Santiago – Slowking
Zuko – Quilava
Diana – Pupitar
Link – Bellossom
Xena – Hakamo-o
Sunny – Mienfoo
Type: Null - Stein
Fan of a Fan: Wasn't sure how else to respond, so you get a mention in the author's notes. That's awesome! I'd love to share it! If you want to post it on imgur or twitter or something and share the link in the comments (make sure to put a few spaces in the link itself so the site doesn't delete it for being a link) then I'll happily put it on my profile! Or, if that's no good, shoot me a PM. Or, also, I did just start up a discord for this fic you could join, and talk on there or something. No matter what, I'd be happy to share it and would love to see it!
"…are you even listening, Leo?" Victoria asked, exasperated, as she paused in her explanation. Leo himself didn't even flinch at the accusation, continuing to wrestle with Zuko while Stein – short for Frankenstein, his newly named Type: Null, watched from the sidelines. Zuko yipped at him and spluttered as Leo playfully shoved him away, bounding backwards with his back arched and tongue lolling.
"Yes. You were explaining the different tiers in the Akala tournament," Leo said, never letting his eyes leave Zuko. The fire type lowered himself to the ground in anticipation, muscles tensing as Leo slowly lowered himself to the ground as well, so his chest was pressed against the dusty, reddish-brown dirt of the Wela Volcano Park. "Beginner, Intermediate, Expert, and Captain,"
"And what are the differences?" Victoria asked. Zuko chose that moment to attack, leaping forward and planting both front paws on Leo's head, shoving his face in the dirt and prompting him to reach up and grab him by the sides, rolling him off. Zuko rolled many more times than was necessary, coating his blue fur in a fine layer of dust before popping up and darting off, running as fast as he could into the dry grass not too far away, then back out again.
"Beginner is easy baby mode, captain is for Trial Captains and people of that level," Leo explained simply. Victoria rolled her eyes. "You want me to enter the expert tier though, for some reason,"
"Because, like I said, if you enter in Intermediate there's a good chance you'll win, but the trainers won't get challenging for you until the later rounds. Expert will be much more of a test of skill for you and your team," she explained. Leo sighed and sat up, dusting off his shirt and petting Zuko as the hyperactive Quilava came running by, rubbing up against his leg before darting off again.
"I'm no expert," he said bluntly.
"It's just a skill level system, Leo. Think of it in terms of badges, if that helps you; Beginner is one to three badges, Intermediate is three to five, and Expert is six to eight. Captain is actually for what you would call ACE or Victory Road trainers – there will be a special exhibition for the current trial captains and Kahunas. When you left Johto you were estimated to be at a five badge level – now you're probably at six or seven. You're not at the top, not yet, but you're getting there," she explained. "Besides, I think you're misunderstanding that you don't have a choice in the matter. You've already been signed up for the expert tier tournament,"
"I understand that, I'm still just trying to wrap my head around it," Leo said slowly, eyes locking onto Stein as the canid pokémon stood up. His eyes, almost hidden behind the heavy iron mask he wore, were fixated on Leo as he advanced, talon-like claws digging deep furrows into the ground.
"You're overthinking it, is what you are," Victoria said. "If I didn't think you'd find at least some measure of success in the tournament, then I wouldn't have pushed to put you there. That being said, we do still need to do a lot training so you don't embarrass me in your first tournament,"
"That's why we're here," Leo said with a sigh, lifting a hand so Stein could sniff it, then gently running said hand down the canid's neck. Feathers covered the neck area, while fur of varying consistency covered the rest of his body. In some areas it was course and rough, while others were luxurious and soft – it was truly a strange mismatch of textures. "Easy, Stein, easy," he said firmly as the Type: Null reached up with one taloned paw and laid it on his shoulder, sniffing him through the mask.
Leo winced as said talons dug into his skin, and winced again when Stein loosened his grip and withdrew his talons – the claws sticking into the fabric and absolutely shredding his shirt.
"Hey, be careful!" he protested, standing up sharply and glaring at Stein. Another quick glance at his shoulder through the mangled green fabric that had once been his shirt showed him that he'd been cut, too. Three thin lines of blood appeared from where Stein had cut him, and while Leo knew that it hadn't been intentional, "be careful" was a lesson he'd been trying to impart on the pokémon ever since he was first given the ultra ball a few weeks ago. Stein cocked his head to the side uncomprehendingly as Leo showed him what he did to his shirt.
"Be careful," he reiterated sternly, hoping the point got across. He didn't know his own strength, after all. After a few moments Leo sighed and patted Stein's side, scratching his neck a few times before recalling him.
"All good?" Victoria asked, an eyebrow raised.
"Yeah, I just didn't bring an extra shirt, like an idiot," Leo grumbled. Now he knew why Gladion dressed like such an edge lord in the sun and moon games. A sweatshirt and sweatpants with tears in them? In the Alola region, a tropical paradise? It screams angst.
It's also practical to have heavy, disposable clothing you don't mind being ruined when dealing with a pokémon that doesn't understand the concept of gentleness on a daily basis. Well, at least Stein was learning.
"Well that's on you then," Victoria dismissed, turning from where she sat on a small rock and looking up at Wela Volcano. She'd brought him here for some training, and seeing as how this was a haven for fire types, it was training for one of Leo's teammates in particular. It was training for Zuko. He was ready to evolve. Ever since Faba's arrest, Zuko had been working tirelessly on flamethrower. Honing it, turning it from a blunt hammer of an attack into a fiery laser. Now, he was nowhere near mastering the move – but he was far above where he had been before, and now he was looking and acting ready for a final evolution.
The trick was just getting the butthead to evolve. He was ready. Leo knew he was ready. Zuko himself knew he was ready. Santiago said he was ready. Victoria wondered why he hadn't already evolved. Yet he still hadn't.
He was a stubborn little fool, that was to be certain. He couldn't be certain, but Leo was almost positive that Zuko was holding himself back from evolving for some reason or another.
"What's the goal here again?" Leo asked.
"Go find the Totem Pokemon, challenge it to a fight, win, then see if your little firestarter got enough spark in him to evolve from that," Victoria summed up, shrugging her shoulders.
"That's a pretty straightforward plan, at least," he admitted, glancing around the barren area. They'd been in this spot for a little while now, waiting for the Totem to show because apparently Victoria knew this was one of its sparring spots or something, and Leo was getting a little bored. Hence why he'd been wrestling with Zuko, and asking questions about the tournament. Speaking of which, that reminded him that he had another question to ask…
"Back on the topic of the tournament, what kind of competition will I be facing? Do you have any idea?" he asked. Victoria paused what she was doing, whittling a piece of wood into the crude shape of a Persian – Leo said crude, but that was only because it was in the beginning stages – and hummed thoughtfully.
"The higher you go in the ranks of trainers, the more specialized the teams become. Lower tiers are a mishmash of pokémon, you can just as well run into a team full of Rattattas as a team of half-evolved flying types in the beginning tier. Intermediate is where people start to find their stride, it separates the talented from the lucky and you never know what you'll find there. Expert is a strange middle-ground, actually. It's made up of people who have found their type specialty, like normal or grass or whatever, but may not have filled out their teams with that type yet. Or, better yet, they may specialize in a more esoteric type, like defensive 'mon. You may even run into a true-blue veteran testing out a new team composition," she summarized. "So basically, expect to be fighting specialists. Be it bulky water types, speedy attackers, or, shoot, I've even run into someone who specialized in canine-type pokémon, there's going to be a lot of that in the expert tier,"
"Figures," Leo said. Generalists were a lot harder to come by in the upper tiers, for many reasons. The first and foremost being that you had to understand and learn how to train and handle far more pokémon than specialists. Using Victoria's example of a trainer specializing in "defensive pokémon," it meant that the trainer only had to think about learn about a specific style of fighting. One that could be applied to all their pokémon – and that made them incredibly dangerous.
It was like…in martial arts, Leo figured there were two basic schools of thought. There was what he called the Kung Fu, or Chinese, school of thought, which was to have a move or strike for any situation, and then there was the Karate, or Japanese, school of thought, where you had a minimum number of moves that were honed and practiced to such a degree that they could be used in any situation. It was the difference between improv and rote acting, in a way. Both could be great, and both could be horrible. That was what specialists did – they found their niche and dominate it, be it hard offensive improve, or rote defensiveness that ground down opponents with outrageous endurance.
Generalists typically tried to do everything and failed, or had yet to find their battling style. But for the ones that were good…well, they were the best. Unconquerable. The founder of the Indigo League all those centuries ago was a generalist, though there weren't really any good examples of that style of trainer at the moment. The generations of champions Leo knew from the games were only just starting to take their titles. Cynthia, the go-to example of a generalist trainer for Leo, wasn't champion yet either, for example. At least, not last time he'd checked.
Either way, it meant Leo had to go into this tournament with as much momentum as he could – he'd be at a disadvantage against trainers with well-established teams and styles. Especially since, unlike in the games, a single pokémon with type advantage couldn't take out an entire team of pokémon. Xena wouldn't be able to sweep a team of rock-types all by herself. Not unless the power disparity was massively wide.
"You'll do fine, don't worry about it. Or should I say, you will do fine, because if you do poorly I'm going to beat the living tar out of you," Victoria added in jest. Leo laughed and shook his head, knowing that she was only half-joking. If he disappointed her somehow, like getting wiped by a shmuck of an opponent in the first round, then she'd run him through training hell for sure.
With that little threat out of the way, Leo settled back in to wait for the Totem Pokemon to show up, chatting with Victoria and watching Zuko be, well, Zuko. That was, until a shiver ran up his spine and Spiritomb began whispering all kinds of nonsense in his ears. With a frown Leo started looking around, sensing something amiss, and finally settled his gaze on his shadow. His very, very dark shadow. In the afternoon, with the sun directly overhead.
"Do you mind?" he deadpanned, staring at his shadow unimpressed, then shuddered as another something seemed to slide down his spine. In response ghostly purple fires flickered around the edges of his shadow, the darkness swirling as a bone-white skull rose up out of the ground. It was followed by blackened skin that burned with the same ghostly fires, and continued to rise, and rise, and rise, until the Alolan Marowak was looming a good head and shoulders over Leo. The ghost/fire type stared at him and he stared back, not unimpressed, but not overly impressed by the display either. Maybe he was a bit jaded.
It was impressive in its own right, but the Marowak wasn't as awe-inspiring as the Totem Kommo-o and Dragonite. Still, respect was due to the Totem pokémon, and Leo intended to give it. Just because it wasn't as impressive didn't give Leo the right to not respect the 'mon just as much.
"We have come for a trial," he said respectfully, bowing at the waist. The Marowak stared at him for a moment, then grunted and took a few steps back, readying the bone club it held in one hand. Leo whistled and Zuko came bounding over, followed by a Fletchling he'd found in the tall grass. The little bird took one look at the massive Marowak and fluttered off, however. "Alright, Zuko, you're up first. Ready?" he asked, receiving a bark of affirmation.
Without warning the Marowak moved, barreling forward and swinging its club at Zuko.
"Quick thrower!" Leo barked, the command leaving his lips the moment Marowak started to move. Zuko darted forward as a blue and orange blur, his back fires blasting as he quick attacked straight through Marowak, using its ghostly form against it to escape the attack. The totem pokémon wasn't phased by Zuko phasing right through its body, whirling with purple fires burning on the ends of its bone club and meeting the gout of flame Zuko blasted at her. The club windmilled in an impressive display of dexterity, the Totem pokémon using her innate ability to control fire to catch Zuko's flamethrower and disperse it, the purple flames of the Marowak "catching" Zuko's attack and guiding it away, it seemed.
Well then, a new strategy was in order.
"Smoke bomb," Leo ordered, and Zuko halted his stream of fire in favor of spew inky black smoke from his mouth, covering his side of the impromptu battlefield in inky black smoke. Marowak scoffed and strode forward confidently, ghostly fires flickering as she stepped into the smoke and vanished entirely, ignoring the searing heat. Leo crossed his arms and considered their options. He wasn't too worried about Zuko at the moment – he had plenty of practice fighting ghosts after all, what with their occasional spars with Spiritomb – and instead focused on how to get Zuko to beat this thing.
The obvious choice was to wear her out. Deal chip damage with small fire attacks until it fell. Zuko couldn't tank hits but he could deal a lot of damage, and Alolan Marowak weren't immune to fire. But that didn't sit well with Leo, either.
He closed his eyes. Right, they needed a new strategy…but then again…
Zuko wasn't a multitool. He was, like the entirety of the Quilava line, a blunt instrument. They had one trick only – maybe two tricks – but they were among the best at what they did. Even a Charizard's flames couldn't compete with a full-grown Typhlosion. Sometimes the answer was to double-down, not change things up.
"Heat wave, seekers, flame rotation," Leo commanded. For a moment nothing happened, then Zuko huffed loud enough for him to hear through the smoke, and proceeded to glow bright red. The smoke was blasted away almost instantly, ruining the cover he had so painstakingly created as the heat wave burst out from him, but also had the bonus effect of catching Marowak off-guard. With the shadows she had been slinking through dispersed, her mask a little discolored from the smoke and the heat wave, she found herself standing in the middle of an open area with Zuko blurring around her, fire trailing from his form as he ran circles.
Then the flamethrower hit. It slammed into Marowak's back, rotating along with Zuko's path as he ran circles, but Marowak wasn't idle either. She spun the bone club she held, deflecting the flames for a moment and giving her time to aim, before rotating out of the immediate line of fire to hurl her club at Zuko. It connected with a loud smack Zuko yelping and rolling across the ground, leaping to his feet and darting away from the rapidly approaching Marowak, blasting her with a burst of embers.
Good thing Marowak was mostly a physical attacker, and he could escape.
"Dig," Leo ordered, deciding to put a bit more of their training to use. Zuko didn't even hesitate, running at full speed as he was he leapt into the air and dove into the ground, the soil splitting for him like water and leaving a dark hole in the red soil. Marowak made a noise that sounded like a scoff and promptly sank into the ground like the ghost she was, leaving the battlefield suddenly empty.
Leo smiled a little. It wasn't like they hadn't planned for this – Victoria had been pretty cagey about telling them which pokémon was the Totem, but it hadn't been that hard to guess which might be which – and so he simply waited. And waited. And then the ground started steaming and turning cherry-red. Leo took a step back as the ground promptly exploded, a smoking Marowak hurtling out of the ground with Zuko in her grip, the air around them distorting as the heat increased even further in intensity. Chunks of red-hot soil landed all over the place as Marowak swung her club, batting Zuko away and wincing as she glanced down at her singed hand.
Zuko, on the other hand, rolled to a stop and shook himself as he stood up, looking at Marowak curiously but not moving to attack quite yet. Marowak huffed and stared at him, then looked at Leo with no small amount of anger in her eyes.
"Maro, marowak," she grumbled, and Leo blinked. Uh, what? He got the feeling she was upset – was it because they came to try and battle her?
"I'm not following," he admitted, cocking his head to the side. Marowak rolled her eyes and gestured to Leo's belt, miming picking a pokeball off and letting out a pokémon. "You…want me to let out more pokémon?" he asked.
"She's asking why you're not taking this seriously," Victoria answered from where she lay on her rock, watching the battle with one eye open.
"I am," he said.
"She doesn't think so," she grumbled, sitting upright and giving Leo a look. "C'mon, kid, use that noggin of yours."
"Just because I'm not using a pokémon that's strong against you doesn't mean I'm not taking this seriously," Leo protested, not sure if that was what the problem was, but assuming so anyway. "If I just wanted to complete the trial I would've sicced Spiritomb, Santiago, my Slowking, or Diana, my Pupitar, at you. This is about Zuko," he explained, gesturing to the Quilava, who was now cautiously approaching Marowak, having sensed the lull in battle.
Marowak cocked her head at him in confusion, glanced at Zuko, then back at Leo.
"Wak," she said, looking directly at Zuko.
"Quil," Zuko called back, circling around her and moving over towards Leo. Marowak stared a little longer, then snorted and shook her head, dusting her mask off with one hand. The purple fires that burned around her flickered and died out with a flick of her club. Leo frowned and scratched the back of his head as she said a few more things to Zuko, looking up at Leo in amusement now.
"Um," was all he said, as she slowly slid into a stance and started to dance, twirling her club and stomping her feet a few times, ending the short routine by thrusting her hand out in a palm thrust. Fire burst from her palm, weak little sparks, but fire nonetheless.
"Maro, marowak," she said, and nodded to Leo a little, waiting for him. It wasn't that hard to figure out what she wanted this time, and with a slight sigh he fell into a dance that mimicked the Marowak's movements. It took a few tries for him to get it right, but with Marowak gently guiding him it was only a few tries. Though at the end he still didn't feel any of the same power surge he felt when performing the Bellossom dance with Link, even if he knew it should be there.
Ah, well. He'd learned the dragon dance from Xena as well, and was still working on that. At least he'd learned to fire dance too. Slowly but surely, he'd learn all the type dances.
Still, what about Zuko? While Leo practiced he'd been watching curiously, occasionally moving over to sniff at Marowak, occasionally earning himself a short rap on the head with Marowak's club when he got too close. Leo called him over with a whistle as Marowak backed off, slowly fading into the shadows with a short nod to Leo. He returned the nod as he knelt, rubbing Zuko's head. Clearly he was waiting for something before evolving, but Leo hadn't the foggiest idea what it could be.
"Alright then, bud. Do you want to practice the Inferno Overdrive z-move, or just head back to the beach?" he asked. Though he couldn't understand Zuko's Quiiil! Of a response, he understood his buddy well enough to know what he meant. "To the beach it is. Victoria! We're going," he shouted, and started marching off in the direction of the beach. Even if what he wanted to happen hadn't happened, this had still been a relatively fruitful encounter.
But who knew when Zuko would evolve?
"It's ya boy, Guzma!" a rather loud voice called, startling Leo as he sat atop a rock overlooking the ocean, a granola bar hanging out of his mouth. Victoria sat in the shade of the boulder below him and muttered something about obnoxious kids as Leo slowly turned away from where Zuko chased Sunny around on the beach to face the speaker who, to his surprise, had not actually been talking to him.
Guzma looked far younger than in the games, albeit with the same white-ish hair wildly mussed atop his head and wearing a black and white tracksuit. Two golden chains hung from his neck, flashing in the afternoon sun, as he spoke directly to a pair of siblings no older than Leo – young trainers, by the looks of things. Behind Guzma stood a young man dressed similarly to Guzma and a young woman with long pink pigtails – most likely the young version of Guzma's right-hand woman…who Leo could not, for the life of him, remember the name of.
"I challenge you kids to a battle," Guzma announced haughtily. "Let this veteran trainer teach you a lesson or two!" Leo blinked and glanced around their small section of beach. It wasn't overly crowded at the moment – though Wela Volcano Park was a relatively popular tourist destination, there was more to the island than just the beach. Right now a trial was going on, on the mountain above, and many tourists were up there spectating the legendary "island trials," a system so different than the gym challenge the rest of the world used. Leo somehow doubted that the Totem Pokemon for that challenge was the same Marowak he fought, considering how much of a tourist trap the… "showy" trial up there was.
Still, that left the beach, and the trail not too far away, relatively devoid of people. Sure there were still some, but not too many.
"Yeah!" the little boy cheered, snagging a pokeball of his belt. "I only have two pokémon though," he said, pausing. The girl next to him shyly took a ball of her belt as well, not saying anything.
"Haha, then both of you come at me together! This future trial captain here will show you how to battle!" Guzma declared haughtily. Leo felt his eyebrow twitch in annoyance. A part of him wanted to give Guzma the benefit of the doubt, that he really was going to try and teach these kids something good, but with the way he was acting and speaking…he got the feeling that he was just some punk throwing his weight around.
It was….aggravatingly stereotypical.
"Zuko, Sunny, get up here," Leo called over his shoulder, settling down to watch the battle as the kids and Guzma got into position. Almost immediately he heard scrambling in the sand, and then Sunny was there, plopping herself into Leo's lap as Zuko ran up to his side, shooting Sunny an affronted look. Leo snorted as Zuko wormed his way into Leo's lap regardless of Sunny, curling around her and letting his butt hang off of Leo's lap, his head resting on his other knee.
The little boy let out a Yungoos, while the girl released a small Fomantis, the little grass type swaying back and forth as it surveyed the battlefield.
Guzma sneered and flicked out a pokeball lazily, an Ariados appearing on the field with a clack of its mandibles. Immediately Leo could tell that the kids were way out of their league here, and prepared himself to intervene. Hopefully this would end with Guzma at least being classy – Leo himself knew it was important to learn about how to act when you run into a pokémon way out of your league, but this did not seem to be that kind of lesson.
"Um, are you going to let out another pokémon?" the girl asked hesitantly.
"Ariados is more than enough for this fight," Guzma declared arrogantly. "C'mon, we'll even let you have the first hit." He said. For a moment the two said nothing, then with two quick commands the Yungoos blurred forward while the Fomantis began hurling leaves at the spider that bounced harmlessly off its carapace. The Yungoos opened its jaws wide and clamped down on Araidos' leg, but the arachnid didn't even flinch at the attack, only staring at the weasel-like pokémon with its beady insect eyes.
"Poison sting," Guzma said lazily, and Ariados lunged, sinking its fangs into Yungoos and drawing a sharp cry from it. What happened next could only be described as a predator playing with its prey. Ariados ran circles around its opponents, poisoning them and then skittering about, narrowly dodging their attacks just to aggravate them but never retaliating, letting them wear themselves out via poison. It wasn't a fair battle. It was cruel.
Leo had enough when Guzma ordered a full-powered bug bite attack, sending the Yungoos flying out of their makeshift battle area as the little boy hurriedly recalled the pokémon.
"That's enough!" he barked, shooting to his feet and grabbing his pack, which sat next to the rock. Sunny and Zuko leapt from his lap gracefully, taking places on either side of Leo as he stepped off his rock and stalked towards the battle. Guzma either didn't hear Leo or didn't care, though, as he ordered another bug bite on the Fomantis, the girl already reaching for her pokeball to recall the 'mon.
"Intercept," Leo ordered, but his pokémon were already on it. Sunny darted forward with speed just behind Zuko's, Zuko tackling the Fomantis out of the way of the attack, while Sunny slammed a fake out slap right into the bug's side, sending it sliding across the ground, six legs scrabbling for purchase. Guzma's expression darkened as he opened his mouth and spouted some nonsense – Leo paid just enough attention to hear it turn into some self-righteous "I was just teaching them" nonsense before turning him out and turning to the kids.
"Here, take these antidotes and give them to your pokémon," he said, unzipping his pack and pulling out two purple canisters, passing them to the two kids. The girl was stony faced and silent, while the boy was red-faced and looked to be holding back tears. Leo smiled at them, then turned around to face Guzma.
The first thing he noticed was that Ariados had not stopped attacking, and Sunny was busy fending the bug off. It was a poor matchup for her – with her fighting-type attacks being all but useless against the bug, she was left scrambling about, hitting the joints of the spider's legs, scratching at the bug's abdomen with fury swipes, and slapping its face with force palms just to keep it away, all while Guzma watched on with a confident, self-righteous smirk.
"Sunny, disengage," Leo commanded. She yelped, dodging a burst of thread, slammed a force palm into the ground to create a bit of a smokescreen, and scrambled over to Leo's side. Zuko, on the other hand, placed himself between Leo and the Ariados, growling at the spider and keeping it back.
Even as bloodthirsty as the spider seemed to be, it didn't want to pick a fight with an angry fire type.
"What's the big idea, huh?" Guzma said cockily, making exaggerated movement with his arms. "I was just teachin' the kids a little lesson about powerful bug types, and here you come, jumping in and messing up the lesson. It's an important lesson, one they had better be grateful to have. I'm gonna be the next Alolan Trial Captain, after all!" he proclaimed, and Leo, still smiling, shrugged.
"I know. I saw your lesson and it was just so wonderful I couldn't help but want to get a piece of the action myself. You see, I haven't even defeated my first Totem Pokemon yet, so I was hoping a veteran such as yourself could give me and my team some pointers. And since you had clearly beaten these two I thought I should properly issue my challenge. So, future trail captain, I challenge you to a battle," Leo said, feigning calm.
"Guzma'll teach you a lesson you'll never forget!" Guzma's follower, whom Leo mentally dubbed the Hype Man, called out. Guzma scowled for just a moment, then narrowed his eyes, crossed his arms, and laughed.
"Of course I'll accept! How does a two-on-two sound?" he laughed, recalling his Ariados. Leo voiced his agreement as he recalled Sunny, but left Zuko out. He only needed one pokémon for this fight. "Be prepared for big bad Guzma to beat you down! Golisopod, let's teach 'em pain!" he ordered, and tossed out his pokémon.
The large white beetle-like pokémon that appeared snarled and hissed, baring its claws and narrowing its beady black eyes at Zuko, while Leo just crossed his arms and raised one eyebrow at it. If he remembered right Golisopod was a bug/water type that had a very strange ability, one that recalled itself if it took too much damage or something. Which was fine by Leo, it didn't matter that much in the grand scheme of things.
"Zuko, ready?" he called. Zuko glanced back at Leo and smirked.
"Golisopod, make a good first impression," Guzma ordered, and Golisopod burst into motion. For a brief moment, Leo thought Zuko was going to do nothing. He didn't think he'd have to give Zuko an order to dodge, but there he was, standing still, an order halfway out of Leo's mouth when Golisopod skidded to a halt in front of Zuko, claws flashing downward, pointed to hit Zuko –
And then Zuko exploded.
The burning heat of fire scorched Leo's skin as the brilliant light of evolution pierced the fire and flames that suffused Zuko's form, blasting Golisopod away as Zuko chose that exact moment to evolve. And to…explode.
Leo had no choice but to look away as the blinding evolution rocked the entire field – bits of molten sand and dirt hurtling every-which way as the intensity of the heat radiating from Zuko increased tenfold. And through it all, Zuko did not make a noise. He did not shout. He did not hurl flames. He did not move save for that first blast of power that rocked Golisopod. He simply evolved, and brought with him the raging might of a volcano.
When the light died the blistering heat remained, and when Leo looked back at the battlefield, to the oohs and aahs of the few onlookers who had crowded around, Zuko stood tall. Smoke curled from the charred ground around him, flames blazing in a collar around his neck as he stood on his two hind legs, clenching and unclenching his newly dexterous front paws experimentally. Leo gawked at him for a moment, ignoring everything else.
Of all the things, this was what made Zuko evolve? Or, rather, this is what Zuko chose to evolve for? Leo couldn't help the smile that overtook his face, even as he stood there confused. Well, it wasn't like Zuko was like Santiago – a battle junkie who would likely only ever have evolved in the midst of some epic battle. He was much humbler than that. And Guzma might need a little humility, considering how he was picking on those kids.
Guzma gawked at the scene as well, but grit his teeth and shouted out a command to Golisopod despite the newly evolved Typhlosion before him. "Liquidation! Put out that thing's fires!" he barked as Golisopod slowly rose to its feet. But, the pokémon didn't immediately move. Instead the beetle warily watched Zuko for a moment, until another shouted order from Guzma prompted it into motion.
Zuko roared out a challenge. Then he exploded again.
The explosion rocked Golisopod backwards with twice the force as before, the shockwave blowing Leo's hair back while the flames themselves scorched the ground. A gout of flame burst from smoke left once the explosion faded and enveloped Golisopod before it even had a chance to react, leaving the bug smoldering on the ground and completely unconscious. Zuko roared out another challenge as the smoke cleared, shooting a jet of flame into the sky, earning himself a round of cheers from the ever-growing crowd of onlookers. Just the few people who had been on the beach were now crowding around, keeping a healthy distance from the fight while also staying close enough to watch.
"You –" Guzma growled, unable to complete his sentence as he recalled Golisopod and let out a Scyther. Leo grinned, his eyes never leaving Zuko as his buddy moved to engage with the bug, experimenting with his new body. Zuko had finally evolved!
Scyther blurred away from Zuko with astounding speed as he loped forward, running on all fours like he had as a Quilava. Even without using quick attack, however, he was able to match pace with the flying bug, neither increasing or decreasing the distance between them. Seemingly realizing that creating distance was impossible, Scyther suddenly flipped around, blurring towards Zuko with scythe claws outstretched. Zuko met the bug head-on, blurring forward with a burst of speed and slamming head-first into Scyther, gripping the bugs arms as he wrestled it to the ground.
"Finish up, Zuko!" Leo ordered, not wanting things to drag out – that would be hypocritical of him. With a snort that left smoke curling from his nostrils, Zuko coated himself in flame and sucked in a deep breath, preparing to flamethrower Scyther. To his credit, Guzma didn't let his Scyther take the attack. He recalled the bug with a flash of red and glared hatefully at Leo, who took a moment to tamp down his excitement over Zuko's evolution to address the matter at hand.
"Thank you," Leo said, nodding to Guzma. "I've been trying to help him evolve for a while now, and you gave him that final push. Just like a Trial Captain would be able to," he said, earning himself another scowl from Guzma.
"You're lucky I took it easy on you, brat," he spat. "C'mon, let's get out of here," he grumbled, shoving his hands into his pockets and stalking away, followed by his two companions. Leo sighed and shook his head, wanting to say more but holding his tongue. Words were not the end-all-be-all of changing someone's mind – in fact, something said with good intentions could be just as harmful as insults. So Leo said nothing else, and turned his attention to Zuko, a wild grin stretching across his face as his newly evolved Typhlosion came sauntering up to him, grinning smugly and shoving his head into Leo's chest.
He was much larger now, big enough that his entire head was about the size of Leo's chest, and when he stood on his hind legs he was a good head and shoulders above him. Zuko pressed hard against Leo's chest, forcing him stumbling backwards, laughing, as he continued to rub up against him.
"Easy, buddy, easy! You're huge now," he laughed, scratching behind Zuko's ears with both hands. He rumbled in contentment, a pleasant warmth seeping from his fur as he pulled away from Leo, standing up on his hind legs and inspecting himself. Leo pat his side, admiring his buddy's new form. It was then that another person approached, a tanned girl in a swimsuit with a towel wrapped around her waist, that clapped a whistled, admiring Zuko.
"That was a great battle, kid!" she praised. "How about another? Seeing an evolution like that has me ready to rumble!" she proclaimed, rolling a pokeball between her fingers. Leo paused and raised an eyebrow at her, then looked up at Zuko, who was clenching and unclenching his fist experimentally. Well, he did need to get used to his new body, and the fact that he could grab things with his paws now…
"One sec," he said, spinning in a circle and searching for Victoria. When he spotted her, lounging on the rock he'd been sitting on with her Persian by her side, she just shrugged and made a "go on" motion with her hands. He grinned and playfully punched Zuko's belly, earning himself an affronted look. "You up for another battle?" he asked, and Zuko glanced at the girl, then nodded and flared his collar of flames slightly.
She grinned and clapped her hands happily, already retreating across the battlefield to the cheers of a few more of the onlookers.
"Alright then, let's see how hot your pokémon can go! Magmar, light it up!" she announced, letting the flaming red pokémon out of the pokeball in her hand. Zuko huffed and advanced, slowly ambling forward on his hind legs before deciding that all fours was better, and loping forward. The Magmar hissed, spitting out a stream of flames. The air seemed to still a little as the two fire-types stared each other down.
"Begin!" the girl called.
And Zuko, once again, exploded.
And Leo began to fear the kind of monster he just raised. Forget Electrode. Fear the exploding Typhlosion.
Friendly reminder that Typhlosion explode. No, really. The pokedex states that their secret weapon is causing explosions with their fur. Had Zuko been a girl, I'd have named her Megumin.
Also, as much as I like Guzma's character, the man is a jerk before his redemption arc. Like, the anime and games make him out to be a true jerk when you first meet him. I didn't even think his little scene was OOC, after the bit of research I did.
Anywho, here's a good Zuko chapter for you, and a nice little interlude between arcs. Next up is the tournament, and Zuko deserved a little time to himself I figured. Y'know, despite Leo adding a whole bunch of new members…I can't neglect the old ones either.
Also, I opened a discord for this fic for…reasons. The link is in my profile description, but I make no promises on how good it'll be or anything. I know not what I'm doing. Suggestions welcome.