the wild… didn't really… get along."

Moira's fair complexion went even whiter as her mind filled in the blanks.

"And sometime after we took him in," Oliver continued, "we realized he was absolutely terrified of Galvantula. So it's safe to say he doesn't want to evolve into one of those things." Cassandra simply mewed softly, having met Joltik before.

Eventually the three arrived at the Trainer School, a humble little establishment with a nearby court with a Pokeball symbol painted on the ground and surrounded on all sides by chain-link fence. What Moira noticed, however, was that the makeshift arena had scratch marks and even what looked like melting bits of ice on it.

"Oh, by the way, I think Amber had her exam just before yours. She's probably inside the building getting her paperwork finalized."

Oliver huffed. "Of course she is."

Before Moira could inquire as to who this Amber was, they had arrived at their destination. Oliver and Scarlet (and Cassandra, though she wasn't participating, she just wanted to stick close to Scarlet) took their respective sides of the court, Oliver setting the bag down just outside of it. Ralts and Joltik stepped out. Moira, meanwhile, stepped off to the side, where she took the two Pokeballs out of her pocket and let Sobble and Wooloo out. "Pay attention, a' body. Ye finally git tae see Oliver's gang in action." Sobble touched its little fingers together nervously as his eyes darted between the two combatants. Wooloo looked to be hyping herself up for the show to begin.

Scarlet took a Pokeball out of her dress and clicked the button on it. "You ready for the exam to begin?"

Oliver adjusted his glasses with a smirk. "I was born ready." With that, he enthusiastically pointed his finger into the air. "Go, Ralts!" The little Psychic Pokemon jumped into the arena.

Scarlet wound up and threw the ball. "Go, Rockruff!" The ball released a red burst of light as the little brown puppy landed on all fours, growling.

"Rockruff, use Bite!" Scarlet shouted as she held out her hand. The little Rock-type dog dashed forward towards Ralts.

"Not if we can help it! Ralts, use Charm!" Ralts tilted her head up, allowing her normally covered eyes to be visible as she put her hand on her cheek and smiled endearingly at Rockruff. The puppy's aggression shattered and the Bite that ended up hitting her was more of a nibble than anything else.

Oliver smiled. "Now hit 'em back with Disarming Voice!"

The cute, watery gaze morphed into a determined smirk as Ralts' horn began to glow. "Raaa!" she vocalized, and though the cry itself was fairly weak, it was magnified by a glow of pulsing pink energy that shot out and knocked Rockruff off its prey.

Moira cheered, as did Wooloo, who let out a hearty baaa. Sobble merely smiled and weakly threw its own hand in the air. "Go Ralts! Shaw that wee b**** what-for!" Moira shouted, then paused and touched her chin in contemplation at what she just said. "...wait, is th' pup female?"

Scarlet tried her best to ignore her. "Rockruff! Sand-Attack!"

Rockruff shook off its disorientation and complied, kicking some dirt into Ralts' face.

"Now use Tackle!"

"Ralts, try to hit him with Confusion!" Ralts stopped in the middle of clearing the sand out of her eyes and flung a hunk of psychic energy at the dog, but her aim was off. Rockruff easily dashed around it and slammed into Ralts head-on, knocking her away a couple feet.

"Nice hit, Rockruff! Now use Howl to get your attack power back up!"

Rockruff did so, but as it did, Oliver clenched his fist. "Now's your chance to try Confusion again!"

Ralts still couldn't see clearly, but the loud howling made it much easier to hit her mark. This time, Rockruff didn't evade the purplish cloud of energy, which immediately surrounded its head and burst in a flash of light. The Rock-type stumbled, clearly disoriented.

"C'mon, you can shake it off! Try for another Bite!"

Rockruff, though, was still clearly dizzy from the effects of Confusion, and bit down on where it thought Ralts was, but instead tripped and fell over.

Oliver held his hand out again. "One more attack like that and he's down for the count! One more Confusion!"

Just like the last one, Ralts' Psychic attack hit its downed target head-on. Rockruff stumbled weakly before passing out, unconscious. Moira and Wooloo cheered again. Scarlet withdrew the fainted Pokemon and pocketed the ball. She pulled out a different one and tossed it out as well. "Go! Pawniard!"

The little spiky helmeted Steel/Dark-type emerged from the red flash of light and glared at Ralts menacingly, swinging its bladed arm for intimidation. Oliver considered his opponent's next Pokemon. Of course, she brought a Rock-type to deal with Joltik and a Steel-type to handle Ralts. Well, before I switch her out, I may as well soften Pawniard up a bit. "Ralts! Use Hypnosis!" Ralts held its hands out, a beam seemingly made of glowing rings shooting out towards Pawniard.

"Pawniard, use Metal Claw!" Pawniard dashed forward, leaping out of the way of Hypnosis and slicing its claws into Ralts, who let out a small cry of pain as she took damage.

Off to the side, Sobble was having a hard time watching Ralts get sliced and looked away. As opposed to Wooloo, who was getting really into the display of violence. Moira simply gasped. She had never seen Ralts in action before, and seeing the cute little gal get hit with a super-effective hit wasn't very fun.

Oliver grimaced. Crap, this isn't good! I was really hoping that Hypnosis would land! I gotta make a decision, quick!

"One more Metal Claw, Pawniard!"

"Ralts, try to use Hypnosis again! You can do it!"

Ralts' pain was temporarily overridden by the wave of encouragement, amplified by her own empathic abilities, and she let loose another wave of hypnosis at the charging Pawniard. This time, Pawniard didn't react in time and grew drowsy before falling asleep standing up.

Moira sighed in relief as Oliver pumped his fist in triumph, then called out to his injured, exhausted Pokemon. "Great work, Ralts! Come back! Time for you to tag in, Joltik!"

Ralts limped over to the bag as Joltik sprang out and began sparking as Pawniard seemed to start stirring. Pawniard was already a pretty small Pokemon, and seeing how tiny Joltik was in comparison really put into perspective just how miniscule the little bug really was.

"Joltik, use Electroweb, then follow up with Bug Bite!" Oliver shouted, while Ralts weakly cheered from the sidelines. Joltik leaped into the air and launched a strand of electrified silk from its body.

"Dodge it!" Scarlet shouted, but Pawniard woke up too late, as the web wrapped around it and began shocking it. Scarlet grunted in frustration. "Cut through it and Joltik with Slash!" Mustering the effort through its electrical shocks, Pawniard sliced through the web and, with its other blade, tried to swipe at the rapidly approaching Joltik, who easily dodged it thanks to its small size.

Joltik then proceeded to zip around Pawniard at a rapid pace, biting him all over, with Pawniard flinching the whole time, looking rather dazed. Steel may be tough against Bug-type attacks, but Pawniard was also part Dark-type, so the resistance was cancelled out and Bug Bite still did a number on the guy.

Finally, Joltik leapt off of Pawniard, who was starting to go off-balance.

Scarlet pointed her finger at Joltik. "Pawniard, hit back with… uh… Pawniard?" Scarlet stopped halfway through her command and lowered her hand when she realized Pawniard was starting to tip over slightly before its balance went completely.

CLANK!

The Steel/Dark-type fell over onto the ground with a loud metallic sound, completely unconscious. Oliver cheered, as did Ralts. They had won! Oliver pulled a Potion out of the backpack and applied the medicine to Ralts, who sighed in relief as the pain wore off somewhat and her injuries started to fade.

"Ye really shawed her, Oliver! Wey tae go!" Moira cheered, as Sobble looked relieved and Wooloo hopped up and down, just as ecstatic as her trainer.

Scarlet withdrew Pawniard and smiled. She walked towards the center, Oliver taking it as his cue to do the same, brimming with excitement all the while.

Once they had arrived at the middle of the court, the two shook hands.

"Congratulations, Oliver. As of today, you are now officially recognized as a Pokemon Trainer."

clap

clap

clap

The three trainers and their Pokemon turned towards the clapping, which was coming from the direction of the main building of the school. Towards them walked a girl about Oliver's age with platinum blonde hair in a pixie cut, with ocean-blue eyes projecting an attitude of condescension. She wore a gold-colored vest over a white long-sleeved shirt and a black miniskirt.

Oliver glared at the new arrival. "Fancy seeing you here, Amber."

Amber crossed her arms in front of her chest, smirking. "That performance wasn't really worth applause, but considering you won that with a team of hand-me-downs," she said, tilting her nose into the air, "I guess I'm a little impressed."
 
Chapter 3: Emotions Running Wild

"Amber! I wanna show you something!" Oliver shouted, making his entrance to the park at top speed, his glasses looking comically large on the 8-year-old's face.


Amber, wearing a simple white dress, turned around at the noise, then scoffed. "What do YOU want?"

"I got my own Pokémon!" he proudly proclaimed.

Now this got Amber's attention. "But you're only 8! You can't have one yet, can you?"

"I can't battle yet, but I can still keep it."

Genuinely curious, Amber fully turned around to face him. "All right, show me."

Oliver turned around. "Come on out, little guy." Joltik shyly crawled out from behind Oliver's left shoulder and perched itself on its new master, looking around itself nervously. Oliver crossed his arms smugly. "Bet you're pretty jealous, huh?"

To his shock, Amber burst out laughing. "What, that thing? Why would I be jealous of that? It's so tiny and so common! They're basically everywhere!"

Joltik dejectedly crawled off Oliver's shoulder and down into one of his pockets. Oliver glanced down at the offended bug-type and glared at Amber. "Oh look, Amber, you hurt his feelings. Just because they're common doesn't mean they're not cool!"

"Yeah, whatever," Amber said, turning to leave, having lost interest. "Have fun winning any battles with that thing."

Oliver glowered at her as she walked off. "I'll show you," he muttered under his breath. "Joltik's a great Pokémon! And I'll be a great trainer with him one day... "

----------

The new arrival strode casually towards Oliver with a look of superiority in her eyes.

"What do you want?" Oliver asked, sounding quite annoyed.

"Oh, I just got done with my paperwork to get my license and I heard some fighting going on. I see you're still using your team of leftovers, eh?"

"Joke's on you, I DOMINATED the exam!"

"Oliver, that's not really that much of an accomplishment," Amber chided, wagging her finger. "Most kids aren't going to luck out and have one of their own before the test, and they usually have to borrow one. The test was meant to be beaten by common Pokémon like Oddish or Machop or whatever."

Scarlet rolled her eyes, having borne witness to similar exchanges multiple times over. It was then that Moira decided to remind those around her that she existed. "Pardon me, Scarlet," she said to the older trainer, "Whit the f*** is her problem?"

"Her dad was a famous Pokémon trainer back in the day, and her mom comes from a rich family. The two were classmates for the longest time, but most of that time they were rivals."

Moira nodded, then turned back to the two who had just gotten their licenses. Wooloo was glaring at Amber. Sobble, meanwhile, could tell something was afoot and opted to retreat back to his ball.

"You know what, Oliver?" Amber said, with a mildly feral look that looked out of place on a girl as rich as she was, "You keep going on about how you'll make your team of leftovers strong, but why don't we put that to the test?" She produced a Pokéball. "Let's have a battle, right here, right now. Your ragtag bunch against the Pokémon that won me the exam."

As Moira began to clench her fists, deciding that she really didn't like this girl, Oliver turned back to Scarlet. "Hey Scarlet, is that okay? I haven't actually gotten the physical license yet."

Scarlet considered for a moment, then shrugged. "I don't see why not. If there's a problem, I'll vouch for you."

Oliver smiled, turned back to Amber, and adjusted his glasses. It wasn't a smirk. He had a look of genuine anticipation. "Fine by me. It only makes sense that our first real match is against each other."

It was then that Moira noticed that Amber only had the one Pokéball on her. That means she ainlie used th' ane for th' exam. She smiled. Na maiter how guid her Pokémon is, Oliver has two on his gang, sae he'll be able tae outlast her easily.

"Though I'm only going to use Joltik. Ralts can sit this one out."

A'm sorry, whit?

Ralts looked disappointed, but not surprised, and waddled off to where Scarlet and Cassadra. The small Psychic-type plopped down near the Absol, arms crossed, and Cassandra gave her a sympathetic look. Wooloo tilted its head at Oliver, confused.

"You sure?" Amber chimed in. "I mean, I didn't just go out and catch any old Pokémon. I got her from a professional breeder. You'll need all the help you can get."

Oliver shook his head. "I'll pass. Even if Ralts wasn't tired from those hits she took from Pawniard, a 2-on-1 just wouldn't be fair."

"Suit yourself," Amber shrugged, evidently not too concerned with talking Oliver out of his plan.

And with that, the two took their respective sides of the field.

Oliver turned to face Amber and held out his hand. "Go, Joltik!" The Bug/Electric-type again jumped into the center of the battlefield

Amber smirked, producing a Pokéball. "Allow me to show you what a REAL trainer uses. Go, Vulpix!" She tossed her Pokéball and it released a burst of red light.

Moira recognized Vulpix from her home region, so she was caught off-guard that the little six-tailed fox, rather than being a light orange-pinkish color, was instead a bluish white with poofier tails.

Scarlet sensed Moira's confusion. "It's an Alolan breed," she explained. "They live at a higher altitude and evolved to become Ice-types in order to adapt."

Oliver made the first move. "Joltik, slow her down with Electroweb!" Joltik launched another burst of electrified web at his vulpine adversary.

"Vulpix, use Hail!" Amber ordered. Before the web reached her, Vulpix's tails began glowing blue and the little Ice-type let out a small cry, causing the temperature to go down significantly as small chunks of ice began to fall from above. This did nothing to stop Electroweb from connecting, though, and the electricity began shocking Vulpix.

Oliver smiled. The battle was already going in his favor. Hail was a common tactic among users of Ice-type Pokémon, and though it posed a threat to non-Ice-types, Vulpix had taken a hit to her speed and Joltik would be more than capable of taking her down in this state.

His smile faded when the hail began to come down full force and Vulpix began to shimmer and fade out as though she was a mirage. That can't be good, he thought. Nonetheless, he couldn't let up now. "Nice hit, Joltik! Now use Bug Bite!"

Joltik charged forward, zigzagging to avoid the incoming hail and jumped towards Vulpix to bite her, but wound up missing her completely, passing through where he thought she was.

Amber smiled. Vulpix's Snow Cloak was working beautifully. "Now use Agility and shake off those webs!"

Vulpix rapidly spun around, seeming to glow a weak red as she did so, getting some of her mobility back. Oliver caught a glimpse of the Vulpix and noted, to his dismay, that Electroweb hadn't managed to do all that much damage. "Go for another Electroweb!" Oliver shouted to Joltik, who nodded and began to spark with electricity.

"You got your speed back, hit him with Icy Wind first!" Vulpix opened her mouth and blew, launching a cloud of icy mist that flew straight towards Joltik right as he was about to let loose another web. The wind passed right over Joltik, who went completely rigid.

Oliver grunted, clenching his teeth. "C'mon, Joltik, you can shake it off! T-try Electroweb again!"

Unfortunately, not only was Joltik's attack speed significantly lowered, but the shivering bug was now a sitting target for the incoming hail.

"Let's finish this, girl! Use Moonblast!"

Oliver's eyes widened as Vulpix pointed her nose to the sky and a bright pinkish ball of energy began to build up. I didn't realize Vulpix could be bred with that move! The energy flowed down into Vulpix, who launched it forward at Joltik, and the sphere burst into a blinding flash of light. Oliver had to cover his eyes, as did Moira and Scarlet. Wooloo curled into a ball to hide from the light.

A couple seconds later, the light had faded, and Oliver and the others could see again. The sky was clear again, the hail was gone, and there was a very unconscious Joltik lying on Oliver's side of the field.

"Well, you said you'd only use your one Pokémon, so I guess that makes me the winner," Amber said with a smirk as she withdrew Vulpix back into a Pokéball.

Oliver sighed. "Yeah, I guess I did." Reluctantly, he pulled a Pokéball out of his own pocket and recalled Joltik, who disappeared into the ball in a flash of red light. Ralts had evidently got over her disappointment and went over to Oliver, patting his leg gently.

Amber smirked. "It must suck, losing your first ever official battle. How's it feel? No seriously, tell me. I really want to know. I don't think I'll ever know for myself, after all."

From off to the side, Moira started shaking, fists clenched and fully prepared to rip Amber a new one, no Pokémon battle needed. She took a step forward before Scarlet shot a glare her way. Moira reluctantly stepped back, glaring at the ground. Wooloo resumed Moira's post of glaring at the spoiled brat.

Moira wasn't really all that bothered by Amber's insults and rubbing her victory in her friend's face. Well okay, she was, in actuality, quite peeved about that, but what upset her more was that Oliver was just sitting there and taking it. Surely ye know how tae fire back, richt?

"Look, this was my loss. There's no need to rub it in. Still, for what it's worth," Oliver said, holding out his right hand for a handshake, "That was a great battle."

"Tch," Amber scoffed and walked right past him. Oliver lowered his hand, sighing again.

Scarlet shook her head. "You're too chivalrous for your own good," she uttered under her breath.

Amber was almost to the gate when she suddenly stopped and turned around. "Oh yeah, you weren't thinking about trying for the Gym Challenge, were you?" Before Oliver could even respond, she continued "Don't bother answering. Every trainer in Allanza's gonna be taking the challenge now that the Champion isn't around to beat them at the end, so of course you are. Let me give you some advice that'll save you some time. Don't bother. You'll never make it past the first Gym. Heck, you probably won't make it TO the first Gym. Not with your weakling of a Joltik, and especially not with your Ralts no one else wanted."

Oliver and Ralts both flinched as though punched in the gut. Amber, satisfied with her work, turned and left the premises.

No one said anything for a moment or two. Scarlet finally seemed to get her voice back and turned to Moira. "Hey, uh, I still need to do the actual paperwork for Oliver's license. Moira, could you take Joltik over to the Pokémon Center while we work on that?"

Moira nodded, taking the ball from Oliver and turning to leave. Scarlet beckoned Oliver to follow her into the school building proper. Oliver didn't say a word.

----------

The waiting room of the Pokémon Center was designed to evoke comfort. The soft red patterns on the white walls were a comforting sight, with the orange sofas sparsely populated with trainers waiting on their Pokémon, who were being treated. Moira was sitting on the sofa nearest the front desk, casually leafing through a magazine when she heard the automatic door at the front entrance slide open.

In walked Oliver, Scarlet, and their respective Pokémon. Oliver was definitely in a much better mood now, but still didn't look as confident as he had been in the morning. Moira waved to them and they walked to where she was sitting.

"Dinnae keep me in suspense, let me see it!" Oliver smiled and held out his card. It was dark green, as he was allowed to pick whatever color he wanted, and green was his favorite color. The photo of him had a somewhat serious look on his face when he normally probably would've been giving a confident smirk (Scarlet assured Oliver he'd be able to retake the photo later) and his other information- his Trainer ID, date of birth, et cetera- neatly laid out to the right of it.

"Weel done," Moira said with a smile, which definitely cheered Oliver up.

"Look, I-I'm not going to let what she said get to me." Oliver readjusted his glasses. "I'm taking the Gym Challenge and making it to the tournament if it's the last thing I do."

Moira chuckled at Oliver's declaration. Then her smile faded, "Actually, a've bin thinking sin ah git 'ere," she said, which prompted Scarlet to raise an eyebrow and Oliver to brace himself.

"If ye dinnae mynd me asking, whit Amber said... Whit's th' deal wi' Ralts anyway?"

Oliver didn't say anything for a bit, and sighed. He seemed to be doing that a lot lately. "I guess there's no harm in telling you. It was when I was 9. We'd had Joltik for a year, and we were visiting my uncle, who runs a Pokémon Day Care service over on Route 9…"

----------

"How's my favorite nephew doing?" Uncle Brandon said, ruffling Oliver's hair as his mother looked on in amusement. Brandon had short, messy black hair, the same as Oliver and his mother (Brandon's brother) wasn't an especially tall man, nor was he really that large, but he definitely had a force of personality that made up for it. "And Joltik looks like he's doing a lot better," he said. "Looks like he's grown a couple millimeters since last I saw him!" Joltik blushed at the attention he was getting.


"Nice to see you again, Brandon," Oliver's mother called as she entered the Day Care just behind her over-eager son, giving her brother (who was about half a foot shorter than her) a hug.

"Nice seeing you too, Harley," he responded. After breaking the hug, he turned back to face Oliver. "You want me to show you around the place?"

"Do I!" Oliver responded enthusiastically. Chuckling, Brandon put his hand on his nephew's shoulder and led him through the Day Care on an impromptu tour.

Brandon showed him around the place where the Pokémon that were left there were staying, playing, and scuffling with one another. Oliver got to see some Pokémon he hadn't seen before, at least not in person. He was a curious child, bombarding his uncle with questions on how everything worked. Brandon was in the middle of giving the stock excuse that "no one knows just where the eggs come from" before realizing Oliver wasn't with him anymore.

He panicked, hoping he hadn't gotten too close to that Scolipede that one trainer was trying to breed, and luckily Oliver wasn't anywhere close to any of those bigger, scarier Pokémon. Instead he was looking at a corner of the play area, looking down at a- oh. Oh.

"Oliver?"

Oliver turned around with big, sad eyes. "Uncle Brandon? What… what's this little white-and-green Pokémon and why's it crying?"

Brandon looked between Oliver and the crying Ralts. "Oh… that's a Ralts. It's a Psychic/Fairy-type from Hoenn. It just hatched a few days ago."

"Well… where's its trainer?"

"Her trainer… well, he left a Gardevoir- its evolved form- here with a Ditto to try to, uh, make some eggs that would hatch into powerful Pokémon he could train for battle. We hatched two eggs. He took one of them, but said the other wasn't strong enough for him and he just… left her here."

Oliver was shocked. "That's horrible!" Without a second thought, he turned back to the distressed Pokémon and walked over to her, sitting down beside her.

"R-Ralts, right?" The Psychic Pokémon flinched and turned her attention to the new arrival. "I-I'm sorry you got left here," he said. "I know your trainer said you were weak, but that's not true. You can be just as strong as any Pokémon." Truth be told, Ralts couldn't understand human speech (she was only a few days old after all) but her empathic powers let his kindness and encouragement wash over her, and she did something she hadn't done since the day she was born: She smiled.

Oliver reached over to pet Ralts's green hair, causing Ralts to make small contented sounds not dissimilar to purring, which got stronger when Joltik leapt down from his perch on Oliver's shoulder and started nuzzling her too.

The boy turned his head back to his mother and uncle, who were watching the display unfold. "C-can we take her home with us? Pleeeease?"

----------

"...Of course they couldn't say no. We put her in a Pokéball at first, but keeping her couped up in one of those just didn't feel right to me. And, well, me, Ralts, and Joltik have been really close ever since."

"It's true," Scarlet added, crossing her arms over her chest, a look of fond reminiscence on her face. "I actually babysat for the family the day they got back. He and Ralts were inseperable, even then. Honestly, he was the sweetest kid I ever met."

"Ah kin believe that," she said as Oliver blushed from what Scarlet had just said. An' it doesn't seem lik' that's changed much ower th' years. She looked at Ralts, who was napping contentedly in the backpack. "Whit Amber said wis uncallt for. Yer team will dae juist fine."

Oliver smiled again. He was about to reply when the familiar jingle rang over the intercom.

Ding ding ding-ding ding!

Ms. Moira Taylor? The Joltik you brought in has fully recovered. Please come to the front desk to pick him up.

She stood up and the three (plus Cassandra) went up to the front desk. They retrieved Joltik (Oliver bent over backwards apologizing for letting him get knocked out while Joltik tried to convey it wasn't a big deal) and as they went outside and back on the road to Oliver's place, the three were in generally high spirits.

After all, the day might have been an emotional rollercoaster, but there was still Oliver's birthday party to look forward to.
 
Chapter 4: A Journey of 1000 Miles

Calling it a birthday "party" was pretty generous. After Scarlet dropped them off, Oliver and Moira had some cake (a pretty standard chocolate cake) and spent the rest of the night playing Mario Kart while Oliver's mother and Moira's parents played a board game in the other room. Moira's mother was also built like a brick, much like her father. Oliver found it somewhat odd that the parents were so well-built while Moira and her brother were nowhere near as big as they were.

It was getting late, and Oliver and Moira were in the backyard chatting, and generally just enjoying the other's company, letting their Pokémon play with each other. The backyard wasn't too big, and the lawn was barely holding on (Allanza isn't exactly chilly) but the Pokémon were rather small. Even Wooloo, the largest among them, was considerably shorter than both of the trainers. It was Moira's idea, hoping to get Sobble to open up a bit more.

One thing Moira noticed, though, was that she was the only one here, Well, and the parents, but no one else was here at the party. Scarlet said she would've come but she was needed at Professor Pine's lab.

"Sae the openin' ceremony o' the Gym Challenge is at... Neoshine, is it? Where is that from here? We'll only have three days tae get thare."

"Oh, not far at all. We just need to head east up Route 1, pass through Searrow Town, then head north up Route 2." He leaned back in his chair, smiling. "Shouldn't take us long to get there at all."

Moira couldn't help but crack a smile of her own in return. After Oliver's battle with Amber and the aftermath, it was nice to see him in a good mood again. She decided to look over to see how the Pokémon were enjoying themselves. Joltik and Wooloo were having a good time playing something resembling tag, and Ralts appeared to be chatting it up with Sobble. Moira chuckled. "By the way, how hard was it tae get Professor Pine to endorse us?"

Oliver blinked. Then his skin paled. "Ah crap," he croaked out. "I forgot to actually call Professor Pine about getting sponsored."

Moira whirled to face him, a shocked look crossing her own face. "Ye WHAT!? Ah thought ye called her that day whin we met!"

Oliver held out his hands in a defensive motion. "I know, I know, I was going to, but then I heard about the champion stepping down, and I got distracted, and then I completely forgot!"

Fer two whole weeks?! "What the f***, Oliver?"

"Look," Oliver continued, hoping to calm her down. "Pine lives in Searrow, just down Route 1, it's like a two hour walk. We still have plenty of time to-"

"Hou the f*** coud ye juist forget somethin like thon for twa whole weeks, ye daft bleeding baw juggler?! Hou f***in' stupid can ye be?!" Moira snapped, massaging her forehead in frustration.

After a moment, Moira suddenly realized Oliver hadn't said anything in response. She looked back up at him and he had the expression of someone who'd been punched in the gut. In fact, he seemed to be on the verge of tears.

She turned her head back towards the Pokémon. Wooloo didn't seem to hear, nor did Joltik or Sobble. However, Ralts was staring right at her. If her eyes were visible, Ralts's gaze likely would've drilled into her soul.

Moira blinked a couple times before what she said caught up with her. She gasped, putting her hand to her mouth in shock. Oh sh**! Why dae A keep doin' this?! "O-Oliver, I…"

"No, no, you're right," Oliver said, clearly upset. "It was my fault for forgetting. That's my bad."

Moira shook her head furiously. "Na, Oliver, wait, A dinnae think ye're an idiot, A'm really sorry a sayd that. A'm mad that ye forgot but-"

"No, I get it. I, I have a pretty bad habit of getting distracted and forgetting stuff that should be blindingly obvious. You don't have to sugarcoat it. I've been like this since I was a kid."

"Ah dinnae really think ye'r an idiot, Oliver," Moira said, uncharacteristically softly.

"I-I know that, but I still screwed up big time. I'm really sorry."

He's just as worrit aboot ruinin' our friendship as I am! "Ye sayd it yourself, we still have time tae fix this. Ye messed up, aye, but sae daes everyone else. A'm the one wha stepped oot o' line and called ye an idiot."

"I already told you, I know you didn't mean it."

"How ken ye be so sure?"

Oliver sighed. "I've been thinking about what your dad told me the other day."

"A juist wantit tae thank ye for bein' Moira's friend syne we movit here. Ye ken howfur abrasive she kin be, she hud a trachle getting alang wi' fowk back in oor auld steid."

Translation: I just wanted to thank you for being Moira's friend since we moved here. You know how abrasive she can be, she had a real hard time getting along with folks back at our old home.

"Truth be told, I've been wondering why you had such a hard time back in Galar. I mean, sure you got a pottymouth-"

"Hey!"

"-But you seemed pretty nice, if a bit loud at times. But… I think I get it now. You don't have a problem saying whatever's on your mind. And I like that about you, I really do. But then you get wrapped up in the heat of the moment, a-and you say things you don't mean. I'm guessing this probably happened to you before?"

Moira nodded, starting to tear up herself. "Aye…"

Oliver looked down at the ground. "I'm sorry you had to put up with that. I-I still want to be your friend. I know how it feels to not have many friends."

This was news to Moira. "Ye dinnae have friends? Hou is that e'en possible? A mean, a know ye can be a wee bit scatterbrained but ye're probably the nicest lad a'v met i' a guid long while."

Oliver looked away, not saying much for a moment. Then he answered with one simple word:

"Amber."

Moira blinked. That's right, he and Amber had a history together. But she didn't see what that had to do with-

Wait.

Oh.

Oooooooh.

Amber's rich. She'd have tae be tae get thon Vulpix specially brit. An she's no' exactly ugly either. She wad have been a real popular lass. An if she doesnae like Oliver…

Oliver could see the gears turning in her head. "I mean, it's not all bad. I mean, I have my Pokémon. A-and Scarlet still comes by occasionally."

"That still isnae fair that ye got left oot like that. Ye deserve better."

"So do you."

The two didn't say much for a moment or two. There wasn't really a whole lot to say after that. Ralts's implied glare seemed to let up, and Sobble (who had taken notice of the conversation a while ago) waited with apprehension for what would happen next.

Oliver offered Moira a hand. "So, uh… we still friends?"

Moira looked at the outstretched hand for a moment, but didn't shake it.

Rather, she opted to just hug him instead.

Off to the side, Ralts breathed a sigh of relief. Wooloo and Joltik still didn't notice but Sobble did, as he had been watching to see what got Ralts so upset about.

Oliver was completely unprepared for this, and awkwardly returned the hug. Moira giggled in an uncharacteristically feminine manner.

"Aye," she said. "Still friends."

Unfortunately, the moment was ruined when Moira's parents came outside to get her, took one look at the hugging teenagers, and wasted no time relentlessly teasing the two.

----------

There they stood, two fledgling trainers. One had a little bit of experience, the other was out on the road on his own for the first time. Just them and their Pokémon, and the things they were bringing with them on their trip around the region.

Oliver, in his green jacket and khaki pants, had an oversized backpack stuffed with multiple changes of clothes (though they were also all green and khaki), various assorted bits of camping gear, a few packs of instant noodles (he was never that great a cook), and, of course, one Psychic/Fairy passenger.

Moira, in her red sweater and purple skirt, had her own backpack, which had similar supplies, but more was packed in there since, unlike Oliver, she was perfectly okay with her team staying in their Pokéballs.

The two had said their goodbyes to their parents. Oliver's mother had known for years how important this was to him, and always knew this day would come, but that didn't stop her from tearfully hugging Oliver longer than usual when it came time to depart.

In front of them stood Route 1, the road between Shorevul and Searrow. The road's pavement was old but still decently well-maintained, with gold-colored grass and brush littering the right side of the road. To the left was an old waterway that used to bring fresh water here, but they, too, were old and had since dried up, as better means of pumping water to Shorevul had since been devised.

Oliver took a deep breath. Before now, he hadn't been allowed to go down Route 1 on his own because of the possibility of being jumped by wild Pokémon, and he wasn't allowed to battle Pokémon without a license. He always had his mother, or occasionally Scarlet to come with him. He'd say this was his first time setting foot out there on his own, but Moira was right beside him.

"Ye feelin' nervous, there?" Moira asked.

"Erm… kinda," Oliver admitted.

Moira shrugged. "'fit makes ye feel any better a'm totally unfamiliar wi' Allanza, sae a'm juist as nervous as ye are."

"That makes me feel a little better," Oliver admitted. They both turned to the road ahead. "I don't know why I'm so nervous. I've been looking forward to it since I was a little kid."

"The hardest part is the first step. After that, it gets easier," Moira supplied.

Oliver nodded. "All right then. I guess it's time."

And with that, the two of them took a simultaneous step outside the Shorveul Town limits. Moira was right, after that first step, a lot of the tension disappeared and the two of them were walking down the road, nonchalantly chatting. Ralts was enjoying the ride, as was Joltik.

"Hey, Moira, I've been meaning to ask you for a while," Oliver asked.

"Fire away," she replied.

"Didn't you say you took part in a Gym Challenge back in Galar before you came here?"

Moira's smile faded into something that wasn't quite a frown, but could almost be called that. "A-aye…"

"Well, both of your Pokémon are unevolved, so I'm guessing you didn't get too far. What happened?"

Moira began stammering, searching for an excuse not to answer when a distraction came from the grass to the right of the road in the form of a wild Pokémon.

The Pokémon in question, as it turned out, was a Nidoran. It was a male one, to be precise, and the pointy, horned, purple Pokémon let out a small shout as it stood in the road in front of the two trainers.

Moira's eyes lit up. "A havenae seen this ane before!" she shouted, excited. "A'm gonna catch it!"

Oliver turned. "No way, I want it!"

Moira cracked her knuckles. "Well, then, a guess thare's only ane way tae solve this…"

"ROCK!"

"PAPER!"

"SCISSORS!"

Oliver's hand formed scissors, while Moira's hand was curled into a fist, forming rock. The Nidoran was just sitting there watching the display with a confused and annoyed expression. Oliver groaned in disappointment, then brushed it off. "You know what? I'm not even mad. I don't think I've actually seen your team in action."

Moira stepped forward and pulled a Pokéball out of her pocket, wound up, and threw it. 'GO, WOOLOO!" Out from the ball popped Wooloo, the Normal-type sheep faced the wild Poison-type.

The Nidoran ran forward, readying Horn Attack.

"Wooloo, use Defense Curl!"

Wooloo curled into a ball, and the wool heavily reduced the impact when Nidoran jabbed its horn into it. Wooloo bounced backwards, then uncurled and slid to a stop.

"Now use Thunder Wave!"

Oliver, watching the battle, knew what was coming. Joltik had really enjoyed feeding off the static electricity in her wool in the past, so he figured it'd be easy to weaponize it for Electric moves. He found himself wondering what other moves Wooloo could harness it for.

Wooloo's wool began to spark, then a ring of yellow sparking energy shot forward and enveloped Nidoran, causing it to begin trembling uncontrollably. It tried to let loose a Double Kick, but froze in place, numbed by the electric show.

"All righty then, use Tackle!"

As Wooloo began to charge forward at the immobilized Nidoran, Oliver's eyes widened. "W-wait, don't do that!"

Moira turned back to face him. "Eh? Why?"

"Because if she hits one of the pointy bits, Nidoran can poison on contact!"

Moira's eyes widened. "Wait, Wooloo!" But the sheep had already slammed its full weight into Nidoran, accidentally striking Nidoran's horn. She recoiled from the sharp pain, then stumbled back, looking slightly green and sickly.

Seeing its opportunity, Nidoran retaliated with Poison Sting, launching a small spike from its body and striking Wooloo.

Moira grunted in frustration, pulling out Sobble's Pokéball while preparing to withdraw Wooloo. "Ye couldnae have telt me that before?"

"I'm sorry! It slipped my mind!" Oliver said defensively.

Moira rolled her eyes. "Yer using ane o' yet own Antidotes on her," she shot as she tagged Wooloo out and sent out Sobble.

"Juist ane more hit ouchta be enouch! Use Water Pulse!'

Sobble built up water in its mouth, and launched a large ring of water towards Nidoran. It burst on impact and the water pressure threw Nidoran back a couple feet, and it stumbled around a bit in disorientation.

Moira grinned. "That ouchta dae it," she said to herself, and pulled an empty Pokéball out of her pocket, throwing it at the confused, paralyzed Nidoran. Light burst forth from the Pokéball and enveloped Nidoran, pulling it into the ball.

The ball snapped shut and the ball sat on the ground where it landed. It shook as Nidoran attempted to break out. It shook a second time, then a third time, then it locked, snapping shut with a small spark and an incredibly satisfying click!

Moira pumped her fist in triumph, and Sobble himself bounced a bit.

"Nice work, Moira! Your team did awesome!"

She smiled at the complement, pocketing her new catch.

"Ye think thon wis cool, ye havenae seen anythin yet."

With that, the two trainers continued up the road, the morning sun getting closer to its noon position as they passed a street sign that said "SEARROW TOWN - 1 ½ Miles," the town itself visible in the distance.

"Ye still owe me an Antidote though."
 
Chapter 5: Friendly Firepower

"So you're sure you don't want to heal Nidoran right now?" asked Oliver, now short one Antidote and walking side-by-side with Moira once again.

"Nah, a think a'll wait until we get tae toun an' use the Pokémon Center," Moira replied.

Oliver shrugged. "Suit yourself."

The sun was out in full force now. The two were about half an hour away from Searrow. Their plan was to drop their injured Pokémon at the Pokémon Center, get lunch, and then meet up with Professor Pine.

Suddenly a Spearow flew overhead. Oliver was about ready to send Joltik out to try to catch it but it flew away before Oliver could give any commands.

"Oh, a'm sorry, ye missed it."

Oliver only appeared downtrodden for a second. "Don't worry, Spearow are everywhere in Central Allanza. That won't be the last one we see."

The two kept walking. Not a minute had passed before another Spearow flew overhead. Moira was about to comment on it when a small tan Pokémon, completely unfamiliar to Moira, darted past them, chasing after the birds.

Oliver's eyes widened. "Forget about Spearow; I think I found my first real catch. Come on!" He darted into the tall grass after them and Moira, surprised, followed suit.

They came to a clearing where the two Spearow were hovering above. Every so often one of them would divebomb the hapless Pokémon that was chasing them and fly out of reach quickly. That Pokémon would try to strike it out of the air when it got close but it just wasn't fast enough.

The hapless little guy was a canine quadruped, with sharp claws on its paws. It had two very large ears and a small snout tipped with a large black nose, with two fangs visible. Its tail was long and bushy, the tip of the tail dark brown in comparison to the tan fur on the rest of it. There was also a few tufts of a much lighter tan around its neck. Its big eyes had red pupils that were angrily glaring at the two birds.

Moira felt a bit of pity for the… um… "Oliver? I never seen that one before."

"Oh, that? That's native to Allanza. You got that Pokédex app on your phone, look it up!"

She did so, scrolling through the Allanza Pokédex before finding what she was looking for.

----------
TRYOTE

Persistent Pokémon

Normal/Ground

When it sets its sights on prey, it will stubbornly chase after it even if other food sources are available. Bird Pokémon have taken note of this and delight in tormenting hungry Tryote.
----------

Oliver adjusted his glasses. "I feel kinda guilty saying this, but those Spearow have worn it down enough that a Pokéball should work right off the bat." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a Pokéball. "Just need to aim it carefully… make sure it doesn't accidentally hit a Spearow… and…!"

He tossed it finally, and it hit its mark, drawing the Tryote inside of it. The Spearow were startled and flew off, as the Pokéball shook.

"C'mon…" Oliver pleaded to no one in particular as he crossed his fingers.

The ball shook twice more before it snapped shut with a satisfying click .

Oliver blinked. "That was… that was the first Pokémon I actually caught! O-on my first try, too!" Once he regained his composure, Oliver walked over and took the ball. "Shame I couldn't catch one of those Spearow, but I'm sure I'll find another one."

He and Moira went back on the main road. "Hey Moira, if it's all right with you, I'm gonna walk with him for a bit. I wanna try to get him used to me while we're out on the road."

Moira nodded. "Aye, no skin off my back."

Oliver took out his Pokéball and brought out Tryote. Its first instinct on being let out was to search around frantically for the birds that had tormented it. Seeing that they were long gone, it looked a little downtrodden.

"Hey, Tryote? Don't let that get you down," Oliver said. "You'll get 'em one day."

It looked up at its new trainer, eyeing him with skepticism. Moira inched away from it, hesitantly.

Oliver knelt down near his new team member. "My name's Oliver. Welcome to the team, Tryote." He reached out a hand to pet him, but the Ground-type tried to bite him. Oliver quickly withdrew his hand. "No," he said sternly. "Bad boy. Ralts, can you use Hypnosis, calm him down?"

From her perch in the backpack, Ralts used a weakened version of Hypnosis, which didn't put Tryote to sleep, but it DID make it somewhat drowsy when the psychic waves made contact.

Satisfied it wouldn't bite his hand off, Oliver attempted to pet his new catch a second time. This time, he succeeded. Though it was sleepy, Tryote's tail bounced on the ground in contentment. Oliver noted that the fur was hind of coarse and sandy. "We'll have to give you a bath once we get to town." He smiled, then recalled him back into the Pokeball.

"Now then," Oliver said, pocketing the ball once again, "Shall we be on our way?"

----------

Searrow was still relatively suburban, but bigger and more developed than Shorevul. The University of Searrow Central Allanza, or USCA, was the centerpoint of the city. The residential area was built around the large open campus. There was a bit more variety in the shape of the houses than in Shorevul but they generally had an off-white color with roofs being varying degrees of blue-green.

"First stop, the Pokémon Center. Then we'll meet up with Professor Pine. Her lab is across the street from USCA's campus," Oliver said.

"Ye think ye ken convince Pine to endorse us?" Moira asked.

"I hope so. I imagine you'll have an easier time, though."

The two of them walked right to the red-roofed building that any trainer learned to recognize on sight. As they entered and deposited the Pokémon that had been either injured or exhausted, they happened to notice a familiar face.

"Hey, Oliver! Fancy seeing you here!" Scarlet called, Cassandra following close behind. "And… Mary?"

"Moira."

"Moira. My apologies. What brings you here?"

"Well, we're going to visit Professor Pine and ask her to endorse us for the Gym Challenge," Oliver explained. "I figured we should ask her in person, since we only live a couple hours away."

Scarlet raised an eyebrow. "Two days before the opening ceremonies? Cutting it a little close, aren't we?"

Oliver raised a hand defensively. "I know, I know, I already got an earful from Moira."

Moira grinned sheepishly. "May've gone overboard," she said, scratching the back of her head.

"Eh, I had it coming," Oliver shrugged. "I still like you."

"In any case," Scarlet said, steering them back on topic, "Once your Pokémon recover, I'll meet you at the lab. I'll tell the Professor to expect you." With that, she turned and left the Center.

----------

Once the two had grabbed lunch and made sure to get food for their respective Pokémon (while Oliver checked his Pokédex app on his phone to see what moves a Tryote should know), they retrieved their team from the Pokémon Center and shortly arrived at the laboratory of Professor Pine. The lab was a plain rectangular building that didn't really stick out that much. Oliver knocked on the door.

"Come on in!" an adult woman's voice said from within.

They opened the door and walked in. Inside they saw a few terrariums and aquariums containing small Pokémon. Moira recognized a few of the Pokémon inside, like that tank containing a Goldeen, and the terrarium containing a Metapod covered in silk. She was interested to see a soil-filled terrarium containing a Unovan Stunfisk. There as even an egg in an incubator.

Then there was one in a sandy desert terrarium, however, that she had never seen before. It was snakelike, with the end of the tail having a long spearhead that appeared to be made of black stone, like coal or something. The body of the snake was an alternating pattern of red and dark yellow, and its lower jaw seemed to be covered in that same coal-like substance and its eyes were big and yellow.

----------
FLINTAIL

Ignition Pokémon

Fire

When threatened, this Pokémon rattles its tail, which is made of a substance similar to flint. The friction generates sparks, which usually succeed in scaring off predators, especially at night. However, they have been known to start fires when the sparks hit dry brush.
----------

At the back end of the lab was an assortment of computer equipment around a desk. Scarlet was standing near it, Cassandra by her side, peering over and looking at a screen. Sitting behind the desk was a woman in her early-to-mid 40s, with light pale blonde hair loosely hanging over her shoulders, with the occasional green highlights streaking through it. She was wearing glasses over her hazel eyes and she had on a white labcoat that more closely resembled a dress, a dark green tie visible under it.

"Long time no see, Professor!'

The woman, Professor Pine, looked up and smiled. "Oliver. It's been too long. And this is your new friend from Galar?"

"That I am, ma'am. Moira Taylor's the name," Moira greeted .

"So, what can I do for you two?"

Oliver explained how they wanted to take part in the Gym Challenge, and that as a respected scholar on the subject of Pokémon and their habitats, she would be able to endorse the two of them.

"I know it's kind of short-notice, and we probably should've done this weeks ago, but-"

"Sure, I'll endorse you."

Oliver and Moira were taken aback at how easily she agreed. Even Scarlet was a little surprised.

"R-Really, Professor?" Scarlet asked, also a little surprised.

"Yes. If they never get the chance to face true competition, then they won't grow as trainers. However…"

Oliver and Moira were both on the edge of their seat, listening.

"...Before I do so, I want to see you two in action. I want to be sure you two are skilled enough trainers that you won't stall right at the beginning."

"Yeah, I guess that sounds fair." "Sounds good to me!"

Pine got up from her chair. "Let's change venues for a bit, the exit onto Route 2 should do fine."

----------

Route 2 was a bit more dense with greenery than Route 1 was, with more trees and grass on the sides of the road and Searrow Forest just to the north. There was a pretty open spot by the side of the road, where the grass was not too tall and the Pokémon had plenty of space to run around in.

"Ye know," Moira commented as she began walking to her side of the field, "This is the first time we actually fought."

"Yeah, it kind of is, isn't it?" Oliver replied, with a thoughtful tone of voice. "Surprised we haven't had one yet."

"All right you two," Scarlet said. "I want the two of you to give it your all."

Professor Pine stood off to the side, curious to see the potential of these two.

"All right…" Scarlet began.

Oliver adjusted his glasses again, Moira planted her feet on the ground.

"...Begin!"

Oliver threw out a Pokeball. "Go, Tryote!"

Moira tossed one of her own. "Go, Nidoran!"

Scarlet watched with interest as the two Pokémon materialized on the battlefield. So right out of the gate, Oliver has a type advantage. However, the only Ground-type move a Tryote would know is Mud-Slap. Let's see how this goes…

"Awright, Nidoran! Use Poison Sting!"

"Hit it with a Mud-Slap before it can land!"

The Tryote's reaction time barely won out and it swept a heap of moist dirt at Nidoran which got in its eyes along with dealing damage to it. This caused the Poison Sting to miss by a couple inches.

"Shake it oot, Nidoran! Go for a Horn Attack!" Moira shouted.

"Keep your distance and pelt it with another Mud-Slap!" Oliver commanded his own Pokémon.

This went on for a bit with Tryote running circles around the increasingly dirty and disoriented Nidoran, flinging mud at it until Nidoran couldn't tell his right from his left.

"Great work! Now, come back!" He withdrew Tryote into a Pokeball.

Moira was confused, but Scarlet nodded. He didn't want to run the risk of his Pokémon getting poisoned on contact, she thought. It's a safe bet that he'll switch over to Ralts now.

"Go, Ralts!" Just as Scarlet predicted, Ralts jumped out of Oliver's backpack to the spot Tryote had been standing last. "Now use Confusion!"

Confusion handily finished off Nidoran. Not only was it supereffective, but the Mud-Slaps from Tryote had whittled it down significantly. Moira withdrew the unconscious Poison-type. "Go, Wooloo!" she shouted as she sent her second Pokemon. The round fluffy sheep landed in the arena.

So, I definitely don't have anything with a Fighting-type move. That's a bit of a pickle, Oliver thought. And Wooloo will definitely be able to take and dish out more punishment than Ralts can. I hope this works… "Ralts, use Hypnosis!"

"Not if I ken help it! Wooloo, use Headbutt!"

Ralts generated those rings of energy but Wooloo managed to evade them in time as she rolled around to Ralts's side and uncurled in time to deliver a headbutt head-on. The impact caused Ralts to stagger.

"Now go fer another one!"

Wooloo reared its head. Oliver shouted for Ralts to dodge, but her flinching from Headbutt slowed her reaction time, and the second clean hit knocked her out cold.

Oliver reluctantly withdrew her into a Pokéball, the score an even 1-1.

Okay, Wooloo's wool will negate most of the attacks Tryote has. Joltik can't take a hit, but he should be able to outspeed her. "Your turn, Joltik!"

The spider jumped down and took Ralts's place.

"Use Electroweb!"

Wooloo immediately took a hit from a hunk of electrified webbing that spread out on impact and encircled her, shocking her.

"You ken take the hit, lass! Use Payback!"

Fueled by the pain inflicted on her by Electroweb, Wooloo began to rush forward, but Joltik was easily able to jump out of the way.

"Nice dodge!" Oliver shouted. "Use String Shot to keep her down, then use another Electroweb!"

Joltik jumped up and released more web- not electrified this time- that quickly wrapped around Wooloo and stuck to her. Wooloo attempted to break free, but Joltik was already quick on the draw with his second Electroweb.

"This doesn't look good… Wooloo, come back!" Moira called, withdrawing Wooloo. "Go, Sobble!"

Scarlet's eyes narrowed. Even if Sobble is her ace, she's at a serious disadvantage.

Moira didn't seem to care. "Now, Sobble, use Water Pulse!"

"Electroweb again! Man, we need to get you some new electric-type attacks soon…"

Joltik began to weave another web of electricity and fired it off just as a ring of water shot from Wooloo's mouth and washed over Joltik. The webs made it through and shocked Sobble. Joltik didn't seem overly hurt.

"Try going for a Bug Bite now!"

Unfortunately for Oliver, while Joltik was still able to fight, the water current had disoriented it and Joltik began to stumble, unable to get his bearings.

"Now's yer chance, wee lad! Use Sucker Punch!"

Joltik didn't react in time and Sobble's fist landed a direct hit, launching it all the way back to Oliver. Oliver swore under his breath and recalled Joltik, sending out his last Pokemon, Tryote.

He's my last Pokémon, and he's a Ground-type! Water Pulse will eat him alive, and even if it doesn't, the Confusion effect will render him helpless!

Still, he couldn't let himself show any weakness. "Tryote, use Bite!"

Moira grinned. "Use Water Pulse!"

Another ring of water shot from Sobble, and Tryote darted right towards Sobble, not caring about the Water-type attack barreling towards him. The attack connected, but the current didn't knock him around and confuse him. That's right, Tryote has the Own Tempo ability, Scarlet realized. It won't lose focus no matter what. It did some serious damage but seeing as this was the first damage Tryote took this entire fight, it wasn't down yet.

His fangs hit their mark, landing a direct hit on Sobble, who shrieked in pain. Tryote leapt back off and the unfortunate water lizard was still recoiling from the pain.

"Quickly, lad, use Sucker Punch!"

"Finish him off with another Bite!"

Sucker Punch would've finished Tryote right there, but Bite had caused Sobble to flinch pretty badly, and Tryote landed his second bite without issue, finally doing enough damage to Sobble to render him unconscious.

Moira sadly withdrew Sobble, sending out Wooloo again.

Both Wooloo and Tryote were somewhat worse for wear, but Wooloo was slowed down by spider webs, giving Tryote the speed advantage.

"Use Mud-Slap!"

Tryote launched more dirt at Wooloo, covering her face.

"Hit 'em back with Payback!"

Wooloo began to rear back and prepare to strike, but the String Shot from earlier slowed her movements enough that Oliver was able to give one last move command. "Tryote, use Bite!" Tryote leapt forward and sank his teeth into Wooloo's fluffy exterior. The wool absorbed most of the damage, but the impact did enough damage to finish what all those Electrowebs had started. Wooloo let out a weak baa and stumbled around before collapsing.

"Moira is out of usable Pokémon!" Scarlet shouted. "Oliver wins!"

Oliver ran up and began furiously petting Tryote. "You did an awesome job, buddy! I'm so proud of you!" Tryote's tail flapped against the ground, relishing the attention.

Moira was sulking somewhat. Not only did she lose, but Nidoran didn't even get to do anything. She'd have to do some serious training with him if they stood any chance at beating the Gym Challenge.

Pine clapped. "That was a good show, both of you. Now, why don't we head back to the Pokémon Center and we can talk at my lab some more." The four of them made their way back to town.

Scarlet couldn't help but smile. You two are gonna go places.
 
Chapter 6: Hitting the Trail

I, Professor Joanne Pine, hereby endorse Oliver Clairmont/Moira Taylor to participate in the Allanza Region's 17th Annual Pokémon Gym Challenge.


Below that was Professor Pine's signature, underneath which was a faxed signature from their respective parents. They were both minors, after all. That done, both documents were placed in envelopes and handed to the two young trainers.

Oliver was shaking in silent excitement. Moira was still a little miffed by how the battle had turned out, but still pleased to finally have an official endorsement.

Professor Pine looked past them to see what Scarlet and Cassandra were doing. They were looking at the egg that was in the incubator while it appeared to be shaking, signaling it was about to hatch.

"Oliver, would you be so kind as to help Scarlet out with that? She's been my assistant for years but she always had trouble dealing with newly hatched Pokémon… something I think you're supremely qualified for." Oliver gave her a thumbs up and went to help out.

Moira started to follow him. "Wait just a second," Pine said, stopping her. "I wanted to talk about a couple things with you." Nodding nervously, she sat down in a chair opposite Pine's desk.

"First off, I know your Pokémon Trainer Card is technically valid, but I feel like we should print out an Allanzan card just to simplify things for the League staff."

Moira sighed in relief. She was worried this was going to be about her loss to Oliver, but she already got her endorsement, so she didn't know why she was so nervous. She handed her card over to the Professor, who began typing into a computer.

"Second, while we're here, I want to ask you something else. Come over here and look at this video," she said. Moira, confused, got up and walked around to see what Pine had on her computer.

Pine pressed the play button on the video and when Moira realized what it was, she went white as a sheet.

It was the video. The one she didn't want anyone in Allanza to know about.

"What- h-how the f*** did ye-?!" she asked quietly. "Oh, uh, s-sorry fer the language."

"I have relatives in Galar, and they sent me this." Moira's shoulders fell. Of course. It was an internet meme back home for a while. "I thought it was pretty funny when I first saw it, for all the wrong reasons." Pine's expression fell. "I feel really guilty about it now, though. When you showed up with Oliver, I thought you looked kinda familiar, and when I saw your choice of Pokémon, I had to check to see if it wasn't just a coincidence."

Moira nodded, then turned to see if Oliver had heard anything. Mercifully it would seem he hadn't, he was busy petting the newly hatched Growlithe while Scarlet and Cassandra cleaned up what was left of the egg. She turned back to Pine. "Please dinnae tell Oliver aboot this."

"Don't worry," she reassured. "I won't."

Moira sighed in relief, and sat there in silence as Pine began typing in the information for her new Trainer Card.

Unbeknownst to her, though, while Oliver may have been focusing on the baby Growlithe, Scarlet had overheard parts of it. She knew better than to ask about it but curiosity began to occupy her mind.

What the heck kind of video was it?

As Oliver and Moira left to wait at the Pokémon Center, Scarlet went over to Pine's desk.

"You really think they'll be able to handle the Gym Challenge? I mean, the two of them are 14 years old. Traveling across Allanza at their age sounds incredibly dangerous."

"Oh, I wholeheartedly agree," Pine said. "Which is why you're going with them."

Scarlet and Cassandra started. "Wh-what?!"

Pine stood up. "I have faith in them as trainers, but at the end of the day, they're just kids, and I'd rather they didn't have to walk through Neoshine on their own."

Scarlet nodded, knowing just how dangerous Neoshine could be.

"Besides, I have a job for you. It's about the Allanza Pokédex."

This got Scarlet's interest. Pine was one of the people primarily responsible for compiling data for the Allanza Pokédex, and Scarlet had been part of that project for the past few years as her lab assistant-slash-intern.

"See, the Pokédex is in need of an update. There's been some minor edits since the last one, but it hasn't seen a major update in years. So I want you to travel with Oliver and Moira. The Gym Challenge will take them all over the region, so you'll probably encounter every Allanzan species at least once. Besides," Pine added, "Cassandra hasn't really gotten out that much as of late. This'll be good for her. Maybe you'll even get to have a battle or two?"

Scarlet's expression darkened at this last bit, causing Cassandra to look up at her, concerned. "I told you already. My days of being a Trainer are over. I'm not battling anymore."

Pine smiled apologetically. "R-right. My mistake. Guess that wound's still fresh…" she cleared her throat. "In any event, I'd like you to follow Oliver and Moira on their journey and gather data both from wild Pokémon and trained Pokémon."

Scarlet huffed, before looking down at her Dark-type companion. She was looking up at Scarlet with big, pleading eyes. The assistant's expression softened and she sighed. She hasn't been past Route 2 and Neoshine in years, has she... "Sure, fine. I'll do it."

Pine grinned. "Perfect. Let me just get you the admin rights to the Dex real quick, then you can head over to meet those two. They should be waiting at the Pokémon Center by now."

----------

While their Pokémon were recovering, Oliver was reading through the Crobatman and Fletchling trade he got for his birthday.

"How is it?" Moira asked, curiously. "I haven't read the past few issues myself."

Oliver put the trade down. "Well, it's definitely good. But I'm a little sick of seeing Mr. Crime as the bad guy all the time."

"But I thought he was the best Crobatman villain?"

"He is, but sometimes it's starting to feel like it's about Mr. Crime and not Crobatman. I mean, come on. There are other villains. Like Two-Face and his Morpeko. Or Banechamp. Or-"

"Ah, there you are!"

Oliver and Moira turned to greet Scarlet as she entered the center, Cassandra close behind.

"Scarlet! What are you doing here, didn't Pine have a job for you?" Oliver asked.

Scarlet explained what was going on, how Pine wanted her to gather data for the Pokédex and go with the two of them.

"Oh, so she had ye babysit us, that it?" asked Moira, slightly miffed. "We can take care of ourselves. We're f***in' trainers. She knows that, right?"

"No, I get it," Oliver said, causing Moira to raise an eyebrow. "I've heard some nasty things go on in the shadows of Neoshine City. Going there just the two of us, two kids, that's just asking for trouble."

Moira shrugged. "Well, ye've lived here longer than I have."

Scarlet sat down next to them. "So what's your guys' plan from here?"

"Well," Oliver said, "the opening ceremonies are in two days. Neoshine is just up Route 2, so we should easily be able to get there with a day to spare. Once we register for the Gym Challenge they should have accommodations for us… hey wait," Oliver realized, "What about you, Scarlet? You're not taking the challenge, are you gonna be on your own on getting a hotel room?"

"Oh, that's not gonna be a problem," Scarlet responded nonchalantly. "Since the two of you are minors they allow adult chaperones for things like this."

"Okay, that's good to know."

They were about to discuss something else when Moira just happened to look at the TV they had in the waiting room. Her eyes widened and she slumped forward. "Ye've got to be kidding me…"

"Huh? What's the matter?" Oliver asked, before following Moira's gaze to the TV. The volume was too low to hear anything but the news had captions turned on.

"A car accident occurred earlier today on Route 2 at about 3:26 PM. A pickup truck collided with a lumber truck, damaging both vehicles and scattering the lumber truck's contents across the road.

Both drivers were unharmed but the driver of the lumber truck challenged the other driver to a Pokémon battle. He won, but his Pokémon, a Rhydon, caused severe damage to the road."

The news report went on to talk about fines or something but they had caught the important part: the road was closed.

"Well sh**e!" Moira let out, exasperated. "How the f*** are we supposed to get tae Neoshine with the road blocked?" she continued, before noticing the dirty looks she was getting from the other trainers in the center and hanging her head.

Scarlet thought. "Well… there's always the Searrow Forest Nature Preserve. We could always walk through there." This got their interest.

Oliver considered it. "That's actually not a bad idea."

"What are ye going on about?" asked Moira.

"There's a forest just north of Searrow," Scarlet explained. "Route 2 goes right through it. There's also a few nature trails that go through there. It would probably take us an extra day but it exits near Neoshine."

"Plus, a forest means one thing: Wild Pokémon," Oliver said with a glint in his eye. "We could train our teams up a bit and catch some new Pokémon as well!" Moira liked the sound of that, actually.

"You both brought along camping gear?" Scarlet asked. "We won't be able to get through the forest before it gets dark."

Both Oliver and Moira responded in the affirmative.

"Right. Let's head back to my place first so I can grab my own stuff. Then we'll hit the trail."
 
Chapter 7: The Forest for the Trees

"Yep. There's the wreck."

They were standing in the middle of the road. On either side of Route 2 was the Searrow Forest Nature Preserve. Behind them was the short stretch of road that led to Searrow. And ahead of them was the two wrecked trucks and their cargo littered around the broken and torn road.

Scarlet couldn't help but shake her head in exasperation as she looked at the damaged road ahead. A road work crew was repairing the road, while others were working on clearing the wreckage and lumber strewn about the road. They were accompanied by a few Pokémon, the only ones Moira recognized being Machoke and Gurdurr, though there was another one that she didn't remember seeing in Galar. She was informed later that the floating steel Pokémon helping to move the car wreckage was a Magneton.

"There should be a trail somewhere around here… aha! There it is." Scarlet pointed a narrow brown dirt path that branched off from the main road that twisted and turned until it disappeared into the foliage.

The three stepped onto the trail and began making their way into the ever-darkening woods. Ralts, now fully recovered, was now back in Oliver's backpack, but was a little uneasy by the shadows cast by the trees, despite Joltik's best efforts to comfort her. Cassandra wasn't as nervous. On the contrary, she was soaking in the beauty of nature as she hadn't gotten out much.

"I gotta say, this isn't how I envisioned my career starting," Oliver commented. "My first full day as a trainer and we have to take a detour through the forest. Is this an omen? I feel like it's an omen."

"Dinnae worry, Oliver. Campin' is actually really f***in' fun."

"Oh, you camp often?"

"Excuse me, you three?" They turned to face the new voice. It was a park ranger. He was in his late 20s with long brown hair wearing a green hat and brown vest over a grey shirt and dark green pants, with two Pokéballs holstered on his belt. "Sorry to interrupt you, but I just have to ask a couple questions. You're taking the trail to bypass Route 2?"

"That's correct, yes," Scarlet responded.

"Do you plan on camping overnight?"

"Yes."

"All right. Were you planning on catching any Pokémon? Because I'm gonna need to see a valid trainer license from all of you or I can't allow you to do so."

Oliver and Moira both pulled out their trainer cards, and to their surprise, Scarlet also produced one, though the picture on her card was very clearly out of date, showing a Scarlet that was about Oliver's age.

"Thanks for cooperating. Sorry for the questions, I'm required by law to check." He pointed down the trail. "Take the second branching path on your left, then just follow the trail up to a clearing we've set up for camping. From there just follow the trail north and it'll exit onto the north side of Route 2."

"Thank you, sir," Scarlet replied.

"Anytime." The ranger tipped his hat and left.

The three continued down the trail, but a couple minutes later Oliver decided to break the ice.

"So Scarlet… I didn't know you were a trainer."

"Well yeah, I WAS a trainer," she said, a little too sharply. "I keep renewing it for convenience, in case I need Absol for anything. But I'm not taking part in any competitions anytime soon."

Oliver winced at her curt tone of voice. "Geez, sorry. I didn't mean to upset you."

Scarlet seemed to realize how she came across, and she sighed. "I'm sorry for snapping at you. It's just a chapter of my life I'd rather forget."

Moira couldn't help but feel sympathy for the lab assistant. Oliver, meanwhile, mulled this over in his head.

I've known her for years and I never knew she was a trainer. Then again, there was that time four years ago she went on that trip for a couple months. And when she got back I didn't see her for a while…

His train of thoughts was interrupted when Moira shouted. "Hey, a think that's a Pokémon up ahead!"

Oliver looked where Moira was pointing and sure enough, there was a short, rounded, yellow-and-green Pokémon that was just alerted to their presence.

"Hey, a Shroomish! Good eye, I didn't even notice it!"

The Shroomish took off down the road as fast as its stubby little legs would take it. Moira, however, chased after it, taking out Nidoran's Pokéball.

"Poison beats Grass, right? Let's see how Nidoran does!"

She threw the ball and out popped Nidoran, which prompted Shroomish to stop fleeing and hold its ground.

"Careful Moira," Oliver pointed out. "Shroomish releases spores on contact that can put a Pokémon to sleep."

"Thanks fer the heads up!" Moira grinned. "Nidoran, use Poison Sting!"

Nidoran launched a couple spines out of its body that struck Shroomish dead-on, causing it to stagger, though the poison did not seem to take effect. The mushroom Pokémon responded by launching a couple seeds that sprouted plants that rooted Nidoran to the ground.

"Oof, that looks like Leech Seed. Better take it down quick, or his energy will be drained," Oliver observed.

Moira grimaced. "All right, try another Poison Sting!" Nidoran launched more spines, which connected with Shroomish again, as it wasn't the fastest. This time, Shroomish began to wobble around with a nauseous expression. This time, the poison had took hold.

Shroomish began to rear back. "Look out," Oliver warned. "Looks like it's gonna use Headbutt. If it hits Nidoran, the spores might put him to sleep. Maybe you could try catching it right now!"

She nodded, then took out a Pokéball and wound up. "Let's hope this works! I only hit the thing twice!" She threw the ball and it connected with Shroomish right before it could ram into Nidoran, pulling it inside and slamming shut. It landed, and shook a few times before it clicked shut.

Almost immediately, the roots tying Nidoran down disappeared. Moira picked it up and pocketed the ball. "Great work, Nidoran! A knew ye could do it!" The Poison-type lit up at the encouragement and let out a cute little "Raaan!" before Moira recalled him.

"I'll bring it out when we set up camp," she told the other two. When I battled Oliver, Nidoran got knocked out right at the start. I think that was because I didn't try to bond with him and didn't bring it out again until the battle, but Oliver introduced himself to his Tryote right after catching it.

Then she turned to Oliver. "Ye really know yer stuff when it comes to moves, don't ye?"

Oliver scratched the back of his head sheepishly. "I, it's nothing, I just had a lot of free time on my hands when I was younger, and I didn't have many friends so I spent a lot of time looking up stuff about moves and-"

"Let's hurry up and get to the campground," Scarlet interrupted. "The sun's starting to go down."

Oliver and Moira were a little startled. They both looked up. Indeed, the sky was starting to turn orange. They agreed, they oughta hurry before it got dark and they got stranded out here.

----------

Thankfully they made it to the campsite while there was still light. Moira and Oliver both had a tent, and they all had the unspoken agreement that Moira and Scarlet would share Moira's tent. Oliver sat down and began rummaging through his bag, letting Ralts out to stretch her legs.

"So, what are ye having for dinner?" Moira asked.

Oliver shrugged. "I mean, I'm probably gonna just boil some water and make some instant noodles. I brought a few cups of-" He was cut off by hysterical laughing from Moira, the loudness causing Ralts and Joltik (who were gathering kindling for the campfire) to jump.

"Ye- ye- ye really think cup noodles are a meal?! Pffthahaha…" Oliver couldn't help but withdraw a bit.

Moira noticed Oliver's hurt expression and immediately dialed it back. "H-hey, look, why don't you just put those back and I'll show you how to make REAL food."

She set her bag on the ground and started rummaging through it.

Scarlet eyed her curiously. "What are you planning on making?"

Moira beamed as she proudly proclaimed, "Nothin' but genuine Galarian curry!" She slammed down a big ol' cooking pot over the firepit, startling Oliver's two Pokémon who were throwing on the last of the kindling. Where she got the pot from was anyone's guess, her bag was definitely not big enough to hold it. She pulled some ingredients from her bag. "Alright, now I just need some berries."

Oliver stood up. "All right. What kind?"

"Cheri berries preferable, though if ye find any Oran berries those'll be helpful."

"Sounds easy enough. Those are pretty common" Oliver turned to his two Pokémon. "Come on you guys, let's go find some!" And with that, Oliver, Ralts, and Joltik disappeared into the foliage and began searching.

Once they disappeared, Moira walked over to Scarlet. "Now that they're gone, can I ask you something?"

Scarlet shrugged. "Shoot."

"Do you think I'm too… I dunno… loud? Not sure what the right word is. Whenever I get worked up and start yelling Oliver just kinda looks like a kicked Growlithe, and back at the Pokémon Center, when I got upset over the road being closed everybody was glaring at me."

"Why don't you ask Oliver?"

"Because he'll just lie to keep me from feeling bad."

Yeah, I guess that's true, Scarlet thought. "Well, if you want my honest opinion, then… yeah, you seem to be a bit… overemotional at times."

Moira hung her head.

"But to be honest, Oliver's just the same way." Scarlet began absentmindedly petting Cassandra as Moira sat down and listened to what she had to say. "The difference is while you lash out, Oliver tends to withdraw. He's always been sensitive. That's not always a bad thing, though."

"The story of how he got Ralts. I remember."

"But at the same time, he never wants to stand up for himself. You saw the way he just rolled over and let Amber walk all over him." Moira nodded. She still owed Amber a good decking. "Maybe you can go a bit overboard, but Oliver could stand to learn a thing or two from you."

Moira said nothing in response. She, Scarlet, and Cassandra sat there looking at the fire.

And none of them managed to detect the fourth presence in the camp.

----------

"We're baaack!" Oliver's voice rang out as he and his Pokémon emerged from the woods carrying a handful of red and blue berries. Joltik only carried a couple Oran berries on his back and Ralts was levitating a handful of her own.

"Hey, welcome back!" Moira waved. "Let's see what ye got…"

She looked over their findings. Then, she nodded. "Aye, these'll do wonderfully." She began walking back to her bag. "Let's just add these to the ingredients, and…" she paused as she looked through her belongings. "...All my ingredients are gone."

Oliver's eyes widened. "Oh dang… I'm sorry."

Moira snapped her fingers, her face radiating anger. "Some wild Pokémon must've wandered into camp and stolen it! And I was really looking forward to making curry fer you guys..."

"I'm sure you'll get another chance," Oliver said, trying to calm her down. "I mean, we still have food so it's not a big deal."

"If ye can even call those cheap instant noodles of yers 'food,'" Moira responded bitterly.

Oliver looked around to see if the thief was still around. He happened to notice a small plastic bag full of pieces of potato. Nearby were a set of tiny footprints.

"...whoever or whatever took the food, they left a trail. They can't be that far away yet!" With that Oliver took out Tryote's Pokéball and sent him out.

The Ground-type looked up at Oliver with curiosity. "Tryote, something, maybe a Wild Pokémon, took Moira's food. Can you help us track it down?" The big-eared Pokémon nodded. It stuck by Oliver as he walked towards where the tracks started.

"Hey, Oliver, it's all right, ye don't have to chase after it for me, it's probably long gone," Moira said.

"I know that, but I was honestly really looking forward to seeing what you cooked, so I'm gonna give it a shot regardless."

At that point, Joltik followed after Oliver. When he saw his trusty Bug/Electric-type had joined him, he turned towards Ralts, who was sitting by the fire chatting it up with Cassandra. Deciding not to interrupt, he took his two Pokémon and followed the trail.

----------

Oliver shone his flashlight onto the ground as he and his Pokémon followed after the mystery thief. The tracks were tiny and hard to spot among the plants on the ground, but Tryote had a keener eye for this sort of thing, so Oliver was mainly shining the light for Tryote to see.

After about a minute, Tryote stopped. He raised his nose into the air and sniffed.

"You smell something?"

Without warning Tryote darted towards the smell. He ran ahead of Oliver, who couldn't keep up with him.

Crap! I'm gonna lose him!

"Joltik, go after him and signal me when he stops!" The spider leapt onto Tryote's back and rode on top as Oliver slowed to a halt, catching his breath.

After waiting for a bit, Oliver saw a flash of electricity not too far off and made his way towards it.

He eventually stepped into a clearing where he finally saw just what was going on.

In the clearing, standing atop a pile of Moira's bags of ingredients, was a Karrablast. The blue, pincer-headed Bug-type was tied up with silk that Joltik had no doubt fired, while Tryote was nursing some injuries he had taken from Karrablast. Joltik, for his part, was standing proudly next to Karrablast like a hunter posing for a picture with his latest trophy.

Oliver gave a low whistle. "Nice work, you two! You caught the thief, found Moira's ingredients, and I think I found myself my next catch."

Just then, Karrablast broke free of the silk, catching Oliver off-guard. Before he could do anything, Karrablast leapt towards Tryote and slashed at it twice in a cross shape ( It knows X-Scissor?! ), sending the already injured canine spiraling into unconsciousness.

It turned towards Joltik, who avoided the same fate on account of his speed and small size.

"Joltik, use Electroweb!" He complied, firing the webbing at Karrablast, who simply sliced right through it.

This isn't looking good… It may overpower Joltik at this rate, and I don't want to be near this thing without any Pokémon!

Karrablast glared daggers at the electric spider and jumped into the air and landed its pincers directly onto Joltik in a maneuver Oliver recognized as Peck.

Before it could do any further damage, however, a burst of pinkish energy flew in out of nowhere and knocked Karrablast away.

Oliver turned in the direction it came from and saw Ralts, riding majestically on Cassandra like a knight in shining armor. Karrablast got up and tried to retaliate, but Ralts simply used Hypnosis and the bug was knocked out cold.

Not wanting to waste his chance, Oliver threw a Pokéball at the sleeping bug. It opened in a flash of light and pulled Karrablast inside.

Oliver stared at the ball as it began to shake. His fingers were crossed as he hoped the capture stuck. That thing had taken down Tryote, and had very nearly taken down Joltik. This thing was strong for an unevolved Bug Pokémon.

It stayed on the ground, closed, rattling around as Karrablast had woken up and tried to break free.

And finally...

* click *

Oliver sighed in relief. "Okay, I was NOT expecting some random bug Pokémon to be so strong." He turned to Ralts and Cassandra. "Thanks for the assist, guys."

Ralts gave him a thumbs-up and Cassandra simply nodded, making a small mewing sound.

Oliver pocketed the Pokéball and turned to the pile that Karrablast had hoarded. "Let's get this stuff back to camp."

----------

"So they showed up at the last second, all heroic-like? Wish I could've seen it," Moira said as she started throwing ingredients in the cooking pot.

Oliver and Moira had both let their Pokémon out to enjoy Moira's curry. Oliver initially wanted Karrablast to join in but it lashed out when Oliver tried to introduce himself, so they thought it best to keep it contained for now. Scarlet had a couple Revives on hand to help Tryote recover.

"Almost ready. Ye got the berries?"

"Right here," Oliver responded, holding up a mixture of red Cheri and blue Oran berries, not having paid much attention to what else Moira was putting into the pot. He dumped them in.

"Ye've never made curry before, have ye?"

"Um… no."

Moira smiled. "Why don't I show ye how to do it?"

Oliver was taken aback, but after thinking it over for a moment, nodded. "Sure, I'll give it a shot."

"Alright. Here, take this," she said, handing Oliver a blue fan.

"Huh?"

"Ye gotta fan the flames the old-fashioned way," Moira explained. "It's tradition."

"I-I've never really done this sort of thing before. I don't want to screw it up…"

"Oh, come off it, ye'll do fine, it's easy!"

----------

"TONE IT THE F*** DOWN, WILL YE?! IT'S BURNING!"

Oliver was fanning the flames at an inhuman rate, causing the fire below the pot to blow up to a size that even a Charizard would be impressed by. Moira was waving her arms frantically trying to get Oliver to stop.

"S-Sorry! I got kinda carried away!"

He stopped fanning the flames and Moira nervously watched the fire die down, before sighing in relief. "Okay, that was scary…" She then took out a big wooden spoon, then handed it to Oliver. "Now get stirrin'!"

"O-okay!" He nervously lowered his spoon into the pot.

"Now just be sure not to go overboard with the stirrin' or else ye might-"

SLOSH SLOSH SLOSH SLOSH

Moira found herself splashed by the cooking curry as Oliver began furiously stirring. Sighing in defeat, Moira slowly leaned over and took the spoon from Oliver's hand.

"Maybe… maybe I should take it from here."

Oliver wholeheartedly agreed.

----------

In the end, Moira managed to salvage it. Despite the spillage that occurred and the mishap with the fire, Moira was able to produce some delicious-looking curry. You know how pictures of food are always faked so they look better than the real thing? Moira somehow managed to make her real curry look like that.

She stuck the curry onto some paper plates and passed them around to Oliver, Scarlet, and the Pokémon (sans Karrablast, who was still in time-out). Oliver was worried he might've screwed it up but Moira took a big bite of her own plate and chewed it with a big, satisfied grin.

Relieved that it apparently turned out fine despite his "help," Oliver took a bite of the curry.

And promptly began breathing fire.

SPICY! WHY IS SO SPICY!?

He looked down at Ralts, but she would be no help, for she was also breathing fire.

As was Joltik.

And Scarlet.

And Cassandra.

Really, everyone who took a bite of the impossibly spicy curry was now breathing fire except for Moira, Sobble, and Wooloo, who made this sort of curry all the time and were used to it by now. And those three were happily chowing down on their plates, not caring about (or even noticing) the burning tastebuds of their traveling companions.

(The group would later admit the curry was delicious nonetheless.)
 
Chapter 8: Meeting the Competition

The morning after Moira had cooked her “Volcano Bakemeat,” as they had taken to calling it, the gang had all laughed it off and resumed their trek through the forest. During this time, Oliver and Moira let their Pokémon loose to enjoy the forest atmosphere.

“Ralts, use Confusion!”

“Get ‘er with Sucker Punch, Sobble!”

...Okay, and to do a bit of sparring. As they walked, Oliver and Moira’s Pokémon were lightly attacking each other, Cassandra walking beside Scarlet and watching it unfold.

Sucker Punch interrupted Ralts in the middle of charging the energy needed for the attack, making her flinch.

“Now go fer a Water Pulse!”

“Karrablast, cut him off with X-Scissor!”

The blue Bug-type had mellowed out after a night of containment, but was still very aggressive, slashing Sobble right as he was about to shoot off the ring of water, knocking Sobble back, buying Ralts enough time to use Confusion.

“That’s enough, Sobble. Good work, laddie!”

Sobble smiled sheepishly at the praise. Wooloo had taken her fair share of hits and had been more or less recalled, walking next to Moira at a leisurely pace watching the action unfold.

“That wasn’t really what I’d call a real battle,” Moira said as she picked up Sobble and held him as she walked, “But seems like ye won.”

“Eh, maybe,” Oliver said, scratching the back of his head, “We were all holding back except Karrablast. Still haven’t gotten a handle on him yet.”

Just then, Cassandra perked up. Scarlet noted this and looked ahead. “Looks like the end of the road. We’re finally there, guys.”

Oliver stretched his arms. “About time. I can’t wait to take a freaking shower!”

And thus Moira laid her eyes on Neoshine City for the first time.

Route 2 passed directly through the center of town, with tall, rectangular, different-colored buildings built on either side of it. No two buildings looked like the same people designed them. It almost looked like some experiment to see what would happen if you took a building from like 40 different cities and crammed them together. Heck, Moira swore she saw a miniature version of Lumiose Tower somewhere in there.

On the ground level there were signs, both neon and otherwise, advertising all sorts of establishments, some legitimate and some not even Scarlet would’ve been allowed in. The skyline was clear of signs, but the air quality was anything but clear. There wasn’t necessarily a cloud of smog hovering over the city, but once you looked above the 20-story mark the color was definitely more muted than ground level.

The traffic was fairly light as they entered the city, owing to the closed road. There was still a fair amount of hustle and bustle from the pedestrians though. Many of them were just going about their normal day, but the opening ceremony tomorrow meant there was more activity than usual from people from elsewhere in Allanza.

Moira stuck by Scarlet’s side, looking around at the city in awe. Oliver couldn’t help but smile at Moira’s wonder at seeing the city for the first time. Scarlet and Cassandra were really the only ones paying attention to where they were walking.

Suddenly, Cassandra began growling. Scarlet looked where she was looking and spotted a man wearing a ragged trenchcoat holding an empty bottle with an uncomfortable look in his eyes, seeming to eye the three for some unknown reason. Oliver and Moira noticed this too.

“I’m thinking we should probably cross the street here,” she said. They did so, which luckily wasn’t a hassle due to the relatively light traffic.

Moira was beginning to understand why Pine had insisted Scarlet come along. As cool as the city was, two children walking through it unsupervised would not end well.

Now, the Allanza region wasn’t the wretched hive of scum and villainy that Orre was. Orre had been ruled by organized crime for as long as any of them could remember, but in Allanza, the crime was… well, unorganized. It’s just that when put right next to Orre, the region seemed nearly harmless.

They wound up having to cross the street twice more to avoid drunks before they reached their destination: the hotel and casino Emperor’s Palace. It wasn’t hard to miss- even if the giant name of the hotel didn’t tip one off, the marble statues of Falinks in front were a clear tipoff. This hotel was where the registration for the Gym Challenge was being held.

They entered into an elegant lobby with an ancient Roman theme, the icons of Falinks prominent in artwork throughout. There was a large table with a banner over it reading “GYM CHALLENGE REGISTRATION” and a few trainers had congregated around it to sign up.

Not a whole lot of them were that noteworthy. This one had black hair, that one had an afro, that one was wearing a wait is that a Gallade?!

While Oliver did a double-take at one trainer who had a Gallade walking around outside his Pokéball, Moira noticed one trainer in particular, and lightly elbowed him. Looking where Moira was pointing, he saw one trainer finish registering and turn to leave, but their eyes locked and Oliver paled a bit.

“A-Amber?”

Amber huffed and crossed her arms. “Well well well, look who decided to press his luck. The Hand-Me-Down Kid and his team of rejects.”

“Oi b***,” Moira cut in before Oliver could respond. “Ye wanna f***in’ go?”

“Ah, I see you brought your girlfriend, Lady Swears-a-Lot.”

“I’ll do a lot more than swear, ye c***,” Moira continued, “If ye don’ mind yer f***in’ business.”

“Ohohoho,” Amber chuckled, sincerely amused. “I see how it is. Oliver can’t speak up for himself so he hides behind his girlfriend and lets her do it for him.”

“W-well, I mean, we’re not…” Oliver weakly said, but found himself ignored.

Amber walked towards Moira and lowered her voice. “So, what was your name again?”

“Moira,” the Galarian responded through gritted teeth.

“Gotcha. Well Mary,” she said, poking her in the chest, “One girl to another, lemme give you some free advice. You shouldn’t stick around Oliver. Guy’s a loser. You want to make it through the Gym Challenge? You don’t want him dragging you down with him. Dump him. You’ll thank me later.”

Moira was about to say something cutting to the rich girl when someone passing by accidentally bumped into Amber’s shoulder.

“H-hey! Watch where you’re going!”

“Oh, sorry!” The trainer responded with a sheepish grin. “Didn’t mean to bump into you!” Oliver silently thanked Arceus for cutting the confrontation short before it could come to blows.

This trainer was a girl, a couple years older than Oliver but younger than Scarlet. Her hair was somewhat long and unkempt, the light-green bangs covering her eyes. She was wearing a light brown trilby hat with a white band around it, and a light indigo poncho with white zigzag patterns on it, only white boots visible beneath it.

Amber huffed again. “You had all this room to walk around us,” she said, gesturing around them. Indeed there was quite a bit of room for her to avoid them. “What are you, blind or something?”

The girl simply continued to give off that innocent smile. “As a matter of fact…” She wiped the hair out of her eyes, revealing them to be white, milky and glazed over.

Amber went white as a sheet, which was honestly pretty cathartic for Moira to see. “Oh… Oh my… I’m so sorry, I-”

The blind girl waved her hand. “No, it’s all right, happens all the time, this isn’t the first time this has happened. I just sometimes have a hard time with… well, let me explain.” She turned her head slightly. “Hey Gallade, come over here a sec!”

Wait, SHE was the one with the Gallade? Oliver thought.

Indeed, the tall white-and-green Psychic/Fighting Pokémon with the blade for an arm walked over to the mystery girl’s side.

“My name’s Lennoa, and this is… well, it’s Gallade, you already knew that.”

“I’m Oliver.”

“Scarlet. Nice to meet you.”

“Name’s Moira. And this here’s named Amber.”

“I can introduce myself just FINE, thank you very much,” the still flustered blonde cut in.

Lennoa’s smile didn’t quit. It was actually getting kinda creepy now. “I’m taking the Gym Challenge too, so I might as well introduce us properly.”

Scarlet raised an eyebrow. “How’s that work with you being… it has something to do with Gallade, doesn’t it?”

Lennoa nodded. “Eeeyup! The two of us grew up together since I was a kid. He’s my seeing-eye Pokémon. Literally. We’ve gotten so close, in fact, that we’ve actually developed a psychic link.”

Oliver’s jaw dropped. “No way.” I’ve heard of this happening with trainers of Psychic Pokémon, but’s incredibly rare!

“Because of that,” she continued, “I see through his eyes. Which means I tend to see myself in the third person, and it’s really weird walking like that. I tend to bump into stuff, as you saw earlier,” she said, scratching the back of her head again. “But hey, I can see.”

That’s when Moira realized something. “Oi Oliver, Gallade’s an evolved form of Ralts, right?”

Oliver blinked. “Yeah, it totally is! Only males can reach that form though. If my Ralts evolved she’d be a Gardevoir. A-and a Kirlia first,” he added.

Lennoa was intrigued. “You’ve got a Ralts?” Oliver responded by turning around and letting Ralts peek out of his backpack. “Those are really rare in Allanza. You’re the only other person I’ve met with one. Where’d you get her?”

“My uncle runs the Daycare on Route 9. Ralts here was abandoned, so I basically took her with me. What about you?”

“Oh, my dad got lucky and caught one in the wild. Gave him to me on my fourth birthday.” Gallade nodded silently.

Oliver couldn’t see this, as he turned his back to Gallade so Ralts could face him, but Moira noticed her looking up at Gallade with awe, admiration, and… wait, is she blushing?

“Anyway, it’s been nice talking to you,” Lennoa said. “I’d stick around but I take it you haven’t registered yet?”

“These guys haven’t. I have,” Amber pointed out. “Hey wait, why am I still here? I’m not even part of the conversation anymore. I’m going to my room.” She turned to leave, walking towards the elevator to go up to the complimentary hotel room the League provided her, then paused and turned back to Oliver. “Final warning. Don’t bother taking the Gym Challenge, or my team will pummel your team so hard, they’ll be too afraid to come out of their Pokéballs.” She walked off towards the elevator.

Lennoa let out a low whistle. “Such a sweetheart. Anyway, I should probably get going too. I, uh, don’t do well in crowds. I’ll see you on the road once the challenge starts! C’mon Gallade, let’s head up to our room.” She and her Pokémon walked off in the same direction, most of the other trainers giving her a wide berth, not wanting to incur the wrath of the tall, intimidating Pokémon beside her.

“That was certainly something,” a voice from behind Oliver said. “You’ve already got an archrival and you haven’t even started yet!”

Oliver turned and this trainer was also about Lennoa’s age. He was wearing a black vest over a blue long-sleeved shirt and black jeans. His long sideswept hair was brown, to match his eyes. He held out his hand. “Name’s Crosly. Oliver, right?”

“Y-yeah. I’m Oliver. These two are Moira and Scarlet.”

“Nice to meet you guys!” He said, putting one hand in his pocket and leaning to one side slightly. “So, quick question- who’d you get to endorse you?”

“Professor Pine.”

“Oh, really? I’ve heard of her. She teaches Pokémon Habitat Studies at USCA, right?” Oliver nodded. “That’s cool.” He smirked. “I got endorsed by the former champion.”

Oliver’s jaw dropped again. “You got Raleigh to endorse you?”

“Didn’t you know? One of the reasons she stepped down was because she wanted to see some fresh blood injected into the Gym Challenge. Couple years into her winning streak, the League Tournament wound up having the same few people show up each year.”

Oliver nodded again. “The Elite Four.”

“Almost no one thought they could take her down. So almost no one tried.”

“How’d ye get on the Champion’s radar?” Moira asked.

“It’s a long story,” said Crosly. “And it’s not as interesting as you might think. Anyway, I’ve gotta get going. I’ve got somewhere I need to be.” He headed out towards the door to the hotel. “See ya on the road, you guys!”

“Nice to see some trainers are friendly at least,” Moira said. “Anyway, let’s go register already. If we talk with every trainer on their way out we’ll be here all day.”

“O-oh, yeah, you’re totally right.” The two of them (and Scarlet) went up to the registration desk, none of them noticing Cassandra looking at the front door where Crosly went out, glaring at nothing in particular.

The registration process went smoothly. They handed their endorsements to the Pokémon League Staff, who were wearing white hats and jackets with a yellow Pokéball logo on the front of both. Scarlet made sure the staff knew she was chaperoning Moira and Oliver (who was registering at the next table over).

“All right,” the woman handling Moira’s registration said. “You’re signed up. Let me just see your Trainer Card real quick.” Moira took the card out and handed it to her, and she printed out something and put it on the back. It was a barcode and number. “While the Gym Challenge is in effect, you can use this to get a complimentary room at any participating hotel. Here’s your room key for tonight,” she added, handing Moira a card key. “That’s about it, just show up at the opening ceremony at 9 AM tomorrow.”

Moira blinked. “Wait, what’s the uniform situation?”

“Oh, the Gym Challenge is a bit more informal here than it is in Galar,” Scarlet explained. “Just wear whatever.”

“Really? That’s weird…”

“Anyway let’s head to the hotel room. I really want a shower.”


“No, Cassandra, I can carry these boxes by myself.”

Scarlet was carrying a stack of 5 pizza boxes with Cassandra walking beside her, looking concerned. After she finally took a shower she went over to Oliver’s room (she was sharing a room with Moira). She decided to get some pizza and they’d all hang out together the night before the opening ceremony. She found a pizza place that was actually pretty cheap and went there.

She walked at a brisk pace, trying to get back to the hotel before the pizza got cold. The hotel was about a 5-minute walk from the pizza place. She was waiting at a crosswalk just before the hotel when Cassandra suddenly turned to look around the corner. Without warning, she bolted.

“Wha- Hey! Cassie!” Scarlet followed as fast as she could without dropping the pizza, bumping into someone. Luckily she didn’t drop the pizza.

“Oh! I’m sorry!”

“Oh, no, it’s fine,” the trainer said, picking up a black briefcase he had accidentally dropped. “I bumped into you trying to run away from an Absol that was running this way.”

“That was my Absol. I’m terribly sorry.”

The trainer took off, and Scarlet discovered that Cassandra was just sitting there, eyeing the trainer. More specifically, she was eyeing the briefcase.

“Cassandra, what’s gotten into- HEY!”

The Absol took off and darted into an alleyway. Scarlet ran after her. The pizza’s gonna get cold at this rate…

She followed Cassandra for a minute or so before the two finally stopped at a place where the alleyway made a sharp turn. Cassandra looked at Scarlet, sniffed the air a little, and pointed her horn towards the corner.

Scarlet hesitantly approached the corner and peered around it. What she saw was another trainer, a girl this time, who was in the process of receiving a black briefcase, identical to the one the other trainer had on him. Scarlet noted this tidbit of information and examined the man handing it to her.

The man was dressed in a white labcoat and wearing a surgical mask and goggles with his hands covered in long purple gloves, with slicked back black hair. Next to him was a birdlike Pokémon. It was small, with dark purple feathers covering most of its body, getting darker the lower they were, though it had two long, thin, black legs that ended in talons. The exception was the head, whose feathers were the same shade of black as its long beak. On top of its head were two rather large black feathers that. Most interesting were its limbs. They almost resembled wings, but they ended in fingers which had claws coming out of them.

MASTOX

Plague Pokémon

Poison

Its DNA is rumored to be immune to most diseases. Its needle-like claws can draw them out of humans and Pokémon alike, but can give them to people as well. Before bedside manner was more commonplace, Mastox was the Pokémon of choice for doctors in the Allanza region, but were gradually phased out due to their somewhat creepy appearance.

Scarlet hid herself to make sure none of them saw her, which thankfully none of them did. She focused on trying to hear what they were saying.

“This should be enough to last you until Arryline City,” the man spoke. “As long as you don’t get into too many battles. Try not to get caught using it though, if you do, I'll stop supplying you.”

“I’ll do my best. Thank you. How much did you say it was going to be?”

“I’ll take 20% of the prize money you’ve won by the time we get in touch.”

“Fair enough. Again, thank you.” Scarlet heard the sound of the girl’s footsteps leaving, and started hearing the man’s footsteps walking towards her.

Scarlet made herself scarce, not wanting any of them to know she’d been eavesdropping. She and Cassandra booked it back to the hotel.

What did I just witness…?


The man in the labcoat scowled at the alleyway. Okay, I KNOW I heard footsteps here. He looked around for anything, any clues as to who was eavesdropping.

Then, he saw something.

Slowly, he knelt down and picked it up. It was a white hair, which looked more like a Pokémon’s fur. But what Pokémon was it exactly? A Meowstic? An Absol maybe? Could’ve been a Hoodlet for all he knew.

He pulled out a cell phone, dialed a number, and let it ring. Someone on the other end picked up.

“Hello, boss? This is the Distributor. I think someone may have listened in on a deal. ...uh-huh. No, the only trace of them was a small amount of Pokémon fur. Want me to send it to Erwin for analysis? ...mhmmm. Okay. Until then I’ll just proceed as planned, alright. Got it. Thanks.”

He hung up and placed the phone in his pocket, then he took the white fur and stuffed it in a small plastic bag which he also put away before turning to the Pokémon beside him. “Come along, Mastox. We’ve got three more customers to meet up with.”
 
Chapter 9: Standing on Ceremony

Oliver was chilling in his hotel room. After Scarlet went off to get pizza and he finally got to take a shower, he let Pokémon loose and they were all chilling out watching Crobatman Returns on the hotel room’s TV. Well, to be more specific, he let all his Pokémon loose except one.

“Hey Ralts,” Oliver turned to his Pokémon during one of the more disgusting scenes with the movie’s Empoleon-themed villain, “You think I should give Karrablast another chance to meet you guys?” Ralts simply nodded.

“I guess that’s worth a shot,” Oliver said. He had been reluctant to let Karrablast loose because of how powerful and unruly he was compared to the rest of the team. Letting him run around in a hotel room seemed like a recipe for disaster. But he couldn’t just keep him couped up in a Pokéball the entire time. True, he had Karrablast out when they got moving that morning but during sparring he didn’t hold back and Oliver was worried he’d injure Moira’s Pokémon for real.

Now seemed as good a time as any to try to connect. Oliver took out the call and opened it, and out popped Karrablast.

“Hey Karrablast,” he greeted, crouching down to get closer. “I, uh, feel like we should get to know each other more-“

SLASH

Oliver jumped back as Karrablast swiped at him. Oliver backed off. “Okay, okay, I get the message. You don’t quite trust me yet,” he said nervously, his hands held up defensively. “Good to know.”

Joltik hopped down to where Karrablast was and began sparking in anger.

“Joltik, no, don’t aggravate him-” but it was too late, as Karrablast reacted to the sparking by spraying acid from his mouth. It wasn’t a lot, though, and Joltik jumped out of the way quickly, but the acid did melt some of the carpet.

“Hey, knock it off, you two!” But the two bugs had begun fighting in earnest. Ralts was waving her arms frantically trying to diffuse the situation, and Tryote was simply watching the fight unfold.

When a spray of acid hit the side of the bed and started eating away at the fabric, Oliver decided enough was enough. He pulled out two Pokéballs and withdrew the both of them. He groaned. “What am I going to do with Karrablast… Course, I can’t have Joltik picking fights either.” Oliver wondered if Joltik had always been confrontational like that, but never noticed because he only ever had the two Pokémon for the longest time.

Before he could pursue this train of thought any further, there was a knock at the door.

It was Scarlet. “I got the pizza,” she said as Oliver opened the door. “Come on up to me and Moira’s room, it’s bigger… what happened to your room?”

Oliver turned around, seeing the various places where acid had melted the carpet. “I tried letting Karrablast out of his Pokéball outside of a battle. This mistake will not be repeated.”

Scarlet cracked a smile. “Well, the important thing is that you learned.”

Oliver eventually let Joltik out of his time out, but Joltik just drained from a power outlet instead of having pizza. He also let Karrablast out because depriving him of delicious pizza wasn’t exactly a great way to build trust. Luckily, Karrablast mellowed out somewhat once he realized these humans were his new food providers, but still got snappy at any other Pokémon that got close. Can’t have them stealing his pizza, after all.

Scarlet didn’t tell Oliver or Moira about what she witnessed on the way back. How exactly would she say it in a way that didn’t make them freak out? “This pizza’s really good. By the way I think I may have witnessed a back-alley drug deal. So you ready for the opening ceremony tomorrow?” No, she kept quiet about it. For now she did the responsible thing, call the police and leave an anonymous tip and figured she’d forget about it come morning.

—————

The show stage of Emperor’s Palace was one of its main draws. A huge crowd gathered to see who this year’s hopefuls. The opening ceremony wasn’t necessarily required- Allanza’s League was much more informal as Scarlet had said- but most of them showed up regardless. The competitors all got front row seats (or at least the first few rows), and Oliver and Moira were sitting next to each other on the 3rd row from the front. They were told they would get to walk up on stage at the end of the opening ceremonies.

“Hey, Oliver,” Moira asked quietly, “you recognize anyone here?”

“Let’s see… There’s Lennoa and her Gallade. I can’t see any of the Elite Four though… Oh! Wait, there are two of them on the first row!”

Moira craned her neck and looked where Oliver was pointing.

“That guy with the light blue hair wearing thick winter clothing indoors? That’s Wendell, the Ice-type expert. And a couple seats down from him is Tanya, the Fairy-type user.”

“She the one with the blonde bushy pigtails and frilly pink dress?”

“That’s the one.”

“Well where are the other two?”

“Oh, they very rarely show up to the ceremony. Verne doesn’t like crowds and Crowley is probably training.”

Just then the lights started to dim. It was starting.

A clean-shaven man with nearly-combed black hair and a pinstripe blue suit walked on stage. The man had a rather unremarkable face.

“Welcome, everyone! My name is Rondell, Chairman of the Allanza Pokémon League. Usually the champion would be handling these proceedings but seeing as how she gave up her title, she isn’t here. And believe me, I’m as disappointed as you are.”

A couple weak chuckles rang from the audience.

“It is my pleasure to announce that the Gym Challenge has officially begun! Each trainer must battle and defeat the eight Gym Leaders, and only those who have collected all eight Gym Badges will be able to compete in the League Championship!”

“Now allow me to introduce a few of those Gym Leaders now! Not all of them though. The Verdance Gym is between Leaders again and Braxton's in the hospital.”

“That’s hardly a surprise,” Oliver whispered. “Braxton has glass bones and paper skin. The guy’s like 90. Honestly I think he should’ve retired a long time ago.” Moira nodded in understanding.

“Now then, here they are!”

Onto the stage walked six trainers.

“The Rock-hard boxing champ, Ricky!” Onto the stage walked a tall brown-haired man, built like a brick made out of smaller bricks wearing a loose grey hoodie over red sweatpants. He shadowboxed for a bit, then flexed.

“The high-Flying pilot with her head in the clouds, Amelia!” Next was a dark-haired and dark-skinned woman wearing a violet bomber jacket. Her hair was in two long pigtails. She simply waved to the crowd, smiling.

“The man who built his Gym out of a Water Park, Floyd!” A man with tan skin and loose blonde hair walked onstage, wearing a blue Alolan shirt and orange shorts, and sandals. He walked in with his hands resting behind his head.

“The Electrifying technology prodigy, Gavin!” Next was a tall, thin blonde man with sunglasses and black rubber gloves over a yellow and black jumpsuit. He waved to the crowd, though less enthusiastically than Amelia.

“The Ghost-type master and scholar of the unknown, Dumont!” This one was somewhat pale with nearly-combed dark purple hair and wore glasses, and had on a black tweed jacket. He didn’t really show much emotion.

Oliver blinked. “This guy looks kinda familiar…” he whispered.

“And last but not least, the Fighter from the mountains, Mel!” Mel was wearing a white gi over a brown bodysuit, her long black hair tied into a massive ponytail. Like Dumont she had a much more serious demeanor.

“We hope to see some expert battling from all of you! And now… it’s time to introduce all the trainers who’ll be competing!”

This is it. Oliver steeled his nerves. He looked over at Moira, who somehow looked more nervous then he was. Oliver leaned over and touched her shoulder to reassure her, in a gesture that may have seemed romantic at first glance but most definitely wasn’t.

Moira smiled at the comforting touch and nodded at him.

One by one the trainers in the first few rows stood up and made their way to the stage. Oliver took his place and stood tall, as did Moira, Amber, Lennoa, Crosly, Tanya, and Wendell.

This is it. This is where my story begins.

—————

“Oh hey, Moira! I couldn’t find you after the ceremony, where’d you go?”

Moira hurried to catch up with Oliver and Scarlet, who, as usual, had Cassandra beside her. They started walking towards Route 3 before realizing Moira was taking her time.

“I ran into a trainer who was having a hard time finding a Shroomish. Those things are rather hard to find, it seems. So he traded me for it.”

“Oh, really? I don’t think I’ve ever thought about Pokémon trading. What did he give you?”

Moira was about to answer when Crosly came by. “Hey, you guys!”

Crosly waved hello and Oliver responded in kind. Moira and Scarlet both greeted him as well, neither noticing Cassandra’s glaring at him. “So how’d you guys like the opening ceremony?”

“Oh, my heart was racing the whole time. What about you, Moira?”

“Honestly, same. Though the Chairman seemed like he was trying too hard. Just dinnae have the same charm that Chairman Rose did back home.” She sighed. “Shame he’s in prison now… he seemed like a nice guy.”

Oliver blinked, wondering what that story was about, though he was fairly certain it involved some 10-year-old catching a Legendary Pokémon.

“Yeah, kinda sucks Raleigh wasn’t there this year. Anyway, Oliver.” He pulled a Pokéball out of his hand and started tossing it up and down. “How about a little battle?”

Oliver’s eyes widened. “Wha- really? Right here?”

“Don’t worry, the crowd won’t get in the way. They’ll probably stand back and watch, actually.”

Oliver grinned. “All right, you’re on! ...quick question, how big is your team?”

“Oh. Um… It consists of three Pokémon right now.”

“I have four, so I think I’ll bench one to make it fair.”

Moira cringed, remembering how his fight with Amber had gone. “Oliver, I don’t think that-“

“Joltik?” Oliver said to the bug on his shoulder. “I think you can sit this one out.” Joltik bristled a bit and crawled back into his backpack.

Crosly shrugged. “Suit yourself.” The two stepped a few paces away from each other. “All right… let’s battle!”

Oliver tossed a Pokéball out. “Let’s see how you do in an actual battle! Go, Karrablast!”

Crosly then tossed out his own Pokéball. “Go, Sawbit!”


SAWBIT

Deep Crawler Pokémon

Water

Its shell is meant to withstand deep-sea pressure and is hard to penetrate. It needs to breathe water, but can survive on land without it for upwards of 24 hours.



It was an orange-reddish color, with a pair of pincers and six lobster-like legs at the front. Behind the head was a segmented bit of armor that looked like a shield that was the same orange-ish color and smaller legs hidden underneath it.

The passersby noticed what was going on and started to gather around to watch it. Scarlet had the Pokédex out and was excitedly typing away at it. Finally, I get to see one of these things in a battle!

“Oh cool, a Sawbit! I’ve never actually seen one of those before!” Oliver said. “All right Karrablast, let’s try to get through that armor! Use Acid Spray!”

Karrablast didn’t move.

Oliver blinked. “Um… Karrablast?”

The blue bug did nothing. It didn’t seem to be paying attention.

“You’re not gonna attack? All right then, Sawbit, use Razor Shell!”

With considerable speed, Sawbit crawled towards Karrablast and sliced at it with one of its front legs, which had a trail of water running by it. Karrablast was hit, getting thrown to the side. Karrablast charged back at it and used Bug Bite, which did very little.

“Karrablast, what are you doing?! Use Acid Spray!” But Karrablast was moving to the beat of his own drum and went at Sawbit with X-Scissor, which did a bit more damage but not a lot.

“Sawbit, use Poison Fang!” Sawbit once again crawled towards Karrablast and bit down on it with its pincers, this time drips of purple liquid trickling down from the injury.

“Come oooon, Karrablast…” Oliver was basically pleading by this point. But the bug simply went for another Bug Bite and did very little damage.

“All right, Sawbit, finish it off with as mother Razor Shell!” Once again Sawbit struck at Karrablast with a watery claw, sending Karrablast reeling before falling unconscious.

Some of the onlookers were starting to lose interest and started walking off.

Karrablast, come on… Oliver withdrew his disobedient (and now unconscious) Bug Pokémon. I need to work on that. “All right, Ralts, you’re up. That shell may be tough, but let’s see it block a psychic attack!”

Ralts jumped out of Oliver’s backpack and landed in front of Sawbit.

“Use Confusion!” This time there was no hesitation from his Pokémon, Ralts’s horn glowed bright as a mass of purplish energy gathered near her and shot directly at Sawbit’s head, surrounding it. The creepy crawly staggered back, not able to tell its left from its right.

“All right Ralts, great work! Now let’s try that new move we’ve been working on! Use Magical Leaf!”

Ralts’s horn glowed again, the wind in the area picking up before a few leaves, pulsing with energy, flew in and circled around Ralts before launching at Sawbit. The leaves finally did the job of knocking out the Water-type.

Crosly withdrew Sawbit. “All right, now THAT was more like it! Let’s see you try this one on for size. Go, Flintail!”

Moira, watching the battle, recognized this Pokémon from the one she saw in Pine’s lab. It slithered on the ground before it coiled.

“Flintail, use Ember!” Flintail’s rattle began sparking and a ball of fire shot out.

“Ralts, use Confusion again!” Ralts did so, the psychic energy and the fireball passing each other before hitting their targets. The fireball scorched Ralts, but Flintail managed to avoid getting confused despite being hit.

“You can take it, Ralts! Use Hypnosis!”

She began to project rings of light that began making Flintail drowsy.

“Use Spark!”

Flintail, though its movements were a bit sluggish, began sparking its rattle again before swinging it into Ralts, the sparks causing an electric shock. Ralts was knocked to the side and couldn’t get up, but the hypnosis finally did its job and Flintail fell asleep.

Oliver withdrew the Psychic Pokémon into her Pokéball. “Good work, girl. It’s all up to you now, Tryote!” He threw the Pokéball out and the Ground-type popped out.

“Tryote, use Bite!”

“Flintail, use Ember!”

Tryote rushed forward and managed to avoid the fireball by leaping over it, its jaws connecting with the snake before it jumped back, sending Flintail reeling.

“It flinched! Now’s your chance to use your new move! Hit it with Sand Tomb!”

Tryote howled, a cloud of sand swirling around Flintail and scratching it up.

“Flintail, use Fire Fang!” But it didn’t hear him, as the force of the localized sandstorm blocked him out, and shortly after, knocked it unconscious. Crosly withdrew his KO’d snake and pulled out his final Pokémon. “Guess it’s all up to you now, Nidoran!”

Unlike Moira’s Nidoran, this one was a baby blue, with softer, less sharp features- a female.

Oliver smiled. Like the last one, this would be weak to Tryote’s Ground-type attacks. “Tryote, use Mud-Slap!”

Tryote swiped at the ground, causing a hunk of soft earth to get flung at Nidoran.

“Now hit her with Sand Tomb!”

“Nidoran, has Attract!”

Nidoran faced Tryote, then posed cutely and winked, a soft pink light emanating from her. But Tryote, as single-minded as he was, ignored it and once again caused an eruption of sand.

“Nidoran, use Bite!”

Nidoran, sand swirling around her, tried to launch at Tryote, but the storm held her back.

“Finish her off with another Mud-Slap!” Another hunk of soft earth pelted Nidoran and sure enough she was down for the count.

The onlookers applauded as Crosly withdrew Nidoran. He walked up to Oliver and the two shook hands.

Oliver wound up winning 476 Pokédollars as prize money and Scarlet got a chance to record some information on Sawbit, which were incredibly hard to find in the wild (due to their deep sea habitat) and rarely used by trainers.

“That was a good fight,” Crosly said. Your Ralts and your Tryote were really strong. But why didn’t you use your other Pokémon?”

“Joltik? Oh, because if I had 4 Pokémon and you had 3, that gave me an unfair advantage.”

“That’s true, but if you meet up with a trainer that has more than you , I doubt they’d have the same respect for fairness. I know I probably wouldn’t.” He began walking towards the Pokémon Center, but he stopped. “Oh, and another thing.” He turned around. “You really need to get that Karrablast of yours under control.”

“Yeah, I, uh, I noticed,” Oliver said sheepishly.

Crosly waved goodbye and walked off, saying he was going to be much stronger the next time they fought. Oliver knew he’d have to heal his Pokémon too eventually, but for now he considered what Crosly said. Not all trainers will want to play fair… that’s true. But if I had a team of 6 and my opponent only had 3 it would feel like a hollow victory, wouldn’t it?

—————

Unknown to him, from the shadows, a man with a surgical mask was watching the fight play out.

So Crosly’s first opponent was him, of all people. That was certainly pretty intense.

But that Karrablast… that couldn’t be… could it?

The Distributor’s phone began vibrating. He picked up and answered quickly.

“Erwin! What a pleasant surprise! Did you complete the analysis?”

He listened to his colleague’s reply.

“So it was an Absol. I guess I should find…” he paused as Scarlet and Cassandra went up and started talking to Oliver about the battle. The Distributor stared right at Cassandra. No way…

“I think things may have just gotten a bit more interesting. You said Cole was heading to Rokkraw with a couple Grunts to pick up some fossils? Have him keep an eye out for a black female with red hair accompanied by an Absol, and a younger trainer with black hair, glasses, and a Ralts he keeps out of her Pokéball. He also has a Karrablast.”

He once again listened to the reply.

“I dunno. Too early to tell. They might be a threat, they might not. But things definitely just got more interesting for Team Vortex.”
 
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Chapter 10: Under the Red Hood

Route 1 was dry, Route 2 was heavily forested, and Route 3- which connected Neoshine City with Rokkraw City to the east- was much more of a light green field. The grass was a lighter green color, with the occasional rural house every so often. It was very rarely traversed most of the time, as there was a highway built between the bigger cities Neoshine and Arryline. But due to the first Pokémon Gym being off the beaten path in Rokkraw, it saw a lot of traffic whenever the Gym Challenge started up.

"Boldore, use Magnitude!"

"Joltik, use Electroweb!"

And, of course, Pokémon battles.

Almost immediately after stepping out onto Route 3, a trainer with short black hair and a red track jacket challenged him to a battle.

Oliver, as per usual, only used three Pokémon against his opponent's three. However, he didn't even get to see the other two. This trainer's Boldore was an indestructible wall of pain. It had taken out Karrablast with a couple of Rock Throws, and it cleaned Ralts's clock with an Iron Head.

Joltik fared a bit better, as it was small and fast enough to dodge Boldore's Rock Throw, but a huge, wide-ranged move like Magnitude couldn't exactly be dodged, as it created a seismic wave across the ground. Furthermore, Joltik could barely seem to put a dent in the thing.

In the end, Oliver wound up having to pay out a good chunk of money as prize money, and the trainer, satisfied with his victory, pocketed the money, walked over to grab his belongings which he set down prior to the battle.

Which included a small black briefcase.

Scarlet's eyes widened as she saw it. Wasn't that… there's no way…

Oliver, meanwhile, was sulking. "That… that hurt."

Moira patted his back reassuringly. "Dinnae worry, ye'll catch up soon."

Oliver smiled. "Thanks, Moira. But there's something else…" he sat down on a nearby rock. "The moves that Boldore was using… they didn't feel right."

Scarlet raised an eyebrow. "Go on…"

"W-well, I mean, not to sound like a sore loser, but I've never heard of a Boldore use Magnitude before. For that matter, when's the last time you saw a pure Rock type use Iron Head?" Oliver sighed. "I dunno, maybe it's a convoluted breeding chain or something but…"

Scarlet piped up. "Hey, did you notice that trainer had a black briefcase?"

Moira nodded. "Aye. But what's that got tae do with…"

"I need to tell you about something that happened yesterday. While I was getting the pizza. It's like this…"

She told them about the detour she took while chasing Cassandra. About the man in the doctor's uniform selling some sort of illicit substance in the alley. About how it was contained in a black briefcase similar to that one.

"So what you're saying," Oliver said once she finished the story, "is that whatever's in the briefcase…"

"Is somehow connected with that Pokémon using moves it shouldn't, yes."

Oliver hummed to himself. "And you said he sold it to some other trainers. That isn't good. Let's just deal with that as it comes. In the meantime, we've got another problem."

"And what's that?" Moira asked.

"I'm kinda strapped for cash after paying out the prize money for that battle." He stood back up. "And my team isn't in any position to fight any trainers right now. Tryote is the only one who's awake."

"Hey, excuse me?" a man's voice called. The three turned to see an older, graying brown-haired man with a considerable moustache and wearing blue overalls over a plaid shirt. "I couldn't help but overhead you need a way to make some money, is that right?"

Oliver nodded. "I'm sorry, who are you?"

"Allow me to introduce myself. Name's Trevor. I run a small farm just a few minutes' walk north from here. I've got a bit of a problem that I need a trainer to solve."

"What sort of problem?" Moira asked.

"Follow me. I can explain it to you on the way there."

Scarlet was a bit hesitant to just follow this random man who had an odd job for them, but Cassandra seemed to trust him, and she's always been a good judge of character. So she shrugged. "Lead the way, then."

So the group began walking to his place, a farmhouse just a bit north of Route 3. As they walked, he explained his situation.

"I'm a farmer. I make my living growing vegetables and berries, you see. However, lately something's made it past my fence and started stealing crops. It seems like it's a wild Pokémon but I can't tell what kind it is. Now I used to be a trainer myself when I was younger, but those days are gone and I don't exactly have the speed I used to, so I can't catch it. Don't have any Pokémon of my own either. I want you to track it down and capture it before I lose any more of my crops."

"That seems easy enough," Oliver said.

"Aye, we'll show 'em what for!" Moira added enthusiastically.

"Don't worry, we'll be able to find out what's doing this," Scarlet said. Cassandra mewed in affirmation.

They arrived at the place, a cozy-looking beige house beside a considerably large field with all sorts of plants growing in it. Walking into his field, it was as he had said. The vegetables had been plucked and the berries picked, though from a distance the farm was undisturbed.

"Wow… this place is pretty big. You say you don't have any Pokémon? You handle the farm all yourself?" Scarlet asked.

"Yeeeep," Trevor responded. "The rest of the family ain't interested in farming. So it's just me. And I may not have the speed, but I have the endurance. Still though, I'd love having the extra help, but I'm just too slow to catch any."

Oliver looked at him sympathetically. "Sounds kinda lonely, doesn't it?"

"Eh, I'm used to it."

With that the trainers split up to search for clues, Scarlet and Cassandra looking at the empty berry trees and the younger two searching the ground. They noted that though a good chunk of the field had been ransacked, there were still plenty of crops still present.

The search continued for about half an hour before any of them found anything.

"Hey guys, I think I found some tracks!" Oliver said, calling the others to him. "I think a wild Pokémon made 'em!"

Scarlet and Moira joined Oliver. Indeed, there were tracks, though they appeared rather far apart, as though it was hopping through the dirt.

Scarlet pulled up the Pokedex app on her phone. "Lemme scan it and see what it comes up with," she said as she aimed her phone camera at the tracks and waited for it to load.

"Ah, the wonders of technology…" Trevor said wistfully. "I remember when Bill first created the PC system. Made life real easy for a lot of trainers. Before that we-"

Thankfully before his rambling could gain momentum, the app identified what made the tracks, displaying a picture of the offending Pokémon. Its most defining feature was its ears, which were both red and were massive, larger than the rest of its body and trailed behind it like a hood, almost resembling a Snorunt in shape, only without the sharp point on top. The rest of its small round furry body was a lighter red bordering on pink, except for its feet, which were pure white and very rabbit-like. It had a small triangular nose between its two large eyes, and it had two small stubby arms, between which were held what looked like a picnic basket.

----------
HOODLET

Delivery Pokémon

Fairy

It crafts a makeshift basket from twigs and leaves, though if they live closer to humans they do often have real ones. They make a point to fill it with all sorts of berries and other such things and are famously protective over their baskets. In Allanza they are often used to deliver mail locally.
----------

"Looks like it's using the stolen crops to fill its basket," Scarlet said.

"What is it even doing with them, anyway?" Oliver asked.

"Who cares? We need to find it so Trevor can keep growing his crops and we can get paid," Moira said.

Oliver nodded. "Hey Trevor, you mind if we stay the night and look out at the garden?"

"Be my guest," the farmer said.

So as the sun set and Oliver's knocked-out Pokémon rested and regained their strength, the three trainers were observing the untouched parts of the field for any flashes of red, looking through the farmhouse window.

About an hour passed. Ralts and Joltik were well enough to travel in the backpack again, though Karrablast didn't want to be woken up and Oliver didn't want to try. So he left Tryote to watch him and went back to the window.

Trevor had fallen asleep by this point. Scarlet, upon realizing this, made the suggestion that the Hoodlet in question had known the farmer went to bed at this hour and waited until then to raid his farm.

This hypothesis proved correct when Moira noticed a red object hopping towards the fence. "Oi," she whispered to the other two as it drew nearer. "Here comes the wee f***er now."

The Hoodlet, carrying a small brown basket, approached the fence cautiously, looking out for anyone watching. The three trainers backed off from the window in order to stay hidden.

Not seeing them, the wild Hoodlet leaped over the fence and made a beeline for one of the untouched berry trees.

"Bingo," Moira said, grabbing Nidoran's Pokéball and racing for the door.

"Wait, no, Moira! It'll spot you and run away and then-"

But Moira couldn't hear Oliver's warnings over the sound of the door slamming open. Naturally the Hoodlet immediately looked to the source of the sound and saw Moira send Nidoran out. Rather than book it, it hastily shoved as many berries into the basket as it could get and then made a break for it.

"Nidoran! Use Poison Sting!" Nidoran shot a poisoned spine at the fleeing Hoodlet, which struck it in one of the ears, slowing it down. Moira ran after the two. Oliver had just made it out the door with Ralts and Joltik in tow and took off in their direction as well.

Scarlet just stared blankly at the chase until she heard a snort behind her.

"Eh? Wh-what's all the commotion about?" Trevor asked after being roused from his light sleep.

Scarlet simply turned back to the still-open door. "I do believe they've spotted the thief." With that, she gathered Cassandra and followed after the two.

----------

The Hoodlet ran into a cluster of trees north of the farm, basically a small, not-very-dense forest. It was injured and the poison wasn't helping, but still it pressed on. It cleared a downed log, but tripped, dropping the basket. It quickly sprang forward and caught it just in time, but a few berries spilled out. It tried to pick them back up but had to keep fleeing once Nidoran got close. It narrowly dodged another Poison Sting as it hopped away, still weakened by the poison.

Undeterred, Moira recalled Nidoran and sent out Sobble. "Use Water Pulse!" she said, pointing at the fleeing Pokémon, and Sobble did so, firing a ring of water directly at it, still running after the Hoodlet.

The water struck Hoodlet dead-on, the impact sending it into a tree, though the contents of the basket didn't fall out this time. It regained its footing in time to stand up and before Sobble could fire back, it jumped up into the air, then dove down towards Sobble and attacked him with Pluck, striking Sobble off-guard and taking off into the forest once again.

Oliver turned to Joltik. "Hey, follow them and help Moira take it down, we'll catch up." Joltik nodded and leapt into action. Meanwhile, Oliver knelt down to observe the berries that Hoodlet had dropped. He picked one up and examined it.

"Hey Ralts, isn't this a Pecha berry?" he asked, holding it up to Ralts. Ralts took a bite and nodded, smiling at its sweet flavor.

"I figured as much. But aren't these things natural antidotes? Why wouldn't Hoodlet eat one to cure its poisoning? Something's going on here…" he readjusted the backpack on his shoulders and took off after Moira.

The Galarian trainer wasn't having much success in hitting Hoodlet after that first Water Pulse. Hoodlet seemed to adapt and was able to avoid future Water Pulses fairly easily, in spite of the poison taking its toll. It jumped through a cluster of bushes and out of sight.

Moira stopped to catch her breath, Sobble sticking by, looking up at his trainer in concern. This was when Joltik showed up.

"I'll be fine," she said between breaths. "Did the Hoodlet get away?"

Sobble waddled over to the bush and poked its head through. Apparently surprised by what it saw, it beckoned Moira over. Moira, curious, walked over and knelt down, looking through the bushes herself, as did Joltik.

What the…?

The Hoodlet had set its basket down and was passing the berries around to a few Pokémon. This group consisted of a Pichu, an Elekid, a Togepi, an Azuril, a Bonsly… Moira didn't recognize all of them but they clearly all had one thing in common. They're all wee baby Pokémon, Moira realized. They looked like they'd been roughing it for a good long while. They were eagerly chowing down on the berries like it was a gourmet meal. The Togepi looked at the Pecha berry it was about to eat, saw Hoodlet's sickened state, and handed it back to it. Hoodlet, reluctantly, took it and took a bite, the sickness beginning to leave.

Oliver began walking up. "Hey Moira, did you catch it?"

Moira shushed Oliver and beckoned him over to see what was happening. Oliver and Ralts both peered into the bushes.

"These are all… baby Pokémon? What are they doing out here? Maybe they got separated from their parents? Or maybe they were bred, and abandoned…"

Ralts's eyes, hidden by her hair, started to water in sympathy, remembering her own origin.

"That Hoodlet was stealing from the farm to feed these guys," Oliver realized. "That's why it didn't eat the berry that could've cured its poison- it was another Pokémon's next meal!"

It was at that point that one of the Pokémon (Moira didn't recognize it, Oliver identified it as a Magby) suddenly noticed something and started to make a small crying noise. Moira was briefly worried they had been discovered, but the Pokémon all looked the other way, away from them.

Out of the brush on the other side emerged three Pokémon- wild Lycanroc, two of them them the light brown Midday form but one of them, the one in the center and clearly the strongest of the three, was the fearsome red Midnight form. The babies crowded behind Hoodlet. The Fairy-type was healed of poison but still clearly injured and winded from the attacks Nidoran and Sobble inflicted on it.

The three Rock-type dogs advanced towards them, growling and snarling. Hoodlet, still clutching its basket, suddenly ran up and jumped into the air, landing behind one of the Midday ones and striking it from behind (using a move Oliver recognized as Thief). This got their attention as they turned away from

Moira's eyes widened. "That Hoodlet wasn't just getting them food- it was the only thing protecting them from predators!" Suddenly she felt a little bad for trying to catch it. She very nearly left those babies without anyone watching out for them.

Oliver looked at the fight, as all three of them attempted to use Bite on Hoodlet. It was able to dodge one of them, but the other two connected. And though Dark was not strong against Fairy, it still weakened Hoodlet quite significantly. "Even if Hoodlet was at 100% it'd still have its hands full with them."

The two Midday Lycanroc continued advancing on Hoodlet. The Midnight Lycanroc, however, turned its attention to the babies, who all cowered in fear as it slowly moved on them, growling. The Magby fired off an Ember, which probably wouldn't have done much even if Lycanroc didn't have a typing that resisted Fire.

Oliver gritted his teeth. "Not if I have anything to say about it! Ralts, use Magical Leaf!" The Psychic-type leapt out and burst through the foliage, emerging with a cluster of leaves swirling around her telekinetically. The leaves flew at the Midnight Lycanroc, slicing it up a little, drawing the attention of the other two Lycanroc as well as Hoodlet.

This did quite a bit more damage, but this was still an unevolved Pokémon facing an evolved Pokémon so the damage wasn't overwhelming. Lycanroc's eyes focused on its new target and charged forward.

"Sobble, use Water Pulse!" Sobble fired another burst of water which burst right in Lycanroc's face. That did the trick- Lycanroc fell to the ground, knocked out.

The two remaining Lycanroc whirled on Sobble and Ralts and began charging as well. Hoodlet, injured and nearing unconscious itself, could only watch.

"Joltik!" Oliver cried. "Try hitting them both with Electroweb!"

Joltik leapt out of the bushes and fired electrified spider silk at the two of them. It wasn't enough to wrap them up but it did slow them down, the electricity shocking them.

"Ralts, use Confusion on the one that got hit by Hoodlet earlier."

"Sobble, keep up with the water!"

The already-injured Lycanroc went down after psychic energy assaulted its mind. The one remaining one took the blast of water, and opened its mouth, ready to use Bite on Sobble, when all of a sudden, Hoodlet let out a small yell- a Disarming Voice attack, Oliver noted- that was weak, but distracted Lycanroc enough for Joltik to finish it off with Bug Bite.

All three Lycanroc were downed and a wave of relief crept over the trainers. Hoodlet got back up to its feet, then saw Moira there and jumped, frightened. It backed away slowly.

"L-look, wee one, I'm sorry fer hurting ye," Moira said placatingly as she waved her hands frantically.

"Let me handle this," Oliver said. "Or rather, let Ralts handle it. Ralts?"

The little Psychic/Fairy nodded and turned to the scared group and began chattering away, getting the Pokémon's attention.

Moira turned to Oliver. "What's she doing?"

"I… think she's explaining what's going on, that we didn't mean to put them in danger, but we wanted them to stop Hoodlet stealing from that farm."

As Ralts negotiated, Scarlet and Cassandra caught up. "...What's going on here?" Scarlet asked. Oliver summed up the situation as Ralts finished whatever she had to say. Hoodlet chattered away in response. Ralts turned back to Oliver, then gestured towards the baby Pokémon.

"...You're asking how Hoodlet is supposed to take care of them without stealing?"

Ralts nodded with its head tilted, which basically meant "More or less."

Oliver began to think. I don't want to leave these baby Pokémon hungry, but Trevor's own livelihood is at stake… Then, he smiled. "I think I have an idea that'll make everyone happy. Ralts, I want you to ask them something..."

----------

"Hey Trevor? We're back," Oliver said as he walked in the door, followed by Moira.

"Welcome back!" Trevor greeted happily, if a little tired. "Did you catch that Pokémon?"

"Well, not exactly…" Oliver admitted. "But we were just wondering. If you had Pokémon of your own, do you think you'd have an easier time working this place?"

"Are you kidding? It would make everything much easier! I've just never been able to catch one. But… what does that have to do with the thief?"

"Because it was stealing food to take care of a group of wee baby Pokémon that had been left on their own," Moira explained. "And it just so happens that those Pokémon would be more than happy to give you a hand or five on the farm if they have food and a place to stay. Isn't that right, guys?"

On cue, the small group of baby Pokémon waddled in, looking around cautiously. Trevor looked down at them in surprise before his eyes focused on Hoodlet, which was shuffling into the house, nervously and somewhat reluctantly.

"What do you say? Wanna take them in? You'd have to give them food, but you'd be able to work faster with some extra hands so that oughta make up the difference, right?"

Trevor considered the idea. Then he walked up to the Hoodlet, looking down at it. The big-eared Fairy-type looked down at the ground in a gesture that would've been a bow if it had actual legs.

"I, uh, think it's trying to apologize," Oliver suggested.

Trevor knelt down, prompting Hoodlet to look up at him.

The farmer smiled, then started to pet it, scratching its ears, making the little Pokémon smile. "I'll take good care of 'em. I'll make sure they grow up strong," he said. Hoodlet looked up at him in relief. The baby Pokémon crowding around him, all clamoring to introduce themselves.

----------

Trevor was incredibly grateful. The stealing would stop and now he had a lot more help around the farm. Not only did he pay the trainers like promised (not a whole lot, mind you, but it was enough) but he even let them stay the night. When they awoke and got ready to head out, Trevor stopped and handed them one last thing.

"It's one of them Technical Machines they use to teach moves," he said. "I found this at a yard sale and got it on impulse, but I've never had a use for it. You'd probably be able to make use of it."

Moira took it. "Th-thanks," she said.

"Don't mention it," he said. "It was just taking up space anyway. Good luck with your Gym Challenge!"

Nodding, Moira pocketed the TM and turned to leave, joining Oliver, Scarlet, and Cassandra as they resumed their hike down Route 3. They had hardly been walking for a minute before they heard a small cry behind them. They turned and the Hoodlet was tailing them.

"Oh, hey little guy!" Oliver said, kneeling down. "What's up? Do you… you wanna come with us?"

Hoodlet pointed at one of the Pokéballs hanging from Oliver's belt, then to itself.

"I'm guessing she does," Scarlet said, having checked whether Hoodlet was male or female the night before.

Oliver took one of his empty Pokéballs, then stopped. "You want to catch her, Moira?"

"Hm? Oh, no," she shook her head. "I almost knocked her out before we found out about the babies, so I don't feel like she's very happy with me."

"Well, she did seem pretty upset when she saw you after the fight," Oliver said. "All right then, guess it's me." He turned to Hoodlet and threw the Pokéball, which opened up and drew Hoodlet inside, basket and all. It didn't even shake, just locking shut almost immediately.

Oliver picked the ball up and pocketed it. "She'll do great. I can tell." Then he looked to the rest of the group. "Shall we then?" Moira and Scarlet nodded, and they proceeded down the road to Rokkraw City- and the first Gym.
 
Chapter 11: Breaking Point

“Is that Rokkraw up ahead?” Moira asked.

“Yep. That’s it,” Scarlet replied.

Rokkraw was a small but bustling city nestled into the rocks and mountains directly to the east. The buildings were short, with very few of them breaking 2 stories. They all had a very metallic bent to them, the buildings being earthy or metallic colors as a whole.

The most notable building in town, which was visible even from Route 3, was the Rokkraw Gym, a large stadium which was not only built at a slightly higher elevation, but was 4 stories tall.

As the fields gave way to a more rocky landscape, Oliver was approached by another trainer, this one a girl with dark red hair, freckles, and dressed in green like Oliver was, and was carrying a large brown bag.

“Hey, would it be all right if I challenged you to a Pokémon battle?” She asked.

Moira huffed, a little miffed that Oliver was getting challenged all the time but she wasn’t. But Oliver replied “I’d love… Actually, can you hold on just a sec?”

“Sure!”

Oliver turned to the other two. “Did either of you notice that one of those black briefcases is hidden in her bag?” he whispered.

Moira looked over to the trainer, who was busy looking between two Pokéballs to choose who she’d lead with so she didn’t notice.

Sure enough, poking out of her bag was indeed that familiar black case.

“Aye… so what will ye do?”

“I’m going to fight her. With my entire team this time. Scarlet, I need you to write down all the moves that her Pokémon use so I can see if they actually match.”

“Will do.”

Oliver turned. “All right, I’m ready! You’re on! Go, Tryote!” He sent out the Ground-type, who landed on the ground ahead of him.

“Go, Magmar!” The ducklike Fire Pokémon emerged right in front of Tryote.

All right, I’d better not let up with the Ground moves. “Use Sand Tomb!” Tryote immediately generated a swirl of dust that surrounded Magmar.

“Magmar, use Incinerate!” A burst of flames erupted from the sandstorm, lightly singing Tryote, who wasn’t hurt too badly.

“Use Mud-Slap!” Tryote kicked dirt into the Magmar, who had forced its way out of the Sand Tomb. The dirt landed in Magmar’s face, hampering its vision.

“Shake it off, Magmar! Use Scald!”

Oh, that’s bullsh**, thought Oliver as Magmar- the Fire-type- spat out a considerable spray of boiling water, which not only compounded the burns Tryote already had but also did supereffective Water damage to Tryote. Oliver looked back at Moira and Scarlet, who clearly shared the sentiment (Scarlet poring over the Pokédex to see if there was some complicated breeding tree where that was possible).

Deciding to withdraw Tryote before he could be KO’d again, he recalled him and sent out Ralts, lamenting that Tryote was his only real counter to Fire.

“Use Confusion!” Ralts’s horn glowed as a wave of Psychic energy gathered towards Magmar, disorienting it. This, combined with the wear and tear of Sand Tomb, brought Magmar down, the fire growing less intense as he collapsed.

The trainer recalled her downed Pokémon and threw the next one out. “Go, Mawile!” The little odd, toothy Steel/Fairy type entered the field.

“Ralts, use Hypnosis!”

“Mawile, use Iron Head!”

Mawile dashed towards Ralts headfirst, glowing with a silverish light as it rammed into Ralts at full force. Ralts was knocked out cold in just one hit.

Oliver recalled Ralts. Yeah, Ralts can dish out the pain like the best of them, but one strong Steel-type move like that and it’s all over. Though I feel like Ralts could’ve hung on… “Go, Joltik!”

The Bug/Electric-type sparked, ready to take on Mawile.

“Use Electroweb!”

“Mawile, use Fire Fang!”

Joltik zipped around the field, charging electricity for the web. All right, Fire Fang will knock Joltik out cold, but Joltik can easily outspeed that thing and avoid-

The second Joltik got close to Mawile, it spun around with unnatural quickness and precision and bit down on Joltik with burning red fangs, before Oliver even had a chance to blink. Joltik was down.

How?! There’s no way a Mawile can be this fast!

He sent out Karrablast, who was knocked out just as quickly despite being physically tougher than Joltik and Ralts. Oliver reached for his Pokeballs, but stopped. He only had his injured Tryote and Hoodlet left. He knew Hoodlet would get one-shotted by Iron Head and Tryote would get KO’d by pretty much anything, so Oliver just withdrew his downed Karrablast and said, “All right, I give up. You win.”

After he paid out the prize money- I just got that, he internally sobbed- the trainer turned and left. Oliver went to a nearby rock and sat, looking a few different flavors of glum.

Moira sat down next to him. “It’s just a losing streak, Oliver, dinnae let it get tae ya.”

“It’s not just that. If this was just a normal losing streak I’d just go train some more. But this… Why should I even keep going when everyone else is just gonna cheat their way to the top? What’s the point?” He threw his arms up. “I give up.”

Moira’s eyes widened. “Ye- ye cannae be serious!”

Oliver looked at her. “No, I am serious. I’m gonna withdraw from the Gym Challenge.”

“Oh wow, you’re actually talking sense!” Said a familiar condescending voice in mocking surprise.

Amber walked towards them, her blouse now graced by the Geode Badge, shaped like a black hexagon with a shimmering white square at the center. “I’ve been trying to warn you that you’d be demolished out there. You didn’t listen, but eh, better late than never.”

“Hey, it’s not his fault, okay?” Moira shouted. “It’s only because of-”

“Moira, please, stay out of this,” Oliver said with a tired voice. He turned back to Amber. “Yeah, I’m dropping out, gonna train up a bit, come back next year-”

“Next year?” Amber snickered. “Oliver, you used your entire team on that girl and you STILL lost. On her second Pokémon! What makes you think next year will be any different?”

She poked him in the chest. “You’re a failure this year and you’ll be a failure next-“

She didn’t finish that sentence, as during her little rant, Moira had strolled over to her and slapped her right across the face.

Amber didn’t bother to look forward again at first, Moira’s hand still hanging in the air. Finally she spoke. “Did… did you just-“

“Yer f***in’ right I just did that, and I’ve got half a mind to do it again! So ye’ve got some fancy bred Vulpix, and so Oliver’s havin’ a bit of a losing streak. So what?! Aside from my Pokémon, Oliver’s the first friend I’ve had in years and I’m not gonna stand for this anymore! Amber, I challenge you to a Pokémon battle! Right here, right now!”

Amber slowly turned her head to face Moira, glaring daggers, her cheek still stinging. “Fine. You asked for it.”

Oliver started to panic. “Moira, y-you don’t have to do battle her just because of me.”

“Look. Oliver. Mate. I’m not going to just stand there and let her abuse you like that.” Oliver shut up.

He couldn’t help but watch Moira in awe and admiration as she took her place opposite Amber, one single thought dominating his mind:

I… I think I’m in love…

“Go, Vulpix!” Amber’s star Pokémon emerged from her Pokéball, her snowy appearance a stark contrast to the dry grass around them.

“Go, Sobble!” Moira tossed out her own ace Pokémon, the Water-type looking around hesitantly before standing his ground, clearly remembering what Vulpix did to Joltik.

“Use Hail!” Amber shouted, as Vulpix once again summoned a hailstorm.

As Vulpix began to shimmer out of focus as a result of her Snow Cloak, Amber chuckled. But her expression

Time for that TM the old man gave me to come in handy! “Sobble, use Swift!” Sobble’s hands glowed as glowing stars formed in them, then he flung those stars at Vulpix. Vulpix tried to dodge, its evasion boosted by the hail, but the stars circled back around and struck her anyway. Sobble was struck by hail but that wasn’t much of an issue.

“Vulpix, use Moonblast!” Amber shouted, as an Ice-type move wouldn’t do much to a Water-type.

As energy began to collect above Vulpix, Moira shouted “Quickly, Sobble, use Tearful Look!” Sobble looked Vulpix directly in the eyes and then began to softly cry, eyes watering.

Vulpix’s focus wavered and the resting burst of energy wasn’t as strong as it could have been. Sobble took the hit but wasn’t knocked out just yet.

“Go fer another Swift!”

“Moonblast him again!”

Vulpix began to form another ball of light as Sobble launched another volley of star-shaped projectiles. The stars made contact just as Vulpix released the energy.

The Ice-type was knocked back but not done yet. Sobble, meanwhile, was exhausted and basically knocked out, looking ready to fall over any second.

“Ye did good, lad! Come back,” Moira said, recalling the barely-standing Sobble. She pulled out another Pokéball, the one she got by trading Shroomish, and looked at it. Time to see what yer made of! “Go, Tyrogue!”

The small humanoid Fighting-type emerged and faced down Vulpix as the hail began to die down, Vulpix’s shimmering coming to a stop.

Amber didn’t seem to notice. She looked like wanted to laugh. “Tyrogue? Isn’t that a baby Pokémon? Whatever. Vulpix, use Moonblast!”

“Tyrogue, use Mach Punch!”

Before Amber could even blink, Tyrogue had already cleared the ground between them, his fist planted directly in Vulpix’s face.

Amber’s jaw dropped. “What-?”

Vulpix was pushed back and hurt by the hit but it was uninterrupted in its use of Moonblast.

Amber’s shock turned into a smirk. “That hurt, but not as much as this is gonna-“

“Tyrogue, use Protect!”

“ARE YOU SERIOUS?!” Amber shouted, losing her cool.

Tyrogue braced itself, a wall of blue shimmering into existence as the sphere of energy burst into a flash of light. When everyone’s vision returned, Tyrogue was standing there unharmed.

Amber was standing there in shock.

Moira smirked. “Mach Punch.”

Tyrogue zipped forward, punching Vulpix again. This time, Vulpix didn’t get back up, laying unconscious where the punch had knocked her.

Amber was speechless. “Y-y-you…” she stammered, then she regained her composure and huffed. “Don’t look so smug. I’ve still got two more Pokémon left.”

Moira withdrew Tyrogue and took out Wooloo’s Pokéball. “Let’s see, then! Go, Wooloo! She threw it, the sheep taking its spot and kicking at the dirt like a bull.

“Go, Lotad!” Amber shouted. The Water/Grass type sat there on the ground. “Use Bubble!”

“Wooloo, use Headbutt!”

Wooloo charged forward through the bubbles, not interrupted by their bursting as it collided with Lotad, knocking it around as well.

“Grrr… Lotad, Mega Drain! Now!”

Lotad began to shake as greenish energy began flowing from Wooloo to Lotad, healing some of its wounds, causing the Normal-type to stagger slightly.

“Okay lass, use Payback!”

Wooloo slammed into Lotad at full force, fueled by the pain of losing energy and knocking it out cold.

Oliver couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Amber was absolutely demolishing her team!

Scarlet seemed to notice Oliver’s awe. “Amber focused too much on training her Vulpix. Once her ace is taken care of, the rest should be child’s play.”

Scarlet spoke too soon, however. Amber grumbled as she withdrew Lotad. “You haven’t won yet. I got one more Pokémon left. Try taking this one down! Go, Torkoal!”

The Fire-type tortoise stepped out onto the field, smoke pouring out of its shell. Moira’s eyes narrowed. Wooloo was at a disadvantage here. True, her wool enhanced her defenses, but it was also quite flammable.

“Wooloo, use Headbutt!” She began to rear head back in preparation to charge towards Torkoal.

“Torkoal, use Flame Wheel!”

Torkoal cloaked itself in flame and slammed into Wooloo, the sheep taking damage from it and its wool being singed somewhat. Torkoal seemed unscathed.

“Go for another one, Torkoal!”

As Torkoal surrounded itself in flames, Moira withdrew Wooloo, not caring that its next attack would connect. In fact, she kinda hoped it would. “Go, Nidoran!”

Nidoran took the brunt of the impact of Flame Wheel, but its spines dug into Torkoal as it did so, infecting it with poison. The Poison Pokémon was dazed, but wasn’t down yet.

“Sorry ‘bout that, Nidoran! Use Double Kick!”

Slowed down by the poison in its system, Torkoal didn’t react in time to protect itself from being kicked twice by Nidoran. It didn’t do much damage, but compounded with the poison, Torkoal was weakening.

“Now use Horn Attack!”

“Use Ember, keep it at a distance!”

Torkoal shot a ball of fire at Nidoran who was charging headfirst with his horn forward, not seeing the approaching fire.

“Nidoran, dodge it!”

Hearing his trainer’s voice, Nidoran swerved to the left, just barely avoiding getting burned again and jumped in the air, slamming his horn into Torkoal, managing to hit a weak spot in its shell.

Torkoal grumbled and collapsed to the ground, the smoke from its shell stopping.

Moira had taken out Amber’s team and the only Pokèmon she lost was Sobble.

Amber stood there slack-jawed. “I… I lost? But I… I beat the Gym Leader before you! Vulpix was bred specifically for battle! How did I-“ her expression soured.

“Hmph. The other two Pokémon didn’t pull their weight. Lotad especially,” she muttered, uncaring if the other trainers heard her. “I’m going to give them a serious talking to once they recover, maybe I should just release Lotad. Then I’m gonna train them so hard-“

“Okay, I think I have to step in now,” Scarlet said, looking uncharacteristically angry. Cassandra looked at her trainer, somewhat concerned.

Scarlet stood over Amber, making them all suddenly aware of how tall she was, a fact they forgot as Scarlet tended to be a wallflower.

“Amber,” she said harshly. “Your Pokémon fought as hard as they could. If they were weak, it’s only because you did a lousy job training them.”

Amber regained her composure. “Maybe. But some Pokémon are just inherently stronger than others.”

Oliver stepped in. “That’s true. But in the end, the skill of the trainer is more important than the strength of the Pokémon, isn’t it?”

“Really?” Amber said skeptically. “Then a trainer with a Sunkern could beat a trainer with a Metagross if they’re just really, really good?”

“Well that’s hardly a fair comparison-“

“And if that’s the case,” Amber said, pointing at Oliver, “What’s that say about you, as a trainer, needing someone else to fight your battles for you?”

Oliver shut up after that.

Amber put her Pokéballs away. “This isn’t over.” She turned on her heel and made her way to the Pokémon Center, though she mumbled “I guess I can give Lotad a chance…”

With Amber out of earshot, Moira turned back to Oliver, his expression unreadable.

Finally Oliver gave a slight smile, and spoke. “Thanks for kicking her off her mighty Mudsdale,” he said.

“It was nothin’ really. I’ve wanted to do that since we met.”

“So… about what Amber said,” Scarlet asked, “it doesn’t bother you?”

“Of course not!” Oliver said. Then, after a moment, he sighed. “Well… I mean...”

He sat back down, Moira sitting next to him.

“She’s right about one thing. I need to be able to fight my own battles.” He turned to Moira, smiling confidently. “Once these guys recover, you and me are gonna spar. A lot. Need to be completely prepared when I fight the Gym Leader tomorrow.”

Moira beamed. “So you’re over that whole quitting thing?”

“What can I say?” he shrugged. “Seeing Amber eat some humble pie was invigorating.”

So Oliver, his confidence restored, went into the town and made a beeline for the Pokémon Center, ready for the challenges that awaited him.

But the knowledge that there was some sort of cheating afoot remained at the back of their minds. As did the man in the surgical mask who was apparently behind it...
 
Chapter 12: Enter Team Vortex, Part 1


Strategically placed right across the street from the earthy-colored, reddish-brown stadium that was Rokkraw Gym, the Pokémon Center was its normal pristine white-and-red, standing out from the more worn-down and eroded aesthetic of the rest of Rokkraw. The interior was, of course, identical to all the others. The Pokémon Centers all throughout Allanza were all built and run by the same organization, after all.

In the softly-lit, white-walled waiting room, Amber was waiting patiently for her Pokémon to be healed. She had just gotten them healed after the battle against Ricky, and she was frustrated that she was back here again, so soon. Luckily the nurse seemed to understand.

She saw Oliver and his tagalongs enter and she pointedly avoided making eye contact. Mercifully the foul mouthed Galarian lass didn’t want to start anything else, seeing as she won their last battle and probably felt pretty smug about herself. She and Oliver merely deposited their injured and KO’d Pokémon to be healed and sat down to wait, just chatting that same inane chatter she expected from them.

Oliver had that stupid smile back on his face. Of course he did. No one was really expecting anything from him. He didn’t have any pressure to win. He was just some darkhorse from the suburbs of Shorevul. Not like her. Of course he’d treat this whole thing like a joke.

That was when the P.A. chimed in.

Ding ding ding-ding diiing!

Ms. Amber Stern, your Pokémon are fully healed. Please come to the front desk to take them back.

She got up, ignoring the eyes that darted to her when her last name was spoken.

Amber took back her three Pokémon, promising herself that she’d give Lotad another chance, but that wouldn’t stop her from working that thing to the bone.

She was just about to leave when the nurse spoke up.

“Hey, I was wondering since you came in here earlier… you wouldn’t happen to be related to Gregory Stern, would you?”

“Yeah, I am,” Amber said, a bit more roughly than she probably should have.

The nurse didn’t seem to notice her harsh tone of voice. Instead she smiled broadly. “It’s so lovely that you decided to follow in his footsteps! He was basically a one-man Elite Four back in his day, you know.”

“I know.” Because people just won’t shut up about him! Amber’s eyes kept flickering to the door, hoping for an out so she could leave.

“It must’ve been hard for him when his Froslass was crippled like that. He might’ve become champion that year if he didn’t have to pull out.”

Yeah, it’s not like the announcer of the Gym battle already milked my relationship with him for all it was worth.

“Well, I’m going to succeed where he failed,” Amber said, hoping this would give her the chance to leave.

“I don’t doubt that for a second. Come back any time you need our assistance!” The nurse said, oblivious to Amber’s discomfort.

The trainer swiftly turned on her heel and left, walking faster than normal. Normally when she got like this, she’d take it out on Oliver. But the last time she did that, her team was taken down by his vengeful girlfriend, so she simply glared at him on the way out.

Of course, he was distracted reading that infernal Crobatman comic, so he didn’t even notice.

Amber strode purposefully out of the Pokémon Center, not oblivious to the whispers of some of the adult trainers in the building, the ones who would’ve remembered Gregory in his heyday.

Yeah. I’m gonna win this tournament.

Then, maybe… then people will know me as more than just “Gregory Stern’s Daughter.”

----------

While Oliver and Moira were healing their teams, Scarlet went up to the Gym’s lobby to talk to the Pokémon League staff. The lobby was dimly lit by light fixtures dangling from the roof, but not in a way that made it seem run-down or poorly-maintained. It gave the place a feeling of being close to home, the sort of feeling you’d get in a small local arena, the place underdogs are born. The color scheme on the inside reflected the exterior- muted reds, oranges, and browns.

Scarlet and Cassandra walked up to one of the League Staff members. “Excuse me, miss?”

“The registration desk is over that way,” she responded automatically.

“Oh, I’m not here to compete. I’m here because I’m worried there might be foul play among some of the competitors.”

Scarlet had her attention now. “Ever since the opening ceremonies I’ve seen a few battles. And something didn’t seem right about them. It seems as though they’re using moves

“It’s true that breeding practices can go a bit far sometimes,” the staff member replied, “but they aren’t grounds to disqualify anyone. I totally understand your frustration, but there’s nothing I can do.”

Scarlet wanted to protest, wanted to say it was more than the moves and it couldn’t just be breeding, that the Pokémon were way stronger than they should be to the point of being unnatural, and since when can a Magmar use water-type moves?! But without any solid proof aside from black briefcases she didn’t know what the heck was in them, she could only keep quiet.

“Just… got suspicious is all, and thought I’d bring it to your attention. C’mon Cassandra.”

She turned to leave, but when she was almost at the entrance, Cassandra stopped, turning her head to the right.

“What’s wrong, Cassie?” Scarlet asked, before looking where she was looking. A young man was standing by the wall, with brown hair, brown eyes, light skin and wearing mostly brown except for the white shirt underneath and green pants.

He smiled. “I wanted to talk to you outside, but your Absol beat me to it. Name’s Spencer.”

“I’m Scarlet. And this is Cassandra. Can I help you?”

Spencer put his hands in his pockets. “I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation with the staff.”

“Oh, that?” Scarlet asked. “It was, uh, it was-“

“You noticed it too.”

Scarlet halted what she was about to say. “I beg your pardon?”

Spencer simply smiled. “Pokémon using moves they shouldn’t. Most of the time they use moves just plausible enough that most people won’t question it.”

He was right. A Rock-type like Boldore using Magnitude wouldn’t really raise too many eyebrows. Even Magmar using Scald wasn’t too far removed from the realm of plausibility because despite the type mismatch, the move causing burns was very in character for a Fire-type, plus Magmar’s mouth gave it a slight resemblance to Psyduck and Ducklett, both Water-types, meaning one could surmise they were distant relatives.

“I want to put a stop to it. But most people aren’t observant enough notice anything is wrong, as you just found out.” He leaned against the wall, thn continued. “So my plan is to take the Gym Challenge myself. I’m not planning on entering the finals or anything. I just want to find out how they’re cheating and expose them.”

“Why are you telling me all this?”

“Because, well, I’m not really the best at battling. My team isn’t really bred for battle and one of the cheaters would rip them to shreds. So I was hoping I might team up with another trainer. And seeing as you’re the first one I’ve met who’s realized something’s up, I was wondering if you’d be okay teaming up?”

Scarlet blinked. Then she shook her head. “I’ll have to decline. I gave up being a trainer a long time ago and I promised myself I’d never battle again.”

Spencer frowned, then nodded. “I see. So you’re not taking the Gym Challenge?”

“No, well, kind of… I’m just a chaperone for two other trainers.”

“Ah. Then we might see each other around then.” Spencer walked out of the stadium doors. “It was nice meeting you, Scarlet.”

As Scarlet began to leave as well, Cassandra stopped, looking around the lobby as though she sensed something. Not seeing anything, she caught up to Scarlet and followed her outside, completely oblivious to the figure hidden above the dangling lights, watching them.

----------

“Sobble, use Swift!”

Sobble generated a series of stars again and flung them at Oliver’s Hoodlet.

“Use Pluck!”

Hoodlet leapt into the air, the stars following behind her, forming a trail. Hoodlet struck Sobble and flung itself back into the air, but was unable to ditch the stars.

They impacted Hoodlet and knocked her out of the air, sending her crashing to the ground.

“Use Water Pulse!”

“Dodge it and use Thief!”

Sobble launched a burst of water at Hoodlet, who regained her balance and, at the last second, swiftly dodged and struck Sobble from behind before anyone could see what was happening.

Oliver and Moira were standing north of Rokkraw on Route 4, toughening their Pokémon. The more defined road had given way to a few trails, each ascending the foothills to the north of the city, with the only foliage being the odd bush here or there. This was actually the first time Oliver had ever actually used Hoodlet in a battle, even though this was just sparring and not a real battle.

“Good work, Hoodlet, come on back! Karrablast, you’re up!”

Hoodlet hopped back to the rest of Oliver’s team on the sidelines. Which very conspicuously lacked Karrablast.

“Um… Karrablast?”

Oliver heard a rustling in the nearby bushes, one of which had a few various kinds of berries on it. Groaning, he walked over to the bush and bent down.

“Karrablast? Buddy? We need to train-“

He was cut off when, from within the bush, a burst of acid sprayed out and covered Oliver, hitting his face and upper body.

He didn’t react at first, simply ceasing his speech as the tingly liquid dripped off him, Moira watching in shock, her hands flying to her mouth. The Pokémon of both trainers simply stated from the sidelines, eyes widened.

Never in my life have I been more glad I wear glasses , he thought.

“Hey, uh, Sobble?” Oliver asked, the acid starting to sting. “You, uh, wouldn’t mind using Water Gun on me?”

Sobble resounded by spitting up a fountain of water that doused Oliver with a jet of medium-pressure water, soaking him.

“Thanks.” Oliver reaches into his backpack and pulled out a small cloth, then took off his glasses and proceeded to wipe them off with the cloth. He let out a long, heavy sigh.

“What am I gonna do with you, Karrablast…” Oliver grumbled.

“I’m surprised you haven’t released him yet,” Moira pointed out.

Oliver shook his head. “I’m not giving up on him. I’ll get through to him soon. Just… it’ll probably take a while. But I’m not going to abandon him.”

The image of a baby Ralts, crying, unwanted in the corner of the Daycare floated into his mind uninvited.

“If you say so,” Moira said. Oliver put his glasses back on, then pulled out a Pokéball and withdrew Karrablast, the Bug-type kicking and screaming as it was dragged out of the bushes.

Oliver pocketed the Pokéball and sat down on a nearby rock, head resting on one of his fists. Moira sat down next to him.

“Hey, Oliver, if you don’t mind me asking… why do you want to be the Champion?”

Oliver pondered a bit. ”I think it was Raleigh, actually.”

Moira tilted her head. “What about her?”

“When she first became the champion,” he explained, looking wistfully into the distance, “she would do interviews all the time. And she always, ALWAYS spoke out about Pokémon abuse and Pokémon abandonment.”

----------

A young Oliver, cradling a newly-adopted Ralts in his arms and Joltik resting in Oliver’s hair, fixed his eyes on the TV. Raleigh was giving an interview shortly after defending her title for the first time (of many).

“So is there anything about the competitive Pokémon scene that you wish to discuss?” The interviewer asked, a woman with brown hair and blue eyes wearing a pink blouse, dark blue skirt and glasses.

Raleigh put a finger to her chin. Her purple hair wasn’t as long as it would be at the end of her career, only going to her neck. She also didn’t have her trademark black beanie yet, though she was wearing her typical black jacket.

“There is, actually,” she said. “Pokémon breeding has been a part of official tournaments for a long time. That’s never going to change. But it still upsets me. For every hatched Pokémon that meets the trainer’s criteria, there are probably 5 that didn’t. At least. Where are they? Maybe they’ll get adopted if they were lucky, but more likely they’ll get thrown out into the wild to fend for themselves or just stay abandoned and unwanted.”

Oliver found himself unconsciously stroking Ralts’s hair, remembering the situation she was in not long ago. He thought about Joltik, who was thrown back into the wild unprepared because his original trainer didn’t want him.

They’re the lucky ones, he thought.

“I love Pokémon battles. But I also love Pokémon. And they’re not just weapons, tools to be thrown away when they break. They’re our partners. Our friends.”

Oliver looked at Raleigh, at the sincerity in her deep blue eyes. He looked at her, as she cast a light on the ugly underside of Pokémon training and he realized something.

“I’m going to be just like her one day.”

----------

“If I can become Champion, I’ll be able to do that same thing. Speak out on behalf of Pokémon cast out because they aren’t strong enough or aren’t the right color or what have you. I might save some Pokémon, somewhere, from having to go through what Ralts and Joltik did.

Moira’s team had gathered to listen to his story. She understood now why he was so bent on keeping Karrablast. If it were here, she would’ve released him well before now.

Moira let the silence sink in for a bit, before a slight smile crept to her face. “Sounds like you had a crush,” she said, trying to lighten the mood.

Oliver blushed, whirling around to face her. “I did not!

She playfully hit him on the shoulder. “You totally did.”

“I totally did,” Oliver admitted, looking down with a slight nostalgic smile. Moira chuckled a little, causing Oliver to join in. He turned to her, smiling. “Well that’s my backstory. What about you.”

Moira’s eyes widened a bit, her thoughts basically interrupted by a record scratch. “Me?”

“Yeah,” Oliver said. “Why did you want to enter the tournament? Come to think of it, didn’t you say you took part in one in Galar a couple years ago?”

Moira began sweating. “Well, y-ye see, I-“

“WAIT! STOP!” Cried a woman somewhere nearby, sounding out of breath from running.

On one of the lower trails, visible from where Oliver and Moira were standing, was a woman, a little on the heavier side wearing green, chasing after someone else, evidently fleeing.

The fleeing… man? Oliver wasn’t sure. Anyway, they were clad in a dark purple outfit that resembled a labcoat, with black gloves and boots. Their belt had a few Pokéballs on it. In their arms was something that looked like a rock.

Seeing the pursuing man stop and catch his breath, Oliver withdrew Hoodlet and Tryote, let Ralts and Joltik into his backpack, and slid down the gravelly hill to the lower trail.

“Wha- where are ye going?” Moira asked, but Oliver was already out of earshot. She shrugged, withdrew her team as well and followed suit, though went at a slower pace than Oliver did.

“Hey, miss!” Oliver said as he touched down near the panting woman. “Are you all right? Who was that guy?”

“That thief… he stole that fossil from me. I collect fossils, you see,” she said, having caught her breath as Moira approached. “This guy broke into my home with his Pokémon and attacked me with it. Then he took one of my fossils, an Anorith claw fossil, and bolted.”

Oliver raised an eyebrow. “And you didn’t call the police?”

“Well I would have… but he took my Pokémon hostage, and said if I called the cops, I’d never see Missy again!”

Moira gasped. “That’s just awful…”

Oliver clenched his fists in anger. Then, he had an idea. “You know… I got a Pokémon who specializes in stealing things. Maybe I could catch up with him and-”

“Oliver, no,” Moira said firmly, tugging on Oliver’s sleeve. “No way. This is a terrible idea. You could get seriously hurt!”

“I know. But at the same time I couldn’t imagine what it’d feel like if anyone stole Ralts. Or Joltik. I’m just going to rush in, have Hoodlet snatch the stuff back, and book it. Besides, I thought you were the one who was always up for a fight?”

“Oliver…” Moira massaged her forehead. “There’s a difference between picking a fight with a spoiled b**** and an actual criminal.”

“Point taken. But I’m not changing my mind.”

“Seriously, why are ye so f***in’ insistent on doing this?” Moira said, growing more frustrated.

Oliver put his hands in his pockets and sighed. “I just… didn’t it feel good to help that farmer guy out? I mean, I did it so I could make up for the cash I lost, but in the end, it just felt… good. Didn’t it?”

Moira hesitated, then sighed. “Yeah. I guess it did. But shouldn’t we at least call Scarlet about it?”

“Good idea!” Oliver pulled his phone out and dialed the number. It rang for a bit, Oliver growing a little more impatient every time it rang, then went to voicemail.

“Huh. She’s not there. But I’m still going.”

“Oh, thank you so much!” The woman said, relieved, making Moira jump, as she actually forgot she was still there. “But don’t worry about the fossil. I can live without it. I got plenty. I just want Missy back… *sniff*”

“Don’t worry, we’ll get her back. Which way did he go again?”

The woman pointed down the road to a cave, which was almost perfectly round and clearly manmade. “The old Underground Highway.”

Oliver nodded. He’d heard about the Underground Highway. A few years back the Rokkraw City Council tried to construct an underground tunnel to go under the foothills that Route 4 rested on, but though the tunnel was completed, the underground wild Pokémon didn’t particularly like it, so it wasn’t really used that much. Trainers who didn’t mind risk still often went down there to train.

They walked down the road, Oliver stepping into the cave first. “All right, if I’m not back in 10 minutes, something’s gone wrong and you should call the police.”

The woman nodded. “Okay. Good luck in there!”

Moira followed behind Oliver. “I’m still not sure I want to do this, but I’m not going to let you go in alone.”

“Thanks, Moira.”

And the two entered the cave.

----------

“Ugh, stupid phone…” Scarlet muttered as she put her phone in her pocket. She hadn’t gotten the chance to charge it when they were at the farmer’s house so it was dead. She was going to call the two to let them know they needed to check into a hotel room for the night.

Oh well… they’re only up on Route 4. I can find them easily. I mean, they’re smart enough to know how dangerous it is to go into the Underground Highway so they wouldn’t have wandered in.

She and Cassandra walked through town. At this hour everyone was at work so the streets were sparse. It felt deserted almost.

Cassandra looked around their surroundings as Scarlet walked forward nonchalantly. Scarlet noticed how her Pokémon was acting after a bit of walking, though, and turned to check on her. They were almost at the city edge of town where Route 4 began, the industrial section of town bordering the rocky hills, a power plant being the last building before the city stopped.

“What’s wrong, Cassie?” Scarlet asked, concerned.

Suddenly Cassandra’s eyes widened and she rammed headfirst into Scarlet, shoving her to the side just as a focused stream of purple gunk struck the spot they had been standing moments before. The gunk must have been somewhat acidic, as it began to eat away at the pavement of the road.

Scarlet sat up, dazed, seeing the point of impact. Frantically, Scarlet looked around for who or what had attacked them. She noticed Cassandra was glaring up at the wall surrounding the power plant, and looked up to see two figured. One was a Pokémon. It was a Mastox, she recognized. It was likely the one that had just used Gunk Shot, and the other figure must have been its trainer.

“Oh well, it was worth a shot,” the man said before jumping down from the wall, Mastox following suit. The man was wearing what looked like a purple-colored doctor’s frock with black rubber gloves and boots. Over his chest was a large, light blue letter V, with two yellow lines passing horizontally through the V like an equal sign.

“Wh-why did you attack us?” Scarlet managed, incredibly frustrated that her phone had died now of all times.

“I’m with Team Vortex,” the man said. “You and your Absol witnessed something you should not have, and we’re here to guarantee your silence. Mastox, take out the Absol by any means necessary.”

Mastox lifted one of its syringe-like claws, aiming it at Cassandra, as it began to fill with a purple liquid.

Scarlet’s eyes widened, realizing what was happening. She quickly took out her Pokéball and withdrew Cassandra, who she didn’t notice was getting into a battle stance. She bolted back to town, barely avoiding another focused stream of poison, this time hitting the wall of the power plant.

She turned left into the power plant, which just happened to have the gate open at the time for maintenance. I might be able to lose him in here! She saw a transformer and hid behind it just as the Team Vortex grunt entered the plant himself, Mastox in tow.

“Gonna do this the hard way, huh...?” the grunt asked no one in particular. “Mastox, use Poison Gas,” he ordered, putting on what looked like a surgical mask.

Mastox raised its syringe-like claw yet again, a purple mist pouring forth. Scarlet’s eyes widened and she held her breath, holding her nose as the purple mist enveloped the area around her.

“Now,” the grunt said, “It’s only a matter of time.”

----------

The Underground Highway’s entrance was perfectly manmade, but the same could not be said once they had gone in for a couple minutes. On the right side of the tunnel, it was broken open to reveal a natural cave formation. Evidently the tunnel’s construction had collided with this cave, and this was where the wild Pokémon had come from.

A small group of Roggenrola watched Oliver and Moira walk past, Oliver looking back at them. There sure were a lot of wild Pokémon in there- Holy crap was that a Sableye?!- Oliver shook the thought out of his head. As much as he’d love to add Sableye to his team, he promised he’d get that Pokémon back.

He took out Hoodlet’s Pokéball and let her loose. The small Fairy-type looked up at him curiously as Oliver beckoned her to follow them.

Up ahead, they began to hear a voice.

“Why did we need the fossils, anyway?” a woman asked.

A man’s voice responded. “I’m not sure. But the boss insisted we revive a prehistoric Pokémon at the lab for the next test.”

“Another one? After the Tirtouga experiment’s failure? You saw the way it spazzed out when we made it use Thunderbolt,” the woman said. Oliver’s eyes narrowed at the notion of forcing a Pokémon use moves it wasn’t meant to.

“I know. And I don’t see why we need prehistoric Pokémon in particular. Hardly anyone uses them around here. Surely there are more reliable ways to test Breakthrough’s effectiveness.”

Breakthrough…? Oliver wondered as the three of them crept closer. The two were dressed in the same light purple coat and black gloves. The three were facing away from them, thankfully.

Oliver crouched behind a rock, Moira following suit. He peered around and looked at the man’s belt, which had a few Pokéballs on it. They were all the normal red kind, except for one which was a pink ball with hearts on it.

That’s our target. “Hoodlet,” he whispered, “Go out there and snatch that pink ball, and do it without being noticed. Got it?”

Hoodlet nodded, prepping its trusty picnic basket as it softly hopped to another rock closer to them. She hid behind it, peering around it to make sure they were still talking.

Come on, Oliver mentally pleaded. You can do this!

Hoodlet looked back and saw Oliver’s nervous expression. She turned back to face the two adults, and then darted out.

Oliver and Moira both held their breath as Hoodlet hopped towards the two at top speed, silently praying that this would work.

Quickly, she snatched the pink ball and stuffed it in the basket before rushing back to Oliver’s hiding place. Neither of the adults noticed.

Hoodlet stopped next to Oliver, proudly holding out the pink ball. Oliver reached down and pet her soft, fluffy, massive ears. “Great work, girl!” Oliver whispered. “Now let’s get out of here.”

The two trainers turned and ran, deciding not to withdraw Hoodlet yet, as the sound of the Pokéball would give them away. They bolted at top speed, not even checking to see if the two had seen them yet. They just needed to get out of the cave as fast as possible.

All right, there’s the exit! Oliver thought. Just a bit further, and we’ll be home free!

They passed by the entrance to the natural cave, and Moira happened to turn her head to the left as they ran by.

Oliver didn’t notice that wild Sableye from earlier jump out of the darkness, right towards him.

“Oliver, look out!” Moira shouted, before realizing her mistake and slamming her hands over her mouth. Oh no… what have I done?!

Luckily, Oliver managed to avoid the Sableye’s attack, causing Hoodlet to immediately hit back with a Disarming Voice attack in her trainer’s defense, knocking the Sableye back.

“What was that?” The woman from behind them asked.

“Sounded like- Hey, where’s the hostage?”

Ah sh**e.

“Guess we’ve got no choice but to fight…” Oliver thought with dread as the two adults, whose outfits had a stylized letter V on them, ran towards them. The man’s was gold-colored instead of blue though.

“I can’t believe we were spotted by a couple of kids!” The woman said angrily, cracking her knuckles. With the tunnel exit providing some light, Oliver got a better look at the two.

The woman had dark green, long hair tied in a ponytail. The man was tall, broad-shouldered, had short brown hair that was spiked and ruffled in places, and had a chin covered in stubble.

“Hmph. You were close. Almost got away with our hostage. I don’t know how much of our conversation you heard, but as an executive of Team Vortex, I can’t let this humiliation slide.”

“You tell ‘em, Cole!” The woman said, surprisingly cheery.

“Can you dial back the cheering? Please?” The man, evidently named Cole, said to his associate, turning towards her with an annoyed expression. “I’m trying to look professional.”

“I know, I’m sorry,” the woman said sheepishly. Cole rubbed his forehead in frustration, then turned to face the two kids. The Sableye had decided to book it, so Hoodlet was now standing protectively in front of Oliver. Moira had taken the opportunity to bring her Sobble out.

Smirking, Cole pulled a Pokéball off his belt. “You two will rue the day you ever heard the name Team Vortex.”
 
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