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The Quest for the Legends (ILCOE)

Chapter 32: The Birthday Party

“Chaletwo,” Mark muttered as the three kids walked back towards Stormy Town after their training session, “you don’t happen to know anything about this chosen-by-legendaries thing, do you?”

“No,” came Chaletwo’s voice. It sounded a bit empty and Mark figured he might still be upset after May’s uncomfortable suggestion earlier. “I don’t get why I don’t know about this. Mew would have told me if Mew knew about it, too. How can they just do something like this without consulting us? We created them! What a way to thank us!”

Mark decided to ignore the last bit to avoid making him more upset. “I don’t assume you have any idea what exactly they were chosen for, then?”

“No.”

“Well, it doesn’t look like Spirit knows, either – she’s kinda cryptic about it. What about Raikou? Do you think Raikou chose anybody?”

“What would I know?” Chaletwo replied in frustration. “Well, Raikou is held captured at the Cleanwater City Gym, so most likely not. Now stop bothering me. I have more important things on my mind.”

Mark fell silent. He watched May and Alan walk a few meters ahead of him with Spirit trotting along beside May, and wondered why he always let them walk ahead of him while he himself was sulking somewhere behind them having depressing conversations with Scyther or Chaletwo. It was his birthday, after all. He should be having a good time.

He quickened his pace and caught up with the others.

-------

Sparky walked out of the restaurant just as the kids entered the Gym.

“Oh, hello again!” he said cheerfully. “Were you going to battle today?”

“Not me,” Alan replied, but Mark and May nodded.

“Forgive me for asking,” Sparky said, peering at them with a twinkle of amusement in his eyes, “but aren’t you both a little bit older than kids normally start?”

“Yeah, I’m twelve,” May replied.

“Me too,” Mark said, feeling some strange pride as he said it. May looked at him.

“I thought you were eleven.”

“Not anymore,” Mark answered with a grin. “It’s my birthday today.”

There. He had said it. Mark watched Sparky’s smile widen.

“Oh, really? Have an absolutely fantastic birthday! You don’t mind me making a birthday cake for the occasion for you and your friends, do you?” Sparky said eagerly.

This was a little more than Mark had expected. “Uh, sure,” he said awkwardly, blushing slightly. “What about the battle?”

“Oh, you can warm up against my junior trainers while I’m making it,” Sparky replied with a shrug. “You can go first, since it’s your birthday after all. Then I can maybe get your friends to help me make the cake, too?” He looked questioningly at Alan and May.

“Sure!” Alan said immediately. “And happy birthday, Mark.”

May didn’t look like she was particularly keen on delaying her Gym battle to make a birthday cake. She took a quick longing look at the door to the battle arena, but then gave Mark a forced smile. “Happy birthday.”

“Thanks,” he said, smiling happily back at May just to rub it in. “So do I just walk in through the door or…?”

“Yes,” Sparky answered. “He should be in there somewhere, at least if he hasn’t forgotten about the battle. I wouldn’t be surprised.” He giggled a little but then waved Mark towards the door. “Go ahead and don’t worry about us.”

Mark took a deep breath and walked the few steps up to the door with the navy lettering, looking through the glass. The room behind it was huge. It suddenly occurred to him that perhaps he would have been better off watching May battle those guys first so he could pick up strategies, but he was not about to turn back. He grabbed the door handle and opened.

“Hello?” he called as he closed the door behind him. It did not echo; the walls appeared to be covered with a layer of rubber that absorbed the sound. Mark guessed that was mainly to prevent damage from electricity.

“Hi,” said the voice of a blond-haired boy who was sitting in the middle of a ladder on the wall to the far right which led up to a door. He wore a red jacket with white linings and was most likely around Alan’s age or so. “You’re the kid who was going to battle?”

Mark nodded. “Yeah.”

The boy jumped down and landed on the floor with a soft thump. “All right, then. Go, Magnemite.”

The boy hurled forward a Pokéball which popped open a few meters closer to the middle of the room. A round, metallic Pokémon with two horseshoe-shaped magnets on either side of it popped out. It hovered a meter or so above the ground and watched Mark; it had only one huge, round eye with a tiny pupil.

Mark had one of those rare sparks of Battling class memories: Mrs. Grodski had mentioned fleetingly on a hot day in one of the earlier Battling classes that despite hovering in the air, Magnemite would be affected by an Earthquake. The only reason he remembered it was that he himself had been the one who had demanded an explanation and, upon not understanding a word of what the teacher said, started an argument about it. This had been more or less the start of their mutual dislike. Much later, when he was old enough to be able to grasp how it worked, Mark had found the answer again in a library book. For short, he knew exactly what to do now.

“Go, Sandslash, and use an Earthquake!”

He threw the Pokéball powerfully out. The junior trainer’s expression became a bit sheepish as Sandslash materialized in the air and prepared for the attack, landing harshly and producing ripples on the ground. As they passed under the magnet Pokémon, they disturbed the electromagnetic force holding it in the air, and it dropped to the ground after teetering in the air for a couple of seconds. Now exposed to the full force of the super-effective attack, the Magnemite easily fainted.

The junior trainer shrugged and recalled the Magnemite. “Go on, then,” he said, pointing loosely at the ladder he had been sitting in when Mark entered.

Mark looked at him in puzzlement. “That’s all?”

The trainer shrugged again. “Well, we’re just here to warm you up a little bit so you don’t get creamed as bad by Sparky. Nobody loses to us, really.”

Mark decided not to take that as an insult, thanked the trainer for the battle and walked towards the ladder. Once through the door at the end of it, Mark had to walk up a staircase, through another door, and then finally arrived at another arena, identical to the previous one. A brown-haired girl walked impatiently back and forth at the other end and looked up when Mark closed the door.

“Oh, hi,” she called. “One on one, okay?”

The girl threw out a Pokéball without waiting for an answer. The ball opened and the red light inside it formed into a cute pink sheep Pokémon that sat down on the arena and wagged its tail.

Mark took a deep breath. Flaaffy was not a final form Pokémon. Additionally, the other junior trainer’s Magnemite had been a joke to take down. He had to train some other Pokémon than Sandslash, anyway; Thunderyu might be able to fly, and in that case, Earthquake would be rather useless…

The Flaaffy looked at him with dark, beady eyes as he grabbed Dragonair’s Pokéball and threw it into the battle arena.

“Go, Dragonair!”

The snakelike dragon Pokémon spun a few circles in mid-air as he materialized from the Pokéball and breathed a plume of dark-colored flames into the air before settling down on the ground and perking up his feathery ears.

“Show-off,” Mark muttered with a slight smile.

“Flaaffy, Thunder Wave!” the girl yelled. Her Pokémon got down on four feet with its tail raised into the air. Small sparks circled the pink orb at the tail tip as it charged towards Dragonair.

“Fly up!” Mark blurted out, and the dragon obeyed immediately, raising himself up from the ground with graceful, swimming movements. For a moment he thought Dragonair would evade the attack, but then –

“FLAA-FY!” the sheep cried, leaping fiercely after the dragon Pokémon. Now entirely sparkling with electricity, the Flaaffy smashed its tail into Dragonair’s body and then landed on its feet on the floor below. Dragonair was thrown backwards but managed to keep his balance, and countered with a Dragon Rage, engulfing Flaaffy in crimson flames.

The sheep stood quickly up again with a determined expression, charged up further electricity in its tail and sent a bolt of lightning flying at the blue dragon. Dragonair wasn’t fast enough to dodge it now that he was paralyzed and cried out in pain as the electricity coursed through his body. He was getting too weak combined to maintain his altitude and dropped stiffly down to the floor.

“Dragonair, Slam!” Mark ordered, quickly followed by the girl’s fast-spoken command:

“Flaaffy, Body Slam!”

The Flaaffy was quicker, and with a high-pitched cry, it jumped into the air and slammed its whole body onto Dragonair’s. A muffled “Draaa” came from the dragon to indicate that he was all right; Dragonair then managed to smash his tail into Flaaffy’s head, subsequently causing the sheep to fall off him and allow him to slither out of the way.

“Dragon Rage!” Mark shouted as the Flaaffy prepared for another assault. Dragonair tried to focus as the sheep charged at him; then unexpectedly, he managed to fling himself over Flaaffy somehow and then blast out dragon flames for the finish as Flaaffy attempted to turn around. It let out a weak “Flaaaaa…” before closing its eyes and giving up.

“Nice job, Flaaffy,” the girl cheered as she recalled her Pokémon into the ball. “Go ahead,” she then said to Mark and pointed to a ladder similar to the one in the arena on the below floor.

A dark-haired teenager greeted Mark on the next floor. He wore a simple white T-shirt and ordinary jeans.

“Okay, another one-on-one,” the boy said indifferently. “Go, Raichu!”

He threw forth a Pokéball that burst open quickly to have the red light inside it materialize into an orange mouse-like Pokémon with a long, black tail, tipped with a lightning bolt shape.

Mark paused to think again. This was a Raichu – an evolved Pokémon, and therefore he couldn’t expect it to be particularly easy to beat. Flaaffy had been a nasty surprise for Dragonair, too. Charizard and Scyther were ruled out, having a weakness to electricity (he had switched Gyarados to the computer before the kids walked back to Stormy Town earlier, figuring that he was definitely not going to use him), and Dragonair was hurt. That left Sandslash and Letal. The question was: would Letal be able to beat the Raichu?

Oh, come on, he thought to himself. Sparky has got to have something up his sleeve against Ground Pokémon. If Letal can’t beat that guy, I’m not going to have a chance against Sparky anyway, period. Besides, she did very well while we were training, and the battle with Dan only showed that she’s full of surprises.

“Go, Letal!” Mark called out and hurled the Pokéball towards the center of the arena. Letal emerged from the ball and let out an intimidating, metallic cry as she fixed her gaze on the Raichu.

“Okay, start this off with a Thunder Wave,” the trainer said to his Pokémon – he looked somewhat impressed by Letal, unless Mark was just imagining things. “Better to play it safe.”

“Letal, try to avoid it,” Mark said slightly nervously. “Paralysis is a nasty thing…”

Letal suddenly turned towards him and growled, and Mark realized with pain that she would know – he had caught Leta while she was paralyzed.

Just then, the Raichu released a wave of electricity.

“Quick!” Mark yelled, his eyes widening. Letal turned sharply around but had no time to attempt to avoid it; she cowered as she was hit and her body sparkled.

“Great, Raichu,” the other trainer cheered. “Now do a nice good Thunderbolt.”

“Rai!” the Pokémon said hoarsely, got down on all fours and started to sparkle in preparation for the attack. For a second Mark watched Letal as she strained to move despite her stiff limbs, making strange, wheezy sounds as she breathed; then suddenly, just as the Raichu fired a bolt of electricity, Letal leapt upwards with a roar of effort and pain, dodged the attack and landed on top of the mouse Pokémon with her sharp, black claws digging into the skin on its back.

The Raichu squeaked but didn’t hesitate to charge itself up with electricity that was directly conducted into Letal’s body. She roared in pain again; Mark watched as she was lit up with sparks like a gigantic light bulb.

“Get away from it!” he shouted, but either Letal couldn’t hear him or didn’t listen to him. Her eyes blood red, she let her now white-hot claws slice into the mouse’s body. It let out another squeak before finally giving up; its eyes rolled into the back of its head and closed. Letal stepped away, her body shaking.

The other boy ran into the arena with some sort of a potion bottle and sprayed it quickly on the ugly, half-burnt gashes that Letal’s claws had left on his Pokémon. She watched it with shocked eyes, her breathing turning wheezy again while her body still shivered like she was freezing cold. The vapour rising from her body told a different story.

Mark looked worriedly at Letal, wondering whether he should recall her. She seemed to calm down a little bit as the Raichu’s wounds closed in front of their eyes and the mouse Pokémon stood up with difficulty, coughed and shook its head.

“Here,” the other boy said, throwing a pale yellow spray bottle to Mark. “Paralyz Heal,” he added when Mark seemed puzzled. “Since Sparky is next up and it would be a bother for you to have to go all the way down and outside to get to the Pokémon Center, I’ve got a supply of items to heal all your Pokémon for the big battle.”

Mark nodded and sprayed Letal’s body with the Paralyz Heal spray. Her breathing quickly returned to more or less normal and her body stopped shaking.

The boy now handed him a potion bottle. “Hey,” he suddenly said, “how about you just send out all your Pokémon that are hurt or tired, and I’ll give them all the sprays they need? I think your Letal needs a bit of calming down, and you’d better handle that.”

Mark nodded, agreeing especially with the last part, and sent out Dragonair and Sandslash (he assumed that Sandslash would need all the energy he could possibly have for the match against Sparky, even though he wasn’t very worn-out after his brief appearance in battle). While the trainer busily sprayed them with various potions, Mark slowly reached out to touch the fine white fur on Letal’s neck and stroked it. She seemed slightly startled at first, but appeared to like it soon enough and ended up closing her eyes and giving a sort of purring sound of appreciation. He sprayed her body with the potion as he continued to stroke her.

“Is she okay?” the trainer asked concernedly after a couple of minutes. “Your Dragonair and Sandslash should be in top state now.”

Mark nodded and patted Letal’s neck one more time before recalling all three of his Pokémon. “Do I just go up the stairs?”

The trainer nodded, and Mark smiled as he walked towards the final ladder.

“Hey,” the boy suddenly called. Mark turned around again.

“You’ve got nice Pokémon,” the trainer said. “You looked like an average kid with maybe a Meowth or something, but I was surprised when I saw you had a Letal, and even more when you had a Dragonair too. You must either be really lucky or really talented.”

“I think it’s just luck,” Mark replied nervously, desperately hoping he would continue to be so lucky on his oncoming quest, and perhaps that the trainer might be right about the talent too.

The boy laughed. “Well, it’s nice to have luck now. You’ll need it.”

Mark smiled faintly and walked up the ladder to Sparky’s arena. He took a deep breath as he opened the final door between him and the Gym battle.

When he entered, he was showered with paper ribbons.

“Surprise!” Sparky shouted from another ladder near the door. He was holding a bucket of shredded, multicolored paper. After shaking it empty, Sparky threw the bucket carelessly to the floor, where it landed with a loud clatter, and jumped down to shake hands with Mark.

“What do you think?” the Gym leader asked with a grin. “If you liked my ribbons, you should wait for the cake. I can just tell it’s going to be great.”

Mark was kind of freaked out while still enjoying the attention. He just grinned back and looked around. In the middle of the battle arena stood a small table with four chairs around it and a particularly large and tasty-looking chocolate cake neatly placed in the middle. May and Alan stood by the table laying down plates and forks; Spirit sat in a corner watching them.

Sparky took Mark over to the table and all four of them sat down.

“Happy birthday again, Mark,” said Alan, beaming. “And, uh, sorry if the cake is a little burnt; I left it a couple of minutes too long in the oven. And May put the ingredients in in the wrong order. I just hope it doesn’t really matter.”

Mark laughed as he saw May’s beet-red face. Alan just rolled his eyes and elbowed her.

“Thanks, all of you,” Mark said. “Except May, if she messed up the cake,” he added as a joke. Her face only went even redder.

Sparky cleared his throat as he cut a large slice of cake and put it on Mark’s plate.

“My father always used to say that there were two reasons you should make each and every one of your birthdays the best party you’ve ever had,” he said gleefully while cutting a slice for Alan, May and finally himself. “One: It might always be your last birthday, and in fact that becomes likelier every year, so it’s good always to assume it is. Two: It’s well worth celebrating that you were wrong about it last year.”

The kids glanced nervously at each other, all thinking the same thing: it was in fact unusually likely that it was his last birthday. Sparky either didn’t notice or pretended not to.

“So well, cheers to Mark for not having dropped dead yet!” he said, raising his glass of milk. Mark laughed in spite of himself.

“Uh, cheers,” May and Alan said doubtfully in unison, raising their own glasses.

Mark discovered to his delight that May hadn’t messed up the cake, at least not too badly, and while they ate, Sparky questioned him about his journey so far, his Pokémon and his plans for the future. Mark, of course, carefully avoided having to mention anything about the search for the legendaries or that they were planning to wake up a homicidal dragon sleeping inside a nearby mountain the next day. Sparky ignored the plot holes.

“So,” the Gym leader said after they had all finished eating, “how about battling now?”

Mark had nearly forgotten about the upcoming Gym battle by this time, but quickly regained his directions. “Uh, okay.”

Sparky smiled and stood up. “You can go downstairs and battle my junior trainers in the meanwhile,” he said to May. “But first we’ll get this table out of the way.”

They quickly moved the table and chairs aside. Alan offered to do the dishes and disappeared down to the kitchen. Sparky told May she could go and challenge the first junior trainer now, and she walked towards the staircase with her Ninetales after her.

Suddenly she turned around.

“Mark… good luck,” she said and smiled awkwardly.

“Thanks,” Mark replied and smiled back. May had almost disappeared down the stairs when he suddenly found himself opening his mouth.

“Wait,” he called and May turned around again. “You… you can battle Sparky first if you want. You made me a birthday cake and everything…”

May walked a few steps back towards them, her face showing the astonishment of a person who would never have done the same. “Really?”

Mark nodded. “Yeah, you can. I’ll just wait while you fight the junior trainers and watch when you battle Sparky.”

He could literally see the familiar battle glint burst forth in May’s eyes while her mouth broke into a wide grin.

“Thanks, Mark,” she said. She opened her mouth again, paused for a split second, but then added, “Happy birthday again.”

Mark smiled. How very much like her to start caring about his birthday when he let her battle first.

She ran back to the staircase and disappeared down it with Spirit.

“Was that nobility or just a clever trick to get a sneak peek at my Pokémon and strategies before your own battle?” Sparky asked with an even more highly amused-looking expression than usual after a short pause.

Mark blushed. “I’m not sure,” he said truthfully.

“It’s fine,” Sparky whispered, leaning closer to him. “I always used to do that too. I journeyed with Nurse Joy, and always made her battle first while I watched. A bit evil of me never to let her turn the tables, but I couldn’t resist.”

Mark laughed hollowly. “It’s not evil of me. She’s probably thankful for any opportunity to prove she always wins through her skill alone and doesn’t need any cheap tricks to do it.”

Sparky smiled. “Truth to be told,” he said, “I think we all have that in us when it comes to things we’re good at. The only thing that varies is how much we have of it and how good we are at hiding it.”

Mark laughed, but couldn’t help thinking he had a point.

-------

It wasn’t long before May was back. Mark hadn’t expected it to, either; three one-on-one battles weren’t anything she would generally have a particularly hard time with.

“So well, here I am,” she said and shrugged. “Are we going to battle now or what?”

“Yes, why not?” Sparky asked without waiting for an answer and walked right over to a rectangular box, outlined by red tiles, on the floor. May glanced quickly at Mark before positioning herself in the opposite box; Spirit stood beside her, blinking her ruby-red eyes. Mark leant against the wall right where he was at an approximately equal distance from each of the battlers, and imagined himself as a judge. He watched Sparky put up his silver shades and smile, grabbing a Pokéball from his belt.

“Battles in this Gym are generally six on six,” he stated. “I hope that is okay with you?”

“The longer, the better,” May replied, grinning as she reached for her Pokéball necklace and plucked one of the minimized balls from it.

“Manectric, I choose you!” Sparky called out. The shape of a dog was only beginning to materialize on the floor when May maximized her Pokéball and threw it out into the arena as well:

“Go, Raichu!”

Mark was a bit surprised as May’s orange mouse Pokémon started to form. He had expected her to send out Pupitar, as he was of course a Ground-type. Then he suddenly realized that if he had battled Sparky first, he would have made the very same mistake as in Flora’s Gym battle – to waste his best Pokémon at the very start. He blushed; the battle hadn’t even started, but he was already benefiting from getting to watch May first.

“Raichu, Thunder Wave,” May ordered calmly.

“Thunder Wave it right back,” Sparky told Manectric.

The two Pokémon crouched down and charged up electricity; the blue and yellow dog-like Pokémon growled as sparks danced around its peculiar, pyramid-shaped mane while Raichu glared at Manectric and charged the yellow spots on his cheeks. May’s Pokémon was a split second faster and sent a wave of electricity at Sparky’s dog Pokémon. Manectric’s muscles stiffened as it was hit and it lost its concentration momentarily, the sparks vanishing.

“Now use a Quick Attack,” May commanded.

“Manectric, Crunch!” Sparky ordered.

With unnatural speed, Raichu leapt at the Manectric and tackled it with his body. The dog Pokémon barked and managed to seize Raichu’s tail in its jaws before he could get away. A second later it had caught up and was tearing into the mouse’s flesh with its teeth while Raichu moaned in pain.

“Seismic Toss!” May shouted, and Raichu clenched his teeth before swinging his tail into the ground and grabbing Manectric’s body. Using the tail for extra support, the mouse Pokémon made for a high jump.

Up the two Pokémon soared, Manectric giving a quick yelp of surprise which Raichu immediately utilized. With an angry “Rai!”, he threw Manectric headfirst into the floor, Raichu himself landing on his feet a second later.

The dog rose painfully up.

“Crunch again, Manectric,” Sparky said after a brief pause.

“Dodge it, Raichu!” May quickly countered and smirked as the paralyzed Manectric made an attempt to run at her Pokémon.

But something was wrong. Raichu was frozen in place, and while he strained to move with despair in his eyes, Mark heard May mutter, “Oh, damn, stupid Static.”

The dog Pokémon leapt on top of Raichu and gave him another nasty bite while May reached for a Pokéball. The mouse’s body went limp.

“Raichu, return.”

He was absorbed into the red beam of light while Manectric panted. Sparky looked at his Pokémon and frowned, but said nothing.

“Butterfree, do it!” May shouted in determination, throwing out a Pokéball. It popped open and the butterfly flew out of it, looking towards her opponent while flapping her wings lazily.

“Psychic to finish it off,” May simply said, and Butterfree began to glow with a faint purple aura.

“Manectric, come back,” Sparky said, recalling his Pokémon before the attack hit.

Butterfree looked unsurely back at May, who hissed, “Keep it charged!”

Sparky frowned slightly again as the Pokémon obeyed. He reached for another Pokéball.

“Ampharos, brace yourself for a Psychic attack.”

The light from the ball materialized into an odd, yellow, bipedal sheep-like creature with flippers in place of arms. It cried out with a sort of wail before covering its head comically with its flippers.

“Release the Psychic attack, Butterfree!” May shouted, and the butterfly Pokémon’s glow slowly took over Ampharos’s body as well. The sheep whimpered as Butterfree attacked its mind, but a few seconds later the glow faded and Ampharos looked carefully past the flipper. Butterfree looked exhausted after having kept her concentration for so long. May frowned.

“Ampharos, Thunderbolt.”

The red pearl-like orb at the end of Ampharos’s striped tail sparkled with electricity. The sheep went quickly down on all fours, holding its tail in the air, and a moment later, a bolt of lightning shot from the orb and struck Butterfree. The butterfly cried out in pain and nearly crashed into the ground, but managed to pull herself up at the last moment. Her flight was getting a little jittery.

“Safeguard!” May ordered quickly. Butterfree started concentrating, emitting a slight white glow as she did so, and seemed to successfully avoid paralysis. Sparky stroked his goatee thoughtfully and paused while May grabbed the opportunity to issue the next attack:

“Sleep Powder!”

“Cotton Spore,” Sparky countered calmly.

The still-glowing butterfly was faster. She fluttered to right above the sheep and flapped her wings powerfully, releasing a cloud of fine, green dust. However, just as she did so, the Ampharos crouched down on all fours and shook its body. From out beneath the fine yellow hairs sprouted sudden layers upon layers of white cottonlike wool, covering Ampharos almost completely. May mouthed a few swear words as she watched every speck of Sleep Powder get lost somewhere between hairs in the wool, unable to reach Ampharos’s well-hidden nostrils.

“Thunderpunch,” Sparky said suddenly, and without warning, the yellow shape of his Pokémon sprang out of the pile of cottonlike material, somehow clenching the end of its flipper into a fist while small sparks circled it. Butterfree, taken entirely by surprise, had no time to get away, and Ampharos’s punch smacked her right in the side of her face. The bug crashed uncomfortably into the ground.

May’s eyes spelled murder.

“Clever,” she commented coldly.

Sparky just smiled. “Don’t you think?”

May didn’t answer and just picked the next Pokéball from her necklace. Mark couldn’t help snickering to himself; now May had lost two of her Pokémon while Sparky had only lost one.

“I can be clever too,” May said and smirked, throwing out her next Pokéball. “Go, Skarmory!”

Mark wasn’t sure what she considered so clever about using Skarmory, but he was about to find out.

“Whirlwind that cotton right back at it.”

The metallic bird let out a piercing cry, swooped down close to the pile of wool and then suddenly flapped his wings powerfully. The Cotton Spore drifted back towards the Pokémon it originally came from, still green-tinged with Sleep Powder. Ampharos attempted to run out of the way, but the wool was everywhere, making the sheep trip over it a few times before finally its eyelids gave way to the overwhelming urge to close and the Pokémon collapsed.

“Aha,” Sparky said, nodding thoughtfully. “Very clever.”

“Indeed,” May agreed. “Now use Spikes while it can’t hurt you,” she instructed Skarmory. “And I want a lot of them.”

Skarmory flew upwards above Ampharos and sent a rain of metallic feathers down onto the ground. Some of them hit Ampharos, cutting its skin a little, but most simply fell down on the ground, leaving their sharp edges ready to make things difficult for the upcoming Pokémon.

“And now, Drill Peck!”

Skarmory spun around in mid-air, diving down at the sleeping sheep Pokémon on the floor, but just then, its eyes popped open and widened in surprise at the approaching bird. Ampharos’s body was almost immediately sparkling with electricity, and when Skarmory’s sharp beak drilled into the sheep’s side, the electricity pulsed into his body and caused him to screech in pain along with his opponent. The metallic vulture crashed nastily into the floor and didn’t move.

“Looks like a double faint, eh?” Sparky said cheerfully, recalling his battered Pokémon. May nodded curtly and did the same.

The Gym leader put his hand into his pocket and presumably pressed a button on some sort of a key or something, and a rectangular section of the floor on his end of the arena started sinking down with a rumbling noise. Some steel feathers on the edges of the rectangle fell down onto the disappearing platform as it started to slide under the rest of the rubber-covered floor to reveal a basic Pokémon pool.

“Go, Lanturn!”

Sparky threw a ball towards the pool, and it quickly burst open to reveal a blue anglerfish Pokémon in a flash of light. It dove into the pool, seemingly happy about the exercise, but then stuck its head up out of the water again to be able to see the opponent it was about to face. The yellow bait on its natural fishing rod flashed.

May nodded thoughtfully to herself and picked a Pokéball. “Go, Lapras!”

The sea turtle-like Pokémon was sent out on the opposite end of the pool. Mark wasn’t sure what she was thinking there; after all, it would be even easier to harm Lapras since it was in the water than to harm a Pokémon on the floor. But then again, he suddenly realized, the other two Pokémon she had left were both weak to Water.

“Body Slam!” May ordered quickly, and Lapras threw herself at her opponent with a cry. The Lanturn released a jolt of electricity in surprise, shocking Lapras just before she crushed the fish against the wall of the pool with her body.

“Confuse Ray, Lanturn.”

“Lapras,” May shouted, thinking quickly, “freeze the water with an Ice Beam.”

Small icicles formed in the turtle’s mouth as she craned her head backwards, but meanwhile Lanturn swam up to the surface of the water and let its light bulb glow brightly. The wispy light then curiously detached itself from Lanturn and floated lazily in the air, causing Lapras to watch it curiously.

“Lapras!” May warned, and the Pokémon blinked, suddenly realizing what she was doing and then firing the beam of cold from her mouth. Starting at the spot she was aiming at in the middle of the pool, the water rapidly turned into a sheet of cracking ice. Lanturn, knowing better than being trapped at the bottom inside the ice where it wouldn’t be able to do anything at all, stayed at the surface as Lapras trapped both the anglerfish and herself in place.

“Ice Beam the ceiling, Lapras!”

Mark looked at May in puzzlement at this command, but her expression was inscrutable. While Lanturn, trapped in the layer of ice, attempted to gain a little more room to move by letting its light bulb emit small, hot sparks, Lapras fired another beam of ice at the ceiling above the pool.

There were strange cracking sounds.

Sparky looked worriedly upwards just as shards of frozen rubber rained down onto the two immobile Pokémon. Lapras could bend her head down and had a protective shell, not to mention thick skin, but Lanturn had a frail build and was stuck with its head sticking out of the ice and could only close its eyes before being hit and cut by the sharp edges.

“Lanturn, Thunder,” Sparky said as the last bits of the ceiling hit the iced pool.

Lapras whimpered as the battered Lanturn’s glowing bait turned white in preparation for the attack. Attempting desperately to wring herself loose from the ice, she turned her head towards May with shining, fearful eyes that begged to be recalled.

“Ice Beam,” May ordered emotionlessly. “Now, before it hits you.”

“Lanturn, maybe you should…” Sparky began, but the fish Pokémon was not at all planning to let the Pokémon that had pulled that devilish ceiling Ice Beam trick get off so easy.

Lightning flashed in the room. Lapras’s scream of pain was barely audible through the deafening roar of thunder.

“Come back, Lapras,” May said emptily, recalling the limp turtle. Spirit looked up at her trainer, but the glance was not returned.

“Pupitar, finish it off with an Earthquake.”

She threw the next Pokéball, which opened in mid-air and released the blue cocoon-like creature. He spun around in the air as soon as he had gained material form and threw himself down at the floor. Ripples formed in its surface, travelling across the ice and hitting the now-weak Lanturn. It unwillingly released a flurry of electric sparks, but then closed its eyes and let itself slip into unconsciousness.

“There,” Mark heard May mutter as Sparky recalled his Pokémon. He reached into his pocket again to close the pool.

“Electabuzz, do it!” Sparky said, tossing a new ball into the arena. The light from it revealed a bipedal tigerlike creature with black stripes shaped into a bolt of lightning on its belly. Sparks flew from the small antennae on its head as it emitted an electrical cry. Mark suddenly realized that it was because Electabuzz was standing on Skarmory’s Spikes. It looked down at the floor, trying to find a spot to place its feet.

“Earthquake again,” May just said.

“Ice Punch,” Sparky ordered. “And try to evade the attack.”

Pupitar bounced up into the air somehow (Mark had no idea how, considering it had no legs to kick off with) and then smashed himself into the floor, but meanwhile Electabuzz was charging towards him while delicately avoiding the steel feathers covering the floor, and at just the right moment, it leapt into the air, roared as icy blue energy circled its fist, and then gave Pupitar a powerful punch. Small needles of ice flew in all directions and melted quickly on the floor.

“Pupitar, use a Rock Tomb,” May said quickly.

Pupitar closed his eyes, and all of a sudden, the floor around Electabuzz seemed to explode, burying the Pokémon under large chunks of concrete. It didn’t take the Electabuzz long to blast the rocks aside with its powerful arms, but in doing so, it lost a few precious seconds just as May ordered Pupitar to try another Earthquake. As the floor rippled under its feet, the Electric-type lost its balance, and fell back to the ground with sparks flying around it.

Electabuzz opened its eyes again, growled at Pupitar and crawled weakly to its feet, looking about to faint at any moment. May watched it with a triumphant glance in her eyes, already mentally celebrating that she was about to even the game.

Suddenly, the Electric-type sprang up with a loud roar. Both of its fists icy blue, Electabuzz threw itself at Pupitar and smashed into the pupa, sending both Pokémon flying backwards.

Electabuzz took a few heavy tumbles on the ground. Pupitar rolled in a large semicircle with frost damage in two spots on its head.

Pupitar’s eyes opened, but Electabuzz’s did not.

“Return,” Sparky said, a red beam from one of his Pokéballs absorbing the tigerlike creature. May smirked as Pupitar managed (again, in some magical way) to raise himself back to balancing on his narrow end.

Sparky looked at Pupitar and then pulled out another Pokéball.

“Electrode, finish it.”

The Pokémon he sent out looked like a huge, upside-down Pokéball with eyes and a mischievous grin. Sparky hesitated for a second before giving it an order:

“Explosion.”

At bizarre speed, the rounded Pokémon rolled straight at Pupitar. There was a fiery explosion in the middle of the arena and Mark had to shield his eyes for a second, but when the smoke dissolved, both Pokémon lay immobile on the floor.

“Return, Pupitar.”

“Come back, Electrode.”

May and Sparky looked at each other.

“Down to our last Pokémon, then,” Sparky said with a smile. “I love it when battles are exciting.”

May’s expression stayed cold and focused. She said nothing.

“Go, Magneton.”

Sparky sent out what looked like three of the Pokémon that the first junior trainer had owned stuck together. It levitated in mid-air in a similar fashion to the Magnemite.

May grinned. “Spirit, go!”

The Ninetales slowly walked forward into the arena.

“Thunder Wave, Magneton.”

“Spirit, assume the weak spirit form.”

While the metallic magnet Pokémon started charging up electricity, Spirit’s eyes glowed red. Mark watched in astonishment as her form turned ghostly white and semi-transparent. When Magneton released a wave of electricity, it passed through Spirit without harming her. She walked calmly towards Magneton.

Sparky stroked his chin. “Interesting.”

“Spirit, Flamethrower,” May ordered. Spirit faded back into her physical form and breathed out a plume of flames that torched the Magneton’s metallic body. It buzzed a little and started to charge electricity, but before it managed to hit, Spirit was back in her ghostly, insubstantial form.

“Rain Dance,” Sparky said. Magneton started turning slowly in mid-air, letting out a soft electric hum. Wispy vapour started forming near the ceiling, quickly spreading and becoming a thick layer of dark clouds. Within seconds, the two Pokémon were in a local rainstorm.

May frowned, most likely realizing that this would wreck her plans of defeating Magneton with Fire attacks.

“Stay in spirit form,” she told her Pokémon.

Sparky nodded thoughtfully. “Magneton, see if a Sonicboom will help against that.”

The magnetic Pokémon sent a blast of compressed sound waves at the ghostly Ninetales. Hearing a horrible sound that no one else could, Spirit laid her ears back, staggering backwards a little, but soon recovered and shook her head.

May looked a little worried that Sparky had caught on so soon. “Spirit, assume the strong spirit form,” she finally ordered.

Spirit’s eyes glowed again, but this time she faded completely away, becoming entirely invisible.

“I don’t assume I can ask if there is any way to hit her like this, can I?” Sparky asked amusedly after a short pause.

“No, you can’t,” May said shortly.

“How about whether she can do anything to Magneton like this?”

“Not that either.”

Sparky paused. “Well, then I’ll wait and see, I guess.”

He waited. May waited too.

“All right, fine,” Sparky finally said and chuckled. “Use Lock-On and see if you can locate her.”

The three staring eyes on Magneton’s bodies glowed blue as the Pokémon concentrated…

“She’s not here,” Magneton said, sounding about as puzzled as an electronic voice can sound. “She’s not in the room.”

Sparky raised an eyebrow. “You know that any Pokémon that leaves the arena has by official rules lost the…”

“She hasn’t left the arena!” May snapped. “Spirit, use Curse!”

The Ninetales reappeared in physical form at exactly the location she had been at before, like she had never moved at all, and yet again, her eyes glowed a hellish red.

“Thunderbolt!” Sparky shouted immediately.

Spirit stretched her head upwards while letting out a long howl. Devilish whispers seemed to mix in with the terrible sound, her eyes glowing more intensely with every passing second – and then suddenly both Pokémon burst into black flames, letting out cries of pain.

Mark stared as Spirit’s eyes returned to normal. No sooner had she shaken her head weakly than Magneton fired a bolt of electricity through the heavy rain.

Spirit was thrown backwards with a yelp and landed harshly on the floor nearby. Meanwhile, Magneton seemed to be in great pain, and Mark realized why when he noticed the black flames that circled its bodies. Nervous sparks flew around it as it seemed to be struggling to keep its balance.

A clatter was heard through the sound of the pouring rain as the Electric Pokémon fell fainted to the floor.

May clenched her fist as Sparky recalled his Pokémon. Everybody stared at the fallen Spirit, all wondering the same thing: would she get up?

Spirit raised her head slowly and blinked a few times with difficulty.

“Come on,” May mouthed.

The rain-soaked Ninetales finally managed to rise shakily to her feet and look at Sparky with a victorious smile.

“I knew you could do it!” May shouted in triumph. “Great job, Spirit! Yes!”

Sparky just smiled as the rain in the arena subsided and the clouds slowly started to dissolve into the air. When it was sufficiently dry, he walked across the arena, pulling a small silver badge out of his pocket.

“You have an… interesting Ninetales,” he commented.

May grinned. “You’d never imagine.”

“So,” Sparky said, turning to Mark, “I think my Pokémon would like a nice rest with Nurse Joy now. You don’t mind waiting a bit longer, do you?”

-------

“So, how does this spirit form thing work?”

While Joy was tending to Sparky’s Pokémon, the kids and the Gym leader sat in the Pokémon Center waiting room and chatted. It was Mark who first dared to ask May about Spirit’s unusual battling abilities, although he strongly suspected Sparky had been wondering too. Alan, of course, had missed the battle, and looked curiously at May.

She was still wearing a triumphant expression, petting her Ninetales with one hand and reaching every now and then for a cookie from a bowl on the table (which Joy had placed there earlier) with the other.

“Well,” May explained through her cookie, “there are two types of it. In the weak spirit form, she is insubstantial so she can’t be hit by any physical attacks, fire, water, electricity or anything. Only stuff like Hypnosis or Sonicboom that don’t rely on attacking her body directly can affect her in that form. Then there’s the strong spirit form, in which she stops existing except on a spiritual plane, and then she can’t be hurt at all. She can hear me telepathically or something when I give her orders in that form, I think.”

Alan blinked. “That sounds pretty invincible.”

“Well, it applies both ways,” May added, shrugging. “She has to turn back to physical form to be able to attack, and while in spirit form the opponent could be powering itself up or something, so it’s not always a good idea. It takes skill to know when to…”

A soft ding was heard and they all looked up. The door to the treatment room opened, and Nurse Joy stepped out.

“Your Pokémon should be ready to get themselves beaten to a pulp by a little kid for the second time in one day,” she said sarcastically to Sparky, rolling her eyes a little.

“I love you too, Joy,” he giggled as he picked up the Pokéballs she handed to him on a tray and reattached them to his belt. “So, Mark, should we battle now?”

“Uh, okay,” Mark replied nervously, standing up. “You guys going to watch?”

Alan looked at May and she shrugged. He ended up pulling her out of the chair. Mark thought he could see him elbow May for the umpteenth time as they walked to the door. Crossing over to the Gym building and walking up the staircases didn’t take long, and Mark hardly noticed where he was going while he was lost in trying to remember May’s strategies. Before he knew it, he was facing Sparky on the battle arena.

“Six on six again,” Sparky said. “Go, Manectric!”

As the doglike Pokémon materialized, Mark’s hand automatically slipped to Sandslash’s Pokéball, but he realized what he was doing before he sent it out.

“Don’t make the same mistake as against Flora,” he muttered to himself. “Right.”

He shrugged. If it worked for May, it might work for him.

“Go, Jolteon!” he shouted as he threw the Pokéball.

“Manectric, Thunder Wave,” Sparky ordered as Jolteon appeared on the floor.

“Thu… no, Pin Missile!” Mark blurted out, suddenly gripped by the nervousness he tended to feel in battle. He could see May shaking her head by the side wall and Alan elbowing her again.

Jolteon was faster. Crouching down, he fired a flurry of needles towards Manectric, causing it to stagger back as it was stricken by the hundreds of small pins.

“Try to dodge!” Mark shouted as he watched Manectric start to charge. A wave of electricity shot at Jolteon, but he leapt into the air. The wave struck one of his back legs and he cried out, but landed fairly safely on the floor.

“Return!” Mark said quickly.

“Manectric, Crunch.”

Jolteon closed his eyes as Manectric dashed towards him. A pink aura circled his body. As Manectric bared its fangs, Jolteon charged towards it as well as he could (he had a slight limp due to his paralyzed leg) and rammed it with a full-body tackle. Manectric yelped as it was thrown backwards, but stood up, shook its head and leapt at Jolteon, sinking its fangs into the smaller Pokémon’s side. Jolteon cried out and bit Manectric right back.

“Uh, Sand Attack!” Mark ordered.

Jolteon leapt a short distance away from Manectric and kicked previously nonexistent sand into the dog’s eyes. Manectric growled, startled, and attempted to get rid of the sand by shaking its head, giving Jolteon an opportunity to strike again.

“Another Return!”

“Manectric, Quick Attack.”

Jolteon concentrated on his trust in Mark, gathering the same pink energy as before, but Manectric meanwhile sprang up at great speed to try to tackle Jolteon. Thanks to the sand in its eyes, however, it missed him by an inch and crashed on the ground, giving Jolteon a good opportunity to tackle it. It growled in pain.

Manectric got to its feet and, without Sparky’s command, released a powerful blast of electricity at Jolteon. Mark was sure he was going to faint now, but to his surprise, Jolteon appeared unharmed.

This is strange… I feel better than before…

Manectric looked surprised too. Mark turned to May, puzzled.

“Volt Absorb,” she called. “Jolteon’s ability. Electricity heals him.”

“Oh,” Mark replied, dumbfounded. He had never known that, except perhaps for a few minutes while he read it in a textbook. Maybe that had been why the electricity wouldn’t affect Dan’s Lanturn.

“Manectric, Crunch.”

The dog attacked Jolteon again and managed to pin him down, locking its jaws around his body, but he responded with a quick Pin Missile right into its face.

“Manectric, return,” Sparky said as his Pokémon roared and staggered backwards. It was recalled into the safety of the Pokéball as he reached for his pocket with the other hand.

The Water Pokémon pool opened in the same manner as it had before, and Sparky sent out the same anglerfish which, Mark made a mental note, it was not a good idea to attack with Electric attacks.

“Jolteon, Thunder Wave!” Mark shouted, remembering that this had nonetheless worked on Dan’s Lanturn.

“Confuse Ray, Lanturn.”

Jolteon was faster again, despite the bleeding gash on his side. He crouched down and sent a wave of lightning at the fish in the pool, which retaliated by sending the same kind of wispy light as it had used on Lapras floating through the air at Jolteon. He watched it curiously.

“Don’t let it distract you!” Mark yelled in frustration.

“Hydro Pump,” Sparky ordered calmly.

Lanturn swam to the surface and sprayed a powerful blast of water from its mouth. Jolteon yelped as it bombarded him, blasting him a few meters backwards. He weakly stood up and angrily responded with a Pin Missile (which admittedly did not hurt Lanturn very much because it had dived underwater again) until he was again distracted by the playful light. Mark gritted his teeth as Jolteon started to sway on his feet, seemingly hypnotized.

“Jolteon! Keep your mind on the battle!”

“Another Hydro Pump, Lanturn.”

Just as Jolteon turned around, he was blasted with a second Hydro Pump. He screamed as he was blasted halfway to the wall and did not stand up again afterwards.

“Return, Jolteon,” Mark said disappointedly as the Confuse Ray light faded away. He pondered for a few seconds before picking the next Pokémon to use:

“Dragonair, do it!”

Sparky watched with interest as the slender snakelike dragon materialized out of the Pokéball Mark threw out. Dragonair flew into the air and looked down at Lanturn.

“Lanturn, use an Ice Beam.”

Oh, crap, Mark thought.

“Quick, Agility! Dodge it!”

Lanturn’s paralysis slowed it down, and thanks to that combined with Dragonair’s sudden zooming to the other end of the room, the Ice Beam missed by a long shot.

“Great, Dragonair,” Mark cheered. “Use Slam.”

“Thunder Wave.”

While Dragonair dived at great speed, Lanturn was charging up electricity. Just as the dragon smashed the dark blue pearls on his tail into the anglerfish’s head, Lanturn pumped paralyzing electricity into his whole body. Dragonair screamed, retreating into the air.

“Now use another Ice Beam.”

This time, Dragonair couldn’t move out of the way soon enough, and was stricken by a beam of ice from the anglerfish. The dragon dropped to the ground.

Then, curiously, he closed his eyes and started to focus. Mark stared in horror as Dragonair’s skin seemed to rip apart on his head, but then he realized what was happening – Dragonair was just shedding his old skin.

The dragon slithered along the floor as quickly as he could, letting his old scales scrape against the rubbery floor enough to start to tear off. And indeed, the more of his body he managed to pull out of the old skin, the faster he seemed to become.

“Yet another Ice Beam, Lanturn,” Sparky said and Lanturn aimed, but just before it fired the attack, Dragonair shot upwards in a shiny new body, leaving his old skin lying useless on the floor. The beam of ice crystals covered the skin with frost.

“Twister!” Mark yelled. Dragonair started spinning fast, helped by the power of the Agility, and formed a whirlwind of green flames. Lanturn attempted to swim into a corner of the pool as the Twister started to suck up the water, but had no arms to hold on to the bank and was thus pulled inevitably towards the draconic whirlwind.

Lanturn screamed as it was tossed around in the tornado of dragon flames, but then the whirlwind finally dissolved and the water rained back down. Lanturn landed helplessly on the floor beside the pool.

“Return, Lanturn,” Sparky said as the beam of the Pokéball absorbed the fish. Mark couldn’t believe he was actually – somewhat – about to win the battle now.

“Ampharos, go,” the Gym leader said after a short pause. He sent out the electric sheep which Mark remembered from earlier only from the Cotton Spore trick.

“Okay, um…” He paused. “Try another Twister?”

“Light Screen, Ampharos,” Sparky ordered.

As Dragonair tried to whip up a whirlwind again, Ampharos concentrated and created a translucent pink bubble around itself.

“Now, Cotton Spore!” Sparky said quickly as the Twister started forming. Again, fluffy wool sprouted on the sheep Pokémon, but this time, it shook itself to send the cottonlike material out of the Light Screen. It was sucked into the whirlwind, but Ampharos itself was safe behind the protective shield and hardly affected at all.

What happened now was a very interesting development that Mark had not expected at all. As Dragonair realized this wasn’t doing any good and stopped powering the Twister, the room became filled with floating bits of the Cotton Spore that the Twister had torn up.

“Dragonair, try a Slam now,” Mark said unsurely, figuring that at the very least he’d have to do something physical to get through the Light Screen. The dragon faithfully dived, but the shreds of wool everywhere were slowing him down.

“Mega Punch,” Sparky simply said.

Dragonair attempted to smash his tail into his opponent, but Mark could just barely see him miss. Then Ampharos punched Dragonair hard with its curled flipper, and Mark miserably watched his dragon Pokémon collapse on the ground.

“Return,” he muttered as Dragonair disappeared into the Pokéball he held out.

He took a deep breath (taking care not to inhale any of the Cotton Spore, of course). What did he have left again? Letal, Charizard, Scyther and Sandslash. Wouldn’t it just be best to go for it now?

“Sandslash, go!” he shouted, hurling forward a Pokéball. The pangolin Pokémon appeared, taking in the situation carefully.

“Earthquake, quickly,” Mark ordered.

Sandslash leapt up, turned around in mid-air so that he faced downwards, and then smashed into the ground with his forepaws. Ripples spread through the floor; Mark could hear Ampharos’ wail of pain, even though it was hard to see anything when both the floating wool and the Light Screen blocked his vision.

“Ampharos, Fire Punch,” Sparky commanded. Mark watched the pink bubble disappear as the sheep started making its way towards Sandslash. The Cotton Spore was slowly but surely settling on the ground, but there was still a great deal of it getting in the Pokémon’s way.

“Sandslash, try to use another Earthquake!”

Sandslash jumped into the air again, but at the same time, Ampharos jumped. Sandslash was hit by a fiery punch in his vulnerable underbelly and flailed around a bit before slashing powerfully across Ampharos’s body. The sheep cried out, momentarily distracted as Sandslash landed on the floor and produced an Earthquake – not quite as powerful as the earlier one, but it was enough. Ampharos flailed around as it was shaken by the Earthquake shockwaves, the air around it sparkling and lighting a few hairs of wool briefly on fire, and then fell down.

“Ampharos, return.”

Sparky waited a little bit for the last strands of cotton to sink to the ground while Mark considered the situation. Sandslash might be able to take out one or two more Pokémon with his type advantage, and even after that, he had three of his Pokémon left. Admittedly, two of them had a weakness to electricity, but this was still not a bad situation. His heart thumped.

“Go, Electabuzz.”

Sparky threw a Pokéball and it popped open to release the bipedal tigerlike thing from before. It growled at Sandslash, who looked back at it calmly.

“Okay, Sandslash, just keep using Earthquake,” Mark said, trying to keep himself together. “It’s really your best bet to keep using it for as long as you can.”

“Electabuzz, hit it with an Ice Punch.”

The Electric Pokémon dashed forward, but it didn’t manage to reach Sandslash before he smashed his paws into the ground yet again and sent a flurry of ripples around the floor. Electabuzz tripped, releasing some accidental sparks, but then rose up, shook its head and jumped at the pangolin with icicles circling its fist.

“Slash!” Mark screamed, and Sandslash heartily agreed. The pangolin slashed with two claws right across Electabuzz’s body and then, at amazing speed, curled himself into a tight ball before the Electric-type struck him with the punch.

Sandslash bounced like a ball from the rubber floor, rolling all the way up to the wall, but there he uncurled and was still conscious. Electabuzz, however, looked exhausted.

“Just one more Quick Attack, old Buzzy,” Sparky encouraged his Pokémon. “Then you get to rest.”

Electabuzz took a deep breath and then zoomed at Sandslash at incredible speed. The pangolin had no time to attempt to dodge it, and was tackled into the wall.

“Electabuzz, return,” Sparky said calmly, absorbing the Pokémon into the Pokéball.

Mark looked at Sandslash. He had been knocked out.

“Sandslash, come back,” he sighed and recalled the pangolin. Sparky had two Pokémon left and he had three. He was still a little better off.

“Go, Electrode,” Sparky said, sending out his ball-like Pokémon.

“Letal, go!” Mark shouted and threw out his Pokéball.

He took a deep breath as Letal materialized on the floor. “Okay, Letal, try to hypnotize it. It’s very important.”

“Electrode, Thunder Wave!”

The ball Pokémon charged up electricity in its body at remarkable speed and released a wave of sparks straight at Letal. She was hit by it, but strained valiantly against the paralysis and stared hypnotically at Electrode, waving her tail softly from left to right. Mark’s expression brightened as the ball’s small pupils followed the tail and its eyelids started to sink.

“Oh, snap out of it,” Sparky said and rolled his eyes, but his Pokémon was too fascinated by Letal’s tail to notice that he was talking and slowly it fell into a deep sleep.

“Great, Letal,” Mark cheered. “Now, uh…”

He frantically tried to remember what attacks Letal knew. “Headbutt!” he quickly realized.

Letal growled and charged towards the Electrode. Halfway there, she nearly tripped when one of her legs stiffened in mid-step, but she gritted her teeth and forced herself to keep going. She had managed to gather pretty good speed by the time she lowered her head and smashed it into Electrode, sending it rolling backwards to the wall. She did not stop here, however; she followed it and proceeded to extend her claws and start to scrape them madly across Electrode’s hard surface. Only after she had been doing that for a few seconds did the ball Pokémon wake up.

“Finally,” Sparky said with another roll of his eyes. “Thunderbolt.”

The Electrode released a jolt of electricity into Letal’s body. She cried out in pain, jumping slightly away, but then she had a very nasty idea and stabbed her claws into Electrode’s eye.

“Ouch,” Sparky commented as Electrode let out a scream of pain. Mark was half-expecting blood to come gushing out and averted his eyes, but then remembered that Electrode had no blood.

“Electrode, return,” Sparky said. “Don’t your Pokémon have any manners?” he added to Mark as the Pokémon was absorbed back into its ball, sounding way too light-hearted to be taken seriously.

Mark just shook his head. Why did somebody keep getting stabbed in the eye in his battles? He thought he could remember Gyarados getting stabbed both by Moltres’ beak way back in the Cleanwater City Gym and by a Razor Leaf in the Green Town Gym.

“Go, Magneton.”

Mark looked up at the Pokémon that had faced Spirit earlier. He suddenly realized that this was Sparky’s last Pokémon. His heart beat faster: he had three Pokémon left while Sparky only had one!

“Okay, Letal, try to hypnotize it.”

“Magneton, Thunderbolt.”

Letal attempted the same trick she had used on Electrode, but the magnetic Pokémon seemed unaffected as sparks flew between its magnets. A bolt of lightning flew towards Letal and hit her squarely in the chest. She staggered backwards and then decided to take matters into her own paws: she leapt straight at Magneton and attempted to tackle it down to the ground. To her surprise, it bounced right back up to where it had been before.

“Thunderbolt again.”

Letal growled and tackled it in the air again, but the Magneton gave her another electric shock and she collapsed in a heap on the ground.

“Return,” Mark muttered, letting the red beam of the Pokéball take her in again. “Well, Charizard, show him what you can do.”

He threw out the next ball. It opened in the air and released his first Pokémon, who stretched his wings and flew up to hover close to the ceiling.

“Rain Dance,” Sparky ordered quickly.

“Flamethrower!” Mark shouted.

Charizard was faster. With a mighty roar, he inhaled deeply and breathed a blast of flames downwards at Magneton. It buzzed as it was scorched by the flames, but retaliated right back by doing the same kind of awkward magnet-dance in mid-air as it had in May’s battle. Again, clouds gathered near the ceiling and started to rain. Charizard winced, looking worriedly at his tail flame.

Now Mark was getting a little nervous again. “Charizard, smack it with your tail!”

“Thunder, Magneton.”

Charizard dived down, raising his flaming tail up and then smashing it into Magneton with all his might. The magnet Pokémon was thrown backwards and now had a nasty scorch mark on one of its bodies, but suddenly it pointed all of its magnets at Charizard and a bolt of lightning from the clouds above struck the dragon, who was already weakened by the rain, before he could even attempt to defend himself.

Charizard roared in pain, struggling to keep himself airborne. Sparky quickly gave another command:

“Sonicboom!”

Mark could see the raindrops swaying in the direction of the sound waves that Magneton started emitting. Wide-eyed, he watched Charizard, just recovering from the Thunder, attempt to cover his ears, roar and then finally crash on the ground.

“Charizard, return.”

Mark looked at Magneton. It was hurt, and acted it, too; it was sending off unintentional sparks every now and then and teetering slightly in the air.

“Scyther, finish it!”

As soon as Scyther started to materialize from the Pokéball, Mark had a feeling something was wrong. But he didn’t realize what it was until he saw that Scyther wasn’t steady on his feet.

“Oh dear,” Sparky said with an amused grin, voicing exactly Mark’s thoughts. “He’s still under the influence.”

“I’m fine,” Scyther mumbled. “Really…”

He made a respectable attempt to run towards Magneton and slash it, but missed it by a couple of feet.

Sparky shook his head. “Thunderbolt.”

It only took one bolt of lightning from Magneton’s magnets to make Scyther’s eyes roll backwards into his head and his body crumple uselessly down.

Mark stared down in embarrassment as he held out Scyther’s Pokéball and let him be absorbed by the beam. How could he have forgotten that Scyther had been suspended inside a Pokéball ever since yesterday evening, obviously keeping his physical state completely static?

Sparky walked up to him while the rain started to subside and shook Mark’s hand.

“Good game,” he said cheerfully.

Mark suddenly realized as Sparky let go off his hand that a small object was left in it. He stared at his palm in astonishment to see a shiny silver badge with a bolt of lightning engraved on it.

“I… didn’t win,” he just said.

Sparky smiled. “I was the one who served him the alcohol.”

“I wouldn’t have won anyway!” Mark said in frustration, contrary to his optimism in the battle itself. “What do you think a Scyther can do to a Steel Pokémon?”

“Oh, come on, it’s your birthday after all,” Sparky said and winked. “Keep it. You’d win later anyway.”

Mark still stared at the badge, but then closed his fist around it and smiled. While part of him wanted to earn the badge fairly, the other part was glad he didn’t have to repeat that.

“Thanks, Sparky.”

“You’re welcome,” the Gym leader said with a smile and shook his hand again. “Now, let’s get your Pokémon to Joy. We might be able to bribe her for some more cookies.”

As they all headed down the staircase and Alan congratulated him on winning, Mark’s thoughts wandered to the task of tomorrow.

-------

Author's Note: No, it is not a mistake that Spirit's Curse worked that way. The additional powers that Entei gave her are Ghost powers, and among them is that she counts as a Ghost when she uses Curse.


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