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Mark still couldn’t believe how easy it had been. Even though he had been hoping his plan would work, he hadn’t really expected it to; every other time he had tried to convince his parents to let him become a trainer, he had failed miserably.
Asking why they hadn’t let him become a trainer earlier only made them mumble something about him being older now, but it sounded like it was just the first excuse they could think of. Maybe they just wanted to get rid of Charmander and Mark and would throw a party when they were gone. Or they had just finally realized that all kids should get the opportunity to train Pokémon, but didn’t want to admit it.
He was busy stuffing things into his schoolbag and couldn’t believe how people had survived before compression technology for inanimate objects was invented. In a similar fashion to Pokéballs, the small, light boxes he was stacking in the bag actually contained something much bigger and heavier that could be restored to its original size at the press of a button – clearly much more convenient than the old stuffed, heavy backpacks that had once been jokingly referred to as the most difficult part of a Pokémon journey.
“I think I’ve got everything, Mom,” he called as he packed the minimized sleeping bag.
“Good,” she said as she came into the room. “Mark, here is some money for a Pokédex – I hear you can somehow use them to pay for things directly from your bank account. I’m not really into that, but we’ll be putting a bit of money on your account from time to time. Don’t spend too much, though, dear.”
“Thanks, Mom,” Mark said, taking the money and stuffing it into his pocket. “I think I’m ready now.” He glanced at Charmander, who was lying weakly on the floor beside him.
Mark’s mother took a deep breath. “Well, good luck, then, sweetie. Don’t get yourself into too much trouble.”
“I won’t, Mom,” Mark said with a smile, hoisting the bag onto his shoulders and picking Charmander gently up into his arms.
He turned around as his father walked hurriedly into the room.
“Well…yeah. Have fun, I guess… stay out of trouble… please do… and… good luck,” he said awkwardly before giving Mark a forced pat on the back. Mark’s parents both followed him to the door. His mom hugged him tightly in the doorway.
“Mom…” Mark said in a muffled voice, “I’m suffocating…”
She released him. Her eyes were filled with tears.
“Take care, honey… try to be responsible.”
“I get it already,” Mark said, rolling his eyes. “Bye Dad, bye Mom, I’ll maybe call you sometime…”
He smiled brightly at them and then turned around to walk down the street.
“I won’t get myself killed!” he yelled over his shoulder with a last wave before turning round a corner. Mark’s shout of sheer joy echoed through the neighborhood.
His mother sighed, looking at her husband. “Well… he’s gone.”
He just nodded absent-mindedly, still staring after his son.
“Do you think he’s going to be okay?” she asked quietly.
Mark’s father took a deep breath. “I don’t know,” he said. “But after all… we want him to be happy, don’t we?” He looked unsurely at his wife. “And at least… now is better than at the Pokémon Festival.”
“Yes, you’re right, I guess.” She looked down the street that Mark had run down a few seconds before as if expecting him to come back. “Still, we were concerned for a reason.”
Sailance was one of the bigger cities in Ouen – crazy as it seemed to somebody like Mark, there were an awful lot of people out there that cherished the idea of living in a city completely devoid of Pokémon. Because of this (and the fact that he lived on the other side of town), it took him a while to get out of the web of streets spun around the city.
He nonetheless enjoyed his journey. Everything seemed brighter than usual despite the cloudy sky; the white, tall buildings that characterized Sailance seemed whiter, the trees planted in between them seemed greener, and even the usually black streets looked more of a friendly gray. While carrying the unconscious Charmander, Mark looked around and for the first time in a long while really thought the city was somewhat beautiful in its own way. Nothing like the outside world, of course – but not too bad.
As he walked under the huge archway that towered over the exit to the city and out into Route 301, however, this began to change as the lizard in his arms started to stir. It was only then that he first realized what he was doing: he had abused a Pokémon’s unconsciousness to ‘capture’ it and was bringing it along with him without its consent.
Pokémon were not toys. That was a rule that had been hammered thoroughly into every kid’s head from when they first started school. If a Pokémon was lying unconscious somewhere in your path, even if it was a shiny of your super-rare and powerful favorite Pokémon species, you could not catch it. Never catch it. A Pokémon had the right to a battle unless it volunteered to join you. Anything else was a direct violation of the Fifth Agreement of Pokémon Training, you’d get your license removed and your parents would pay a fine. Catching an unconscious Pokémon was bad. Period, end of discussion and so forth.
Mark quickly justified it to himself. He wasn’t taking Charmander by force. He was helping him; heck, he didn’t even have a Pokéball to catch him in. Of course he was only taking him to a more Pokémon-friendly area and would maybe ask casually in Cleanwater City, Hey, Charmander, I was wondering if I could be your new trainer? It would never even cross his mind to try to kidnap Charmander in any way. Never. Of course not.
He walked on south, shrugging those thoughts off. Cleanwater City was around the size of Sailance, and the first Pokémon Gym that most young trainers challenged was located there. What made it even more interesting, especially in Mark’s opinion, was that the Gym leader, though he officially trained Pokémon that evolved with evolution stones, had always been surrounded by persistent rumours that he had a secret cloning lab where he attempted to clone legendary Pokémon after having previously spent many years of his life searching for them and collecting whatever hairs, feathers or other DNA samples he could find. He was even said to be experimenting with super-clones, genetically modified clones in the vein of how Mewtwo was created from Mew, and while it had never been proven, many trainers swore that his Pokémon were more powerful than they ought to be.
Needless to say, all this was not common knowledge among eleven-year-olds, but Mark had thoroughly researched it, and the reason for that was that he was, for lack of a stronger word, obsessed with legendaries. Ever since he was little, they had fascinated him, consumed his mind and thought. He had read every book about them he had come across at least a dozen times, whined for more every Christmas and his birthday, and now, or so he thought, he knew everything there was to know that even distantly had to do with them. His dream was to lay his eyes on a legendary Pokémon just once in his lifetime. Obviously the clones wouldn’t count, but this was one of the many reasons he had been so excited about becoming a trainer.
Mark suddenly realized that Charmander had opened his eyes. He looked slightly dazed, but he was blinking. Mark stopped and put the lizard Pokémon carefully down onto the ground. Charmander shakily got on his feet and looked around.
“Where are we?” he asked, looking up at Mark with a confused expression.
“Er… on Route 301,” Mark said hesitantly.
“Why?” Charmander asked and looked around.
“Well, you fainted and we had to do something, so I had to take you out of town,” Mark said in accordance with his politically corrected version of the story.
“Alone and with a backpack?” the Pokémon asked with a hint of amusement. Mark sighed.
“I just… really wanted to be a trainer,” he muttered, looking down. Charmander would hate him now. He just knew it.
“Well, thanks for being honest,” the Pokémon said and didn’t sound too angry. Mark looked up.
“I kind of figured,” Charmander said and shrugged, but smiled a little. “Never thought you’d actually go ahead and take me out of town without asking, though – how did your parents let you do that, anyway?”
Mark smiled slightly back. “They don’t know a lot about Pokémon training and the Agreements. They didn’t start teaching that stuff in Sailance until after they made it standard in Ouenian schools, which was just like ten years ago. That was a part of my plan.” His smile faded again. “But well… what now?”
Charmander shrugged. “Well… there is a reason I volunteered to be a starter Pokémon in the first place. I wanted to try having a trainer and was ready to take a risk in who I might end up with, and I still am… and you sound really, really desperate.” The lizard smiled.
Mark’s face broke into a wide grin. “Thanks, Charmander.”
“Besides, we’ve gotten to know each other, and you’re a nice guy. Just don’t break any more Agreements on me in the future, okay?” Charmander snickered a little. “Now let’s go on to Cleanwater. I forgive you.”
As so many other things, Mark’s extreme happiness at finally being a real Pokémon trainer didn’t last very long. When it started raining almost as heavily as the day he first found the Pokémon, he started to worry about Charmander’s wellbeing.
“I’m fine,” Charmander told him for the two hundredth time. “You’re shielding my tail flame when you’re walking beside me, and besides, it’s nowhere near as bad as that day. If it were, I’d have fainted ten minutes ago.”
“Should I carry you?” Mark offered.
Charmander looked at him doubtfully, like he wasn’t sure if he should consider it disrespectful to be carried around when fully conscious, but then he looked at his shrinking tail flame and shivered. “I guess.”
Mark smiled and picked the lizard Pokémon carefully up. He himself had put on a raincoat when the rain started to get bad, so he was not wet. His mom had of course been the one who insisted that he pack it, and it was a rather ugly bright orange aside from being a bit big for him, but he was thankful for it now.
Rainwater trickled down his face and into his eyes. It washed the tears away, but his vision remained blurred. Not that it mattered. He was just running in a straight line anyway, and where it was taking him was the last thing he was worrying about.
And that was why he didn’t notice the rock right in front of him.
He tripped and landed headfirst on the damp ground. Still he wasted no more time than necessary, scrambled back to his feet, shook the dizziness out of his head and tried to ignore the stinging pain in his leg. He realized he was limping.
But despite it all, he ran.
Mark walked on for a little while with Charmander in his arms. The rain showed no signs of being about to subside even as the sky slowly grew darker, and to make things even worse, the road lay uphill and Mark was getting tired.
“Why can’t they move Cleanwater closer to Sailance?” he groaned.
“Yeah, I really wonder why they don’t want all their Pokémon to spontaneously faint and need to be moved in a huff to Alumine,” Charmander said and rolled his eyes.
A few moments of silence passed.
“Good point, I guess.”
He wanted to give up.
His legs felt like jelly, he was completely soaked with water, and his ears were numb with cold. He gazed weakly at the road just a couple of meters ahead and it struck his mind just to lie down on it right where the hill would block a driver’s view of him and wait for death to arrive on wheels. He was sure by now that he was dying anyway, whichever way it went.
He took the last shaky steps through the grass, still not entirely sure whether he was going to continue all the way across the street, but he never had to make that decision. Just as he felt the cold mortar under his feet, his exhaustion got the better of him and he slipped into unconsciousness.
The first, crazy thing that popped into Mark’s head when he saw little brown furball on the edge of the road was that it was some sort of a furry handbag that a girl had dropped. He had no idea why of all things it made him think of a furry handbag, but somehow it did.
It did not take him long, however, to realize that it was not a handbag but a small Pokémon, and as soon as he realized that, he took a few steps nearer to it to see what it was.
“It’s an Eevee,” he said blankly to no one in particular.
Eevee, as everybody knew, were rather rare Pokémon that everybody wanted but only the luckiest could get. Lately, admittedly, special action had been taken to conserve several popular but rare Pokémon species, and supposedly there had been some success in the Eevee department, but still he could not believe that he was looking at a real, living Eevee that was lying on the road just a few meters in front of him with an abandoned Pokéball in the grass just beside it.
He looked at Charmander. The lizard had fallen asleep.
Mark picked the Pokéball carefully up and examined it. The smooth metallic surface was wet, a few grass blades glued to it by the water. As he held it, the raindrops washed some of them away.
He rotated it in his hand so that the red half of the sphere pointed upwards. He fondled the round button in the middle of it as his gaze darted over to the Eevee.
He shook his head as a mental image of Charmander popped up in his head:
Just don’t break any more Agreements on me in the future, okay?
Catching an unconscious Pokémon is bad, bad, bad.
Mark sighed deeply. He looked with regret at the Pokéball and then tossed it as hard as he could into the ground, gritting his teeth.
He walked a few difficult steps past the Eevee, seeing its long furred ears hanging limply onto the road. The fur on its forehead was matted with blood. The thick collar of creamy fur around its neck was torn and wet.
Mark forced his eyes to stop looking at it and instead fixed them on the lights of Cleanwater City beyond the hill, trying to focus on the warmth of the Pokémon Center that was waiting for him there. He was not very successful.
“Damn!” he hissed, turning once again to the small Pokémon that was lying helplessly by the roadside. He put Charmander quickly onto the ground in such a careless fashion that the lizard only just managed to land on his feet after snapping awake in mid-air.
“You’ll have to walk,” Mark said emptily as he picked up the soft little creature.
He ran bitterly towards Cleanwater with the Eevee in his arms without saying another word. Charmander followed him as fast as he could on his short legs, still confused about what had happened.
An open, slightly cracked Pokéball was left behind them on the road, slowly filling with water as the rain went on.
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Pokémon © 1995-2010 Nintendo, GAME FREAK and Creatures Inc. The Quest for the Legends and its characters, locations, storylines, extras, spinoffs, etc. © 2002-2010 Butterfree/Dragonfree/antialiasis except when otherwise stated or stemming from official sources.