Hmm… So this is the famous 'wiggly tree' that's scuttlebutt around town. I poked it experimentally, and true to the gossip, it moved. I thought I saw a flicker of white – eyes, maybe?

I pulled out my waterbottle, and splashed it. It suddenly started squirming – hard. I set down the bottle and ran my hands over the 'tree'. For some reason, it didn't feel like the easily broken off bark that most trees had – more like… rock?

"Yo, Jace!"

I gasped, and fell backwards. Surprised, I looked up, into the face of…

Tarika? I'm dreaming, right? And then like in most dreams, she's gonna bend down and kiss me.

She smiled mischievously, and stuck out a hand to help me out. I turned red, suddenly realizing a sharp pain in my lower back.

Damn. Not a dream, then.

I took her hand, getting up in the process. I rubbed my back ashamedly. "Ow. Ya startled me."

Tarika frowned, the sad little frown I'd do anything for. "Aw, just because we're Pokémon trainers and breeders doesn't mean we can't forget tradition…"

Tradition? Oh. Right. I put on the old, cocky voice I always used to use at New Bark Town Elementary. "Hi Tari."

She brightened up. "Hi Jace."

"Hug me."

She rolled her eyes, another part of the old tradition we'd had going since we managed to be split up into different classes and she'd head down to my class during break times to see her older friends. Both of us were saddened by the split, for reasons the same and different. (For her, her best friends and Zack were in my class, me, Tarika wasn't.) Hell, she'd even joked about going on strike once, before calming down about it and realizing that she was one of the youngest of her age group anyway.

When I finally managed to work up the courage to ask her if she truly was crushing on Zack, she turned red in that little way of hers, didn't answer for a while, and finally let out a small "Uh… Ya." The rest of my last year at New Bark Town Elementary were mentally painful, especially that time a friend of hers blurted out Tarika's little secret to Zack himself. His answer… It visibly tore her apart (that was the last time I trusted Safire), and did the same to me, but no one could see it.

"I already knew."

It tore her apart… Until he had to get her hopes up again just by that simple "Hi" as he used the school crossing while she was on patrol. I'm telling you, I *lived* for those moments she'd talk to me, joke, even if she hit me over the head (which she did often), I'd love her. The worst part was probably the constant knowledge that Zack knew of both our crushes… Of course he'd know, I'm his best freaking friend, and Tarika *always* sat next to him at writing group! It was still painful though, and I suppose it's slightly worse now, not knowing where Tarika is, not like in New Bark Town where I always knew that hers was the house near Professor Elm's lab.

She smiled – she smiled often but I still cherished every one of them directed at me. "Watcha doin'?"

I pointed to the 'tree' behind me.

"Ooooooh, it's that wiggly tree everyone in Violet City's talking about!" she squealed.

"Yep, that's it," I replied, pleased that she knew what it was. "But check this out…" Blushing, I took her hands, and placed them on the tree bark. Slowly, I moved them up and down, the tree shuddering slightly.

She frowned, the old 'Tarika is thinking' frown. "Doesn't feel like a tree…"

I nodded, taking her hands off and letting go. "I think it's a Pokémon. A Rock type, coz it squirmed rather violently when it got wet."

Her eyes widened. "A Rock type? I wanna catch it!" She swiped a Poké Ball from her bag strap, enlarging it at the same time. I'd watched her practice that, she'd thought it would impress Zack – but he ended up doing some flashy spin trick for releasing the Pokémon anyway. He was always a show off, even before he really knew Tari was crushing on him.

I flipped out my Poké Dex, in the same manner that Tarika'd grab her Poké Balls. It beeped, scanning the tree.

"Pokémon entry not found. Level 20."

Tarika gasped. "Level… 20… My highest is level 10…"

I nodded decidedly. "Exactly my point. I suppose you could try when you get to the other side of the tree though. The closest town to here is Goldenrod City, and your Pokémon should be stronger by then. Especially since the Goldenrod Gym Leader has a level 20 Miltank that knows Rollout," I whispered.

"Hey, what're you two whispering about?"

This time, both of us jumped. I was the first to recover, whipping round to face a rather cocky Zack. "Make a little more noise when sneaking up on us, why don't'cha?" I asked him, slightly angry.

He smirked. "Ooooooh, so now it's 'us', is it?"

To my surprise, Tarika took on a defensive tone as well. "Got any other words for 'me and this idiot next to me'?"

OKay. So she still thinks I'm an idiot, even if I am handling the 'other side' of Pokémon breeding. I'll cope. Dunno if the pages of my journal will, though.

Zack shrugged. "Point taken. Come to see the famous wiggly tree, have you?"

I sighed. I'd obviously have to repeat my findings. Tarika, with her good memory, beat me to it. "Jace reckons it's a Pokémon. Rock type – 's got an aversion to water."

"And it's Level 20, so don't even think of trying to catch it. And you are taking on that six-to-beat-the-Gyms-and-League bet I set you, aren't'cha?"

He smiled. "Yeah. Needed a challenge, and you'll be paying me ten grand in Poké Yen at the end of the Johto League."

Tarika looked rather curious by this stage. "Six-to-beat-the-Gyms-and-League?"

I smiled. "Ah. Well, at our leavers' dinner, Zack said to me, 'Jace, you're good at making up dares, help me out here. You know I wanna become a Pokémon master, in the old style beat all the gyms in both countries, ditto every trainer, beat up the Elite 4, oh and beat Red while you're at it that runs rampant. I wanna beat everyone – but in a way that will give everyone a shock. Can you think of anything on short notice?' The most I could think of was beating everyone using only six Pokémon, not catching anything other than what you catch in the beginning of your journey, unless you need extra for HMs or something, but the HM slave can't battle. So I explained it to him, chucking a ten grand bet in there, and he agreed."

"And now I'm stuck with Fuego, Oneida, Lanzo, Higad, Velneno, and my most un-originally named anything yet, Scout."

Tarika snorted. "Lemme guess, Scout's a Sentret? Now that's just corny. Even for you, oh story of Jack and Zack. Although I have to say, I'm glad I'm not the only one who nicknames their Pokémon."

I raised an eyebrow, inquisitive Pokémon breeder that I am. Yes, I do usually deal with the eggs side of Pokémon breeding, but I have to watch out for their welfare as well, or the egg could turn out bad. "Let's see the Pokémon? Both of ya."

They both shrugged. "OKay."

With various releasing tricks, Ball swipes and throws, and enough beam noise to hurt even my ears (and that's saying a lot, considering I tend to have a lot of Golbat and Gyrados around at odd times), a lot of the space this side of Route 36 was filled by twelve Pokémon, scaring off some of the tourists.

Tarika grinned. "I'll introduce first." Her Pokémon instinctively lined up – not too shabby a lot, either. She pointed to a Totodile, pro'lly her starter from Professor Elm. "This is Splashter, and the Pidgey next to him's Flya. Rocky's a Geodude, and the Onix I got from this kid in Violet City's called Rocky too, so that causes confusion rather often. This li'l Butterfree's called Bugsta, and I've also got a Ratatta, Jawz."

I scanned my Poké Dex over them. "Level 10, the lot of 'em?" She nodded. "You did a nice job training them. OKay Zack, let's see yours."

Zack smiled. "First of all, all of mine are at Level 10 too. Well, Fuego's my starter, a Cyndaquil – Tari, you and Splashter have already met him." Tarika smirked, and a decidedly evil look came over the Totodile's face. I glimpsed Fuego leap behind Zack's leg, cowering. Hmm, Splashter must have beaten Fuego sometime. "I've got a Geodude as well, female too, her name's Oneida. I decided to get a Spearow instead of the usual Pidgey, this is Lanzo. Higad and Velneno are male Butterfree and Beedrill, and last but not least of the line up is Scout, a Sentret, like Tari said."

I whistled. "Nice sets, both'a ya. Sentret – nice Pokémon to round out the types, they're very versatile. The amount of TMs they can use practically makes them the Johto equivalent of Clefairy – Thunder Punching Sneasels and Fire Punching Wooper make for rather funny reactions in battles."

They smiled, and recalled their Pokémon. Suddenly, a beep sounded from all three of our Poké Gears, and darkness dropped incredibly fast. "Six o'clock," Tarika announced, after a quick glance at her Poké Gear.

"It's getti- no, it is dark, we'd better get back to Violet City."
Tarika agreed with a shrug, and we started walking back to Violet City.