PROLOGUE - CHALLENGE ACCEPTED
Rane likes to think that this is the final stage before they're official even though she knows that's not true.
It is a fact, it is a truth- she and Basil were way past that 'final' stage, they've been past that since they were ten, they've been training for what felt like ages after all.
For months she had learned everything her Master could teach her, she would be damned to Distortion if she didn't live up to Azalea's name and do her utter best in this last little adventure that she had signed herself up for.
To her, Master Azalea is everything she strives to be: as radiant as Cresselia but as enigmatic as Darkrai, as fearsome as Giratina but as comforting as Celebi.
The woman is, and always has been, someone Rane looks up to since the day she was saved from the depths of Vermillion Forest's Beedrill Hive.
Azalea, Rane concludes when she is twelve, is strength and virtue and valor personified- Rane also concludes that she needs to do everything she can to make sure the woman's efforts in training her don't go in vain.
She wasn't going to let down the one person who saw her worth after her parent's unfortunate passing.
No, she wasn't going to disappoint the person who extended a hand to her when no one blinked in her direction, the person who picked her up and told her that she could do wonders if she really tried.
And try she did.
When they had finally reached the last week of the year, Master Azalea had told her with a proud glint in her eyes that it was finally time to take that one final leap from apprentice to equals even though Rane knew Azalea had never viewed her as anything less, Rane stood tall and proud and accepted this last adventure.
This one, Rane thinks, is all or nothing, and you can bet that Rane's here to take it all.
Basil is still juggling between cursing and thanking the heavens for the way his life has been turning out, but lately he's been coming to terms with things.
He's taken aback by the change he's done to himself over the past years under his Master's tutelage.
He's willing to bet that the eight year old him would be pretty awestruck by the current him, and he really does have Master Redwood to thank.
Redwood is support and a force to be reckoned with.
In his heart, Basil truly believes that he will never reach his Master's level, and while he's come to accept that as a fact, Redwood refuses to acknowledge such a statement. Still, while the boy knows that he won't reach his Master's league, he knows he has to try.
It's the least Basil can do for everything Redwood has done for him.
After all, if it's one thing Basil can't stand, it's giving up, especially when Redwood had poured in so much effort into helping Basil get to where he was today. He couldn't give Basil some miraculous cure, but he did give Basil a challenge of sorts to complete before time runs out, 'carpe diem' as they like to say.
He had been wary in the beginning, snarky even when Redwood gave him the proposal.
'Why should I? You know I'm sick, you're wasting your time unless you have a cure.' Defiant, stubborn, defeated. Ultimately he had nothing left to lose: Vermillion was wrecked by that freak of an attack, his family was gone, and he found out he was on a time limit- it was bad news after bad news after bad news.
Yet, one thing that both Redwood and Basil knew about the latter was that how unlikely it would be for the boy to turn down a challenge.
'I don't have a cure,' A frown, 'Still, I think it's better than staying around here waiting for time to be up, so why not?'
And it was as though there was this magnetic pull that lured Basil into this epic adventure that he wouldn't even have dared to dream about but here he was standing before Redwood and accepting what he feels like is the last challenge he will undertake as Redwood's apprentice.
If Basil's really kicking the bucket early, you better bet that he'll go out with a bang.
To get the obvious aside, the older duo looked troubled and exhausted and Basil was sure they were going to collapse.
"Things are getting tough," The older girl in the room said, a flash of worry in her eyes. "That's why we believe that it's time to send you two off on this journey."
Rane bit her lip, Basil's brow furrowed.
The woman's gaze softened, "The two of you are smart, you know why you can't join us in this. You two still have much to experience before you're on par with us."
She closed her eyes, a smile gracing her lips when the older male beside her placed a comforting hand on the small of her back.
"Rane, Basil, are you ready for your final challenge?"
The two thirteen year old's respective 'Yes, Master's was firm and unyielding.
The young adults gave them proud smiles that made them look much younger than they were behind their exhausted faces.
"From tomorrow onwards, contact with us will be scarce- the team is going to be worked to the ground for our upcoming operations, and this is your journey so we won't be intervening unless it truly calls for it." He looked regretful about the first part, weary for what's to come but he continued on. "You'll be able to message us, but understand that replies may take a while."
He smiled, "I can't say too much or I'll spoil the surprise so just enjoy the entire experience, alright?"
The younger duo nodded.
Rane couldn't help it, "When will your operations be over?"
Master Azalea gave her a weary smile. "The range is between ten to twelve months, and maybe even more if things get out of hand."
Rane was biting her lip again, casting a quick look at Basil who had stiffened at the answer. "That long?"
"There's a lot to be done, and we wanna get it done as quickly as possible too but you never know what might happen." Master Redwood answered, a hand still on the small of Azalea's back tracing mindless characters against the fabric of her shirt.
Basil and Rane shared a look, conversations flying past their gazes.
"Is there anything else?"
Redwood nodded, "Then it's time to let you know of your challenge." Something in his eyes changed, a shift from a brother calming down his younger siblings to a Master who now stood taller and radiated with an energy they just couldn't look away from.
"Tomorrow, at the very spot where you two received your starters, your challenge begins."
"Do you think I'll make it through this one?"
No matter how many times Basil would ask this one question before a challenge, Rane wasn't able to stop the images that flashed through her mind. It had been hard in the beginning, picturing the sudden loss of her closest friend and it definitely doesn't get easier.
She replied in typical Rane-like fashion.
"Straight to the end of it."
Basil sighed, shoulders sagging a little when Perses nipped him unhappily, crimson eyes almost glaring at his trainer.
The boy ran a finger along the male Nidoran's fuchsia hide soothingly, a silent apology in his eyes.
Rane watched the exchange quietly, pitying the defeated looks on both trainer and Pokemon. They've already had this conversation long ago, and Basil's plans had already been set. Still, Rane could see the pure agony in Perses' eyes whenever it was brought up.
While she hadn't been there when Basil broke the news to his starter, she would never forget the pure terror the Nidoran had exhibited when they returned from where they had been talking. In a span of days, the tiny Poison-type had changed in a way Rane couldn't quite word to this very day.
"You've made it this far. Bit of a waste to not see it to the end, don't you think? I know that Perses agrees with me, don't you, Perses?"
Perses nodded quickly, earning a rub between his ears from the girl.
They sat together for a while longer, both voicing their own train of thoughts until the sun had set and it was time to return to the Pokemon Centre which they had been teleported to by their Masters.
Rane picked up Isis from one of the young fellows working in front of the 'Collection' station right beside the 'Drop Off' station, bidding the slightly older boy a 'goodnight' before she rejoined Basil as they took to the stairs, nodding at each other before going into their own rooms, a knowing glint flashing in their eyes.
Tomorrow, their adventure begins.