Thanks to some weirdness with timezones and the length of their trip, it had already been Tuesday in Kalos when Alex and Veronique had arrived in the region. For that reason, the weekend seemed to approach faster than the two of them had anticipated. Almost before Alex realised it, it was Friday morning, and he was once again helping Jean in the kitchen while Veronique and her mother dealt with customers in the shop. There had been no time to breathe in the three days he’d been here; business apparently boomed in the pâtisserie
at this time of year, and Renée had kept all of them working around the clock.
Despite it all, though, Alex realised that he was content. There were no crushing expectations on him here, no responsibilities but making sure the next batch of cakes didn’t burn. He was more than happy to play second fiddle to Jean, the more experienced baker. For more complicated or specialty orders, Renée sometimes took over the kitchen for hours at a time, sending Alex out to deal with customers. The four of them soon fell into a comfortable rhythm; there was little time for breaks, but there was almost no need. After the shop closed in the evenings, Alex had found a little time to wander the shopping district with his Pokémon, but it was a quiet, almost solitary pursuit. The four of them ate dinner together - sometimes along with Christophe, who was still coughing and hacking but occasionally able to join them.
It was an incredibly nostalgic, almost idyllic lifestyle, Alex thought. He was forcefully reminded of his childhood in Petalburg, when the two families - Alex’s own parents and older sister included - had been practically interchangeable. Veronique aside, he had not seen the Vincents in five years at least - longer in Jean’s case - and it had been nearly a decade since they had moved back to Kalos, but they had welcomed him back into their home without a moment’s hesitation.
“Alex, can you check those madeleines for me, s’il vous plait
?” Jean’s voice broke through Alex’s ruminations, causing him to blink and almost drop the bowl he was absently stirring.
“Crap! Sure thing!” he said hurriedly, plonking the mixture down on the nearest flat surface and turning to check the oven. As he was retrieving the tray of miniature cakes, the kitchen door burst open and Renée blew in like a hurricane, practically dragging Veronique behind her. There was a glint in the older woman’s eye as she doled out orders.
, change! Veronique is now pâtissier du jour
. Jean, I’m going to teach you how to use this cash register if it’s the last thing I do. Alex, dear, you carry on as you were. We’ve got a big order coming in, so I want you two to fill it once you’re done with the current batch.”
Alex frowned. “A special order? Shouldn’t you be in charge of those, tata
“I would be, but I have some things to take care of, and this isn’t exactly difficult, just large. Two hundred assorted Poké Puffs, to be delivered to the Showcase Theatre by four p.m. for the competition tonight!”
?” Alex gaped. “How the hell are we supposed to do that?”
Veronique smirked as she firmly secured her apron strings. “It’s not as bad as it sounds, rookie,” she said airily. “We’ll make several batches, maybe twenty puffs in each. Each batch shouldn’t take more than twenty minutes from start to finish, less if we stagger them properly. Then I’ll have you decorate them, and we can pull Jean in later to help finish if we need to.”
Sticking his tongue out at her, Alex glanced at the clock on the wall: eleven thirty. Four and a half hours, ten batches, twenty minutes per batch. He quickly did the math. “That leaves us with a little over an hour to spare for delivery. Will that be enough?”
“It’ll have to be,” Renée said with a strangely knowing smile, nudging Jean out into the shop. “Have fun now, you two. I’m counting on you both.”
“Great,” Alex said flatly, turning back to Veronique, who was already pulling out new drums of flour and sugar from the storeroom. “You said all that, but did we just bite off more than we can chew? I’m no baker, and you haven’t made Poké Puffs in . . . how long?”
“Don’t underestimate me,” Veronique snapped. “I spent four years helping out here before I came back to Hoenn to chase your sorry as
s. All the recipes are burned into my brain.”
Alex blinked, suddenly forgetting all about baking. “Came back to Hoenn to . . . what?”
“Uh . . . anyway!” Veronique yelped hurriedly, dumping a large bag of chocolate chips into his arms. “Melt those! One kilogram, in 200 gram batches. Don’t you dare burn it!” Refusing to meet his eyes, she rushed back over to her own workstation and began mixing dry ingredients.
Shrugging, Alex turned to the stovetop and flicked the gas element on, filling a pot with water and setting it to boil. There would be time to puzzle the mysteries of the universe later. And surely
, he thought wryly as he measured out 200 grams of chocolate into a glass bowl, there is no mystery greater than the mind of a teenage girl
. Pushing it aside for the moment - into the same corner of his mind where he kept the nagging, ever-present doubts and angst from his Grand Festival loss - he focused on the task at hand. If he’d learned one thing from Jean in the last week, it was that baking was more of a science than an art. Getting distracted wasn’t an option.
The melted chocolate was for a batch of spiced cocoa swirl Poké Puffs, as it turned out. Pulling them out of the oven and carefully turning them out onto a cooling tray, Alex marvelled at the surreality of it all. He knew that Pokémon could enjoy sweet foods, that was natural enough. His own Plusle was partial to the pink candied Pokéblocks, after all. They just tended to turn their noses up at ‘human’ food, so he couldn’t imagine a Pokémon devouring these with any enthusiasm. Nonetheless, he had seen them selling like hotcakes over the counter of Le Pâtisserie Vincent
these past few days, so there had to be some truth to it. The aromatic swirl of warmth spiralling through the air from this first batch was certainly alluring enough for him, and he had to exercise all his self-control not to swipe one right then and there.
“Shall I start icing these, V?” he called over his shoulder.
“Let them cool first, moron. The icing will just melt and run everywhere if you do it now!” she shot back, already working on a third batch while the second was still baking. “Just remember what order they came out in, and I’ll tell you when to start decorating them.”
Alex winced. “Right. Forgot about that. I’ll make the icing and have it ready, then. Anything special?”
“Just basic chocolate for those ones. Icing sugar, cocoa, butter and milk. Make enough for the next batch coming through, too, then we’ll be onto the mint ones.”
The next few hours passed in a blur of activity as Alex watched Veronique work with awe. She had always taken things seriously when helping him train and prepare for Contests, but there was something different about her demeanour here. Perhaps it was the influence of being back with her family, but she seemed to be far more in her element. She had always wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a pastry chef, he remembered. Since she had given up working in the pâtisserie
to return to Hoenn, he thought she had decided on a different path in life. Right now, though, she looked far more alive than he had ever seen her. There was a slight smile on her face as she stirred yet another bowl of cake batter, a determination in her eyes that Alex recognised as a mirror of his own.
Well, not these days. That was the look he had seen in the mirror when preparing for his very first Grand Festival, more than three years ago now. The sort of pride that could only come from striving to achieve at something that you felt true passion for. When had been the last time he had seen that?
Working silently, Alex turned away from Veronique, his eyes stinging unexpectedly. What the hell? Don’t start blubbering now
. The batch of Poké Puffs in front of him now were meant to be salted caramel, but he didn’t think they needed any extra salt.
“Last batch in the oven!” Veronique announced triumphantly a couple of minutes later, making Alex jump and nearly drop the Puff he was working on. “How are you going over here?”
Alex shrugged. “I think they’re on track, icing is done for all of them - except a couple batches which are still cooling. You want to do the final touches?”
Veronique peered over his shoulder, her flushed face much too close to his own. “Hmm, you’re doing well! We’ll make a pâtissier
of you yet.” She nodded self-indulgently, as if it was solely her guidance and wisdom that had brought him this far.
“I’m meant to be here for a holiday, you know,” Alex grumbled lightheartedly. He wasn’t actually bothered by being made to work in the pâtisserie
, of course, but it was fun to needle Veronique.
“Which is why we’re going to the Showcase tonight!” Veronique announced with a grin as she slapped him on the back. “Oh yeah, go grab me some of those Rawst berries from the fridge. I’ll need them for toppings.”
“Wait, we’re what?” Alex asked as he headed off to comply. Digging through stacks of boxes and tubs, he found the one labelled ‘RAWST/FRAIVE’ and extricated it carefully. “Aren’t we just delivering Poké Puffs?”
“Didn’t Mama tell you? The folks at the theatre provided us with some tickets to tonight's Showcase as thanks for taking their order on such short notice. Once we're finished here, we'll go get changed and I'll drive us over there with the Poké Puffs. You did say you were interested in Showcases, right?”
“Well, yeah. I guess so. Is that really okay, though?” Alex frowned anxiously. “I mean, will Jean and tata
Renée be able to finish up without us? We haven't baked any more stock today, so they must be running low out there already.”
“Eh, they'll be fine!” Veronique said, waving a dismissive hand as she started delicately slicing the Rawst berries into wafer-thin discs. “We close early on Fridays anyway.”
“Oh, right. Hold on,” Alex said quickly. “Aren't Rawst berries really bitter when they're that ripe? They'll ruin the flavour of those Puffs!”
, my foolish apprentice!” Veronique declared smugly, indicating a tray of Poké Puffs in a rich pink. “I made these ones over here extra sweet, so topping them with bitter Rawst berries will balance out the flavours and offer a far more interesting palate.”
Alex rolled his eyes but said no more, recognising that Veronique’s skill in this regard was far beyond his ken. The next half an hour was spent in a flurry of fine detail work, mostly on Veronique’s part. Alex learned to spin sugar for the mocha Puffs - well, sort of. After burning the toffee twice, he had given up and allowed Veronique to finish it while he piped buttercream icing onto the mint Puffs with a star-shaped nozzle.
By three thirty, all two hundred Poké Puffs had been packed into specially chilled crates and crammed carefully into the boot of Renée’s tiny car. Alex hovered by the pâtisserie’s front door, anxiously checking his watch. Veronique had advised him that there was no formal dress code for spectators, but he had never been one to do things by halves. He hadn’t brought all of his Contest outfits along with him - the luggage weight limit never would have allowed for it - but one of his less ornate costumes had caught his eye. After giving it a quick press, he had thrown it on and dashed down to the front only to find that Veronique had still not appeared. Now he could do nothing but skulk awkwardly outside the shop in his white waistcoat and chartreuse undershirt, feeling distinctly out of place. He had always thought of Kalos as the pinnacle of high fashion - or haute couture
, as they called it here - but the people giving him strange looks in the street were dressed no differently to everyday passersby in any city in Hoenn.
“You look ridiculous, you know,” came Veronique’s voice from behind him. He was about to bite back with a grouchy retort, but two things stopped him. First, there was no sharp edge to her voice. Normally, she would have delivered such biting criticism with an equally pointed tone, but this time she just sounded faintly amused. Secondly, as he turned to open his mouth, her appearance caught him off guard.
Gone were the tight black jeans and leather jackets, the artfully ripped band t-shirts and heavy, practical boots. Instead, she wore a slinky purple evening dress that looked as if it were brand new, reaching just below her knees and leaving her calves bare. Her liberal use of makeup had been toned down as well, he noticed - though that had been true every day they’d been here. Today, though, she was actually wearing lipstick in a colour other than black. “And you look . . . incredibly uncomfortable,” was all he could manage.
Flushing red from her eyes to her collarbone, Veronique glowered at him furiously. “Jackass. At least force yourself to say it looks good or something.”
“Well, it does,” Alex admitted, suddenly becoming very interested in the cobblestones around Veronique’s feet. “I just - wait, are you wearing heels
? Who are you and what have you done with V?”
“Ugh! Honestly, Alexander, I swear . . .” Veronique made to brush past him and get in the car, but her unfamiliar footwear caught on the rough cobbled street and she pitched forward.
“Whoops,” Alex said, grasping Veronique’s upper arm to steady her. “Are you okay?”
“Uh . . . yeah. I’m gonna . . . I’ll drive barefoot,” she said shakily.
“I think that’s a good idea.”
There was a pause that lasted far too many seconds. Unsure whether breaking the silence would only embarrass Veronique more, Alex simply bit his tongue.
“Alex . . .”
“What?” he yelped.
“You can let go of me now.”
“Ah. Right.” Realising that he was still clinging to Veronique’s arm, Alex rapidly relinquished his grip. “We should be going.”
The car ride was completed in the thickest awkward silence that Alex had ever experienced. As Veronique drove, he acted very interested in the ocean out the window, glittering in the afternoon sun. A long Wingull arced across the bay in lazy circles, swooping down from time to time in pursuit of a glint of silvery fish.
“Here we are!” Veronique said with slightly forced levity, pulling Alex’s attention back to the landward side of the ocean road. “Welcome to Coumarine’s latest transparent attempt to bring in that sweet, sweet tourism money.”
Backed by lush green cliffs, the Coumarine Showcase Theatre stood on its own large swath of land amid a semi-residential area of the city, surrounded by a large paved area lined with neatly manicured stands of trees. The building itself superficially resembled a Contest Hall: three or four stories tall, round and squat, with large curved windows that ran around the top half. The whole building was topped by curved prongs obviously meant to bring to mind the shape of a crown or tiara. A large, sweeping flight of stairs gently sloped up to ornate double doors that already stood open. Digital billboards running along the side of the structure read ‘POKÉMON SHOWCASE TONIGHT - 7:00 PM - ROOKIE CLASS ’.
“You guys don’t do anything by halves, do you?” Alex commented, indicating an assortment of enormous balloons that were anchored to various points around the theatre, giant gold and pink globes emblazoned with what appeared to the logo of the Pokémon Showcase: a large ‘P’ contained within a scrollwork heart decorated with ribbons.
“Pokémon Showcases are big business,” Veronique said as she steered them down a driveway towards the back of the building. “They’re streamed live on the internet as well as conventional TV, and the Master Class tournaments can draw hundreds of thousands of viewers all across Kalos.”
“So tell me,” Alex said, glad that the mood between them seemed to have returned to normal. “How exactly do these Showcases work? You keep saying it’s ‘like a Contest’, but there has to be some difference, right?”
“Of course, but I think you’d better see for yourself. No time now, anyway. Here we are!” Pulling up to a service entrance at the back of the building, Veronique popped the boot and started unloading boxes of Poké Puffs onto a cart that stood nearby. Alex checked each crate as it was placed on the tray, flipping each lid to make sure the contents were still intact. Miraculously, the Poké Puffs still looked as fresh and pristine as when they had come out of the oven.
“Mademoiselle Vincent, I presume.” A tall, austere gentleman in a coat and tails approached from the service entrance, inclining his greying head politely. “Madame informed us that the order would be delivered by her daughter today,” he explained, seeing Veronique’s questioning look.
“Yes, that’s me, Veronique Vincent. This is my friend, Alex Thoreau, from the Hoenn region.”
.” The gentleman inclined his head once again. “My name is Montblanc, and I am the stage manager for tonight’s event. I must apologise once again for asking you to take on such an order at short notice. Usually, our onsite kitchens would be available for contestants to create their own personalised Poké Puffs, but there has been an . . . incident.” He curled his lip regretfully.
“Oh dear,” Veronique said, frowning. “Nothing that will affect the Showcase itself, I hope?”
“Nothing so serious, non
. Some of the Performers have expressed their discontent at the state of affairs, but the show will continue as scheduled. Fortunately, Poké Puffs are not a key part of tonight’s themed round.”
Alex cocked his head. “Forgive me, Monsieur Montblanc, but are baked goods usually a part of the Showcase?”
Montblanc raised an eyebrow. “Ah, of course. Being from Hoenn, you would not have experienced a Showcase before, yes?” At Alex’s slightly embarrassed nod, he continued: “The themed round of each Showcase varies from event to event, but it often involves highlighting various key skills involved in ensuring one’s Pokémon are competition-ready. Grooming, costuming, and indeed, the ability to provide your Pokémon with proper nutrition are all common themes for this round. On top of that, the ability to create quality Poké Puffs under such intense pressure is a skill in itself.”
Alex nodded thoughtfully. “I’ve been competing in Pokémon Contests in Hoenn for a few years now, so I can see how all of those things are important. It’s a novel idea to make them part of the competition itself, though.”
“Oh, a Coordinator?” Montblanc seemed a little surprised, but he smiled graciously. “Then I hope you will enjoy your first experience with Pokémon Showcases. Please, bring the trolley this way. We will deliver the Poké Puffs to the contestants’ dressing rooms, if you don’t mind.”
As Alex grasped the fully loaded trolley and made to follow Montblanc inside, he caught a glimpse of the strangest look on Veronique’s face. She saw him looking and hastily flashed him an innocent smile, but it was too late. “What’s so funny?” he muttered as she fell into step alongside his trolley.
“Nothing,” she said in a sing-song voice, dragging out the first syllable. “Just thought you two seem to be getting along well already.”
“Hmm,” Alex droned, but he didn’t have time to wonder what she was up to right now. Following Montblanc in through the service entrance, Alex suddenly found himself in a warren of hallways that could have been the underbelly of any Contest Hall in Hoenn. He had spent more than his fair share of time behind the scenes, doing volunteer work at Contests when he wasn’t competing. Just being close to the action had always excited him, running errands or lending a hand to caterers, cleaners and management alike. When was the last time he had done that, though?
Montblanc led them at a rapid clip through the building, his back ramrod-straight and his shoes clicking on the tiles. Alex kept up as best he could while pushing the heavy trolley, Veronique somehow managing not to trip over her own shoes beside him.
“We have eighteen Performers competing in tonight’s Rookie Class Showcase,” Montblanc explained as they walked, voice echoing in the empty hallways. “Several are even making their Showcase debut, so it is very important that the event runs smoothly for all their sakes. I will have each of them choose ten assorted Poké Puffs from your selection as an apology for our failure to provide proper kitchen facilities today.” The same note of displeasure that Alex had heard when he mentioned the kitchen before had returned.
“That will work,” Veronique said. “The order was for two hundred, so there will be some left over.”
“I am sure our stage crew will gladly take them off your hands if that is the case,” Montblanc said with wry humour. “My superior is a frequent customer of your pâtisserie
, and she recommended your Poké Puffs highly. Here we are.” He stopped in front of a door marked ‘Dressing Room #1’; a small cardboard placard had been affixed below the number, bearing a handwritten ‘Caiti Merrow’.
Knocking crisply on the door, Montblanc waited until it opened, revealing a girl of about seventeen, still dragging a brush through her shock of curly red hair as she greeted them. “Mister Montblanc!” she said brightly, her accent decidedly not local. “What can Teddi and I do for you?” A small brown Pokémon poked its head out from behind her legs, chattering curiously. A honey-coloured crescent adorned its forehead, and green ribbons trailed from its rounded ears.
“Mademoiselle Merrow,” Montblanc said with a courteous bow. “I’ve brought some Poké Puffs, as we discussed earlier, to apologise for the shameful state of our facilities today.”
“Oh!” Caiti exclaimed, nearly dropping the hairbrush. “Goodness, Mister Montblanc, you didn’t really have to do that! I told you it wouldn’t be a problem at all.”
“Nevertheless,” Montblanc said, “I must at least offer.”
Clapping her hands decisively, Caiti smiled sweetly. “Well, we do love Poké Puffs, don’t we Teddi? I’ll gladly take you up on that offer. Oh, hello! I didn’t see you two back there!” she said as she stepped out into the corridor, Teddi trailing her like a tiny shadow.
Alex nodded, but glanced to Veronique for introductions as he began uncovering the various boxes. She rolled her eyes almost imperceptibly, but complied. “I’m Veronique, and this is Alex. We’re from Le Pâtisserie Vincent
, glad to meet you.”
“I’m Caiti, but I guess you knew that! Thank you so much for bringing these! Look, Teddi, they have so many different kinds!” The little Teddiursa squeaked excitedly, finally drawn forth from behind Caiti’s heels by the smells wafting from the boxes.
After selecting a small tray of Poké Puffs with the help of her Pokémon - Teddi appeared to be fond of the sweet pink ones - Caiti waved cheerily as they took their leave to visit the next contestant.
As it turned out, not everyone was quite as forgiving as Caiti regarding the lack of kitchen facilities. Several of the young women that opened the doors sniffed at the offered gifts, though they all took them anyway, with the exception of one woman - older than most, being in her mid-thirties at least - who slammed the door in Montblanc’s face while he was trying to explain the situation. He knocked one more time, but there was no response.
“She seemed lovely,” Alex commented drily once he was sure they were out of earshot.
“I have worked with Mademoiselle Chapin on occasion before,” Montblanc said neutrally. “She is a true artiste
, and there is no greater compliment I can possibly pay her than that.”
Veronique snickered quietly at this, but Montblanc seemed unfazed. “This will be our last stop,” he said as they approached a final door. “I thank you for your patience.”
Before the stage manager could knock, however, the door flew open and a young blonde woman stumbled out backwards, bumping into Montblanc and falling to the floor with a shriek. “Help! Somebody!”
Frowning, Alex turned back to the door. A man in dark clothes stood a few feet inside the room, unmoving. There was a Poké Ball in his left hand, his eyes flicking back and forwards between Alex, Montblanc, and the fleeing girl, who was now doing her best to hide behind Veronique. He seemed frozen, undecided.
Stepping imperiously forward, Montblanc barred the man’s way out of the dressing room. His taut jaw even stiffer than usual, he glared coldly at the intruder. His voice was level as always, but the slightest hint of menace crept into his words. “What is the meaning of this?”
The stranger didn’t answer, turning instead to look around the dressing room in evident panic. He was breathing heavily, as if he had just run a marathon. Evidently realising that there was no other way out, he made as if to push past Montblanc, but the stage manager did not budge, grabbing the other man’s left wrist in an iron grip.
“You are trespassing, monsieur
, and I expect an explanation.”
“Like hell I can explain this, old man!” the stranger ground out, straining against Montblanc’s grip. Twisting, he managed to slam a finger onto the release button of his Poké Ball, loosing a flash of white light that caused Montblanc to flinch away and release him. The Pokémon that materialised between them in the doorway was humanoid, about as tall as Alex, and adorned with multiple silver blades. Its black and red body was shiny and armoured, with a bullishly pointed helmet on its domed head. At a flick of the strange Trainer’s wrist, it drove forward with one gauntleted arm, slamming into Montblanc’s torso and throwing him backwards with a grunt.
Taking a deep breath, the strange man collected himself, rubbing his wrist absently where Montblanc had grabbed him. He glanced at the three of them that remained standing. “Well, I don’t expect you to understand any of this,” he said cryptically, pointing at the blonde, who was still shivering and clinging to Veronique, “but I’m taking her. Bisharp!”
Alex bit his lip as the heavily-armed Pokémon stepped forward, its footsteps clanking loudly in the echoey hallway. This was happening too fast. He couldn’t just let this happen, but he had to worry about the others as well. Veronique didn’t have any Pokémon, and the other girl didn’t seem to be in any shape to fight either.
Sighing lightly, Alex shifted his feet, placing himself subtly but very deliberately in Bisharp’s path. The Pokémon stopped, awaiting orders as it regarded him dangerously. Alex’s hand went to his waist, where his four Poké Balls waited. “You’re right to say I don’t understand,” he said, “but I’m afraid I can’t let you do this either way.”
The man sighed, seeming to relax slightly now that he was out in the open. No longer cornered, the corridor stretched away behind him, leading deeper into the warren of facilities that made up the underbelly of the Showcase Theatre. “And I suppose you’re planning to stop me,” he said. It wasn’t a question.
Alex answered anyway. “I am,” he said.
“You think you stand a chance? None of you useless Performers can battle worth a damn! I’ve made a habit of taking you prissy weaklings down.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” Alex said, grinning wryly. He couldn’t help but see the humour. “I’m no Performer. Veronique?” he added, raising his voice slightly.
“I’m here,” she said tightly. All levity had vanished from her voice.
“Take that girl and head outside. Pick up any of the other Performers you see. I’ll catch up with you later.” Alex paused, hoping she wouldn’t raise a fuss. This wasn’t the time to get snippy.
“- will be just fine with me,” Alex said firmly, glancing at where the older man sprawled against the wall, groaning.
“Fine. Just, please . . . don’t do anything stupid,” Veronique said.
“I already did,” Alex murmured as he heard the two of them retreating along the hallway. Silence fell as he locked eyes with the strange man. For a good ten seconds, neither of them moved or spoke.
“Awfully kind of you to just let them go like that,” Alex said, narrowing his eyes.
The man shrugged. “Not a big deal. I’ll just take you instead. Doesn’t really matter to me which stupid Performer I end up with.”
Something burned inside Alex, a quiet anger that had lain dormant for years. Abruptly, he realised what it was. Despite the very real danger of the situation, this man forcefully reminded him of the kids he had gone to school with in Hoenn. The ones who had called him ‘queer’ for watching Contests, who had hidden his bag and dumped his books in the pond. He couldn’t help but chuckle as his stomach unknotted. It was strangely relaxing. “So you’ve obviously got some kind of chip on your shoulder. Why are you targeting Performers?”
“Okay, let me rephrase,” the man said. “I don’t have to explain shit
to you. Now send out your Pokémon so Bisharp can tear it to shreds, then you’re coming with me.”
Alex nodded. He had never been one to talk trash, but this guy was really getting on his nerves. “I wonder if it’ll be as easy as you think. Azumarill, go! Aqua Jet!”
. A swift crack, a flash of light, and Alex’s keenest battler was launching itself towards Bisharp in a watery blur. Slamming into Bisharp’s solar plexus with a wham
, it drove them both backwards several feet until Bisharp’s bladed heels dug into the floor, bringing them to a screeching halt. Azumarill tucked and rolled, falling back lightly onto its feet in front of its opponent.
“Bisharp, get it! Pin that prancing fairy to the wall!” the man roared. Bisharp hissed and sprang forward, razor-sharp blades extending from its hands and whistling through the air.
“Defense Curl!” Alex barked. Azumarill tucked its body over itself as it leapt once again, spinning in midair as it met Bisharp’s onslaught. A shrieking sound, like blades on a whirling grindstone, pierced the air as they made contact, and the momentum threw Bisharp away, towards Alex. In the cramped corridor, Alex did his best to leap out of the way. “Follow up with Rollout!”
Azumarill’s spin increased in speed as it pushed off from the nearest wall and barrelled towards Bisharp again. The other Pokémon only had time to throw up its crossed arms in defense before Azumarill slammed into it, transferring its momentum across their point of contact. Bisharp buckled but did not fall, keeping its legs locked as it leaned backwards, catapulting Azumarill upwards as it did so. Azumarill kept spinning, ricocheting off the ceiling, floor and walls, building up momentum as it did so. Guiding its trajectory by gently pushing against each surface as it bounced, Azumarill made another pass at Bisharp, moving even faster.
This time, it hit lower, slamming directly into the bladed portion of Bisharp’s torso. With its body reinforced by Defense Curl, Azumarill ignored the sharp, axe-like protrusions and drove Bisharp backwards. It tried to deflect the onslaught again, but its centre of gravity was now above Azumarill’s attack, meaning that it lost its footing and was slammed unceremoniously against the wall, causing the corridor to shake. Azumarill spun away, landing on its feet next to Alex with a triumphant grin.
Alex mirrored the expression unconsciously, turning to look at the unidentified Trainer. “Your move.”
(Alternate chapter title: Finally! I told you there were Pokémon.)