The band played the rest of their set, and while Curio and Pikachu still carelessly danced in the background, Shine had long since tuned out. He buried his head in his paws, deep in thought as he went over his potential battle strategy.
In terms of movesets, the two would be equally matched, as their types weren't stronger than the other. If it was just a battle of rock paper scissors, he would have no issue, however, he was up against a Lucario. He was already handicapped from the start as he couldn't wield the power of aura, and his golden vision was useless against a Pokémon that could read his mind.
Most importantly, he wasn't up against just any Lucario, Shine was up against Curio, and although he only remembered bits and pieces about their matches in GeL, she always had the upper paw somehow, even before that metal arm of hers. No matter what strategy he could devise beforehand, that would surely be overturned in an instant, but then again, if this was life or death, she probably would've ended it there by impaling the opponent with her spikes. He would just have to see for himself what the odds were when the fight actually started.
His stomach tied itself together into knots. This was going to be one long day.
After the crowd applauded for what seemed like minutes, the band exited the stage, and the rest dispersed leaving only a few remaining, including Curio who conversed with Pikachu. Shine tilted his head to try and listen in, but before he could make out what they were saying, Curio stood up, gestured to Pikachu and left through the forestry. Shine stood too, and sighed. Going after them was a waste of time; he wouldn't be able to negotiate with Curio even if he chased after her. He was going to have to wait until the match to meet her again.
Shine turned to his group, who all looked at him expectantly.
"Is everyone going then?" he said.
"Do we have the time for it?" he asked, to which the trainer nodded.
"I guess it's only a quick match. We're in."
"Well," Quilladin added in his own tongue, "It would be nice to see which ass ends up getting kicked. Count me in too."
"I could care less," Leafeon said, "But if it gets me away from that reeking farm, I'll shoot."
It was settled. The group made their way out of the venue and led Shine on the way to the battle park, talking little as they did so. They strolled through the same path Shine did before, which still had the scent of vanilla in the air, then took the familiar route to the town square, and ventured further into the city depths through a road which branched off into several junctions. Finally, they took the second one on their left, which led to the battle park.
Usually, the battle park consisted of dozens of spaces in the big cities where there were gyms and only one dozen in the towns. Dendemille was just as small, even smaller than that as there were only eight spaces. It was still huge however; a small battle park could've easily covered the size of a large stadium with many other facilities included other than the arenas. Although the population of a small park could easily reach the hundreds in their peak, when it approached evening, the numbers usually dwindled as a lot of arenas were left empty.
However, out of the eight, it was easy for Shine to pick out which one was his, and what he saw further tangled the knots in his stomach.
Dozens of people sat in the auditorium circling the arena. When Curio mentioned lots of people would be there, Shine could scarcely believe it, but when he saw it for himself, he realized how determined she was to pursue this battle. With each step he took, the crowd grew louder, and he was eventually faced off with the long, straight path that led to the arena. Who else would be there but Curio, doing various warmup stretches in the centre of the stage? Pikachu sat at the front row behind a fence, alongside several other Pokémon of various sizes he hadn't seen before. He even saw Luccy staring intensely at the stage with his trainer, sharing a bucket of popcorn between them. The referee stood beside Curio, standing in for the other contestant to come in.
Shine's heart pounded against his chest. Once he stepped into the arena, there would be no going back with so many people watching their match. He turned to his group who were all heading the other way to their seats, except for Barley who walked towards him.
"Well," he said, "Me and my trainer wish you good luck. You're certainly gonna need it."
Shine couldn't help but chuckle, releasing some of his pre-battle tension. "I guess so."
Soon enough, they were gone too. Shine took a deep breath, and padded over to Curio as the audience watched him enter from afar. Try as he might have, Shine couldn't ignore the presence of the crowd Curio gathered. The knots pulled taut. When he approached Curio, she didn't look him in the eye, only staring at the referee, who looked back and forth between the two.
"Are your trainers with you?" he asked.
"Who said I needed to bring a trainer with me?" Curio said.
"Ah, you talk," he said, stone-faced. "And what about this Luxray?"
"Um, I left him at home." The referee scratched his head before shrugging it off and turning on his speaker mic, making feedback echo in the arena.
"Trainers of all ages, we have a very unique match lined up for this slot. This is a one versus one match, but neither of these Pokémon are present with their trainers here. This isn't the first time it's happened in this park, so I've heard, but it's been a while since we've gotten something like this." He presented a slip of paper from his pocket.
"Going by an educated guess, this Lucario over here is named Curio, and this Luxray over here is named Shine. Since this is a special case, we might as well go over the rules.
"Since there is no way to calculate which moves you'll be using, as you won't be given commands, there is no limit to your moveset, assuming you have more than four. You two seem evenly matched, so I will deem this a fair fight scenario. First and most importantly, lethal hits are strictly forbidden." Without taking an eye off the crowd, he gestured his arm to Curio's side. "In your case, if you—"
"Yeah yeah, no using my spikes, don't waste your breath, you robot!" Curio shouted, making her voice known to the audience. There was a little bit of commotion in the crowd as a variety of different voices reacted to her outburst.
"Did that Lucario just insult him?"
"The nerve of that thing! A trainer oughta come down there and teach it some manners!"
"Yeah, Curio," Quilladin said, who had joined the front row along with the rest of the group, "You show that robot who's boss!"
The announcer cleared his throat and continued.
"Secondly, this match will operate under a five minute time limit. Seeing how it's one versus one, the fight should be fairly short anyway."
The announcer paused. No quarrel came from Curio that time.
"Thirdly, no items are allowed to be used to heal yourself, act as a weapon or distract the opponents in any way. With that said," again, he gestured to Curio, "Your bag counts as an item, and that alongside anything else in it will be confiscated during the match, so please put it to one side."
Upon hearing this, Curio stomped over to where the announcer stood, shaking her fist at him.
"You gotta be kiddin' me!"
"I'm afraid not. These rules are what separate a battle from a bloodsport, after all."
"But listen!" Curio reached into her bag, pulling out a crooked wooden bat, and pointed at him with it. "Without this, my range is gonna be crap!"
"You are able to use Bone Rush, aren't you?"
"Nuh uh, now look!" A shaft of light came from Curio's paw, and instead of the twin headed staff that usually materialised from a Pokémon in the form of a bone, all that came out was something the size of a cotton swab, which she shook at him. "This is all I can summon! All this is useful for is picking the wax outta my ears!"
The announcer squinted at it, but gave no other reaction.
"Doesn't matter," he said, "No weapons, you play by the rules or not at all."
"Ugh, fine!" With that, Curio withdrew the bag and tossed the bag into the man's face, going back to her spot in a huff. The man caught it before it could hit his head, and headed to the podium off the stage, grabbing his whistle.
"Now, the match will end when the first opponent faints and I announce it. If the timer runs out, the opponent with the least amount of damage will win and the next set of trainers waiting to play afterwards will be called in. Now, if you two could take five paces back-"
"Excuse me," Shine called, raising his voice a little, "Can I have a word with Curio before the match starts?"
"As long as you're quick." With that, Shine approached Curio, who glared at him.
"Do we really have to resolve things this way?"
"There's nothing else I wanna say to you right now. If you don't like it, get bent."
"Why, I'm, I'm—"
Curio raised a paw in the air, motioning over to the announcer, and she took her five paces back. Defeatedly, Shine followed suit, the words of Curio still stewing in his mind.
This was it. No matter what Shine tried to say to allay the situation, there was no way Curio would back down in this fight. A lump grew in Shine's throat. He exhaled, then took a deep breath, readying himself by standing on the tips of his hindpaws. If Curio showed this much resistance, he needed to push back just as hard with all he had, if he was to get back to Ambrette with her and get a grip on his past. After everything Curio put him through so far, however, Shine briefly considered if all of his efforts were worth it.
Before he dwelt on those thoughts any longer, the whistle blew.
Curio immediately lunged at him with her arm. Just short of being grazed, Shine leapt backwards, avoiding the first swipe. Then the second followed. He barely dodged by ducking his head. Then the third. He had barely enough time to dodge as he rolled to his side. The hand pounded the ground, sending dust flying everywhere.
Without looking to see what happened, Shine ran from Curio's range, running as fast as his legs could carry him to the other side of the arena. When the dust cleared, Curio was far away from him, but charged forward as soon as she recovered. Shine kept running, close along the fence, but the rushing of Curio's paws became louder behind him. He couldn't keep outrunning her. He had to make the first attack.
Shine made a detour to his left. He swished his tail around, charging up his static field, and the more he ran, the more his fur prickled. His electricity buzzed around him, acting like invisible armour, and at that point, he had stored enough potential to pull off a Volt Tackle. Shine turned and ran towards Curio, who stopped suddenly. She held her paw in front of her, firing a flurry of aura spheres at him. Most of them bounced off his field, but once he was close enough to her, all she could do was shield herself with her arm. Shine tackled her lower body, head first.
Bash. Curio flew across the arena, stopping short of hitting the partition that divided the crowd. The reaction was a mix of gasps and cheers.
Shine's whole body shuddered with the recoiling force of his attack. At that point, however, the two were a fair distance away from each other. If he could land another hit with a thunderbolt close to Curio's stomach, he could stagger her, taking her out of the match. He shook his head and started charging his static field again.
Curio rose to her feet. In no time, she lunged towards Shine again. He did not flinch. He focused his mind on where he would hit Curio, just below her spike. Just as his charge reached its limit…
"Come on, you coward, hit me with all you got! Don't run out on me like last time!"
Curio's sudden shrill scream rang in his ears. In his haste, he shot a thunderbolt, only for it to divert away from Curio's body, and the ground absorbed the shock. He focused again, but Curio was already in arm's reach, and by then, it was too late. With one well placed metal uppercut to his chest, it was a direct hit. It sent him flying in the air above the fence, and when he landed, he broke through an unoccupied bench far away from where the rest of the crowd was.
It hurt to breathe. Her hit must have broken at least a few ribs. All sound faded. All the charge he built up had released. His vision started to fade as well. Was he able to move at all? He twitched his legs. They were still mobile. One paw after another, he got to his feet. Although he could barely see, the yellow coat stood out in the background. He tried to hobble towards her from the other side. Then his legs gave away as well. What would happen next? He didn't know. He succumbed to his weakened state and sank into the void of slumber.
"C'mon, we're almost there! We can do this, we can make it! Don't stop for a second!"
"I know, I can see it, I can see the door, I can- Argh!"
"Shine? Shine! You bastards, stop chasin' us and leave us be! You won, you took everythin' from us and crushed all our dreams already, just stop!"
"Curio. There's too many of them. I can't, I can't stay here."
"Shut up! I don't wanna hear it, we'll make it outta here, both of us, we'll take them all on! Don't give up!"
"I'm sorry. I, I, I..."
"Wait, Shine! Come back here! You said! Shine!"
Shine wasn't fully awake yet, but he knew he was back at the Pokemon centre if that springy bed and disinfectant smell was of any indication. A paw scratched his ear, making him purr, and the sensation he felt made him more content to go back to sleep. Suddenly, it tugged at him, and he opened his eye to the sight of Curio yanking at his head. It was nice to see that face when she wasn't trying to attack him, but the relief faded when one memory from the day of the escape unlocked from his internal vault.
He remembered how much she cared for him, and stuck with him through thick and thin, even when he was a Shinx, even when he was taken advantage of, and even when he lost his other eye, and vice versa, when she struggled with making her sculptures, when she wanted something read to her, and when she went through personal troubles of her own. Even though it was in broad strokes, he felt the sentiment all the way to the present. All of that, and in the end, he left her behind. No wonder she was so upset at him. After all that searching, his journey led him to this path, where he carried the full weight of his actions for the first time in five years. This realisation brought mist to his remaining eye.
"I-I'm sorry Curio. I'm sorry I escaped without you back then; I don't even realise how it happened, I only just remembered it now."
"Shine," she said.
"And I'm sorry for whatever else I did as well to anger you. And, and, I'm sorry I wasn't strong enough to win in battle, and, and-"
Shine broke down. His cries echoed in the room, blubbering and choking on his own words.
"Oh, why am I being s-so s-s-stupid?" he stuttered in between sobs, "I shouldn't be crying like s-some weak S-S-Shinx, but here I am!"
"Shine," she said, scowling.
"No, it, it's fine, you fought hard for your freedom. You shouldn't let s-s-some other stupid Pokémon tie you down. Even if I f-f-followed you, I wouldn't survive, I'm th-that weak, I'm—"
Curio smacked Shine across the face, snapping him out of his ramble, and grabbed his paw firmly.
"Jeez, Shine, the match was a dud! It didn't even matter if you won or lost, so get a hold of yourself, mon!"
Shine stopped sobbing, still feeling the stream of tears pouring down his cheek.
"W-what? Then what was the point of this?"
"I dunno," she said with a shrug, "I just wanted to let off some steam. I feel better now we've fought."
"Nothing yet, we'll see where the evening takes us."
"Right." Shine tried to jerk his paw away from Curio's grasp, but she her grip pinned him down. Slowly, Curio picked him up, sitting him on his hindquarters so he could see the whole of the room he was in at last; a very small rehab room only meant for Pokémon to sleep and be checked up on occasionally by the nurse. Then, Curio sniffled, rubbing away a few tears of her own and wrapped herself around him, close enough for her spike to touch his chest again.
"Oh sunshine, it hurts seein' you like this, callin' yourself weak and junk. You always acted like that."
"But, I am—"
"Stop that, I'm not having it. You travelled half this damn region to see me, that takes balls."
"I know you're thinkin' it's a small feat for us Pokémon, but it's not. It's no small feat we survived this long to see each other again. It's no small feat we've been given these skills in the first place when many Pokémon don't get the same chances. It's no small feat you came without your trainer to see me alone. I shouldn't hafta say it at this point, but all of those things make you worth more than just your fighting ability alone, so you better freakin' own it." Curio pulled away from Shine and gave a half smile. "Although if I'm being honest, you kinda sucked ass back there."
Even if it was less than flattering, Shine snickered at the comment. "Thanks, I guess."
"You're welcome. Now c'mon." She stood up. "We've got a lot to catch up with and I'm not doing it in this stinkin' room. See if you can get outta bed."
Shine stretched his legs. When he leapt off the bed, a constricting pain grew in his chest and he groaned. Although everything had healed up, the part where Curio hit him still ached.
"Should I even be standing up?"
"The nurse said it's fine. I know it's painful now, but you won't even notice it once you've gotten some rest later. C'mon, we haven't got all night."
Shine wordlessly agreed and followed her out of the room, out of the treatment bay, out to the exit and into the town square once more. Curio gestured to a patch of grass amongst a park-like area and the two sat next to each other, watching the various passers by. Shine alternated between the sight of the town nightlife and Curio's face. Again, he was at a loss for what to say. With all the things that came back to him, where would he even start? Would he wait for Curio or start the conversation himself? Would he apologise first?
"If you want to start with that," she said, nudging his side, "We might as well get apologies out the way."
"I didn't say anythi—" He stopped himself. Sometimes, it was easy to forget his friend could read his mind. Shine cleared his throat and made eye contact with Curio, seeing his own reflection in her green irises.
"I'm really sorry everything turned out the way it did. You have the right to be angry, and I should've stuck with you even when we ended up in a tough spot back then. I understand if you don't forgive me after what happened."
Curio rubbed her metallic arm with her paw and sighed.
"I won't beat around the bush here, and I'll use a human word to describe this, but what you did was shitty. I thought you said you wouldn't have abandoned me, and that's what ended up happening anyway." Curio smiled and patted Shine's shoulder. "But there's nothing you could've done. Hell, you would've been stupid not to escape without me. I don't even remember how many grunts showed up out of the blue at that moment. So I've made my peace with that." Curio took her paw back and inhaled deeply, as if collecting her thoughts.
"I saw you back in Sinnoh, you know."
"You heard me. Jubilife City, to be exact. From far away, I noticed your aura and I must've ran like crazy to get to you, but when I finally saw you, you were already on the train with some—" Curio broke eye contact and clutched her arm. "Trainer. The one with curly hair and those nerdy glasses?"
"Whatever. I wasn't ready to let you go, so I hopped on the next train to chase you. I didn't even know where to look, I travelled for days to try and find you, but I couldn't pick up your aura anywhere. After a while, I just gave up, I guess." She looked back at him with drooping eyes. "Where were you all this time? I got on without you just fine, you know, but suddenly, you pop out of nowhere and fall right into my paws. That's gotta be some divine intervention crap right there."
Shine didn't respond immediately. He thought back to the conversation he had with her at noon before she left and remembered the odd feeling he got from Curio's sudden outburst, and rested his head on his paws.
"I don't know how to take this. If I had known you were there, I would've come rushing after you."
Curio smiled weakly.
"I know. It still stinks though, like having something precious of yours ripped away from you and torn to pieces in front of you. Especially for you to go back on your word and become some trainer's pet."
Shine rose at the mention of the word 'pet', and when he processed exactly what Curio said, he glared at her.
"Is that what you think of me, then?"
"No, that's not what I meant." She threw her paw up in defence. "Like, I thought you said you were gonna become this amazing scholar once you got out, or something like that. You had the drive for it. I just never pegged you as the type to follow some trainer around on his stupid quest to gain a bunch of trinkets."
"You know nothing about what Tony's done for me!" he shouted. That was the loudest he heard himself speak for a while, and it had its effect on Curio as she grew wide eyed. He could even feel his own heart quicken at his own words. "You know what happened when I escaped? I almost got killed. I've got my scar to thank for that, and after they healed me up, all I did was wait to die. Until he came, all I'd do was read in the library all day, dig through trash in the streets at night and sleep on the curb. I didn't want to think about GeL, or even think at all, so all I did was waste away for about a year, until Tony came along, and even then, nobody forced me to be with him. Let's just say I wouldn't be standing here if it wasn't for him, so Curio, please think twice before you throw him under the bus!"
Curio's mouth went agape, seeming to reach some sort of understanding.
"I'm sorry," Curio said in a flat voice. Then, silence. Shine continued to look at her, expecting her to say something back, but she turned away from him, lost in her own world yet again.
"It's not easy making it on your own, especially not after what happened to us in particular. Tony supported me and pulled me out of that hole I dug myself into. Even with GeL, he's the only person I actually talked about it with, and that was after years of knowing him. I thought you would've understood of all Pokémon."
"No," Curio said, turning back to Shine, rubbing away the dust in her eyes. "I know what you mean. At the beginning, I had to lock those memories away too in order to survive. Even so, I had nothing else to live for until a lot of trial and error. I won't lie, I saw a lot of terrible things on my way here, the kind of stuff that would churn your stomach, and I sorta became numb to that after a while." She smiled.
"But I saw a lot of amazing things on the way as well and met a lot of fantastic Pokémon, especially in Jubilife. I knew a Smeargle that had his works put up in a gallery back in Johto, like, you should've seen his paintings before he moved to graffiti, they're amazing. He went through a lot of crap, but he pulled himself out of that hole eventually. Some made their own radio station, and I even met a few Pokemon that started their own band and played to other people. I'll tell you that city is an effinghive, but I'd be lying if I said there weren't some talented peeps like us lurking in the shadows. Of course, there's Barley as well, but you know him already." She outstretched her metal arm and reflexively twitched its fingers.
"Either way, it's not nice, you know, seeing other Pokemon stuck with trainers or in the wild all the time when they could be doing something bigger. You live long enough and you see the same sort of patterns. Even so, I hate the idea of giving myself up to someone else for the rest of my life, even if they are nice." She clenched her fist.
"I'm never gonna be a part of that world or tie myself down to a trainer or anyone else. I don't care if I'm just a Pokemon; my life's my own to live, and if anyone of any species tries to say otherwise, well, they can suck it."
"Well," Shine said, patting Curio's lap, "If you're worried about Tony, I can assure you I'm not being mistreated at all. He practically lets me do anything I want while he's out at work, and makes sure I'm well provided for when he's back home, even after long hours. He doesn't tie me down at all, so I'm sure even you would like him."
Curio smiled and snaked her arm through Shine's back, which was cold to the touch.
"I guess I would. I mean, I still think you could be doing better, but as long as you're happy, that's fine."
Shine sat still for a moment, not knowing how to respond. Then Curio sighed.
"I guess I've been kind of an ass today, haven't I? Sorry for ignoring you all this time and making you go through that dumb fight."
"No, no. It's fine, seeing how I know why you felt that way. So, what do we do now?"
Curio pulled away from him, frowning.
"I dunno yet. I mean, it's kinda like we're meeting for the first time again after so long, ya know. You don't even remember much about me, do you? I only recall bits and pieces myself, so I ain't sure if what you have planned for me will be worth it."
"Then why don't we catch up? I still know how good it felt hanging out with you, all those times we'd sit together in the library, picking up different books for each other to read. I think you wanted me to read Sinnohan Myths and Fables at one point, that much I remember."
"Like that story with the Sudowoodo? Ah, that brings me back. Well, there's that, but besides, I don't even know what this interview thing is for anyway. Is it like an interrogation where someone boxes me into a room and won't let me leave until I answer all their questions?"
Shine shook his head. He then went on to explain the purpose behind the interview and what it would require from Curio, to talk about as much as Curio was comfortable to discuss or was able to remember, as well as the process of shooting the documentary as well, which would all be done in a casual environment in Tony's studio space.
"I guess that doesn't sound too bad."
Before Shine could say anything else, Curio lay down and faced the sky with her back to the ground.
"Come sit on my lap, and watch the spike. I don't wanna end up shishkebabing someone's head like last time."
"Like last time? That's not very reassuring."
"Eh, they were fine after so it was nothing serious. So will ya join me?"
He steadied himself and lied down so his head was on her chest, just short of being impaled. His mane made it a little difficult to budge, but eventually, he was lying down and staring at the night sky full of stars with Curio. He purred slightly as she stroked his belly where the tender, pink scar was.
"You said you lived in Ambrette Town if I remember. Funny. I bluffed my way into travelling from Canalave to Cyllage, which I'm sure was close, but I must've missed it, so I've never been there before. What's it like?"
"Er, it's only your regular coastal town."
"Yeah, I know that much, but what is there to see?"
"Well, there's the arcade, I guess, but families mostly visit it during the summer when it's warm."
"There are lots of galleries as well. I sort of remember you liked watching those films, so there's the cinema as well. With your aura and all, I imagine you'd be able to sneak in without paying quite easily."
"Which I have, lots of times, but it ain't exactly unique. What else?"
"Well, there's also the aquarium that's free of charge right next to where my trainer works."
"Alright, I'm coming with you."
Shine got up and stared at Curio, who still laid on her back.
"You will? All because of an aquarium? You know what that is, don't you?"
"Hey, course I do, but I've never been to one. And no, it's not just because of that. It sounds like there's enough new stuff for me to enjoy and see."
"But what about your life here? I thought you had settled already."
"Oh please, I've only been here two weeks tops, and I was starting to get sick of this place anyway. Not much here except for farmers and gangs that are dumber than a bag of rocks."
"What about the other Pokémon I saw cheering you on? And what about Barley and the Pikachu you're teaching? I'm sure they'll miss you."
"They're just randos I met in the street one day. And both of them knew I was bound to leave some day. I don't like to stay in one place forever if there's more to discover somewhere else, especially not a hick town like this. Plus, the sea sounds nicer anyway."
"So, forgive me if I'm being selfish, but is that a yes to the interview?"
"I'm not really sure, but if that's what it takes to catch up with you, then I'll go through whatever crap your trainer puts me through. Wait a minute." Curio tapped Shine's side, giving him a puzzled look.
"How the hell are we gonna get back from here? Are we gonna have to walk or something?"
Shine also explained how he got to Dendemille in his first place and the situation he would be in immediately after he returned to Ambrette. When she heard that, Curio broke off into laughter, suddenly slapping Shine's back.
"Look at you, getting in debt! When you said your trainer let you do whatever you wanted, I didn't think he was that freewheeling!"
As if on cue, the two's stomachs collectively growled.
"Oh mon, I guess it's gotten pretty late, huh?"
"What are we going to eat?"
"Well," Curio shifted from her seat and stood, offering a paw to him. "I better make my goodbyes now if I'm coming with you tomorrow. If Barley's still at the Vine, I'm sure he'll lend us a claw or two. Saves us having to hunt or steal."
"They do dinner as well?"
"Sure they do. Now c'mon, are you with me?"
Shine smiled and returned Curio's pawshake.
It was the first time the two had entered the Pokeroom together, and their presence was delighted by those across the room from Quilladin to Delphox, including Barley, who glided away from his trainer to meet face to face with Shine.
"Are you alright?" he asked. Shine nodded in reply and Barley perched on the game table, making eye contact with Curio.
"So what was that all about, huh? You kinda dropped us into the middle of this spat."
"Yeah," Quilladin chimed in, "You made total mincemeat out of him!"
Shine grimaced at his comment, but kept silent.
"Just a little something between us," she said with a shrug. "We've made up now. Say, can you do both me and Shine a huge, huge favour? Can you order something for both of us to eat if the kitchen's still open?"
"I dunno about that," Barley said, "That's gonna have to come out of my trainer's wallet. If you put in more work tomorrow, I'd be able to convince him to make it up for today."
"Actually, we won't be here for long, since I'm movin' away to Shine's home-town tomorrow afternoon."
Barley's mouth made an O shape, and also stopped the two starter Pokémon in the midst of their game as they turned to face her. Then, he curled his lips into a grin and nodded.
"I can sort out something for you two as long as you come in to see the Pikachu for one last lesson. Does that sound fair?"
Curio smiled back, giving a thumbs up the best she could with her paw. Shine nodded in approval along with her, and Barley glided over to his trainer's shoulder to exit the room together, leaving them and the rest of the group alone. Quilladin sat on the edge of the table, staring at his hanging feet.
"Aw nuts, seems like everyone's going away lately."
"Everyone?" Curio asked, "What makes you say that?"
"Eh, Delphox's gotta go out tomorrow, too. His trainer got the call to go to Lumiose for a performance."
Delphox brushed a bit of dust off his ears.
"It can't be helped, I suppose, but I'm glad to finally get out of this place. Still, it was fun passing the time with you, sapling."
"Yeah, I guess so."
Shine thought back to the apparent squabble the two had earlier after he left the night before, and while the two didn't acknowledge it, they seemed to have made up since then, and were playing a much less complex game than chess that time around.
"Well," Curio said, patting Quilladin's back, "If it makes you feel any better, I've met a lot of peeps that've come and gone, so I can relate."
Quilladin looked up at Curio with a snaggletoothed grin.
"Easy for you to say with those aura powers and all, ya cheater. And hey, you owe me a few games after bailing last night, ya know. Oh!" He scurried excitedly to the other side of the table where a wooden crate sat and pointed to the box at the top. "If you two don't have much else going on, we can all play this together!"
"Hmm," Delphox hummed, "I doubt you'll want to play that game if you couldn't handle chess."
"Even so, I'll be patient this time. I won't flip the table over like I did before." He shook the box at the two. "Well?"
"Sure, we've got time, plus it'll be nice to thrash your ass in this new game." Curio pulled up a chair, gesturing Shine to sit next to her, who joined her without a second thought.
The rest of the night passed with ease. Shine joined in with Curio's game, letting her move his piece for him as he couldn't reach without smashing everything. A part of the staff came in later with two plates and laid them beside the two companions, with mashed potatoes and a Magikarp fillet for them each. Although he found the taste bland, it filled his belly. Barley eventually joined in to watch them play, and they were all able to chat casually with one another and exchange some light-hearted banter.
This proved to be a calm in the storm for Shine. He knew deep down that once the interview started, he would have to confront his past in full along with Curio, revisiting old memories they thought they would never have to confront again. Even so, for now, he forgot about his worries and stayed close to his spiky friend, making for the most enjoyment they had together since their reunion. He didn't mind whether he won or lost, but chose to enjoy the journey rather than the destination.
What if we can't make it but we say that we can?
Shaking the habitual, relate it to time.
We're laughing at the future and we cry 'bout the past.
I'm holding on forever but how long will forever last?
The Knife - Without You My Life Would Be Boring
[End of The Chase Arc]
[Proceed to The Island Arc]