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Antoshi

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About Antoshi

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    Fledgling
  • Birthday November 18

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    Anthony
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    Male
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    Florida
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    Writing, creating videos, enjoying life

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    https://www.youtube.com/user/PlayingWithMahWii
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  1. Chapter 9 In the early evening, the sky had become a layered mix of bluish-purple littered with long streaks of orange clouds. Antoshi and Fireball sat in the stands. They watched the end of the first round of preliminary matches while enjoying the meal provided for them by the staff. The number of other Trainers had thinned out to half as many as there were hours prior. “Trainer 501 wins!” the voice on the loudspeaker said. “That concludes the first round. If you haven't already, Trainers, please heal your Pokémon by your own means or inside the stadium concourse where you'll find our Pokémon Center. The second and final round of preliminary matches will begin in just a few minutes.” The giant screens lit up with an updated tournament bracket. Antoshi furrowed his brow curiously when he saw the number of their next opponent: 145. His eyes lit up. The battle involving '145' was one that he'd witnessed from afar earlier. It was a young boy, younger than him, with dark skin and an almost completely shaved head. The Trainer had used a powerful Tyranitar to knock out both of his opponent's Pokémon. It was quite the intimidating sight. Now they had to face off against that themselves. “Trainers 1 and 3, report to battlefield one.” The bracket process started all over again, only this time with tougher Trainers. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ “Trainers 145 and 147, report to battlefield two.” Antoshi took a deep breath and sighed. The pair nodded to each other, putting their game faces on, heading down to the assigned field. The young boy that Antoshi remembered was already waiting for them. He smirked confidently, tossing a Poké Ball up and down. Antoshi and Fireball stood in their respective positions on their side of the field. “Battlefield two — you may begin!” “Go,” their opponent exclaimed as he threw his Poké Ball out, “Lanturn!” From the ball emerged a cheerful, large blue footballfish with a Y-shaped antenna tipped with glowing orbs. It cried out, raring to battle. Fireball gave his own shout, flaring up the fires on his back. Antoshi wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead, already dreading the impending reveal of the opponent's Tyranitar. ‘That's not good,’ Antoshi thought, huffing sharply. ‘Thunder Punch is effectively useless now and Lanturn's Water-type drowns out all of our Fire-type attacks. … Rollout isn't as effective—’ “Lanturn!” the other Trainer exclaimed, interrupting Antoshi's train of thought. “Use Rain Dance!” Lanturn did an adorable shimmy from side to side, singing as it did so. A dark cloud emerged high over their quadrant of the battlefield, a downpour of rain falling upon the two Pokémon. Fireball idly lifted his head and opened his maw to lap up a brief drink of water. ‘And he's setting up,’ Antoshi thought. ‘I wonder … if he watched our battle, too.’ “How do you like that?” their opponent asked, boasting confidently. “Let's see your Typhlosion deal with this!” Antoshi hesitated for a moment before issuing their next move. “Fireball — use Burn Up!” Fireball appeared surprised by the decision. He turned his gaze to Antoshi, who nodded confidently at him. Fireball dropped down to all fours, snarling loudly as his entire body became enveloped in an inferno. The flames were hot enough to evaporate the rain falling upon him. He swiftly charged at his opponent, slamming headlong into it. Lanturn cried out, bouncing and skidding backwards from the force and the intensity of the flames. Fireball headed back to his side of the field. The flames on Fireball's back abruptly extinguished. "Aw," Fireball muttered, turning to look at his upper back. "That's my least favorite part of using this move." ‘Burn Up makes Fireball typeless for the remainder of this battle,’ Antoshi thought, staring intensely at their opponents, ‘so now we don't have to worry about the Type advantage. This'll be a long-shot, but it might just be the best chance we have to deal with his first Pokémon.’ “Don't worry, Lanturn!” the opposing Trainer said. “We still got this! Aqua Ring!” Lanturn closed its eyes and let out a soothing cry. Its body became enveloped by swirling rings of water that rotated around it. “Fireball, Defense Curl!” Fireball curled up into a ball, suddenly surrounded by a brief glimpse of a bluish shield. The rings of water around Lanturn suddenly healed some of its battle damage. “Nice try, fool!” their opponent said. “Your Defense Curl isn't going to matter when Lanturn has no physical attacks! Lanturn, Thunder!” Lanturn howled to the sky, sending up a large bolt of electricity from its glowing orbs into the dark clouds above them. The clouds flickered with light and rumbled with the sound of thunder. An even more powerful bolt of lightning came down in a flash, striking its target directly. Antoshi shielded his eyes, clenching his teeth as a loud crack of thunder rang out mere meters in front of him. “Fireball!” Antoshi exclaimed. “Are you okay?” Fireball's fur was frazzled and slightly singed all around his body. Some residual electricity continued to flow around him — a visual indication that Fireball had been paralyzed by the attack. "Ye—yeah!" Fireball shakily replied. "Just p—peachy." Antoshi recognized the signs of paralysis and felt his heart drop. Frustrated by their stroke of bad luck, he sighed heavily and turned his attention to their opponents. “All right, Fireball! Rollout!” Fireball revved in place on the rain-slicked ground before dashing toward the enemy. ‘That combo!’ the opposing Trainer thought, eyes wide with surprise. ‘So, they know some tricks …’ ‘If Fireball is unable to attack at any point,’ Antoshi thought, ‘then we're in major trouble …’ Lanturn's maneuverability on land was almost non-existent. The opposing duo were unable to do anything about the oncoming attack. Fireball slammed into Lanturn, causing it to rapidly flip over backwards until it rolled to a stop. It groaned, shaking off its dizziness before sliding back to its side of the field. Fireball remained in his curled form as he rolled back his side as well. The rain momentarily poured down harder while Lanturn's Aqua Ring healed some of its injuries. “Lanturn — Thunder, again!” Lanturn fired another powerful bolt of electricity into the clouds, which came down and struck Fireball. He shouted in pain, his curled-up body tensing as he was rattled with electricity. His fur was mostly frazzled, singed and charred. Thunder was an immensely powerful technique, and the combination with Rain Dance meant it would always hit Fireball. Antoshi clenched his teeth until the lightning faded away. “Fireball!” Antoshi exclaimed in concern. “Let me know you're okay!” Fireball wasn't moving, causing a moment of tension between both sides. The Typhlosion suddenly heaved a deep sigh, having held his breath. Though his body relaxed some, the electricity of his paralysis continued to flow around him. “Come on!” the opposing Trainer screeched. “Faint already, you stupid Typhlosion!” "I'm … not going down easily," Fireball said, straining. Antoshi grinned proudly. “Fireball, another Rollout!” Fireball revved up once more and launched himself faster than before across the rain-slicked ground. Lanturn's eyes widened just before being struck. It was thrown through the air, past its Trainer before crashing to a halt. It groaned, suddenly unable to pick itself back up. “No!” the opposing Trainer shouted. “Yes,” Antoshi quietly cheered, pumping a fist at his side. Fireball was still curled up like a ball, leaving Antoshi unable to gauge his friend's status. “Fireball, how you feeling?” he asked. "Very buzzed," he replied. "Other than that, I'm still good to go." Antoshi smiled and stood confidently. The opposing Trainer seethed, yanking the Poké Ball off his belt and recalling his Lanturn in a huff. “No more messing around!” he exclaimed. He switched the Poké Ball with an Ultra Ball in the same hand, which he immediately threw out. “Go, Tyranitar!” Antoshi's eyes widened in shock. It was the Pokémon he was expecting — and fearing. From the ball came a monstrous dinosaurian beast. Covered in thick, green, armored skin, the bipedal Pokémon was abnormally large for its species like Fireball was — and very angry. “I don't care if your Typhlosion has no Type right now, you're still going to lose!” “It sure didn't look that big from far away,” Antoshi joked nervously. "What?" Fireball asked, unable to see anything in his curled form. "What happened?" The imposing Tyranitar stomped its foot, causing the ground to rumble under its immense weight and power. Fireball bounced a few inches off the ground from the impact. "… Oh," Fireball added. "I don't want to look, do I?" “No, probably not,” Antoshi replied, unable to take his eyes away from the imposing beast. The Tyranitar let out a powerful roar that grabbed the attention of almost every spectator and nearby competitors. Antoshi turned his attention to the opposing Trainer. “Hey, how did you get that Tyranitar anyway?” “By catching it — duh!” the Trainer replied. “Stupid!” Antoshi was taken aback by the indignant response. “… Okay then,” he muttered. “I see someone's not in the mood to chat.” From Tyranitar's body, a magical maelstrom of sand kicked up, swirling relentlessly around the two Pokémon. It was its Sand Stream ability. The sandstorm caused the dark clouds and rainy condition to disperse. "Ow!" Fireball said, as he was pelted with grains of sand. "Not this again!" ‘We have to act quickly here,’ Antoshi thought. ‘Tyranitar's a bit faster than Lanturn, but definitely still slower than Fireball. If we use Rollout again, combined with Defense Curl, it'll have the strength of eight standard Rollouts at this point. But that's not a good enough Type advantage for us to—’ His eyes suddenly lit up. ‘Tyranitar … is Dark- and Rock-Type.’ “Fireball!” he said. “Use Focus Blast!” Fireball groaned in pain as he hopped back to his hind feet. His tired eyes and burns down his belly finally showed how worn down he had gotten after taking two direct Thunder attacks. The opposing Trainer watched carefully, ready to counteract. Fireball held his forepaws at one side, charging up a bright ball of energy. However, just as the attack was ready, the electricity around his body surged wildly. He shouted in pain and fell to a knee. The energy in his hands dissipated. ‘Oh, no! Not the paralysis!’ Antoshi thought with eyes aghast. ‘Not now!’ The opposing Trainer smirked, capitalizing on Fireball's misfortune. “Tyranitar! Stone Edge! Finish it!” Tyranitar let out an immense roar before stomping its foot. Massive rock pillars jutted out of the ground, rushing toward Fireball like a wave. Fireball was struck hard. The violent impact sent him airborne a short distance before crashing nearby Antoshi. The pillars sunk back into the ground. “Fireball!” Antoshi cried out in terror. Fireball groaned weakly, lifting himself up onto his arms. The Typhlosion suddenly fell to the ground. The wind had been knocked from Antoshi's lungs, placing his hands on his head. “Yes!” the opposing Trainer cheered. “We won!” “Fireball, no,” Antoshi whispered, his eyes welling up with tears. “You can't lose …” He exhaled in disbelief, dropping to his knees beside his fallen friend. Just as the opposing Trainer was about to recall his Tyranitar, Fireball stirred back to life. "Good point …" Fireball replied, weakly, staggering up on his hind feet. "It would be … pretty crummy if we lost now …" “What the heck?!” the opposing Trainer shouted. Antoshi was equally astonished to see his friend still conscious. He also got to his feet at the same slow pace that Fireball did, quickly wiping away the tears from his eyes. "I have … no idea how I'm still in this," Fireball said with a weak smirk. "It kinda feels like I'm dreaming." “Well, this is definitely our dream,” Antoshi replied, smiling. “Let's make it come true while you're still conscious. One more Focus Blast!” Fireball nodded and hobbled his way back onto the field. He clenched his teeth upon re-entering the tornado of whipping sands. With his trembling paws at one side, he slowly charged up the same ball of energy as before. He groaned, becoming more dizzy and weak as the attack grew in size. 'Gotta make … this one … count,' Fireball thought. 'I only have one more left in me.' With a diminished shout, he thrust his arms forward to fire off the attack before falling onto his behind. “Tyranitar — dodge it!!” its Trainer exclaimed. Tyranitar leapt to the side with incredible speed that caused Antoshi to gasp in shock. However, Fireball's inexperience and inaccuracy with the move became their saving grace yet again. Tyranitar dodged into the path of the attack. Focus Blast struck one of the gaping triangular holes in its chest — a glaring chink in its otherwise impenetrable body armor. The spot was a pressure point, amplifying the damage it received for a critical hit. The impact caused a large, explosive burst of light. The tremendous Tyranitar was sent backward, roaring in anguish. It shook the stadium grounds upon landing and slid to a halt. Fireball grinned, laughing weakly at the incredible sight. He couldn't believe how lucky that was. He groaned wearily, falling back onto the wet, sandy ground. “Fireball!” he exclaimed. Antoshi stopped himself from rushing through the sandstorm to his friend's side — doing so would cause a forfeit. He clenched his teeth in frustration, staring at his friend with deep concern. Tyranitar was not moving. Its sandstorm petered out and its Trainer was left stunned, but quickly became outraged. “No~!!” he screamed at the top of his lungs. He fell to his hands and knees and began sobbing. “Trainer 147 wins!” the voice on the loudspeaker announced. Antoshi immediately rushed over and knelt down beside Fireball. He scrambled to pull out another Full Restore from his backpack, spraying his friend with it from head to toe. “You all right?” Antoshi asked, nervously. Fireball grinned slightly and gave him a thumbs-up. "I'm just glad that was the last match of the day," Fireball replied, quietly. "We definitely got put through the wringer here." “These victories of ours are getting more and more unbelievable — and a lot more slim. It already feels like we're barely scraping by.” "I'll bet it's all downhill from here," Fireball joked. They both laughed. The other Trainer sniffled and wept as he recalled his Tyranitar. He covered his eyes in shame as he ran off through the stadium tunnels. Despite how abrasive the boy was towards them, Antoshi still felt badly for him being overwhelmed by the sting of defeat. After Antoshi and Fireball got to their feet, one of the stadium volunteers holding a clipboard came out to greet them. “Congratulations on your victory!” the man said. “Please, follow me.” Antoshi and Fireball grinned at each other in elation. They had made it past the preliminaries. They won their way into the official Indigo League tournament. The pair were led through a set of large open doors, into one of the areas in the concourse of the stadium. The pair gasped in awe, standing at the entrance of a massive, elegant ballroom. Everything was colored in various shades of purple and blue, accented by white. The walls were lined with couches. The shiny, waxed floor was covered in a plethora of perfectly lined dining tables and chairs. The cool, circulated air was rife with the scent of freshly baked confections. There were a dozen or so Trainers hanging around in the room already, some accompanied by their small or human-sized Pokémon. With the amount of tables and seats, it seemed it would eventually get much more crowded. “This is the Indigo Room,” the man told them. “It's the main dining and lounging area for those who pass the preliminary matches. You may come here and dine any time of the day or night. Your assigned table number is …” he briefly jotted down on his clipboard, “14! This will also be the number of your sleeping quarters.” “Sleeping quarters?” Antoshi asked. “Indeed. The Indigo Tournament starts tomorrow and lasts for three days. Until then, all Trainers passing the preliminary matches must stay at the Indigo Plateau until the closing ceremonies.” He handed Antoshi a key card and a pamphlet. “This key is for your quarters. The pamphlet includes information of daily events and maps of the grounds. Be sure to wear your lanyard for identification purposes whenever you're outside of your quarters. I hope you and your Pokémon have a wonderful time here. Congratulations once again on your victories.” He gave them a respectful nod of the head before taking his leave. Antoshi took a brief look through the pamphlet. “Oh good, another map for me to memorize,” Antoshi joked. "This is definitely the fanciest dining room I've ever seen!" Fireball remarked. He looked in all directions while Antoshi quietly studied the information in his hands. "I smell food — lots of food. He never said whether we had a limit or if we had to pay, did he?" “He sure didn't,” Antoshi replied with a smirk, “but that doesn't mean you get to eat the entire kitchen.” "What other places are there to check out around here?" “Well, down the hall on the left there's a large Pokémon Center.” "Which way do we go to check out our room?" A grin spread across Antoshi's face. He closed the pamphlet and stored it away in his backpack pocket. “I was hoping you'd ask that. Come on.” Fireball curiously followed his friend through a hallway on their right. They went out another set of large doors leading outside. They had now exited through the opposite side of the stadium from where they originally entered earlier that morning. Fireball gasped in surprise. Sprawled out before him was a bustling resort village situated around a large lake. The pair strolled and looked around. Volunteers and staff in all directions kept the grounds and the log cabins that comprised the village tidy. Each of them smiled, waved or greeted the pair as they passed. "Wow!" Fireball remarked, waving back to them. "What is this place?" “I just read about it on the map. This place is rented out as a vacation resort most of the year. But, when it's time for a tournament, it's lodging for the participants.” Fireball's eyes widened in surprise. "Wait a minute!" he exclaimed. "Do you mean …" “Uh-huh!” Antoshi cheerfully replied. They came to a stop in front of a single-story cabin with a sign hammered into the front lawn that read '14.' “We're not staying in a room like the Pokémon Center — we get our own little house to live in.” Fireball started hyperventilating. "This … is so … freaking … cool!" he said. Fireball was buzzing with excitement as they walked to the front door. Antoshi slid the key card through the reader, hearing a confirmation beep, and the door unlocked. He chuckled as he opened the door and invited his friend to enter first. Fireball squealed in glee, merrily skipping inside. The duo's faces lit up as they looked around. “Wow,” they both remarked in awe. It was as though they were walking into the distant past. The evening sun flooded the charming home that seemed to be constructed in a bygone age. Warm and cozy, almost everything was made of wood, looking so antique that the duo were wary about touching any of it. From the diamond-shape leaded windows, the patterned drapes, and even a grandfather clock. A wooden display cabinet held plates and candlestick holders. A dining table and chairs sat upon rustic, stone flooring. Any amenities they could need were provided; from a couch, television and videophone to a fully-stocked kitchen, dining room and appliances. "This place is amazing," Fireball said, as the two looked around. "I like it a lot more than the Pokémon Center." “You don't say?” Antoshi grinned as he asked, sarcastically. The boy headed into the spacious bedroom, placing his backpack down next to the bed. Fireball followed, peering around the bedroom from the doorway. "Someday, you and I should live in a house like this. Maybe someplace out in the woods like you enjoy." “That would be nice.” Antoshi smiled, glancing out the window for a brief moment. They had a perfect view of the sparkling lake behind the house. The beautiful scenery and the splendid peacefulness of the house were far and beyond what he could've ever expected in his many dreams of making it to the Indigo League. “Well, how about we go and do what you enjoy, which is eat?” "I'm always ready! Lead the way!" Antoshi laughed as they headed to the front door. “The volunteer that gave us a bunch of info never said I had to dress any differently when we go eat. Guess I'll just wear the same thing I have on.” "Same here." “You would say that, wouldn't you?” Fireball chuckled and nodded. The two of them headed back outside. “One of these days I'm going to get you some clothes.” "Ugh, no way! I'm not some dress-up Furfrou." ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ By the time the two got back to the Indigo Room dining hall, far more Trainers were lounging around with each other and their Pokémon. Food was already being served to the hungry victors of the first day of competition. Fireball asked Antoshi to order several courses just for himself. The duo sat down, ordered, and began to eat. Aside from the victors, staff, waiters, and volunteers all buzzed around. Antoshi was elated to see so many other fellow Trainers at such a high-class dining room also sitting with their Pokémon. It was an unusual sight, yet it was the norm for the tournament. A couple of Trainers walked around the dining room with Pokédexes in hand. One of them, a young man in his teens wearing a purple hat, stopped in front of Fireball, holding up the device that looked like two black handles around a holographic light display. The duo were able to see through it from the opposite side. It lit up with a full-body image of a Typhlosion. “You have a really awesome Typhlosion,” the young man said. “How'd you get him?” “Fireball was given to me when I was little,” Antoshi replied. “Lucky you! … Oh, hey, you're the duo that faced that scary-looking Tyranitar.” “That's us,” he said, with a proud grin. Fireball nodded. “Wow. You beat a Tyranitar with a Typhlosion of all things. That's really amazing stuff. I didn't see the entire battle, but I definitely saw it after it fainted.” “Thank you.” The young man looked around. “Well, I see more Pokémon I need entries on. See you around!” “See ya.” With that, the Trainer took his leave. "You know," Fireball said, "I was kind of expecting the Trainers here to be really full of themselves. It's nice to see most of them are friendly." “Yeah,” Antoshi replied with a smile. “I was expecting the same, honestly. It's a huge confidence boost for anyone to have earned eight badges and get to the Indigo Plateau. But, with how tough it's been along the way, it's still a humbling experience.” They looked around at all the smiling faces, hearing a couple people in the distance laughing. “They're all probably really happy to make it this far. I know I am.” "Same here," Fireball replied, with a mouthful of food. "This is the best dinner we've had in a while!" Antoshi shook his head and sighed in content. Their minds were off the jitters they'd inevitably face in the following day's competition. For the time being, they took all the time they could to relax and revel in their success. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Having been on the move and battling most of the day, the duo were ready to call it an early night. Antoshi laughed as an overstuffed Fireball literally waddled his way out of the dining room, attracting the amusement of others nearby. “That's one happy Pokémon!” a male Trainer said to them. "He's got that right," Fireball remarked. They headed back to their cottage to get settled in. Fireball took his usual place resting on the floor of the moonlit bedroom, groaning loudly and hiccuping as he lay on his back. Antoshi emerged from the bathroom, wearing his usual sleeping garments, toothbrush in hand. "I know I'm going to sleep really well tonight," Fireball said. “I hope so,” Antoshi said, packing his toothbrush away. “Tomorrow's going to be the biggest challenge we've ever faced.” He hopped into bed, slipping under the covers. He sighed heavily, followed by a period of silence between them. “… It's so incredible to think we finally made it to the Indigo League,” Antoshi spoke up. “We spent so many nights awake just like this, talking about it and dreaming of this moment.” "Do you think we'll really make it to the end?" Fireball asked. “Of course. We can't think otherwise. Doubting ourselves now doesn't make sense. We always said we were going for the championship — that's where we're gonna end up.” "You're right. This is why I listen to you." “Yeah, otherwise you end up in the trunk of Team Rocket's car.” "Err, … maybe we could chalk that up to a 'youthful indiscretion'?" “I'm only joking. I'm the one that taught you that phrase, by the way.” Fireball snickered in response. “Well, we'd better get lots of sleep.” "Sounds good to me. Goodnight, Antoshi." “Goodnight, buddy.” ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ The following morning, the duo got up at their usual wake-up time of six o'clock. The sun had just started to break the horizon and peer into the bedroom window. They were fueled by a deep sense of determination. Both remained fairly quiet, getting themselves mentally prepared for what was to be the most important day of their lives. Antoshi tied his shoes, wearing the same red-and-white polo shirt and shorts he'd worn often. He made sure to put on his identification lanyard on and headed for the door where Fireball was anxiously waiting for him. He stopped suddenly, heading back into the room to rummage through his backpack for something. He pulled out Fireball's Poké Ball. He may end up needing it, just in case. He stuffed it into his pocket before leaving the house with his best friend by his side. From his other pocket, he pulled out their information pamphlet. After navigating back through the stadium concourse, they entered a large, bright waiting room. It was mostly white, with a few potted trees along the walls and plants set on tables to break the drabness. There were dozens of rows of linked chairs — plenty of seating for the waiting competitors. Large television screens hung on the walls, though they were off for the time being. They looked around curiously. Dozens of fellow Trainers had already gotten up well before them. The chatter between them was at a minimum. Some of them kept their Pokémon out of their Poké Balls. All of the Trainers seemed as anxious to get started as they were, and their Pokémon were just as focused. Antoshi looked through the pamphlet again. “Well, it looks like the gates open for the crowds at eight,” he said. “Opening ceremonies start at ten — that's when all the competitors are brought out to the stadium grounds for a short time. Then, the first match starts afterward. I wonder how they're going to arrange the matches this time around?” “Funny running into you again, Antoshi,” a familiar voice said. They both turned around and grinned. “Cory! Hey!” Antoshi greeted him. “Hey there. I didn't think so many other Trainers got up as early as I did. Guess that's to be expected with those serious enough to make it this far.” “So, what are you doing this morning?” Antoshi asked. “I just came back from breakfast in the dining area. All the food here is amazing, and they make some great waffles.” Fireball's whole world suddenly went blank, staring into the distance with eyes wide. ‘Waffles …’ Cory's voice echoed in Fireball's head. ‘Wa~ffles …’ Cory smirked as he looked at the mesmerized Typhlosion. “What's wrong with Fireball? Didn't get enough sleep last night?” “No, I think it's because you said—” "Waffles!" Fireball shouted, rushing off to the dining room. “… Waffles.” Cory burst out laughing. Antoshi sighed and grinned. “Well, I guess we're off to breakfast now. Maybe we'll run into each other again later.” “Take care,” he replied, before Antoshi jogged after his friend. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ After getting some breakfast in them, the duo hung around in the waiting area. Antoshi passed the time by reading a book from the reading material provided by the staff, while Fireball relaxed out on several chairs next to him. Some time later, the television screens turned on. Those waiting got to watch the morning newscast. One of the reports was about the ongoing events after the destruction of Fern Town. Antoshi idly closed his book, taking great interest in the report. While the chatter in the room was too loud for him to hear it, the text on screen indicated that the cleanup was expected to last months. A makeshift memorial had been set up for loved ones and the general public to leave their thoughts, prayers, and offerings. Hundreds of flower bouquets, cards, and toys were left in memory of the victims. Antoshi's chest tightened at the sight of people distraught and crying. It was difficult for him to watch, recalling the incident as it happened in his dreams. Recordings and photos of Slateport City's devastation also came up on screen. Comparisons were made between the two events, leaving the boy to mull over the relation between the two. He didn't have any dreams about the destruction of Slateport. He could only wonder if there really was a connection. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ The televisions eventually changed over to the stadium's closed circuit network. Antoshi and others were awe-struck. Live cameras showed them the sheer mass of people waiting to get into the gate and filing into the stands. “Wow, that's crazy,” a girl nearby remarked. “What is that, like, a hundred thousand people?” another person mused. “Has to be. All those people are going to be watching us? Can I just drop out now?” There was some boisterous laughing near the front of the room. A male, teenage Trainer hopped to his feet, turning to the others in the room. “Cowards — out the door!” he shouted to the group, pointing toward the exit. His antics sparked laughs and playful jeers from others. “Go on! If you're scared of the crowd, head home! You'll make it a lot easier for the rest of us to win this tournament! Go on now!” With the images of the crowds filing in, the Trainers were starting to get rowdy as they mentally prepared themselves. Antoshi couldn't help but laugh to himself at the ruckus, while nervously wringing his cold hands. Fireball awoke with a yawn amid all the commotion. "Huh? What's happening?" he asked. Antoshi grinned at his friend. “It's about to be showtime.”
  2. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ — Part 2: Sibling Rivalry — ⁂ ⁂ Kanto's neighboring region of Johto thrives by continuously founding new settlements, like any prospering nation. New towns and cities allowed people from far and wide to settle down — to call Johto their home. Fern was one such town. Existing for nearly four decades, Fern Town was quiet and quaint. A home of over seven thousand people, it was situated just north of Azalea Town. Its small neighborhoods surrounded by the lush, vibrant green forests made it an attractive prospect to those looking to live closer to nature. Wild Pokémon inhabiting the woods visited frequently, becoming acquainted and friendly with the townsfolk. Most of the roads were simple dirt pathways. New stores and small buildings popped up constantly. The residents of Fern Town were happy and lived in warm, intimate communities. The town's school and large playground were situated at the center of the town. It was a loving gesture of the town's founders that their young people were literally their future. Yet, one morning, that future was erased in an instant. Everything and everyone was gone. The beautiful town stood with its immaculate charm no longer. In its place lay a massive crater of dirt from the aftermath of a devastating explosion. There was no forewarning. There were no survivors, except for a boy with jet black hair lying face-down and unconscious in the epicenter of the crater. When rescue personnel and news reporters from the neighboring towns and cities came, it was heralded as an unexplainable freak occurrence. The military, led by General Logan, came to investigate. They took the boy to a nearby military hospital. Remarkably, he had not a single injury, but he remained in a brief coma. As government and local officials sifted through the destruction to try to piece together what happened, they soon realized that what occurred was no ordinary explosion. They truly had no idea what happened to bring about the town's complete erasure. Some of the investigators had growing suspicions that the boy was not simply some miracle survivor. In some way they couldn't fully grasp, it was believed that he was the cause of the town's devastation. Once the idea became the only plausible explanation left, the boy was no longer treated as a victim. He instead became the culprit of an unspeakably horrific act. One of the very same young people that Fern Town had bet their future on now appeared to be the reason for its demise. In the middle of the night, government officials came to collect the boy who was still comatose. They had no place for him in an ordinary jail or a prison. Instead, they airlifted him to a military black site on a tiny island southeast of the Whirl Islands. Under round-the-clock maximum security, the compound was the breeding ground for the government's more controversial, highly-classified experiments and tests. It was there that the boy was institutionalized in a high-tech confinement cell. The story of the mysterious young survivor quickly faded from the public consciousness. His memory was forgotten, except to those in charge of the compound. His memory was also forgotten to him as well. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ The boy pounded his fists on the thick, acrylic glass of his cell. His frantic breaths and whimpers echoed around the small room. His hands searched the glass for some kind of handle on the cutout door, or an unlocking mechanism. His heart raced, brown eyes wrought with terror. “Please, let me out!” he exclaimed, pounding at the glass again. It was his second day after waking up to find himself locked up in the cell. He had no way of telling time, and those two days in solitary confinement felt like weeks. He had no human contact whatsoever. While he was already past the realization of his imprisonment, a million questions raced through his head. Foremost on his mind was why he was locked up, closely followed by why he couldn't recall anything that happened before getting here. Having awoken a few days after the explosion, he had no idea who he was or how he ended up jailed. That, coupled with being locked away in a quiet, sterile cell where nobody paid any attention to him, became torturous. He kicked at the glass with his bare feet, shouting and screaming in a panicked huff. He knew someone was around. Multiple cameras outside his cell were silently watching his every move. He rest his back against the glass, grabbing fistfuls of his dark hair. He slid down onto his seat, huffing and sobbing quietly. “Someone help me,” he pleaded. “Someone please help me …” ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Some time later, he laid on the cold floor and stared up at the white ceiling. The walls were white. The floor was white. The bed, the toilet, the sink — all white. The bright, white lights cut into his vision. His surroundings became blinding and disorienting. He tried to keep himself as calm as possible, and to keep some glimmer of hope in the face of such a dim, depressing scenario. This was undoubtedly some kind of misunderstanding. Someone had to be coming for him. A familiar humming noise approached his cell. He gasped in excitement, hopping up to his knees and crawled over to a small cutout at the very bottom of the acrylic glass door. A small hovering robot, holding a tray of food, stopped in front of his cell door. It was the second time the robot had come by that day. “Please, help!” he shouted, as the cutout automatically folded open. “Please! Who is it that brought me here? Why are they keeping me? Please bring me someone to talk to!” The robot placed the tray on the floor. It slipped a new set of neatly folded white clothing through the slat, followed by the tray of food atop the clothes. “Is there like a—a communicator on you or something?” he continued. “Is there anyone that can hear me right now?” The slat snapped shut. The robot turned and hovered away. “No, no, no! Wait! Please, please, come back! Please! Don't leave!” He clenched his eyes shut. “Don't leave …” he whispered. He stared at his food, each item neatly placed in its own segment — a cold and detached way of feeding him. He sniffled and wept quietly, unwrapping a bar of oat and grains and chewed on it. He was forced to use the sink whenever he wanted to bathe himself. The same robot came by at regularly scheduled times to give him clean towels and clothing. He held on to the hope that someone — anyone — would come and take him away from this nightmare. In the end, however, hope was not enough to keep his sanity. On many occasions, he went berserk. He screamed as loudly as he could, punching and kicking every wall. The fits of rage did little to release his pent-up stress and fear. To pass the time, he laid on the floor and counted the number of tiny holes in each ceiling tile. He hummed and made up songs in his head. He thought up simple math problems and counted numbers. He spent many hours trying to remember his life on the outside. Most of his time, however, was spent crying. With no windows and no clock, it was impossible to know what time it was. He stayed in bed for long periods, sleeping anytime his panicked mind was able to wind down. The bed — stiff and uncomfortable at first — became his place of solitude. On rare occasions, the muffled screams of people in agony echoed down the halls. He covered his ears each time. The sounds left him terrified and trembling, his mind racing with terrible thoughts. It only compounded his fear of the facility he was locked in, and what they had planned for him. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Within a luxurious office further inside the base, a stern man quietly sat behind a polished wooden executive desk. He wore a service uniform befitting a high-ranking military official. It was the man that had led the investigation: General Logan. He was leaned back in his executive chair, his feet propped up on the desk. He swiveled a small amount of wine in a glass before putting it to his lips. The boy's cell was shown on a slew of monitors on the wall before him. Another military official, thinner and wearing glasses, walked into the room. He gave a salute before shutting the door behind him. He laid a folder full of papers on the desk before looking over at the the monitors. “Is it time, General?” he asked. “No,” Logan replied. “He's not quite ready yet. We'll give him a week in here and see how he fares.” ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ At the same time, half a region away, Antoshi and Fireball ventured through the incredibly long and treacherous Victory Road. The cave road was dark, mazelike, and unforgiving. There was no food to forage, save for the occasional cave mushroom. It made Antoshi's pre-planning of stocking up on supplies even more significant. Wild Pokémon were out in force, frequently attacking the passing Trainers who disturbed their otherwise quiet home. With the starting date of the event looming ever closer, throngs of Trainers were passing through Victory Road. It ended up being a pilgrimage amongst strangers, which was typical in the week leading up to the Indigo tournament. A number of those Trainers ended up backtracking, giving up on their endeavor in order to spare their Pokémon or themselves. Some used Pokémon that knew Dig or Teleport to escape, while others simply ran back the way they came. Despite how terrifying the trek should have been, the duo made their way through Victory Road with eyes full of wonder and hearts ablaze. Antoshi and Fireball were able to get a few battles in with the other Trainers passing through. The battles helped in garnering them some more crucial experience before the tournament. It took the duo four days to make it to the Indigo Plateau from Viridian City. Antoshi and Fireball experienced firsthand just how tough and dangerous it was to simply make it to the Plateau. Having done so was — and certainly felt like — an accomplishment in itself. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ The final day of the Indigo League tournament sign-ups was coming to a close. Inside of the registration building, Antoshi and Fireball signed in with only a few hours to spare before the cutoff time. They were briefly stopped by a checkpoint inside the building, joining a queue of Trainers waiting to enter. Seeing and hearing the elation of fellow Trainers that successfully made it through Victory Road made them both grin. The inside of the building was so plain, almost like an office waiting room. It had a large receptionist's desk, bare walls, and a small handful of bland chairs that contrasted with the colorful apparel and vibrant hairstyles of the Trainers and Pokémon waiting in a single file. Antoshi, meanwhile, was dressed in a more modest white polo shirt and black shorts. For the most part, the room was incredibly quiet. Antoshi and Fireball weren't sure if the others were simply as nervous as they were. Each of Antoshi's eight badges were scanned with a special device by one of the several attendants. A microchip inside each of the badges verified they were legitimate via a chime from the device. Afterward, they were instructed to head through a corridor nearby. The corridor was surprisingly long. Antoshi and Fireball walked with a handful of other Trainers towards a light at the end of it. They soon found themselves outside, under the clear sky and the glow of the midmorning sun. The pair gasped in awe, standing at one of the entryways of the Plateau's massive stadium. The large battlefield before them was walled off by spectator stands. Uptempo music played over the stadium's intercom system. They looked around with wide-eyed fascination before Antoshi turned to his friend with a huge grin. “This is so awesome, isn't it?” Antoshi remarked. “Our very first tournament.” "Heck yeah, it's awesome," Fireball replied, "and there's none bigger than the Indigo Plateau!" The duo walked around to find a place to relax and wait until competition began. There were hundreds of Trainers and their Pokémon patiently waiting around all over the place. Many stood or reclined on the spacious field, while others took to waiting in the empty stands. More and more Trainers continued to file in behind the duo. A chime came over the intercom system, followed by a woman's voice. “The Indigo League Committee would like to remind all entrants that impromptu battling is strictly prohibited. Thank you for your continued patience. Registrations will soon be closing.” Fireball's eyes darted every which way. He locked eyes with various Pokémon staring at him. There was an intense look in each of their eyes. Fireball bared his teeth, the flames on his back suddenly igniting. Antoshi looked over at him with surprise. “You okay?” Antoshi asked, placing a hand on his friend's shoulder. Fireball gasped in surprise, extinguishing his flames. "Sorry," Fireball replied, calming himself. "I keep feeling every Pokémon's urge to battle around here. There's so many strong Pokémon. It's really something else." Antoshi took a closer look around at his peers, greeted by several cutting glares. “Oh, I see what you mean now,” he said, surprised. “Why don't we find a place away from everyone else?” "That's probably a good idea." The duo headed up into the stands, finding a quiet area to sit down at. The much larger Fireball managed to fit himself into one of the person-sized seats. The view from their vantage point was incredible. They were able to take in the sheer magnitude Trainers and their Pokémon all bustling around, and how small they were in the comparison to the massive stadium. Both of them smiled, content yet restless. “I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous,” Antoshi said, idly tapping his foot to the beat of the music being played. "Same here! But, just imagine how amazing it'll be when we win. They'll show us on the news and in papers all around the world! 'Trainer With One Pokémon Becomes Champion.' We'll be super-famous, and I'll get all the food I can eat." “That's impossible — there's never enough food for you to eat.” "… Fair point!" ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ As the morning went on, the sun started bearing down hard. The clouds hid its glare in small reprieves. A handful of Trainers had packed umbrellas, or had Pokémon large enough to shade themselves in. A number of tournament volunteers walked around around with coolers hanging around their necks. They gave out bottles of cold water, sandwiches, and bags of Pokémon food. “Thank you again for your continued patience, Trainers,” the woman on the intercom said. “Registration closes in ninety minutes.” Antoshi capped his paper water bottle after taking a long sip. “I've been sweating my butt off here,” he said. “but I don't care. We've waited for this for so long. It's kind of like relaxing after crossing the finish line, you know? Plus, the music's kind of nice.” Fireball was busy enjoying the food he was given to reply. “I see you're still keeping that Typhlosion outside its Poké Ball,” a young man walking up to them said. They both turned their attention to him. Antoshi's eyes widened in surprise, standing up with a grin. “Cory? I never imagined I'd ever see you again!” “Same here,” Cory replied. Both boys laughed as they shared a handshake. Fireball smiled and waved. “Wow, it's been a while,” Antoshi said, smiling. “It's so good to see you! You know, I've always wanted to apologize to you for the longest time now, about that incident back in the Cerulean Pokémon Center.” “Oh, I apologize as well. I don't think you really need to apologize. If anything, it made me realize I need to step up my training a lot. A Quilava beat my star Mudkip so easily. Since then, I get a talking-to about it from Nurse Joy every time I visit a Pokémon Center.” “Hey, so do we!” Antoshi replied. The two laughed again. Cory glanced at the belt on Antoshi's shorts. “So, … where are the rest of your Pokémon?” “You're looking at him,” Antoshi replied, with a casual point of the thumb to Fireball. Cory was flabbergasted. “What? You never got any new Pokémon since the last time we last spoke?” “I was originally going to, but … well, it turned out I didn't need to. It's just been Fireball and I all the way.” “Wow,” Cory said, scratching his head. “I can definitely respect it — getting all the way here with one Pokémon is unbelievable. Honestly, my first thought was that you were completely nuts.” “We get that a lot.” “Aside from the 'weird name' thing, huh?” Antoshi laughed and nodded. “It's funny. I like that you refer to yourself as 'we.' Seems like Fireball never leaves your mind. The two of you really are best friends.” The duo grinned to each other. “Well, Antoshi, it was great to catch up with you. I'm looking forward to seeing you battle but, really, I'd like to face off against you myself.” “Same here,” Antoshi replied with a nod. The boys shook hands again before Cory took his leave. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ “Thank you for waiting, Trainers,” the woman on the intercom said. “Registrations have now closed. Stand by for a tournament official to give you further information. Please remember to hang on to your litter and dispose of it in the proper recycling bins.” Not long after, a man in white formal attire, complete with a bow tie, emerged from a tunnel at the top level of the stadium. A self-propelled aerial camera pointed at him from a few meters away, lighting up his image on the large display screens at the far ends of the stadium. He wore a headset with a tiny microphone on it. “Greetings, everyone!” the man said, as his voice came through the sound system. “My name is Cedric, and I'll be the master of ceremonies for this year's Spring Indigo League Tournament! Some of you are returning challengers so you already know the drill. As for the new faces here, let me tell you how we'll be starting. In just a moment, our hard-working tournament volunteers are going to give you a coded, numbered pass on a lanyard to wear. Please be aware that you need to wear these on you at all times for identification. The number represents what bracket you'll be in for the first elimination round of the tournament. Usually, we try to pull in at least five-hundred and twelve Trainers, but this year we have a little less than that. So, a small handful of you are going to get a 'bye' in order to keep the bracket consistent. Don't take that as a free pass, however. You're not officially in the tournament until you're in the top one hundred twenty-eight!” The volunteers started walking around the stadium field and stands, handing out passes to each Trainer. “For those of you who don't get a 'bye',” he continued, “you'll have to win two battles to move on to the main tournament! Because of the sheer size of the bracket, we're restricting all Trainers to only using a maximum of two Pokémon! This 'sudden death' style elimination round will test your ability to work with a limited team. So, make those eight badges you earned count! Pick out your team's best two and give it your all!” “This is extremely lucky for us,” Antoshi said. “Now we just have to win a couple of two-on-one battles. You know all of the Trainers here probably have a full roster of six.” Fireball nodded. "I can't wait to get started," he said, shifting eagerly in his seat. “Now, I'm sure some of you can't wait to get started — and you won't have to! The preliminary rounds will commence immediately once everyone has been assigned their numbers.” "I think he read my mind," Fireball remarked, awe-struck. “I think he read everyone's mind,” Antoshi replied with a smirk. “Now,” Cedric said, “if everyone on the stadium floor would kindly make your way up into the stands in an orderly fashion, we can move on to the next phase.” Everyone on the field did as instructed. Trainers recalled their larger Pokémon into their Poké Balls while others kept their smaller ones with them. The arena floor quickly emptied out. Once clear, the hum and whir of motors and gears began to rumble through the stadium. Antoshi, Fireball, and most in attendance looked on in astonishment. The massive floor slowly descended several dozen meters before coming to a halt. It rotated itself slowly before rising back up at the same pace and locking in its original position. Instead of one large battlefield, the floor was now scored into four smaller fields, each of them numbered from one to four. “I'm sure all of you in attendance recognize these stadium markings as the same size you've seen in Gyms,” Cedric said. “That's because they are! The Indigo Plateau's stadium is large enough to hold four simultaneous battles at once. This is how we're going to be zipping right along into tomorrow's main event!” One of the stadium volunteers walked over to Antoshi and handed him a lanyard. He looked at his assigned number, 147, before putting it around his neck as instructed. The stadium screens displayed four different tournament brackets comprised of one hundred twenty-eight participants each. Every Trainer was represented only as a number on screen, leaving all Trainers unaware of their opponent beforehand. “If you direct your attention to the screens,” Cedric said, pointing to one of them, “you'll find your number and the bracket that it's assigned to. The bracket numbers — one, two, three, and four — are all clearly marked on the stadium floor. Once your number is called, you'll make your way to the corresponding battling area for your bracket. That's it for the rules! The matches will start commencing in just a few moments from now, so get ready! Good luck, Trainers!” Cedric took his leave and the music resumed playing. The stadium volunteers continued to hand out numbers. Despite the upbeat music, the air around the stadium suddenly became much more quiet and tense. It was time for everyone to get serious. Trainers were staring at their assigned numbers, others trying to look around and see what numbers those nearby had. “Oh, man,” Antoshi remarked with a sharp huff. “I'm super nervous now.” He rubbed his hands together, wiping his sweaty palms dry, his leg shaking up and down uncontrollably. "I can tell," Fireball replied, watching his friend. “It's taken us so long to get to this point. We put in so much work, and we've been anticipating this moment ever since getting our first badge. This is what we've worked for. Feels like everything's moving so fast now.” Fireball placed a reassuring paw on his friend's shoulder. "We've got this, remember?" Fireball boisterously said. "We're super strong — and super smart! Nothing's going to hold us back now." Antoshi took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “You're right. … Thanks for the assist. I can't let my emotions get to me now.” "No sweat. I trust in you, buddy." ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ The preliminaries kicked off with no delay. With four matches occurring simultaneously, there was a lot happening for the spectating Trainers to take in. They watched and cheered, some even taking note of potential competitors and their strategies. Antoshi and Fireball watched anxiously. Many fully evolved and incredibly rare Pokémon appeared on the battlefields. Most of the spectators were in collective awe when a Latios, a Legendary Pokémon, entered the field. Its appearance got a resounding reaction not unlike a celebrity. Antoshi grinned and stood up, having never seen one in person before. The competition was fierce, as expected. Everyone fought their hardest for the chance to become Champion, and to have their names etched into history. One by one, Trainers were eliminated from the competition. It was intimidating for them to see the numbers starting to thin out. By the time it was Antoshi and Fireball's turn, almost three dozen of their fellow hopefuls were already out. “Numbers 146 and 147,” the woman over the loudspeakers said, “head to field number four.” The two friends looked at each other and gave a confident nod, ready to test their mettle. Antoshi huffed sharply, his heart racing as they made their way down onto the battlefield. He rubbed the sweat from his palms again, his legs feeling surprisingly heavy while walking down the stairs. They took their place on the opposite end of the field from a young girl with short, purple hair. Fireball prepared himself for battle, igniting the flames on his upper back. The loud sounds and rumblings of the other battles happening nearby were distracting. It was an unfamiliar setting for the pair. “Field number four — begin your match!” “Nice Typhlosion!” the girl exclaimed as she threw out a Poké Ball. “Hope it's not afraid of the water!” From the opening ball came a burst of light that solidified into a long, blue, terrifying sea serpent — Gyarados. A sudden explosion erupted on the battlefield near them. Both Antoshi and Fireball looked over at it in surprise. “Don't take your eyes off the prize, kid!” she said with a smirk. “Tiny — use Hydro Pump!” The massive serpent fired a large, highly pressurized blast of water from its gaping maw at Fireball. “Fireball, dodge!” Antoshi shouted. Fireball panicked and leapt to the side. He took a glancing blow from the attack to his lower body. The force caused him to spiral through the air, but managed to land on his feet before spinning around to a halt. "… That was pretty cool," Fireball remarked, pleasantly surprised. “You okay?” Antoshi asked in concern. Fireball nodded firmly to him. Antoshi nodded back, exhaling sharply, trying to block out the distractions all around him and focus on their battle. “Fireball, use Thunder Punch!” The girl was taken aback upon realizing the Typhlosion had an Electric-type move in his repertoire. Fireball's fist sparked and crackled with bright, yellowish bolts of electricity. He darted toward the Gyarados, giving a shout and leapt up high, nailing the water beast in the face with a hard right hook. The serpent shouted in pain as it fell to the ground. Fireball landed and headed back to Antoshi's side. Gyarados strained to get up, visibly worn down from the potent attack. It shook its head, declaring its intent to stay in the fight with an indignant roar. The opposing Trainer smiled at her Pokémon. “Attaboy, Tiny!” she said. “Another Hydro Pump! Let's make it count!” “Same plan as before, Fireball!” Antoshi said. “Keep moving!” Fireball took off running while his opponent took aim at him. With a shout, Gyarados spat up another powerful jet of water. Fireball was suddenly swept away by it. He gargled in surprise, flailing to the ground and rolling to a stop near Antoshi. “Oh, no!” Antoshi cried out. “Yeah! Nice shot!” she exclaimed. Fireball growled as he got back to his feet. The fires on his back had dwindled some. As he shook the water from his fur, those flames exploded back to life. "Gonna take more than that to keep me down," Fireball said. Antoshi chuckled softly, continuously impressed by Fireball's confidence. “Thunder Punch — again!” Fireball bared his teeth, summoning forth the same electricity into his paw. Just as before, he rushed the Gyarados and leapt up high. “Dodge it, Tiny!” Gyarados managed to slither out of the way of Fireball's swing. Fireball quickly spun around, swung again, and nailed the serpent on the back of its head. Gyarados roared in pain, the electricity visibly surging through its entire frame. It fell over, unconscious. The girl gasped in shock. “No way!” she exclaimed, her jaw hanging agape. Fireball went back to his side of the field. He and his friend confidently nodded to each other. The girl humphed as she recalled her Gyarados into the confines of its ball. “Fine, then. I guess I'll have to use my ace! Go, Flora!” She threw out another ball. From it, emerged a large yet stumpy reptilian quadruped with a massive blooming flower on its back. Across its forehead, it wore a necklace with a strange gem like a cat's eye marble hanging from it. Fireball and Antoshi looked to each other in surprise — a Grass-type opponent like Venusaur was fortunate for them. Antoshi found it strange, however. Why would a Trainer competent enough to make it to the Indigo Plateau completely disregard something as basic as Type advantage? “Oh, but wait!” the girl added. “There's more!” And there was his answer. She pulled the back the long sleeve of her shirt to reveal a bracelet with a smaller gem, similar to the one Venusaur wore, set into it. She ran her fingers across it, causing both gems to glow brightly. “Flora — Mega Evolve!” she exclaimed. The duo watched in amazement as the gems fired out bolts of magical energy that sought each other out and connected. Once combined, Venusaur gave out a roar and began to glow as if evolving. Many of the other Trainers watching from the stands were fully engaged in the spectacle. Once the bright light faded, Venusaur had grown larger and heavier with a pink flower on its forehead and dark green markings between its eyes. “Oh, … wow,” Antoshi remarked, nervously. It was the first time they had seen a real Mega Evolution up close. The stones needed for Trainer and Pokémon were both exceedingly rare and very expensive. Lost in their battle trance, Antoshi and Fireball's eyes were wide with intensity — their excitement rising from the unique challenge before them. They were focused solely on their battle and no longer distracted by the nearby competitors. “Flora, Sludge Bomb!” The lush beast reared back and opened its maw with a deep, groaning roar. It spat out a large, brown gob of toxic muck that shot in an arc toward Fireball, exploding on contact. Fireball groaned, stumbling back from the impact and turning away to wipe the sludge off his face. "This is so gross," Fireball remarked, shuddering. "Why do we keep getting opponents with poison attacks? I'll take getting smashed over the head with a boulder over this any day." Antoshi covered his nose from the horrible-smelling poison, staring at their opposition. ‘If what I remember about Mega Evolution is correct,’ he thought, ‘Venusaur's durability is increased as well. I could go with Fire Blast, but it's slower and harder to land. Flamethrower is way more reliable, but it'll take more hits to wear Mega Venusaur down. I'd better play this one on the safe side. We can't afford to make any mistakes now.’ “Fireball, use Flamethrower!” Fireball shook himself to remove any more sludge he could. He took aim at his opponent, launching a raging stream of fire from his mouth. The heat of his flames were fueled by the disgust of Mega Venusaur's previous attack. “Dodge it!” the girl commanded. In a flash, Mega Venusaur darted to the side to avoid Fireball's attack. Antoshi was shocked at how deceptively fast the heavy, stubby monster was. “Follow it!” Antoshi said. “Keep pouring it on!” Fireball didn't let up on his attack, aiming the fire as best he could at his moving target. He could only keep a single Flamethrower going for as long as his lungs held a breath. The distance between them forced him to predict and try to lead his opponent's movements. Mega Venusaur neared the stadium wall. Running out of room to dodge, it leapt back over the pillar of flame. Fireball responded by pulling up, managing to score a hit just before he ran out of air. Mega Venusaur roared in pain, crashing back down to the ground with some of its petals aflame. Fireball coughed up puffs of smoke while trying to catch his breath. “You okay, Fireball?” Antoshi asked. "Feeling a little lightheaded after that one," Fireball replied in a raspy voice, "but I'm good." Mega Venusaur groaned, getting back to its feet. It shook itself off, cinders falling from its body. Antoshi was flabbergasted that it got up again so quickly. “Okay, that Mega Venusaur looks in way better shape than I would've hoped,” he remarked. The girl laughed. “That's thanks to its ability: Thick Fat! Mega Venusaur takes half as much damage from Fire-type attacks!” “I guess we'll just have to hit twice as hard! Fireball, get up close and then use Flamethrower!” Both Fireball and the girl were left confused as to what Antoshi was planning. Never one to doubt Antoshi's strategies, Fireball shrugged before he took off running on all fours. “Flora, give it another Sludge Bomb!” “Dodge it, Fireball!” Antoshi shouted. Fireball kept himself as difficult to aim at as possible, weaving back and forth while closing the gap between them. Mega Venusaur roared again before discharging another gob of revolting poison. The arcing attack narrowly missed Fireball, going right over his head. The girl gasped as Fireball appeared before her Pokémon. Fireball opened his maw wide, drenching the Grass-type in a direct stream of flames. Mega Venusaur roared in agony, taking the full brunt of the attack. Fireball headed back to his friend. Mega Venusaur slowly shook itself off, appearing far more charred and worn down than before. ‘That was a risky plan, and it paid off,’ the girl thought as she glared bitterly at the opposing duo. ‘Sludge Bomb is a single, arcing shot. He was betting on me to use it again, and for Flora's aim to be less accurate if his Typhlosion got in close.’ She glanced over at her Mega Venusaur, who was visibly worn down after the last attack. ‘Now Flora's seriously hurt, even with its Thick Fat. Another one of those and we're done for. …’ “Time to finish this!” she said. “Flora, use Frenzy Plant!” Venusaur's body glowed with an intensifying shade of green. Antoshi was taken aback, unfamiliar with the move. “Frenzy Plant?” Antoshi wondered aloud. Unsure of what to expect, his best bet was to play it safe until he and Fireball could make a counter-attack. “Fireball, use Defense Curl!” Fireball curled into a ball just before Venusaur stomped the ground hard. Massive, spiked roots violently erupted out of the ground, creating a trail that led toward Fireball. Once they reached the Typhlosion, he was struck hard and flung high into the air with incredible force. Initially worried for his friend's well-being, Antoshi quickly realized that Fireball had been thrown at an angle — one that brought him closer to their opponents. “Now, Fireball!” he shouted. “Flamethrower!” Fireball clenched his teeth. Though injured from the powerful attack, he quickly realized what Antoshi did. Even while in pain and constantly rolling through the air, he kept track of Mega Venusaur's position and waited for just the right moment. He opened his maw and gave an intense roar. The flames on his back flared wildly as he let out a Flamethrower so intense that it stopped his momentum and propelled him backwards. The attack charged forth with blazing speed. The weakened Mega Venusaur could not dodge as it did previously. Frenzy Plant had already rendered Mega Venusaur briefly exhausted and unable to move. Drenched in fire, it roared in agony, toppling over backwards. Its Trainer shielded her eyes from the powerful flames. Once the attack finished, she gasped at how badly burned her fainted Mega Venusaur was. With Mega Venusaur unconscious, their spirit link was broken. In a flash of light, it returned to its standard form as a Venusaur. Fireball landed on his hind feet near Antoshi. He suddenly groaned in pain and fell to a knee. He held his ribs, looking at his paw afterward to find blood. “Fireball?” Antoshi asked with concern as he headed to his friend's side. "Looks like one of those big thorns got me," Fireball remarked, shooting Antoshi a reassuring grin. Antoshi smiled and nodded. He quickly took off his backpack and rummaged through it. “Trainer 147 wins,” the woman on the loudspeaker said. The opposing Trainer sighed in dismay, recalling her Venusaur into its Poké Ball. “Good luck,” she said, before solemnly walking away. As Antoshi tended to Fireball's wounds with a spray medicine, they briefly looked over at her. Neither of them could fathom just how disappointed she was, but it was clear she put as much effort as they did into getting to the tournament. They remained mindful that they'd ended the dreams of a fellow Trainer and her Pokémon. It gave them perspective as to just how quickly and easily their dream could end, too.
  3. Chapter 7 “Not bad,” Elise remarked, as she reached for a new Poké Ball. “However, this battle is nowhere near done. Go, Krookodile!” From the light of the open ball she threw came a bipedal, red crocodile with black stripes and small, menacing eyes. It remained completely still, staring at Fireball with a savage glare. The look of bloodlust in its eyes served to frighten Fireball. His eyes widened, a sense of dread sweeping through him. Its ability, Intimidate, lowered Fireball's overall physical strength. “Krookodile, Protect!” she commanded. Like Hippowdon before it, Krookodile's body was embraced by an impenetrable shield of blue light. Antoshi heaved a sigh of frustration. At the same time, Fireball's cough was getting worse. The pain of being in the sandstorm gradually bit harder. The duo weren't able to do anything other than wait until Krookodile's shield dissipated. Once it did, Antoshi smirked. “Let's give them a little surprise, Fireball!” he said. “Focus Blast!” Elise's eyes widened. She was surprised by the sheer variety of attacks the Typhlosion knew. While the move's Fighting type would be very effective against Krookodile, it was also inaccurate due to Fireball's lack of experience in using the maneuver. Fireball held his forepaws to one side, spacing them just far enough apart to summon a rapidly growing ball of bright blue energy. Fireball steadied his ragged breathing, taking aim at his target. Elise narrowed her eyes, reading Fireball's movements to predict when he was about to strike. “Move!” she commanded just before Fireball thrust forth the ball of energy. The attack covered the distance between them in a heartbeat, flailing erratically through the air while doing so. Krookodile dove to the side, narrowly avoiding a glancing blow. The energy ball vanished harmlessly upon striking the wall behind Elise. “Crunch, Krookodile!” Elise shouted. A sense of dread swept over Antoshi. He clenched his teeth, his eyes full of panic as Krookodile sprinted toward Fireball. Krookodile hissed as it opened its long maw, its teeth glowing white with a magical energy. ‘Please don't let this be the end …’ the boy thought, bracing at the same time Fireball did. Its powerful jaw snapped shut on Fireball's shoulder, digging its rows of sharp glowing teeth in. Fireball shouted in pain, fighting to shove the flailing beast off of him. The damage was already done by the time Fireball escaped its jaws. He fell to a knee, holding his bloodied shoulder as Krookodile headed back to its side of the field. “Fireball!” Antoshi shouted in concern. “Are you okay?!” With a pained look on his face, Fireball forced a grin and nodded. Fireball's grueling struggle was obvious. Very rarely had he seen his best friend in such dire straits. It upset him and worried him. Antoshi clenched his trembling fists, pondering a tactical surrender. Yet, Fireball's eyes burned with a powerful sense of surefire confidence. The Typhlosion's gaze stirred up memories of their dream to make it to the top. ‘This is our life's work you're facing — our heart and soul!’ Antoshi recalled himself proclaim proudly. 'We're gonna win it all, and win it big! I can't wait to see how big the tournament stage is at the Indigo Plateau. Are you excited, too?' Fireball had asked him not all that long ago. Antoshi slowly exhaled, closing his eyes for a moment to steady his resolve. He looked toward their opposition with a firm, serious expression on his face. “All right, Fireball, one more Focus Blast!” Fireball's body trembled as he held his hands to one side as before. However, just as Fireball began to charge the attack again, Elise was quick to interrupt. “Krookodile, Protect!” she instructed. The beast was once again surrounded by its protective shield. Fireball hunched over, coughing loudly while the sand continued to whip hard at him. “Hang in there, Fireball …” Antoshi muttered. ‘So, he's going to try another Focus Blast,’ Elise thought, holding her chin. ‘There's nothing I can really do to stop it, except to keep Krookodile on the evasive. However, if it does hit, will it be enough? I can't help but wonder just how strong that type of attack from his Typhlosion would be.’ The moment Krookodile's shield faded, Antoshi was ready to give the order. “Now! Focus Blast!” Fireball panted, ignoring the excruciating pain in order to charge another Focus Blast. He took careful aim through the endlessly stirring sands before he threw the ball of energy forward. “Dodge it again!” Elise said. When Krookodile leapt out of the way for the second time, the ball made an unexpected curve straight towards it. Elise and her Pokémon's eyes widened in shock just before the attack connected and exploded violently. The force of the blast shot Krookodile through the air, flying past Elise, before crashing hard against the back wall. Krookodile was unresponsive. Elise's was impressed by the sheer power of Fireball's attack. ‘So, it does make sense,’ she thought, staring at her fainted Pokémon. ‘Rather than having a full roster of six Pokémon whose gains are evened out with each other, he instead has one Pokémon that garners all of the strength and experience. With the amount of Type coverage his Typhlosion has, it's as if fighting six Pokémon at once. He's a clever Trainer, but strength isn't tantamount to stamina. His Typhlosion is running on nothing but willpower by now.’ She recalled her Krookodile and grabbed the last Ultra Ball on her hip. With only one Pokémon to go, exhaustion had taken its toll on Fireball. He groaned as he fell to a knee again. He let out a hacking cough, holding his injured shoulder, clenching his eyes in the fury of the whipping sands. “Fireball?” Antoshi asked, deeply worried. Fireball had taken an incredible toll that pushed him to his very limits. ‘It has to be hurting him,’ Elise thought, ‘seeing his Pokémon in so much pain like this. Yet, both of them continue on fighting. They have an incredible resolve. For them to push forward and bring me to my last Pokémon after taking such a beating, … I may not win this one after all.’ Fireball groaned as he rose to his hind feet once more. Antoshi was incredulous that Fireball was still standing, let alone ready to continue battling. “For the sake of your Pokémon's well-being,” Elise said, “are you certain you don't want to forfeit?” “Not a chance!” Antoshi shot back. He was bitter over Elise's continual badgering. “Fireball's stronger than anyone I've ever known. If he's ready to go, then so am I.” “Remarkable. That you would get this far with just one Pokémon — a Fire-type — is remarkable. Your determination is truly admirable. However, I'm afraid this is where your battle ends.” She maximized the final ball and threw it out. “Go, Steelix!” Antoshi and Fireball watched with astonishment as the light gave way to a massive serpent comprised of segmented steel-plated boulders. It towered high over their heads, letting out a roar that rattled the foundation of the building. "That's probably not good," Fireball joked. “Let's make the first move!” Antoshi exclaimed. “Fire—” “Protect, Steelix!” Elise shouted over him. Antoshi bit his tongue, scowling in frustration. ‘I can't believe this,’ he thought. ‘They all know Protect? She's definitely come prepared for battles like this.’ Fireball coughed even harder than last time. He appeared light-headed, unable to steady his feet, especially in the constant winds of the sandstorm. “This battle's been going on for some time, young Trainer.” Elise said. “The severe poison has been gradually worsening with every beat of your Typhlosion's heart. How much longer do you think he can hold out?” Antoshi's gaze shifted to his friend. As much as her browbeating irritated him, she had a point. "No way!" Fireball shouted in defiance, struggling to keep his balance. "We didn't come all this way just to fail. Not after all the training we did to make it this far." Antoshi grinned proudly at him. Elise didn't have to understand Fireball's speech to know what he said, she only needed to see the look in his eyes. She smiled and hummed in intrigue. “Fire Blast, Fireball!” Antoshi said in the moment that Steelix's Protect dissipated. Give it everything you have!” "Now that's the kind of pep talk I like to hear," Fireball replied with a weak grin. He brought his trembling claws up to his neck, clasped down, and began to inhale deeply. Small tufts of flame emanated from Fireball's mouth as he summoned up his strength for one final attack. Suddenly, Fireball collapsed. “Fireball, no!” Antoshi exclaimed. The boy's heart sank at the same time Fireball fell to all fours. Fireball groaned wearily, overcome by exhaustion. The poison, the sandstorm, the injures — they had all accumulated to a critical level. ‘We can't lose now,’ Antoshi thought, a panicked expression on his face. 'We're going to win,' Fireball thought. Elise took advantage of the situation. “Steelix, Earthquake!” Steelix gave a mighty roar, its heavy tail stamping the ground and causing it to rumble. “Fireball, use Fire Blast!” Antoshi ordered once again. Fireball remained on his knees, managing to straightened his back. He steadied himself amid the quaking earth. He reached up again, holding his neck, straining to bring forth every ounce of energy he had left to give. The ground abruptly cracked underneath Fireball. With only a moment to spare, Fireball roared as loud as he could. He fired a five-pointed blast of fire from his mouth just before the ground beneath him was smashed to pieces. Fireball thrashed around violently from Steelix's attack. The flames on his back went out. ‘Steelix is too large to evade that,’ Elise thought. The massive fiery attack struck Steelix's face and exploded violently. Steelix roared in pain, its body toppling backwards from the force of the blast. Just as its Earthquake subsided, Steelix itself crashed into the ground to rumble it further. Its titanic weight created a large crater around its body. Both Trainers steadied their footing in the aftermath. Elise was in shock. The heat from Fireball's attack was so intense that it caused the steel on Steelix's forehead to melt slightly. Her Pokémon was defeated. The battle was over. The sandstorm finally subsided. All had become quiet on the sand-covered, heavily damaged stadium floor. Elise recalled her Steelix. “Fireball!!” Antoshi shouted, ignoring the dangerous, jagged earth jutting around his fallen friend. “Fireball?” he whispered, shaking his friend a bit. Elise walked over quickly to check on them, standing outside the crater. “Fireball, come on. I thought I lost you once before, I can't go through that again!” Antoshi's breathing became shaky, running a hand through his hair. Fireball wasn't responding. Elise, too, became concerned. Memories of being cooped up in the police station came flooding back as Antoshi started to fear the worst. "Poi… son …" Fireball whispered in a raspy voice. Antoshi gasped in elation. “Hang on, buddy, I have just the thing for you.” He quickly pulled his backpack off his shoulders, zipping it open. He pulled out a large green spray bottle and immediately began spritzing its medicinal contents all over Fireball's wounded body. It worked fast to miraculously heal Fireball's injuries, as well as dissipate the poison from his body. “Good thing I bought a few Full Restores for an emergency,” he said, sniffling. “You wanted me to buy you pizza instead, remember?” "Pizza sounds good right about now," Fireball quietly replied with a slight grin. "Starting to feel a little better here. Could you get some of that in my mouth, please? I still have a poison-y aftertaste." Antoshi smirked and sprayed the Typhlosion's open mouth. Fireball smacked his lips and shuddered in disgust. "That tastes awful, but it's still better than the poison." Antoshi sighed in relief, putting the empty bottle away. He slung his backpack over his shoulders and stood up, helping Fireball climb to his hind feet as well. Elise smiled at the two as they stepped out of the jagged crater. “That was quite the battle, young Antoshi,” she remarked. “You and your Typhlosion are one and the same. You were always on the same wavelength, both of you just as determined as each other. Truly, you're one of the closest and most caring Trainer and Pokémon pairs I've ever seen. You've done a phenomenal job of raising your Pokémon as a partner and a friend.” “Thank you, Elise,” Antoshi replied, smiling. “I appreciate it. I'm just really glad Fireball is okay.” “You could've stopped the battle if you were so fearful for your friend's safety.” “Well, this is our progress of over a year of journeying through Kanto together. We wanted that eighth badge more than anything in the world. Neither of us were ready to just give up — not on this battle or anything else before it. I guess the two of us are just reckless like that.” “I understand,” she said, chuckling. “Still, your recklessness brought you victory today.” She took something from her pocket and placed it into Antoshi's hands. “Trainer Antoshi, I confer unto you the Earth Badge. You and Fireball have earned it — and my respect.” The two friends looked at the shining new badge, the very last one they needed. They breathed a sigh of relief. After long trials and tribulations, days and weeks and months spent training, and constantly staying on the grind, their Kanto badge quest was finally over. The Indigo League was now open to them. Antoshi's eyes welled up with tears. “You're crying, aren't you?” Antoshi asked, before glancing over at Fireball. Tears ran down the sides of the Typhlosion's face as he nodded. “It's okay, buddy, so am I.” Antoshi threw his arms out, Fireball bawled loudly into his shoulder. Antoshi grinned, hugging Fireball and patting him on the back. “We made it, buddy,” Antoshi reassured his friend. “We made it.” Fireball grabbed Antoshi's shirt and blew his nose into it. “Ugh — okay, come on. Really? I have tissues, you know.” "Sorry," Fireball remarked, sniffling and sighing. Antoshi shook his head, pulling out his wallet to store away their final badge. He took a deep breath and sighed proudly, wiping the tears from his own eyes. “Time to cross that finish line,” Antoshi remarked with a grin. Fireball happily nodded back. “Do take care, you two,” Elise told them. “I, and some other Gym Leaders, will be taking a trip to the Indigo League to watch the tournament. Should you make it, I'll be cheering you on from the crowd.” “We're going to do our absolute best,” Antoshi told her, smiling confidently. Elise nodded to him. With that, the two friends departed from Elise's company and exited the Gym. She then sighed and looked around the heavily damaged stadium floor. “Looks like I have some cleaning up to do.” ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ That evening in the Viridian Pokémon Center, Antoshi and Fireball feasted on all the food they could grab in the cafeteria. Antoshi usually didn't gorge himself like Fireball, but he made an exception for the special occasion. It was an enjoyable rarity, but he knew his stomach was certainly going to regret it later on. The mood between them had never been more jovial. They'd finally collected all eight badges. An idea that was once nothing more than a far-off dream had become a reality. Afterward, the duo headed back to their room and settled in for the night. Excitement and big hopes for their future swirled through their minds as they drifted off to sleep. Their biggest challenge was yet to come — and they felt prepared. Just as in past nights, however, Antoshi experienced another unsettling dream. Looking through the eyes of another, he stood at the upper floor of a house that had been severely damaged by an explosion. The home's destroyed walls and roof gave way to the night sky. His legs trembled, falling to his knees. The cool, night air briefly swept past him. “What … have I done?” a voice similar to his own asked in disbelief. “What did you make me do?!” Antoshi felt overwhelmed by panic, sorrow, regret, and anger. He couldn't stop shaking, his heart pounded, adrenaline surging through his veins. He felt as though his body was about to explode. “It was what needed to be done,” the same mysterious voice from before answered. “You have now taken the first glorious step toward—” “This can't be real!” the boy shouted in agony. “I—I don't want this to be real!!” In the forlorn darkness he let out a loud echoing scream, followed by a burst of black light. The roaring light rapidly expanded out in a massive dome that engulfed and instantly vaporized everything in its path. Once it reached its limit, it exploded violently, quaking the earth for a few moments. There was nothing left for miles except an enormous crater of dirt. Having seemingly levitated during the explosion, the boy fell back down to the earth. Unconscious, he was left unscathed in the very epicenter of crater. Just as he hit the ground, Antoshi jolted awake from his dream with a gasp. He sat up in bed, in the dark and quiet of the small room, covered in a cold sweat. He took a look at his hands — he was shaking like in the dream. He held his forehead, clenching his teeth. ‘Why do I keep having these dreams?!’ he demanded to know. He breathed slowly for a short while, calming his racing heart. His head was filled with an endless array of questions. Was he the one in these settings? Were they some kind of premonition? Were they tied to his mysterious powers somehow? Each of those dreams were so jarringly real, as if they were actually happening and that he'd been there. That voice he kept hearing sounded just like his own. Once he managed to finally relax, he laid his head back down on the pillow. He stared at the ceiling for a while, trying to cleanse his mind of the images in his dream. He thought about their upcoming trek to the Indigo Plateau instead, smiling at how excited he knew Fireball was going to be once they got there. Soon, he found the peace of mind to fall back asleep. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ The following morning, the duo readied themselves for the end of their Kanto journey. With only five days to go before the Indigo League tournament sign-ups closed, they were eager to get moving on to Victory Road. Their next destination's very name filled their hearts with anticipation and anxiousness. On their way to the western city limits of Viridian City, they happened across a small electronics store. In the store window, multiple television screens displayed a breaking news broadcast. A handful of people were grouped around, watching the report with great interest. Antoshi and Fireball stopped, curious to see what was going on. “… who's live in the outskirts of the small town right now with the latest updates. Ruby?” “That's right, Michael. As shown from our sky camera, the small town of Fern was completely decimated today. The town was home to a thriving population of about seven thousand. This morning, it's nothing more than a massive crater.” Antoshi's eyes widened in shock as he saw the images of the crater. He felt the wind knocked right out from him. Memories of the previous night's dream came flooding back to him. "Oh, wow," Fireball remarked, softly. "That's so terrible." “… have no idea how an apparent explosion of this magnitude happened,” the lady reporter continued. “Joining me now is Johto's military commander General Logan.” The camera zoomed back to reveal a tall, stern man wearing a high-ranking military uniform standing next to her. “General, what can you tell us about this unthinkable devastation?” “Right now we're in our preliminary investigation,” Logan replied. “At around 0400 hours, we were alerted by local officials who responded to a large seismic disruption and came across what was left of the town.” “You told me there were no survivors?” “We believed that at first but we've now found one young boy who appears to be in his preteens or early teens, buried under some of the earth. He was discovered in the epicenter of the explosion.” Some of the passersby around Antoshi began to mutter. “Is the boy conscious?” Ruby asked. “Do you have any information on him?” “The boy is still unconscious at last check. He was airlifted from here to the nearest military hospital. For privacy reasons, we cannot release the boy's identity before establishing contact with his family. I'm afraid that's all we have to share for now.” “Thank you so much for your time, General. Michael?” “Thanks, Ruby,” the male reported in the studio said. “We'll be continuing our coverage on the destruction of Fern Town …” "That's awful, don't you think?" Fireball asked his friend, as some of the crowd dispersed. Antoshi, however, gawked blankly at the television as though in a trance. "Antoshi? Are you okay?" Fireball waved a paw in his friend's face. “Huh?” Antoshi uttered, snapping back to reality. “Did you say something?” "I said, 'are you okay?'" Fireball said, appearing concerned. "You look like you saw a Ghost Pokémon or something." “I …” Antoshi started. He bit his lip and sorted through his thoughts. “That—that scene on the news. I dreamt it … last night.” "You had a dream about that town on the news?" “Yes, and it looks exactly the same as in my dream.” "That's— … well, I really don't know what to say. …" “I've been having a few similar dreams lately. I've never experienced dreams like these before. They feel so— … so real.” "First the glowing, then the light show ball, the flying, surviving a fall from a building, and dreams where you see things that happen in other places? What do you think is going on?" “I don't know, … but after what I just saw, it's now definitely making me nervous.” As they headed off toward their destination, Antoshi took one more glance at the television screen. The last image he saw was a somewhat pixelated still image of the rescued boy taken from afar. He could only make out the boy's jet black hair. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ — End of Part 1 — ⁂ ⁂ Antoshi & Fireball
  4. Chapter 6 “You must heed my words,” an unknown, deep voice echoed in the darkness. “This is your destiny. Boundless power awaits you.” “My destiny,” another voice that sounded like Antoshi's responded. “This power has been nothing but incredible to me. I want to know what my destiny holds. I have to know.” “Then you must end them. It is the only way to start anew. They do not care about you. No one cares about you. They could never understand the level of power you wield. They are all jealous of you. They want to hold you back.” “They're … holding me back?” “Yes. Your power is limitless. I will teach you how to unleash your power. But first, you must do as I say. This is the only way to find your true destiny.” “The only way? … I'm not strong enough. I can't just …” “You are strong beyond reason! You are capable of power the world has never seen before! Show the parasites no weakness!” With a soft groan, Antoshi fluttered his eyes open. He lay completely still, letting his blurry vision focus, staring at a bright white light before him. He was at a total loss as to where he was. The memory of his plummet to the street immediately came flooding back to him. ‘Am I … dead?’ he thought. He wondered if the sense of tranquility he felt at that moment was transcendence to another plane of existence. "Antoshi?" a familiar voice greeted him, quietly. He turned his head to see Fireball rising from a chair. The boy blinked a few times in disbelief. A huge grin spread across the Typhlosion's maw. “Fireball?” Antoshi replied, groggily, reaching out with his near hand to touch his friend's face. Antoshi's eyes immediately began to well up with tears. “This is … real, right?” Fireball nodded in response. Antoshi's hand fell away, uttering a trembling sigh as he rubbed his eyes with his forearm. He noticed an IV tube sticking out of his arm, leaving him confused. “What happened? Why am I here? … Where is 'here'?” "We're in the Viridian City police station." “I'm here again?” he mused. There was no one else around in the small room. As Antoshi slowly sat up on what he realized was a hospital bed, something shifted around in his pocket. He dug a hand in to see what it was. To their mutual surprise, it was Fireball's Poké Ball. "Is that mine?" Fireball asked, awe-struck. “Of course,” Antoshi replied, with a cheeky smirk. “I've only ever had one Poké Ball.” "So, you kept it on you. … I just knew you were thinking about me the whole time." Fireball turned his gaze away in guilt. "Antoshi, I'm so sorry for running away. It was a really dumb move and—" “No,” Antoshi interrupted him. Fireball appeared confused. “I'm the one who should apologize, Fireball. I didn't … do enough. There were so many other ways for me to respond. It's my responsibility to keep you safe.” "Don't do that to yourself, Antoshi," he replied. "The police told me everything that happened with you. I also heard all about how you were holding up as the day went on. … Please, don't blame yourself for something I did. You're so much better than that. You're the one person I really look up to." “It's just that … you and I are almost one and the same. If something happens to you, I can't help feeling like it's my fault.” Fireball placed a reassuring claw on Antoshi's shoulder. "It's not your fault." Antoshi held his head down for a moment. What was essentially a short time away from his best friend wore on him so severely, so quickly. He only feared the worst the whole time Fireball was gone. Fireball's words resounded with him — as did the memory of what Jenny said to him in private. He focused too heavily on his negative feelings, but left no room to remain strong. That's what Fireball would've wanted from him. He finally understood the folly in how he acted toward Jenny, the other officers, and himself. He heaved a sigh before nodding in agreement. He looked up at him with a smile. “I'm really happy that you're back. Are you okay? Are you hurt?” "Well, I was, but the police took me to the Pokémon Center nearby and got me all patched up. Then, they took me right back here so I could be with my best buddy when he wakes up. It was like having my own chauffeur — and you wouldn't believe how much food they gave me!" Antoshi smirked. “I'll bet you were starving, huh?” "I would've been, but I found this group of Rattata that gave me some food and then helped me to find you." Antoshi's eyes widened. “So that's why there was a Rattata that brought me to you.” "Yeah, they sure were helpful!" The mood turned quiet for a moment as they reflected on their adventure, both of them smiling. “So, … how long have I been out?” "Err, well, it's been … three days since you, ya' know, fell." “Three days?” he asked, slapping a hand over his forehead as he groaned. “Oh, man, Mom and Dad are probably worrying like crazy about us. We were supposed to call them the same day that we got to Viridian. Now, we have even less time to get that eighth badge. We gotta get going, we don't have much—” "Okay, wait, slow down," Fireball reassured him. "Let's just take things one step at a time. Isn't that what you're always telling me?" Antoshi nodded and took a deep breath. “You're right. I guess my mind still hasn't caught up with everything being settled now. I just need a few minutes to take everything in — especially after the whole flying … thing.” "So it was true!" Fireball said. "I heard some of the officers joking about how you grew wings or something? How exactly did—" “You're awake!” Jenny remarked, incredulously surprised as she entered the room alongside her Quagsire. “I—I can't even believe it. You've made a full recovery when, in all honesty, you shouldn't even be alive right now.” “Alive?” Antoshi wondered aloud. “Oh, … man. I hadn't had time to consider how bad that fall I took was. I only woke up a few minutes ago.” “Well, you've got a lot to catch up on.” Jenny smiled, helping to remove the IV from his arm. “Are you in any pain right now?” Antoshi stretched his arms and legs out. “No, I feel completely fine, like I got a full night's rest.” “That's incredible! You've been out for three days. Even if someone had survived the fall you took, I doubt they'd ever wake up. Yet, somehow, when the paramedics came and got you, you had no injuries whatsoever.” Antoshi pondered the severity of the fall again. “I fell from the top of that building, … and I didn't even have a cut or a broken bone?” “That's right. Admittedly, I was a wreck when the medics and other officers showed up. I was doing a lot of crying — I thought you were dead. I couldn't bear to look at … what had become of you after the fall. Initially, they had a yellow tarp over you because you weren't responding and they couldn't find a pulse. Then, another officer called me over to come and look at you. When I did, I was just flabbergasted. You were breathing again. It was a miracle beyond anything we'd ever seen.” Quagsire idly meandered out of the room. “… Wow,” Antoshi remarked, lost in thought. “I thought for sure that I was … going to die. … I—I'm really sorry for making you worry, Officer Jenny.” “There's no need to apologize,” she replied with a reassuring smile. “Words can't even begin to describe how happy I am to see both of you alive and well — and together again. Luckily, nobody asked what happened to you at first, especially because you had no injuries. Only after they took the tarp off and found out you were okay was about the time I was finally asked why you were in the street. I came up with a story that you were overcome with emotion and exhaustion and you just … collapsed. Still, I wasn't going to let Jalyn go without an attempted murder charge. My report states that I was the one she tried to kill with her Malamar.” “What's going to happen to their Pokémon?” “They'll be rehabilitated, put in a comfortable facility where they can't harm themselves or others. You saw the looks in Malamar's eyes, though. Those Pokémon were … traumatized beyond words. It might take a long time for them to snap out of it. Maybe years. Maybe … never.” “I feel so terrible for them,” Antoshi remarked. Jenny nodded. “I think it's safe to say they'll be all right now.” Antoshi curiously looked around again. “But how come I'm here and not, you know, at the hospital?” “This is where we bring injured suspects in order to keep them separated from the hospital population.” Fear crossed both Antoshi and Fireball's faces. “Does … that mean I'm going to jail?” “Of course not!” she replied, laughing. “It is very much against protocol to bring a civilian here instead of the hospital but, given the extraordinary circumstances of what happened, I made an extraordinary exception for you. We even had a couple doctors come by to check on you a few times. They ran some tests and said you were perfectly fine, just suffering from severe exhaustion.” “What happened to the two that kidnapped Fireball?” “Ah, those two Rockets. It was a chaotic scene after you were knocked out so I'll try to piece it together as best I can. Fireball actually had enough strength left to help Matt's Spiritomb take down Jalyn's Malamar. She had something of a … psychotic break after that. We were able to subdue her until more officers showed up. She was arrested, their Pokémon confiscated, and Matt gave himself up peacefully. Fireball didn't know what happened to you until the paramedics started to check on you. He was … quite upset — much more than I was.” Fireball solemnly nodded. “After I saw that you were okay,” Jenny continued, “I let Fireball know. That's when they took him away to be healed, though he was quite insistent on staying with you. I promised that I'd take him back to see you once he was better, … and here we all are.” Quagsire came back into the room, holding a newspaper up to Jenny. She chuckled and took it from him. “Oh, and you made the papers a couple days ago,” she said, holding it up for Antoshi to see. Antoshi read the headline, 'Team Rocket Blasts Off Into Custody!' along with a picture of Matt and Jalyn being arrested. “Did it … mention me by name?” Antoshi asked, worried. “I really don't want my parents to know about this.” “No, no. You're still underage, so they didn't use your name. In fact, they only made a small mention of you. 'A young boy nearby was also taken to a medical facility for treatment.' That's it. As for me, I intend to keep your secret safe.” Antoshi smiled and sighed in relief. “Thank you so much, Officer Jenny — for everything.” “Oh, and there's one more thing. …” She reached into her uniform's breast pocket, taking out a wallet. She tossed it onto his lap. “I believe this belongs to you.” Antoshi took it with trembling hands, his chest swelling with pride. “Our badges…” he remarked, opening the wallet up. All seven of them were accounted for. Despite being the catalyst for everything that occurred after, his wallet had taken a backseat in his mind as he worried for Fireball's safety. He and Fireball grinned at each other. “Looks like we're back in business, buddy.” Fireball nodded in excitement. “Well, I should get back to work,” Jenny said. “The two of you are free to stay here as long as you like. There's also a shower at the far end of the room if you want to wash up.” “Thank you — again.” Jenny and Quagsire left the room, leaving the duo alone once more. They gazed proudly at their badges inside the open wallet for a moment. With a happy sigh, Antoshi stood up and put the wallet away in his back pocket. “That was some ride just to get a wallet back, huh?” Antoshi asked, stretching his arms high. "Sure was," Fireball remarked. "I really hope we never go through anything like that ever again. From now on, I promise I'll listen to you and stay right by your side — no matter what. That's what best friends do." Antoshi smiled and sighed, sharing a hug with Fireball. “'Right by your side'? Where have I heard that before?” he teased, looking up at Fireball. "Okay, I actually mean it this time." Antoshi laughed and hugged his friend once more. Afterward, he found his backpack sitting on a nearby chair. He opened it up to store away Fireball's Poké Ball and take out a pair of clean clothes. Fireball opted to take a seat again to wait as Antoshi headed out of the room. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ After having showered and getting a fresh change of clothes, Antoshi picked up his backpack. “We gotta make up for three days of lost time,” he remarked, slinging it over his shoulders as Fireball stood and stretched. “You ready?” "Heck yeah!" “First, though, we need to make a quick stop at the nearest Pokémon Center to call Mom and Dad.” Antoshi and Fireball headed out to give their farewells to the officers in the police station. Jenny waited by the entrance to give Antoshi a hug and a personal farewell. She smiled proudly as she watched them leave, gazing up at the sky for a moment to think about her Archie. With the missing Typhlosion case officially closed, she breathed a sigh of content before heading back to her office. Outside, the noon sun hung high on a partly cloudy sky. Antoshi grinned from ear to ear, his bright hair shimmering in the light. Things were finally back to normal after what felt like an eternity of tumult. "Shouldn't you take out your map to see where the Center is?" Fireball asked. “Nah, I already memorized it,” Antoshi replied, casually. “It's just a few blocks straight ahead.” Fireball stared at him strangely for a moment. "Wow, you must've been really bored if you memorized the entire map of the city while I was gone." Antoshi laughed. “I guess that's one way of putting it.” ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ The city's southernmost Pokémon Center was busy, due to how big of a city Viridian was. The duo had to wait a few minutes for a videophone to free up. While a bit uneasy about the limited time they had to get their eighth badge and move on, both of them were just happy to be able to spend that time together again. In the meantime, Antoshi got them registered to stay a night in the Center. He couldn't help himself from grinning as he reached for his wallet, back in its rightful place, in order to take out his Trainer Card. He thanked Nurse Joy as she handed him the room key. Once a phone freed up, Antoshi sat down in front of it with Fireball behind him. He tapped his Trainer Card against the screen to call home. The phone rang no longer than usual before his mother answered. “Antoshi!” she joyfully exclaimed. “It took you a little while to get back to us after Pallet Town. I thought you were in a rush!” “Started exploring the sights again?” his father asked, appearing on screen as he sat next to her. “Yeah, we got … a little caught up in Viridian City,” Antoshi replied, with a slight smirk. “Fireball and I are here now, though, and we're safe and sound.” “That's good to hear,” his father replied. “We're glad you're checking in with us. So~, what's Viridian City like?” Antoshi quickly mulled through the memories of their time in Viridian. “It's … a very exhausting city,” the boy said. Fireball nodded in agreement. “I guess you could say that I already learned a lot about myself from my time being here.” “Wonderful!” his mother replied. “Ohh, Antoshi, you're growing up so quickly right before my eyes. Promise me that, no matter what happens by the time the tournament is finished, you'll come right back home afterward.” “I promise, Mom,” he replied with a warm smile. “I'm really happy to talk to you both again. Honestly, I've been thinking about home a lot lately, so I'm feeling a little homesick.” “'Homesick'?” his father mused. “That's a word I never imagined I'd hear you say, son. You have been gone over a year now. Starting to get your fill of being out on your own?” “Not even close!” he exclaimed, all of them sharing a brief laugh. “I do miss being with you both. I won't be gone away much longer, but Fireball and I promise we're going to give our absolute best at that tournament.” “I wouldn't expect anything less,” his mother proudly replied. “We'll be rooting for you at home, sweetie! Oh, and don't forget to pick up your package of clothes at the Pokémon Center!” “We love you!” his parents said together. “Love you guys, too,” Antoshi replied, grinning. The screen displayed 'Call Ended'. Antoshi breathed a sigh of relief, closing his eyes for a moment. It was comforting, after the harrowing experience he went through, to see the faces of his parents and to hear their voices again. Everything truly felt back to normal. “Let's get us some new clothes, Fireball,” he said, as he sprung to his feet. "Lucky I don't wear any," Fireball joked. "I don't think they'd fit me." Antoshi sighed, playfully, and rolled his eyes. They walked over to a small kiosk tucked away in a corner of the main area. Over it was a plastered sign reading 'Parcel Delivery System'. Antoshi swiped his Trainer Card along the side of the machine. It lit up with a list of packages sent and awaiting delivery. He tapped on the screen for a package sent three days prior. A vacuum tube in the walls whirred, an automatic door under the kiosk slid open. He reached down and took a small parcel from it, prompting the door to slide shut. The pair found a place to sit down and open their mail. Antoshi unwrapped a half-dozen neatly folded polo shirts and shorts. The clothes still smelled freshly laundered. “More of these, huh?” he asked, with a smile. Slipped between them was a small envelope with several thousand more Pokédollars, money which he put away in his wallet. Fireball watched and waited patiently as Antoshi folded away the old clothes from his backpack, replacing them with the new clothes. He placed his old clothes in the package his mother sent, sealed it back up, and headed back to the kiosk to send them home. Once that was done, Antoshi motioned for Fireball to follow him before they headed for the front doors. Back outside, both of them sighed happily. They felt refreshed, geared up for what was to be the last leg of their long journey. Their next destination: Viridian City Gym, which they began heading toward. "Man," Fireball remarked, looking around at the open, bustling city. "This place seems so much nicer when I'm not fleeing for my life." “And when I'm not constantly worrying about where you are,” Antoshi replied with a grin. “Guess we can turn even bad memories into good ones, huh?” "Yeah, especially when they turn out all right in the end!" The pair crossed the street along with a handful of other people before Fireball continued. "Say, Antoshi, do you want to … talk about what happened to you? You know, you … almost died." Antoshi sighed and nodded, offering his friend a reassuring smile. “It was definitely terrifying. It was really the scariest moment of my life. I thought about you, and Mom, and Dad. It was like what people always say, my life flashed before my eyes. When Officer Jenny was catching me up on everything that happened, that's when it really hit me. It's weird, though. I should be … traumatized over it. But, really, I'm just happy to be alive. I'm happy to still be here with my best buddy and my family, because I love you all so much. I don't want to think about how scary that was. I don't want it to weigh on me. I'm sure at times in the future it's going to hit me again, but I gotta look at the positive side. I just have to remember what's important to me, and to be thankful that I'm alive.” "I'm really thankful for that, too," Fireball said, placing a claw on Antoshi's shoulder. "Also, I never got to ask you something back in the police station. How did you do all that crazy flying I heard about? Some of the policemen there were joking about those two crooks saying you flew after them. Apparently that's how you caught them, but none of the police believed the story. What happened?" “Well, it … was because of that strange glow around me that shows up every so often. It came back again, only this time it was way more powerful. It ended up giving me this huge burst of really intense energy when I was running after the car. Somehow, it made me able to fly.” "That is really cool! Can I watch you flying sometime?" “I don't know if I can do it again — or even if I should.” "You're still nervous about what this all means?" “A little,” Antoshi said, shrugging. “Still, I have to be thankful for it coming through in a pinch. With that energy, I was able to save you, … and save myself from dying. I just … I can't shake this feeling like there's something more to it. There just has to be. There's something important I don't fully understand yet. Honestly, I'm a little excited, but also nervous about that.” "Well, at least now you can reach stuff in high places — just fly up and get it!" Antoshi scoffed in amusement. It was a very 'Fireball' remark. “I'll keep that in mind.” ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ The duo spent a few hours walking around in the growing light and heat of the day. After taking the time to explore some of the city and getting something to eat, they closed in on the Viridian City Gym. The one-story white building was situated in the heart of the city. A long, large pathway led from the sidewalk to the front doors. The Gym itself was fairly plain, but the lavish landscaping along the pathway toward it was anything but. Antoshi and Fireball found themselves fascinated by the foliage. They walked underneath tall, sculpted hedges in the shape of arcs that went high over their heads. Innumerable colorful flowers lined the edges and far beyond. As they got closer, even more hedges in the shape of various Pokémon encircled the front of the Gym. "This is cool," Fireball remarked, awe-struck. “Yeah,” Antoshi added, smiling. “Someone took the city's motto of 'Eternally Green Paradise' very seriously.” The automatic front doors opened, allowing the duo inside. They were taken aback once again, this time by the grand decor of the Gym's spacious main room. It was warm and cozy, with earth tones on the walls and tile floor — scarred in places from past battles. Large paintings of strangers hung along the walls, with various accents and warm lighting. The scent of potpourri filled the air. "This is very cool," Fireball said. “I can't wait to meet the Gym Leader,” Antoshi replied, looking around. “Hello? My name is Antoshi! I'm here to challenge the Viridian City Leader for the Earth Badge!” A few moments later, a wooden door on the far end of the intricately-patterned stadium floor opened. A tall woman with dark skin and short, green hair emerged. “Hello there, young Trainer,” she said, as she closed the door behind her. “My name is Elise. I am the Ground-Type Master of the Viridian Gym. Welcome to my humble stage.” “Humble?” Antoshi replied, quizzically. “This is the most aesthetic Gym I've ever seen.” “Thank you,” she replied with a warm smile, strolling to the opposite end of the battling floor. “I did all of the decor and the landscaping myself.” “You did all those hedges out there?” “I certainly did. Most Gym Leaders see their Gym as a job; a place to clock in and clock out. For me, my Gym is my home. I live here. So, in my free time, when Trainers aren't here for a badge, I pass the time gardening or making pottery like the vases you see all around.” Antoshi and Fireball were astonished, not just by how well-made everything was, but that one person did all of it. “Wow,” Antoshi said. “You're incredibly talented!” Elise chuckled. “I'm also quite talented at Pokémon battles.” “Where are all your Gym Trainers?” he asked, giving another look around. “I pride myself on having a 'no frills' Gym experience. Some of the previous Leaders here were … let's say, less than forthcoming. The people of Viridian are happy to have an honest and straightforward Leader for the city Gym — someone who takes her title very seriously. Trainers are also happy because they get to battle for a badge sooner.” “Aren't you worried battling might destroy the decor here?” “Of course. The stadium floor has already seen its fair share of battles. The decorations, however, are made quite sturdy. Some of them have protective padding or are adhered in place so they don't move. The paintings you see on the wall are set firmly as well. Those paintings are important to me, as they're portraits of some of the former Gym Leaders here. Seeing their faces helps me to continue the lineage here and uphold the dignity of the Viridian City Gym.” Antoshi continued to be impressed. Of all the Gym Leaders he'd encountered, none of them seemed as proud and dedicated as Elise was. It was a level of devotion that he imagined all Gym Leaders had before he became a Trainer. “You seem like a really honest person, Elise. I admire how seriously you take every aspect of being a Gym Leader, and I know I would be proud if I was a resident of Viridian City.” “Thank you, again. Now, as per Indigo League rules, I have to inform that, if you lose, you cannot attempt a rematch for another fourteen days.” Antoshi nodded in acknowledgment. “Very well. Shall we get on with the battle?” “Sounds good to us,” Antoshi replied, grinning confidently. Fireball stepped onto the battlefield, stretching his neck out and cracking his knuckles. He gave a shout, the fires on his back igniting. “I don't see any other Poké Balls on you, young Trainer,” she said, while reaching for a Great Ball on her hip. “Are you hiding them, or do you believe you can win with just a Typhlosion?” “Fireball and I are best friends — and he's the only partner I've needed so far.” Fireball stood proudly. “That's very admirable. I believe Pokémon should be treated like friends — even like family. However, only having one Pokémon is quite foolish. Allow me to show you why.” Elise threw the Great Ball into the air, which opened on its own accord. “Go, Gliscor!” The light that poured from the ball took shape and faded. Elise's Gliscor hovered in mid-air and gave a battle cry. It stretched its pincerlike claws out, brimming with energy as it darted from side to side. Antoshi paused for a brief moment to marvel at the Gliscor with a slight smile. It was the first one he'd ever seen in-person. Elise caught the ball when it returned to her. “You ready?” Antoshi asked his friend. Fireball turned him and nodded. “Then let's make number eight happen! Fireball, Rollout!” Fireball hopped into his ball form and revved in place. His entire body once again came alight. “Rolling Fireball!” The ignited Fireball shot like a bullet toward his opponent. Elise's eyebrows raised, caught off-guard by Fireball's incredible speed. “Gliscor, use Toxic!” Elise commanded. Just before Fireball's attack connected, Gliscor spat up a viscous, purplish liquid that covered Fireball's spinning body. Gliscor was subsequently struck hard, spiked like a volleyball into a small crater in the elegant flooring. Fireball rebounded into the air. Gliscor groaned before falling unconscious. Elise's jaw hung slightly agape, surprised at Typhlosion's strength. She hummed with intrigue as she recalled her Gliscor back into its Great Ball. Fireball rolled back to his side of the field and hopped up to his hind feet. He held his arms out as he and Antoshi stared at the purple poison that was soaked into his fur. “Very good attack, Trainer,” Elise said, switching her Great Ball for an Ultra Ball. “Unfortunately, your Typhlosion is now badly poisoned and I still have three more Pokémon left. Do you believe your Typhlosion has enough stamina to hold out?” Fireball turned to Antoshi and gave him a thumbs up. He suddenly coughed up some of the purple liquid onto his paw. "Aw, man, that's just gross," Fireball remarked, shaking his paw clean. “I would suggest you finish this battle quickly,” she said. “With only one Pokémon, the clock on that poison is ticking.” Antoshi stared at her with an intensely serious expression. ‘She's right,’ he thought. ‘We don't have much of a choice here. We have to strike as hard and as often as we can.’ Elise threw out her next ball. “Hippowdon, I choose you!” From the open ball dropped a monstrous hippopotamus with enough weight to cause the ground to rumble. Sand poured out continuously from the circular vents on its back. It slowly opened its massive maw and roared at Fireball. It activated its Sand Stream ability to instantly create a sandstorm condition on the battlefield. Sand erupted out of its vents, swirling and whipping violently around the stadium, encircling the two Pokémon. ‘Now, what kind of character does this boy possess?’ she wondered with a smirk. ‘Will he let me get inside his head?’ “Things are quickly getting much worse for both of you,” Elise said. “That sandstorm will continuously damage your Typhlosion, and leave my Ground-type Pokémon unharmed. Are you certain you don't want to concede for the sake of your best friend?” Antoshi ignored her, quick to make his first move. “All right, Fireball! Eruption!” Fireball took off, running on all fours toward his opponent. “Hippowdon, Protect!” Elise said. Hippowdon growled loudly as its body was enveloped in a large, magical blue dome. Antoshi uttered a shout of disbelief. “Wait, Fireball, come back! Save your energy.” Fireball screeched to a halt. He stood upright, walking backwards with a puzzled expression. “Are you really going to stall this one out?!” Antoshi asked. Elise chuckled. “I most certainly am, young Trainer. My job is to win. That means I'll use any legal battle tactic to do so. I've faced many Trainers before you. I know your Typhlosion is strong and nimble. Your strategy is a full-tilt offense. But since you only have one Pokémon, that means I can simply wear it down with poison, weather conditions, and time. The only thing left from there is to remove your Typhlosion's ability to attack.” ‘She definitely has our number,’ he thought, clicking his tongue. ‘Still, she can't use Protect continuously since it'll fail the more she uses it in a row. She knows that for sure, too. She's probably going to attack in-between those phases. That's our only time to strike.’ Fireball coughed up a smattering of purple poison again, a visual indicator that the poison was wearing him down. Once the protective blue dome around Hippowdon disappeared, Antoshi sprung into action. “Fireball, now use Eruption!” he said. The flames on Fireball's back flared out intensely as he raced toward Hippowdon on all fours. He clenched his teeth, squinting his eyes to see through the veil of sand churning through the air via magical means. He crashed headlong with the incredibly heavy beast, managing to send it airborne. Standing atop a bed of sand, the fires on Fireball's back erupted into a massive pillar of flame that engulfed the monstrous Hippowdon and briefly kept it aloft. Hippowdon gave no indication that it was in any pain. When his attack petered out, Fireball quickly sprinted out of the way. He winced at the grains of sand continuing to pelt him. “Hippowdon, use Dig!” Elise commanded. Just as Hippowdon was about to smash back into the ground, it instead burrowed its beefy frame into the sand-covered ground with some help from gravity. Fireball made it back to their side of the field. Antoshi heaved a sigh of frustration over Elise continuing to use stall tactics. They wouldn't have been in such a pickle if they had even one more Pokémon on their team. Both of them were fully aware of the risks in their single Pokémon strategy, but it wasn't any less frustrating to face an opponent who could exploit their weaknesses. Antoshi watched Fireball cover his eyes from the whipping sands and subsequently cough up more poison. However, Hippowdon was soon going to tunnel back up for its attack. “Fireball!” he exclaimed. “Keep moving! Make it harder for Hippowdon to lock on to you!” The idea was a gamble, especially since Fireball fleeing aimlessly caused the sand to whip harder at him and injured him further. Fireball grunted as he ran around, ignoring the pain as best he could. “Now, strike!” Elise said. The ground rumbled under Fireball's feet. He leapt out of the way, avoiding Hippowdon as it charged up through the floor with such momentum that it went airborne. Antoshi narrowed his eyes. Watching Hippowdon launch out of its burrowed tunnel gave him an idea he quickly acted on. “Fireball, Lava Plume!” Antoshi shouted. Fireball's eyes lit up, picking up on the boy's idea, smirking confidently. He dropped down on all fours again, staying in place while keeping his sights set on the mid-air Hippowdon. He gave a loud roar, the flames on his back raging. From his claws, a burst of magma traveled through the ground like a moving volcanic rupture. The magma reached the pit that Hippowdon had created, causing a large blast of lava to erupt violently out of it. Unable to evade, Hippowdon took a direct hit from the attack. It roared in pain before being sent crashing hard on its side of the field, struggling to pick itself back up. It instead fell unconscious. With two Pokémon down, victory was in sight. Fireball, however, was starting to look languid. Antoshi was concerned for his friend's health. ‘Fireball and I can do this,’ Antoshi thought, pursing his lips. ‘I know we can. We're already so close to the finish line. If we lose now, we'll have to wait another six months to compete in the next Indigo League tournament.’ While Elise recalled her fainted Hippowdon, Fireball again coughed up more poison. After which, he shielded his face from the briefly intensifying sandstorm. The combination of continuous passive damage and stall tactics meant that the duo still had to slog through an uphill battle.
  5. Chapter 5 Antoshi had gone outside multiple times to walk around and get some fresh air. He became more and more tempted to look for Fireball himself each time. Ultimately, however, he trusted Jenny and the other officers. He held on to waning faith that they truly would find Fireball. The waiting was wearing on him, but it was what he relegated himself to. Back in the break room, Antoshi was losing what composure he had left by nightfall. It was a harsh test of his fortitude, and so far he was failing. Being separated for so long, he was worried constantly for Fireball's safety. Was he simply lost or … had the worst come of him? The boy passed the time by sitting at the same table, setting his backpack down, and reorganizing its contents. In doing so, he eventually pulled out Fireball's Poké Ball. It was so weathered after nearly a decade of wear. The fading red paint on the top half had cracked and chipped in places. There were small dents, dirt, and scrapes all over it. As he studied it, he recalled the times he had to use it when he and Fireball first started their adventure together. He smiled, remembering how uncontrollably rambunctious he was as a Quilava. He sighed, setting the ball on the table in its minimized form. His leg shook up and down, unable to keep still. He sat in boredom, withdrawing his compendium and quietly skimming over the maps within. He paid extra attention to the map of Viridian, ending up memorizing most of the city's layout by the time he stored it away again. He folded his arms on the table to rest his head. He was tired and hungry, unable to sleep. His lips briefly curled into a tiny smile as he thought about all the times Fireball complained about hunger. ‘Of course! Every minute of every day is great with my best buddy around,’ he recalled Fireball say back on the ferry. His heart sank, sliding further into misery. The waiting and not knowing was starting to deeply affect his psyche. He got up, gazing out the window with a forlorn look in his eyes. He watched people walking and driving around, some of them with their Pokémon. He envisioned himself and Fireball in their places, wishing he could be as carefree as they were. He rhythmically clenched his fists again as they rest on the counter, his mind filling with anger and despair. Officers continued to wander in and out of the room. He noticed them at times, hoping the next individual to walk in would be Fireball. Jenny entered the room, making her presence known by knocking on the door frame. “Hey there,” she said with a gentle smile, trying to keep cordial with him. “Hi,” he replied, distantly. He briefly glanced over to her, but it was as though he wasn't looking at her. His gaze was somewhere else entirely. “I just wanted to update you and let you know that we now have over a dozen officers searching for Fireball.” Her attempt to keep his hopes up fell on deaf ears. She cleared her throat. “Would you … like something to eat?” “I'm not hungry,” he muttered. “All right. Well, how about I get you a blanket so that you—” “I don't want a blanket!” he snapped at her in frustration before shoving a display of coffee condiments off the counter. “I just want Fireball back!!” Jenny was shocked at first. There was an obvious sorrow in his eyes that hid behind his bitter expression. “What's going on?” Robert asked, as he came into the room. “It's okay,” she held an arm out, keeping the officer back. Antoshi looked down at the scattered objects, becoming unsettled with himself for reacting so irritably. He looked down at his trembling hands. “I—I'm sorry,” he said, quietly, his expression suddenly wracked by grief, “I— …” He dashed past them, heading out the front door. They both watched the boy sit down on the steps outside. “It's been twelve hours,” Jenny said to Robert, with a heavy sigh. “Every minute without his friend, waiting and wondering where he is, … I know how agonizing that is.” “You think it's the Rockets, don't you?” “Mm,” she nodded. “It's got all the same earmarks. Some innocent Trainer's Pokémon goes missing, they don't know where it went, they never see it again. We've scoured every inch of where he lost his Typhlosion and haven't found anything except some shoe prints and Typhlosion paw prints on the ground in a nearby alley. A Typhlosion can't be hard to spot. I wouldn't be surprised if this was some crafty scheme by the Rockets to lure his Typhlosion away so they could capture it. They don't care in the least about Pokémon, they only care about their profit. I'm just … sick to my stomach whenever I think of the horrible things they do to peoples' beloved friends.” He placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “I know Archie's always smiling down on you for all the work you do to help those Trainers.” “He is. That was … a long time ago, and I want to believe I've come to grips with it. Yet, every time it happens to someone else, I just feel those scars all over again. I feel it through the look in their eyes whenever they realize … their best friend isn't coming back. …” Jenny closed her eyes and turned away. “I'll go get us some more coffee,” he quietly said. “All right.” She sighed again as he left her company. She continued watching Antoshi for a few moments. She reached a hand out to open the door, but quickly stopped herself. After letting her hand fall away, she decided it best to give him some space for the time being. He was more restrained that she was, and she saw strength in him that he didn't see in himself. He would surely overcome this. She nodded to herself before heading back to her office. Outside, Antoshi couldn't stop shaking as his emotions boiled over. He had no idea what to do or where to go anymore. The reality that he may never see Fireball again was sinking in. He breathed heavily, staring at the concrete below him, eyes welled with tears. “This is my fault,” he quietly muttered to himself. “There was so much more I could've done. … I should've paid more attention, I—I should've noticed there was someone following us. I should've been more forceful when I told you not to run off. I shouldn't have stopped to help that lady. I should've— … I should've been faster! I'm a terrible Trainer and a horrible friend!” He clenched his eyes shut, tears rolling down his cheeks. “I'm sorry, Fireball,” he whispered, before huffing and sobbing into his hands. “Please come back …” As sadness overwhelmed him, his entire body became enveloped in the soft, transparent glow of the mysterious red light. With his eyes closed, he remained unaware of it. None of the people walking by seemed to witness the spectacle unfolding either. “I can't be strong, Fireball, not without you here with me …” The deeper he sank into heartache, the brighter the light became. It began to fluctuate around him until seemingly igniting, giving off the impression of a flickering red flame that swelled much more intensely than any of its previous appearances. Its very presence invigorated him with energy. That extra energy only served to help intensify his sobbing. Once Antoshi finally calmed down, so did the mysterious light until it dissipated. He took a few deep breaths and wiped the tears from his eyes. He huffed sharply, getting back to his feet and attempting to recompose himself. He headed back inside the station, having no place else to go. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ A short time later, after Antoshi settled back into resting his head on the table in the break room, Jenny came in to check on him. “Antoshi?” she spoke up, grabbing his attention. He looked up and acknowledged her with a casual glance before looking away. She sighed, taking a seat across the table from him. “Antoshi — I know I've been keeping you at arm's length. I was staying professional and following protocol. Still, … I want to talk to you on a personal level.” Antoshi's attention perked up. He kept a curious gaze locked on her, sitting up straight. “I'm not supposed to do this,” she continued, “but I can't help but empathize with how much pain you're in. I've … been in the same position you're in now.” “You have?” he asked, softly. She nodded. “I joined the force about five years ago. Back then, I was given a partner Pokémon — Archie, my Arcanine. He was my best friend, and I loved him so much. One night, he and I were sent to investigate a break-in at a Poké Ball factory. When we got there, Archie heard a noise and took off. I tried to call him back, but he wouldn't listen. I went in after him, but … he was gone. Some other officers showed up and we looked everywhere for him. I was overwhelmed with grief, but, like you, I was determined to find him. Months passed, and eventually … I gave up. About a year later, I got a call about a lost Pokémon in bad shape wandering through the city.” She shut her eyes, becoming visibly uneasy. Her voice began to tremble. “When I got there, I found out it … was Archie. He'd been … so horribly injured beyond recognition, I thought it wasn't him at first. I got him into the car and took him to the Pokémon Center, but … by then, there wasn't anything they could do. It was too late for him.” She sniffled and let out a shaky sigh, swiftly wiping the tears from her closed eyes. After taking a deep breath, she looked squarely at Antoshi with a strong, determined expression. Her tone became firm and serious. “That is why I know what you're feeling. That's why I promised that I won't stop looking for your friend, because no one deserves to go through the pain that I endured. I know that, on some level, you felt like I haven't cared. … I care more deeply than you know.” Antoshi was left speechless, maintaining eye contact with her as Jenny stood up from the table. “Never give up,” she added. “Never forget how much you love your best friend.” She straightened her uniform before leaving the room. Antoshi gazed out the window. Jenny's poignant speech gave him much to reflect on. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Fireball groaned, awaking to the sound of a nearby train slowly screeching to a halt. Under the cover of darkness, he had collapsed from exhaustion behind a train station. He sat up, dazed and incredibly hungry. He got up onto his hind feet and began jogging away, determined to get back to Antoshi. Some of the people at the train station gasped and muttered to each other as the large Typhlosion emerged from the darkness and fled past them. Fireball panted nervously, noticing every set of human and Pokémon eyes that glanced his way. He desperately avoided contact with everyone. "Psst!" came a small voice, as he passed by a dumpster. "Hey, wait!" Fireball turned around and saw a Rattata standing on its hind legs, gazing up at him with its jaw agape. "Wow, you're a tall one!" the Rattata remarked. "Thanks," Fireball replied with a weak smile. "I—I gotta keep moving." "Wait, you look hungry! Would you like some food?" "Food?" Fireball mused, in wonder. "Food!" a handful of Rattata exclaimed as they burst out from some nearby trash bags. "Wow," Fireball said, following the first Rattata as it led him over to the others, "there sure are a lot of you." "Of course!" the first Rattata said. "We Rattata always stick together. We also don't mind helping the occasional passing stranger — especially if they look like they're in need." "Help yourself!" one of the little ones said, hopping out of a bag that spilled its contents on the ground. Fireball was unpleasantly surprised. "Dumpster food?" Fireball asked. "I—I don't know …" "Trust me, it's good!" the first Rattata replied, stuffing its jowls. "Besides, what else are homeless folks like us supposed to get?" "Well, I'm not really homeless," Fireball said, sitting down by them. "I'm lost from my Trainer." His remark earned a collective 'aww' from the others. "You got lost?" the first one asked in concern. "Wait, your Trainer's not one of those jerks that abandons Pokémon, right?" "No! No, no, he's a really wonderful Trainer. He's my best friend, actually." The others again collectively 'aww'ed in response. Fireball chuckled. "See, I messed up and I ran off from him when I shouldn't have. I ended up getting kidnapped by these two creeps." The others gasped. "Kidnapped?" the first Rattata asked with a worried expression. "They weren't guys with shirts that had a big letter 'R' on them, were they?" "No, they didn't have any letters on their clothes." The others sighed in relief. "But, when they had me in the trunk of their car, I remember them mentioning something about 'Team Rocket'." "Team Rocket?!" the others all exclaimed before hissing, and arching their backs. "They're the lowest of the low," the first Rattata said. "They're nothing but poachers that kidnap Pokémon and force them into slavery, sell them off for cash, … or worse. Just thinking about what they've done to our brothers and sisters makes my blood boil." "I'm really sorry to hear that," Fireball replied, quietly. "It's okay, friend. I'm just glad you got away from them. Anyway, you seem like a stand-up guy, Mr. Typhlosion. Why don't you let us help you find your Trainer?" Fireball's face lit up. "Really? You'd do that for me?" "Sure thing! We may be small, but, brother, we got a whole network of friends and family all over the city." The Rattata scampered up a nearby gutter to get on top of a building. He took a deep, mighty breath. "Hey, everybody~!" he shouted as loudly as he could. For a moment, there was no response, leaving Fireball confused. He watched as ears, eyes, and snouts quickly began to pop up in every nook, cranny, and shadow. Fireball shouted in amazement as dozens, if not hundreds, of Rattata and Raticate scampered over and surrounded them. The first Rattata hopped down and stood next to Fireball. "This here is our new friend! What's your name?" "I'm Fireball," he replied, with a gentle wave to the crowd. "This is Fireball!" The others cheered raucously. Fireball chuckled nervously. "Fireball here has recently managed to escape the clutches of Team Rocket!" The crowd hissed and jeered in response to the name. "I know, I know. But, like many other friends and family of ours, he's now become separated from his beloved Trainer. We have to help him reunite with his best friend!" The crowd cheered once more. "Now, Fireball, tell us what your Trainer looks like so we can spread the word." "Okay," Fireball said, standing up on his hind legs, clearing his throat before raising his voice. "He's a boy about … this tall," he held a paw out while the entire crowd nodded, "he has blond hair, and he's wearing a black shirt and shorts. Um, … oh, and he also has a big, red backpack." "You heard him, folks! You know what to do! Let's move out, spread the word, and help our new friend!" The crowd of rat Pokémon dispersed at once, chattering and squeaking. The first Rattata sighed happily, sitting back on his pile of garbage. "You can rest easy now, my friend," he said. "Just relax here with us and we'll find your boy in no time at all." Fireball's eyes welled up with tears, sniffling. "Thank you so much, I—" he stopped as his eyes suddenly spotted something in the trash. "Are those … waffles?" "Oh, yeah, help yourse—" Fireball dove in and eagerly began to scarf down the food. The Rattata's laughed in amusement. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ In the wee hours of the morning, the Viridian police station was quieter and less populated than in the daytime. Officer Jenny visited the break room to check on Antoshi. She found him asleep at one of the tables, having finally succumbed to his exhaustion. She brought a blanket for him, gently draping it over his back. She noticed he was holding Fireball's Poké Ball. ‘No kid deserves to have to go through this,’ she thought. She genuinely cared for his well-being, unwilling to go home until her job was done. But, Jenny's own lack of sleep starting to catch up with her. She covered a yawn with the back of her hand. For the time being, she had several other officers on the case in her stead, allowing her time to rest. She headed for the station's small sleeping quarters to do just that. A few minutes later, a Rattata curiously scampered around the outside of the police station. It sniffed the air, squeaking and standing on its hind legs. It made its way along the side of the building. There, it hopped up into each of the windowsills. It stopped once it reached the one outside the break room. The Rattata's eyes widened in surprise, staring at the sleeping boy within. It swiftly hopped down, finding the nearest storm drain. It chattered and squeaked in excitement, its voice echoing to its kin below ground. The Rattata sprinted back over to the windowsill, where it tapped and scratched on the glass relentlessly. Antoshi groaned softly, rousing from his sleep. He looked over and saw the frantic Rattata in the window. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Jalyn and Matt continued searching aimlessly in their drive around the city. They'd been on the move constantly, making only brief stops for snacks, to gas up the car, and to use the restroom. The endless grind felt more and more hopeless with each passing hour of their time-limited search. The pressure was mounting. The creeping sense of impending failure was wearing on them. The city streets were incredibly quiet at such an early hour. Matt yawned loudly, leaning against the inside of the door. Both of their eyes were heavy, but Jalyn remained adamant in her mission. “Come on, Jalyn. We've been looking all night. Can we just take a break for a while?” “You can rest when you're dead,” she replied, coldly. Matt scoffed, closing his eyes and leaning back in his seat to doze off. When they turned at the next light, Jalyn spotted a single black and white car heading slowly in the opposite direction. The car had a manually moving spotlight that was pointed at the nearby buildings and sidewalks. She gasped, recognizing it as a police vehicle. She swerved suddenly, ducking into a nearby residential area to stay out of sight. Matt shouted in surprise, jarred awake by the sudden turn. “What the hell was that?!” he snapped. “There was a cop nearby,” she replied, keeping her eyes locked on her rear-view mirror. “I'm sure that Typhlosion's Trainer probably reported it missing by now. I don't know what they're looking for. Hopefully, it's not the Typhlosion — or us.” Matt sighed in frustration as they slowly drove around the neighborhood for a short while. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Fireball and his new friends sat together near the dumpster, chatting and laughing. They were interrupted by a Rattata sprinting toward them. "We found him!" the little Rattata squeaked. Fireball and the others gasped in elation. "I told you it was just a matter of time, friend!" the first Rattata said. "Come on, we'll follow our guide here to lead us to him!" The messenger started to scamper off. Fireball and the other Rattata followed behind on all fours. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Matt and Jalyn continued quietly drifting through the narrow roads of the dimly-lit neighborhood. Jalyn wasn't convinced they were out of sight of the cops just yet. “Come on, Jalyn,” Matt said. “That cop has to be long gone by now.” “Shut your stupid mouth!” she snapped. “I'm driving!” Matt seethed, folding his arms across his chest. He idly gazed at the passing houses and side streets, eventually spotting a small group of Rattata going by under the light of street lamps. Accompanying them was a much larger Typhlosion. His eyes nearly popped out of his head in disbelief. “Wait a minute!” he shouted with such panic that it caused her to slam the brakes. A dog nearby started barking, startled by his shout. “Jalyn — there he is!” She looked at where his shaking hand was pointing. She internally screamed when she, too, saw Fireball. “Okay, … okay, hang on,” she said, her voice trembling. She turned off her headlights and slowly drove to the next road that Fireball was heading to. “What are you waiting for?!” he exclaimed. “Let's get him!” “Relax, you idiot!” she rebuked him, keeping her voice low. “You want people here to wake up and call the cops on us?! Shut up and don't scare him away! Just … be cool.” The two kept their elation in check as Jalyn drove at the same pace Fireball was moving. Fireball and the others did not notice the car following them in the distance. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Antoshi curiously stood in front of the window where the tiny Rattata was. The Rattata hopped up and down, motioning for him to come outside. The boy was confused. “What are you trying to tell me, little guy?” Antoshi asked. The Rattata hunched over and huffed in exasperation. It stood on its hind legs, holding its forepaws out like claws. It made a stern expression, turning its head and breathing tiny puffs of fire with little roars. Antoshi furrowed his brow for a moment before his eyes went wide in shock. “Fireball?” he asked in disbelief. “You know where Fireball is?!” The Rattata nodded, squeaking in excitement. That was all Antoshi needed to know. He shoved Fireball's Poké Ball into his pocket and made a mad dash for the front door. The officers in the station were taken by surprise as he ran off as fast as he could. “Hey, kid!” one of them shouted. “Wait a second! Where are you going?” He didn't answer, shoving the door open and breaking out into a sprint once he got outside. He met up with the little Rattata at the side of the building. “Hurry, let's find Fireball!” he said. The Rattata nodded before taking off with Antoshi in tow. At the same time, one of the officers headed to the station's sleeping quarters to inform Jenny. “Jenny!” he said, shaking her gently. “Jenny, wake up!” She groaned as she opened her eyes, looking at him. “Huh? … What is it?” “It's the kid! He went flying out of here like a bat outta hell!” Her eyes went wide. She quickly pulled the blanket away and got out of bed, still in her full uniform. She slipped her shoes on before the two officers headed for the front door. “One minute, he was sleeping,” the officer went on, “the next minute, he was out the door like he was on a mission!” “I have to go after him,” she said, sternly. “It's too dark and too dangerous for him to be running around the city. I know what he's feeling, and I know he wants to find his friend, but he's not thinking rationally right now. I owe it to him to keep him safe.” “All right. Be careful.” Jenny hurried out the door, climbing into her police cruiser. She backed out and peeled onto the streets, trying to find Antoshi as quickly as possible. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Once Fireball and his new friends reached the darker outskirts of the neighborhood, they were met with a tall, long wooden fence. "Let's go around!" the first Rattata said. They noticed a car's headlights suddenly turn on, pointed at them. The bright lights temporarily blinded them. The tires screeched as Jalyn slammed the accelerator down with a crazed look in her eyes. All of the Rattata panicked and scattered. Fireball attempted to jump out of the way, but ended up being struck hard by the car. He screamed in pain, rolling over the hood. He launched off the windshield, cracking it, and landed hard on the asphalt before rolling to a stop. Jalyn brought the car to a screeching halt and parked it. She and Matt couldn't get out of the car fast enough. The Rocket duo cautiously approached him, both of them bringing out a Poké Ball from their pockets to hold at their sides. They both gasped when he stirred to life. “Damn,” Matt remarked. “He's still as resilient as ever.” Fireball exhaled shakily, his entire body throbbing with pain. He set his dislocated jaw with a grunt, staggering to his hind feet. He glared at the pair, one eye bloodied and closed shut, snarling at them in rage. The fires on his upper back came alight, prepared for battle. Fireball wasn't content to attack people, but for the two callous ones before him, he made an exception. “You're worth less than nothing to me,” Jalyn scornfully said. “You don't scare me. Now, be a good little pet and come along quietly. Otherwise, I will kill you.” Fireball growled, baring his teeth. In an instant, he opened his maw and exhaled a scorching stream of fire at them. They shouted in surprise, diving to the side. When his attack petered out, they looked at each other, before looking at Fireball. “Fine, you stupid beast!” Jalyn said. She and Matt each brandished a Poké Ball from their pockets. “You want to battle? We can battle.” "Hey!" the first Rattata exclaimed. "Leave our friend alone!" The small group of Rattata all screeched and charged at the pair. “What the hell is this?!” Matt shouted, he and Jalyn yelping as the Rattata bit and clawed at their ankles. The duo threw their Poké Balls out which opened of their own accord. The streams of light that burst forth touched the ground and took shape. Matt's Spiritomb and Jalyn's Malamar stood silently. Both Pokémon had cold, menacing glares. Malamar looked down at the group of Rattata. There was a terrible killing intent in the Malamar's eyes that terrified them to their core. The Rattata fled fearfully. “Ha! Stupid little pests!” Matt exclaimed, before turning his attention to Fireball. “Spiritomb, use Shadow Sneak on that Typhlosion!” Spiritomb swiftly disappeared into the asphalt, reappearing in the form of a dark shadow behind Fireball. His uninjured eye went wide from the ominous feeling of dread he felt before Spiritomb struck him from behind. “Malamar, use Psycho Cut!” Jalyn commanded. Malamar's finlike hands glowed blue before running at Fireball, who was still reeling from the previous attack. Malamar swept both hands forward, creating a crescent-shaped blade of energy. Fireball shouted in pain as the strike staggered him backwards. He fell to all fours, glaring at them. Trembling in pain, he slowly rose back up on his hind feet again. 'Antoshi …' Fireball thought. 'I have to … get back to Antoshi. I'm not going to make him worry about me any longer. I have to beat these creeps, but I … can't do this without him.' “Now, Malamar — Hypnosis!” Malamar's eyes became a mesmerizing swirl of colors just like before. Fireball was far weaker at that point than the first time they used Hypnosis on him. It didn't take long before he fell forward, unconscious. The Rockets sighed in relief, recalling their Pokémon into the confines of their Poké Balls. Jalyn got back into the car in order to back up closer to Fireball. She popped the trunk, both of them working quickly to lift the heavy Typhlosion up once again. Just then, panting heavily, Antoshi and the single Rattata appeared at the scene just in time to see the Rockets struggling as they rolled Fireball into the trunk. “Hey!” he shouted, his voice high-pitched from exhaustion. The pair were shocked as they looked over at him. Antoshi sprinted toward them. The Rattata ran with him, chattering angrily. “Let him go! Now!” “Oh, you've got to be joking,” Matt remarked in disbelief. “That's the kid I stole the wallet from! That's his Typhlosion!” “Damn it,” Jalyn muttered as she slammed the trunk closed. “Get in the car, Stupid!” Jalyn no longer cared about the upholstery as the duo hopped into the car. Antoshi's rage crested upon seeing them trying to flee. They had already taken Fireball from him once — he wasn't going to let it happen again. His adrenaline carried him as fast as he could while Jalyn turned the ignition. “You're not getting away!” Antoshi shouted. Jalyn spun the car around, slamming the gas, charging at full speed into the wooden fence that had previously boxed Fireball in. Matt shouted in fear as the boards shattered all around them, damaging the car even further. “Are you crazy?!” he yelled at her. She didn't answer him, keeping her stern glare forward. She drove up a small grassy incline before getting onto an empty side street. Antoshi panted as he and the group of Rattatas stepped all over the splintered wood, up the incline, out onto the road just in time to see them speeding off down the road. “No!!” he shouted in anguish and anger as he they escaped with Fireball. He couldn't run fast enough. His energy was completely spent, falling to his knees in defeat. He'd let them get away. Fireball was gone — again. He wasn't sure if he'd ever see his best friend again. The police were nowhere nearby. He would have to run all the way back to the station to tell them what happened. By then, it could be too late to do anything. Antoshi trembled and sobbed, tears welling in his wide eyes. The horrifying end of Jenny's story replayed in his mind. Fireball was likely to meet the same fate. The Rattatas stood by, looking at him with sorrowful gazes. The boy clenched his fists, his eyes, his jaw. He struggled not to cry. “Fireball …” he whispered. “I … I blew it. I'm sorry. … Please come back. I can't be without you! Please come back! Please come back, Fireball!!” The rage and sorrow that had been building up inside of him burned like fire in his veins. He shook with anger, weeping in despair. Antoshi suddenly slammed his fists into the concrete sidewalk, cracking it. He screamed at the top of his lungs, unable to hold in his emotions any longer. In a flash, the fiery red light erupted and flared wildly around his body. An incredible rush of adrenaline and vigor surged through him. The Rattatas were shocked, backing away. They were bewildered at the sight of the glowing flame around him, unsure what to make of it. Antoshi clenched his teeth, staring at the fleeing car with a vengeful gaze, his normally brown irises glowing bright red. He suddenly noticed the flickering light surrounding him. His expression turned to surprise and curiosity. He looked at his arms and body, patting his chest in disbelief. It was so much more intense than it had ever been before. Taking a deep breath, he got to his feet and exhaled slowly. All of his previous exhaustion took a back seat while he tapped into an unknown source of power. He had become completely rejuvenated. The mysterious light's very presence reassured him, soothing him with its warmth. Fireball wasn't gone. There was still a chance. He wouldn't let the Rockets take away the most important thing in his life: his family. With his entire body like an explosive mass of boundless energy, he raced toward the car with an immense second wind. The group of Rattata were too intrigued by the turn of events not to follow him. The boy was so much faster than before, and they had trouble keeping up with him. As the car quickly rounded a corner, Antoshi did his best to keep them in sight. By the time he turned the same corner, the car had gotten too far from him. He shouted in agony, pushing himself as hard as he could, struggling with all he had to catch up that he suddenly stumbled over his own feet. His arms thrust outward to break his fall, only for him to realize he was not touching the ground yet continued moving forward. He was flying. Antoshi let out a shocked cry at his situation, trying to wrap his head around what was happening. The break in concentration caused him to fall face-first onto the street. He got up with, inexplicably, nary a scratch on him. He huffed with determination, watching the car round another corner in the distance. He took off running once again, fueled by the burning desire to save his best friend. As he hit his stride, he let himself fall forward again and, just as before, he began to fly. He was moving much faster than he could run — fast enough to catch up to the car. He was at a loss for how he was doing it, but remained focused on his target. The Rattata group gave up on their pursuit. They stayed behind, squeaking, jumping, and cheering for the flying boy. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ At that moment, Officer Jenny was racing in the opposite direction down the same empty street as the two Rockets. Her eyes were focused on the sidewalk, looking for Antoshi. She paid no mind to the two in the passing convertible with the horribly cracked windshield and busted front fender. She gasped and hit the brakes upon finding the young man she was searching for — as he soared over her car. With her jaw agape, she followed his movements, gazing incredulously out the back window. “No way,” she whispered. Jenny quickly backed up, spun around, and turned her flashing lights on as she gave chase to the bizarre scene. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Jalyn stuck to the side streets where there were no other cars around. “Is that kid still following us?” she asked, as she rounded another corner. Matt saw nothing in the side-view mirror and nodded to her confidently. “Come on, he's not fast enough to …” he trailed off after seeing a reflection of Antoshi flying behind them. “What the hell?!” “What?” she asked with immediate concern. “What is it?!” Matt turned around to confirm the sight of the flying kid. Not only was it so, but Antoshi was quickly gaining on them. He sat forward again, his blank eyes wide, his face pale. “He … is still following us,” Matt replied, dumbfounded. She was confused until she glanced in the rear-view mirror and saw the same thing he did. “That-that's impossible!” she screamed. She nearly veered off the road before correcting. Antoshi was getting closer. Matt continued to stare at him in the side-view mirror, utterly aghast at the sight. He sat quietly for a moment, pondering what to say next. “Jalyn,” Matt began with a calm, serious tone, “I've … never questioned my life's choices as much as I have in the past twenty-four hours. This — all of this — isn't worth it. The Typhlosion's not worth it, the money's not worth it, my life's not worth it. I can't do it anymore. It's not worth it, it's not worth it. …” “Pull yourself together, you idiot!” she replied. “We're dead if we don't finish this!” “We have a flying kid chasing us, Jalyn. All of the mishaps and convenient obstacles along the way — being stopped from nabbing the kid's wallet, Jeff not coming to the door, the Typhlosion escaping, and now this. They're all signs telling me I made a huge mistake. I should've stayed in Cinnabar. I don't care what happens to me now. I'm … I—I'm ready to face my consequences.” The look in his eyes reaffirmed to her that he'd lost the will to fight. “Damn you, Matt,” she muttered. She reached over and hit the glove box to pop it open. Its contents shifted around and Antoshi's wallet fell to the floorboard. She grabbed the gun inside and handed it to him. “Even if you don't care what happens to you,” she said, “I'm begging you to at least care what happens to me, okay? If you want out of this game after this is over, then I promise I'll help you get out. Just do one last thing for me: kill him.” He gave further thought to his situation, staring at the gun she held against his chest. He closed his eyes, taking the gun with a heavy sigh. “All this for one kid's wallet,” he reflected aloud. He turned around, balancing himself while taking aim. The boy was trailing mere meters behind them. The others were not able to see those flames surrounding him or the glow of his eyes. Antoshi gasped, his eyes going wide with terror as he stared down the gun's barrel. With his life in danger, his irises suddenly glowed brighter and the fiery light around him flickered far more intensely. In an instant, Antoshi's whole world began to move in slow-motion. His eyesight became precise enough to see the bullet exiting the chamber. It ejected ahead of a burst of fire, followed by a cloud of smoke and tiny, burning cinders of gunpowder. Antoshi pivoted his body to the side with ease, avoiding the trajectory of the bullet by a wide margin. All Matt witnessed was Antoshi disappearing and reappearing an instant later. “Wh—what?!” Matt shouted. “What happened? Did you get him?” Jalyn asked. She glanced in the rear-view mirror. The boy was still giving chase. “You missed?!” “I— … h—he dodged it!” “Just keep shooting!” Matt seethed, firing shot after shot at Antoshi. The boy evaded with the same swiftness each time. He shouted in frustration, chucking the empty gun at him — only to have him dodge that as well. “Do something!” Jalyn shouted, panicked. “It's too late,” he replied, slinking back into his seat and hunching over. “It was going to end this way. I should've known it when the universe was working against me to keep from stealing the kid's wallet. I brought this on myself. …” Jalyn sucked her teeth. There wasn't anything left to say or do to console him. Both of them shouted in surprise as the car rattled hard as though they were rear-ended. They looked back, watching Antoshi grab onto the car's back bumper. He strained with effort as he pulled the car and dug his heels into the asphalt, gradually slowing the car down. Jalyn cried out in terror, flooring the gas pedal. The car had already come to a halt. Smoke poured off the screeching tires as it revved and bounced in place. Antoshi's grip was slipping, clamping down so hard on the bumper that it snapped off of the car's frame. The car immediately barreled forward. Matt and Jalyn screamed as they lost control and crashed into a metal light pole, coming to a sudden stop. The light pole flickered and went out, bent around the car's hood. The two inside were knocked unconscious, faces planted in the deployed air bags. Antoshi looked at the mangled bumper in his hands, awe-struck at how strong he was. He quickly brushed the thought aside, far more concerned with Fireball. He tossed the bumper aside while jogging up to the car. He grabbed the trunk lid, using far less effort than before to tear it off the frame. Fireball was still knocked out, with no further injuries other than the ones he suffered earlier. “Fireball…,” he whispered. His eyes welled up with tears, a relieved grin spreading across his face, reaching in to pet Fireball's head gently. The torture of being separated and the wild chase to get him back were over now. He was finally able to relax. As he did, the red glow slowly faded from his eyes and around his body. Antoshi heard a car racing toward him from behind. He turned to see the approaching red and blue lights of Officer Jenny's cruiser. She screeched to a halt, quickly putting the car in park before getting out. “Are you all right?!” she exclaimed, baffled by the scene. “What in the world happened here? Were—were you flying?!” “I— … well, …” he trailed off, chuckling nervously before recomposing himself. “Yes, I am all right. I, uh, I guess I was flying — a little bit.” With her jaw hanging agape, she walked over and looked at the unconscious thieves. “Wait a minute, I recognize these two. They're part of Team Rocket!” She reached into a small pocket on her duty belt, tossing out a Poké Ball of her own. “Quagsire, move out!” The ball opened and the ensuing light faded to reveal an energetic Quagsire that happily jumped up and down. “Quagsire, keep an eye on these two. Don't let them move.” Quagsire saluted and gave a nod. It waddled over to the side of the convertible. “Team … Rocket?” Antoshi asked in surprise, his eyes shifting back and forth as he recalled old newspaper articles. “The Rocket Gang still exists?” “Indeed they do,” Jenny replied. “They have a tendency to disband or go underground every so often, eventually resurrecting in some form with new leaders. It's been impossible to put a permanent end to them. After all these decades, they keep popping up like cockroaches.” She placed her hands on her hips, turning to the boy with a stern expression. “Antoshi, what you did was extremely reckless and, quite frankly, foolish. By chasing after Team Rocket like that, you or others could've even gotten hurt — or worse.” He held his head down in guilt. She sighed heavily, quickly lightening up on him and gave a warm smile. “Even still,” she went on, “I can't help but be happy for you. You caught the criminals, your Fireball is back, and I know how happy you must be. You're no ordinary kid, Antoshi. I know that after what I just witnessed from you. I promised that I'd find Fireball for you, and I'm sorry that I couldn't personally deliver on that promise.” “It's all right, Officer Jenny,” he said, smiling graciously. “Fireball is back, and that's what's important. You still did so much for me. You gave me a place to stay safe, you took care of me, and hearing your story really meant so much to me. You lifted me back up when I really needed it. For that, I thank you.” The pair smiled and shared brief hug. Jenny walked over to check on the two fainted Rockets. “Well, looks like they're not going anywhere,” she remarked, in a more authoritative tone. She reached for her shoulder radio. “Central, 10-52, requesting a bus at 74th and … Persian. Also requesting backup; potentially dangerous suspects.” Jenny gave her Quagsire a pat on the head for a job well done. Antoshi sighed heavily, opting to stay close to Fireball until assistance arrived. He felt so much more exhausted than usual. He sat on the edge of the trunk, barely able to keep his eyes open. He yawned loudly, wishing for nothing more than to get Fireball safely to a Pokémon Center and get himself some much-needed rest. Unbeknown to them, the pertinacious Jalyn had not only regained consciousness but was already scheming a way to get herself out of there. She slipped a hand into her pocket, expanded the Poké Ball within and threw it into the air. Just as the ball popped open, she quickly opened her door and rolled out. “Hey!” Jenny shouted, reaching for her sidearm. “Stay in the car!” Jenny and Quagsire gasped as Malamar landed on the hood of the car with a thud, staring at them with its bitterly cold eyes. “Malamar, Psychic!” Jalyn commanded. The pair shouted in surprise as they were lifted off their feet by its telekinesis. “Quagsire! Use—!” Before Jenny could finish, Malamar flung the two further down the sidewalk. “Now!” Jalyn exclaimed, pointing at Antoshi. “The kid!” Malamar turned to the startled Antoshi, lifting him into the air. “No!” he shouted, reaching out in vain to Fireball. “Fireball!!” He looked at Jalyn with a terrified expression. She stared back at him with a twisted grin and a vicious look in her eyes. Her lack of sleep, the fear of death hanging over her head, and bewilderment over the events of the past day all came together with her typically misanthropic nature to make her finally snap. She was done with everything and everyone, shifting in self-preservation mode. She was getting out of there with that Typhlosion, and she was ready to crush anyone and anything in her way. “You think you're special because you can fly?” she asked. “How about I teach you how to fall instead?! Malamar, give him a lift!” Malamar used its psychic powers to send Antoshi high into the air. He screamed, flailing helplessly. He tried desperately to summon the same powers he displayed earlier, but couldn't due to his overwhelming fear and exhaustion. Held aloft by Malamar's powers, he hovered higher than the roof of a nearby ten-story building. Matt groaned as he came to. He quickly noticed the scene playing out before him. “Jalyn!” Matt shouted as he pushed the air bag down. “Stop this! You're taking it too far!” She turned to him, wild-eyed. “Shut up!” she screamed at the top of her lungs. Matt slowly climbed out of the car, keeping his eyes affixed to her as she hyperventilated. “All you've ever done is complain and doubt me and give up! You're a worthless loser, Matt! I'm the one who always has to get the job done! I'm so tired! I'm tired of everything! No one's stopping me now! Malamar, end this damn child!!” Matt reached for his own Poké Ball and tossed it into the air. “Spiritomb, use Shadow Sneak on Malamar!” he exclaimed. Spiritomb appeared behind its former cohort, striking it hard enough to cause it to stumble to the ground. The attack broke Malamar's hold on Antoshi — but there was no one to catch him. The boy fell toward the asphalt. “No!!” he shouted, panting and screaming in horror as he rapidly plummeted. His mind spiraled into a level of extreme panic, helplessly watching his end sprinting toward him. He thought of his parents, of his best friend, the day he left home, the happy and carefree moments he shared with Fireball. He never expected he'd be in this situation. He never expected his Pokémon journey to become the end of his young life. With one last exhale, Antoshi looked at the convertible in time to see Fireball climbing out of the trunk. A reddish flame surrounded him just before he hit the ground. Everything went black.
  6. Chapter 4 Matt, the thief, raced down a long alleyway with Fireball closing in behind him. He panted heavily, nearly tripping over a pile of discarded wood due to frequently looking down at the display on his phone. He recklessly ran out into the street, blowing through a crowd of people to get to the pavement. Cars screeched to a halt to avoid hitting him, drivers shouting and honking their horns angrily. Fireball charged through the gap Matt made, pursuing him relentlessly. The thief slid over the hood of a car parked on the side of the street before rushing down another alleyway. With Fireball once again closing in on him, Matt looked at his phone before abruptly turning the next corner. “Here he comes,” Matt said, loudly enough for Fireball to hear. Fireball narrowed his eyes and followed him around the corner. He came to a sudden stop, face-to-face with Matt and another person. It was a young woman with dark skin and long, brown hair, standing in front of a parked convertible car with the top down. She wore a sleeveless black shirt that hung slightly over her calf-length jeans, along with black high-top sneakers. She expressed her bitterness at just having to be there. “Go, Malamar!” she said, tossing out a Poké Ball. The ball opened to reveal a creature akin to an upside down squid. It had no rhythm, no life, no motion to its body — standing still as a statue. Its eyes were brutally cold and empty, as though it had been through terrible trauma. Fireball was unsettled by its glare, too disturbed to want to battle it. “Malamar, Hypnosis!” Its eyes glowed in a mesmerizing swirl of colors. Fireball could not turn away from Malamar's gaze. His vision blurred and faded as he fell into a hypnotic state. His eyes rolled closed, falling unconscious while still on his hind legs. “All right,” she said. “He's out. Let's get him in the—” Fireball suddenly groaned, shaking his head and opening his eyes. Matt and his partner looked on in disbelief. “Oh, crap,” Matt remarked, watching Fireball get up. “This Typhlosion is tough!” The young woman sucked her teeth. “Malamar, Hypnosis again! Make it count!” Malamar did as commanded. Fireball's eyes rolled back in his head before he collapsed to the ground. The young woman carefully walked up to the Typhlosion, nudging him the tip of her sneakers. “Now he's out.” Both of them sighed in relief. “You couldn't park anywhere closer, Jalyn?” Matt asked, perturbed. “I had to run a mile!” “You couldn't steal one little kid's wallet sooner?!” she snapped back. “Damn, you're so stupid! You're not even supposed to be here, so don't put any blame on me after you once again prove how useless you are. Sorry that there aren't a thousand nearby alleyways that can fit a car in a moment's notice. How did you even let things get bad enough that you were about to get mauled by some kid's Typhlosion?” “I got impatient,” he remarked, shrugging. Jalyn stared at him blankly. She shook her head in disappointment before opening the car's trunk. “Look, the point is, I got the kid's wallet and we have a Typhlosion — a strong one! And look at him, he's huge! This big guy can easily sell for millions.” “Yeah, well, you better hope so. Otherwise, we're dead — literally. With you here, my head is also on the line if you get spotted before we make this delivery.” Jalyn walked over and knelt next to Fireball. She grunted with effort as she managed to roll him over onto his back. “Grab his legs.” Matt followed her instruction while she hooked her arms under Fireball's forelimbs. “All right — one, two, lift.” The two strained loudly, lifting the heavy Typhlosion, carrying him over to the open trunk. The car's suspension creaked as they laid him inside. They both sighed in relief before Jalyn shut the trunk. With her hands on her hips, she watched Matt rifle through Antoshi's wallet. “You're a complete idiot,” she remarked. “You were supposed to stay in Cinnabar until the end of the month. Instead, you followed some random kid all the way back here just to steal his wallet. This is why nobody takes you seriously. You're just lucky we managed to bag his Typhlosion. Maybe the boss won't want to gut you for disobeying him once we show him this.” “He's got a few thousand in cash,” Matt remarked, idly, ignoring her. He opened the side flap to find their seven Gym badges. “Oh-ho, yes. I knew this kid was a pay day. Badges have those little … computer chips inside them. I've seen them go for a hundred grand each. I can get Jeff to buy them off me.” “Jeff?” Jalyn asked, with a disgusted look on her face. “You mean the creepy guy who sells stuff on the black market that looks like he hasn't showered for … ever?” “Hey, his money's as good as anyone else's. … It just, ya' know, smells funny.” “Yeah, well, there's nothing funny about sitting here waiting to get made. Get in the car, Stupid — we're leaving.” Matt scowled at her as she got into the driver's seat. He straightened his aviator jacket and jumped into the passenger side. “Hey! I told you to stop jumping into the car like that! You're going to scratch the upholstery!” “Whatever,” he muttered, folding his arms across his chest. She sucked her teeth, exasperated with him. She started the car, slowly drove out of the alley, making her way onto the road. She remained careful to keep her speed restrained to avoid attracting attention while they carried Fireball to an unknown destination. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ A couple hours had passed since Antoshi last saw Fireball. He'd never been separated from his best friend, or even lost sight of him, for such a long stretch of time throughout their entire journey. He continued calling out for Fireball, asking people on the street if they'd seen a Typhlosion. He held a constant, icy feeling of dread in his chest. He hadn't stopped to eat for lunch at their usual time. He wondered if Fireball had eaten yet, hoping the Typhlosion was simply lost like he was and trying to make his way back to him. He nervously wrung his hands, his eyes wide, constantly on the lookout for Fireball. With a heavy heart, he trudged onward around the city. He refused to rest until he found Fireball. ‘Okay, what do I do?’ he thought, trying to calm his shaky panting. ‘Fireball's not gone. Fireball is coming back. … Now, do I tell my parents? Should I call them? No, I can't call them since my Trainer Card was in my wallet. I can't remember our new home number since we last moved. Maybe I should look for the police instead. … Yeah, that's what I'll do, I'll go find the police.’ He quickly pulled out his compendium, his hands trembling as he scanned over the map of Viridian City to find the police station. Just as he was about to put the map away, he heard the chirp of police sirens behind him. He and others on the street stopped and turned to see a police cruiser slowing to a halt. The driver door opened. Officer Jenny exited the vehicle, wearing her standard blue-violet police uniform and skirt. Antoshi was shocked by her timing. He waved his arms to get her attention. “Officer, please help!” he called out, as she put her hat on and straightened it. She stared at him for a moment, taken aback by the fact he was waving her over. It was certainly not the kind of thing a guilty party would do. Not an intelligent guilty party, at least. She shut the car door before grabbing the radio on her shoulder. She informed her station that she was approaching one of the suspicious persons called in from the Route 1 gate, and then approached the frightened boy. “What's going on here?” she asked. “Officer! Y—you have to help me! This guy h—he stole my w—wallet and—and my buddy, Fireball — he's a Typhlosion — he went after him a—and he's lost and I'm lost and I can't find him and you have to help! … I don't know what to do!” “Okay, okay, … slow down,” she replied, calmly. It was painfully clear to her that the boy was shaken up. “I'm here because the gate guard on Route 1 called in suspicious activity involving a blond kid with a black shirt — that's you — along with another individual and a Pokémon. Let's … just take it from there and explain it slower this time, okay?” Antoshi nodded, wiping the tears from his eyes. He took a few deep breaths to slow his panicked breathing. He swallowed the lump in his throat before trying again. “Okay, um, … a man stole my wallet on Route 1. My traveling buddy — he's a Typhlosion named Fireball — chased after him and got away from me. I tried to follow them but, by the time I got out into Viridian City, I—I couldn't find him. I've been looking everywhere for Fireball. He's my only friend and I'm really scared and I don't know what to do.” “All right, I understand better now,” she said. Antoshi sighed, continuing to wipe the tears from his eyes. “Let me bring you to the police station. We'll take care of you and start searching for your friend. You are not under arrest, okay? I am going to find Fireball for you — I promise.” “You—you will?” he asked in disbelief. “Absolutely. I can see how much you care about your Pokémon, and nothing would give me greater joy than having you reunited.” Antoshi took a deep breath and sighed heavily. A lot of the panic from before finally subsided within him. “Thank you, officer,” he replied, much more calmly than before. Antoshi followed Jenny back to her squad car where she held the back door open for him. Antoshi climbed into the vehicle and Jenny shut the door behind him. She got into the driver's seat, reaching for her car's two-way radio. She informed her station that she was returning with him in her custody. Once she got confirmation, she put the car in gear and began to drive back. “So, what's your name?” she asked, looking at him through the rear-view mirror. The boy was seated behind thick glass plating separating the front and back seats. “Antoshi,” he softly replied, before clearing his throat. “Antoshi? That's a unique name. I've never heard it before. I'm Jenny, in case you haven't met any of my sisters during your travels.” Antoshi grinned weakly. “Fireball and I haven't had any run-ins with the law.” Jenny chuckled. “That's good. Keep it that way.” As they drove toward their destination, Antoshi solemnly stared out the window. All he could think about was Fireball, and to hope that he was okay. Memories of when he first met Fireball crept into his mind's eye. Antoshi was just a small child back then. Fireball was an almost newborn Cyndaquil, given to him by his parents who had hoped Antoshi would make a new friend. At one point, the little Cyndaquil burped up a ball of fire that completely singed off Antoshi's eyebrows and some of his hair. ‘Boy, that was some fireball!’ he recalled father say with a hearty laugh. ‘That's what we'll name him,’ his mother replied, while consoling a crying Antoshi. ‘We'll name him 'Fireball'.’ Antoshi smiled at the recollection. His journey had been like a whirlwind of happiness, hard work, highs and lows. He visited so many new, incredible locations. They made countless wonderful memories that Antoshi wouldn't forget for the rest of his life. Yet, it all never would've happened without Fireball. Antoshi clenched his fists, knowing that Fireball would not give up on him if he was in a bind. Amid the fear and dread in his heart, Antoshi was determined to find his friend. Just as importantly, he knew he needed to keep his emotions in check — especially during such a test of his inner strength. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ The drive to the station was short. Jenny parked the car in a small parking lot outside, before getting out and opening the door for Antoshi. She led him inside the station, greeting her fellow officers. Antoshi had never been inside of a police station before, and the Viridian station was quite busy. Other officers and their partner Pokémon walked around every which way, phones rang in all directions, the air was rife with the smell of coffee. Jenny guided Antoshi to a small break room that housed several tables and chairs, as well as coffee and snack machines. “I'm going to enlist the help of a few of my officers on this,” she said. “I'll start working right away to find Fireball for you. You can stay here as long as you like. Feel free to walk around if you need to, but please don't disturb anyone who's working. Otherwise, make yourself at home, okay?” Antoshi nodded. “Thank you again, Officer Jenny,” he said, quietly. She gave him a reassuring smile before taking her leave. Antoshi looked around. He was all alone in the small room. He placed his backpack on the ground beneath one of the tables. He paced around briefly before taking a seat. Without Fireball around, everything seemed so eerily quiet. He sighed heavily, his hands clasped. All he could do now was wait and hope for the best. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Jalyn and Matt drove up to a poorly-kept house at the edge of a run-down neighborhood. The sky had become overcast, almost completely white with touches of gray. After they got out of the car, Matt took the lead. He hastily walked up to the front door with Antoshi's wallet in hand. The overgrown lawn was in dire need of maintenance, littered with garbage and belongings. Matt opened the screen door, giving a few knocks on the wooden front door before standing back on the stoop beside Jalyn. “So, tell me something,” Jalyn said. “Why did you follow that kid all the way back here just for his wallet?” “Because, … I … well, I knew that we would get his Typhlosion, too.” “Oh, man, you are so full of crap.” Matt sighed, pondering for a brief moment on what to say next. “I don't like to give up on anything, that's why. Yeah, okay, it was stupid and it made no sense — I get it. But I see things through to the end, no matter how crappy the job is.” Jalyn rolled her eyes. He was a completely hopeless endeavor to her. They waited a minute for Jeff to come to the door, but got no response. “It's the daytime,” she remarked. “That burnout is probably asleep by now.” “Come on, Jeff,” Matt muttered, knocking harder on the door. “Jeff! It's Matt! Hey, open the door!” They continued to wait a moment before Jalyn sighed in frustration. “He's catatonic in there. Come on, we have to get to the warehouse and get this Typhlosion off our hands. You'd best hope he sells for a pretty penny because this is the last chance we're getting.” Matt sighed, following Jalyn back to the car. “Well, what in the hell am I supposed to do with this kid's wallet? I can't sit on this thing forever.” Jalyn reached over, smacking the glove compartment open, which exposed a handgun housed inside. “Put it in there for now, Stupid.” Matt scoffed, carelessly flinging the wallet inside and shutting the compartment. He rest his head against his fist, glaring off in the distance as they drove away. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Antoshi stood in front of the window in the break room, staring silently. Various police officers had come and went. Antoshi didn't notice any of them, too busy being lost in his own thoughts. ‘Should I go off on my own? What if Officer Jenny can't find Fireball? What if he's hurt? What if he's … he's—’ Officer Jenny entered, followed by two uniformed policemen. “Antoshi?” she said, snapping him back to reality. Antoshi turned his attention to them. “This is Officer Eric and Officer Robert. They're two of the officers that are handling your case. They have a lot of experience in finding missing Pokémon.” “Hello there, young man,” Eric said to him. “Hello,” the boy distantly replied, offering a weak smile. Jenny approached him, placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “I understand how upset you are. Just know that we've got all of our available officers on the lookout for a missing Typhlosion. They're all over the city at all times of the day and night. We're going to find him — it's just a matter of time.” “Yeah, … I know,” he quietly said, with doubt in his voice. He forced a smile to her before gazing back out the window. Jenny solemnly nodded. The three officers left the room and headed for the station's front doors. “Poor kid,” Robert said. “Not knowing where his only Pokémon is must be eating away at him.” “I know what that's like,” Jenny replied, with a pained look on her face. After they got outside, Jenny heaved a sigh. “I'm gonna head out on patrol for a bit,” she said. “I'll see if I can find anything.” “Gotcha,” Robert said, as Jenny departed from their company. From inside the break room, Antoshi watched her climb into her squad car. ‘There's got to be something I can do,’ Antoshi thought, rhythmically clenching his fists. ‘I shouldn't be here doing nothing. I should be out there looking for him, but … what if I can't? What if I never find him? What can I do?!’ He slammed his fists down on the counter in frustration, causing an audible bang. He immediately got a hold of himself, looking around to see if anyone noticed the noise. He slumped back down into his seat with a heavy sigh. He rested his elbows on the table, burying his face in both hands, trying to simmer down. He had no one to talk to, no one to confide in, no one to console him. Holding it together was quickly becoming a painful endeavor. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Jalyn drove into the lot behind a large food market, parking by the service entrance. A handful of rats in a nearby dumpster, including some Rattata and Raticate, scattered as she and Matt both got out of the car. “I'm still pissed we're bossed around by Chad,” he said, as he shut the door. “That guy is such an uptight prick.” Jalyn rolled her eyes, leading Matt to the market's back door. “Well, it doesn't matter what you think. He's our boss. He reports to the Boss. So, if you don't want to end up in a shallow ditch, you'll deal with him being your boss.” “Whatever,” he replied, disinterested. Jalyn rapped on the door in a specific rhythm. A metal slat slid open, revealing a pair of menacing eyes. “Yeah?” a gruff voice asked on the other side. “Delivery,” she said. “Password,” the man replied. “What's today, Tuesday?” she asked, looking over at Matt. He nodded in response. “Uhh, origami … paper crane?” “It's 'fold an origami paper crane,' Jalyn,” the man behind the door angrily replied. “Get it right next time or get lost.” The slat slid shut. Jalyn scoffed. “You already know who the hell we are, Doorman,” she muttered under the sound of a motor rolling up the nearby shutter. She got back into the car, driving it in while Matt casually followed inside on foot. The motor whirred again as the shutter door closed behind them. They were in a large loading dock. The air was stale, musty, and painfully quiet. Jalyn got out of the car just before a man in a pristine black three-piece suit emerged, strolling up to them with perfect posture. He wore an expensive watch, his dark brown hair neatly slicked back, a fresh-cut rose set in his breast pocket. He was flanked by a large, muscular man — the 'Doorman' that Jalyn spoke to. Matt rolled his eyes, leaning against the hood of the car with his arms crossed. “I certainly hope that's a delivery for me,” the man in the expensive suit remarked. His voice carried a distinct upper-class accent. “Chad,” Jalyn greeted him with surprise in her voice. “You're … here today.” “I am, indeed,” he replied, smiling, his teeth pearly white. He snapped his fingers and pointed to the trunk. “Open it, Doorman.” Jalyn tossed the keys to the larger man. Doorman headed over to the trunk, unlocking it, but keeping it mostly closed. “Matthew!” he exclaimed, gasping and holding out his hands. “It's such a surprise to see you here! If I recall correctly, you were ordered to take a nice, relaxing vacation in Cinnabar.” Matt pursed his lips and nervously glanced away. “I find it strange that you would … ignore a direct order like that. You wouldn't want me to think you were insubordinate, would you?” “No!” Matt quickly replied. “It's just … I—I was helping Jalyn with this new delivery. That's why we're here.” Chad's eyes lit up. “Ah, interesting! So, my two underlings, what have you got for me today? I should hope it's something worth my time.” “A Typhlosion,” Jalyn replied. “A strong one, at that.” Chad raised his eyebrows in pleasant surprise. “Really? Very intriguing. Much better than the unimpressive delivery of three little Spoink you gave us a few days ago.” Chad sauntered over to the back of the car. Doorman promptly lifted up the lid of the trunk. Chad's eyes widened in surprise. “Well, this is quite the turn of events,” he remarked. Matt and Jalyn followed to look at their prized catch. What they saw shocked them. There was no prized catch. Fireball had vanished. An enormous feeling of dread surged through every vein in their bodies. Both of them shut their eyes in unison. They had both witnessed Chad perform horrible acts of violence towards those who had failed him. The next words they spoke were going to be the difference between life and death. Jalyn swallowed nervously. “Chad,” Jalyn spoke up. “I'm telling you, there—” Chad turned and slapped her with the back of his hand hard enough to cause her to stumble back. “Shut it,” he sternly commanded. He had a bitter expression on his face, sharply contrasting his previous cordial tone. “Hey, come on—” Matt began to speak. Chad cut his cold, glaring eyes at him, causing Matt to immediately pipe down. Doorman stood beside Chad, crossing his beefy arms over his chest, staring down at Matt as if to also tell him not to get involved. Jalyn turned away, scowling angrily, holding the side of her face with a trembling hand. She quickly stood up straight and stared at him with a calm expression. “Don't you dare give me some meaningless excuse, you street rat,” Chad venomously said. Jalyn bit her tongue. “I took you in out of the kindness of my heart, and I expect you not to screw with me. Is that clear!?” “Yes, sir,” the two replied in unison before nervously glancing at each other. Chad recomposed himself, straightening his suit, glancing at the back of the hand he struck her with. He folded his arms behind his back, slowly pacing back and forth for a few moments, looking at them both. The pair were intensely serious, yet with just a small amount of worry and prostration in their eyes. It was just what Chad wanted to see from his lackeys. He hummed curiously, studying their faces before deciding to speak again. “Now, I'm going to ask you both a very simple question, and the two of you will simultaneously give me a very simple 'yes' or 'no' when I finish speaking. … Were you lying to me when you told me you had a Typhlosion?” “No,” they both replied, quickly. He hummed again, staring at them intensely, tapping his fingers against his lips. The two of them were sweating bullets and starting to tremble in fear. Chad forced them to wait for a short while in motionless silence until he finally cleared his throat. “Well, despite the fact that you two have routinely been the most pathetic underlings I've ever had, I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt this time. Honestly, I don't care if there really was a Typhlosion in this trunk. If there was, however, I would highly suggest that the two of you go back into the city — right now — and recover it within twenty-four hours. No more excuses — just results. If you don't procure a Typhlosion for me by then, well, … I'd suggest that the two of you never show your faces here again. Should that be the case, pray that no one else from this organization ever finds you for the rest of your miserable lives. Do I make myself perfectly clear?” “Yes, sir!” they firmly replied. He looked at the two of them with a menacing glare, before smiling and clasped his hands together. “Very good! That's the team spirit that I admire!” he shook back the sleeve of his suit to glance at his watch. “You have twenty-four hours, staring now. Off you go now!” The two of them immediately marched into the car before Jalyn turned the engine over. Chad walked over and stood before them at the front of the car. “Oh, and Jalyn? Matthew?” he said. They both looked up at him with terrified gazes. “Remember: Nobody ever lies to Team Rocket and lives.” The duo nervously nodded in acknowledgment before Chad trilled his fingers on the hood of the car playfully. “Drive safely now!” he said, with a pleasant smile and a wave. Jalyn waited for Doorman to open the motorized door for them. She quickly backed out into the parking lot and sped away. Chad's expression turned bitter again as the door rolled closed. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ “Damn it, damn it, damn it!” Jalyn screeched at Matt as they drove down the busy streets. “You idiot! How the hell could you not notice that Typhlosion escaped?!” “Me? What about you!? You were right with me the whole time!” Jalyn smacked her hands against the steering wheel. Matt held a hand over his forehead. “Ohh, crap. We're dead. We're so dead! We're never going to find him — this city is huge!” “Shut up, okay?!” she replied. “I'm already on edge as it is and I don't need you freaking out next to me. … Now, let's think about this. When could he have gotten away from us?” “I don't know, uh, … we would've noticed the shift in weight if he just ducked out while we were driving.” “So, when were we not driving?” Matt's eyes lit up. “At Jeff's house!” “And that's where we start.” Jalyn turned at the next intersection, picking up speed. Her expression suddenly became bitterly cold. “I swear, I'm gonna put this Typhlosion down if it comes to it. Chad can make a Typhlosion rug out of him or something but I am not going back there empty-handed.” Matt was surprised by her remarks. He found them particularly out of character for her. She had always been cross, short-tempered, and sometimes unbearable, but never brutal — that was Chad's disposition. He wondered just how deeply Chad's earlier remarks had affected her. Chad had never spoken down to her like that before. He glanced at the glove compartment where that handgun rested. Thoughts of what she may end up doing with it swirled around in his head. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ By the time evening set in, Fireball had been wandering between buildings and along the quieter side streets of Viridian City for hours. He panted, drained from the constant moving — and from hunger. For once, eating took a backseat in his mind. Getting back to Antoshi was his top priority. He also needed to keep away from the duo that took him, though he wanted to stay away from humans in general. Antoshi was the only human that could understand him. He was sure that a Trainer would attempt to capture him, thinking he was a wild Typhlosion. 'Maybe I should look for the police,' he thought. '… I'll bet that's what Antoshi would do. He's probably already done that. But, what would they do with me? Would they just lock me up somewhere or would they try to find Antoshi for me?' He groaned, totally exhausted, falling flat on his belly in an alleyway. He rested for a few minutes to catch his breath. 'This city is one a big, fat, giant maze. Man, I really wish Antoshi was here. He always knows what to do. … Then again, if he was here, I wouldn't be in this mess in the first place. … He's probably running all over the city looking for me. I know he's worrying about me. I have to find him!' He rolled over onto his back, staring up at the sparse, vibrant orange clouds in the purplish evening sky. 'I'm so dizzy. I just hope these buildings stop spinning soon …' He grit his teeth, sitting up. 'I'll make it back to you, buddy. I know I will. After that, we're going to find that thief and get our badges back!' Fireball rose to his hind feet just before hearing the sound of a car engine. A bright spotlight from the street started to illuminate the alleyway. He panicked and pressed his back against a nearby wall, keeping out of its sight. “Fireball?!” an unknown man's voice called to him. Fireball's heart raced, swallowing nervously. 'Who is that?' he thought. 'How do they know my name? Are they working for that thief?' The spotlight faded away as the car drove off. He peered out from his nook, making sure no one was around. Once it was safe to move, he continued further on his solo campaign.
  7. Happy Birthday 😄, i hope that you will have a great day 🙂🍰

  8. Chapter 3 The duo reached the marina before long. By noon, activity on the island had picked up. A small group of people waited by the largest dock near the marina's entrance. “Excuse me,” Antoshi spoke up, grabbing the attention of a tall, elderly gentleman in a formal suit. “Is this the waiting area for the ferry to Pallet Town?” “It sure is!” the man replied, cheerfully. “Thank you. I just want to make sure we're in the right place. We … have gotten on the wrong transportation before.” “Glad to help! Say, that's a very nice-looking Typhlosion you have there!” “This is my best friend, Fireball,” he replied with a proud smile. The gentleman extended a hand. “It's wonderful to meet you, Fireball!” Fireball grinned while shaking the man's hand. The gentleman tipped his bowler hat at the two. “Well, I hope the two of you have a great time in Pallet Town.” “Thanks again,” Antoshi said, before the gentleman walked away. Fireball started bouncing up and down in anticipation. "So, um, what's in those sandwiches anyway?" “I'm not su~re,” Antoshi replied, playfully. “I think it's a surprise.” Fireball was shocked. "Surprise sandwiches!?" He turned around to face the water. "Where is that ferry?!" The shady young man following them appeared from the crowd. As he approached, his eyes were locked solely on Antoshi. He noticed the indent of Antoshi's wallet in his back pocket. His eyes lit up, slowly and casually strolling up behind him. He reached down, his fingers just slipping within Antoshi's pocket. Suddenly, a large man hastily bumped into Antoshi, causing him to stumble backward into the would-be thief. “Sorry!” the careless man exclaimed before shuffling off. Antoshi chuckled and turned to the thief. “Sorry about that.” “Hey, it's no problem!” the young man replied with a nervous, boisterous laugh. Antoshi turned his attention back to the marina. The thief bitterly grumbled at the convenient mishap. "Oh, oh! There it is!" Fireball exclaimed, hopping into the air and waving the ferry over. The ferry blew its horn. At the same time, the thief tried to pick Antoshi's pocket again. He fumbled and pulled too hard on the seam, grabbing the boy's attention. The thief quickly pretended to look around mindlessly, whistling to himself. Antoshi idly reached back to pull his wallet out. “I guess I should get ready to pay the fare as fast as possible,” he mused, smiling as he watched Fireball continue to jump in excitement. The thief behind them seethed. Something as simple as picking some kid's pocket shouldn't have been so challenging. ‘Oh, come on!’ he thought. He bit his thumbnail, looking back at the city. He had a look on his face as though he'd remembered something important. Heaving a sigh, he remained where he stood. ‘A kid with a rare Pokémon like a Typhlosion has to have a jackpot of a wallet.’ He slid his hands into his pockets, keeping his cool, while waiting for the ferry just like everyone else. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ People soon began to board the ferry one by one. Each passenger paid the attending deckhand a small fare to board. Fireball merrily skipped across the gangplank, followed by Antoshi, who paid for them both. The thief calmly slipped past without paying while the deckhand was distracted by a woman asking a question. Antoshi and Fireball took a seat next to each other on one of the bolted down wooden benches set in rows. The boy took his backpack off, setting it beside them. The thief sat out of their eyesight. He watched them for a moment before reclining across an entire bench. An older woman looking for a seat walked by and scoffed at his manners. Antoshi unwrapped one of the sandwiches. Fireball went to take it from him. “Now remember,” Antoshi said, momentarily keeping the food just out of Fireball's reach, “we each get one sandwich, okay? Try not to swallow it all in a single gulp.” Fireball nodded in excitement. Antoshi handed him his food with a smile. The Typhlosion went to take a big bite, but suddenly stopped. "Wait, … what if I get seasick again?" “This ferry's way bigger than the boat from yesterday — and it's nowhere near as fast. I'm sure it'll be a nice, smooth ride the whole way.” "Well, in that case, …" he trailed off before taking a bite of his sandwich. Fireball made an endless array of contented noises as he chewed his food. Antoshi calmly ate along with him. Both of them enjoyed their meal while the ferry set sail onto Route 21. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ The slower ferry ride expectedly took a bit longer than their previous seafaring trek did. After eating, Antoshi happily took the opportunity to soak up as much of their surroundings as possible. He and Fireball made their way out onto the starboard deck where they leaned against the metal railing to enjoy the view. Several other people were doing the same further down the ship on either side of them. "It's a really big world out there, huh?" Fireball asked. They gazed at Kanto's terrain in the far distance. Memories of previous adventures came flooding back to them. “Sure is,” Antoshi remarked with a thoughtful smile. “I hope every minute of it has been just as amazing for you as it's been for me.” "Of course! Every minute of every day is great with my best buddy around." They shared a brief chuckle, gazing to the distance in silence for a moment. "Say, … have you thought about what we'll do after this is over? Y'know, if we … don't make it to the championship? Where do we go from there?" “One step at a time, remember? We haven't even gotten our eighth badge yet!” "That's true. … Guess I'm just getting excited now that we're so close to the end." “Oh, I definitely am, too. I keep worrying that something is going to delay us from making it to the tournament. We just have to keep our cool and go at our own pace like we always do.” "But, you've always been better at keeping cool than me! I'm ready to sprint as fast as I can to that eighth badge!" “We'll definitely be moving a lot faster now, don't worry. We don't have much time left.” The thief made his way onto the deck with Antoshi and Fireball. He made sure no one was watching him before silently creeping up behind them. He was once again just a literal fingertip away from his goal of taking the boy's wallet when the duo suddenly turned around. “Come on,” Antoshi said to Fireball, “let's go back inside and sit down so you can relax.” They immediately froze in place upon seeing the thief leaning over in front of them. He panicked and swiftly fell over with a grunt. “Oh, jeez!” the thief exclaimed, getting back up on his feet with an exaggerated wobble in his balance. “Sorry, I, uh, haven't gotten my sea legs yet.” The ship wasn't swaying at all, however. The duo looked at him in confusion. “Hey, you're the guy I bumped into at the marina,” Antoshi remarked. “Oh, yeah! Wow, funny running into you again!” he replied, laughing nervously. “Well, see ya around!” His legs no longer trembled as he shuffled off in a hurry. Finding his antics peculiar, the duo shrugged to each other and headed back inside. The thief banged his fist against a nearby wall in frustration. ‘What else can go wrong today?’ ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ By mid-afternoon, the ferry neared a small marina at the southern edge of Pallet Town. Antoshi and Fireball stood outside on the upper deck of the ship, taking in the sight of the new location with awe-struck gazes. From their vantage point, they saw many houses and stores lining the roads. The town was quaint and colorful with cars and pedestrians bustling about. The buildings had roofs of all different colors in the spirit of its 'palette' namesake. Once the ferry docked, its passengers began to file out one by one. The duo headed out of the marina with eager grins, ready to see as much as they could in the short time they had to spare. The would-be thief followed at a distance behind them, still seething from the earlier mishaps. "So, where to first?" Fireball asked. Antoshi pulled out his compendium. “Hmm, … I think we should just make a beeline straight through the center of town. It's the quickest path and it has some sights along the way.” Fireball shuddered as Antoshi put the guide away. "I hate bees." Antoshi chuckled, marching forth alongside his friend. “Well, maybe if you didn't bother every hive you saw, you wouldn't have such a problem with them.” "But their honey is so delicious." With that remark, Fireball's stomach began to rumble. The duo glanced at his belly, then at each other. “C'mon, let's find a place to grab some food along the way. We'll have an early dinner.” Fireball nodded happily in agreement. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ The pair strolled down the old-fashioned brick-lined sidewalk — a thematic mix of colorful and white at various points. Everything about the area was warm and welcoming. Many passersby smiled, waved or greeted the duo. Some of them were fascinated with a rare Pokémon like Fireball, particularly at how abnormally big he was. Antoshi chatted with them, introducing his friend to others as well as their Pokémon, too. The thief watched from afar, arms folded across his chest. He stewed at how friendly the pair were, shaking his head in frustration as they mingled with so many potential witnesses. Once they crossed the street, they curiously wandered over to a large, conspicuous, two-story house. It had a queue of people around the block waiting to get in. Antoshi's eyes lit up upon realizing what it was. “Oh, wow,” he said, awe-struck. “This is the old Oak Laboratory! It's been here since the founding of the town. I've heard the current professor is something of a celebrity.” He noticed a sign on a fence outside the lab. “Five thousand dollars just to go inside? I guess we'll have to pass on this part of the tour, Fireball.” "Fine by me. That means we get to eat sooner!" Fireball remarked, as they continued on their way. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ A short time later, they neared a quaint sidewalk restaurant. Several tables and chairs were housed inside of a small wrought-iron fence. “'Please seat yourself',” Antoshi read aloud the sign next to the entrance. "Don't have to tell me twice!" Fireball said, eagerly taking a seat at one of the tables. “Good thing these chairs are metal,” Antoshi said. “We don't need you breaking yet another one.” He took his backpack off and sat across from his friend. They each picked up a menu that'd already been laid out on the table. No one else was seated at the other tables, allowing them to freely talk without judging ears listening in. "I like places like this," Fireball said, "but I really prefer the all-you-can-eat buffets." Antoshi shook his head. “I'm never taking you to one of those again after we got kicked out the last time.” "I couldn't help it! They had waffles! Tons and tons of waffles! That's my favorite food!" “Yeah, and you ate them all. It's a good thing you were able to walk after that or they would've had to forklift you out.” The two continued looking over the menu when Fireball suddenly began to hyperventilate. Antoshi looked over at him with concern. Fireball stared back with wide eyes, slowly turning the menu around and pointing to a large picture of waffles with syrup. Antoshi sighed and smiled. A few moments later, a perky, young waitress came out to greet them. “Hello there!” she said, grabbing their attention. “Welcome to The Sweet Sunkern, my name is Gemma. What can I get for ya'?” “I will have the chicken salad,” Antoshi replied with a smile, as he set his menu down. “Very nice! And how about the handsome Typhlosion?” She chuckled, watching Fireball restlessly bounce up and down in his chair. “He seems very excited to order!” Antoshi smiled, sitting back, comfortably. “I know exactly why. He'll have the waffles,” Fireball eagerly nodded to the waitress, “with syrup,” Fireball nodded with further enthusiasm. “and lots of blueberries on top.” “Sure thing! Wow, you know, that's quite impressive that you can understand your Pokémon so well.” “Almost like I can hear him speak,” Antoshi joked. Gemma shared a laugh with him. “I'll be right back with your food,” she said, before heading back inside. Fireball sighed in content, settling down before picking up his fork and knife. "It took so long for you to teach me how to eat with utensils," Fireball said, smiling. "Just being able to hold them right took weeks. I'm surprised you had so much patience with me." “It was worth it considering how many napkins you used to go through.” The two of them chuckled. "It's really nice here," Fireball remarked. Antoshi nodded. “Yeah, it's much calmer and more peaceful than we're used to — kind of like Lavender Town, except that was more of an … eerie peaceful. Guess that's just how towns are compared to the city.” "I like it," Fireball said, rapping his fork and knife on the table. "Now, where's my waffles?" Antoshi sighed. “Next thing I have to teach you is some restraint.” ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Antoshi and Fireball took their time enjoying their meal. The would-be thief watched them from across the street, grumbling as he bit into a hamburger from the food stand he leaned an arm against. After the duo finished eating, they were back on their way through the welcoming streets of Pallet. They continued to be stalked by the thief. The pair came across a picturesque town square where several large oak trees grew. Small groups of people wandered around, some of them taking pictures with their phones. At the center was a large, stone statue atop a pedestal in the middle of a man-made pond. Antoshi gasped loudly in awe. A huge grin crept across his face, eagerly jogging over to see the statue up close. “I've been waiting for so long to see this statue,” he remarked, his gaze unblinking. “Wow, … it's really him.” "That's the guy you've mentioned a few times, isn't it?" Fireball curiously asked, standing next to his friend. "The guy that became Champion a long time ago?" “Yep. The legendary Trainer from Pallet Town.” "I'd love to have been able to battle that Pikachu of his," Fireball remarked with a confident smirk. "Some of the Pokémon I've met talk about that Pikachu, too — it's not all about the Trainers, you know." “I already know that with you as my best friend,” he replied. The two of them grinned at each other before looking back to the statue. “This statue was built over seventy years ago to commemorate them. … I'm really glad I got to see it.” Fireball noticed a plaque on a small pedestal near Antoshi's feet. "Hey, what's that say in front of you?" “Let's see. It says, 'Dedicated to all Trainers and their beloved Pokémon aspiring to be the very best. We—the people of Pallet Town—erect this statue in honor of the sacrifices he and his Pokémon have made, and the people whose lives they've touched. May it serve as a keystone to those who dream and those who endeavor.'” Antoshi was moved by the poignant words, beaming with pride. They were words that had deep meaning to himself and Fireball. He looked up at the statue again with a smile. “It sure will.” The pair proudly gazed at the statue a little longer. With a content sigh, Antoshi nudged his friend. “Let's get a move on.” He brought out his compendium again as they strolled away. “According to the map, the Pokémon Center's at the northern edge of town. We'll make a quick stop to give Mom and Dad a call.” "Sounds like a plan!" Fireball said. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Antoshi and Fireball entered the Pokémon Center, finding it not terribly busy. There was an oddly pleasant flowery scent in the air, most likely from the Roselia sitting by its male Trainer at the far end of the main area. Nurse Joy tended to a couple of Trainers and their lethargic Raticate at the front desk. The duo headed over to the videophones to make their call to home. Antoshi's doting mother appeared on screen, answering the phone slower than usual. “Antoshi!” his mother exclaimed, with a surprised look on her face. “You've never called two days in a row! Is everything okay?” Antoshi's father casually walked by in the background, appearing just as surprised as she was before he headed over to the phone. “Yeah, everything's great!” he replied, smiling. Fireball waved to them from behind Antoshi. “We're actually in the Pallet Town Pokémon Center now. We're not going to be staying here for much longer, though. We'll be on the road to Viridian City by tonight.” “You got there so quickly!” his father remarked. “And you're leaving already, too? I hope you're not moving around too fast now.” Antoshi nodded. “Unfortunately, we are, Dad. We have to, though. I hate to leave so soon but we don't have a lot of time before the tournament sign-ups close. That's less than two weeks. We also don't know how tough the Gym in Viridian is going to be, so we might not have any time to spare.” “I always trust your judgment, Antoshi,” his mother said, warmly. “Sometimes I think you're wise beyond your years. … Well, I'll have another shipment of clothes and some more money ready for you by the time you get to Viridian City, okay?” “Thanks, Mom,” Antoshi replied, grinning. “And make sure you send back all your old clothes this time.” “Aww, but, that red shirt with the white stripe down the middle is really comfy!” Antoshi whined, playfully smirking. “All your old clothes.” “I got it, Mom. … Oh! We were able to see a few of the sights in Pallet. It's really nice here.” “That's wonderful, Antoshi! I'm always happy when you're happy, honey. I know someday you'll look back fondly on all these memories you're making. Talk to us again when you get to Viridian City!” “I will. Love you guys.” “We love you, Antoshi!” they both said, before the call disconnected. Antoshi smiled as he got up from the chair. “Looks like we're off to Route 1,” he said, looking at Fireball, who nodded in agreement. “This is the fastest we've ever moved through our entire journey. Think you'll be full enough for the rest of the night?” "We … still have those snacks just in case, right?" “Yes, we still have snacks,” Antoshi replied with a chuckle. Fireball sighed and wiped his brow in relief. As they departed the Pokémon Center for the town's northern limits, the luckless thief kept an eye on them from nearby. Leaning against a lamppost, he spoke quietly to an unknown party on his cell phone. He became progressively more cross with the person on the other end of the call. In a huff, he hung up and put his phone in his back pocket. He angrily straightened his jacket before stuffing his hands in its pockets, following the duo once again. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Antoshi and Fireball reached the gate house separating Pallet Town from Route 1. It was as busy as any crosswalk connecting people from one side of a street to the next. The gate housed a Trainer checkpoint, allowing Antoshi to scan his Trainer Card with the authorities working inside. Like the Pokémon Centers, the scan updated his last known location. “Thank you,” he said, as he was given back his Trainer Card from the gate's guard. He slipped the card back in his wallet. “Hey, no problem, youngster,” the gatekeeper responded, adding as the pair departed, “you two stay safe now!” “We will!” Antoshi called back, grinning. They entered Route 1 through the gate's automatic doors. Both of them had the same level of intrigue and curiosity on their faces as they did every time they set foot in a new location. The large, spacious route was a long, winding dirt path with patches of large grass at the path's edges leading into the forest. Like any route, there were a mix of Trainers, Pokémon, and pedestrians traveling through. The route was lined with the occasional park bench, litter bins, and set of street lights on either side of the pathway. On one side beyond the trees, cars drove to and fro. The nearby roadway connected Viridian, Pallet, and other nearby small towns that had cropped up in the past decades. Being neighbored to popular towns and cities attracted homebuyers. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ The duo continued walking until nightfall. Antoshi had scooped up various sticks and twigs along the way, storing them in his backpack's empty side pocket. They found a clearing outside the beaten path to set up camp. Antoshi used the tinder he'd collected, along with a casual puff of flame from Fireball, to bring a small campfire to life. He rolled out his sleeping bag, while Fireball settled in on the ground next to him. Having undressed into his usual sleeping attire, Antoshi neatly folded his clothes and placed them in his backpack which was set down between himself and Fireball. He climbed into his sleeping bag. "Another comfy patch of grass to sleep on," Fireball remarked in content, resting his forepaws behind his head. Surrounded by acres of untouched forest, they happily stared up at the countless stars in the sky. The air was always so crisp and fresh in the forests, especially at night. The breeze caused leaves to rustle softly amid the quiet crackle of the fire and chirping crickets. "Antoshi," Fireball said, breaking the silence. "Why do you think you can talk to Pokémon?" Antoshi sighed heavily. “This again?” he asked, looking over at his friend. “How many times are we gonna have this conversation?” "I just know we'll figure this out! Everyone thinks you're totally crazy or something to be able to talk to me. What do we know about it so far?" “Well, let's see,” Antoshi said. “After we got our first badge together, we were both really excited. It felt like you and I suddenly had this amazing bond together, like we were an unstoppable team. Then, out of nowhere, you … started talking to me. Before that, I just heard you growl or make noises or the usual 'Quilava, Quilava!' I thought it was a normal thing that Trainers go through after bonding with their Pokémon, so I didn't think much about talking to you in public until I started getting funny looks. Turns out it wasn't some normal thing. Still, journeying all by myself up to that point had been really lonely, and now I could talk to you. How could I keep your in your Poké Ball after that?” Fireball grinned. "I love hearing the story about how we started adventuring together! Have you thought of anything new about the whole 'talking to me' thing?" “Well, there's—” Antoshi's eyes nervously shifted away. “Err, … never mind.” Fireball looked at his friend with suspicion. "Antoshi, I'm your best friend. I know you're not telling me something. Who else are you gonna tell your secrets to, anyway? Who else am I gonna tell?" “Okay, okay, fine.” Antoshi sighed heavily, thinking for a moment. “I've noticed lately that … well, that I may be different from normal people.” "I could've told you that." “Okay, aside from being able to talk to you, I just …” Antoshi trailed off, sitting up in his sleeping bag. “Here. Look at what I found out I can do.” Fireball also sat up, curiously watching as Antoshi cupped his hands with his palms facing upward. Antoshi stared at his open hands and concentrated intensely, quietly grunting with effort. His brown irises came alight with a reddish hue. Fireball watched in astonishment as bright particles of light began to form over his hands and pulled together into a large ball. The amorphous orb of light shimmered with a brilliant hue of red and felt comfortably warm. It was identical to the object that destroyed the post box. "Whoa," Fireball remarked. "What is it?" “I'm … not sure, but … it takes a lot of concentration … for me to—” the ball of light abruptly burst back into particles and faded away. “… Hold it.” Antoshi sighed, letting his hands fall away. “When I don't concentrate, it just pops like a balloon. It kind of makes me a little tired afterward, too. I don't know why I'm able to do it.” "That's some crazy puberty you're going through," Fireball joked. Antoshi cut his eyes at him. "I'm kidding, I'm kidding!" Fireball rest a paw on his chin as he thought for a moment. "Well, I've never seen anything like that before. No person we've ever met did it, either. … Hang on a minute. Since when did you have time to find out you could do this, when we're together all the time?" “Remember the time when you nearly fell off that cliff on Route 14?” "Yeah, you caught me by the legs and pulled me up. I'm still amazed by how strong you were." “Well, … when I was holding on to you, I was so scared that I was going to lose you, and that I'd never see you again. That's when I noticed my hands and my arms were glowing red — just like that light that's been appearing around me since then. As it turns out, it isn't just some fancy light, there's definitely some kind of power behind it. It always feels like I have … supercharged energy whenever my emotions peak. Once my arms started glowing, pulling you back up was a breeze. After you were safe, it just went away. I spent a whole bunch of nights awake after that trying to get it to happen again and, eventually, I was able to form that glowing ball I just showed you.” Antoshi looked away despondently, rubbing his arm. "… What's wrong?" Fireball asked in concern. “I didn't want to tell you about this because, … well, honestly I'm a little nervous about it.” "Why are you nervous? This is cool!" “I'm unsure about what it means. Right now, it doesn't seem like it has much purpose. It may also mean much more than just a neat light show in my hands. I'm not sure … if this is something dangerous. I can't tell if it's a good feeling or a bad feeling that I'm getting when I use it. It just makes me feel odd inside, like my whole body is shaking with this crazy energy I can barely contain.” Fireball blinked in confusion. "… And you're sure this isn't puberty?" “Fireball!” "Sorry! I just don't really know anything more than you do. Maybe we should ask someone else." “Like who?” Fireball stared blankly for a moment. "Good question." “Well, maybe I'll just … understand it better in time, I guess.” "Maybe. For now, we have something cool to look at whenever we're bored!" Antoshi couldn't help but smile. “I guess there's always that.” He laid back down in his sleeping bag and sighed. “Well, goodnight, Fireball.” "Goodnight, Antoshi." Fireball followed his friend's lead, curling up comfortably on the ground. The pair rested up for another busy day. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ That night, Antoshi had another somber dream. He found himself sitting in the same bed he had dreamt about the previous night. He looked down at his hand, finding that he was trembling uncontrollably. He again had feelings of sorrow, but now those feelings were exacerbated and accompanied by fear and panic. He heard a muffled voice from an unknown source speaking to him. He couldn't discern the words. The voice began laughing — a deep, cruel laugh. He clasped his forehead and shouted in agony. “Can I really do this?” he mused. “This … this seems crazy.” “Give it time,” the voice replied. He panted fearfully, trembling from head to toe. “I feel sick,” he said. “… I can't! I just can't do this! I don't want to do this anymore!” He raced to his open bedroom window, defenestrating himself. He plummeted toward the ground while the mysterious voice continued its laughter. The moment his body impacted some bushes, Antoshi jolted awake with a terrified shout. All was quiet in the middle of the night. Fireball was sound asleep. Their campfire had smoldered. Antoshi was in a cold sweat, his breathing ragged. His heart raced from the residual fear and panic of his dream. ‘What is going on?’ he thought, running a shaking hand through his hair. ‘What are these dreams I keep having? It's like I'm having someone else's dreams, … but why do they feel so real?’ Antoshi reached into his backpack, pulling out his canteen of water to drink from. He sighed heavily, putting the cap back on and stored it away before he laid back down. His trembling slowly subsided as he gazed up at the starry night sky. He brought a hand in front of his face, focusing for a moment, summoning the same bright red energy as before into his palm. He clenched his fist to extinguish the light before letting his hand fall away. ‘This strange light … and the dreams have to be connected. But how?’ He stayed awake for a short while, attempting to cleanse his restless mind of the dream by recalling memories of soon after Fireball evolved into a Typhlosion. After having finally bonded, battling together was like second nature to them both — and they realized they were quite good at it. Deciding to keep his best friend as his one and only Pokémon, Antoshi felt it was time for them to take their journey to the next level and challenge Gyms. Celadon Gym was the first. It was their best option, due to the Gym's Grass-type specialty. However, as was the case with several Gyms they traveled to, they were unsuccessful on their first attempt. A Gym full of Trainers specializing in Grass-types expectedly formulated strategies for dealing with their weaknesses, like Fire-types. Though disheartening at first, they used the defeat to strengthen their resolve and train even harder for the next attempt, and the next, and so on. Eventually, they found success and earned their first badge. That's when they started to believe they could make it all the way to the Indigo Plateau. The memories were enough to help him fall back asleep. Just then, the relentless thief emerged from the trees. He smiled fiendishly. With the pair asleep, there was finally nothing to stop him from his goal. He tiptoed toward their campsite. Once he was close enough, he reached down and grabbed hold of Antoshi's backpack. Fireball turned over and angrily smacked the backpack out of his hand. The thief jumped, stifling a surprised shout. He thought he'd been made, but Fireball was still asleep. "I'm taking that last pudding …" Fireball muttered, before smacking his lips. The thief sighed in relief before trying again. “Come on,” he whispered, trying to slowly and gently pry it away from Fireball's heavy paw. Fireball suddenly yanked the backpack toward him. The Typhlosion gently wrestled with it in his sleep, shuffling its contents around, before sighing happily and hugging it tight. The thief looked on in horrified disbelief. How in the world could he possibly be this unlucky? He resisted the urge to scream at the top of his lungs in rage. Seething, he retreated back into the woods. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ The following morning, the duo awoke almost in sync. They sat up and stretched their arms high. Antoshi's backpack rolled off of Fireball's chest. The two looked at it in confusion, before looking at each other. Antoshi smirked. “You hugged my backpack during the night again, huh?” Antoshi asked. Fireball handed the pack to him. "I can't help it. Sometimes I need something to hold while I sleep." “Well, I hope you didn't get fur all over it again,” Antoshi joked. He unzipped the backpack and pulled out a new pair of clothes. He also took out a wrapped trail bar for himself and tossed a small bag full of Pokémon food to Fireball. “Here you go, buddy. Let's make sure we're fueled up before we head out.” Fireball didn't bother responding. Before Antoshi even finished speaking, he was already busy munching through the food with a pleased expression on his face. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Wearing a black polo shirt and tan cargo shorts, Antoshi cinched his backpack over his shoulders. He crouched down to tie his usual white sneakers with red chevrons on top. "Don't you ever get tired of wearing those shirts with collars?" Fireball curiously asked. Antoshi idly brushed some of Fireball's fur off the backpack's straps. “I suppose so. I don't feel like telling Mom that since she really likes how they look on me. I guess it is kind of bad that my mom still dresses me, but … they look good, right?” "Yeah! Kind of makes you look like a golf player." Antoshi rolled his eyes, scoffing and grinning. “Very funny,” he sarcastically replied, much to Fireball's amusement. “C'mon, you. Let's get that eighth badge!” "Challenge accepted!" Fireball replied, as the two set off toward Viridian City. The thief watched them from behind a tree, looking frazzled and nearly foaming at the mouth with ire. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ By noon, Antoshi and Fireball neared the northern end of Route 1. They started seeing large buildings towering over the trees, getting taller and closer with each passing minute. The gate separating Route 1 from Viridian City came into view in the distance, and the bustle of passersby started to increase. They rode on high along the gentle breeze carrying them to their destination. Excitement and opportunity were in the air. They grinned at each other, just a short jog away from entering another new city. A group of young kids soon crowded around the duo. They cooed at the sight of Fireball towering over them. “Wow, cool! A Typhlosion!” one of them exclaimed, as they all began to pet him. Fireball grinned. 'Please give me snacks, please give me snacks …' he thought. Antoshi smiled, watching his friend soak up the attention, while also responding to the kids as they asked him a barrage of questions. The thief's eyes lit up, seeing that the pair were distracted once again. He casually made his way over to Antoshi, when suddenly a Tauros came rushing down the pathway toward him. He screamed and jumped out of the way of the barreling bull, followed by a Pokémon Breeder chasing after it. “Tauros, get back here!” the breeder shouted. “Wow, cool! A Tauros!” one of the youngsters in the group exclaimed, prompting the crowd of kids to head off after it. They accompanied the breeder in chasing the Tauros, laughing and shouting. “Bye-bye!” one of the kids shouted, waving to Antoshi and Fireball. “Bye!” Antoshi replied, waving back, before turning to his friend. “You're so popular, Fireball,” he joked. Fireball chuckled, and the two were merrily on their way again. The thief stood at the edge of the beaten path, staring at the duo. He let out a frustrated scream, fed up with all the misfortune keeping him from the simple task of stealing a kid's wallet. “Screw this!” the thief angrily shouted. He broke out into a sprint toward them. The pair heard him coming and turned around just in time to see him snatch Antoshi's wallet before bolting off. “See ya, kid!” he shouted. The nearby people on the route watched the scene unfold in shock. “Hey!” Antoshi exclaimed as he and Fireball gave chase. “He stole my wallet!” "And our badges!" Fireball shouted. He was about to use a Rollout attack on him, but the thief ran into the crowd of people. In doing so, he shoved a lady with long, blue hair to the ground. “Ow!” she cried out. The duo stopped to check on her. Antoshi knelt down to the woman. “Are you okay?” he asked in concern. “Yeah, … I think so,” she replied with a hand on her head. While Antoshi helped her to her feet, Fireball angrily growled before charging into the crowd of people. Antoshi gasped at the sight of Fireball running off into the frightened crowd. Memories of a more rambunctious Quilava came flooding back to him in an instant. His fear of an uncontrolled Fireball had been realized. “Fireball, wait!” he called out. "Don't worry, Antoshi!" Fireball shouted back. "I'm not letting him get away!" “I'm sorry, I have to go!” Antoshi told the woman, quickly rushing off to follow his friend. “Fireball!” The thief rushed through the crowd traveling through the gate house, garnering angry yells and complaints as he shoved them aside. He continued running after passing into the Viridian City limits. He found a nearby alleyway to duck into and pulled out his phone. With his ear to the receiver, he waited for the other party to pick up. “It's Matt,” he said. “Track my phone, I need to be picked up right now.” The receiver hummed with the sound of a loud, complaining voice. “Just get your ass over here! I'm being chased by some kid's Typhlosion!” He peered his head out of the alley just long enough for Fireball to spot him through the crowd. "Hey!" Fireball shouted, running toward him on all fours. “Oh, crap,” Matt muttered to himself before running further down the alley. Back in the gate house, Antoshi pushed through the crowd, apologizing to the people he bumped into. “Hey, kid, wait!” the gate guard called out to him from behind the desk. “Come scan your Trainer Card if you're a Trainer!” “Sorry, I'm in a hurry!” Antoshi exclaimed. The gate guard had cause for suspicion with two people and a Typhlosion barreling through the gate, and causing a scene. He picked up the phone and informed the Viridian City Police of the incident. Antoshi's first steps within Viridian City were ones of trepidation. He hadn't seen Fireball since he ran off, and it was starting to scare him. He panted nervously, looking in all directions through the dense crowds of people as best he could. The sounds of pedestrian footsteps marching every which way became deafening. Cars sped by him as he looked across streets. He called Fireball's name along the way, but got no response. He didn't know where to look, finding himself lost and alone in a loud, busy, unfamiliar city. He was without his Trainer Card, and without his only friend. The sights and sounds overwhelmed him and made him dizzy. His heart sank at the thought of being separated from Fireball. “Fireball!” he shouted as loudly as he could in panic. “Where are you?!”
  9. Chapter 2 Fireball stepped up, locking eyes with Blaire's Charizard. With a roar of his own, the upper part of his back ignited. His body radiated a shimmer of heat — a threat display. He was fully focused and ready for a serious battle. ‘A fellow Fire-type, eh?’ Blaire thought with a smile. There were a few moments of tense quiet between the two sides as they stared each other down, analyzing their current situations. Blaire may have claimed to be new to her role, but she was still a Gym Leader nonetheless. With two badges left and no time to spare before the start of the Indigo League Tournament, there was no room for error in this battle. Charizard snorted, looking down at Fireball with an upturned snout as though it were above such a challenge. Fireball continued to stare down his opponent, his intense gaze unwavering. Blaire opted to make the opening move with a dramatic point toward the enemy. “Charizard, use Slash!” Her Pokémon grunted in response, using its wings to soar toward its opponent at ground level. “All right, Fireball,” Antoshi said, “let's turn up the heat! Use Eruption!” Fireball dropped down on all fours and sprinted at Charizard. ‘A Fire-type attack?’ Blaire thought as she furrowed her brow. ‘Is he not as smart as I expected? No, … he's using it now while his Typhlosion is still fresh, when it'll do more damage.’ As Fireball neared close, Charizard's sharp claws glowed with a magical energy indicative of various Pokémon moves. Charizard swiped hard at him but missed when Fireball ducked and tackled into Charizard's lower body. He struck with such force that he launched the large, dragonesque Pokémon airborne. With Charizard directly above him, Fireball gave a mighty roar, the flames on his back erupting into a massive pillar of flames that completely engulfed his opponent. Charizard cried out in pain while Blaire looked on bitterly, unable to help. When the eruption of fire dissipated, Fireball darted out of the way. Charizard crashed back down to the ground. It groaned as it weakly lifted itself back up by its arms. “Charizard, you okay?” she asked. Her Pokémon grunted, and gave her a nod. “Don't let up, Fireball!” Antoshi said to his friend, with a confident smirk. “You know what time it is!” Fireball nodded in response. The Typhlosion curled himself up in a large ball and revved in place like a spinning tire. Blaire looked on with a curious gaze. The flames on his upper back spread all the way around him until he was enveloped in a fireball, just like his namesake. “This is our signature attack!” Antoshi exclaimed. “A special Rollout I like to call 'Rolling Fireball'!” Fireball's spinning body barreled toward Charizard like a homing missile. The Typhlosion's incredible speed left Blaire stunned and unable to react in time. Charizard was violently thrown to the side from a direct blow of Fireball's blazing Rollout attack. The reptilian beast tumbled to a stop, groaning and growling while picking itself up again. The attack was flashy and intimidating, but their distinctive Rollout did not change its Rock typing. It was usually not their best — or preferred — choice of attack. However, its typing did make it very useful against anything weak to Rock, particularly a Fire- and Flying-type like Charizard. Fireball spun around for the next phase of Rollout. His speed and power increased as he aimed for Charizard again. “He's coming back around!” Blaire said to her Pokémon. “Charizard, use Fly! Now!” With a grunt of acknowledgment, Charizard flapped its large wings and took to the air just in time to narrowly avoid the speeding Typhlosion. The miss caused Fireball to hop out of his Rollout, sliding to a halt a short distance in front of Antoshi. They both focused their attention upon the airborne Charizard. “Now, Charizard, strike!” Charizard roared, diving headlong at Fireball with incredible speed. “Guard!” Antoshi instructed his friend. Fireball clenched his jaw and crossed his short arms over his chest to brace from the hard impact of Charizard smashing into him. He grunted as he slid backwards. Antoshi put his hands out to catch his friend and stop his momentum. “You all right?” Antoshi asked as they looked at each other. Fireball grinned and gave him a thumbs up. Charizard came in for a landing on its side of the stadium floor once again. “That's impressive!” Blaire said. “From what I've learned, Typhlosions are supposed to incinerate anything that gets near it when it's all worked up like yours is. Just like how trusted humans don't get burned by Rapidash flames, you must have have one heck of a bond with your Pokémon there.” “Fireball's not just a Pokémon,” Antoshi replied, looking up at his friend with a proud smile, “he's my best friend.” Fireball grinned, nodding in agreement. Despite scoring a hit, the previous attacks had took their toll on Charizard. It panted heavily, visibly more worn down and battle-scarred than its opponent. ‘Not just a great bond,’ Blaire thought, glancing at her Charizard, ‘but that's a strong Typhlosion, too.’ With her Pokémon on its last legs, Blaire sighed in frustration. ‘One last play,’ she thought. ‘They're not going to see this one coming.’ “Charizard,” she said, “Smokescreen!” Charizard grunted, using its wings to spin around while exhaling a large, rolling plume of black smoke all around to conceal its position. Antoshi narrowed his eyes. ‘Why Smokescreen?’ he thought. ‘She doesn't strike me as the type of Trainer to waste time stalling. She almost certainly has a plan in motion, that much I'm sure of. We need to act now and get rid of that smoke before she has time to set anything else up.’ “Use Rolling Fireball!” he said. Fireball curled up again, revving up to ignite himself into another fireball before charging into the plume. The flames covering his body instantly ignited the dark smoke, creating a brief cloud of fire. Inside the fiery veil, Fireball's attack just missed Charizard. Fireball spun around and hopped out of his Rollout, a short distance from Antoshi once again. “Now, Charizard, Hyper Beam!” she declared. Antoshi's eyes widened. With no other Pokémon to fall back on, an attack like Hyper Beam was going to be very costly for them. Charizard took aim at Fireball, charging a bright white sphere of energy in its gaping maw. With a roar, it fired its attack in the form of a long, blinding beam. Time seemed to stop for the duo as the glaring beam of light soared past them both, coming with inches of hitting either of them. Antoshi gasped in shock once the blast impacted the ground a short distance behind him, creating a moderate explosion that shook the ground. Blaire was livid with their stroke of luck. “It missed?!” she shouted. Antoshi closed his eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. Getting hit with Pokémon attacks was always an occupational hazard for a Trainer, and Charizard's Hyper Beam was a particularly powerful one. Antoshi was very thankful it missed him. He quickly shook off his nerves to take advantage of their good fortune. “All right, Fireball — finish it!” Antoshi said. Fireball hopped back into his fiery Rollout attack, speeding toward Charizard one last time. There was nothing left for Blaire to do. Charizard was momentarily exhausted from the amount of energy used for Hyper Beam. She closed her eyes before the final impact of Fireball's attack connected with her Pokémon. The attack sent Charizard airborne a short distance before landing hard on its back. With a weak groan, Charizard finally passed out. “Yes!” Antoshi whispered with a fist pump. Fireball headed back to his side of the field, standing on his hind feet to face his partner. Both of them grinned in delight. They were feeling fired up, ready for whatever she sent out next. Blaire grumbled angrily as she held out Charizard's Ultra Ball, recalling the fainted Pokémon into its confines via a crimson-colored beam of light. She stared at the ball for a moment from behind her dark sunglasses. ‘Darn it!’ she thought. ‘Charizard was my strongest Pokémon! I didn't think I'd need any more of my team to send this … 'Antush', or whatever his name is, packing. I'm not going to let this tourist beat me with just one Pokémon — let alone a Fire-type! That's my specialty!’ “Don't get too carried away just because you knocked out just one of my Pokémon!” she said. “I have four! There's no way you're going to get through them all, Brainy!” Antoshi smirked. “Are you gonna send out your next Pokémon or what?” he confidently replied. Blaire humphed in defiance. She switched out Charizard's Ultra Ball for a Great Ball. “I sure am — and this one's a doozy! Go, Camerupt!” From the thrown ball came a stubby, angry red camel with two small volcano tops on its back. It gave a deep shout, ready for battle. “Try knocking this big boy out with your fancy little move, Brainy!” “Fireball, Defense Curl!” Antoshi said. Fireball curled up into a ball once again, staying in place this time. A bubble-like shield temporarily appeared around his body. Blaire laughed haughtily. “Oh-ho-ho! That's not gonna save you! Camerupt, Earthquake!” “Earthquake?” Antoshi remarked in surprise. “Brace yourself, Fireball!” "I'm on it!" Fireball replied, muffled by his own fur. Camerupt roared, lifting its forelegs up before smashing into the ground with tremendous force. The ground around Fireball rattled and shook hard until violently shattering around him. Fireball shouted as his balled up body bounced around hard on the jagged, broken, trembling earth. Antoshi steadied himself from the smaller tremors beneath him as well. “Fireball, you all right?” Antoshi asked as the attack died down. "Well, … I'm feeling some pain in my back here," Fireball said, still muffled from being in his defensive stance, "but I'm still good to go." Antoshi smiled proudly. “Our turn, Fireball! Show that Camerupt how we roll! Defense Rollout!” “Defense Rollout?” Blaire mused. ‘Wait a minute, … I remember this combination!’ she thought, gasping in surprise. ‘Defense Curl, then Rollout. Oh, great, this kid actually is some know-it-all nerd!’ Blaire watched in horror as Fireball's flaming body sped toward her helpless Pokémon. “Camerupt, get out of the way!” Camerupt was far too slow to evade. The impact sent it soaring a short distance before crashing hard like Charizard before it. Camerupt groaned weakly, unable to get back up and collapsed — also like Charizard. Blaire's eyes nearly popped out from her sunglasses. “What?!” Blaire roared in disbelief. Her Camerupt was already downed. “No way!” “All right!” Antoshi cheered as Fireball returned to their side of the field. “Awesome job, Fireball!” Fireball grinned once again, feeling very confident. Blaire gnashed her teeth together. ‘How can this kid's Typhlosion be this strong?! I know Defense Curl doubles the power of Rollout. Even still, he knocked out my Camerupt in just one hit!’ She shrieked and fumed in rage, stomping a foot in frustration before recalling her Pokémon. “Camerupt, return!” She shrunk the Great Ball down to its minimal size, swapping it out with a Friend Ball that was attached to her belt. She expanded the ball, throwing it to the field with less flair and more purpose. “Go, Rapidash!” she exclaimed. The light formed and faded to reveal a large unicorn with a flaming mane, back, tail and fetlocks. “Rapidash, Agility!” The equine Pokémon rapidly trotted in place, its body briefly glowing white. “Now you're in trouble!” she confidently proclaimed. “Rollout, again!” Antoshi said. Fireball curled into his attack, revving in place. His body burned brightly as he sped toward Rapidash. “Rapidash, move!” she commanded. With its Agility, Rapidash had become much faster and more agile than Fireball could manage. The Typhlosion missed his target by a wide margin. “Fire Spin, Rapidash! Lock it down!” Once Fireball had returned to his side of the field, Rapidash took a deep breath and, with a loud cry, exhaled a vortex of fire that encircled him. Antoshi covered his eyes and stepped back from the flames that burned dangerously close to him. He was unable to maintain visual contact with his friend. “Fireball! Are you all right?” "The fire feels kind of nice," Fireball replied, "but I can't move!" Antoshi clicked his tongue. Fireball was going to be trapped in the vortex until there was no more fuel to churn it. The attack momentarily constricted around Fireball. He shouted as the fire scorched him. "Okay, it feels a lot less nice now!" Fireball said. Blaire grinned confidently. “Now, Rapidash — use Bounce!” Rapidash cried out in acknowledgment. It began to hop up and down, gaining more and more height with each jump until it soared high into the air. “Fireball, guard!” Fireball clenched his teeth, crossing his small forearms over his tucked head as best he could. He shouted loudly as the full weight of Rapidash's body landed on him and immediately launched off like a springboard. Fireball fell to the ground with a groan, weakly getting back up onto his feet. He shouted again as the fiery vortex briefly closed in on him. Blaire laughed haughtily as Rapidash gracefully landed in front of her. “Can't do anything when your Typhlosion can't zip around, huh?!” Antoshi clenched his fists. ‘We can't afford a loss here,’ he thought. ‘The Indigo League tournament starts in less than two weeks. Having to wait two weeks for our seventh badge means we won't make it there in time.’ “Fireball, try using Rollout to break out of the Fire Spin!” Fireball immediately curled up and shot into the churning wall of flames. The flames had an unnatural elastic property about them, stretching out like a rubber band. It brought Fireball's momentum to a slow halt until it snapped him back inside the circular vortex. Blaire laughed again. “Don't worry — I'll put your Typhlosion out of its misery! Rapidash, use Horn Drill!” Antoshi's eyes went wide with horror. While inaccurate, the move was typically an instant knockout. Rapidash cried out, the horn on its head glowing white and appearing to spin. “Fireball, keep moving as much as you can!” "Got it!" Fireball replied. He heaved a sigh before bouncing back and forth on his hind legs like a boxer would. "Come on! Try and hit me!" The veil of fire masked Rapidash's approach. Fireball gasped as it, and its glowing horn, suddenly burst through the fire. Fireball jumped to the side, stretching his body out to just barely avoid the instant knockout technique. Having missed, Rapidash immediately retreated back to its side of the field. Blaire remained confident, despite the attack missing. She was able to keep trying, so long as the flames kept Fireball trapped. However, Fire Spin had a fickle mind of its own. It decided when it would peter out. Suddenly, the vortex of fire burst and dissipated. Both Trainers and Fireball were momentarily stunned. “No, no, no!” Blaire exclaimed in a panic. “Now, Fireball!” Antoshi said. “Rolling Fireball!” Blaire grinned. “You forgot my Rapidash is too fast for your Typhlosion to hit, Brainy! Rapidash, get moving!” “Swerve to the left!” Antoshi instructed. As Fireball did so, he scored a direct hit on the speeding Rapidash. The high-speed collision sent it flying even further than Blaire's previous two Pokémon. It gave a pained shout upon landing violently, rendered unable to continue after it fell unconscious. Blaire was left shocked. “But— … but how?! How did you know Rapidash would move that way?” “I guessed,” Antoshi replied with a shrug. “Well, it was more of an educated guess. Your Rapidash ran to our left the first time it dodged the attack, so I figured it would do it again.” Blaire remained silent for a moment before the corner of her mouth curled into a slight smirk. “Not bad, kid,” she remarked as she recalled her Rapidash. “Not bad.” She gasped when she looked at the final ball she had — a Poké Ball. ‘Oh, crap,’ she thought. ‘I only recently got this Pokémon from a trade. It's not nearly as strong as the others! There's no way it's going to last more than a minute if it gets hit by Rollout.’ She looked at the opposing duo once more. ‘Welp, no other choice now but to go all-in. If I lose, I'm going down in a blaze of glory!’ “Go!” she exclaimed, throwing the ball high into the air. “Talonflame!” From the open ball came a falcon with orange flame patterns on its feathers, accented with gray, black and yellow. It kept itself airborne, locking eyes with its opponent. Antoshi and Fireball both gasped in a mix of surprise and awe. ‘A Kalos Pokémon?’ Antoshi thought. ‘Pokémon from Kalos are so rare in Kanto. An exotic Pokémon like that as her final one has to be her most powerful.’ Antoshi's excitement was at its peak, his eyes bright, unable to keep from grinning. “Talonflame!” Blaire said. “Use Attract!” “What?!” Antoshi exclaimed in disbelief. Talonflame kept itself airborne with one wing, using the other wing to mask its beak while blinking alluringly at Fireball. "Wow!" Fireball said, grinning and blushing, becoming infatuated with the avian Pokémon. "So … pretty!" Antoshi briefly smacked his hand over his face in disbelief. “Fireball, use Rolling Fireball!” "Wow…" Fireball muttered, grinning and mindlessly swaying back and forth. "So pretty…" Antoshi groaned, burying his face in his hands. ‘Please don't tell me our dreams are dashed because of Attract…’ Blaire laughed in amusement. “Love conquers all, kid! Talonflame, use Acrobatics!” Talonflame screeched in response, flying high into the air before coming down and striking Fireball with her talons several times as she dashed from one side of the field to the other. Fireball groaned, weakly falling to a knee. "So … pretty," he continued to mutter. “Come on, Fireball! Snap out of it! We can't lose like this!” "Can't lose…" Fireball said. "Can't lose to … bird. Very pretty, lovely bird. Can't … lose." Fireball clenched his teeth as he rose to his hind feet. His senses were still dazed from the effect of Attract. “Are you with me, Fireball?” Antoshi asked with concern in his eyes. “This means everything to both of us. You have to hold it together!” Fireball groaned again, shaking his head. He turned to Antoshi, giving him a groggy grin and a thumbs up. "I think … I'm good to go." Antoshi smiled proudly at him and nodded. “Now we end this!” Blaire loudly declared. “Talonflame, use Brave Bird!” Talonflame screeched, tucking its wings, falling to a low altitude. It shot headlong at Fireball with blinding speed — enough to cause a visible shock wave. ‘Whoa, that Pokémon's fast!’ Antoshi thought. “Fireball! One more Rollout, buddy! Let's bring it home!” "All right!" Fireball replied, confidently, curling up and igniting himself one more time. Fireball blasted toward the speeding Talonflame, turning their battle into an impromptu joust. Both Trainers held their breath in the brief moment just before impact. Talonflame crashed into him and was immediately flung away by the sheer force. Fireball's powerful Rollout attack ended up unwavering. With a pained screech, the bird Pokémon spiraled wildly through the air before crashing hard and sliding to a stop. With Talonflame unconscious, the battle was over. “Noo~!!” Blaire yelled, infuriated. Antoshi's face lit up with glee. “Yes!” he shouted. “We did it!” Fireball rolled his way back to him, extinguishing the flames on his back. Fireball got back to his hind feet with a pained grunt. He shared a high-five with Antoshi. “No, no, no, no!!” she whined, repeatedly stamping a foot on the ground. “How could I have lost when you only have one Pokémon?!” Antoshi and Fireball were both elated as they walked over to Blaire. “I told you before we battled,” Antoshi replied. “Fireball and I have a ton of experience — and this is the most important thing to us.” Fireball nodded in agreement. Blaire sighed, closing her eyes for a moment to cool off. She held her Poké Ball up to recall Talonflame before looking back at the duo with a smirk. “I will admit, your decision to raise one Pokémon is admirable — and that's a really strong Typhlosion you have because of it. Very few Trainers are willing to stick with just one, but I definitely witnessed just how powerful the bond between a Trainer and a single Pokémon can be. After all, you are putting all of the training and experience of six Pokémon into one! Still, the level of care and dedication you've shown is what being a Pokémon Trainer is all about. You're an interesting one, … er, what was your name again?” “Antoshi,” he replied, mirthfully. “Antoshi, right. Congrats,” she said, as she casually tossed him a Volcano Badge, “you just got your seventh badge, kiddo.” The duo briefly stared at the shiny, red badge cupped in Antoshi's hands. A flood of emotion came over them both, welling up with tears. The badge was another symbol of their hard work and the year they spent committing to this journey. Antoshi looked over at his friend. “Lucky number seven,” he said, reiterating his remark from before. Fireball responded with an enthused nod. Blaire smirked at the happy pair, placing a hand on her hip. “You definitely earned it.” “Thanks,” Antoshi replied. He took out his wallet and flipped open a side flap to reveal six, shining, well-kept badges pinned to it. With a relieved sigh, he proudly added the Volcano Badge to their collection. “By the way,” Antoshi said, as he put his wallet away, “is your name really Blaire?” The girl stifled a chuckle. “Depends. Is your name really Antoshi?” she joked. “All right, I'll be honest. Blaire's a nickname I came up with. My real name is Leslie.” “Why not stick with your real name?” he asked, playfully. “That's what I do.” Blaire gasped, pretending to be offended. “And miss out on the opportunity to cosplay as the greatest Gym Leader of all time? No way!” She took Blaine's distinct stance with her arms folded across her chest. “Now, you two get out of here before I throw you out.” “Hope to see you again someday,” Antoshi said with a grin. He headed off, motioning for Fireball to join him. “So long, brainy kid with the weird name,” she replied. She smirked proudly as she watched the two depart. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ It was dusk by the time they exited the Gym. The sun was setting, bringing an end to another day. Both of them stretched their arms high before sighing in relief. "I sure am beat," Fireball said, rubbing his back, "and really hungry." “Same here,” Antoshi replied with a nod as they set off. “Let's get back to the Pokémon Center and get you healed up. Then we can see how much food is left from dinnertime.” "You know," Fireball said, "we should really have a new meal between lunch and dinner. We'll call it 'dunch'!" “You are not making that a new word,” Antoshi firmly objected. "How about 'linner,' then?" “Absolutely not.” "Hey, maybe we'll see that cute girl again," Fireball teased. “I'm ignoring you now, Fireball.” Fireball quietly chortled in response. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Back at the Pokémon Center, the duo were ready for some much needed food and rest. They'd been on their feet all day and hadn't eaten since lunch. Antoshi and Fireball sat together in the Center's cafeteria amid a smattering of other Trainers and their Pokémon. They joked and laughed together, in high spirits after reaching another milestone in their journey. Fireball had put away a half-dozen trays of food. They spent a little more time conversing before deciding it was time to retire for the night. They headed back to their room to get settled in. The room had its own bathroom, allowing Antoshi to get washed up and brush his teeth. He also took the opportunity to fill a canteen he kept in his backpack with water from the sink. The beds in the Pokémon Centers were only big enough to comfortably fit one person. Fireball didn't mind, however. He settled in on his preferred sleeping place: the floor. Antoshi slipped under the covers of the twin size mattress. He wore his usual sleeping attire of a white undershirt and matching boxers. After turning off the nightstand lamp, Antoshi and Fireball lay awake for a bit, staring at the ceiling in thought. “We're in the home stretch now, buddy,” Antoshi quietly remarked. "We sure are! We're gonna win it all, and win it big!" Fireball replied, beaming with excitement. "I can't wait to see how big the tournament stage is at the Indigo Plateau. Are you excited, too?" “It's all I can think about lately. I'm trying to keep my excitement on the inside, otherwise I'll never get any sleep until then.” Antoshi pulled the covers up tighter and closed his eyes. "Antoshi?" Fireball spoke up. "Have you given any more thought about why you're the only one that can hear me speak?" Antoshi grinned in amusement. “Let's continue this conversation when we're not so tired. Get some sleep, Fireball. I hope you dream about standing on the Champion's platform with me.” Fireball chuckled. "I'm ready for it. 'Night, Antoshi." The two sighed in contentment before letting their tired minds doze off to sleep. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ That night, Antoshi had a dream. It was a very clear, and very strange, dream. He found himself standing in the middle of a large public park. The setting was completely new to him. It was late evening. He was surrounded by unfamiliar faces; children and their Pokémon playing and laughing while parents watched and chatted amongst themselves. It was a picturesque evening in a place that seemed so peaceful and carefree. His hands were stuffed in his pockets, his shoulders slumped over. His legs moved of their own accord, the rhythmic sound of grass crumpling under his shoes, leading him to the edge of the park and across the street where a man and woman were waiting. They appeared to be angry with him. The image blurred and faded. Afterward, he lay awake in a strange bed, in a bedroom he'd never seen before. He carried feelings of anger and sadness in his heart for reasons unknown. From his mouth, a voice that sounded like his mumbled something unintelligible. He sighed heavily and rolled onto his side to get some sleep. Before he could, another voice emanated from behind him. “Wake up,” the voice whispered to him, but he did not respond. “Wake up!” the whispering voice became louder, echoing in his head. He quickly rolled onto his other side, opening his eyes to see nothing but darkness clouding his vision. The darkness did not dissipate, but the voice got much louder. "Wake up!" a familiar, jovial voice rang out. With a startled gasp, Antoshi leapt awake. He was in his bed in the Pokémon Center. "Whoa," Fireball remarked, standing beside him. "Sorry about surprising you like that. You okay?" Antoshi sighed. The early dawn sun peered through the cracks in the room's horizontal blinds. “Yeah…” Antoshi responded, his voice groggy. “What time is it?” "Six o'clock!" Fireball said, happily. "Our usual wake-up time. Hope you're ready for some breakfast, because I sure am." Antoshi yawned and stretched his arms high. “I will be soon. Thanks for waking me, though. I feel like I would've slept in super late. … I was having the weirdest dream.” "Was it one of those dreams?" Fireball asked, suggestively. Antoshi rolled his eyes. “No, it wasn't that kind of dream,” the boy replied, while pulling the bed covers away. “Well, let's get ready to go, so we can keep this victory train rolling toward our last badge. How's that sound?” "Next stop: the Championship!" Fireball declared. Antoshi laughed as he hopped out of bed to do some rhythmic morning stretches. Even though Fireball's limbs weren't as long, he joined in on emulating the stretches, much to Antoshi's amusement. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ With his backpack on the bed, Antoshi finished putting away his clothes from the previous day. He wore a colorful tank top, white shorts and the same lei the hula girl had given him. "You're gonna keep wearing that flower necklace?" Fireball asked, curiously, while sitting on the bed. "Didn't Blaire make fun of you for it?" “I don't mind. If I'm gonna be a tourist, I might as well look like one for the short time we're here.” "Well, with that shirt on you look like the king of tourists!" Antoshi laughed as he slipped his shoes on. “I guess that means it's perfect,” the boy replied, grinning. “Come on, let's grab some breakfast and head out.” "Finally, food!" Fireball exclaimed, jumping up to his hind feet. Antoshi pocketed his wallet as well as the room's key card and slung his backpack over his shoulders. He and Fireball left for the cafeteria. They filled up on all the pastries and fruit that they could before heading back into the main area of the Center. They were fueled up and ready for the next leg of their quest. “Thank you, Nurse Joy,” Antoshi politely said, handing her the room key card, “as well as everyone that works so hard here.” “Thank you as well, Trainer,” she happily replied. “Could I ask you a question?” “Of course!” “What's the best way for me to get to Pallet Town from here?” “Well, you're in luck,” she replied. She reached under the counter, bringing out a small digital map of the island on a portable device. “Since Cinnabar Island is such a popular tourist destination, a ferry company regularly carries people between here and Pallet Town.” She pointed to the map's northwest corner of the island. “The ferry leaves from the Northwest Marina every day promptly at noon.” “Plenty of time to do that sightseeing we wanted,” Antoshi remarked to Fireball, who nodded in excitement. “Thank you again, Nurse Joy.” “No problem! We hope to see you again!” she said, waving to them. “C'mon, buddy,” Antoshi said, before the duo eagerly left together. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Having a few hours to kill, the two best friends ventured out on their own personal sightseeing tour. It was a crystal clear morning on the island, with just a slight breeze carrying the salty sea air. The rising morning sun sparkled through waving palm fronds over their heads. A small flock of Butterfree fluttered by, around a congregation of Metapod on some nearby palm trees. The tropical resort was warm and relaxing. It had a whole new shimmer to it in the early hours of the day. It was also more peaceful with far less people around than in the daytime hours. There were less skyscrapers in the direction they were heading, giving them a better view of the island's natural beauty. Antoshi deeply inhaled the invigorating breeze that carried the end of winter's cold. He sighed cheerfully. It was his favorite time of the year, even though his birthday was in the summertime. The harsh cold and snow had passed, leaving the air cool enough to keep the sky clear and sunny most of the time. The way Antoshi walked, so poised and confident, rubbed off on Fireball. He had always viewed Antoshi as a natural-born leader, ready to lead them marching to their next adventure. He always took them down the right path, and never let Fireball down. Much of his own inner strength was derived from the young Trainer's adamant confidence, resolve, and boundless excitement. A handful of passersby stared and chuckled at Antoshi's choice of attire, which in turn caused the duo to laugh amongst themselves, having fully expected such a reaction. The two stopped by a few shave ice carts along the way. They tried the unique, different flavors that varied between each cart's selection. Antoshi sipped his out of its paper cup while Fireball eagerly downed his in one gulp. He was very content about it, as brain freeze didn't affect him. Multitudes of shops, restaurants and malls lined the streets. There were large laboratories in the distance that were closed off to the public. Thoroughfares to them were for personnel only. Antoshi swallowed nervously as they passed by the same street across from the mailbox he'd destroyed. There was yellow caution tape wrapped around the small hole in the pavement left by him. He sighed, gazing down at his clenched fist. His powers had never gotten away from him like that before. It was a sure sign to him that he needed to keep it in check, otherwise people could get hurt next time. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Antoshi kept track of the time by asking people on the street and checking various town clocks along the way. "Maybe it's time for you to get a watch," Fireball joked. “We've done just fine this long without one,” Antoshi replied, smiling. “C'mon, we've got about an hour to get over to that marina before the ferry leaves without us.” "B-b-but what about lunch?!" Fireball asked in a panic. Antoshi hummed thoughtfully and looked around. He spotted a nearby cafe and pointed to it. “We can get some food to go from there, but let's be quick, okay?” "Roger that!" Fireball eagerly replied. The two shuffled safely across the street and entered the cafe. Just a handful of customers and their Pokémon sat inside as well as at tables just outside the establishment. The air smelled of coffee and freshly baked pastries. It was a scent powerful enough to make Fireball's bottomless belly rumble. Antoshi ordered a couple of sandwiches from behind a glass display. The proprietor bagged the food, Antoshi paid him, and the two exited with their lunch in hand. Outside, Fireball eagerly held his hands out. “Ah-ah,” Antoshi chided him, slipping his backpack off and placing it on an empty table. He stored their food away. “We're eating these after we get on the ferry.” "Well, what if … we went back in and got a couple extra sandwiches for the road?" “Come on, Fireball,” Antoshi replied, grinning, cinching his backpack over his shoulders. “The sooner we get to that ferry, the sooner we eat.” Fireball gasped. "Then let's hurry up!" he exclaimed, eagerly racing toward their destination. Antoshi laughed as he jogged behind his quick-moving friend. “Hey, wait up!” As they made haste toward the marina, a young adult man took interest in the pair. Leaning against the maw of a nearby alleyway, he calmly watched them shuffle on by. He spotted Antoshi's lei and outfit, indicative of a clueless tourist. He raised and eyebrow and smirked mischievously. He waited until they were a short distance away before casually stuffing his hands in the pockets of his leather aviator jacket and tailing them.
  10. A Blond Ray of Sunshine A young, upbeat Pokémon Trainer named Antoshi travels around Kanto collecting Gym Badges with his best friend and only Pokémon, Fireball the Typhlosion. When Fireball is kidnapped by Team Rocket, Antoshi unwittingly unlocks superhuman powers within him. With the discovery of these powers, and family whom he never knew before, his life starts to change dramatically as he finds out he is destined for much greater deeds. Author Notes 1) All general replies (“nice story”, “can't wait for the next chapter”) are cool, welcomed, and appreciated. I love hearing all feedback, so feel free to drop me a short comment! Constructive criticism is very much encouraged. I'm always looking to better my writing and make each story more entertaining and engaging. If you notice any errors — grammar, punctuation, plot — please do bring them up. You have the power to help shape this story into something even better! 2) Replies to your reviews here will be done in forum DM's, in an effort to reduce excess posts in this thread. 3) About the title of the story (because I've gotten this question in the past), it is not misspelled. 'Blond' is the male equivalent of the female 'blonde.' Thanks in advance for giving this story a read. I truly hope you enjoy it! Genre: Action/Adventure/Supernatural Rating: T - Violence and Mild–Moderate Language Current word count: ~41,000 (as of Chapter 7) ***** Quick Nav: Chapter 2 » Chapter 3 » Chapter 4 » Chapter 5 » Chapter 6 » Chapter 7 » Part 2: Sibling Rivalry » Chapter 9 » Chapter 10 » Chapter 11 » Chapter 12 » Chapter 13 » Chapter 14 » ***** ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ — Part 1: A Blond Ray of Sunshine — ⁂ ⁂ On the southern coast of Hoenn, a massive crater had been ripped into the earth. Twisted metal and rubble was strewn about, fires dotted the charred devastation. Water rolled in from the nearby ocean. Echoes of police sirens wailed in the distance. Slateport City had been entirely decimated. Nothing of the once-populous city was left. Millions of lives, humans and Pokémon, had been lost to the ashes. High above the remains of the city hovered two shadowy figures. The individuals surveyed the aftermath for a moment before disappearing in an instant. As word spread, as the police, military, and government personnel came to investigate, and as people grieved for those they lost, no evidence and no leads ever surfaced. The cause of the destruction remained unknown. It was as though the city had been torn away from existence for no reason at all. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ The otherwise quiet Sea Route 20 in Kanto gleamed under the bright, midday sun. Waves crested beneath a large yacht heading westward across the deep, electric blue. Its purpose was to ferry Trainers from Fuchsia City to Cinnabar Island. Upon it, a young Trainer named Antoshi held the railing with a childlike grin upon his face. He was a charming boy of twelve years old, with chestnut eyes and hair as yellow as the vivid petals of a Sunflora. 'A blond ray of sunshine' as his mother would call him, much to his embarrassment. His red polo shirt and tan shorts whipped around in the sea winds which offset the heat of the sun. “This is so amazing,” Antoshi remarked, seemingly to himself. Beside him, a much larger figure with half-closed eyelids and slumped shoulders groaned as it hung onto the railing for dear life. A Typhlosion, the Volcano Pokémon. "Sure it's nice," the boy's partner replied. "But why do boats have to move so much? Are we hitting a bunch of rocks?" It was speaking to him — an oddity that was unheard of for Pokémon who were not Psychic-types. An oddity that usually garnered strange looks and questions of sanity at the boy. Fortunately, the others Trainers were unable to hear them conversing over the ambient noise. Fun and adventure were the name of the game for Antoshi. For Fireball, it was about not getting seasick. It was the Typhlosion's first time on a boat. The motor and the sound of crashing waves against the hull were much louder than expected, intensifying his queasiness. “You'll be fine!” Antoshi reassured him, chuckling. “The ride shouldn't take too long. This boat's pretty fast.” "Too fast and too bumpy for me." “I could put you back in your Poké Ball until we reach shore.” "No, that's—" Fireball's eyes went wide with horror. The Typhlosion held a paw over his mouth and quickly made for the cabin. Antoshi smiled and heaved a sigh, certain Fireball would be all right. He gazed back out at the water, soaking in more of their brief trip at sea. The open waters and all they had to offer felt comforting. He had frequently spent his time camping out in the woods or sleeping in Pokémon Centers. The spring air, mixed with the salt of the sea, exhilarated him. It was not something they'd gotten very much of in their journey. They were on the cusp of new and exciting experiences in a locale they'd never been to before. Other Trainers watched from other parts of the ship. A mix of boys and girls, some young and some adults, all of them wearing backpacks similar to Antoshi's red one. A Plusle sat upon one of the girl's shoulders, while a Minun did the same on the shoulder of the boy next to her. They exclaimed behind him, pointing out a handful of Mantine breaching the surface of the water. He turned around with a look of awe-struck wonder to gaze upon Pokémon he'd never seen in the wild before. The Minun fired off a spontaneous electric attack at the Mantine, missing wildly. “Hey!” its Trainer scolded it. In front of Antoshi, the shimmering red and blue tops from a bloom of Tentacool and Tentacruel peeked out from the water. Common flying fish jumped alongside them. A small group of Hoppip drifted on the winds high overhead. He grinned and laughed, his spirit soaring, his heart swelling with joy. Fireball headed back outside to see his friend's excitement. Seeing Antoshi so cheerful rubbed off on him. The two had forged an unbreakable bond of friendship since Antoshi's childhood. Fireball was Antoshi's best friend and partner — his only partner. He was the only Pokémon accompanying Antoshi and the only one he felt he ever needed. Through their combined determination, grit, and some luck, the duo had found victory in most of their battles thus far — much to the chagrin of many of their opponents. After nearly a year and a half of journeying together, they were as close as brothers. For a moment, he saw a strange, red light envelop Antoshi's body. It was like a transparent flame, flickering with the winds. Fireball took his place by his friend's side. “Feeling better?” Antoshi asked. "I think so," Fireball replied with a groan. "By the way, you're doing 'that thing' again." Antoshi gasped in surprise, tempering his mood. The light seemed to recede back into his body. “I guess I got too excited. Did it look like … anyone saw it?” he added nervously. Fireball shook his head, taking a look around at the other Trainers and their Pokémon. "No, everyone's too busy looking at the water just like you are." The duo smiled at each other. The appearances of the boy's odd light had become somewhat common for the duo as of late. "I'm just glad we didn't eat before this." Antoshi laughed, prompting his friend to perk up and laugh along with him. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ A few hours later, the boat reached the marina of Cinnabar Island. After docking, the captain of the boat — a friendly and handsome young sailor named Sean — lowered the gangplank. He headed off first to tie down and anchor his vessel. Once secured, he guided the others to disembark as well. “Here we are, passengers!” he announced as they filed off the boat. “Welcome to Cinnabar Island! I hope you all enjoyed your ride here. If anyone would like to leave gratuity, feel free to do so. If you do, remember to keep enough money to buy food and supplies for yourself and your Pokémon! Good luck on your journey!” Most of the Trainers gave Sean a few thousand Pokédollars. He thanked each of them. A couple of the girls giggled and gossiped to each other while walking away from him. Antoshi also left some money, after he and Fireball were the last two off the boat. “Thank you so much,” Antoshi said to Sean. “It's no problem, sir,” Sean replied with a grateful nod. “Get out there and make your dreams come true.” Antoshi grinned confidently. He and Fireball departed, continuing their journey toward a brand-new location. Fireball walked on his hind legs alongside his friend. Being upright was not an issue for him, having become acclimated to it over the majority of their journey. Doing so also highlighted his abnormally tall height for a Typhlosion, standing at over six feet. While on his hind legs, he towered over Antoshi. The marina, situated on the east coast of Cinnabar, bustled with people and Pokémon chattering and walking every which way. Once they reached its exit, they gasped in astonishment. They were standing at the edge of a lush, sprawling tropical paradise bathed in the glow of the warm afternoon sun. The sand crunched under their feet as they traveled along a beachside pathway. Everyone appeared totally carefree, as if every day was just another day at the beach. Tall palm trees lined the paved streets flourishing with people, Pokémon, and vehicles. Amid the sound of the rolling tide, melodious squawks of parrots echoed in the distance. The duo and a few others stopped in surprise as a small cast of Krabby sidled across the path in front of them. Antoshi took the brief pause to look around with a wide, thoughtful gaze. The beautiful island was what he'd always hoped for when he became a Pokémon Trainer. Traveling to new places, seeing things he'd never seen before, absorbing other peoples' culture and way of life — it was all a huge part of the journey for him. They continued onward once the Krabby passed by. "Can we move here?" Fireball idly asked. “This place is really amazing,” Antoshi remarked. “Looks like we can do a little sightseeing here with the spare time we have.” Fireball's eyes widened upon spotting various food and snack vendors further down the path. "What about a little snacking, too? I see a cart over there selling ice cream!" Antoshi chuckled. “I guess your stomach has settled down already. All right, one ice cream cone.” Fireball grinned and fist pumped in victory. He started to shuffle ahead without Antoshi. The boy's heart sank with dread before he quickly stopped Fireball. “Wait, Fireball!” he exclaimed, grabbing Fireball's arm tightly. Fireball turned to meet the panicked expression on his friend's face. Antoshi quickly relaxed, smiled nervously at him. “Sorry, I didn't mean to shout. I just … want to make sure you don't … err, run off.” "Oh," Fireball replied, before the light of realization dawned upon him. "Ohh! I understand now. Don't worry, I'm not gonna run off on my own, Antoshi. I don't do that anymore!" Antoshi sighed and smiled in relief. They made their way over to the vendor together. Antoshi's journey through Kanto started out as an interest in seeing new places, as well as training Fireball, who was still a Quilava back then. Along the way, however, Antoshi had to curb his friend's unrestrained temperament. Fireball was prone to reckless fits of excitability and hostility, just like when he was a younger Cyndaquil. With only one Pokémon, they were forced to train almost constantly early on in order to succeed — far more than they would've if they had filled out their roster. As a result, Fireball's power, speed, and defenses rapidly grew to an incredible level. However, Fireball's newfound power made him even more disobedient. On more than one occasion, Fireball refused to listen to Antoshi's commands. The fear of Fireball being out of his control was something Antoshi never forgot. It stuck with him throughout their journey. “What can I getcha?” the ice cream vendor greeted them. He was a cheerful older man wearing an apron and straw fedora. Antoshi casually pointed to Fireball. “My friend here wants to choose.” “Buying a treat for your Pokémon? It's not often I see that! Most Pokémon don't … handle ice cream very well.” “Fireball can eat anything,” he replied with a smirk. Fireball hummed thoughtfully, looking over the different varieties from behind their glass cover. He gasped, frantically pointing at one. “Nice choice!” the vendor said, spinning an ice cream scoop in his hand. “One double chocolate-chocolate chip banana fudge swirl, coming up!” Fireball could barely keep still while he watched the man scoop out a big roll of ice cream. He centered it atop a waffle cone before handing it to the Typhlosion. Fireball's clawed fingers wiggled eagerly before he reached out and took it, staring at it in amazement for a moment. "Waffle… cone …" Fireball whispered in awe. "A cone made of my favorite food." “Anything else?” the man asked. “Water, please,” Antoshi replied. The vendor handed Antoshi a cold water bottle, made entirely of recyclable paper, from a storage compartment in his cart. Antoshi took his wallet out of his back pocket to pay the man, and the two continued on their way toward the city. Fireball took a long lick of the ice cream and savored it for a moment. He casually placed the whole treat — cone and all — into his mouth, loudly crunching on it. “So delicious …” Fireball remarked dreamily. “Thank you, Antoshi! I love this place already!” Antoshi grinned as he took a sip of water. He was happy to see Fireball happy. With the sun shimmering in their faces, they stopped briefly at a crosswalk. They looked around at the thriving city of Cinnabar. The streets were similar to what they were used to seeing in Saffron City, though nowhere near as noisy as their hometown. “This place really rebuilt and grew since the eruption destroyed everything,” Antoshi said, putting the cap back on his water. Both of them observed the colossal volcano looming in the distance. Fireball hummed thoughtfully. "You told me that was decades and decades ago, wasn't it?" Antoshi nodded in response. After crossing the street safely, the duo were absorbed into the crowd of pedestrians and Pokémon. “It's amazing to see how far it's come from starting as a small beach resort. I remember one of my schoolbooks showed pictures of what Cinnabar looked like before and after the eruption. It wasn't pretty but, because of it, the island is actually bigger and much more beautiful than it used to be.” "Guess that's why there's so many tall buildings and stuff." Both of them gazed upward, finding themselves in the shadows of those very high-rises that loomed overhead. “Well, let's go find the nearest Pokémon Center. After that, we can ask them how to get to the Cinnabar Gym.” "Oh, yeah!" Fireball exclaimed. "I'm ready!" Antoshi found a recycling bin to drop his empty water bottle into. A friendly robotic voice in the bin thanked him, followed by the sound of a powerful suction machine. He reached into the pocket of his backpack to retrieve his trusty travel-size Kanto compendium. He couldn't help but grin at how weathered it had gotten from heavy usage. It was his source of information for each city and the routes that they visited. Not only was it a map, but it also had directories, people and places of interest, as well as various other information like weather patterns and local Pokémon. With it, Antoshi was able to ascertain which way they needed to go to find one of Cinnabar's Pokémon Centers. They used the locations almost like home bases. The Centers allowed Trainers and Pokémon to reside in one of their available living quarters for up to twenty-four hours, free of charge. It also provided them with free food from their cafeteria, which was Fireball's favorite part of their visits. “Looks like it's only a few blocks away,” Antoshi said, leading his friend toward their destination. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Once the duo stepped through the Pokémon Center's automatic glass doors, they were greeted by a rush of cool, circulated air. Gentle music played over the intercom system. The splendorous main area was somewhat busy, though the buildings were always designed to feel at home. It was akin to an oversized living room with couches, tables, chairs, and a tall, curved glass wall at the front bearing its trademark 'P'. Handfuls of Trainers sat or walked around freely; talking, laughing, or playing with their Pokémon. Antoshi and Fireball headed toward the station counter to speak to Nurse Joy. The Center had a few available rooms left for them to stay in. Antoshi took his wallet out and handed Nurse Joy his Trainer Card, which she scanned to verify his credentials. The procedure marked the time and date of his last known location. The system allowed his parents keep track of him on his journey. She handed the card back to him along with a plastic key. “Please enjoy your stay here,” Nurse Joy told them with a warm smile. “Remember, supper is served at six, lights-out is at ten, and there is absolutely no battling allowed inside. We have a stadium behind the building for that.” Antoshi chuckled as he put his wallet away. He looked up at his friend with a smirk. “Yeah, we … get that at every Pokémon Center we go to. Fireball and I had a little incident back in Cerulean City. He used to have a temper problem when he was still a Quilava.” "Hey, that loudmouth Mudkip was asking for trouble," Fireball muttered, folding his short arms across his chest. Nurse Joy laughed quietly. “I was given an on-screen alert about it when I scanned your card. As long as you and your Pokémon don't cause anymore problems, you're in no trouble. All of us are simply required to inform you of that.” “Thank you very much, Nurse Joy,” Antoshi replied. “Come on, Fireball. Let's go get settled.” Fireball nodded and followed Antoshi down a nearby large hallway. Antoshi tapped the key against the scanner of the door of their room, prompting the door to unlock before they headed inside. The two sighed in content as Antoshi closed the door behind them. The room was small and sparsely decorated, yet cozy. Antoshi took off his heavy pack and placed it on the twin-sized bed before stretching his arms up high. “Now is as good a time as any to call Mom and Dad,” Antoshi said. “We should let them know we're doing all right.” "They sure do like to worry," Fireball replied. Antoshi laughed knowingly as they headed back out to the main area. He loved his parents, but they sometimes ended up being a little clingy. The pair found an unoccupied videophone for Antoshi to sit in front of. Fireball stood behind him and watched as the boy placed his Trainer Card against the screen, instantly lighting up with a list of his registered contacts. His list only had one, however. He tapped the 'Home' contact, and the phone dialed. The ringback tone played only once before his mother quickly answered. “Hello, Antoshi!” she cheerfully exclaimed, waving to him. “Hey, son!” his father added, standing behind her. Antoshi and Fireball waved back to them. “We got the alert a few minutes ago,” his mother said, “that you signed in to the Cinnabar Island Pokémon Center.” “You guys wait by the phone every time that happens, huh?” the boy asked with a jovial smirk. “Every time!” both parents exuberantly exclaimed. A few nearby people curiously turned to him after his parents' loud shout. Making a spectacle out of himself was not something Antoshi was fond of. He nervously lowered the call volume via a button on the screen's frame as covertly as he could, hoping his parents wouldn't realize. “How is it there?” his father asked. “I'll bet it's beautiful!” “It really is,” he replied with a nervous chuckle, before regaining his composure. “Fireball and I would love to stay and visit here longer, but the date of the Indigo League Tournament is almost here and we're so close to finishing our run. This is definitely the year we're going, Mom — Fireball and I can feel it.” “Oh, goodness,” she said, with pride in her voice. “I'm so excited and so nervous for you, Antoshi. I know you and Fireball are going to do your absolute best!” “We sure will,” Antoshi replied. He looked over at Fireball, who responded with a confident nod. “Well, we don't want to take up anymore of your time, Antoshi,” his dad said. “You know how clingy your mother gets,” he added with a guffaw. She cut her eyes at her husband before closing her eyes in defeat. “Okay, so I am a little clingy,” she admitted. The others laughed in response. She gave her son a warm smile. “That's only because we love you so much, Antoshi. It's always so wonderful when I get to see my big boy's shining face.” Antoshi turned red and chuckled coyly, looking around to make sure no one nearby heard her remarks that time. “We're always behind you one-hundred percent, Antoshi!” his dad remarked. “Love you both,” Antoshi said, grinning. “Talk to you again soon!” The screen displayed 'Call Ended' before turning off. Antoshi sighed happily. He got up, looking to his friend with a confident grin. “You ready to go for that seventh badge, buddy?” "Do you even have to ask?" Fireball replied with a smirk, sharing a quick fist-bump with his friend. With Antoshi's map stored away in their room, they headed over to Nurse Joy to ask her for directions to the Gym. She informed them to look for a large red building closest to the base of the volcano. Antoshi thanked her again, and the two were promptly on their way. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ On foot, it took the pair a couple of hours to reach the Gym. In the meantime, they experienced some more sights of the city. The late afternoon sun cast a cozy orange glow on their bustling new surroundings. They witnessed talented street performers and artists. They stopped to watch a group of hula dancers. The dancers flowed in sync with each other, as well as with the various forms of Oricorio in their troupe. Antoshi was taken by surprise when one of the dancers, a young lady, came up to him. He blinked incredulously as she placed a lei in the style of a Comfey around his neck — a common offering for tourists of the island. Fireball grinned, snickering as he watched his friend gawk, slack-jawed by her. She smiled at him, and Antoshi offered a timid smile of his own in response. His heart was pounding, his palms sweating profusely. She giggled and took her place back with the small dancing troupe. The duo walked away. "Antoshi has a cru~sh!" Fireball playfully said, with a cheeky grin. "Ask her to travel with us." Antoshi had been incredibly shy as a child, oftentimes too nervous to talk to new people. Making friends was troubling for him back then. Some of that shyness continued to carry over even as he grew — especially when it came to pretty girls. Fireball typically teased him about it whenever he could. Antoshi put his hands in his pockets and kept his gaze locked to the ground. “I am not going to ask her to travel with us,” he muttered. Fireball held back a chortle. "You should go back there and ask her on a date. I'll chaperone you." “Will you knock it off?” Antoshi snapped. Fireball burst out laughing while Antoshi stewed, growling to himself. Antoshi suddenly noticed one of his forearms glowing with his mysterious light. He gasped quietly, holding his arm behind his back to keep Fireball from becoming concerned. ‘Gotta relax,’ he thought, closing his eyes briefly. ‘Can't let my emotions get out of control. Just relax. Just relax …’ His hand rattled from the power that came with the light. He tried to restrain it, but it was surprisingly intense. The other people on the street seemed completely unaware of its presence. ‘Don't lose control …’ He clenched his eyes and strained, his forehead sweating, his heart palpitating. As he flexed his hand open, a bright fist-sized ball of red light suddenly erupted from his palm. It shot like a bullet across the street, striking a blue post box which caused it to explode violently. The people nearby stopped and screamed in shock as metallic shrapnel rained down onto the street. Partially burnt envelopes and packages scattered in all directions. "Whoa," Fireball remarked, looking at the aftermath just like the other passersby. "What the heck just happened?" He turned to Antoshi, finding him shuffling away in a panic. Fireball was stunned. It was unlike the boy not to make sure people were okay after such an incident. "Antoshi?" he said, catching up to his friend. "Don't you think we should check out what happened?" “They're okay,” Antoshi replied, visibly flustered. He offered his friend a thin smile before turning away to hide a guilty expression. “I saw them from across the street. Everyone's fine.” "Oh. All right. You picked up on that a lot faster than I did, then! What do you think caused it?" “I … I don't know. Could've been a prank, or … maybe something went terribly wrong.” Antoshi steadied his breathing and his nerves, continuing on with Fireball toward their destination. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ They were nearing closer to the Gym, prompting them to put on serious faces. Once the duo crossed another street, they stood before a modest, red building that simply read 'GYM' over its glass front doors. “Lucky number seven,” Antoshi remarked as they studied the building. “Let's go!” They marched confidently up to the automatic doors. Before the doors could slide open, the pair ended up walking face-first into the glass. They froze in place, dumbfounded, remaining pressed up against the doors. "Is it … closed?" Fireball asked, muffled by the glass. A computerized chirp resonated next to them. They peeled themselves away from the door to find a screen display lit up on the wall next to the door. “Welcome, Trainer!” the digitized female voice of a pixelated woman said. “This is the Cinnabar Island Gym! If you wish to challenge this Gym's Leader, you'll need to have sharp battling skills and a sharp mind! You will find monitors like this one throughout the Gym, situated in front of a set of locked doors. You are required to answer a question displayed on the screen by tapping one of the four multiple-choice answers, but you only have thirty seconds to make a choice! Get it right, and you may move on to the next room! Get it wrong or let time run out, and you will have to battle the Trainer stationed in each room to progress further. If you wish to keep your Pokémon in tip-top shape to battle the Leader, you'd best answer correctly!” After a brief pause, Fireball gazed over at his friend. "Is this what school is like?" Antoshi chuckled. “Yes, but with a bit less pressure. I just hope we come up with the correct answers to whatever—” “Question number one!” the digitized woman suddenly spoke, surprising the pair. “Which Gym are you at right now?” The screen displayed each choice, which included 'Cinnamon', 'Cranberry', and 'Cyndaquil'. "Does that one say 'Cyndaquil'?" Fireball asked. "Pick that one." Antoshi smirked before tapping on 'Cinnabar'. They were greeted with a green check mark and the sound of ringing bells. “That's correct! You may now proceed inside!” The doors slid open, granting entry to them. “Don't get too excited, though! The questions will only get tougher from here!” "Thank you, lady on the screen!" Fireball cheerfully said, waving to the computer. The pair headed inside and the doors slid closed behind them. They immediately felt tiny beneath the Gym's incredibly tall ceiling. The floor was patterned with red and white tiles. Everything was kept clean and shiny as if brand-new. They marched up a small set of stairs, which brought them to the first open room. A rotund man wearing loose clothes adorned with flame patterns sat on a chair near the monitor. He was in a class of Trainers called 'Firebreathers', due to their penchant of performing fire breathing displays before battles, as well as their affinity for Fire-type Pokémon. It was hard to tell at first due to his dark red sunglasses, but the man was actually sound asleep. They crept by in an attempt to let him sleep, until the loud monitor came to life. “Welcome, Trainer!” the digitized lady exclaimed, rousing the Firebreather awake. He yawned and stood up. From behind his back, he pulled out a Poké Ball, expanded it, and tossed it up and down while he stood by. “Which of the following is true?” the computer asked. Its display showed several choices. 'Fire is strong against Water', 'There are 9 certified Pokémon League Badges', 'Arbok evolves into Seviper', and 'Quizzes are fun!' Antoshi quirked an eyebrow. “This is a trivia question?” Fireball hummed in thought. "Seems tough," he remarked, looking over the answers. Antoshi shook his head in amusement, tapping the fourth answer. “Correct!” the computer told them before the next set of automatic doors opened. “You may move on to the next room.” As Antoshi and Fireball went ahead, the Firebreather shrugged and sat back down in his chair to resume napping. “Fireball, you can't read,” Antoshi said, once they were out of earshot. "Exactly my point!" Fireball replied. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Antoshi put his studious knowledge of Pokémon to use in the Gym. The many books he read on training, Pokémon biology and their natures all suddenly paid off. In his endeavor to gain information and maps about the Kanto region, he had subscribed to various magazines targeting Trainers. His studies and over a year of experience as a Trainer made the quiz questions fun. The questions did become progressively harder, as they'd been told. 'Where are wild Jynx found?' and 'Can Umbreon learn Sucker Punch?' There were also tricky questions like 'Does Magneton weigh as much as three Magnemite?' The time limit kept him on his toes. He remained calm and patient, studying each question and carefully choosing an answer. Each room's Fire-specialist Trainer was eager and ready to battle. As the boy continued picking correct answers, they were left with the dashed hopes of breaking the monotony. Antoshi was only focused on getting his one Pokémon through to the Gym Leader unscathed. After clearing a dozen quiz machines, the final set of automatic doors opened to reveal a large battling stadium. "Finally!" Fireball exclaimed. "I was ready to fall asleep like those Trainers back there." On the opposite end of stadium room, a person in a white lab coat laid napping on a sofa. The pair looked around as they approached the challenger's side of the field. The room was just as neat, tidy, and polished as the rest of the Gym. The slumbering Leader seemed to take very good care of it. They took their marks on the opposite end of a giant Poké Ball etched into the ground, poised confidently and ready for battle, waiting a short time. That short time turned into a minute. “I'll bet this is some kind of strategy,” Antoshi whispered to his friend. “All those trivia questions, then forcing us to wait patiently until they're ready. It must be a plan to wear us down.” Fireball nodded in agreement. Two minutes passed, then three, then four… As they continued to wait, their shoulders became slumped over from boredom. "Are you sure this is strategy?" Fireball curiously asked. “Absolutely not,” Antoshi replied flatly before clearing his throat. “Excuse me! Hello?” “Huh?” a feminine voice responded from the couch. The Gym Leader in the lab coat sat up and stretched, yawning loudly. “I didn't know there was a challenger. The sounds of battling usually wakes me up.” A girl in her teens with lightly tanned skin slowly got to her feet. She wore dark, black glasses and a conspicuous bald cap that did little to hide the long, orange hair that reached the small of her back. She sported a long, graying mustache on her upper lip. “I see now,” she said, stretching her sides. “You guys decided to do the boring, brainy route, didn't you? That's pretty dumb. Pretty smart, but pretty dumb. Most challengers to my awesome Gym like to actually get their hands dirty and battle as many of my Trainers as they can. Then I get to pick them off easy because their Pokémon are weak by the time they get here! Well, good job, I guess, 'Brainy'.” Antoshi was flabbergasted. “Err, … you require people to use those trivia machines. It even said outside that you have to have a 'sharp mind' to get through the Gym.” “Well, duh, I know that! People like you are so boring, though! A lot of the Trainers go through at least one battle here. Sheesh!” Fireball blinked curiously. "Is … that a mustache?" he asked, keeping his voice low. “I didn't even know girls could grow mustaches,” Antoshi replied. “It's not a real mustache, you stupid … person!” she stumbled, angered. She noticed the lei that Antoshi was wearing and suddenly became quite arrogant. “You're lucky I'm even entertaining a challenge from some goofy tourist who wandered inside my Gym.” Antoshi and Fireball looked at each other in confusion. “I'm not some 'tourist',” Antoshi countered. “I'm a Trainer with six badges!” “Blah, blah, blah,” she replied, mocking him with her hand. “So what? You've got six badges, but I don't see any extra Poké Balls on you. You're not going to get any farther with just one Pokémon.” Antoshi smirked. “You may be right about that, but, you're not the first person to tell us that, and you won't be the last we prove wrong! This is our life's work you're facing — our heart and soul—” Fireball interrupted Antoshi's dramatic speech, tapping Antoshi on the shoulder to get his attention. He pointed at the mustache on her face. “Oh, yeah. By the way, why are you wearing that … everything?” She folded her arms across her chest. “Ha! Of course you wouldn't recognize who I look like, you silly tourist!” “But, you just look like an old man …” Antoshi trailed off, recalling some famous Gym Leaders from one of his magazines. “Wait a minute, you're dressed like one of the people that used to run this Gym — Blaine!” She laughed haughtily. “That's right, Brainy! I happen to be his great-great-granddaughter! … In spirit,” she added, with an awkward cough. Antoshi and Fireball both quirked an eyebrow. “Okay, I'm not actually his descendant, but Blaine has been a hero of mine ever since I learned about the history of our amazing island and our legendary Trainers! I promised myself that I would become the most amazing and powerful Fire-type Trainer that Cinnabar has to offer, and guess what? I did! After the previous Gym Leader retired a couple months ago, I took his place, and here I am! I'm kinda new as a Gym Leader, but you're still in for a scorching battle! My name is Blaire — but you can call me 'Blaire the Magnificent'!” The duo blankly stared at her like a couple of stunned Magikarp. "That's … kinda cool," Fireball remarked, "and a little creepy, too." Blaire spun around on her heel in such a way that her long coat flapped dramatically. “So! Let's get the formalities out of the way! Who is this know-nothing tourist standing before me? A Trainer who foolishly wishes to face Blaire the Magnificent with one Pokémon?” “I'm Antoshi — a Trainer from Saffron City and, yes, I wish to challenge you for the Volcano Badge!” “Antoshi?” Blaire wondered aloud with a scoff. “That's an odd name like I've never heard before!” He smiled and shrugged. “I get that a lot.” “As per Indigo League regulations,” she said, “I'm required to inform you that if you lose this match, you can't request a rematch for another two weeks!” “I know that one by now,” Antoshi replied, briefly recalling some of their many losses at Gyms along the way. “Fine then, Brainy!” Blaire replied, grinning confidently, her dark sunglasses shimmering. “As the official Gym Leader of the official Cinnabar Island Gym, I — Blaire the Magnificent — do officially accept your challenge!” Blaire threw her first Ultra Ball up high with theatric flair. The ball opened in mid-air, a bright light bursting forth from it which took the shape of a large dragonlike Pokémon. As the light faded, an imposing Charizard landed on the ground with a heavy thud. It gave a roar, streams of flames erupting from its mouth. Blaire caught the ball as it returned to her person almost like a sentient boomerang. She held it at her side, smirking confidently. Antoshi's eyes lit up as he grinned eagerly. His blood raced with excitement while staring down his competition. “Starting off strong,” he remarked to himself, quietly. Fireball and Antoshi nodded to each other. “All right, Fireball — go get 'em!”
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