(printable version - Back to The Quest for the Legends Minipage)
“You know,” May said as they walked from the Pokémon Center back to the trainer lodges, “you really weren’t that bad this time. A couple of odd switches and you could probably have used Dragonite better even against the über-Lunatone, but there was some actual strategy going on in parts of it and Letal utilized the arena well. And in-battle evolution always gets you coolness points.”
“The woman at the office building said they’d also take into account the confusion with Charizard,” Mark said. “Think that will mean extra points too?”
“Almost definitely,” May replied. “He’s a Flying-type which would have been good on the arena and a Fire-type which would have been good against both Delibird and Letaligon. You really just might qualify now. Especially since you officially won 2-0. Good call with Scyther.”
Mark nodded. “I guess you can thank Aaron White for that.”
“What, don’t I get any credit for pointing out you could do it too?”
Mark looked quizzically at May; she was smiling in a way that indicated it was a joke. He could never really be sure with her.
“Anyway,” she went on, “that means you’re done with the preliminaries and can just fool around for the next week and a half, but I recommend you start to work on reprogramming yourself in case you qualify. The knockout rounds are six-on-six with no switching. That means your Pokémon will be facing opponents they’re weak against and you can’t just recall them and send out something else instead. Practice moves that counter their weaknesses, evasive maneuvers, stuff like that.”
“Your next preliminary match is the day after tomorrow, right?”
May nodded. “Not that I have to worry much. It’s the guy we saw in that desert-themed match, remember? The one who lost, with the Glaceon.”
“Oh, yeah.” Mark paused. “Was he really that bad?”
“Well,” May replied with a shrug, “I guess it was more his choice of Pokémon than him, per se. Maybe he learned from his mistakes with that after his first match. Still nothing special, though. I don’t think I’ll have any trouble with him.”
Mark just nodded, wishing he had her confidence. He was still trying to wrap his head around the fact he might actually qualify to the knockout phase; he’d been hoping for it, sure, but the prospect of actually having to start preparing for it and modifying his strategies for six-on-six switchless was oddly intimidating. In the preliminaries, he’d felt like he was just battling some kids like himself. If he qualified for the knockout rounds, he’d be facing some of the top sixteen first-time trainers in Ouen this year. How could he possibly be a match for them?
It suddenly struck him for the first time now, as they were walking through the door into the trainer lodge, that if he qualified, that made him one of those top sixteen trainers. That couldn’t be right. There was no way he would actually qualify. He hadn’t even won both of his preliminary matches. May had to be mistaken somehow.
He summoned the courage to articulate his concerns once they’d gotten lunch from the buffet and sat down at their usual table.
“Well,” May said, “as I keep saying, winning isn’t the point in the preliminaries. It’s all about showing off your Pokémon and your strategic thinking for the judges. You have a Dragonite and a Letaligon. You can sometimes strategize when you put your mind to it. You got pretty lucky by getting decent opponents. Thus, points. It’s as simple as that.”
“Lucky?” Mark repeated sceptically.
“Yes, lucky,” she said with an emphatic nod. “You made yourself look better than you are. How impressed do you think the judges are that I beat Pipsqueak Ketchum the other day? You actually got to show off some of the best you can do, especially earlier. I mean, I can guarantee you that you got more points just now than I got for my first match. Some kids here probably think they’ll qualify just because they won two matches through brute force against people who were obviously worse than them, when in reality people who lose against somebody good while using some strategy are getting much more points.”
“So you think I really will qualify?” Mark asked hesitantly.
“Well, of course I don’t know if you’ll qualify, but stop thinking you’re out just because you lost a preliminary match. I’d think you have a chance, personally.”
That was the end of that conversation; Mark still wasn’t sure if he should dare to get his hopes up, but decided to take May’s advice about preparing for the knockout rounds in case he did qualify – tomorrow, anyway. He didn’t feel like training today.
Once they’d finished eating, May went off to train while Mark retreated to his room and took out Letaligon’s Pokéball. He sat down on his bed and took a deep breath before he dropped the ball onto the floor and it released Letaligon in a flash of light.
“I did it,” she said, only moments after she had fully materialized. “I evolved.”
Her tone was strange: she sounded part incredulous, part triumphant and part somehow expectant. She looked down at her strong, black claws for a moment, flexing them, and then turned towards Mark, waiting for some sort of an answer.
“Congratulations,” he said, not sure quite what he wanted to say or how to say it. “I mean, wow. I really didn’t think you’d do it.”
“But I did,” she replied insistently. “You all thought I couldn’t evolve and I still did.”
Mark looked at her. “Yeah,” he said. “You did.”
“You wanted me to stop,” she went on, still looking at him. “You told me it wouldn’t work, but it did.”
“Yeah,” Mark replied again. “I guess I was wrong.” He wondered momentarily what Nurse Joy of Acaria City would think of where this conversation was going. At least Letaligon looked slightly more satisfied now, stopped staring at Mark and looked around the room for a moment; it occurred to Mark that it must feel a lot smaller to her now that she was a Letaligon.
“When do we go back to Ruxido?” she asked at last.
“Not until after the League, remember,” Mark said. “You were going to stay throughout the League and then we’d go there to release you.”
“Oh,” Letaligon answered and did not say anything more, but by now Mark had realized what it was he had really wanted to talk to her about.
“So Letaligon,” he began, “are you still... do you still want to kill your father?”
“Yes,” she said with a hint of defensive stubbornness to her voice. “Of course I do. Why wouldn’t I?”
Because Charmeleon had grown out of wanting to kill Scyther when he evolved. Because her evolution had been a sort of final chance for that entire situation to resolve itself before anybody had to be killed. But he didn’t say anything.
“So… yeah, you were going to stay and continue to battle,” he said eventually. When he got no immediate answer, he added, “You kind of have to now, since without Gyarados I only have six Pokémon. I can’t make a full team without you.”
“Yes,” she replied distractedly as she examined the armor on her back. “I will. I just forgot.” She looked up. “Can I go back in my Pokéball now?”
Mark nodded and took out her ball to recall her.
The next day, while May was off training for her second preliminary match, Mark lay in his bed with his sketchbook and began to put together a type vulnerability chart for his team. It was an idea that had popped into his head the day before: since he only had six Pokémon, it would be nice to get a good idea of what the major weaknesses of his team were and how to take measures against them.
His team’s great weak spot was clearly the Rock weakness, with Charizard, Dragonite and Scyther all vulnerable, but on the upside, both Sandslash and Letaligon would be solid choices for dealing with Rock-types. Ice-types were also a threat to Sandslash, Dragonite and Scyther, but he had Charizard and Letaligon for them. Among the more minor weaknesses was Ground, for both Jolteon and Letaligon, though he of course had three Flying-types to take advantage of that…
He stopped all of a sudden. This really wasn’t the right way to approach this, was it? In a battle with no switching, compounded weaknesses could hardly be as much of a problem as otherwise. Each Rock-type brought out into battle would only get to take down exactly one Pokémon that was weak to it, but he could then send out something that wasn’t weak to it to beat it, without the opponent ever getting to take advantage of the fact Mark might have other Pokémon that were also weak to Rock.
He tore the page out of the sketchbook, crumpled it and threw it into the garbage before starting over by writing up a simple list of his Pokémon and their weaknesses.
Charizard (Fire/Flying) – weak to Rock (x2), Water, Electric
Jolteon (Electric) – weak to Ground
Sandslash (Ground) – weak to Water, Grass, Ice
Dragonite (Dragon/Flying) – weak to Ice (x2), Rock, Dragon
Scyther (Bug/Flying) – weak to Rock (x2), Ice, Electric, Fire
Letaligon (Normal/Steel) – weak to Fighting (x2), Ground, Fire
Charizard. Rock, Water and Electric. What would he do against those types when unable to switch? He had no super-effective moves against any of them and probably couldn’t learn a lot. The only type that would give him a fighting chance against Electric-types was Ground – he was pretty sure Charizard could learn the Earthquake TM. He’d have to shell out some money for it, but if he qualified, it would probably be worth it.
Earthquake would also help against Rock-types – which left Water. Water Pokémon were only weak to Grass and Electric attacks, and he was pretty sure Charizard couldn’t get any of those. Or could he? He seemed to remember looking at a list sometime and being surprised by how many Pokémon could learn attacks like Thunder Fang, Fire Fang and Thunderpunch. Perhaps Charizard was one of them. And what Grass attacks were there again? The drains, Razor Leaf, Vine Whip – no way – Grass Knot, Leaf Blade, Solarbeam...
An image popped up in his head: a televised Old-Timers’ League match, himself gazing mesmerized at the Charizard on the screen as it gathered the sun’s energy into an orb in its mouth and fired a bright beam of light at the Swampert on the other side of the arena while the latter’s trainer stared in horror. Charizard could learn Solarbeam. Better still, he thought with a grin as he wrote it down, Solarbeam benefitted from Sunny Day just like his Fire moves, and it would beat Rock-types too. With it and Earthquake, Charizard should be reasonably well off no matter what was brought out against him.
Jolteon was more problematic. He definitely couldn’t learn any Water, Grass or Ice moves to employ against the Ground-types that would inevitably be sent out against him. He did have Swift, but that wouldn’t be very effective against the many Ground-types that were also Rock or Steel, and it wasn’t an overly powerful attack anyhow. He had Pin Missile, but being a physical attack, that would probably be even worse. Mark frowned. Could Jolteon learn any other good special attacks that would help him against Ground-types? He couldn’t really remember. Perhaps he should keep Jolteon for later when he could go to the library and look it up.
Sandslash. He’d always been a bit lacking in the moves department – usually, Mark had just stuck with Earthquake, but that wouldn’t work now. The problem was that he was pretty sure there was no way Sandslash could learn Grass or Electric attacks that might beat Water-type opponents, and while he did have Gyro Ball, a Steel attack, which he could employ against Ice-types, and Poison Sting, which Grass-types would be vulnerable to, neither was a very reliably powerful attack. Admittedly only Grass was actually resistant to Earthquake, so he could still use that, but the situation was still pretty poor. And what about Flying-types, who would be immune to Earthquake altogether? Could Sandslash learn any Rock attacks? He thought about it. Yeah, he had Rollout, didn’t he? Though that wasn’t the best choice. Perhaps he could learn Rock Slide? He was pretty sure there was a TM for that. He made a note to look it up. That would also come in handy against the Ice-types. What about Grass-types? Could he learn Aerial Ace? That would be a possibility too.
Dragonite had a bigger movepool; he had Fire Punch against the Ice-types, Dragon Rush against other Dragon-types, and Aqua Tail against the Rock-types. He had a pretty solid way of defending himself against most anything, as far as Mark could tell. Nothing to worry about, then.
Scyther was troublesome; he had four weaknesses and not the widest variety of moves in the world. Though he had Brick Break against Rock-types, it was still a physical attack, which didn’t mix well with the generally good physical defensive abilities of most Rock Pokémon; he’d have to be careful. Brick Break would also help against Ice-types. Electric and Fire Pokémon, on the other hand, he had nothing especially good against, and Mark doubted he could learn anything that would be – he just couldn’t picture Scyther learning Ground, Rock or Water attacks. Perhaps he’d look it up anyway just in case.
And finally, Letaligon. She had Aerial Ace for any Fighting-types she might have to face, but Ground and Fire-types were harder to work around. Could she perhaps learn Earthquake too? That would handle the Fire-types. But Water, Grass or Ice moves for the Ground-types just weren’t likely. She’d have to stick with her Normal or Steel attacks. They wouldn’t be that bad, anyway.
He looked over the notes he’d written down. That was several TMs he’d have to get to try to counter all his Pokémon’s weaknesses. He sighed. He couldn’t go buying them now – he probably wouldn’t qualify at all, and then there was no real reason to get them unless they were about to battle legendaries of particular types. But if he did qualify and bought all the TMs afterwards, they wouldn’t have as much time to practice the new attacks before the start of the knockout rounds, and he could imagine that it would take some practice for them to master moves of completely different elements well enough to hold their own against something with a type advantage. The extra days would probably count.
He put the sketchbook down on the bedside table and thought about it. He wanted to be hopeful – even May was hopeful on his behalf, which was saying something – but he really could not reasonably believe he would qualify, and since he was still wasting his parents’ money, he really owed it to them to be reasonable about it.
Especially since his parents thought he was dead.
“They don’t,” said a voice in his head; Mark momentarily jumped. It had been a while since he’d spoken to Chaletwo and the sensation had become bizarrely unfamiliar.
“Hm?” he asked aloud.
“They don’t think you’re dead,” Chaletwo repeated.
Mark furrowed his brow. “Really? Then what do they think?”
“They don’t think anything,” Chaletwo answered. “Or rather, they don’t think about you. If they’re reminded that you exist, they’ll briefly remember you’re out on a Pokémon journey and then move on to thinking about something else. That’s what the memory modification does. It makes the memory of you feel like something unimportant and vague, and completely dissociates it from the death at the Pokémon Festival, if they remember that at all.”
“Huh.” Mark somehow wasn’t sure if he liked the idea of that better or worse than the idea that they thought he was dead. It was a bit creepy to think that they were pretty much being mind-controlled, unable to think about certain things – it seemed like it couldn’t actually be them if they weren’t worrying about him all the time.
On the other hand, though he hadn’t really thought about it before, he couldn’t even imagine what kind of grief his parents had gone through when they’d heard he had died. They loved him more than anything else in the world. They’d probably been mortified. They must have cried for days. It was probably a good thing they could no longer remember it.
And then it struck him, strangely, almost absurdly: his parents loved him. They really, really loved him. Looking back, he’d been a really annoying, obnoxious kid, really, always whining that they were overprotective and that he wanted to go on a Pokémon journey – he still didn’t think it had been right of them to forbid him to go, but suddenly it didn’t seem quite so horribly wrong. “I promise I won’t get myself killed,” he had shouted as he waved goodbye, as a joke – and what had he then ended up doing? He’d gone and confirmed all their suspicions, gotten himself killed by Chaletwo just like they’d feared all along. They’d just been trying to keep him safe – their methods had been misguided, maybe, but they really didn’t exist just to make his life difficult. And, well, he’d always known that, nominally, but somehow this was the first time he truly realized it.
It struck him then, too, that he didn’t have ‘parent problems’ like Letaligon. How could he even begin to think that? Her father had rejected her because she wasn’t shiny. His had always loved him. He was lucky. They weren’t the same at all.
And somehow, strangely, that made him feel better about it. He still hated the idea of Letaligon killing anyone – but he knew his Pokémon had killed before, and suddenly it didn’t really matter anymore that it was her father. What made him being her father meaningful, anyway, if he’d never cared? He still wished she would get over it, but the thought was no longer as personally disturbing as it had used to be.
He blinked and started to chuckle. Realizing how much his own parents loved him (it sounded so stupid and cheesy in retrospect) had made him feel better about patricide. That didn’t even make sense.
He lay there for a moment, thinking, but then stood up, picked up his sketchbook and headed off to the library to look up those TMs.
May’s second preliminary battle went swimmingly – it was a little harder than she’d expected, or so she said afterwards, but she nonetheless won with her Blaziken comfortably healthy, if tired, by the time he delivered the final blow, and overall, though Mark probably wasn’t the best judge of it, her strategies had at least looked impressive.
After that, there were two tense days of waiting while the judging on all the battles was finalized, and the pair of them was briefly reunited as May helped him and the Pokémon get into the switchless mindset – she also voiced her approval of most of the TMs he had written down – though Mark could not shake off the thought of how stupid he would feel if it all turned out to be for nothing. He found himself swinging repeatedly between thinking he’d probably make the cut after all – usually after May talked him up some – and being convinced there was simply no way; by the evening of the ninth of August, he had simply decided to keep his expectations low, partly so he wouldn’t be disappointed and partly just to decide something.
Finally, on the morning of the tenth, May dragged him out of bed at ten minutes to nine, hissing that everybody else was already waiting outside by the announcement screen.
Still half-asleep, he gobbled up some breakfast while May drummed her fingers on the table and gave him a speech. Apparently, she’d been trying to wake him up since half past the hour and had already had her breakfast, though for all Mark remembered she could as well have been making that up. Then she had apparently somehow used her name tag in a creative way to break into his room to wake him, which was kind of creepy, but he had to consider it a possibility, since he was pretty sure he’d locked the door the previous night. After May had checked her watch conspicuously several times, she finally ordered him to leave his half-eaten bacon and ushered him outside to the crowd of trainers while what he had managed to eat turned into butterflies in his stomach.
Mark couldn’t really see a thing; although the announcement screen was mounted on the top of a metal pole, there were too many people taller than him standing on tiptoe to see over one another’s heads all around. He could make out between a couple of heads that the screen was still blank, though. He looked unsurely up at May.
“It should be coming,” she muttered without looking at him, and he tried to shift himself to the left in the hope that that would give him a convenient gap to look through; it didn’t. He briefly considered going farther away so his line of sight would go over the crowd, but then realized that then he probably wouldn’t be able to read what was on it from that far away anyway.
The screen flickered to life, immediately eliciting gasps and shouts from the waiting trainers, and the butterflies in Mark’s stomach redoubled their fluttering efforts. He tried to push himself up using May’s shoulder as leverage, but she elbowed him away. The standard blue background came on the screen, and then he couldn’t see a thing as somebody quickly pushed past him to fill the only gap he had.
There was an explosion of disappointed groans, punctuated by a few screams of joy. Mark’s heart skipped a beat as he made a final attempt to see something and then looked hopelessly up at May – she stood on tiptoe, craning her neck over the people in front of her, and then –
“I’m in!” she said and looked at him with a grin. His gaze alone must have gotten the message that he couldn’t see anything across, because she almost immediately looked back at the screen. “And so are you – congratulations, Mark!”
For a moment he looked at her quizzically, having somehow forgotten exactly what they were there for. Even after he’d blinked that off, it took a few more seconds for it to sink in. “Wait, really?” he asked over the noise of the squabbling trainers. “I qualified?”
“Yup,” she said. “It’s right there.”
The crowd was already thinning a little, so by shifting around some, Mark managed to finally get a good look at the screen for himself. It was a simple list of sixteen names – he noticed Aaron White’s there before he found his own, but once he’d found it, it was definitely there. He read it a few times over to make sure.
He hadn’t meant to be this surprised if he managed to qualify. He’d thought he was reasonably used to the idea by now. The next thing to pop up in his head was that all the training and preparations wouldn’t be for nothing after all.
After that, I’d like to see Mrs. Grodski’s face if she heard that I just qualified to the knockout rounds of the League! He grinned widely at the thought.
“So,” May asked, “since we’re both moving on to the knockout rounds, how about some joint training?”
“Not yet,” he replied, still grinning. “I’ve got some TMs to buy.”
For the next few days, they continued to train, mostly practicing their Pokémon’s various weakness-countering moves. On the thirteenth, the first elimination round matchups were published; Mark’s opponent was another one of those vaguely familiar faces he couldn’t put his finger on, some guy named Michael Willows, while May was matched against none other than Aaron White. “Consider your defeat avenged,” she’d said with bemusement upon finding out. Afterwards, they went to the library together to look up their opponents’ teams and then separated to prepare for their battles.
“Okay, guys,” Mark told his Pokémon at their usual training spot. “This guy has nine Pokémon of a variety of types. Let’s see...” He looked at his notebook. “Blastoise, Breloom, Donphan, Flareon, Gallade, Lucario, Manectric, Scizor...” Mark glanced at Scyther; the Pokémon winced and looked away. “...And Staraptor.”
“Three Fighting-types,” Letaligon was quick to point out.
Mark nodded. “Yeah. That’ll only really be a problem for you, though.” He paused. “Well, first things first. Who has the least of a disadvantage against all of them, who could open the battle?”
“Dragonite,” Charizard said immediately.
Mark looked over the list again. Yes, Michael Willows had no Ice, Rock or Dragon-types at all. “Okay, we’ll start with him, then, if it’s okay with you?”
Dragonite nodded in agreement along with the others.
They ran over a few hypothetical scenarios of how the battle might go from there; the first ended uncomfortably with Michael’s Flareon and one extra Pokémon against Letaligon, and the rest had a worrying tendency to end pessimistically, though Letaligon was quick to point out that they were not accounting for the fact Michael would have to pick out his team of six beforehand and that they could win even when at a disadvantage.
“There’s another thing,” Mark said before they went to lunch. “This guy is thirteen. His profile says he’s participated in leagues in other regions. I mean, the Pokémon he’s using now have obviously not been in continuous training all that time, and if any of them were brought over from the other regions, they’ve regressed to around the levels of most of the trainers here, but he probably has a lot more experience as a trainer than most. I’m a bit worried about that.”
Scyther shrugged. “If he’s still playing in the regional Newcomers’ Leagues and starting over his training every time, he can’t be very confident in his abilities.”
“I guess,” Mark said reluctantly, still not convinced. “His team seems pretty good, though.”
“We’ll do our best,” said Dragonite. “Even if we lose, it’s great to have gotten this far.”
Mark nodded. He was right about that. Again, Mrs. Grodski’s imaginary scandalized expression popped up in his head and made him chuckle. At least he’d exceeded her expectations already. Anything more was just a bonus, right?
Both of their battles were on the fifteenth, the first day of the knockout rounds; May’s was in the morning, but she convinced Mark the night before that he’d be better off getting some sleep and then preparing for his own battle than watching hers. She won anyhow, as she told him when they met at the trainer lodge for lunch, though her lack of enthusiasm to tell him the details of how it went made him wonder if she’d perhaps had a more difficult time with Aaron White than she’d expected. Then he had to go to retrieve his Pokémon, she wished him luck, and they parted again.
He got his six Pokémon from the League offices and the receptionist lady took him to the trainer stand on the main battle arena, just like for the second preliminary match. He had a weird déjà vu feeling walking up those familiar stairs up to the metal railing on the trainer stand, but looking over the stadium was a decidedly different feeling: the arena was normal now, with no special type gimmicks; there was just rough, solid ground with white battle arena markings painted onto it and a large pool on the side, all in all making it look oddly solemn compared to the themed battlefields of the preliminaries.
Michael Willows, a tall boy with large, brown eyes and spiky, dark red hair stood on the other trainer stand, the trainer close-up on the giant screens on the side showing him looking around the audience stands with a faint smile. He was fiddling with a minimized Pokéball in his right hand; it was probably what he was going to bring out first. Mark figured it might not be such a bad idea to have the ball ready, so he took out Dragonite’s. He looked around the audience stands as they filled and thought he saw May enter at one point, but couldn’t be sure.
“Trainers, ready Pokéballs,” said a voice at last. Mark saw Michael look up and maximize the ball he was holding; he did the same.
“Ready... set... throw!”
They hurled the balls out at the same time and Mark squinted at the shape of light that was forming out of Michael’s ball. It became a slender, humanshape sort of thing – Lucario, he realized as the light began to fade away. Dragonite, fully formed, jumped into the air and began to fly.
“Dragonite, use a Fire Punch!” Mark shouted.
“Lucario, Dragon Pulse!” came the quick countercommand.
Lucario was quicker. It closed its eyes, the aura sensors on the sides of its head thrust out sideways, and a pulse of blue energy rippled through the air, striking Dragonite in mid-dive. He was knocked backwards in the air and winced in pain, but continued down towards his opponent as flames circled his fist and delivered a punch that knocked Lucario back like a ragdoll, though as a Fighting-type, it handled the fall gracefully and was quickly back on its feet.
“Now use an Ice Punch!” Michael ordered without missing a beat. Mark realized with dread that he hadn’t really assumed Lucario would know something like Ice Punch, but there was little to do about it now.
“Dragonite, Dragon Dance!” he called, hoping Dragonite would survive long enough to benefit from it. Lucario was already leaping towards the dragon Pokémon and smashed its icy fist across his face; he cried out in pain and stumbled back before lifting farther up and beginning a quick dance in the air.
“Lucario, Metal Sound!”
Mark couldn’t for the life of him remember what that attack did, but was none too keen on waiting to find out, so he shouted, “Fire Punch again!” as Dragonite finished his dance.
Lucario closed its eyes to focus again and then struck the metal spikes on the backs of its paws together, forming a loud, high-pitched sound that made Dragonite cringe and waver in his flight as he dived. Flames surrounded his paw again and he smacked it into Lucario’s body, sending it flying even farther than before.
“And now Roost!” Mark said quickly.
“Lucario, Dragon Pulse!”
Dragonite landed on the ground some distance away and lay down curled up, closing his eyes as a mild blue glow surrounded his body to heal him. Meanwhile, Lucario concentrated and sent another pulse of draconic energy towards him. Strangely, this time it actually made him twist in pain, even though he was healing himself. Perhaps it was that Metal Sound’s fault somehow.
“Use another Fire Punch!”
Dragonite managed to leap up and glide towards Lucario, fire gathering around his chubby fist...
“Another Dragon Pulse!”
Dragonite drove his fiery paw into Lucario’s stomach and the aura Pokémon let itself roll backwards before sending another Dragon Pulse his way. The Roost had probably saved him; Dragonite was knocked harshly back, but he remained conscious.
“Fire Punch!” Mark shouted, his heart thumping. He was sure that would do the trick –
“Lucario, use Extremespeed!”
Lucario took a leap and turned into a dark blue blur in the air as it smacked itself into Dragonite’s body. He bounced back in the air and then crashed into the ground, where he tried weakly to stand up.
“Another Extremespeed,” called Michael, and his Lucario smashed down onto Dragonite’s back, knocking the wind out of him and ensuring his defeat, to an explosion of cheering from the audience.
Mark bit his lip; seeing as Dragonite was his strongest Pokémon and they’d been mostly evenly matched type-wise, this didn’t bode very well. “Good work, Dragonite,” he said anyway, recalling the dragon’s limp body.
Right. Lucario. His choices were pretty much Charizard and Sandslash, if he wanted the type advantage. However, Lucario had used up all of its four moves in the fight with Dragonite, and one of them was Ice Punch – he did not want Sandslash out there against something he knew had an Ice attack. So Charizard was...
It suddenly struck him that, yes, Lucario had used up all of its four moves. Dragon Pulse, Ice Punch, Extremespeed and Metal Sound. Its Fighting advantages were null and void now. Which meant...
“Go, Letaligon!” he called, throwing her ball out. “Use Earthquake!”
“Lucario, use Metal Sound!”
Letaligon emerged on the battlefield as Lucario struck its metal spikes together again to produce that high-pitched ringing sound again. She winced but then reared up on her hind legs and came down to smash her front paws into the ground, producing a powerful ripple that travelled across the ground and underneath Lucario. It shivered and crouched down in an attempt to survive it; Letaligon eyed it warily, but finally it submitted to unconsciousness and fell limply on its side.
“You did great, Lucario,” said Michael as he recalled his Pokémon. He paused for a moment before taking out his next ball. “Scizor, I choose you!”
Mark was momentarily puzzled; didn’t Michael have a Donphan, a Flareon and two more Fighting-types? He couldn’t possibly not have brought any of them for the battle.
“Use Brick Break!” Michael ordered as the Bug Pokémon finished materializing. Of course.
“Letaligon, um, use a Metal Burst!” Mark called while trying to think. Would Iron Defense be worth it? She had little chance of beating it when it had an attack she was so weak to and the most effective attack she could use against it was the only moderately effective Earthquake, which she wasn’t the best user of. Perhaps just Metal Bursting until she fainted was her best bet.
The Scizor, surprisingly quick, darted across the arena, pulling its right pincer back before it swung it like a hammer into Letaligon’s side. She lost her balance momentarily and stumbled to regain it before her entire body turned metallic and swung a paw into the Scizor’s body in an exaggerated reflection of its move. It was knocked back and landed on the ground but quickly rose to its feet.
“Swords Dance,” Michael ordered. His Scizor began to mime dueling an invisible, impossibly quick opponent, spinning around to seemingly block several attacks at once in between precise strikes at the air; it was a much more dramatic execution of Swords Dance than how for example Scyther and Charizard did it, though Mark wasn’t sure if that gave it any advantage or if it was just a personal quirk. He chuckled at it anyhow, half amused and half nervous: if he gave Scizor too much opportunity to power itself up, Charizard would have a more difficult time with it once it had finished Letaligon off.
“Hypnosis!” Mark finally came up with.
“Double Team, Scizor!”
Letaligon tried to focus on the Scizor’s eyes, but it nonchalantly faced away from her and formed two illusory copies of itself before turning back around, something about its mouthless expression managing to seem smug.
Mark gritted his teeth. Hypnosis was unreliable enough as it was. “Earthquake, then,” he ordered, and Letaligon reared up to smash her paws into the ground once again. The ground rippled; the three Scizor took a simultaneous leap to avoid it, but Letaligon, snarling in frustration, pounded the ground again to keep the quake going as they landed. The Earthquake ripples quickly dissolved the two copies, leaving the real Scizor alone.
“Brick Break again,” Michael called. Scizor zoomed forward to smash a pincer into Letaligon’s side, exactly where she’d been hit before; Mark might have been imagining it, but he was sure the armor dented visibly. Letaligon stumbled back, severely weakened.
“Metal Burst!” Mark shouted quickly.
“Bullet Punch!” countered Michael.
Before Letaligon could react, the Scizor smashed its pincer upwards into her jaw, and she let out a yelp of pain before she swayed and collapsed.
“Come back, Letaligon,” Mark said, holding her ball forward to recall her. “Charizard, go!”
As the dragon Pokémon began to form, he was about to order a Flamethrower when he realized that Michael would probably send out Blastoise next, and once it was out, wasting time on a Sunny Day to set up Solarbeam could be a fatal mistake. Scizor, on the other hand, had little ability to harm Charizard and so would be a better choice to waste time against.
“Use Sunny Day and then Flamethrower, Charizard!” he called.
“Scizor, Double Team,” ordered Michael.
Charizard took off from the ground and roared towards the cloudy sky. Instantly, the wispy clouds parted and the warmth of the sun’s intensified rays spread over the stadium, heating it to almost uncomfortable levels. Scizor ignored it and split itself into three identical clones that simultaneously looked up at Charizard with mischievous tilts of their heads. The dragon growled, flames licking the corners of his mouth on the close-up screen before he threw his head forward and sent a bright cone of flame rushing towards the middle Scizor. The Scizor copies jumped into the air in an attempt to avoid it, but thanks to how much the Flamethrower had spread at that distance, it was impossible to avoid completely; flames licked the middle Scizor’s legs, and they simply melted away. Now that its cover had been blown, the illusory copy vanished, leaving only two Scizor left, but each of them split again to create six identical ones. Charizard growled in annoyance.
Michael was probably trying to stall, Mark reasoned – trying to make Charizard exhaust himself as much as possible trying to dissolve the copies one by one, since Scizor could only hurt him minimally. There had to be a better way.
“Charizard, use Heat Wave!” Mark shouted, slightly wary about using up his third attack, but it was probably better than if Charizard had to face a Blastoise while too tired.
The dragon Pokémon took a deep breath and then opened his mouth. A mirage-like ripple of heat spread across the arena and the Scizor simultaneously jumped to avoid it; three of them could not get out of the way of the attack and dissolved, while the others remained, signifying the real one was one of them.
“Scizor, Brick Break!” Michael ordered quickly and the three Scizor shot into the air in some mixture of almost-flight and a leap and smashed their pincers into Charizard’s body. The dragon turned quickly towards one of them – the one whose blow had actually struck – and released a bright Flamethrower from his mouth that caught the Scizor head-on. It crumpled towards the ground, charred and glowing with heat.
Mark smiled as the dragon looked quickly towards him. “Nice one, Charizard.”
Michael recalled his Scizor and paused before grabbing another ball and throwing it. “Go, Manectric! Use Rain Dance!”
Of course. He wouldn’t send Blastoise out into a Sunny Day when he had another Pokémon with a type advantage. “Charizard, Earthquake!” Mark called.
He had hoped Charizard would manage to be quicker, but no such luck. The Manectric howled at the sky, and sudden clouds began to form in a solid disk above the stadium even as Charizard took a dive and smashed his feet into the ground, sending ripples of pressure towards the doglike Pokémon; it cringed in pain, a few sparks flying loose from its fur.
The first few raindrops produced by the Rain Dance turned into a heavy downpour, and Mark was thankful for the force field that kept him dry. Charizard was not as lucky; he winced as the rain hit his tail flame and tried to keep it under his body to shield it. “Another Earthquake, Charizard,” Mark ordered, figuring it would be worse in the end to try to use Sunny Day again and essentially give the Manectric a free move.
“Thunder!” called Michael.
The Manectric roared powerfully, sparks flying around its pyramid-shaped mane, and a bolt of lightning struck Charizard from the clouds above. He writhed and twisted in pain, faltering dangerously in his flight before he managed to regain control of his wings; then he managed to land to produce another tremor, though thanks to the shorter fall, it was weak compared to the first, and the Manectric shrugged it off with a worrying ease.
“Try again!” Mark called desperately.
Charizard began to take off from the ground, but another bolt of lightning struck him, this time sending him crashing straight back into the ground so he landed awkwardly on his side. He managed to rise anyway and tried to fly up, but he was hurt and his flight was awkward and sluggish; without an order, the Manectric roared towards the sky again. Yet another jolt of electricity passed from the clouds into Charizard’s body, and he fell limply to the ground, unconscious.
Mark bit his lip. “I’m sorry, Charizard,” he muttered as he took out his Pokéball to recall him. “Sandslash, do it! Earthquake!”
As Sandslash finished forming, Manectric fired a flurry of glowing stars from its mouth that converged on Sandslash, bombarding him before he’d had the chance to curl into a ball for defense. He tried to shield his head with his paws until it was over and was then quick to leap into the air and smash his paws into the ground to produce an Earthquake; being a Ground-type and considerably better at the attack than Charizard, the ripples in the ground this time looked considerably more powerful, and as they passed under Manectric’s feet, it shuddered violently, emitting a shower of sparks before it stumbled and collapsed.
Michael looked unsurprised. “Manectric, return,” he said, recalling the fallen Pokémon. “Blastoise, go!”
“Earthquake!” Mark ordered quickly.
As the tortoise Pokémon emerged, Sandslash took another leap, but the Blastoise was quicker than Mark anticipated; it had already pointed its cannon straight towards Sandslash, and a torrent of water blasted out from it. The pangolin, however, managed somehow to react and get himself out of the way, or perhaps it was just poorly aimed in exchange for being so fast; in any case, the jet of water passed just by Sandslash’s side, and he smashed into the ground, producing another Earthquake. Blastoise grunted as the tremor passed underneath it, but didn’t seem to hurt it that much.
“Try again! Hydro Pump!”
Mark wasn’t very hopeful on Sandslash’s behalf; the Blastoise took aim at him, but then actually waited a moment for the pangolin to jump and fired its cannon the moment he landed. The blast of water sent Sandslash flying into the wall on Mark’s end of the arena before the Earthquake ripples reached Blastoise and threw off its aim. It roared in pain this time, but remained on its feet.
Mark looked down at where Sandslash was lying in a heap below him in the mud and was about to take out his ball to recall him when he stirred and suddenly took one more strained leap to pull off a final Earthquake. It was clumsy and looked weakish, but the Blastoise was very nearly knocked off its feet simply because it wasn’t prepared for it. It growled and sent one more quick blast of water from one cannon straight at the prone form of Sandslash, who merely braced himself for the attack and let it knock him unconscious.
With a guilty sigh, Mark recalled him, wishing he’d had the sense to do it before he was hit by the final attack. He took a moment to take a deep breath and think about the situation so far. He had two Pokémon left. Michael had three. Unless Jolteon or Scyther managed to take down two Pokémon and turn the tables, Michael was winning.
And all things considered, really, how likely was that? Neither of them was the best at countering their weaknesses. He might really have lost the battle at the first round, when Lucario had managed to take Dragonite down, and that thought depressed him. At least he’d tried, he thought dully, but the thought felt hollow and fake.
“Jolteon, go,” he said and threw Jolteon’s ball into the arena. “Thunderb...” he began before he remembered it was still raining. “No, Thunder! Quick!”
More Earthquakes. Somehow he was getting really sick of that move by now.
Jolteon readied himself, crouching down as he manipulated the electrons in his opponent, and a lightning bolt struck the tortoise where it stood. This time it roared in real pain, something about it oddly satisfying.
He hoped it would go down immediately, but it didn’t (how could that thing survive a Thunder and two Earthquakes?), and it stomped its foot on the ground, producing yet another series of spreading ripples in the ground.
Mark clenched his fists, praying that their training would pay off: they’d practiced Earthquake-dodging with May for a whole day at one point. Jolteon stood tense, waiting for the Earthquake waves to reach him, and then jumped at just the right moment – Mark’s heart thumped – he landed neatly between two ripples and managed to jump again before the next had reached him – he landed again –
He was a split second too late for the next jump; he yelped as electric sparks scattered out from his body, lost his footing on the wet ground and took the full force of the rest of the attack. He stood up, trembling, and tried to shake the water and mud from his fur.
“Blastoise, get a Hydro Pump in!”
“One more Thunder! Please!” Mark pleaded. He couldn’t lose with a type advantage. Not here. Not now. Somehow his mind conjured up an image of Mrs. Grodski’s condescending I-told-you-so smile.
The tortoise was already aiming its cannon, and while concentrating on the attack, Jolteon couldn’t hope to try to dodge at the same time. Mark was sure he saw a hint of fear shining in his eyes on the Pokémon close-up screen.
The Blastoise fired its Hydro Pump (why was it so fast?) and Jolteon was blasted straight into the wall just as lightning struck the Blastoise. It bellowed in pain, collapsing onto all fours; its legs trembled, and then it surrendered to its own weight, knocked out.
The audience cheered. Mark looked down at Jolteon; he was lying in a muddy pool of water, shivering, probably barely conscious. He watched Michael recall his Blastoise, seeming to eye Jolteon with concern as he took out his next Pokéball.
Mark saw Jolteon look weakly up and try to rise.
He’d pretty much lost the battle already. There was no reason to make Jolteon suffer more for the small possibility of getting one weak attack in.
“Jolteon, return,” he muttered as he watched the elephant Pokémon form on the other side. The rain was subsiding, leaving the arena covered with small, dirty puddles.
He took out Scyther’s ball and looked at it, wondering for a moment if he should just surrender and save him the need of getting hurt too. But Scyther never shied away from battles; he’d probably want to fight to the last. He had to try to go out with something of a bang. Perhaps he’d manage to beat Donphan and even put something of a dent in Michael’s last Pokémon.
“No!” Mark blurted out. “Scyther, Double Team!”
Scyther split himself into three as the Donphan curled itself into a ball and rolled towards him; it somehow managed to jump and went straight through a copy, dissolving it before landing harshly on the ground on the other side and uncurling.
“Scyther, use a Swords Da...”
Mark trailed off as he realized Scyther didn’t look like he was listening to him; both of the remaining copies were in fact staring straight at Michael, and Michael was staring straight back, eyes wide, his knuckles white as they gripped the railing.
Scyther wasn’t just staring, Mark realized as he glanced at the Pokémon close-up screen. He was staring murderously, the way Mark only remembered him staring at Scizor.
And then it suddenly clicked in his head where he had seen Michael before – in Ruxido, unconscious and bleeding, for those few seconds before the paramedics had teleported away with him – Nightmare’s trainer, the boy Scyther had tried to kill. And then the Scizor earlier – that meant –
Everything swirled around in Mark’s head. For a moment he felt dizzy and had to grab the railing too to keep his balance. He noticed somewhere in the back of his mind that the audience had gone dead silent. Donphan stood there, looking up at its trainer with concern. Michael was frozen, his lips pressed together, his face pale.
Both Scyther roared and leapt up without warning, performing a quick series of spinning slashes on the air before charging into Donphan.
“Aerial Ace!” Mark had the sense to shout to make the move legal before Scyther slashed at his opponent. Donphan cried out in pain, looked quickly up at its trainer and then curled up again to use its only available move. The two Scyther copies were already splitting themselves into a total of six and moving in for another Aerial Ace.
Mark looked quickly up at the trainer close-up of Michael. He was no longer even watching; he stood a bit hunched over, looking down, still supporting himself against the railing. He heard Donphan whimper as it was struck again by an illusory army of roaring Scyther; all five of them (it must have managed to hit and dissolve one copy, he realized dimly) stepped back for another Swords Dance. The Donphan called worriedly out to its trainer. Mark knew he should be telling Scyther to stop, but something stopped him; a thousand different excuses swam around in his head.
Michael looked up when he heard his Pokémon calling for him; the Scyther copies were Swords Dancing again. “Donphan,” he called, his voice weak, “use a... Rock Sl...”
Scyther moved in to strike with his duplicates. In a flash of five raised scythes, he pulled off one more Aerial Ace before moving away. The Donphan lay bleeding in the middle, unconscious.
Michael swallowed, looking down again. “I’m sorry,” he said and took out a Pokéball, recalling his Pokémon blindly. There were a few moments of dead silence as Michael took deep, steadying breaths. Mark was beginning to feel sick; his hand fiddled with Scyther’s Pokéball. He knew he should recall him and see if Michael was okay.
But the referees hadn’t called for a suspension of the match – presumably they only did that if the trainer was clearly physically ill. Recalling him would mean surrendering.
And he could win. Only minutes ago he’d been convinced the match was lost already, but now it was down to one on one, with Scyther healthy, Double Teamed and powered up; he had a real, good chance of winning this battle now, proceeding to the second knockout round.
Wasn’t Michael the trainer who had caught Nightmare and evolved her without asking, sentencing her to a life as a creature her species despised? Didn’t he deserve it, really?
Mark let go of the Pokéball, and it struck him for a moment that what was making him nauseous was his own feelings. Then that thought was gone.
Michael looked up again, though not down at the arena. “All right,” he said, “Flareon, go!”
He threw his final ball, releasing the Fire Pokémon. Yet again, Michael had the type advantage.
Mark’s apparently five Scyther growled simultaneously at the Flareon and then, again, moved without a command.
Michael shuddered on his trainer stand. “Flareon, um...” He hesitated, looking away as his Pokémon glanced up at him in confusion only to be struck down by an Aerial Ace; it screamed, the sound high-pitched and piercing. “Heat Wave.”
The Flareon stood up, opened its mouth and breathed out an invisible wave of heat that managed to strike three Scyther; two melted away, but the last was the real one, who cried out in pain as the scorching heat charred the front of his exoskeleton and threw him back. He doubled over to catch his breath, the final two copies disappearing now that his concentration had faltered.
“Aerial Ace!” Mark called, his voice sounding strange; it occurred dimly to him that he hadn’t given an order since Scyther’s first strike at Donphan. Scyther was already back up and rushing towards Flareon again, but the other Pokémon had its back turned, trying to make eye contact with its trainer; Michael was burying his face in his hands, shaking his head. “Endure,” he said, but he was too late. With a roar of fury, Scyther delivered a final blow to the unwary Flareon, who let out a miserable cry before it collapsed, blood staining its yellow neck collar.
There was no cheering from the audience this time; there were just shouts and puzzled chatter. Scyther stood over the Flareon’s limp form and looked slowly towards Michael, who had now simply turned around, one hand still holding tightly on to the railing. Mark saw the referees raise a red flag on Michael’s side that the trainer couldn’t see; he wasn’t sure if the boy was even aware his Pokémon was down. The status screen updated to strike Flareon out and declare Mark the winner, and Mark considered that his cue to take out Scyther’s Pokéball and recall the mantis. He felt himself shiver as he looked over at Michael and somehow felt like he had just committed a great crime.
He didn’t even hear the announcer call the win, though he knew it must have been done at some point. He exited the trainer stand, still shaken, walked over to the Pokémon Center, handed the Pokéballs to Nurse Joy and crumbled into a couch to wait. Only moments later, he saw Michael enter and froze momentarily, but the other trainer just walked up to the counter without noticing him. He looked okay, at the very least – still pale and trembling a bit, but he seemed to be getting better. That calmed Mark down a little. He didn’t take his eyes off Michael as the boy walked over to another couch to wait.
It wasn’t long before Mark’s Pokémon were fully healed; he walked back over to the counter and picked up the Pokéballs, still keeping an eye on Michael to see if he was watching. He wasn’t; in fact, he had been staring blankly into space since getting there.
Mark didn’t feel relatively normal again until he was back out of the Pokémon Center.
“There you are,” said a voice behind him; he jumped before he turned around and realized it was just May. “Congratulations,” she said, not sounding like she really meant it. Oh, yeah, he thought absent-mindedly; he would get to proceed to the next knockout round. That fact had gotten lost somewhere.
When Mark didn’t answer, May went on. “You didn’t really deserve to win that,” she said. “He’d have creamed you if he weren’t Scyther-phobic or whatever. God knows why he entered the League where there could be Scyther wherever, or why he has a Scizor himself, but he was better than you.”
Mark nodded numbly.
“The thing is that you got too caught up with your weakness counters,” she continued when he still said nothing. “You started off okay, but then you were just trying to use a bunch of super-effective attacks, with no regard for strategy, and since the others had super-effective moves too but were usually better equipped to pull them off, you were bound to lose. You’d have needed some real strategy to stand a chance to win square. Jolteon made a good try to dodge that Earthquake, though, by the way; tell him for me. Earthquake is really hard to avoid completely if you can’t fly.”
She paused for a moment. “There’s also how you only have six Pokémon, so you were completely predictable. He probably figured you’d start with Dragonite, and from there it was just putting together a team with exactly one counter for each of your Pokémon. It would’ve been better if you had a bigger team.”
“Yeah,” Mark said.
She looked at him. “What’s with you?”
He shook his head. “I just feel like I shouldn’t have won that, I guess.”
May shrugged. “Well, if it makes you feel better, getting nervous is just another weakness, really. If you look at it that way, it’s just as legitimate a reason to lose a battle as having a poor type balance in your team or using too many offensive moves. And it’s not your fault if he has a problem with Scyther, so it’s not like you were cheating.”
Mark didn’t really have an answer to that.
“Oh, did you ever figure out where you thought you’d seen him before?”
“No,” said Mark, and they walked into their trainer lodge in silence.
Michael sighed and dropped his Pokéballs on the floor of his bedroom, and the six Pokémon emerged in blinding white light, already squabbling anxiously.
“...is he okay? He was so strange...”
“...we were ahead, weren’t we...?”
“...how did it go? Did we win...?”
“We didn’t,” Michael said, his quiet voice lost among the Pokémon’s cries at first; they quieted down one by one as they realized he had said something.
“We lost,” he repeated in the newfound silence. “I’m sorry I let you down.”
Their voices rose up again all at once.
“...how could we lose? We were ahead, I saw it...”
“...I think there was something wrong with Michael, he was all pale and didn’t order any attacks...”
Michael shook his head. “Please,” he said, and they fell silent once more, now all looking at him with concern. “Please,” he said again. “I’m sorry. I... just got a little dizzy there at the end. A headache. I’m okay now.”
He glanced at Scizor; she looked puzzled, just like the rest of them. Skeptical. It sounded like the excuse that it was.
But how could he explain it to them without sounding like he was going off his rocker? He’d caught Scizor, and minutes later a murderous Scyther had struck the Pokémon Center he was in. He’d gone off to other regions for a couple of years, but only weeks after returning to take on the Ouen League, a Scyther had tried to kill Scizor at the Pokémon Frenzy Tournament. And then he’d been attacked by Sneasel – of course it was a band of Sneasel, the paramedics had seen them with their own eyes – and yet his mind kept conjuring up a hazy memory of being knocked down by something huge and green, a reptilian face, terrifying eyes with empty, slitlike pupils. And now those same eyes, many pairs of them staring up at him from a battle arena; that shrill battle cry, the shining blades ready to hurt and kill. It had been too much.
Especially because somehow, no matter how hard he tried, he could not get rid of the paranoid, absurd notion that it was all the same Scyther.
Ridiculous, he’d told himself repeatedly. All Scyther look the same. But they didn’t; he was sure Scizor had looked different when she was a Scyther, and he’d seen an occasional Scyther in the other regions, and he’d seen pictures of Scyther; they made him shudder, but never like that. He had tried to tell himself that he had never seen Scizor very well as a Scyther, since he’d evolved her immediately – the thought made him wince now – and maybe there were regional differences between Scyther, or he was responding to the expression of bloodlust that he’d only seen those three times before – no, two times, he insisted to himself; it had been Sneasel that had attacked him. His brain had made up the Scyther. There had never been a Scyther.
Michael sighed and looked at his waiting Pokémon. He couldn’t tell them he thought he was being stalked by a murderous Scyther. It sounded stupid even to himself.
“It was just nerves, I guess,” he said. “Having gotten that far and all.”
“We’ll have better luck next time,” said Flareon, rubbing reassuringly against his leg, but as she said it, Michael realized he wasn’t sure he wanted there to be a next time.
“Yeah,” he said anyway as the Pokémon mumbled in agreement. “I hope so.”
Deep down, he had already decided to quit training for good.
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