Curio and Shine made the familiar journey through to Ambrette, where they watched the sun sink down and the last of the Postmon making their rounds to various places, until they arrived at Tony's apartment where they were greeted with the master of the house lounging on the couch, bare-chested.
"Woah!" Curio said in mock surprise. "Cover your shame, man!"
Tony smirked as he shifted his body to leave some space for the two. "That's rich coming from someone that doesn't even wear clothes."
The two joined him, with Curio sitting on the opposite end and Shine sitting in the middle, sandwiched between them.
"Thanks for getting the delivery sorted," Tony said, "So how was it today?"
Shine opened his mouth to say he almost got killed protecting another Dragonite, but decided against it and swallowed his words. "Same as before. Petri's making progress already."
"Good to hear." His trainer coursed his hand through Shine's coat and twirled a particularly sticky strand of fur where the slime splattered. "And of course, it didn't take long for him to get familiar with you."
"It's not a big deal, I can always hose you down for a minute of two if need be. Speaking of which, your fur's looking a little grubby too, Curio. It'd be nice if you went in for a clean at some point."
Shine glanced at Curio, and indeed, there were several dark splotches on her blue and yellow coat, smelling faintly of mud.
"Yeah," she said, rolling her eyes. "Whatever, Dad. So what's for dinner? I'm effing starving."
"Well to be honest, I was banking on you two getting something at Adele's like last time, but screw it, I'll just order something."
"Is that fine, though?" Shine asked. "Wouldn't that be a bit expensive?"
"Eh, it's the weekend anyway, so screw it. How does that sound?"
And so, they browsed through whatever was available on Tony's phone, and after umming and ahhing about their choices for a few minutes, placed their order and waited until the doorbell rang not long after. A Pidgeot arrived with a bundle of food and waited for them to collect it before zipping away in the air, leaving the group to chow down on a mix of various cuisines in the dining room. For Shine, the air was thick with the smells of succulent meats, spices and sauces, and the tastes matched the scents, if a bit too greasy for his liking. Everything in moderation, he supposed.
"Sho," Tony said, chewing on some Miltank ribs, "I've got shome great newsh."
"Well," Curio said, pointing at him with a Farfetch'd leg, "Say it, don't spray it."
Tony swallowed before he continued. "The Primarina's awake and has recovered from the decompression chamber, but she's still being taken care of in the surgery unit. However, now this means you two can go in and ask whatever questions you like, since I know you've been curious all this time."
"Could we do that tomorrow?" Shine said. "Plus, Curio's been itching to see the aquarium, so could we go there on the way as well?"
"I woulthth shay ithing, buth..." Curio said with a mouthful.
"Yeah, that's fine," Tony said. "In fact, I was thinking we could make a day out of it. We could prepare something for lunch and have a nice picnic!"
"Heh." Curio picked something out of her teeth with a claw. "What, are we gonna play dress up as well or somethin'?"
"I wouldn't tempt fate," Tony said with a grin. "But that way, we can record some footage of you two together for some B-reel shots while we're there. Of course, I'll need paperwork from the both of you, confirming you can keep this matter private."
"I know, but it's important for me to be able to trust both of you, please. You only need to read the slips and sign, that's all I ask, and then you can fire away. Deal?"
"Deal." The two said in unison. Tony smiled as he took another bite.
"Now leth enjoy thith."
They finished dinner and left the messy kitchen behind to go back to the studio, where Tony did all the lighting preparations from before, alongside setting up his newly arrived equipment, before they started recording away for the third day with Curio on the couch.
"Continuing interview B, segment GeL, part two, take one. So, after the first year, I know the events of the second year were a little tough on all the subjects."
"Yeah," Curio said, frowning, "It was, something me and Shine know all too well."
"What did the second year entail in particular?"
"Well, the usual stuff. Like that old man said before, we had quite a lot of freedom this time around. I could finally focus on my art, which was great for me, and everyone else was encouraged to do their own thing and find out what sort of life they wanted to live. Some knew what they wanted to do right away, like Basil, and some were still finding their feet, like Shine. This would decide what we would focus on for the rest of the years there. So, on paper, that doesn't sound too bad. But..."
Curio paused, letting the echo-chamber of the room punctuate the silence. She waved a paw to Tony, gesturing him to respond.
"But," he continued, "what happened?"
"Something awful. Something truly awful."
"What is it?" Tony asked in a grave tone. Curio waited for a few seconds, then smiled.
"Puberty." She snickered, stifling herself with her paw, which Shine rolled his eyes at. "You know how much drama there is in some place like high school, or at least, from what I've seen in flicks and all that. It was kind of like that. Everyone's hormones start going crazy, and next thing you know, there's a psychic throwing chairs everywhere in the cafeteria. Good times." She crossed her arms and straightened her face. "Seriously though, it got hard in a few places. And unfortunately, not every student was really fit to be there, to be honest. But you'll put two and two together once you hear the rest of it. And Shine—" Curio glanced at the Luxray, who sat up, "I hope you're ready to talk about some stuff that happened to you, if you haven't already."
Shine nodded wordlessly, not wanting to say much until the timing was right.
"For now though, Tony, fire away on something less depressing."
(So after Cartwright's speech, I take it you did a lot with these newfound freedoms. What did you do in particular, and how does that tie into what decisions you made throughout the year?)
Hmm. Well, to start with, we were finally allowed to visit each other's bases in our own time, or even stay in them or switch around. Since they were no longer concerned about the wild grouping thing, they pretty much let us go wherever we wanted. Hell, this was apparent on the first day, when pretty much everyone in the domestic base moved into ours at once and set up camp. Basil mingled with the other wild Pokemon in our group while Pecha fawned over the cuter looking ones. Bran the Machoke sat under the shade, looking like he was about to doze off against one of the trees, the Roselia Lorelei started studying all the flowers with a magnifying glass, while P.Z. had his paws stuck on a handheld gaming thing with two screens. The only guy missing was that yellow devil. This came as a surprise to all of us, particularly me, as I went to Basil first.
"Um, hi," I said. "Are you moving in here now?"
"Well, maybe not," Basil said, "we'll see. If we're not wanted here, we'll move back."
"But," Floatsam said, in the middle of being pet by the Chansey, "I like you guys!"
Basil smiled. "I like you too. But, we're having some problems in our own base at the moment." He nervously tugged at his large tongue. "Um, it's about, erm-"
"Abraxas, 'kay?" P.Z. said, mashing the buttons. "He's bein' an ass again."
I groaned. "Isn't he always?"
"Even more of an ass. He won't pick his crap up, leaving notes everywhere and stuff, and keeps takin' up everyone's space." He stuck his tongue out. "That, and the way he talks just makes me wanna punch the MFer."
"Well," Basil said, still tugging, "I wouldn't go that far. He has his, um, redeeming qualities. He can be quite helpful whenever I'm stuck on one subject. Even though he insults me for it."
"Pretty sure that ain't helpin'," P. in. "Just stickin' his snout where it don't belong."
"Perhaps." Basil sighed, looking defeated. "But anyway, we all agreed to give him some room. Maybe we aren't enough for his dizzying intellect."
"Hmm," Bran said, sitting up, "I think you are too kind to him, Basil. You shouldn't let him take advantage of that."
"Ah well, I like to give every Mon a second chance."
"What works best for you." Bran put his arms behind his back and closed his eyes, making himself at home already. Anyway, I sort of felt happy that I'd be mingling with my friends from the other base, even if Pecha had a habit of tugging on my aura sensors and calling me cute. Okay, granted, I was, but still, a sense of personal space never hurt anybody.
I wouldn't have really mentioned this if it wasn't for M. Well, M wasn't there at the base at first, but when everybody else came in, he suddenly appeared with that Manectric leading him into the base. Aside from Shine and Patches, Bolt was also M's tutor, though I didn't know why at the time. What struck me as odd at first was how Bolt looked at M with concern, something even Liam would've done whenever he caught me and my brothers in the aftermath of a nasty scrape. And he had a right to be concerned, as I felt it too when I saw M's marks. Faded scratch marks and bruises covers his face and torso. I say faded because they must've been treated as soon as they found him in that state, but the fact those scars appeared on his body in the only places he could've reached with his own paws rubbed me the wrong way. With a wordless sigh, Bolt led him to his usual sitting spot, eyed me once, and left the room. We stared at M curiously, wanting to ask about those weird marks, but not plucking up the courage, knowing his behaviour. At least, not until Pecha stepped in, offering a paw.
"Aw, do you need some help? There, I'm gonna make it feel all—"
Before it even happened, Basil pulled her out of the way, saving her from being bopped on the head with a sudden bone club.
"Alright!" Basil said in shock, "Settle down!"
He didn't respond to that and stood in his battle stance, eyeing the two. M was about to swipe at them again when I yanked on his paw, drawing his attention towards me. His eyes were hollow and deep, like a part of him wasn't there anymore. I wanted him to come to his senses, and so, trying anything to see what would work, I slapped him across the face. To my relief, his eyes looked normal again, and he seemed aware of what he did as he dropped the bone club. Basil and Pecha, though, still looked cautious.
"Maybe we should give him some space, Pecha, shouldn't we?" Basil said.
"But he looked so hurt…"
"Yes, I know, but there's not much we can do. I would just keep your distance from now on, alright?"
She looked at M once more before nodding. While she wasn't really satisfied about it, Basil did a good enough job at convincing her that she forgot M's presence and moved onto petting Fernes behind the ears. I turned to M, leading him to a corner of the room, and glared at him.
"What's wrong with you, huh?" I said. "Why'd you try and hurt my friends?"
He stared down at his feet, aura still as opaque as ever, but still clearly guilty. "Sorry. Got startled."
I didn't want to prattle on about it, any more, so I just brushed it aside and said okay, letting him go back to his own spot. I didn't bother to ask him about those injuries either, though I know I should've in hindsight.
(I see. And the director mentioned that you'd be able to pick your own topics to study as well. What did that entail?)
Well, there was the selection day that decided all of that, for starters. I'm sure you went through something like that at some point in whatever school you went to. But anyways, we were called into the battle arena, which was arranged so that some of the staff Pokemon had their own desks where they could work, and would wait for us to hand in our interest sheets so we could have an in-depth chat on what to do. We were told to write down what we had in mind for our future paths, and most of us got on fine since most of us learnt how to read without fail and could write to a certain extent; even the ones that weren't bipedal used their freaking mouths to write. I couldn't imagine doing that myself to be honest, although these flesh mittens aren't really the best to write with anyway. I knew what I wanted to do at the beginning, so I was confident I could follow a certain path and stick with it.
The others, not so much. We were gathered in groups while we waited to be called by the staff, so I got a chance to see what everyone else was doing. From my base, Hans kept staring at the sheet, scribbling and rubbing things out with the pencil as he gripped it with one of his tails. He had stuff written down from drumming to volleyball, but nothing very concrete and focused. I glanced at the other subjects in my base. The rest seemed to do fine, and by the rest, I meant Floatsam and Fernes, who chose firefighting and history respectively. The other two, well, Gastly wasn't there for obvious reasons. It's not like a spooky ball of terror really has plans other than to, you know, spook stuff. Most surprisingly, or not surprisingly depending on how you look at it, M was there, but he didn't even have a sheet on him. He just stared at the turf, looking like quite the sorry Marowak there. His aura was tense, though with it being so hard to look into, I couldn't pin down why. Before I could make out more of it, Shine rubbed against me, holding the sheet in his maw.
"Oh hey," I said, rubbing his head. "What's up?"
He spat it out and looked rather downcast as well.
"Oh, nothing. I'm just a bit worried."
"You're always worried," I said. "Loosen up a bit."
"Yeah, I know, but—" His mouth trembled. "Oh, I don't know what I'm going to do. All I put down was reading and learning about stories. How is that going to be of any use?"
His aura was filled with concern, and that sort of rubbed off on me, but I tried to smile and deflect that tense energy.
"Did you wanna pick that?" I said.
"Yes, of course. It's just, everyone else is doing something important, like scouting for injured Pokemon, or doing flower science, or cooking, and look what I'm doing!"
"Well, I just picked art, and that's not really important. Least I don't think so."
"You always seem so sure of yourself," he said, then scratched at his little mane. "Oh, why can't I just be like that too? Each time I talk, I always screw something up!"
"Oh, quit beating yourself up." I rubbed at his head. "Keep talking like that and I'll end up shocking you like Patches as well."
"But, you can't even learn Electric moves!"
"Yeah, I know. It's called a joke."
"Oh." He faced away from me and kept silent after that. Even without my aura, I could tell he wanted to get away from that situation. Part of me felt guilty for that little comment, but I didn't dwell on it and zoned out for a little bit, until…
My tail jolted in excitement and I sprang towards the selection desk, where I had to be lifted onto the chair to even be able to talk face to face with the Assistant Director, who was of course, Lucy the Gardevoir. There was a sharp sense to her aura and a confident smile as well. Confident as she was, I couldn't imagine that frilly dress being very comfortable to wear for her type, especially with that chest spike of her own. What is it with us two legged Pokemon and spikes?
"Well, hello again," she said. "I hope you're doing well, Curio. I know things might've been a bit difficult without your family around."
"Uh huh." That kind of opened up an old wound, though I didn't want to call her out on it since she was the one that had to break the news. "It's kinda better now though. Thanks for asking."
"Of course. I was the one who nominated you for the awards in the recent ceremony for your troubles, by the way."
"Okay," was all I could say. Wow, I really had a lot of interesting stuff to say then, didn't I? Still, it was a little awkward, and that ceremony wasn't exactly the Combee's knees, but I knew I was there to hand in my stuff so I could talk about my interests. I placed the sheet and sketchbook on the table, which she took in her leafy hand and examined with an intense focus, flicking through the pages. My work wasn't really a masterpiece, so I didn't have very high hopes for what she'd think, but I knew I was there to learn and would take anything she had to say on the chin. And once she was done, she closed the sketchbook and gazed back at me.
"You said you wanted to draw, hmm. I know you've been doing a lot of that in the first year, and I'm pleased you've gone this far with your hobby. We wouldn't have ordered more sketchbooks if that wasn't the case. But, these drawings have lots of room for improvement, unfortunately."
I read between the lines and took the hint that my drawings were still pretty bad, but no matter, I wasn't expecting to be showered with praise. "I know." I showed my paws to her. "There ain't a lot I can do with these. But I know I wanna do it anyway, cuz it feels good."
"Understandable. I'm sure your writing classes must've helped, however, art theory is another thing aside from penmanship. Still, we can teach you, so you can work within your limits. But what is your goal? Do you want to just be good, or do you want to aim for the stars?"
"I dunno. I'm just a Pokemon, so it's not like I can do cool things like, I dunno, be a famous drawer or painter or whatever."
"Don't be silly, girl." She leaned forward and smacked her leaf-like paws on the table. "You're in Gestalt Learning, we have the means to make you into what you wish. If I gave up when I first started as a Ralts, I wouldn't be here right now. Think bigger than that and go even further. If you wanted to be a painter, there are some Pokemon like you who've had their works put up in galleries already, so why not aim for that?"
I was left speechless. Truth be told, that was a bit of a morale booster, especially after all the uncertainty surrounding my mates, but being encouraged to do something that big, surprisingly enough, made me feel small. She must've seen I was nervous, so she backed away and her expression softened, looking less like she wanted to tear out my heart and eat it.
"Ahem. Your human partner is Lexy, isn't he?"
"Um, I think so?" We were often assigned whenever I had a review session, where I'd test my language skills and chew the fat about whatever we wanted, but it hadn't been made official.
"Mmm, hmm." She grabbed a pen and scribbled in notes, focusing hard on the paper as if she was trying to read its mind. "I'll see if I can arrange a trip with you and him. You'll be able to go into the outside world, see for yourself what's possible, and also discuss it with someone who's had his fingers in a few pies, so to speak."
My jaw dropped when she mentioned the outside world. Ever since I got the photo album back from Mom, I often dreamed about going to the places they visited and walking the streets like we were tourists on vacation. We hadn't set foot or paw out of the facility ever, so being given the chance to like that was like getting a brand new games console for Yuletide, if that's what humans usually get.
"Really?" I stood up on the seat and wagged my tail in excitement. "I'm gonna go out, like, out out so soon?"
"Yes. On two conditions. One." She held out one finger. "Stick with Lexy at all times and be on your best behaviour. No straying away or, his whiteness forbid, pee on anything that isn't yours. If you're to be like a human, you have to set an example. And two." She held out the other finger. "Don't talk about Gestalt Learning in public, not to your partner or to random strangers. Nobody here is allowed to reveal their ties to this project for any reason whatsoever."
Her intense gaze returned, as well as that sense of unease from when I first met her. "Let's not get into that right now. I don't want to worry you too much, but trust us, it's very important that you be careful of what you say in the outside world. Can I trust you to follow these conditions?"
I was about to say something else, but in the end, I just nodded, sensing I had to change the subject. Not that the thought left me, just that it was hard to press her on it when she had more power over me. Still, she relaxed and smiled in turn, letting me know that I was in the clear.
"Your tutor will let you know when you can go, but in the mean time, think about what you'd like to do. I'll see you around."
I leapt out of my seat and dashed through the hallway. I skipped as I ran, and would've shouted my lungs out if I felt like it, just to express my excitement. I didn't care where I went, as we were allowed to roam the hallways as we pleased for our second year, so I got that out of my system before I slowed down to a brisk pace and walked back to my own base.
Aside from that, the next few days were uneventful until I was called by one of the mediators to go to the security doors. There, that Machamp Henry stood guard as Lexy waited there, greeting me along the way.
"Right," Henry said, crossing his four arms. "You're headin' to a public place, so I gots words for both of you." He turned to Lexy first. "Keep a close eye on her, you hear? Might be her first time, so if anythin' happens while she's out, it's your funeral."
Lexy nodded, nonplussed. The Machamp turned to me next. "And you, no runnin' around wherever you wanna. You'll be walkin' with lots of humans, but you'll be indoors, so you'll be safe. If you goes wanderin' off on your own, though, I don't think Miss Gardy'll be pleased. Got that?"
"R-right!" I mean, how else would I have reacted to a four armed behemoth like him? He probably could've snapped my limbs off like Miltank Jerky if I got on his bad side again. I took his word though, and when he sensed we were both clear on the risks involved, he smiled and drew out a Pokeball.
"You know, it'll be a blast goin' with you. They have a thing on famous Machamp pants and belts, don't they?"
Lexy nodded. I internally scoffed at the idea, although I wasn't entirely sure how to picture an exhibit on those thing, especially if that thing about their pants being skin is true. Oh yeah, everybody come and check out the skin exhibit. Sounds like a great way to bring the kids and Pokemon together. But whatever. Machamp presented the ball to me, and once I touched it, I got sucked in, staying in that void for what felt like an eternity before I got taken out.
Once I emerged from the white light, I was presented with the insides of a fancy looking building. That's the only thing I could've called it at the time, but thinking closely, it was wide and spacious, with all sorts of marble pillars holding it up, as well as staircases and pathways leading to different rooms. In the middle of it all was a sign that read 'Veilstone Museum of Natural History and Pokemon Curiosities', and below that, the skeleton of an Aerodactyl, which creeped me out at first. It was a bit unnerving looking at something that used to have eyes and a face, now reduced to bone. But I got used to it, and I was given enough time to adjust to my surroundings until our quad-armed tour guide cleared his throat.
"Alright, you're free to tell me where to go and whatever floats your Gogoat, but otherwise, the both of you need to stick with me. If anyone gets lost, it'll be my neck on the line too. Is that clear?"
We both nodded and facedd the main hall. My heart was pounding. There were a few humans, walking in and out, some who glanced at our direction. I'm not sure whether or not it was the Machamp talking, or the sight of us three, but it must've attracted some attention. I might've peed my pants if I had any to begin with. But Lexy must've seen the look on my face, so he leaned in and gently squeezed my paw.
"You'll be fine; it's a hella nice place. See anything you like and we'll check it out, okay?"
I just nodded. At that point, I had learnt enough to hold my own in a conversation, but seeing how things were, I thought I'd soak in the atmosphere and get used to everybody's auras before mustering up the confidence to talk. He started walking, and I followed after him into the first room, which had a lot of cool things like exhibits of small Pokemon skeletons, photos of different Pokemon in the wild, clips of them in their natural habitat projected on the walls, and the like. The skeleton in the hall gave me a taste for what was to come, so I was a little less nervous going into the rest. Still, I wouldn't have blamed Lexy if he was a little concerned.
"To be honest, this part gives me the creeps. If you want, we can go some place else."
"It's good, that's inside me!" I said, patting my chest. "I'm all bone!"
He chuckled, and we continued staring at dead bodies from there. Out of context, that'd probably sound weird, but oh well. We wandered around some more, navigating the different rooms, where we got to see how the earth was formed, big whoop, but while we walked, I kept thinking of why I was there in the first place, looking at things that probably would never come into play in my own life, or why people paid money to visit such a place.
Okay, they were all stupid questions, none of which I had answers to at the time, but think about it. They all added up to record some part of history, which was important to look back on, but of all the things I saw up until that point, pretty much all of it was written and achieved by humans or done by natural events. Pokemon affected the world in all sorts of weird ways, from sometimes causing earthquakes and tsunamis, but if anything, all that showed to me was that we were still dumb animals that didn't know what we were doing. There was nothing about us making big decisions like running towns or regions of our own or coming up with war strategies or whatever.
What was the point of me, a Pokemon, coming to visit if I couldn't make a mark myself? History was written by the winners, after all, and we never really won anything aside from battles started to settle disputes or to progress wars for other causes that weren't our own. Not a lot of us could even write to begin with.
My first burst of confidence in that museum was seeing a vaguely spiked statue in one of the corridors. I recognised that shape immediately and tugged on Lexy's shirt.
"Oh, you wanna see that? Sure, lead the way."
I glanced at him, unsure of leading my human partner forward instead of it being the other way around, but I walked through the cold, smooth floor, until I was face to face with a bronze Lucario statue. They posed just like Trunks did whenever he charged up his aura, and gleamed in the lamplights above. At the bottom, there was a plaque, which Lexy read out to me.
"This is based off of the Tower of Mastery statue in Shalour City, Kalos, currently the world-record holder for the biggest Lucario statue at 100m high. The original statue was commissioned by Elite Four member Fabienne Durand in 1942, back in the long-done days when members of the Elite influenced the political sphere. Made in honour of his Lucario, who served under him for 43 years before sadly passing away. In order to preserve his loyal Pokemon's memory, 120 different artists were hired to build the statue in a matter of 12 years, and the rest is history. To this day, the Tower of Mastery remains a popular tourist spot, as well as a source of inspiration for trainers and their Pokemon."
I didn't really pay that much attention to what he said, since I was just so entranced by the actual statue itself. I wanted to know how it was made, and how to make it. It seemed bigger and more tactile than drawing, and when I thought about how I would create it, the process seemed more satisfying than being confined to a flat surface. Of course, I knew jack all about sculpting, but if I was in a place where I could've learnt about it, why not own it?
Lexy must've noticed how my face glowed, so he knelt down and patted my shoulder.
"You like him, huh?" he said. "Seems like the sort of strong Pokemon you'd look up to."
"Kinda! I wanna make that statue!"
He seemed puzzled at first. The idea of a Pokemon learning to sculpt must've been new to him, but I didn't know whether he was enthusiastic or sceptical. Judging by his aura, he seemed optimistic, but I wasn't so sure.
"Can I make that?" I nervously rubbed my paws together. "Can Pokemon make that?"
"Sure you can, kiddo," Henry said. He gave Lexy a gentle nudge with his elbow, which got him out of his stupor.
"Okay, it's possible, I guess. Hold on, let me find something..." He paused and unfolded a pamphlet. "There's one place upstairs that shows stuff like Pokemon Outsider Art. Huh, now this has got me curious, too. Curio. Curious? See what I did there?"
"Bad joke," I said with a glare. "Sounds cool, though. Can you take me?"
He nodded and led the way up to an elevator. Once the double doors opened, Lexy navigated through the corridors with his map, until we entered a small room where the exhibit supposedly was. The space was cramped with many different oddments scattered about, but once I got used to it, I looked at each item with enthusiasm: An abstract painting with many different odd colours and strokes. A realistic painting of various Pokemon in a wild habitat. Odd curios made from different pieces of collected junk. And even a poem, which I can't recall at the top of my head, but remembered how nicely it flowed and how it reminded me of Mom's old stories.
All of them were made by Pokemon of different species and walks of life. Some were actually a bit old, but most were fairly recent. There was even a poster talking about the Smeargle Palette outside the Ruins of Alph, but I shouldn't get sidetracked about that yet.
Point is, I took notice of everything there and it got me inspired. Even though it was a small selection, out of many yet to be discovered, I wanted to be a part of that world. If there was any way I could make my mark on history and be the kind of Pokemon that stood out from the crowd, I would make something that was worthy of being gawked at by random strangers. You could say I sold out already, and that I just wanted attention, but what else was there for me to do aside from serve a trainer for the rest of my life? From there, I had a goal, and I would do whatever it took to fulfil it.
Lexy stretched his arms. "I could do with some coffee. You wanna stop by for a break? I can treat you to some cocoa there."
"Ah no," Henry said, pulling out his own wallet. "Don't waste your money on her. Whatever she wants, we'll pay from our own pockets. You'll still pay up for yours though."
Money was still pretty alien to me, and admittedly, it was odd to see another Pokemon with a wallet, but whatever. It wasn't completely farfetched from what we were taught, and Lexy shrugged it off. Anyway, we all sat at a cafe with everything ordered, and I guess there wasn't too much to talk about the room itself except that a few Pokemon were already out with their own trainers, happily munching on whatever their trainers bought them or in their own corner of the room with climbing frames of their own, not unlike the GeL base. I almost leapt off the seat to join them when Henry firmly gripped my shoulder, stopping me.
"Sorry, kiddo," he said, "We oughta keep talkin' to outsiders at a minimum."
I was still a bit sceptical about it, but again, the four armed monster had the final word over a scrawny token Riolu. For now, I just enjoyed their company while I helped myself to some of that smooth chocolaty bliss.
"So," Lexy said, "I saw you liked that thing we just visited."
"Yeah!" I said, wiping the chocolate flakes off my face, "I wanna do what they did! I'll have my stuff up there soon!"
He smiled with an aura that felt genuine and not patronising. Then, a question whizzed past me, so I gulped down my cocoa and planted my paw on the table.
"What do you do?"
He cocked his head. While my speech skills were good at the end of the first year, I still had some issues with expressing what I truly meant. I guess I was kind of like Fernes, in a way.
"Oh, I mean, you're a student too! What do you do?"
"Ah, I see. Well, at the moment, I'm in Veilstone University, which is kind of like a school, except bigger. Stop me if you want me to explain anything."
"I'm studying for a doctorate in Pokemon Behavioural Studies-"
I raised my paw.
"Doctorate? Like you're cutting Pokemon open? Don't dissect me!"
"Oh jeez, no! I'm not a doctor, I meant, doctorate. It's like an advanced course where you get to work in whatever job you want to at the end of it. It's really hard, but it's also really rewarding. To be honest, I've wanted to do something like this for ages. The thing that director's doing hasn't really been done anywhere else. He's got big dreams, you know, and he's a great contact. Apparently, he—"
"Shut it," Henry said, pointing at him with his protein bar. "Remember, we can't talk about it here."
I groaned, still a little frustrated that Henry was being so hush-hush about it, but still, no use arguing.
"Oh, right, sorry. Maybe later. Still, we're working with lots of prestigious professionals. They're making lots of good contributions to—"
"Don't use big words!" I pulled away from him. "You're confusing me!"
"Right, right, sorry." He sighed and drummed his fingers on the table. "I kind of forget you're a Pokemon sometimes. You've already got this conversation thing down pat, you know. You should be proud."
"I am. It's how Mama and Bro would've liked!"
"Right." He frowned, and swirled some sugar into his coffee. "Do you still miss them?"
I cocked my head. "Sometimes. I think I have a new family now. That's enough for me."
"Yeah, sounds good." He frowned. "I get a lil' homesick myself, you know. I like what I'm doing, but they're back in Eterna, doing what they wanna do, while I'm probably the only guy from our clique who's coming out here every day."
"Have friends here?"
"Hmm, I've made a few with the other students. We study together and all that. But it's just not the same, y'know?"
I paused, digesting what he said. I pointed to myself.
"Am I a friend?"
His eyes widened. "Well, yeah, I guess. I enjoy the time we spend together, after all."
"So, you're not alone!"
Lexy scoffed, and stifled a laugh with his fist. He held my paw with the other hand, and I felt something spark inside of me. While my thoughts of humans had been a bit discoloured from Liam's ramblings, that one seemed just fine. He listened to me and seemed to support me without being overbearing. That aura seemed friendly as well. I didn't care whether or not it was instinct; something told me it was worth sticking with him, and possibly, be friends with him as well. Right there, a door opened within me.
That's when white light flashed around me. Sort of like I was being put inside that Pokeball again, except not. My form grew and expanded in places I wouldn't have expected. My tail grew in size. Spikes stuck out of my paws and chest. My head got bigger, as well as my aura sensors. None of it hurt, but it still felt weird, like my soul was being molded and sculpted to fit the image of some higher power. Once my sight returned to normal, I noticed I stood taller than Lexy. Just to confirm what happened, I also looked down at my paws, which were properly spiked this time.
I had grown. I had changed. I had evolved into a Lucario.
So, with that in mind, pop quiz. What do you think happens to a Lucario getting used to their powers in a room with lots of other people's auras?
(I can imagine it would be hard to adjust to.)
Yup, a gold star for you. When I first felt it, lots of other people's thoughts flooded into mine. This is just a sample of what was on the spiritual menu:
Oh, that Riolu just evolved.
Damnit, where did my kids run off to?
How am I going to pay this month's rent when I've lost three matches in a row?
Why did I decide to become a trainer?
I need to be strong for my team.
Why can't my trainer listen to me?
None of those thoughts were very delicious. They were all screaming for equal attention, and so, when it came flooding back to me, I didn't know what the hell to do. I backed away, but my paws wobbled and I must've fell since that Machamp caught me in two of those chiselled arms of his.
"Alright, alright," he said, rubbing my head with one of his other arms. Admittedly, that felt weird knowing someone petted me with a third hand, but at least it distracted me from the aural chaos in the room. "Congrats for evolving and all, but I knew this would've mind's all muddled, ain't it?"
Not sure how to react, I just nodded.
"Thought so." He gently lowered me to the floor and pulled the Pokeball out, much to my dismay. "Sorry, but I'm gonna have to call it here." He turned to the human. "I think your schedule's clear, so you're free to go."
"Uh, right, but—" Lexy approached me with an aura of concern. Well, that set me off again. He had a lot of concerns really, but I'll get to that later. "Can I help, or something?"
"Not unless you fancy a trip all the way back there."
"Well, maybe not. But I guess I can count this as an early day off." Before he went, he crouched to my level and smiled. "If you wanna, you can come talk to me anytime, even outside the lessons if I'm around. How's that sound?"
I distracted myself from everyone's thoughts long enough to coax some sort of reply. "Good."
"Alright, take it easy." Hearing that from him again was kind of calming, but then he left, and I was on my own with the hulking mass. He helped me up again, I must mention, with those muscley arms, and held out the Pokeball within my reach.
"I don't wanna force ya in here. Only when you're ready."
I took one final look at the rest of the museum, still unable to block out the thoughts of the humans and mon around me, and tapped the Pokeball.