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The Quest for the Legends (ILCOE)

Chapter 40: In the Dark

They arrived in Acaria City around noon the next day.

Acaria City was the largest settlement in Ouen as well as one of the oldest. When the first early settlers had ventured inward in search of happiness, they had stumbled upon this beautiful, lush valley in the heart of the region and built many independent farms which later grew more numerous. By the time the place was densely populated enough for it to be impossible to call it anything but a city, there were at least three different families laying claim to the right to name it on the grounds that their ancestors had supposedly been the first people to live in the area, and for a long period of time the city had several different names. Before that dispute was ever resolved, however, a heroic young woman named Danielle Acaria and her bird Pokémon had next to single-handedly saved the city from being burnt to cinders by an army of trained Charizard from Johto, with which Ouen was at war at the time, and an overwhelming majority of the city’s inhabitants had afterwards agreed that it should be named Acaria City in her honour.

“Naturally, I won’t be able to go with you to Champion Island,” Alan was saying as they walked into the lush Route 317 in search of a good place to train for the Gym after lunch and a Pokémon Center rest. “I don’t have all the Ouen badges, so I can’t come onto the island without special permission. So while you’re there, I think I should be on the lookout for Rainteicune while training my Pokémon to be better able to battle some legendaries. Rainteicune is just a matter of finding him; he’ll let me recapture him as soon as I’ve explained the situation, so that shouldn’t be a problem. You’ll be partaking in the League, correct?”

May nodded. “Of course.”

Mark sighed and looked up. “I’m not sure I want to compete anymore. I don’t think competitive battling is really my thing.”

He’d said it. It felt odd to say it; part of him stubbornly felt like he was betraying his childhood self that had been so desperate to become a Pokémon trainer and participate in the League Championships. May looked at him out of the corner of her eye.

“Wouldn’t it seem mighty suspicious if you came to Champion Island and went through the cave but didn’t participate in the League? It would seem like you only got all the badges to be able to do something on the island and then run off.”

“I did get all the badges to be able to do something on the island,” Mark pointed out.

“But they don’t know you’re trying to capture a legendary dragon Pokémon before it goes mad, do they? They’ll figure you’re poaching Charmander or placing a bomb somewhere or trying to help somebody else cheat in the League or something.” She looked at him. “Besides, no offense, Mark, but your Pokémon really need the experience if we’re going to keep doing this legendary thing.”

Mark shrugged. “I guess,” he said. She did have a point, and he wasn’t sure he really wanted to argue. “But it isn’t over until sometime in August, is it? That’s an awful lot of time to waste not finding any legendaries.”

“Actually,” Chaletwo suddenly spoke up, “I think it’s a good idea you get your Pokémon trained. We have no legendaries whose location we know and should be heading to anyway after Polaryu, so we don’t know if we’d be finding any in that time at all, and frankly the prospect of having to battle the Waraider herd worries me at the moment, what with there being eight of them to fight at the same time.”

Mark’s stomach churned uncomfortably at the idea. Fighting just one legendary was bad enough. Eight at the same time seemed impossible. Some nice training did sound good in that context.

“Hey, Chaletwo,” Alan said, “you know what you were saying yesterday about the whole physical link to Mark thing? What if Molzapart linked to me in that way, and then if I find any legendaries we need to battle, Molzapart communicates with you somehow and you teleport Mark and May over?”

A second passed in silence. “Hmm,” Chaletwo replied. “Awfully risky, leaving Molzapart vulnerable to the Destroyer too for a couple of months. Right now he can still modify memories on a small scale. He could lose that.”

May shrugged. “Is that really ever going to be so useful?” she said. “Modifying memories is nice when you want to fake someone’s death while they’re still walking around, but now that that’s done, I can’t really think of any situations where we’d need it, especially since we’re done with both of the legendaries stuck next to towns. Better than some legendary blowing Alan’s head off while we’re not there, in any case.”

“Maintaining a constant, full psychic link between Molzapart and me would take a lot of energy,” Chaletwo said thoughtfully. “But I suppose it would be possible for me to listen for help calls. Molzapart wouldn’t be able to focus them to me specifically, but if he just sent a powerful psychic pulse in all directions, I’d be able to pick it up while Alan traps the legendary, and then you arrive in time for the battle… it should be a pretty solid plan aside from the lack of possible memory modifications, and I suppose May is right that it wouldn’t be much of a loss. Well, good idea, then, Alan. We’ll do this unless something changes.”

The road led them between beautiful, flowery hills along a river which also ran through the middle of the city. There was no wind at all and not a trace of clouds in the sky, making the landscape on the left-hand side look strangely still, but the flowing river on the right-hand side balanced it out to make it pleasantly alive.

“Are you still worried about Volcaryu?” Mark muttered under his breath, giving Chaletwo a mental prod.

“I’ll feel if he sends him out,” Chaletwo replied shortly.

“And what then?”

“We teleport to wherever they are.”

Mark would have stared at him if Chaletwo hadn’t been only in his head. “Carl would see you.”

“Yes.”

“And I told Carl a whole story about how you were going to take over the world using Volcaryu.”

“What else do you propose we do?” Chaletwo snapped. “Wait for the moment Volcaryu goes mad and kills us all?”

Mark paused. “We don’t really know what Carl would do with Volcaryu if anything,” he then said. “It’s pretty senseless to start wondering what we’re going to do if we don’t have the first idea what Carl is going to do.”

Chaletwo grunted in response, signalling that he wanted to end the conversation.

It was not long before they came to where the road turned north while the river continued on eastwards into a valley where it widened into a long lake.

“Okay,” said May and stopped, “let’s train here around the lake. Screw the wild Pokémon; our Pokémon will learn a lot more battling one another.”

Mark shrugged and the three of them walked together off the path to the lake.

“What levels are your Pokémon again, Mark?” May asked.

“Uh, fifty or so?” He shrugged.

“Right. I think we’d accomplish the most by training specific skills instead of just randomly battling one another. Send them out.”

Mark plucked the six Pokéballs from his belt and threw them loosely forward. Charizard, Jolteon, Sandslash, Dragonair, Scyther and Letal emerged in flashes of white light. May looked thoughtfully at them. “What level are Dragonair and Letal exactly?” she finally asked.

Mark reached for his Pokédex and pointed it at them in turn. “Dragonair’s level 51, Letal’s 49.”

She nodded thoughtfully. “Okay, they probably won’t evolve just yet. Let’s forget about doing that before the Gym for now and focus on some techniques.” She paused. “Hey, what does Letal know at the moment?”

“Um,” Mark said and began to count the ones he remembered off on his fingers. “Tackle, Tail Whip, Hypnosis, Take Down, Slash, Headbutt, Iron Tail, Iron Defense, Agility…”

“Payback?” May shot in. “Sand-Attack?”

Mark shrugged. “I don’t think I’ve ever used them. Oh, right,” he added, remembering the battle with Alan, “she managed to use Tri Attack the other day.”

May raised her eyebrows. “At level 49?”

“Yeah?”

She whistled. “Nice. Normally they only learn that very close to evolution.”

Letal looked at him, and he looked in puzzlement back at May. “So she’s going to evolve soon?”

May shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not. She could just have been quick to learn that attack.”

There was a second of silence while May regarded Letal with interest. “Well, anyway,” she said abruptly, snapping her gaze back to Mark. “What I was saying, I think Letal can learn some tricks. Lend me your Pokédex for a second?” She walked up to him and he obediently handed her the device. She pointed it at Letal and pressed a few buttons.

“Right,” she said, showing him the screen. “This is Letal’s ordinary attack list. They evolve from Leta at level thirty or so, having already learned this stuff here, and after they evolve they’ll proceed to learn this stuff.” She pointed vaguely to the bottom half of the list. “But they also gain the ability to develop their Headbutt and Payback attacks into new variations now that they’ve got armor and a Steel type to work with.” She scrolled to the top of the move list, where it listed Iron Head and Metal Burst just after the ordinary Tackle and Tail Whip. “So, well, yeah. They won’t learn moves like those on their own, but some focused training can do the trick. Wanna try it?”

Mark looked at Letal. “What do you think?” She just looked expectantly up at May.

May reached for her Pokéball necklace. “Okay, let’s see,” she muttered. She grabbed one of the balls and threw it; it opened and the light inside formed into Tyranitar.

Letal looked a bit doubtful, and Mark felt much the same way. “Why Tyranitar?” he protested. “There’s no way she can defeat him.”

“Since when was the point defeating him?” said May, looking at him out of the corner of her eye. “Tyranitar is best because he’s resistant to Normal and Dark attacks and weak to Steel attacks. This way we’ll know better when she’s doing it right. If her attacks are being empowered by her Steel-type, they will hurt Tyranitar a lot more.”

“Oh. Right.” Mark looked back at Letal and then at May again; Tyranitar stood calmly between them, observing Mark’s Pokémon. “So how do we do this?”

“Let’s start with Iron Head. Okay, Letal, I want you to try to use a Headbutt, just like normal, except with some Steel power to it. Try it.”

Letal took a nervous glance at Tyranitar and then charged, ramming her head into the dinosaur’s blue stomach. Tyranitar looked down at her, obviously just about completely unhurt. May sighed.

“Okay, let’s try again. Try to focus before you attack. Get the Steel-type into your head better. Try to…”

Letal closed her eyes, charged again and hit Tyranitar’s diamond-shaped stomach area again with similar results as before. She let out a cry of frustration.

“Now, Letal,” May began, but Mark cut her off, feeling a bit dumb just standing there.

“Aren’t we training my Pokémon here? Can’t I do this?”

May rolled her eyes. “If you want.”

“Okay, Letal, try to…” Mark attempted to imagine himself as a Pokémon, but couldn’t really relate to the experience of learning new attacks at all. “Eh, what do you do when you use something like Iron Tail? Can’t you just try to do the same thing, except for the… head… instead of the tail?”

Letal closed her eyes to concentrate and her tail began to glow with white energy. She shook her head in irritation and tried again; this time her tail flickered and after a moment her mask lit up instead.

“Okay, that might be it,” he said encouragingly. “Try it.”

Letal charged and smashed her head into Tyranitar’s body, and nothing happened. Tyranitar grunted and looked at May.

“Nope, not it,” she said and shook her head. “Maybe a step in the right direction, but not it.”

“How do people normally do this?” Mark asked in frustration. “There has to be some method to get it right, hasn’t there?”

May shrugged. “Normally people go to eccentric professionals who make you pay in some silly items they happen to collect.”

Mark looked at her strangely. “Uh, okay, Letal, try again. Concentrate more. Try to get more energy into the mask.”

She made another attempt that did little more than the previous.

“Hey,” May suddenly said, “I don’t think it’s about the mask. The problem isn’t that she’s not touching him with a metallic surface or something. It’s that she’s not hitting him hard enough.”

She walked quickly around to stand in front of Tyranitar and gave him a rough push with her hand and then a punch; she winced slightly while the dinosaur was as comically unaffected as ever.

“See,” she said and rubbed her knuckles, “it’s just that his skin is harder than her neck. Even if I had a metal shield on my fist I wouldn’t be able to do anything much to him because my arm absorbs too much of the power of the impact. Same with Letal’s neck. If you get my drift.”

Mark looked blankly at her.

May sighed. “Letal, try to make your neck metallic while you do it too. Or your whole body, even. Whatever works best.”

She stepped to the side and Letal closed her eyes to concentrate again. Her entire body was enveloped into that white glow, almost as if she were evolving, but then she charged and in mid-air the glow changed to a shiny chrome spread uniformly over her body just a split second before she smashed headfirst into Tyranitar’s belly.

The dinosaur roared and staggered a couple of steps backwards, shaking his head. He growled at Letal; Mark’s Pokémon had returned to looking her ordinary self.

“Great job, Letal,” Mark said and petted the tired Pokémon’s neck a little. “You’ll get that other one in no time.”

“That’s more like it,” said May, smiling in satisfaction. “Let’s try that again a few more times.”

-------

The current Acaria City Gym leader was a descendant of the city’s founder, a young woman named Diana Acaria, whose decision to train Dark Pokémon from Johto after having been a great fan of former Elite Four member Karen since childhood would most likely not have pleased her famous ancestor very much. The Gym, which she had inherited from her father, had originally been a Flying-type Gym and still bore some witness to that past in its outwards appearance: Mark noticed feathers decorating the wooden panel bearing the Gym’s name above the entrance. Diana, however, had had the panel, as well as the rest of the Gym, painted in a jet-black color that made the building seem awfully foreboding. The words ‘ACARIA CITY GYM’ were now blood red.

It had been an exhausting day of training, but it had been worth it: Mark felt fairly confident now that he had gotten a chance to focus a little on each of his Pokémon, and Letal in particular had gotten a lot out of it. May had given him helpful tips about Dark-type Pokémon that he tried to keep bubbling at the top of his mind. They’d had dinner with Alan and then parted with him at a trainer hotel while the two of them headed to the Gym, which was apparently only open after sundown.

“Is it just me or doesn’t it have any windows?” May commented. Mark squinted at the building; what appeared to have been windows at some point had been sloppily boarded up and the boards then painted black like the rest of it.

“So then why,” she continued, “does she even bother not having it open in the day? It’s not like you could tell the difference from the inside.”

Mark shrugged. “Maybe Dark-types just feel better in the night or something.” He glanced up at the murky sky; the western horizon was still pink with dark purple clouds floating lazily above the roofs of the buildings. The eastern sky had gone dark blue.

“Well, there’s no sun visible anymore, so it’s got to count as open,” May said, echoing his thoughts. “Let’s get inside.”

She walked up to the double doors and Mark hastily followed. May peered at the door knockers, shaped like the heads of a Tyranitar and a Houndoom holding rings in their mouths, and then grabbed the Tyranitar one and knocked harshly on the door a few times. They heard the ringing echo of the knock inside, but nobody came to open the door.

May pushed the door, and it opened. “Well, that was pointless,” she said, raising an eyebrow at the ornate door knockers as they stepped inside.

The door slammed shut, and it was dark.

Really, really dark.

“What the hell?” Mark heard May mutter by his side. He knew more about the Gyms of his region than she did, of course, and had previously been vaguely aware that this Gym was dark, but somehow he had never quite realized just how dark.

“Wait,” he said. “There’s supposed to be a candle.”

He blinked a few times and looked around. The building was huge, since after all it had used to be a Flying-type Gym that had to give the bird Pokémon some room to fly; the arena had then, he knew, been dug partly into the ground in order to compensate for not being allowed to make the roof of the building higher than a standard battle arena, but it was spacious on the horizontal plane as well. Finally he found a flicker of faint light somewhere at the far right. Suspiciously faint, in fact. He wasn’t quite sure how he got the idea of trying to stand on tiptoe, but when he did, the actual flame came into view. Clearly there was something in the way.

“May, do you see the candle?” Mark asked. She was taller than him, after all.

“Yeah,” she said, “but what is it for? It’s not exactly lighting the way.”

“The Gym Leader is there,” Mark said. “It’s a puzzle. You’re supposed to get there in the dark. Presumably there are some obstacles on the way.”

May sighed. “I don’t get Gym puzzles. What do they have to do with your Pokémon battling ability? And couldn’t you just bring a flashlight, anyway? Or a Pokémon with Flash?”

Mark shrugged. “I guess Diana would strangle you.”

May snorted. “Just try to stay close and we’ll figure this out. Let’s try just going in the opposite direction of the door first.”

Mark did so and bumped into a wall. “Ow. There’s a wall.”

“Yeah, I noticed,” May said on his left.

He felt the wall up and down and found it to be about a head shorter than him, but there were large spikes on the top to make it clear they weren’t supposed to climb over it. He felt it experimentally a bit more to the right and found a corner; he felt the whole right wall to confirm there was no getting past it and then said, “Dead end on this side.”

“Not on this one, I think,” May said, a bit farther to his left now. “No, the wall goes on. Follow me.”

Mark hurried over and bumped into her back.

“Watch it,” May hissed.

“Sorry.”

May felt their way ahead along the wall for a little while and they’d gotten to a reasonable pace when suddenly she stopped and Mark bumped into her back again.

“The wall turns right here,” she said.

“Well, let’s go there, then.”

They followed that path a couple of meters in before it turned right again, and then continued for a few more before May told Mark to stop.

“What?”

“It’s a dead end,” she said and he could hear her hands feeling the wall in front of them. “And there haven’t been any other paths since we turned for the first time. It’s a maze.”

Mark sighed. “Let’s go back to the first path by the outside wall.”

He led the way now; they had no need to feel the walls on the way as long as they were careful to know where they were on their path. Finally they got back to the outside wall and found that indeed, they could continue straight ahead where they had turned. Mark was still in the lead, but this time they decided to feel one wall each in order to know their options more easily. He covered the wall on the right while May was by the outside wall; the path was still rather narrow and they couldn’t stand side by side.

“It turns here,” he said as he felt the wall end on his side and stepped into the new path.

“Here too,” May confirmed behind him to his left. “No choice, then.”

Mark took a step forward and suddenly found himself falling. He let out some sort of a yelp and then realized he was sliding down the slippery inside of a wide pipe, having only barely enough time to come to this conclusion before he tumbled out of the end of the pipe onto some soft surface. He shook his head and stood up, blinking as he realized that there was dim light coming from somewhere on the left. The room was cold.

May’s feet knocked him back over as she came sliding down the pipe after him. He managed to stop his fall with his hands; the floor seemed to have been covered with old, dirty mattresses.

“You fell down too, huh?”

“I stepped forward to see why you yelled.” May stood up and blinked while Mark looked around. The room had a pretty high ceiling, and wide pipes like the one they had slid down were here and there, reaching from their opening near the floor, spiralling gently upwards and disappearing into the ceiling. On the left, where the light came from, there was a staircase.

“Right,” May said as she noticed it. “Okay, so presumably the floor in the Gym has a bunch of trapdoors and they send you down here, which means you have to go back up outside, enter the Gym again, and start the maze from scratch. Right?”

Mark nodded. “Looks like it to me.”

“That’s going to be a lot of fun.”

They walked towards the staircase and up, emerging out of the ground by the side of the Gym. They went back around to the front doors and reentered the darkness, finding their way quickly back to where they had fallen down the first time.

“Okay, wait a second,” May said. “I want to see how these trapdoors work.”

Mark stepped blindly into the corner on the left while May bent down and seemed to start feeling the floor. He waited for a few awkward seconds; there were two knocks.

“Okay,” said May’s voice, “the trapdoors open only when you put enough weight on them, I assume, because giving it a push didn’t do it, so you can’t just feel around with your foot. On the other hand, there is a bit of a difference in the sound when you knock on a trapdoor than when you knock on the normal floor.” She knocked twice with her foot again, and indeed the sound was different.

“Which was which?” Mark asked doubtfully.

“First was trapdoor, second was floor.” She did it again. “I’ll take the lead now, okay?”

She did, and slowly they navigated their way through the maze, with May notifying him of and guiding him past the trapdoors on the way. Eventually they came straight to a wall where the path split in a T to the left and right. The flickering candlelight was still on the right, now far closer than it had originally been.

“Could be a trick,” May said. “Candle’s on the right, so she wants us to go right, but really it’s left.”

“Or the right way actually is right.”

“Do we split?”

“No,” Mark said quickly, not wanting to get lost completely alone in the dark. “We can try one first.”

May sighed. “Mine first, then?”

“Sure.”

As it turned out, after wandering around the darkness for a long while during which Mark completely lost track of where he was, May concluded that her way had been a collection of dead ends after all. This then provoked her into a rant about how stupid Diana must be while they returned to the original place where they had disagreed on where to go. Mark didn’t feel overly exhilarated about his way having been right, having much preferred if the other one had been so that they’d have gotten to the Gym leader sooner, but when they headed along the right path he could at least feel sure they were on the way there.

The path turned right again and continued straight from there for a while until they again reached a left and right split.

“So,” Mark said. “Left or right?”

“This is the front wall of the Gym,” May said from in front of him, apparently referring to the wall straight ahead. “Right is away from the candle this time, since we’re oriented the other way. Even if we didn’t already know Diana doesn’t try to make things non-straightforward, I’m pretty sure with the shape of our path here that way has got to be a dead end. So let’s go left.”

As it turned out, that was the last dead end on the way: they felt their way a short distance along the left path before it turned left again, and then they had a straight view of the candle standing on a table in an ornate candlestick at the far end of the hallway with no wall in sight between them.

“We’re here!” Mark shouted and was about to break into a run, but May must have heard him move because she grabbed the back of his shirt.

“Are you crazy? There are bound to be trapdoors on the way now. She wants you to get overconfident now that you can see the goal. Or at least I hope she figured that out and is not completely braindead.”

This time May was right: they navigated their way around three trapdoors uncomfortably close together and one farther along before finally making it to the table with a sigh of relief.

Mark looked around. The candle didn’t give much light; it illuminated the long silver candlestick and the wooden surface of the table, but he could only dimly see the faint orange flicker on the walls around, and aside from glistening off a couple of spikes, the light didn’t illuminate the walls farther away at all.

“So what do we do now?” asked May. “Where’s Diana?”

Just as she said the name, a door opened in the far right corner; Mark hadn’t noticed it was even there. In stepped a beautiful young woman with long, dark hair (it looked dyed, in fact, thought Mark), wearing a plain black dress, along with a demonic-looking dog Pokémon and a naturally dark-haired teenage boy in a black cape.

Victor?” Mark asked incredulously and May spun around at the mention of the name. The boy looked up and grinned.

“Hey, guys. Mitch told me you managed to get from the Pokémon Festival okay. How have you been?”

“I got a Tyranitar now!” May said immediately. “You said I could find Mutark then, right?”

“Yeah,” Victor said and nodded. “If you want to get one, they’re usually found around Route 316. You know, between here and Scorpio City. I first met you in Scorpio City just after I caught Precious, didn’t I?”

“What are you doing here?” Mark asked, still dumbfounded. “Are you a junior trainer in the Gym?”

“Well, that’s what I came here to be,” Victor said and grinned. “But… Diana decided I was too good for that and made me assistant Gym leader instead.”

Mark stared. Victor grinned still more widely.

“So well, since there are two of you, we’ve decided that this will be a tag battle. Do you know how that works?”

“Two trainers on the same team, isn’t it?” Mark said doubtfully.

“Yeah. Both trainers send out one Pokémon at a time in a double battle. We will all use five Pokémon this time, and at the end of the match, all challengers who still have a Pokémon standing get a badge.”

As if to underline his words with additional dramatics, Diana’s Houndoom breathed out a bright Flamethrower that swept over the walls ahead and to the right with practiced accuracy, lighting torches in the walls to illuminate the Gym building better. Mark stared over the maze and wondered briefly how in the world they got around it in the dark.

The actual battle arena was to the left, marked by the usual lines in the floor, and all four trainers walked over to it, the leaders taking the farther end and the challengers the nearer. A rather small pool lay on the left side of the arena, the still water dark aside from the distorted, bright orange reflections of the torches on the walls.

“Acaria City Pokémon Gym,” Diana said in a strong, regal voice. “Two on two tag battle, five Pokémon apiece. No switching allowed until a Pokémon has fainted. All trainers carrying six must lay one Pokéball on the table before the battle begins.”

The leaders, of course, had only brought in the Pokémon they were going to use, so Mark and May had to turn back to the table. Mark took out his Pokédex and considered his choices. Sandslash’s most powerful attack was Earthquake, which would hurt May’s Pokémon too; he was probably the most obvious candidate for leaving out of the battle, and thus Mark quickly switched him to the PC. But who else should he leave out? If there was a pool in a Dark-type Gym, it wasn’t unlikely that one of them had a Water-type Pokémon – Sharpedo came to mind immediately – and having Jolteon would be nice in that case.

In fact, he could think of Dark-type Pokémon that each of his Pokémon would have a type advantage over except for Dragonair, and although he’d have loved to look at him perform more Dragon Rushes, he placed the dragon’s Pokéball on the table beside the candle.

“Who are you leaving out?” May whispered.

“Sandslash and Dragonair.”

“Then if you kept Jolteon, I’m leaving Raichu. Do you mind?”

He shook his head, she placed one of her minimized balls on the table, and they walked back to their place on the arena.

“Houndoom, go!” Diana said sharply without warning, and the hellhound Pokémon leapt into the arena with a growl.

“Go, Insidious!” shouted Victor, throwing a Pokéball. It emerged into a scarecrow-like cactus Pokémon with an all-too-creepy grin; for some reason the buried fact that the large dark green diamond shape on its stomach meant it was female bubbled up in Mark’s head as he saw it.

“Spirit, do it!” May yelled as she threw out one of her own Pokéballs. Mark quickly went over what Pokémon he had in his head: it was better to save Jolteon for a possible Water-type, Letal and Scyther would be at risk from Houndoom, and he could probably do more useful things with Gyarados later in the battle.

“Charizard, go!” he shouted, throwing his own Pokéball just as he realized that this would mean they were both using Fire Pokémon and that that might not be good when they weren’t allowed to switch. He looked worriedly at May; she looked back at him with an expression that didn’t seem so much disappointed as surprised.

“Crunch on the Charizard,” ordered Diana.

“Spirit, Flamethrower the Cacturne once Ch…” May looked at Mark, her expression turning frustrated, and yelled, “Charizard, Flamethrower Spirit already!”

Mark stared at her, dumbfounded, as his Pokémon obeyed the order: Charizard, who had not taken off the ground, took a deep breath and quickly enveloped the Ninetales in bright flames out of his throat as Diana’s Houndoom leapt onto his body with a snarl and locked its jaws around his neck. Meanwhile, Spirit was glowing with heat, and she began to take a breath to execute her own attack.

“Sucker Punch the Ninetales!” Victor cried, and all of a sudden Insidious, grinning her creepy grin, spun around on the spot, appearing just in front of Spirit and socking her in the jaw before reappearing where she had been before. Spirit staggered backwards with a growl, but shook her head and breathed a long tongue of fire at the cactus Pokémon, who was easily scorched.

“Mark,” May said quickly, “that was activating Flash Fire. It’s useful. Houndoom probably has it too, so don’t use any Fire attacks on it, okay?”

Mark just nodded; he vaguely remembered Flash Fire now that she mentioned it. “Okay, Charizard, uh, Flamethrower the Cacturne.”

“Spirit, use Confuse Ray on the Houndoom!”

“Destiny Bond, Insidious!”

Just as Charizard inhaled and released a blast of flames towards the cactus Pokémon, she glowed with a purple aura, and as the scarecrow-like body was lit on fire and the Pokémon roared in pain, so did Charizard. Diana shouted something to her Houndoom, but Mark didn’t hear it as Charizard collapsed onto the ground at exactly the same time as the Cacturne did.

“Return,” he said, recalling his first Pokémon back to the safety of his ball while Victor did the same for Insidious. Mark thought for a moment and then picked Gyarados’s ball; after all, there were no Dark/Electric Pokémon to his knowledge.

“Go, Gyarados!”

The sea monster emerged in the pool from a blob of white light. Victor nodded and took out one of his own Pokéballs.

“Go, Vicious!”

Precious, Vicious and Insidious. Clearly Victor had a naming pattern. Mark chuckled as the light from the ball formed into a shark Pokémon opposite Gyarados in the pool.

“Gyarados, Hydro Pump on the Houndoom!” Mark yelled.

“Vicious, use Aqua Jet on the Ninetales.”

“Houndoom, Faint Attack on the Gyarados!”

“Spirit, Payback on the Sharpedo!”

Victor’s shark Pokémon seemed to turn into a blast of water as it smashed out of the pool and straight into Spirit’s body. The Ninetales shook it off fairly easily although the attack had hit her by surprise and retaliated by wrapping her body in a purple aura and tackling the shark Pokémon in mid-air to send it back into the pool. Just as she did so, the Houndoom vanished from where it was and reappeared in mid-air behind Gyarados, smacking him upside the head with a paw before reappearing where it had been before. The sea monster growled and fired a well-aimed blast of water from his mouth that smashed the Houndoom into the wall.

“Another Aqua Jet on the Ninetales!” Victor was ordering his Pokémon.

“Flamethrower it,” May hissed back as the shark bounded into Spirit again. She responded while Vicious was still in mid-air getting back to the pool: a cloud of silky flames scorched the shark Pokémon and it shivered as it landed back in the pool, swimming hastily back and forth for a few seconds.

Meanwhile, the dousing had apparently shaken the confusion off Diana’s Houndoom, and when it had stood up and shaken its fur dry, she gave it an order: “Thunder Fang the Gyarados!”

Mark stared wide-eyed as the dog Pokémon growled and ran towards the pool with sparks flying around its bared teeth. Instead of attacking to Gyarados’s face, the Houndoom swiftly turned to the other side of the pool and clamped its jaws onto the sea monster’s exposed tail before he had managed to react. Gyarados roared with terrifying power as he thrashed wildly about, trying to shake the attacker off his tail; finally he managed to slam the Houndoom harshly enough into the floor beside the pool to make it let go, and he recovered soon afterwards. The Houndoom stood weakly up.

“Quick Attack the Houndoom!” May barked, and Spirit smacked her body into the dog Pokémon’s body before it had the time to defend itself or get out of the way. It collapsed again, and this time it stayed down.

“Houndoom, return,” Diana said, holding out a Pokéball that zapped the Pokémon quickly inside. “Honchkrow, go.”

What emerged from the ball was a large, black bird with a collar of white feathers in the shape of a beard and head feathers forming something suspiciously like a wizard’s hat. It cawed in a hoarse voice and flew into the air.

“Spirit, Flamethrower it!” May said immediately, and the Ninetales turned her head towards the crow and breathed out a plume of fire. The Honchkrow screeched in pain, but recovered quickly, flapping its wings to get rid of some dust between its feathers.

Mark looked quickly back at Gyarados. The Sharpedo, having gathered dark energy into its dorsal fin, was now using it as a blade to hack away at Gyarados’s body below the surface of the pool, while the sea monster thrashed around, growling in annoyance as he snapped his jaws close to the shark but never quite reached it.

“Just Dragon Beam it!” Mark shouted. Gyarados looked at him and then at the three blue jewels on one of his upper segments before he shook his head hatefully and lunged his head down again. This time he managed to bite down hard on one of the shark’s fins and raised its body out of the water, shaking it around.

“Vicious, use Assurance!” Victor called, and Gyarados’s mouth exploded in a swirl of dark energy. The sea monster roared while the shark Pokémon fell back into the pool.

“Hyper Beam, then?” Mark said in frustration, part of him wishing he had brought Dragonair instead of Gyarados. The sea monster looked down at the Sharpedo in the pool, which was again preparing to slash with its dorsal fin, and an orb of white energy formed in his mouth before smashing down at the shark, splashing water everywhere.

This caused May and Diana to look up, having been fiercely engaged in their own half of the battle. Vicious the Sharpedo floated upside-down to the top of the pool, clearly unconscious, while Gyarados slumped down against the floor beside the pool to catch his breath, the Hyper Beam having taken a lot of energy out of him.

Mark looked back towards the other side of the arena, where Spirit and Honchkrow were still fighting; May’s Pokémon had just fired another Flamethrower towards her opponent, which squawked and retreated a little further away in the air. The Ninetales was beginning to grow weary with the various cuts and bruises that the huge bird had given her. Honchkrow, on the other hand, still looked to be in reasonably good shape aside from a number of its feathers which were burning with ghostly blue fire.

“Honchkrow, use Dark Pulse!” Diana ordered, and the bird gave a powerful flap of its wings, sending a ripple of dark energy across the floor below it to strike the fox Pokémon. Spirit staggered backwards and then crumpled to the ground, fainted.

Mark suddenly became aware that Victor had just sent out a Pokémon and quickly looked over to where he was. The white shape of a wolflike Pokémon was just fading into its natural colors of black and gray; the Mightyena growled and bared its fangs.

May looked quickly at Victor’s choice of a Pokémon and then back at Honchkrow, and finally grabbed a ball from her Pokéball necklace. “Go, Vibrava!”

“Honchkrow, use a Dark Pulse on the Gyarados!” Diana said sharply, not waiting for May’s Pokémon to even come out of his Pokéball. Gyarados was still recovering his strength and could only watch as the giant crow sent another powerful pulse of dark energy his way. After all the beating he had taken already, Gyarados didn’t really stand a chance; he grunted in pain as the attack hit him and then just gave way to unconsciousness.

Mark recalled him quickly. He knew just what he was going to send out next.

“Jolteon, do it! Thunderbolt the Honchkrow!”

While Jolteon was emerging from his Pokéball, Victor’s Mightyena, apparently called Ferocious, had managed to pull off a Scary Face and May’s Vibrava was whimpering in fear close to his trainer, much to her dismay.

“Come on!” she hissed. “Use Screech on the stupid thing!”

As Jolteon fired a bolt of electricity towards Diana’s Pokémon with a cry, the antlion Pokémon pulled himself together and let out a high-pitched sound that was only vaguely uncomfortable to everyone present except Ferocious, at whom it was aimed; the Mightyena cowered, laying its ears flat against its head while May ordered Vibrava to follow it up with a Sand Tomb. Mark looked quickly back at Honchkrow to find that Jolteon’s Electric attack had actually brought it down; the bird had fallen onto the floor where Diana was just recalling it.

“Go, Weavile!” the Gym leader shouted. “Hit the Vibrava with an Ice Shard!”

May’s Pokémon had still not executed the last order she had given him when a white shape appeared out of Diana’s Pokéball, turned into a limber, black, clawed Pokémon and fired a spontaneously generated sharp shard of ice straight at the Vibrava’s head. The Pokémon screamed in pain as it hit and then fell limply to the ground, a few legs twitching.

May recalled him silently while Mark’s attention turned back to Jolteon, on whom Victor’s Mightyena was currently focusing its efforts while the Eevee evolution defended himself heroically with small bursts of electricity between dodging its snapping jaws.

“Ferocious, use a Taunt!”

Mark just barely had time to see May send out her Skarmory before the wolf Pokémon stopped and muttered something in Pokémon speech with a glint of more than just reflected light in its eyes. Jolteon turned around, shivering for a moment before he suddenly hissed, his spiky fur raising itself up on his back as it crackled with electric sparks.

Mark was about to tell him to use Thunder Wave when he realized that Taunt was specifically made to prevent him from using that sort of thing. “Thunderbolt!” he just yelled, even though Jolteon was pumping a jolt of electricity into the Mightyena’s body already.

“Sucker Punch!” Victor ordered, and just as Jolteon was charging another Thunderbolt, Ferocious leapt at him with a raised paw and smacked him into the floor with it. He let the electricity loose in more or less random directions as he cried out in pain, sparks flying across the floor. Jolteon immediately began charging up energy again, but the Mightyena hit him with another Sucker Punch and he collapsed with a defeated whine.

“Sorry, Jolteon,” Mark said as he recalled the Pokémon. “You did a good job.”

He looked at May’s Skarmory; his wings were glowing as he smashed them into the Weavile’s body. The weasel Pokémon hissed, stretching the feathery crest on its head to its maximum size, and then retaliated by leaping into the air and hitting the metallic vulture with a well-aimed punch from its icy claws.

That reminded Mark that he had a Steel Pokémon too.

“Letal, go!” he shouted. “Use Iron Head on the Weavile!”

“Weavile, use another Ice Punch on the Skarmory!” Diana ordered her Pokémon.

“Ferocious, use Swagger on the Skarmory!”

“Skarmory, hit the Weavile with Steel Wing again!”

The Weavile was the fastest of the three Pokémon. It leapt into the air with ice crystals forming around the claws of its right arm and then smacked it into Skarmory’s body. The bird Pokémon used the opportunity while it was there to strike it with glowing wings, throwing it back down at the ground, where it was about to stand up when Letal rushed towards it and headbutted it straight into the floor, her body temporarily metallic. The weasel Pokémon let out a mewling sound of pain but then just stopped moving.

“Hmph,” Diana said, looking at Letal. “Weavile, return.”

While the Gym leader recalled her Pokémon, Ferocious the Mightyena had apparently managed to pull off that Swagger because Skarmory bonked his head into the wall near the ceiling before fluttering drunkenly back towards the wolf Pokémon.

“Hit it with Drill Peck,” May said.

Skarmory managed to keep his directions for a few seconds, long enough to put a spin on himself and dive towards the Mightyena. He also managed to do this with surprising speed such that Victor’s Pokémon was only beginning to try to get out of the way when Skarmory struck it with his drilling beak and then crash-landed on top of it. Ferocious yelped in pain under the heap of metallic bird and neither of them moved.

May recalled her Pokémon, as did Victor with an encouraging “Nice work.”

“It seems we all have two Pokémon left,” Diana observed. “That is nicely even.”

“Let’s get on with it,” May just said, having seemed rather irritated ever since Vibrava’s not-all-too-glorious performance. She picked a Pokéball from her necklace and then waited for the Gym leaders.

Diana smiled faintly. “Heh. You know the rules, I see.”

“Leader sends out first,” May just said.

“Fine. Umbreon, I choose you!”

“Malicious, you go, girl!”

Diana’s Pokéball sent out a black creature with long ears and a pattern of glowing, yellow rings on its body while the light from Victor’s ball emerged into the white-furred, clawed and scythed shape of an Absol.

“Butterfree, go!” May shouted, hurling her ball forward with more force than usual as a triumphant smile broke out on her face. “Use Bug Buzz on the Absol!”

Mark wished in a way now that he had Scyther out instead of Letal – now that both of the Pokémon they were facing were pure Dark-types, it would have been nice to take them on with two bugs. But he couldn’t switch now.

“Malicious, use Sucker Punch on the Butterfree!”

“Umbreon, get it with Confuse Ray!”

Mark had only a moment to figure out which Pokémon he wanted to attack and came to the conclusion that they might as well split their efforts. “Letal, use Iron Head on the Umbreon!”

The first attack to make contact was the Absol’s, Sucker Punch being what it was. While May’s Butterfree was still getting ready to attack, Malicious leapt into the air with a hiss and smacked a huge, clawed paw into the butterfly’s body. She was thrown harshly backwards in the air, but managed fairly quick recovery and flapped her wings extremely rapidly for a moment, producing a high-pitched buzz that made the Absol cringe in pain. Meanwhile the Umbreon was creating a small ghost light in front of it, but Letal came flying at its side, her body metallized again, and managed to drive it into the wall with her attack. Umbreon flinched for a second, losing its concentration for the Confuse Ray.

“Butterfree, Safeguard!” May yelled. “Mark, keep the Absol occupied!”

“Okay, uh, try a Hypnosis!”

“Umbreon, use a Screech on the Letal,” Diana commanded.

“Malicious, hit the Butterfree with Aerial Ace!” Victor ordered, his Absol nodding immediately as she prepared to leap with an intimidating hiss. Just as she sprang up into the air, however, Letal tackled her back down in mid-leap, pinned her down and stared intently into the Dark Pokémon’s eyes for a few seconds. Malicious hissed in response but soon stopped struggling and fell into deep, hypnotic sleep.

“Great,” May said while her Pokémon formed two translucent white bubbles of energy around herself and Letal. “We can focus on the Umbreon now. Butterfree, Bug Buzz.”

The Gym leader’s Pokémon was just crouching down and letting out a high-pitched screech that made Letal cringe. She stood up from the limp Absol’s body and looked at Mark as May’s Butterfree produced another powerful buzzing sound, this time aimed at the Umbreon.

“Butterfree, Silver Wind!”

“Okay, Letal, use… use Tri Attack. See if you can get it affected by a status condition.”

Letal’s mask glowed with white energy before she lowered her head, three pale beams of red, blue and yellow shooting from the points of the mask towards Diana’s Pokémon. As they struck simultaneously, a gust of silvery powder swept through the room from Butterfree’s fluttering wings to the already recoiling Umbreon, who whimpered as the powder settled into its fur. It shook itself, sending the powder swirling back towards the floor.

“By the way, Mark,” May said quietly, “don’t try to inflict a status effect on it. It has the Synchronize ability.”

“It has what?”

“Synchronize. If it gets paralyzed, burned, frozen or whatever, so does Letal.”

“Oh.” Mark looked blankly at Letal while Diana issued another command to her Umbreon:

“Moonlight!”

May swore under her breath as the translucent image of a full moon appeared shimmering in the air above them, beams of light shining upon the Umbreon. “Okay, Butterfree, use Silver Wind as often as you can. Mark, try to wear it down.”

“Uh, Letal, use Iron Tail.”

“Her fourth move,” May muttered to remind him as Letal sped towards Diana’s Pokémon, her tail glowing. Letal swung it at the Umbreon, but being that the tail wasn’t the easiest body part to strike someone with, the other Pokémon managed to dodge.

“Try again,” Mark just called, and this time Letal managed to spin around quickly enough to smash her tail into the Umbreon’s head. Being newly healed, the Gym leader’s Pokémon didn’t appear at all close to fainting, but it was clearly becoming a little tired. Butterfree fired another gust of silver powder towards it and it staggered backwards and shook its head.

“Umbreon, use Last Resort,” Diana said calmly. Her Pokémon suddenly glowed all white and then simply smashed into Letal’s body with unprecedented force.

“Metal Burst!” Mark blurted out as his Pokémon flew through the air and landed on the floor. She tumbled a few times over, in fact straight into the still-sleeping Malicious who was still lying on the floor with her trainer watching her carefully. Letal bolted right back up, her body turning entirely metallic before playing out a reflection of the Umbreon’s attack, smashing right back into Diana’s Pokémon which tumbled even farther across to the other side of the room.

When the Steel Pokémon’s body bumped into her, however, the Absol had begun to stir. Mark saw her open an eye just as yet another Silver Wind struck the Umbreon.

“The Absol’s waking up!” Mark shouted to May, and she looked sharply towards the white Pokémon as she shook her head and rose slowly to her feet. Mark looked up at Butterfree and saw that May’s Pokémon was bathed in a silvery aura that her body seemed to be absorbing by the second. The white bubble of light was fading away now.

“Umbreon, use Last Resort on the Butterfree!” Diana ordered.

“Butterfree, Bug Buzz the Absol!” May yelled.

“Use that Aerial Ace, Malicious!” Victor called.

But Butterfree was quicker now. She flapped her wings with far more power than before, producing a hectic mess of screeching sound waves that made Victor’s Absol scream in pain before collapsing, once again limp on the ground. Diana’s Pokémon glowed all white again and shot into the air, smashing Butterfree into the ceiling from where she crumpled uselessly down like a paper toy. Letal, her body turned metallic yet again, smashed the Umbreon into the wall with her head.

Diana’s Pokémon moaned in pain while Letal stepped away, her breathing fast and heavy. Then the Umbreon fell down, unconscious, while Letal trembled on her feet. She was obviously exhausted.

“I’ll recall you now,” Mark just muttered while the other three trainers drew their Pokéballs. Letal, however, shook her head fiercely.

“I want to evolve,” she wheezed quietly, almost angrily. “Don’t…”

He considered recalling her anyway, just because she looked almost sick. But she turned her head firmly back towards the Gym leaders and waited. Victor gave her a slightly concerned look before he reached for his last Pokéball.

Mark came to the sudden dumbfounded realization that out of all four trainers in the battle, he was the only one with two Pokémon left at this point. Even May was sending out her last. The thought made him grin for some reason.

“All right, then, Letal,” he said. “If you want to keep fighting, you can.”

“Precious, you’re up,” Victor said, throwing the familiar Ultra Ball into the arena to release the innocent-looking black kitten Pokémon that Sandslash had battled the first time they had met Victor. Letal growled suspiciously at it; “Mewww-tark!” it mewled happily in response.

“Tyranitar, GO!” said both girls’ voices at the same time.

The green dinosaur Pokémon that Diana sent out looked a lot like May’s – it was just at least a foot taller and a lot bulkier along with being a little darker in color, obviously being the older and more experienced Pokémon. It let out an ear-splitting roar as it emerged from its Pokéball, throwing its powerful tail around. A gust of sand whipped around the arena behind it.

It looked at its smaller adversary with a confident smirk, and May’s Tyranitar responded with a challenging roar of his own.

“Mark, you fight the Tyranitar,” May said quickly. “Letal’s got the type advantage. Tyranitar, get Mutark with Stone Edge!”

May’s Pokémon growled at the other Tyranitar but turned obediently towards the kitten.

“Letal, Iron Head!” Mark blurted out.

“Tyranitar, Crunch the Letal,” Diana ordered.

“Precious, just hang on!”

Letal was running towards Diana’s Pokémon already, having metallized her body although she was clearly shaking from the effort now. She smashed her head into the beast’s blue belly and got it to grunt in pain before it bent down and picked her up in its powerful jaws. She squirmed around, turning the non-armored parts of her body into metal again even as the dinosaur shook her around in its mouth like a ragdoll. The Tyranitar threw her to the other end of the arena, where she managed, miraculously, to stand up yet again. Mark watched her in disbelief and couldn’t help being both proud and impressed.

“Iron Tail!” he ordered, looking around. May’s Tyranitar had conjured chunks of sharp rock from the floor that had given Victor’s Mutark a bit of a beating, but clearly they had also been sharp enough to open a bleeding wound. Precious had tasted his own blood and grown considerably, now resembling a black ocelot with abnormally large fangs more than a housecat, and was bounding towards Letal with a hiss as she slammed her tail into the side of Diana’s Tyranitar’s body.

“Letal, watch out!” Mark blurted out, and she turned quickly around as the cat took a leap towards her. The Steel Pokémon only thought for a moment before swinging the blade of her head at her attacker, slicing it into the Mutark’s chest.

Precious let out a mewling scream of pain as he was thrown to the side, blood spurting out of the wound. Letal approached him again, her body turning metallic as she prepared to attack, but Diana’s Tyranitar scooped her up into its jaws, flames licking the sides of its mouth. Letal cried out in pain, her metallic body bending more easily under the crushing power of the Tyranitar’s jaws when they were assisted by flaming heat…

“Tyranitar, Earthquake!” May shouted, and her Tyranitar stomped down one of his huge feet with a roar. Ripples spread through the floor; the larger dinosaur roared in pain as they passed under its feet, and it threw Letal away as it staggered backwards. Letal crashed into the wall and then crumpled into a half-molten heap on the floor.

Mark took out her Pokéball, but lowered it in disbelief as the heap stood up, very slowly, walked a few steps back into the arena, and was enveloped in a white glow.

Then the glow faded, the Pokémon’s feet shaking like jelly, before she lost her balance and collapsed on the floor.

“Letal, come back,” Mark said, holding out her ball and watching the red beam absorb her body. “You were amazing,” he added as he replaced the ball on his belt, meaning it more than he ever had. “Scyther, finish it!”

While Scyther was materializing, Mark had the time to get a quick overview of the battle again, which made him come to the unsettling realization that the cut Letal had given Victor’s Mutark had produced enough blood for him to make himself grow into a monster nearly the size of the Tyranitar he was facing with glowing red eyes and humongous fangs. This monster had then latched himself onto the back of May’s Tyranitar, who was struggling to get him off while the cat tried to sink his fangs into the rocklike hide on the dinosaur’s neck.

“Little help here?” May shouted as sharp rocks exploded out of the floor under the smaller Tyranitar’s feet.

“Scyther, get the Mutark off him!” Mark yelled. The mantis sprang into action immediately, his scythes glowing with green energy as he zoomed towards the feline and brought his scythes down in a cross upon the Mutark’s back. Precious roared in pain as Scyther delivered two more slashes to his front paws, causing him to momentarily release his hold; it was enough for the Tyranitar to throw him off his back. The Mutark landed on his feet a couple of meters away, not hesitating for a moment before leaping at Scyther again. Precious knocked him into the floor and bared his huge fangs.

Scyther snarled and delivered a well-aimed chop to one of the Mutark’s legs. More blood spurted out from the wound as the creature let out a bloodcurdling scream; the Mutark reached his head down to lick the blood from the limp paw.

“Don’t let him lick it!” Mark shouted. “He’ll grow!”

Scyther’s scythes glowed with green energy again and the mantis slashed into both of the cat’s shoulders this time. This threw him a little bit backwards, enough for Scyther to wrench himself loose, get up and slash the Mutark’s back again. His injured legs gave up underneath him, and Victor’s Pokémon collapsed onto the ground in a pool of blood.

Scyther slashed him one more time for good measure before a Pokéball beam sucked the Mutark in. Victor looked at Scyther and frowned. “Well, looks like I’m out. Good job.”

While all this had been going on, the two Tyranitar had been wrestling with one another, and Diana’s was clearly gaining the upper hand thanks to its size. May’s Tyranitar was in pretty bad shape, his back bearing deep cuts from the Mutark’s sharp claws, and Mark realized suddenly as the larger Tyranitar pushed him a few steps backwards that he was trying to make him fall into the pool.

May looked quickly at Mark and he shouted the first thing he could think of:

“Scyther, another X-Scissor!”

The mantis zoomed at the larger Tyranitar’s back and slashed, his scythes glowing green again. The Bug-type energy allowed the blades to slice into the dinosaur’s hard skin, causing the beast to roar in pain and reflexively turn towards the new attacker, which finally gave May’s Tyranitar some room to breathe.

“Earthquake!” May yelled, and Scyther zoomed away from both of the Tyranitar as the smaller one stomped his foot again, producing more ripples in the floor which bombarded the other dinosaur’s feet. Diana’s Tyranitar roared in more pain as the Gym leader frowned.

“Tyranitar, hit the Scyther with Stone Edge.”

“Tyranitar, hit IT with Stone Edge!”

And while Diana’s Tyranitar was bigger and more powerful, May’s was slightly nimbler and quicker. Before the larger dinosaur could attack, the other one raised one of his arms and large rocks burst out of the ground underneath the larger Tyranitar, knocking it a bit sideways.

Then Scyther suddenly smashed into it as well, and that impact was enough to make Diana’s Tyranitar topple over with a roar of protest and crash into the ground, betrayed by its own weight.

“Another Earthquake to finish it off,” May ordered, her Tyranitar executing the order immediately. The floor rippled under the huge body, even more of it touching the floor now, and it grunted as every cell of its body trembled along with the ground. Scyther dived down to slash it with another X-Scissor, and it roared and twisted in still more pain.

“Tyranitar, return,” said Diana’s cold voice as the red Pokéball beam absorbed the huge Pokémon. “Good battle.”

She reached into her dress and took out a small box as Victor walked over to her. She handed him one of the badges from the box before both Gym leaders walked across the arena, Diana to May and Victor to Mark.

“Here’s your badge,” Victor said with a quick smile. “Didn’t know your Scyther was that brutal.”

Mark snorted. “Look who’s talking. You even name your Pokémon stuff like ‘Vicious’ and ‘Malicious’.”

Victor chuckled. “It’s all in good fun.” He reached out to shake Mark’s hand and left the little, round object in his palm. Mark brought it up to his face and looked at it; unlike all the other Ouen badges, this one was not silver but black, and when he turned it in the flickering firelight, it seemed as if many sets of tiny, gleaming eyes were lurking in the middle of it.

“Thanks for the battle,” Mark said and smiled. “Do you think the three of us could talk privately for a second?” he then added.

Victor shrugged. “Sure.” He raised his voice: “Hey, Diana, do you think I could talk to these two for a sec?”

The Gym leader raised her eyebrows. “If you want.” She walked gracefully back towards the door in the corner and closed it as May walked over to the boys.

“What’s with ‘Precious’?” she asked. “I mean, it fits the grammatical pattern, but it seems kind of out of place with ‘Malicious’ and ‘Insidious’.”

Victor rolled his eyes. “Come on. I can’t call him ‘Nefarious’ or people start to suspect he’s more than a cute little kitten before he starts kicking ass.”

“What did Mitch tell you?” Mark interrupted before May could reply. Victor’s expression turned back into a frown.

“Right. Well, I saw you die when I was watching Chaletwo. That was kind of creepy.” He winced. “But Mitch stopped me at some point afterwards, I can’t remember when, and he told me you’d been revived and Chaletwo had plans for you or something.” He shrugged. “Wasn’t very specific. I wasn’t sure whether I believed him, but then you appeared on the camera.” He pointed up to the ceiling above the door; Mark hadn’t noticed before, but there was a security camera there pointed at the entrance back to the maze, presumably for showing the Gym leaders in the back room when challengers arrived. “So uh…” Victor went on quietly, “is it true?”

“Pretty much.”

Victor nodded thoughtfully a few times. “All right,” he said. “It’s probably something important that I shouldn’t get involved in, so let’s leave it at that.” He looked at May. “I assume you’re involved too since Mark didn’t ask you to leave.”

“Often more involved than he is,” May replied, and Mark couldn’t really deny it.

Victor looked at both of them again. “Well, okay, then. It was good to see you again. I’m glad you’re alive. I hope you get that Mutark, May.” He took a deep breath. “And… good luck with whatever it is you’re doing, I guess.”

“Thanks,” Mark replied. “We’ll need it.”

“Mutark’s on Route 316, you say?” May asked.

“Yeah.”

“Oh, and congratulations on the position,” Mark suddenly remembered to say. “Assistant Gym leader is pretty awesome.”

Victor beamed with pride. “Thanks. It’s been my dream since I was little to own a Dark Gym. I don’t quite own it yet, but I’m getting there.” He winked.

“Congrats too,” May said, “but how are we supposed to get out of here?”

Victor burst out laughing. “You just go down the trapdoor just over there and walk up the stairs. Oh, God, I swear, every single person who comes here asks that.”

-------

One trapdoor, a slide and a staircase later, Mark and May were back above ground and heading towards the Pokémon Center. The night seemed bright in comparison to the building they had just left; the streetlights appeared strangely blue after the orange firelight of the battle arena.

Mark grinned. “You know what I just realized?”

“What?”

“You were closer to losing than I was.”

May glared at him. “That was stupid Vibrava being useless. I was hoping I could get him to evolve.”

“But still.”

“Shut up.”

Mark just laughed as they stepped into the neon-lit building and onto the familiar fluffy, pink carpet.


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