(Late review is late. D: DON'T KILL ME.)


Chapter 7: Rain and Thunder


I didn't really sleep that great that night...which is slightly ironic, considering how satisfied I'd felt the other day. I was really starting to wrack up karma points, though, and it was beginning to show. Nights were starting to look rather unpleasant for me as a result. Ever since Linda and Ian, I'd been having nightmares...well, not nightmares, per se, but I still didn't sleep well. I couldn't remember anything that I'd dreamed about, but I do know that it was unpleasant, and every morning I woke up exhausted and with a headache from the nightly torment. Not fun times.

Not that morning, though. Today I woke up like from a waking daydream, not quite tired but not exactly refreshed either. I didn't move right away, seeing as I had a Beedrill curled up all comfy-like on my chest, angular head under my chin with his arms folded in, all cozy and warm against me. Tyler laid where he usually did: right behind my head, propping my own upright slightly with his flank, serving as my pillow. Both of them had their eyes closed (or dim, in Keith's case) with peaceful looks on their faces, breathing quietly. Every exhale from Keith tickled against my neck; the steady rise and fall of Tyler's diaphragm threatened to put me to sleep again.

I was on the couch in the Vermilion Pokemon Center, tucked in a sleeping bag across the couch with my team like I always did. Several trainers were scattered around, leaning against the wall or laying on the floor, not brave (or stupid) enough to protest against the girl with the killer Beedrill for hogging the couch. That wasn't too unusual.

What was unusual was the low humming noise that I heard behind me, plus the waving yellow shape over my head...a hand? I followed the hand to its arm, then eventually farther up and onto the large yellow and brown body of Jade, who seemed to be just coming out of a trance of some kind. "...what was that?" I asked, rubbing my forehead. I felt a little strange...lighter, kind of. Like I'd been relieved of some weight I didn't know I'd been carrying.

Jade smiled down at me, one eye twitching slightly. She appeared to be holding back a grimace. "Drow."

I was initially confused, but my mind slowly started to chug to life as I considered what species she was. "Did you...eat my dream?"

Jade nodded, now allowing her disgusted look to show slightly, like there was something vile in her mouth she didn't want to throw up but still couldn't stand it.

I smiled sheepishly. "Didn't taste good, huh?"

Jade shook her head.

I chuckled, reaching up to pat her head. "Thanks."

Jade smiled and distanced herself from the discomfort - hey, I was the trainer that basically gave her purpose. It wasn't a surprise to see her doing me favors, but it was still nice to know she thought well enough about me that she'd alleviate my hard nights asleep at her own expense. It was actually rather touching.

It was still a bit early, so Jade and I just made a little small-talk while time crawled by and the sun rose, waiting for the nurse Chanseys to come by and start serving breakfast. It was a pretty one-sided conversation because of the language barrier, but I was starting to pick up on some of the more subtle cues and signals that came with a pokemon's customary speech pattern. It was kind of strange, and I can't really explain it, but I...well, I think I was really starting to understand them. Weird, considering how fake and non-sensible their language seemed, but it felt like I was starting to make a little sense out of it. They were just pieces of random name fragments and jibberish: it was starting to make sense. Like a genuine pokemon language.

...or maybe I was just slowly going crazy over time. Either way, it was a nice experience. I might as well have someone to talk to in my own insanity, right? Hate to get lonely.

Anyway, seeing as she did me a big favor in helping me sleep, I treated Jade and the guys to a tasty breakfast at a restaurant down by the harbor, reveling in the glorious feeling that came with having pockets stuffed with money and having the ability to buy whatever the fuck we wanted. I still divided my total earnings in half to send digitally, but the payout from that was still freaking enormous: over 15,000 pokebucks. The largest sum of money I'd ever had prior was about 6,000 or so, and that was enough to buy a small TV set, or maybe a cheap computer. 15,000 pokebucks was enough to get me a flatscreen TV, or maybe a really shitty car - or, in this case, a good breakfast at a decent seaside restaurant and all the medical supplies my team could ever need. That run off of the Anne had pretty much made us for...hell, a good week? Maybe less? Not bad for a single day's earnings. Mom was probably freaking out by now, reading the amount I sent over...

Speaking of whom, I called my mom after I'd finished eating my hash browns and pancakes, telling her all about the events of the day prior (minus the thing with Geki, of course). As I did so, I watched my pokemon eating with curious amusement, noting the various styles they all chose to down what was to them, compared to the kibble and wild berries and what-have-you they'd been eating, a meal fit for a king.

Tyler used his vines with pinpoint-precision and remarkable dexterity, handling silverware like a gentleman and eating like he was the most well-mannered individual in the world. As a complete counter, Jade just shoveled food into her mouth, regarding the silverware by her plate as nothing more than obstacles to push aside, stuffing her cheeks with scrambled eggs and french toast and not caring how big a mess she made. Keith was completely helpless in the grasper department and thus sat in my lap, relying on me for assistance in eating without making a mess. It kind of felt like feeding a toddler, or a child that didn't know how to feet itself. The feeling of his mandibles sliding and clicking around my fingers made me smile and occasionally giggle from the curious sensation. It's funny how something as simple as watching pokemon eat could be so fascinating - their feeding habits were almost as diverse as their anatomies.

I realized that I had drifted off in mid-conversation, feeding Keith another piece of bacon as I continued. "So anyway, the gang and I are going to head up to Cerulean next," I explained, gesturing in the air with my fork. "I figure Tyler can completely waste the pokemon there, since it's an all-water gym, and come Vermilion with the Thunder Bade, everyone's really high Special Defense will come in handy. I hate to make Tyler do all the work, so I'll leave that to Keith and Jade to practice their tag-team work." I moved the speaker away from my mouth for a moment to address my team. "That sound fair, you guys? Tyler for Cerulean, you two for here?"

Tyler chuckled, saying something along the lines of "oh yeah" and "they're gonna get it" as he continued navigating his silverware using his vines. Keith nodded with a positive buzzing noise, wings tickling my stomach as he leaned back into my chest to look up at me - I popped a piece of bacon into his mouth, watching his mandibles work in unison and disassemble the meat slice like a wood chipper. Jade just gave me a thumbs-up as she stuffed her face.

"It's good to hear you so enthusiastic, honey," my mom said, sounding as chipper as ever. "You seemed kind of down yesterday, so I was a little worried about that."

"Ah," I said, nodding sagely. "Your mother-senses were tingling."

"Something like that, yep." My mother giggled, then dropped her tone a little to show concern. "You want to talk about it?"

"It's not really important," I replied, offering Keith a sausage. The meat link spontaneously disappeared from between my fingers, a bizarre tongue licking clean my fingers and making me laugh. "It's not a big deal now. We were sad yesterday, we're not now, and we're moving on. We've got shit to do and plenty more to prepare for after that, and work ain't gonna do itself. We just gotta keep plugging along."

I heard my mother sigh from the other end, almost sounding wistful. "You've grown up a lot," she said. "It hasn't been that long since you left home, and I can already tell you're changing. You've gotten a lot stronger as a person, Rein."

I found myself smiling warmly - I was accustomed to saying my team was getting stronger, but I never put a whole lot of thought into how I was doing. I was usually too focused on them to do much else but watch. "You think so?"

"I do. You're doing a lot of good these days, and I just want you to know that I'm very proud of you, honey. I'm glad to see you finally found your calling. You made this mother very happy."

If I wasn't smiling before, I was outright beaming now, face heating up from pride and flattery. "Heh...thanks, mom. It means a lot." It was about then, however, that I caught the look of a nearby man seated at another table, then proceeding to glance around and see the other looks mirroring his. "...geez, I just noticed I'm a real spectacle over here. Everybody's staring when they think I'm not looking."

"I imagine so!" my mother laughed. "It's not everyday you see someone taking pokemon out to eat like regular people. You don't even see people walking around with more than one pokemon these days - it usually means you're looking for a fight."

I chuckled as I leaned back in my chair, placing my feet up on the table. "Well, you never know: we're so tough, I figure we can take on anyoaaaaaa-!"

A trio of laughter broke out as my chair tipped all the way back and crashed to the ground, bringing me and my silverware and phone along with me. Tyler managed to contain himself to light sniggers, reaching his vines under the table to pull my chair back up. Jade made no attempt to hide her amusement, slapping her hands against the table as she leaned back in laughter, further disorganizing her eating space. Keith flew a few feet over the table, doubled over in midair as he laughed down at me.

I didn't doubt for second who the perpetrator was, and my glare was aimed straight up at the narf of an insect I'd been hand-feeding just a moment ago. "Gonna play like that, huh?" I growled, jumping to my feet. "So this is the thanks I get for eating out! C'mon down here, Keith, I'm gonna kick your ass!"

Keith continued to laugh, encouraging me as I jumped up on a chair to try and grab him, only to come an inch too short as he taunted my lack of flight. Another near-fall from that chair sent all four of us into hysterics, and we all laughed and made such a scene that the manager came down and politely asked us to keep it down or we had to leave. I left a big tip for the waiter when we left for the mess and the fuss.

We'd needed that little outing, and not just for the good food. It'd been a long time since my team'd had a such a close, familial moment together. It was the stuff of memories.

The morning was great. It was a perfect tone to set for a full day of work and battling.

We set out from Vermilion around noon in high spirits, sticking to the main path so we didn't have to deal with the wildlife; I already turned down a chance to catch another pokemon. The trainers all seemed to recognize me, as they kept their heads down and decided they'd rather nose around in the grass than try their luck again. Their fear amused me.

I tried the gate to cut through Saffron, but we ran into one of Thirsty Guard's clones, who also wouldn't let us pass due to a combination of general asshole-ry and extreme dehydration. Whatever, not a big deal - we just cut through the Underground Tunnel again. It was a long walk, but not an unpleasant one. Keith and Jade kept things from becoming boring with their antics as they goofed around, providing Tyler and I - the more civil of the four of us - enough amusement to make it through the long, dark tunnel with our smiles and good moods intact.

Once we left the Underground Tunnel, it was a straight walk up Route 5 up to Cerulean, where we jumped a fence and marched straight up to the gym with our chins held high. The way people cleared out to let us through pleased us greatly and really helped to set the mood as we entered the building.

The entire room was basically one giant pool room with walking platforms set up throughout it. Simple concept, right? Enough room for people to walk without getting in the way of the Water pokemon, who held the obvious territorial advantage. That alone would have been enough to make anyone else's life miserable. The Swimmer that jumped out of the water seemed to believe this applied to me as well...that is, before he had to go chasing after his Horsea and Shellder after Tyler sent them flying across the room, skipping over the water like stones on a lake.

I snickered and walked past him, petting Tyler's head. "Nice. Don't focus too much on style, though. A regular ass-kicking will do just fine."

Tyler grinned and nodded. "Saur."

We walked around on the platform like we owned the place, well aware of the gaze on us from across the room by the Gym Leader's throne. Right before we approached, a girl in a Camper's uniform jumped in front of us. "You're here to challenge the gym? Nope, I'll deal with you now - Misty won't have to be bothered. Right Goldeen?"

A little orange head with a horn bobbed out of the water beside her, blubbing in an overly-graceful voice, "Goldeen."

I just smirked and stepped back, letting Tyler take his place up front. "Yeah, we'll see. Get 'em, Ty."

The Camper didn't seem too worried; apparently she thought she could take me. "Goldeen, use-"

"Razor Leaf."

A storm of blade-like leaves swarmed through the air at high velocities, creating large splashes where they impacted the water. The Goldeen vanished under the water for a few seconds before it bobbed up to the surface, red starting to trickle into the water around it.

The girl swore and returned her pokemon, stepping quietly aside. Looks like Misty was going to have to be bothered after all.

Misty sat across her throne in a lofty position, looking at me as I stepped up with Tyler onto her platform. "A Grass-type in a Water gym," she said, sighing as if at an old exasperation. "How...typical."

I frowned at the swimsuit-clad gym leader. "Well, yeah. My starter was a Bulbasaur, so what do you expect? Grass beats Water."

Misty shrugged, running her fingers through her frizzy orange hair. "Yeah, I guess, but...well, Route 24 and 25 have Bellsprout and stuff, and...doesn't it seem cheap to you, kind of? Grabbing one and just grinding the hell out of it? Like getting a Diglett and going to Vermilion for a free badge."

I scratched the back of my head. Obviously this had happened a few times before and was feeling a little discouraged over it. "I take it you lose a lot?"

Misty nodded and sighed. "Lost my Horsea the other day."

I nodded slowly in understanding. "Sorry."

"Yeah...that and some guy stood me up when we agreed to meet at the cape...it was supposed to be a date."

"Ouch."

"Yeah." Misty stood now, smiling despite how tired she seemed. "But you don't want to hear my sob story. You came for the badge, right?"

I nodded, determination returning. "You bet. Tyler owns everything - especially Water-types. Right Ty?"

"Saur!"

"You got spunk," Misty observed, rising up out of her seat. A smirk crawled over her lips. "I like that. Let's see what you've got, kid. Go, Quint!"

A flash of light signified the arrival of a glossy Staryu, its five bronze arms flowing and limp, it's central gem rounded and glowing a deep red. "Hya.

"Nice," I mused, watching the graceful little starfish before readying for battle. "You ready, Ty?"

Tyler chuckled and replied, "Vy, saur sa." Girl, I was born ready.

"Alright, party time! Razor Leaf!"

"Rapid Spin-Swift combo!"

I liked Misty, but I thought for sure her Staryu would be an easy win. For an easy win, though, it sure put up one hell of a fight. Razor Leaf would have wasted it, hence why it didn't hold still long enough to get hit. Rapid Spin turned it into a flying buzz saw, limbs hard and rigid as it shot around in the air like the Frisbee from Hell, raining little explosive stars all over as it flew about. What started as a one-sided match became a genuine fight by the time it finally splashed into the water and Misty called a cease-fire so she could return it. I took advantage of the momentary hiatus to spritz Tyler up with a Potion; that Swift barrage left a bit of a mark.

"Alright, you beat Quint," Misty said, pulling out another pokeball. "Let's see how you handle Deka! Go get 'em!"

Quint meant five and Staryu had five points, then I guessed that Deka had ten points, which turned out to be the case. A gleaming purple Starmie appeared in a flash of light and spinning blades, its back-half made of what looked like a purple Staryu attached to its front-most half, which held its octangular central gem a myriad of colors flashed over its glassy surface like a spectrum, and its noodly limbs waved back and forth as its back-half spun, grooving coolly to some unheard rhythm that emanated within it. Its call sounded more like a blare of notes in a symphony than a battle cry.

What a cool, elegant pokemon. It almost made me feel bad that we had to pound it. Almost. "Leech Seed!"

"Down!"

Tyler leaned forward to shoot a flurry of sprouting seeds out at the Starmie, which dropped like a rock down into the water out of range. The seeds floated uselessly on the surface, potent little roots shriveling up in the chlorinated water.

As if that didn't complicate matters enough, now Misty was doing something - reaching back behind her throne to pull out a radio cassette player. She plugged a cord into the side of her chair, turned it on, and sighed as a classical rhythm - the theme from The Nutcracker, I realized - started to play from speakers all throughout the gym. She closed her eyes and hummed the tune under her breath, swaying lightly in place, arms twitching to movements that went in sync with the music.

Tyler and I exchanged bewildered glances. I was about to inquire what the hell was going on when the Starmie suddenly popped up out of the water with minimal splash, bottom star-tips wiggling. "There, use-!"

I didn't get to finish my command before the Starmie blasted Tyler in the face with a pulsating jet of Water Pulse and disappeared into the water a split second later. Tyler stumbled as he stood upright, shook his head, and growled. "Saur..."

I scratched my head, trying to figure out what was being done here before the Starmie reappeared again, hitting Tyler with another Water Pulse before it vanished under the water again, waving back and forth gracefully under the surface of the pool. There was a pause that lasted about three beats, at which point it shot back up again, bottom-most points wiggling forward and back to the trill of the music, spouting off a Water Pulse as it ducked under the water again and resumed flowing back and forth. Three more beats later and the process repeated, this time leaving Tyler confused and unable to hit the enemy if he tried.

Now I knew what was going on: it was doing one of those synchronized swimming routines all by itself. Evidently Misty had been in a few performances herself - her arms moved and swayed in unison with the music, mirroring her Starmie to a certain degree, eyes closed and lost in the music. An interesting tactic. It seemed to be working pretty well, because it was making our lives hell.

There was a momentary lull in the barrage of Water Pulses as the music took up a more ambient pace, which the Starmie responded to by doing little movements and maneuvers in the water. I took advantage of this by stuffing a Persim berry into his mouth, which snapped him out of it. "Okay, here's the plan," I said as soon as his eyes focused again. "It jumps up according to the beat. Follow the melody and time your attacks for when it jumps up - that's how we'll have to fight it. Stick with Razor Leaf for now. Got it?"

Tyler nodded, leaves arching up in preparation. Perfect timing, too, because the melody started over, which signified the beginning of the Starmie's guerrilla-style attacks. Tyler fell right in sync with it, however, jumping to the side to avoid the water stream that blasted past him, responding with a flurry of leaves. The projectiles splashed harmlessly into the water when they hit it, but the Starmie let out a squawking noise on its way down, indicating that at least two or three leaves had found their mark. Three more beats later, Tyler leaped aside and fired again, dodging the next Water Pulse and squawking again before vanishing underwater. It was kind of like watching a dance, really - incorporated movements, classical music...heck, this was more of a play than a gym battle.

Misty seemed lost in the music, but she was apparently in touch with reality enough to know that we'd caught on and were putting up a fight. Tyler was strong to begin with, and even if he only got one or two good hits in, every leaf left a large chink in the Starmie's solid armor, some of which had a little bit of red oozing out of them. Slowly, as the song continued, she stopped imagining herself in the dance routine and got back into the game, looking concerned. Suddenly her game plan wasn't working so well.

When a few Razor Leaves hit Deka enough to send a shower of tiny purple armor fragments pattering onto the platform at Misty's feet, the gym leader'd had enough. "Deka, go underwater and use Recover!"

The damaged Starmie popped up once more to chime an acknowledgment before dropping into the water like a rock, floating to the bottom with its gem pointed up. Once it was motionless, its entire body started to glow white, distantly resembling the process of evolution. I could visibly see spots where chunks had fallen off slowly start to regenerate.

Time to act fast. Tyler couldn't hit it underwater, and repeating that entire routine wasn't going to get us anywhere. Time to improvise.

Thinking on my feet, I leaned forward to look at the platform I was standing on. The pool was divided in half from where I stood on the walkway, giving the gym leader and her pokemon plenty of room to roam when the battles broke out. There were three filters on this half of the pool: one on the right, one on the left, and one under Misty's platform. They seemed to be the only source of natural water movement in an otherwise stagnant and tranquil body of water. If the other two were blocked, the water wouldn't have anywhere to go but to the other side of the pool...and if something contaminated it from my side, it would only be able to spread...

It was all just a hunch, but I had a plan. "Okay, Tyler," I announced, pointing to the water. "Use your vines to block the side filters completely, then spread Poison Powder across the surface of the water so it can't surface. Let's go!"

Tyler replied, "Vy!" before snapping two vines out, whipping each to opposite ends of the pool to his left and right. Each of them coiled up and wedged themselves into the small squares the water was steadily trickling into, blocking the flow and disabling the minuscule currents they created, which would force the poison forward if it intended to be filtered. He then leaned forward and pumped out plumes of purple dust in glob-like clouds, which floated forward like a comet and landed neatly on the water, coloring a patch purple. He repeated this process, injecting toxins into the water while the Starmie stayed at the bottom and healed until the entire pool looked like purple food coloring. With the thick spores on top and the side filters blocked, the filtering process occurred slowly, if it even occurred at all.

After a while, the entire pool looked one big serving of purple cool-aid, toxic spores congesting the surface of the water and slowly, slowly starting to mix in and poison all the water. The glow of Recovery had since dimmed away, but the Starmie didn't surface, even when its cues in the music came. There was currently no way for it to surface without coming into contact with the toxic spores.

I grinned and rubbed my hands together, watching the water intently. "Alright, Ty, we've got it cornered. When it comes up, give it a taste of its own medicine."

Tyler nodded and grunted in confirmation, retracting his vines since it didn't really matter now. The leaves on his flower arched upright, a collection of blades jutting out from underneath, gleaming and ready to slice some Starmie. The waiting game was back on our side.

And so for several tense minutes, Tyler and I stood by and waited for the poisons to take hold. Misty had since turned off her Nutcracker music and was now staring worriedly at the water, trying to see through the purple fog that had robbed the water of its transparency. She looked incredibly anxious but said nothing, now also waiting for the inevitable.

Eventually the inevitable took effect and the Starmie suddenly erupted out of the water, screeching a sharp note like a violin being tortured within an inch of its life, body covered completely in a thin film of poison-saturated water. Its cry was amplified as a volley of Razor Leaves slashed into it, gouging chunks out of its armor and returning it to its previously desecrated state. It charged forward to try and tackle Tyler, who countered by whipping out his vines and halting it in midair before bringing it down onto the platform face-first. There was the sound of shattering glass as its gem splintered, sending fragments of multi-colored gem fragments everywhere across the platform and around my feet. I laughed out loud, pumping a fist. "Way to go, Tyler!"

Tyler crowed "Ivy!", standing with one foot on the struggling Starmie's back, holding it down with his weight and his vines. The Starmie was letting out a mournful clinking noise now, struggling weakly and desperate to try and free itself. Tyler's grip was just too strong, however, and the poison was rapidly draining its stamina. It was still capable of combat, but unable to battle. It still had some fight left, though, which initially compelled me to push it until it couldn't anymore and end the battle the old fashioned way...

"Stop!" Misty cried frantically. "Please, that's enough! He can't fight anymore! Don't hurt him!"

I stood silently for a second, considering ending this, but my conscience got the better of me. "...alright, we beat it, Ty. Let it go."

Tyler nodded and said nothing, slowly retracting his vines, backing away warily in case the wounded starfish attempted to try anything. It did not, however, merely whimpering its chime-like call as Misty sprinted around the platform and onto the walkway, at her pokemon's side in record time. "Deka? Deka, are you okay?"

The Starmie's central gem was busted like a mirror, shattered on multiple planes, but the flickering red light within it and the small noises it let out were proof that it was hurt, but very much alive and, at the moment, in pain. I actually felt a pang of guilt from brutalizing the pokemon like that.

Misty only seemed relieved, muttering, "Thank God" and wiping her forehead with the back of her hand. She seemed emotional all of a sudden, as she turned away from me to hide her face, hand covering her eyes. "I'm sorry, I just- I just lost my Horsea, and I j-just got really worried that he'd...that I..."

I nodded slowly, knowing exactly what it was she was trying to convey - the fear of losing another teammate, of having the responsibility be on her shoulders. I knew it all too well. "Let's get Deka to the Pokemon Center," I said. "He should make it there, but you can use one of my Antidotes. I've got plenty."

Misty wiped her eyes and looked back to me with a smile. "Thank you."

Deka received a spritzing with a bitter-smelling Antidote before he was taken to the Pokemon Center, Jade using her telekinesis to carry him more easily so the Nurses could get to him right away. Quint and Tyler were taken in as well, not in critical condition but still in need of a little healing. I placed a hand on Misty's shoulder as she leaned against the counter, taking deep breaths to calm herself - it was obviously quite frightening to come that close to losing another of her pokemon in such rapid succession. God only knows it'd been hell for me - I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

"He'll be fine," I assured her. "The Nurses are kinda weird, but they're good at their job. Deka'll be back up and dancing around to annoying music in no time."

Misty stifled a laugh, running her bangs between her fingers. "You've lost pokemon too?"

I didn't respond directly, just kept my hand on Misty's shoulder.

"I thought so," she muttered, then let her head hand down as she released a pent-up sigh. "Winning isn't always winning, huh?"

I smiled and shook my head. "Guess not."

Misty and I talked a while in the waiting room - the adventures we'd had, some experiences we encountered, a couple of close calls that made us hold our breath until the other told how they got out of it...the pokemon we'd lost. As it turned out, Misty wasn't a stranger to loss, but she wasn't exactly an expert. Her favorite Goldeen died when she was little, then a few days ago when her Horsea got hit just a little too hard in a dreaded "Critical Hit." I lost twice as many within a much shorter timespan of each other.

"Four pokemon in three days," Misty muttered, shaking her head at the idea. "I can't even imagine what that would be like."

"Complete hell," I said, hugging Keith around the middle, head resting on his shoulder. His antennae would occasionally tickle my cheek whenever he moved. "I loved those guys. I knew them the shortest of anyone, and it'd been bad enough. If I lost Tyler or Keith or Jade, I..." I shook my head at the thought, trying to push it away. "I don't know what I'd do."

Keith let out a low buzz that felt more like a purr, placing his arms over mine. "Drilli bee."

I gave him a squeeze and kissed the side of his head. "I love you too, buddy."

"I've never seen anyone be so close to a Beedrill before," Misty said, a hint of admiration in her voice. "They're really hard to get close to, I hear. And it's their mating season! How'd you get him so friendly?"

I just smiled and shrugged. "Well, what can I say? I know how to pick 'em." Keith muttered something in his own language, which I responded to by flicking one of his antennae. "Even if he is a complete narf."

Misty smiled and sat back in her seat, sighing again. "Well, I just wanna thank you again for today...I think I really owe you for that. Deka, too. Oh!" she explained suddenly, pulling something out of her bag and handing it to me. "Here, before I forget: the Cascade Bade. I think you've more than earned it."

I accepted the tiny teardrop with a smile, looking it over admirably as I fastened it to the back of my trainer's ID. "Thanks. It was a good battle, even if you did take all the fun out of it."

"Ha ha, very funny. Maybe we can call it even with an incorporated dance contest."

"Get some heavy metal going on in that place and we'll see."

We both shared a laugh - not as gym leader and aspiring champion, but just two friends with our pokemon.


It took a couple hours before Deka came back out of the ER. Tyler came back to me early on, but I stuck around to make sure Misty's Starmie was alright. After that was done, Misty and I exchanged numbers and bid farewell as I left Cerulean to visit the Underground Path again, skipping Saffron and the Thirsty Guard to make it down to Vermilion for the gym there.

Vermilion's gym sat facing the sea, the only way to the door blocked by a tree that seemed hastily placed and intentionally put there to block my way. Fortunately, this is where the HM Cut (courtesy of Geki) came in handy: Tyler abandoned his old tactic of Tackle and replaced it with Cut, using a single Razor Leaf wedged on the end of one of his vines as a blade that made mincemeat of the unfortunate shrubbery, reducing the tree to oversized woodchips. The new move was definitely bound to come in handy in the future. It made a nice replacement for Tackle, too.

True to my word, I withdrew Tyler to give him a rest and let Keith and Jade take center stage - Jade led the way, as I figured her telekinesis would be useful to avoid making contact with gym trainers' enemies to ward off unwanted Static-shock. Keith remained up to bat in case Jade's somewhat mediocre Defense wasn't cutting it, as she couldn't take a whole lot of physical assault. On top of everything else, his presence was an extra security in its own right. I felt safer with him just being there.

Actually, Jade wiped the floor with the gym trainers; all they had were Voltorb and Magnemite. Everything was ineffective against Magnemite, so I just had Keith take care of those with his Brick Break - the move that perfectly displayed the raw power my Beedrill possessed. Other than that, Jade solo'd everything. That wasn't the problem.

The problem: this gym had a big electric gate that blocked off the gym leader's chamber. According to the trainers, there were two switches hidden somewhere that I had to get to open in. The catch was that they were hidden in garbage cans. Full garbage cans. And I had to sift through everyone one of them to find them.

"This is fucking disgusting," I growled, flicking aside (what I hoped was) an old bananna peel. "This gym battle better be the easiest goddamn battle of my life, or so help me..."

Tyler grumbled in agreement, gruelingly sifting through a can's contents with his vines. Jade had telekinesis on her side, so she just lifted the trash up, looked inside, and put whatever she took out back in. Keith didn't have hands and thus wouldn't be very useful, so he just clung onto my back, peering past my shoulder with his mandibles arranged in a smirk I just wanted to deck him for. Lucky bastard...

It took us twenty minutes to find the first switch. The second was apparently hidden one can away, but when we looked, there was nothing but garbage. After a set amount of time, the gate reset, and the switch disappeared to somewhere else. "Are you fucking kidding me?"

Keith busted out into laughter at that. He shut up rather quickly when I grabbed him and dunked him into one of the stupid trash cans like a basketball. The laughter this provided bestowed all of us (except Keith) the motivation to keep looking until we finally found them both. By that time, though, we all stunk like garbage. We all needed a bath.

The drill sergeant-looking guy that awaited us looked as miserable as we did, though not because he'd been digging through garbage for an hour. He had an undeniably exhausted look about him, plus something else...something I couldn't put my finger on. You know that eerie feeling you get when you look at the face of a serial killer? That's kind of the feeling I got. Like he wasn't all there completely. He'd been in a war or two, so i'd heard, so that was probably why. His stare looked dead, and it kind of creeped me out a little bit. I knew I wasn't the only one who felt it, either: Keith was tense and bristly, requiring my touch at all times to keep him calm. Jade looked contemplative as she looked at the clearly weary man in combat uniform. I could see why they'd be nervous: a war veteran with that kind of look on his face was a rigged bomb ready to blow. One couldn't help but wonder if a defeat in battle wouldn't tip him over the edge...

He must have sensed my insecurity, as Keith wrapped his arms around my shoulders a little tighter. I placed my hand on his arm in thanks, sucking in a deep breath before approaching the unresponsive man. "Hey dude! Are you-"

The living statue that had been Lieutenant Surge suddenly sprung to life - his lifeless eyes suddenly burned with an internal flame that rivaled even that of the most ferocious Fire-types, and his voice was an enraged bellow, like I was a hundred meters away and had spat on the bible. "WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING, MAGGOT?"

I jerked backwards under the force of his audio assault, ears ringing from his voice - Jesus Christ, what a yell! Did he have a megaphone in his throat? "Whoa, hold on there-"

"DON'T YOU TELL ME TO HANG ON, MAGGOT!" the soldier bellowed, face red, looking like the Drill Sergeant from Hell. "THAT'S OUT OF LINE! YOU KIDS ARE ALL OUT OF LINE! KIDS THESE DAYS HAVE NO RESPECT- NO DISCIPLINE! NONE OF YOU LITTLE MAGGOTS WOULD EVER MAKE IT IN THE ARMY! YOU'RE ALL A BUNCH OF SPINELESS MAGGOTS!"

"Calm the fuck down, dude!" I yelled back, covering my ears - my voice was like a whisper compared to his. "What the hell is wrong with you? This isn't the army! I know I'd never make it in the army - that's why I'm not in it! It's just pokemon!"

Somehow, Surge seemed even angrier. "YOU DISRESPECTFUL MAGGOT, DON'T YOU TALK TO A COMMANDING OFFICER LIKE THAT! YOU DISRESPECT THIS NATION AND EVERYTHING IT STANDS FOR, YOU WORTHLESS PUNK! YOU'RE NOT IN THE FORCE, YOU'RE NOT PART OF A BATTLE- YOU'RE NOTHING! ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! I STEP ON DIRT BIGGER THAN YOU, BECAUSE DIRT KNOWS ITS PLACE! SOLDIERS KNOW THEIR PLACE- SOLDIERS KNOW HOW TO FIGHT AND WHAT TO FIGHT FOR! WHEN YOU KNOW WHAT TO FIGHT FOR, YOU'LL KNOW HOW TO LIVE! YOU'LL NEVER BE ANYTHING IF YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'LL GIVE YOUR LIFE FOR!"

I was pretty much done with listening to this guy scream at me, accusing me of the things he was, so I screeched right back: "You fucking moron, I came here to challenge you! That's what I'm here to fight for: pokemon! The friends I've made and lost! For my family! Becoming the best so none of our friends will ever die while I'm there to protect them! You think some stripes and a uniform make it so you know everything? You know jack shit if you think I'm just some punk out on a power trip, you psychedelic nazi!"

What I had to say must have pleased the lieutenant, because he grinned - a sickly grin that made a chill run up my spine. "You got guts, kid. Guts will get you places. BUT ALL I HEAR IS TALK! TALK IS WORTHLESS - JUST LIKE A MAGGOT! DON'T JUST TELL ME WHAT YOU STAND FOR: SHOW ME WHAT YOU'VE GOT!"

"Talk? Talk! All I hear is talk - big noises and loud talk! You're a goddamn hypocrite!" I stomped down my foot in anger - the pain shot up my leg, but I ignored it. I was too pissed off to give a fuck or do much else besides shriek, "Fight me, you faggot!"

So he did. His plan was simple: spam Sonicboom until the 20 HP added up and it took down my team. It didn't work, though, because two Confusions from Jade cut it short. She wasn't even on half power yet, so I kept her out when Surge sent out his Pikachu, who was looking particularly twitchy and ravenous for its species. Surge switched strategy and went on a trolling spree with Thunder Wave and Thundershock, spamming paralysis after paralysis and making moving an ordeal in itself. I tried to cure her when I could, but when I went through five Paralyze Heal after five turns, I gave up and hoped she could push through it. "C'mon, Jade - Confusion!"

Jade raised her stiff arms, visibly struggling as she forced a throbbing wave of energy out through her fingertips. The Pikachu stumbled backwards, then jumped back up, screeching its name as it launched out a wave of electricity parallel to the ground. She could barely move as it was, so she didn't even have a prayer of a chance of dodging the Shock Wave. The electricity further seized up her limbs, making it impossible for her to pick herself up off the ground.

I swore, looking to Keith over my shoulder. "It's no good, she can't move. Pound this guy, would you?"

Keith buzzed vigorously and vaulted over my shoulder, charging forward with an arm-lance raised over his head to karate-chop the Pikachu atop the head. The yellow rodent took the Brick Break to the skull and flopped back, out like a light. Easy peasy.

Lieutenant Surge growled - I'm not even kidding, he sounded like a freaking dog on a chain. "YOU LITTLE PUNK! I'LL SHOW YOU HOW TO RESPECT YOUR SUPERIORS WITH MY BRUTE FORCE - GO, RAICHU!"

The orange rodent materialized in a flash of light, as rigid as a board, eyes hard as nails. It looked like a robot - appropriate, then, that it responded like one when Surge ordered it to attack, pumping out a wave of electricity all around in a straight line.

Keith went to dodge, only to discover he couldn't hope to evade the un-missing move, screeching as the electricity coursed through him. It wasn't the paralyzing kind of electrical shock, though, so he was free to rush in like a berserker and smash the Raichu atop the head with his Brick Break. It wasn't quite a one-hit KO move, but a volley from his Twinneedle was enough to knock down the rodent, though not before it managed to squeak out a Thunder Wave. Not that it mattered; we won anyway.

The Raichu vanished in a flash of red light, and with it disappeared Surge's anger. His face collapsed into the same emotionless void it showed when I first walked in, completely dead on the inside like a switch had been flipped. He didn't say anything, just held out his hand, offering me a Shock Wave TM and the tiny Thunderbadge. I swiped both and skedaddled out of there - that guy was seriously freaking me out.

Brushing that off, it was time to party. To celebrate our monumental achievement, I treated the team to dinner and desert at a local restaurant - the same one we'd visited that morning, in fact. We all got delicious food and a mouth-watering plate of cheese cake to fill our stomachs after a great day of battling, then got to sit down on the edge of the dock to watch the sun set. The town's name was understandable: the shade of vermilion the sky turned was absolutely gorgeous. The sight of the sun gradually lowering down past a plane of smooth, endless water, dying the sky and water a brilliant tableau of reds and oranges and pinks...it was breath-taking. You haven't lived until you've seen a seaside sunset. It's literally the stuff of poetry.

I sat there on the smooth wood of the docks, shoeless feet dangling down, toes skimming over the surface of the salty blue water below me. I had one arm around one pokemon on either side of me - one around the rounded shoulders of Jade, the other over Tyler's back, scratching his ears - as my guardian Beedrill hung off my back, arms around my neck, head resting on my shoulder. His compound eyes tracked me at the same time they did the sunset, focusing on my face and the wondrous colors simultaneously.

Sitting there in the cool evening air, watching the prettiest sunset I'd ever seen with my precious friends, I could only sit there, sigh happily, and smile. Never before in my entire life had I ever felt more complete.


AN:

Woot! Chapter get! :D

Sorry that took so long: i've been screwing around with a few mods for the VisualBoy emulator (that is, a gameboy on the computer) and was trying a few Nuzlocke Challenges on them. The FireRed Omega I'm doing is kicking my ass. T.T But hey, at least I'm doing well here, yes?

Chapters may come slow, but I'm still on it. Never fear!

Thanks to my oh-so-lovely reviewers. I guess I shouldn't compound scarcity with brevity: the few of you I do have are awesome, so I won't complain.

Thanks for reading! Happy grinding, all! x3~


Rein Green - Trainer

Tyler - Ivysaur - Level 27

Keith - Beedrill - Level 23

Jade - Drowzee - Level 23

Pokemon Lost (Today): 0

The adventure continues...