The Fireside Reading Room

Typhlosion

Flaming Torch
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Godspeed
It's always cold here, but you know this time of year is what your father meant when he said cold season. It's always risky going into the Winding Woods, but you know this time of year is when the Pokémon are supposed to be more aggressive. Muriel knows that too. You thought she would have known better, but what's done is done. Muriel is your best friend, your only friend really, and you are hers. Running all the way back to Snowbelle City would take too long. Right now her tracks through the new powder are fresh. You pace in a circle as you try to psych yourself up for this. Mentally, you realize it boils down into one choice: go, or don't go. Help Muriel, or don't. There's only one right choice. You duck around a low-hanging branch and push into the woods.

Right from the start nothing is easy. Even in the dead of winter the evergreens are thick and bushy, preventing much snow from settling on the ground. They act as a blanket to the forest, keeping the tangled undergrowth alive as well. You don't dare to call out Muriel's name yet, for fear of attracting the creatures behind all the rustling noises you hear. Only the bits of footprints left in sporadic patches of snow guide you onward.

As the day wears on, you begin to regret not finding someone bigger to help. The last thing you ate was breakfast. The forest is more difficult to walk through than you imagined, and it's tough to stay on Muriel's trail. Pausing for a second to catch your breath, the bush right next to you suddenly shakes. With a startled yell you jump backward, crashing into the trunk of a tree. You don't realize that a huge clump of snow has been knocked loose until it falls on you. Actually, that's not quite what happens. To your amazement, the snow separates over your head, falling in a perfect ring all around you. As the remnants drift down through the air, the bush rustles once more and is still.

Heart hammering and knees shaking from your scare, you lean against the tree for support. Thoughts of Muriel alone out here convince you to keep going. Before you press on, you can't resist one more look at the bush. Something catches your attention. Snagged on one of the branches is a small tuft of pink, wonderfully soft fuzz. Probably this came from whatever frightened you before. You put it in your pocket, thinking it might somehow be useful later. Muriel's footprints pick up again further on, and you cautiously continue your search.

Soon the path leads you into a clearing. It comes just in the nick of time; with every breath, you feel like the trees move in just a little bit closer. The small treaded footprints, only sign of Muriel's passage, lead directly to the center of the small open area. Abruptly, they stop. Nothing else leads away.

A sudden fierce wind shakes all the trees surrounding you. Blood roars in your ears. Trying to look everywhere at once, trying to confirm that nothing has changed, you spin around wildly. Nothing appears different, and you take several breaths to calm yourself. You can't follow her if she left no footprints. "M-Muriel?" you stammer. Feeling foolish at your lack of resolve, you yell this time: "Muriel!"

The whole world goes silent. Beneath your feet, a frozen branch cracks deafeningly. A strange, short tree to the side lets out a guttural moan. All its branches quiver and extend, like an old man standing up after sitting for too long. Deep within a crack near the top of the tree, a single red eye flares to life. The eye sees you, pinpoints you, traps you in a beam of unchecked malevolence. With a shudder, the Trevenant advances.

You sink to your knees, feeling its gaze like a weight. This is how it ends.

A small pink object, edged in bright green, whizzes out of the forest and slams into the Trevenant. Time seems to slow down, like in an old sci-fi movie you once saw. The force of impact sends out a shock wave of air. Ever so slightly, Trevenant is pushed away, the outline of its body seeming to remain fixed in the air. Time catches up with a bang. Trevenant is thrust backward, out of sight, at a speed so great it is rendered invisible. The pink and green object, having saved your life, similarly flies away faster than the eye can follow.

The past hours have been more than your eight-year-old body can take. You keel over face-down in the snow.

The sun doesn't appear to have moved much when you come to, but in these short winter days when it barely gets halfway up the sky, that's not a reliable indication of time. Slowly looking around to get your bearings, you immediately notice the Pokémon watching you. It is small and fragile-looking, bobbing in the air with a curious expression. Also, it is pink. The same pink as the tuft, and the same as your mystery savior. Seeing you awake, it immediately turns and darts through a gap in the border of the clearing.

"W-wait, stop, stop!" you call, stretching out a hand. Quickly scrambling to your feet, almost falling again in your haste, you toil after the Pokémon as fast as your legs will carry you.

It's no use. Whatever it is you're chasing quickly leaves you behind, leaving you stumbling blindly through the woods. You can't stop the sob or the thoughts of home. You continue to trudge forward mechanically, until without warning you burst into another clearing. To your utter shock, you see Muriel. She's sitting on a log, idly drawing patterns in the snow with a stick.

You shout Muriel's name in relief, and she quickly looks up. A wan smile breaks across her face. "Oh, William," she laughs sadly. Her face falls again. You stand listening at the edge of the trees as she begins to talk, not sure if you're the one being addressed.

"I shouldn't have let what those children said bother me the way I did," she begins. "I'm supposed to be above that. But, somehow, I couldn't help myself. It did bother me." She's silent for a moment, and you take the opportunity to walk over and sit next to her. This earns you another of Muriel's smiles. "It was very sweet of you to come after me," she says. "You've always been the most intelligent person in our class, and the one with whom I identify the most. Thank you for being such a good friend." She takes a deep breath and her gaze becomes unfocused as she reminisces.

"Many of us try to remain aloof, maintaining the world from afar while not taking an active role in its affairs. Many of us, my brother not the least among them, have lost sight of what it is we would give our very lives to defend." Muriel comes back to the present and gestures at herself. "That was when I had this idea, and I convinced several others to join me. In order to experience the world and remind ourselves of its higher purpose, what better way than to live as one who regularly inhabits it? Though my brother would not condescend to join us, I was determined, and so I chose for my home this Snowbelle City and the Winding Woods, that I might keep a close watch on him." Again, a pause.

"I came among you as a newborn. It frightened me deeply to feel so utterly helpless, but I bore it. For the last eight years I have lived as one of you, yearning for a glimpse of that spark. I believe my reaction to those boorish children was a sign that I had achieved my goal. Before that time nothing could have hoped to perturb me in that manner, but suddenly I found that I could be genuinely hurt by what they said." She looks at you joyfully. "And I have you to thank for so much of it, William! You brilliant boy. You are young, and yet from your simple perspective you have been able show me how to live, through all of life's pain, laughter, anger, and joy. You have shown me what I needed to see, and taught me what I needed to know. From the bottom of my heart, thank you." Muriel stands up. "And now I must go. The world turns yet, and I wish to share with the others what I have experienced. She turns and looks at you, again with a tinge of sadness in her eyes. "Goodbye, William. I will miss you."

These last words finally prompt you out of a stupefied silence, and you jump to your feet as well. "I don't understand, Muriel. What are you talking about? Are you leaving?"

"Yes, William," she responds gently to your question. "My place is not here. My name is not Muriel." A blinding blue flash emanates from her, and when the light fades, you see the same levitating pink Pokémon from before. "I am Mew."

You are dumbfounded. At last you choke out, "You-- you're a Pokémon? It was you who saved me?"

"That is correct," says Mew. "I could not bear to see you harmed when you were risking so much to help me. I have the power within me to use any and all moves known to Pokémon, among them Safeguard, Dragon Tail, Transform...and not least of all, Teleport. Return home safely."

Before you can respond, Mew darts forward and grabs your hand. Everything goes dark, and your ears pop. You find yourself back at the edge of the woods, right where you first entered. Mew is nowhere in sight.

"There he is!" calls a voice. Two men in police uniforms run up to you. One of them is Muriel's dad. The other man says something into a walkie-talkie while he crouches down to look at you. "What on earth possessed you to run off into into the woods in the dead of winter all by yourself, kid?"

"Muriel ran in first!" you explain. "I had to go after her so she wouldn't be the one who was alone!"

"Who's Muriel?" asks the officer. "Is there someone else in there too? You were the only person reported missing."

"Muriel, your daughter!" you almost shout. "My friend! She's invited me to your house to play a bunch of times!"

The officer gives you a very strange look. "Young man, I don't have any children. I'm not even married. And I've never seen you before in my life. Are you confusing me with someone else?"

Just then your mom runs up as well and wraps you in a squeeze. As soon as you can breath again, you accost her as well. "Mom, you remember Muriel, right? My friend?"

Muriel's dad shoots your mom a glance. "He keeps talking about this Muriel person, who supposedly went in the woods with him. Do you know what he means, ma'am?"

"Honey, I don't think you've ever met anyone named Muriel," your mom says concernedly.

"I imagine he's had quite a scare. His imagination might be running away from him," the officer reassures your mom. Offering you his hand, he smiles, "Let's get you back home, buddy."

As you are led away, you can't help staring back at the woods, straining for a glimpse of something, anything to vindicate yourself. Despairing, you have already turned around to face the lights of Snowbelle City when a thought flashes unbidden through your mind, carrying within it the cadence of Mew's voice.

"Thank you for remembering me. Godspeed, my friend."
 

Typhlosion

Flaming Torch
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From Across Time and Space
Allow me to state for the record how thoroughly annoying it is to be the single parent of both a diurnal and a nocturnal child. As soon as I can get one of them to go to bed, the other one is just waking up, and because they're both still so young, they need constant attention. I couldn't even tell you when I manage to sleep. I can't go for help, though. I have no right to ask anybody to take the tremendous risk of being implicated with us. The government would make that person's life hell, along with ours.

It began with two dimensions drifting closer together like tectonic plates on a collision course, and with the Beasts. There were twelve different species of the original invaders: Nebula, Density, Midday, Midnight, Symbiont, Absorption, Beauty, Lighting, Blaster, Blade, Glutton, and Absence. Giant wormholes deposited them all around the globe, beginning with Hawaii, then in France, New York, Russia, and Japan.

It was immediately apparent that the Beasts were creatures the likes of which had never been imagined, possessing impossible powers and nearly infinite destructive capabilities. People screamed about the apocalypse. A few, such as Nebula, Density, and Blade, were seemingly harmless or otherwise not hugely difficult to capture alive. The United Nations quickly passed a resolution which authorized the use of force to contain the others, who had already ended hundreds of millions of lives and caused trillions in damages. When air strikes and tank bombardments proved ineffective, the UN Security Council member states reached a decision to employ nuclear weapons. Entire cities had been obliterated by these terrifying bombs, yet even they were unable to easily vanquish some of the Beasts. Beauty were actually able to outrun the explosions, Glutton swallowed active warheads whole with seemingly no ill effects, and Blaster simply took very little damage. One specimen survived four detonations before succumbing.

With no small amount of death, destruction, and international cooperation, all the Beasts were ultimately either contained or exterminated. The massive amounts of radiation may have contributed to what came next. A vast number of smaller wormholes began to appear, showering the world with a mysterious energy that caused ordinary animals to transform into creatures with similar attributes to the Beasts. Because the original incident of this type occurred in the Kantō region of Japan, a Japanese word was adopted worldwide to describe these creatures: Pokémon. Additionally, the transformation was not limited to animals. On occasion, a human would be the target of the intense radiation. Rather than be completely changed, however, people remained as half human, half Pokémon. These became known as gijinka.

In the long, uncertain months following the containment of the Beasts, life settled out into a tiny semblance of normalcy. Some gijinka, like my parents, no longer felt able or willing to function in society, and fled in distress from all aspects of their previous lives. Some stayed, using their new abilities for power, wealth, fame, or pleasure. A few individuals had their minds destroyed in the process and went on costly rampages. The Pokémon became integrated into the ecology of their environments, often as apex predators thanks to their near invincibility against regular animals. Their tiny relative populations and vulnerability to their conspecifics kept them manageable, however, and the United Nations Gijinka and Pokémon Initiative (UNGPI) kept a close watch on the more dangerous ones. The rate of wormholes slackened.

My parents were first-generation gijinka. Dad was half Flygon and Mom was half Crobat, so I came out half Crobat as well. They never told me where they were from, but in the diaspora of new gijinka triggered by the Event, they met near Albuquerque, New Mexico. My name is Chase. I grew up in a small gijinka community, consisting of my parents and their close friends, in that same area of the southwestern United States. Being a gijinka, I could instinctively speak the Pokémon language in addition to the English I learned naturally. The ability to communicate with both humans and Pokémon gave me a fulfilling sense of connection, and I was satisfied with my life. When I was twenty-four, though, something totally unexpected happened: I fell in love.

Her name was Anne. I met her on one of the occasional trips we made into the city to get things we couldn't make or grow. The fact that she didn't immediately shun me for my heritage was a good sign; most people still weren't comfortable with the idea of Pokémon, much less with some kind of were-Pokémon. Before I knew it, we were dating, and soon I was asking a Carbink gijinka living in the community to help me make a ring. One and a half years later, Anne died in childbirth. I named our human daughter Bethany.

Without Anne I was lost. We had decided that our daughter should live in Albuquerque with her mother. She could have friends and go to school, and I would visit as often as possible. Now, nobody knew quite what to do with Bethany, so I brought her back to the community and tried to raise her by myself as best I could.

I quickly adapted myself to Bethany's diurnal nature, although as a Crobat gijinka I still preferred the night. It became my habit to sit on the roof of my shack after I put her to bed, staring at the desert and the blackness of space, wondering how we got here.

One night when Bethany was three, I saw something crash into a nearby butte. Going to investigate, I discovered it was a female Gliscor. She told me later that she had blown there after being badly injured in a hurricane. Her true name can't be easily transcribed into human speech, but we agreed that Ruth was a good approximation.

I carried Ruth back to my house and started to take care of her. Bethany liked her right away, despite the fact that I always had to translate. Ruth adored the environment, and continued to live nearby after she had healed. As the months passed, the pain of losing Anne faded. I discovered that since I am half each of human and Pokémon, I could be equally capable of loving either one, and my eyes were opened to the real reason why Ruth wanted to stay. For the second time I started a family, and Ruth soon produced an Egg that hatched into a beautiful male Gligar. We named him Zulu, which has the benefit of translating decently well into Ruth's language.

For over thirty years the world had maintained a tenuous equilibrium. My time with Ruth was one of the happiest of my life. That all ended with the second wave, and the coming of the Titans.

I turned on the radio one morning to find every news station in the world fixated on an electric-blue rip in the universe exactly like the kind that still gave people nightmares. The new wormholes disgorged only one individual each of six new species. Continent, Basin, Ozone, Life, Death, and Reset may have been smaller in number, but if possible, they were even more fearsome than their predecessors the Beasts. Rather than aimlessly attack their surroundings, the Titans directed their power against one other, becoming all the more fierce in their rage. The devastation took on a global scale, as Continent and Basin generated weather patterns that alternately scorched and drowned the entire world. Life diffused a superabundance of vitality wherever it traveled, causing plants and animals to grow uncontrollably. This energy was so strong it temporarily reanimated corpses, creating actual zombies. Death, conversely, sucked all the vitality out of the organisms it flew over, petrifying massive areas of earth and ocean into sterile, desolate rock. As Ozone fought Continent and Basin it created overwhelming wind storms which ripped cities from the ground. Reset teleported all over the planet by dividing itself into many smaller units, opening gargantuan sinkholes that consumed all signs of civilization in the wakes of Life and Death.

UNGPI had had enough. No effort at all was made to contain the Titans; nukes were rolled out immediately. After that, they began a campaign to round up all the gijinka and other Pokémon into camps. UNGPI forces were deployed around the globe. Our little desert community fractured. Bethany, Zulu, Ruth, and I abandoned our home and went on the run.

We quickly learned that scientists had developed a scanner which could track the Fallers, those who had originated from the wormholes. For a number of months we managed to stay off the radar, both literally and figuratively.

Eventually, though, our luck ran out. A group of operatives caught up with us in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Colorado. They seemed to get quite a shock when their Gliscor quarry was accompanied by a Crobat gijinka and a Gligar. Apparently, because Zulu and I were merely the children of Fallers, our bodies did not radiate enough of the wormhole energy to be traced. With this advantage of surprise, Ruth and I were able to fight them off. I told Zulu to stay close to his sister. Nobody seemed to know what to do with her, so I hoped they wouldn't hurt him either.

Ruth was never the same after that battle. She hated herself for putting the rest of us in danger. One afternoon I awoke to find that she was no longer asleep by my side. After checking that Bethany and Zulu were hidden, I quickly flew off in pursuit.

She hadn't made it very far before gliding to a halt in a rocky cliffside cave. I dropped to the floor and pulled her close, telling her I loved her. Her body was burning up. As tears streamed from her eyes, she revealed that she had been shot with some kind of chemical bullet during the battle. It was too late to get any kind of cure for the sickness that was destroying her. Ruth died in my arms in that cave. I used my powers to collapse the entrance, giving her the best burial I could.

Since then, we've been able to stop moving around all the time. UNGPI doesn't have the capability to track any of us, so if we just stay hidden we can stay safe. In a similar manner to Albuquerque, we now live outside Tucson. It's just Bethany, Zulu, and I. A nearby religious convent sympathetic to the plight of the Pokémon has offered to take us in, but for their own good I refuse to accept. It's in everyone else's best interests that we be on our own.

Bethany is seven now, and Zulu is two and a half. Pokémon mature faster than humans, so both my children act about the same age really. It was the middle of the day, and I was playing outside with Bethany while Zulu slept. I yawned and rubbed my eyes. When I reopened them, everything was a shade darker, as though a cloud had passed over the sun. Looking straight up, I saw that it wasn't a cloud at all. It was a wormhole, far overhead.

The portal flashed too brightly to look at directly, and then in its depths I saw an enormous form take shape, descending majestically to Earth. I slung Bethany onto my back and dashed into what passed for our house, yelling at Zulu to wake up and follow me. When we had flown about half a mile away we turned to look back.

The monster landed on its feet where we had been seconds before, crushing our dwelling. Even from that distance it towered over the earth like a skyscraper, comparable in size to the Titans. It was mostly white, with black markings, green shaggy growths on its feet and shoulders, and gold rings around its head and joints.

Immediately the Titan knelt and plunged its hands into the ground. When it pulled them back out, three other beings about a third of its size, though still massive and many times taller than a human, were raised up as well. They were similar in body shape, but made of rock, ice, and steel. They formed a triangle in front of the white one, and with a ground-shaking crash, the four giants advanced in unison.

I am twice a widower. My daughter, my son, and I are all fugitives from the government. For someone whose name is Chase, I've sure spent a lot of time running. Well, I'm done now. It's over. Let come what may. With Bethany clinging to my chest and Zulu perched on my head, I glared at the approaching monsters, daring them to strike me down.

The three smaller ones fanned out, allowing their master to come before us directly. I held my ground, seeing that its footsteps were slow enough for me to jump out of way at the last second. That wasn't necessary. It stopped a little way off, casting us all in deep shadow with its stupendous bulk. The giant stared down impassively, towering to the sky.

"SO WHO ARE YOU?" I screamed at last in frustration using the language of Pokémon.

The Pokémon's seven black eyes flickered yellow. "Regigigas," it rumbled at last in a deep, mechanical voice that made the whole world tremble.

"The giant king," Zulu whispered in terror.

I was surprised that the thing answered me, and surprised at Zulu's response. "How do you know about it?" I asked him.

"Mommy told me a story once," he replied sorrowfully.

"Daddy, what's going on?" Bethany squirmed in my arms.

"Not now, sweetie," I murmured in her ear. Switching languages I continued, "If you're the king, then, Regigigas, are you the leader of all the other Beasts and Titans? Come to finish this world off?"

"No, I will not destroy. I am but the herald; a maker, not a creator," Regigigas intoned. "You are gijinka, and Pokémon, yet you are linked to a human. You are the ones who will help me restore this world." Having said this, it again bent down on one knee and extended a hand to ground level, palm up.

"Have you any idea what your kind have done to this world?" I roared in anger. "Have you any idea what this world has done to your kind? How do you think you can fix all this? How can you expect me to join you?" I beat my four wings in disgust at the offered hand.

Regigigas rumbled ominously, its eyes flashing briefly red. Without warning the three smaller giants, immobile up to that point, each gave off clanking, grinding sounds of their own. Their arms snapped up, pointing in my direction, and I found myself petrified. I felt Bethany and Zulu go rigid as well, but none of us could make a sound. Regigigas seized my children and I all at once and lifted us up to its own impressive height, depositing us in one of the bushes at its shoulder.

"Behold!" the colossal Pokémon buzzed in the same mechanical tone, sweeping its arm at the three other Pokémon milling around its legs. "These are my golems, who serve as my arms tethering me to the world. I have brought forth agency from base matter; think how I can shape matter into matter. I slumbered, but now I awaken, and I shall act."

"I don't like being this high up," Bethany whispered fearfully.

"Hey, there's nothing to worry about." I mustered a smile. "You've got me and your brother."

"What do we do now?" Zulu asked.

"I'm not sure there's a whole lot we can do," I responded truthfully. "Look at this monster; at least it hasn't tried to kill anybody yet. Let's just see what Regigigas has planned."

As soon as it was confident we wouldn't try to jump off, Regigigas turned around and walked back to where it had first landed. The golems followed attentively. They positioned themselves around the ruins of our house and stretched out their arms, and for a third time Regigigas stooped down. Grasping the wreckage in its huge fingers, it began to delicately manipulate the pieces. Before our eyes, all the individual bits of rubble fell into place and reassembled themselves flawlessly. One couldn't tell that anything at all had happened to the modest dwelling.

"Do you not see?" Regigigas questioned. "I have come to build up rather than tear down."

"Yeah," I nodded, touched by this display of good faith. I thought back to the terror of those days when the Titans roamed and my very genetics marked me an irreconcilable enemy of humanity. Being in the presence of Regigigas felt downright idyllic by comparison. "You know it won't be easy, though. Humanity will take a good deal of convincing."

"That is of no concern," the maker declared. "Regirock, Regice, and Registeel will defend me, and you will show me the way."

I told Regigigas we should make for a major populated area. Military forces would be less likely to attack with a large number of civilians present, and I also thought it would be best to make our peaceful intentions known to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. The city of Phoenix fit the bill, and so the seven of us set off westward through the glaring desert sunlight.
 

Typhlosion

Flaming Torch
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Ditto to That
I was only five on the day we decided to play down by Ilex Forest. The snow looked so pretty against the trees, drifted up against the branches so they all looked like giant scoops of ice cream. The other kids thought it would be fun to have a snowball fight. I didn't feel like it, so I wandered over to look at the trees.

I don't remember who threw the snowball at me. They were just trying to get me to join in, so they missed on purpose and the sphere went sailing into the forest. I turned to see who had thrown it, but everyone's face was frozen in fear. I wheeled back around to see a huge Hypno between the trees, angrily brushing snow from its shoulder. It growled, and the other children broke and ran. I tried to run, but I tripped and fell in the long grass. Hypno advanced, a scowl written large on its features.

Something squishy brushed my hand in the grass. It was a Ditto, one of the other species native to Route 34. I thought I was saved. "Ditto, help me!" I blubbered. "Can you Transform?"

Ditto looked at Hypno, and immediately altered its body shape. Only the face remained, that same derpy grin I had always found so endearing. Instead of fighting, though, HypnoDitto walked up to its counterpart and began curiously mimicking its movements. Within seconds, Ditto was doing exactly what Hypno was doing, which involved attacking me. Two faces, an understandably angry one and a sickeningly blank one, were looming over me above swinging pendulums. I knew... I should run, but... my eyelids... they were so... heeeaaaavvyyyy....

"Scyther, Fury Cutter!"

Gym Leader Bugsy saved me that day. It was quite the stroke of luck that I wasn't hurt. Not physically, anyways.


"Why hello there, Peter! Ready for your first day on the job?"

"I sure am, Mr. Adams! Thank you again for offering me this position." Mr. and Mrs. Adams had been running the Day Care south of Goldenrod for as long as anyone could remember. The years were starting to catch up with them, and while they weren't ready to give up the old place--not by a long shot--they recognized that they could use some younger help with all the many tasks.

"Certainly, certainly, m'boy!" the friendly old man coughed. "I've known you since you was knee-high to a Sunkern. Nobody else I'd like to have working for me. Let's get to it, then, time's a-wastin'!"

I had never realized how much there was to do. I was kept busy all day, and every day after that. Pokémon had to be fed, cleaned, exercised, and always watched so they didn't get into trouble. The facilities and grounds had to be kept up as well, and many trips had to be made into the city to keep up with all the requirements for supplies. Mrs. Adams even let me work at the front desk sometimes. I could never be sure who would walk in through the door. As my employers put it, "There's only one Day-Care, son, and everybody's got to use it!" I met more species of Pokémon and more kinds of Trainers than I ever knew existed. I loved it.

I had been on the job for about two weeks and was at the counter when a Trainer walked in with his Hitmontop. "Hey there," he grinned. "Haven't seen you around here before. Name's Al."

"Peter," I replied, shaking the outstretched hand. Al looked like he knew what he was doing in the Trainer business. He wore black shorts, a red jacket, a gold striped hat, and a confident, open smile. "I'm kind of new here. What can I do for you?"

"I just got back from traveling in Kanto," Al explained, "and I learned that this fellow here has some evolutionary relatives." Hitmontop waved at me. "I'm here to breed a couple of Tyrogue."

I chuckled. "I'm a bit too new to know what that entails," I told him. "Hang on a sec while I get Mrs. Adams."

At my call, she came bustling in from the back. "Oh, hello there, dear," she greeted him warmly. "Here to breed that Hitmontop, eh? Well, it's an all-male species, you know, so you're going to need one of these. Adamant Nature, I suppose?" She grabbed a Poké Ball from a shelf that so far I hadn't been allowed to touch.

"You've got it! Thanks, Mrs. Adams," Al said as he tossed the Poké Ball she gave him. Out came a Ditto. I had to lean on the counter when my knees started shaking.

"What is that doing here?" I cried.

"It's a Ditto. We rent them out to the Trainers who come here for breeding. Peter, could you please take care of these Pokémon?"

"I really don't think that's a good idea," I stammered.

Mrs. Adams gave me a strange look. "Oh, come now, dear, what's the matter?" She led Hitmontop behind the counter, then scooped up Ditto and thrust it into my arms.

"Please, no!" I shouted, flinging it to the ground. Any other creature would've given some indication of pain, but the purple blob's creepy expression never wavered.

"Is there a problem?" Al asked.

"No, no, dearie," Mrs. Adams smiled. "Thank you for coming by." She turned to me with a frown. "Peter, whatever is going on with you? It's only a Ditto."

By this point Hitmontop had wandered over to see what the fuss was. Upon seeing another Pokemon, Ditto automatically transformed. I was relieved to see that this one could apparently copy faces; I couldn't tell the two Hitmontop apart.

"See, Peter? Nothing to worry about." Her voice was strangely slurred and high-pitched. Taking my eyes from the two Pokémon, I glanced at her and gasped. She had a Ditto face!

"What's going on? Mrs. Adams, is that you?" I yelled.

"It's not her, it's us!" said a voice behind me. I turned to see Al with the same expression. "Come and play!"

I bolted through the door into the back, where I collided with Mr. Adams. He collapsed in my arms, melting into another squishy purple Ditto. I screamed. They were everywhere. HitmontopDitto grabbed me from behind and began climbing up my legs. I kicked it off and staggered outside.

All the Pokemon had Ditto faces. As one, they charged towards me, transforming in slow motion as they came. Everywhere I turned to run, there was a Ditto. They swarmed over me, dragging me down. A Rhyhorn who had been dropped off earlier transformed as it tackled me from the side, slamming into my head with enough force to stun me before wrapping around to smother me.

My eyes open in total darkness. I thrash around, chest heaving, as I extricate myself from a thick tangling weight. My eyes adjust, and I realize it's my bedspread. I'm in my room. The RhyhornDitto I felt in my dream was me knocking my skull against the floor as I fell out of bed.

I lie still, alternately chuckling and sobbing. "It was just a nightmare," I tell myself. "You dreamed about Al because you watched him battling on TV yesterday; he's the Champion." My alarm clock says 2:10. I sigh, pull myself to my feet, and get back in bed. As I lie there, I think. I'm twenty years old now. It's been years since I had a Ditto nightmare, so I wonder what caused this one. With a mental shrug, I roll over and fall back asleep. I'll need to be up bright and early again for my Day Care job.

The alarm clock flicks to 2:11. The ones slide upward and turn horizontal while the two stretches out into a long, flat curve below them, making the shape of eyes and a mouth. The rest of the transformation follows swiftly. A Ditto oozes off the nightstand and plops stealthily onto the floor.
 

Typhlosion

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Time and Darkness
Apple cores and sunflower shells piled up in a heap on the warm brown dirt around the oak root. I slowly reached into the bag for another handful of seeds. Jake stretched out his arm and groped lazily for another apple. He held it up and admired it in the sunlight for a moment. "Check it out, Henry," he mumbled to me. "What a perfect apple." He took a slow bite, savoring the crunch, and I cracked another seed between my teeth. Summer is the best.

I didn't know what time it was when I woke up. Jake was gone, and so was his bike. The disc of the sun hung low over the Texas horizon, still sliding downward. Strange of Jake to have left like that, without telling me. Normally we did everything together, but I was too lazy and comfortably warm to give it much thought. Time to be getting on home, I thought to myself, before the rattlers come out. The apples were all gone, so I snatched up my bag of sunflower seeds and hopped on my own bike, headed for home. I would eat dinner, and then maybe after that, some video games. I've been a fan of Pokémon games for several years, and as a present for doing so well in school the past year, my parents had bought me an old copy of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky. I had heard good things about that game, and was enjoying it quite a bit.

As I was getting out my old red DS, I wondered whether Jake might want to come over. He'd hung out with me before while I played Explorers of Sky, and he seemed interested; I was secretly hoping to get him into Pokémon, too, so I'd have someone to trade and battle with. "Hey, Mom!" I called down the hall. "Could you call Jake's mom and see if he wants to play some video games with me?" Normally I would have done it myself, but I hadn't yet got a new phone after breaking my old one.

"Alright," she responded. "I was just about to give Mrs. Desalio a call anyway. It's been a hot minute since we've caught up!"

Satisfied, I powered up the system and flopped down on my bed. Time to save the world, I chuckled to myself.

A few minutes later, I heard my mom's voice again. "Henry?" she said with a faint note of concern. "Jake's mom says he isn't home, and hasn't been all day since lunchtime. She thought he was still with us."

Startled, I glanced down at my watch. "It's getting on 10 o'clock!" I cried. "I thought he'd just gone home after I fell asleep under that tree."

Mom came and stood in the door of my room, still on the phone and frowning. "That's not like him at all."

"...Well, it's not like I'm his only friend. It's summer, Mom, c'mon. Tell Mrs. Desalio I'm sure Jake's fine. He can take care of himself," I reasoned.
It was true. Jake had always been the bolder and more adventurous of the two of us, the one egging me on to push myself further. It was just one more thing I appreciated about him.

Mom repeated what I had said into the phone, then smiled. "She says you're right, and thank you," she chuckled. Mom retraced her steps down the hall, and I turned back to my game.

When it got to be midnight, my bed was calling me. I had just turned out the light and pulled up the covers when something struck my window, hard, shaking it in its frame. I sat bolt upright at a howling noise, and I realized it was a powerful wind. The wind stopped as quickly and ominously as it had started, to be replaced with a smaller, more persistent rattling noise. A face appeared in the window. "Jake!" I said softly in surprise, and I jumped up to undo the latch and let him in.

His hands were smeared with dirt and his eyes wide as he clambered over the sill. "Henry," he panted. "The spookiest thing just happened to me. I think I'm going crazy. You've got to help!"

"Jake, of course I'll help, but you've got to tell me what's going on. Where have you been?"

"I was...out...on my way home," he stuttered. "And then it...jumped out of the dark at me, Henry, knocked me over onto the ground!"

"What, did a dog go after you? It wasn't a coyote, was it, Jake?"

"No, no...you won't believe me, but I'd stake my life it was...looked like one of your...Pokémon."

I couldn't believe my ears for a moment. "You think you were attacked just now by a Pokémon?! On your way back from...where again? What did it look like?"

"Doesn't matter where I was," Jake snapped. I pulled back in surprise at his tone, and he grimaced. "Sorry, Henry. Tense I guess," Jake muttered. "To be honest with you I don't remember much of what it looked like, I was feeling so scared and trapped. It had big feet with claws, and kind of silvery all over, but its face was dark."

I hesitated for a moment, not sure what to say. "Well there's no way, it just couldn't have been a Pokémon, of all things. They're not real, Jake, nothing but creatures out of a video game. But I guess something must have gone after you. You reckon you ought to stay here for the rest of the night?"

Jake looked up at me, and for the tiniest instant I could've sworn I saw a flash of panic. "No, I'll be fine to go home," Jake assured me. "There's no danger anymore. The thing told me what it wanted to, so there's no reason for it to come back."

I reached out and grabbed my friend's shoulder. "Hold up a minute there, you never said anything about being told something. It talked to you?"

"Well no, not talked exactly," Jake said. "But the whole time it was standing over me, pinning me down, staring at me...it's like I was getting a message, it didn't make a sound, but it was still communicating something to me. I got the strongest sense of...disaster."

My eyes flew open wide. That word jogged my memory, and the brief description Jake had provided me suddenly made sense. "But that sounds like..."

Jake whipped around to face me, desperate to hear the insight I was able to give him after all.

"...Absol. The Disaster Pokémon."

I didn't hear from Jake all the next day. Mrs. Desalio told me that my best friend wasn't feeling well and couldn't see anyone when I went and knocked on her door. She looked distraught, and I couldn't blame her. The Absol, if that's what it was, had probably gotten Jake someplace with its claws or horns, and she wouldn't know what to make of it. But I knew I couldn't say anything. She wouldn't believe me. I didn't know if I could believe it myself. So I went back home, not feeling up to finding some of my other friends. I felt something was wrong, but I had no idea what to do about it.

As the day wore on I got more and more restless, to the point that even my parents noticed it. After dinner my dad jokingly suggested I go get some exercise, but it turned out to be all the invitation I needed. I slipped on my running shoes and practically sprinted out the door.

A bank of clouds hid the setting sun, so it was already somewhat dark and cool for a summer evening. I let my legs take me where they would, and sooner or later I found myself jogging past the school Jake and I attended. James K. Polk, home of the Diamondbacks. I smiled a bit as I looked over its familiar shape. For as much as we liked to complain about all the time we spent at that K through 12 school, and the two years we still had to go, it did mean a lot to us for all the growing up that had happened there through our young lives.

I had turned my steps back toward home when, over the noise of my own feet, I heard what sounded like someone else running up behind me. A moment's glance over my shoulder was all the time I had before I very nearly was knocked over by someone crashing into me. I threw the person off and put up my fists before I realized it was only Jake.

"Henry!" he cried, with the same hunted look in his eyes as when he'd climbed in through my window the previous night. "It happened again!"

I was in shock. "You saw the...the Absol again?"

Jake shook his head frantically. "No, no, not that one. I think it was another Pokémon."

I had thought I was in shock before, but that news blew me away totally. "That's nuts!" I exclaimed. "What did it look like?"

"It wasn't anything like a real creature. It floated in the air, it was all round and flat like a frisbee, but upright, and a greenish-blue color like old copper."

I knew that one right away. "Bronzor," I told him with a snap of my fingers. "Tell me what happened! What did it do?"

My friend's eyes darted around in his head. "It didn't touch me, didn't even get close really, but it still felt like...I couldn't move, same as before. I was running, but suddenly it was as though the air was molasses, and my feet stuck to the ground, and the whole earth was pulling me down. It floated round and round me in circles, always staring at me. It never blinked, felt like it was staring right into my soul. There was a kind of flashing light, almost hypnotic, and it was...I saw...all my emotions, my..."

Jake trailed off, then closed his mouth, like he had said something he hadn't meant to. "All your what?" I pressed.

"Nothing," he growled. "All my emotions. Then the...Bronzer?...just sort of floated off."

I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. My friend had started encountering Pokémon? In the real world, in my own hometown? I wanted to find out more. "It floated off? Where was it, which direction? Maybe it's still somewhere close by!"

Jake glanced behind him. "It was the same place as Absol, up by the..." Then he seemed to think better of it. "Just around here. I was...out."

My eyes narrowed. Things weren't adding up. Jake wasn't acting like Jake. My best friend wasn't moody and he wasn't secretive, at least not to me. He wasn't prone to running around town at night all by himself. And the direction it had looked like he was indicating, where the Pokémon had appeared, was out by JKP school, near the edge of town. Not much else was out there where he could've had any possible reason to be.

And out of nowhere, it clicked for me.

"You're trying to be a Fang, aren't you?" I accused. Jake's panicked look and tense posture were all my answer. The Fangs were a local gang. They chose their name half in respect and half in mockery of the Diamondbacks, mascot of JKP, where they did a lot of recruiting. "This explains everything!" I ranted. "You're going through their initiation, up at the school! That's why the Pokémon have been appearing: they're a warning for you. Absol, to warn you about the disaster where this is heading, and Bronzor, to show you the gravity of what you're doing. How could you, Jake? You know what the Fangs are like! They're all about drugs and vandalism and stealing and terrorizing good, innocent folks! But you've been given a chance. This has to end now!"

"Ay, shut up, Henry!" Jake shouted back. "What do you know, anyway? It's just me, and my mom, and I have to look out for both of us now! It's not easy. The Fangs can give me protection, and opportunities. I have to do this!"

I did understand what he was saying. Life hadn't been as tough on me as it had so far on Jake. But past all his words and his attitude, I could still see my friend in those eyes. Jake, I thought, was scared. He was in over his head, it wasn't him, and he knew it.

I stepped forward and held out my hand. "No, you don't," I whispered.

This time I could hear the quaver in his voice. "I've already done two nights. It's too late. Tomorrow is the third night of initiation, the last one. I don't...have a choice anymore. I'm going to be one of them." He took a deep, shuddering breath, then looked me dead in the eye, with an unspoken challenge. "The Fangs will welcome me."

I stared back at him, my heart heavy, then without a word I turned around and started walking home.

Same as before, I didn't hear from Jake all that next day, though I could barely stop thinking about him, praying he'd turn out all right in the end. It was about two hours after dinner when Mom barged into my room. "I just got off the phone with Jake's mom," she told me in a rush. "He's been hurt. Get in the car!" I was off my bed in an instant.

Mom told me what she had heard from Mrs. Desalio as we drove to the emergency clinic. "Someone came across him while they were out walking their dog. He was lying unconscious in the middle of the street, up near your school. But the weird thing is, it wasn't a car that got him. It looked like someone beat him up, and he was covered in these strange, zigzag-shaped red scratches."

When we got to his room, I went straight over to my friend's bedside. He was awake, curled up in a ball on his side, whimpering about something. The scratches covered Jake's entire body, but they didn't look very deep at all; most had already scabbed. I bent over and whispered, "Jake? How are you doing, buddy?"

I got no response, so I tried again. "What happened? Was it another Pokémon?"

Jake's eyes locked on to my face, wide with terror. "Thief! Thief! Thief!" he moaned softly.

I crouched down to be level with his face. "It's okay now, it's gone. But I don't know how I can help unless you tell me."

"There were so many of them, and I couldn't get away!" Jake stammered. "Henry, they knew! They were coming for me, they knew I was a...thief!"

After Mom and I returned home from visiting Jake, I spent a long time thinking about what he had said. He had admitted to stealing something, and I could guess the identities of the Pokémon that had attacked him. It was a situation I had become familiar with playing Explorers of Sky. But...that was just a game, wasn't it? A made-up scenario, meant for punishing made-up thieves? And what about the two other Pokémon encounters that had led up to that moment? I looked down at the game cartridge lying on my palm.

Pokémon Mystery Dungeon. But what real mysteries do you hold?

Sketch
"Officer Justin Casey, conducting."

The policeman pulled his hat more firmly down over his short, teal hair, then took a seat. Opposite, in another hard metal chair like his own, sat the witness.

"Your name?" he asked in a bored tone.

"Sequoia Violet Aspen."

The witness—a woman—answered in a quiet voice, but one that was steady and firm in spite of her circumstances. The officer scrutinized her appearance as she responded. The petite woman sat compactly, legs crossed and arms folded in her lap. Her eyes were lavender; a jacket of the same color complemented her crisp white blouse and gray skirt. Curly dark brown hair, betraying just the slightest silvery tinge of age, was piled on top of her head. The woman was not quite old, but not young either: in her early fifties, was the officer’s guess. He nodded at the woman’s name; he had expected it, because of course everyone in the region knew who she was. She looked exactly like herself, as she was supposed to. Nevertheless, at the same time she looked exactly like someone else: someone it would be better for her if she wasn’t.

“So you say,” he scowled. “But couldn’t you just as well be a different person? How do I know you’re not your twin sister, Magnolia Rose Aspen, the Foria City Gym Leader?” As quickly as it had hardened, the officer’s tone lapsed back into a detached monotone. “Well, I’ll tell you how. With this.” From under the table he produced a sleek laptop. “Taken as evidence. The personal work computer of the famed Professor Aspen. Sequoia Aspen, that is. However—oh no—it appears to be fingerprint-locked. So, Professor, if you would.” The officer placed the laptop neatly on the table and slid it across to his witness.

The woman stiffened with resolve.
"My life's work is stored on that computer. It's groundbreaking research! I don't want the entire Masolin Town police force digging through my notes."

The officer looked down and flipped through a clipboard of papers on his lap. "You study...Pokémon population patterns, correct? Trading, migration, and the like?" The professor hesitated, then nodded curtly. "Huh, sounds boring," the officer snorted. "Your right to confidentiality is still intact, don't worry. No data will be taken from you. All I need to see is an unlocked desktop."

The woman pulled her laptop protectively close and one hand, perhaps instinctively, went to a Poké Ball on her belt. "What if I refuse?" she returned, her voice still quiet but now edged with challenge.

It did not escape the policeman that his witness had a full team of six Pokémon, while he himself wasn't carrying any, but he waved a hand dismissively. A signal was generated within the police station that blocked the use of all Poké Balls which hadn't been specially registered for use by law enforcement.
"Refuse if you like," he sighed. "Go home. You're the one who came to us asking for our help. We'll gladly help, but we require your cooperation." Even as he tried to convince this key witness otherwise, the officer knew he and his team wouldn't be giving up on this case so easily. Some facts from the initial report were already known to him. A trio of starter Pokémon had been stolen from the woman's laboratory. Her sister, under whose care the laboratory had been placed while the professor was away, had been reported missing. Also missing was the professor's newly-hired lab assistant, who had supposedly returned to his native Portalain City for a family emergency, but apparently did so without leaving behind any documentation whatsoever of his travels. The officer suspected that there was more to the case than met the eye, and that scared him. He knew it could be nothing, but he also knew it could mean a greater danger than anyone yet realized.

After shuffling hesitantly in her seat, the professor ultimately complied. The officer's piercing amber eyes never left the computer as she unlocked it, but her fingerprint was accepted without issue. He smiled disarmingly, and visibly relaxed.
"Professor Sequoia Violet Aspen. Pleased to meet you. Now, from the top. Tell me what happened."
 

Typhlosion

Flaming Torch
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Rainbow Rocket Executive
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Storms from Two Directions
Part 1
A stiff wind blowing up from the sea ruffled the tops of the pines stretching southeast of Geosenge Town in the Kalos region. Beyond Route 10, the wind curled up to the peaks of the coastal Kalosian mountain range; the frequent rains in the area could be attributed to that formation, which often trapped the burgeoning clouds that then fed the mountain forests and streams below. The slopes across which I was now traveling, above the stone-lined thoroughfare below, were decidedly off the beaten path; but then again, so was the objective of my journey. After taking a ship all the way from Lilycove City in the Hoenn region, I disembarked in Ambrette Town and from there made my way steadily northward with my Pokémon partner. Together, we hoped to eventually reach Shalour City, and to study and learn at the Tower of Mastery.

I hopped over another of the many granite ledges rippling down from the peaks and wandered into a shadow darker and more ominous than those cast by the trees. A shiver ran through my body; I'd felt it before, and I knew what I would see when I looked up. Sunk deep into the ground, leaning at an alarming angle but with pine roots erupting from the ground to twist firmly around its base, a monolithic Pokémon statue loomed over me. 3,000 years of time had worn away at the features of the statue so that the exact species of Pokémon was impossible to identify, but I knew its origin well enough. People associate these relics of the Ancient War with the route where they are most visible, but Menhir Trail is hardly the only place where they can be found. People asked me why I didn't sail directly into Shalour. Aside from simply wanting to spend more time adventuring with my partner before undergoing our training, these stones were the reason: to investigate them, to see and touch them, and to feel the energy, millenia old, radiating from their once-living hearts. I had come for Mega Evolution, but we weren't ready. I needed them to show us the way to a Mega Stone.

"Altaria!" I shouted to the sky at the top of my lungs. These wild monoliths, far from the orderly ranks of Route 10, never failed to inspire quick flashes of dread. It was moments like these that I longed for the comfort of Altaria's presence and wished he could stick close by my side, but I knew that didn't work here. He couldn't fly through the narrow spaces between the trees without getting his wings snagged on the spiky branches, and he much preferred the windy openness high over the confines of the forest. I liked to think the situation gave us an opportunity to strengthen our bond: we trusted and tried to be attuned to one another even at a distance, and with practice Altaria could locate me again in a matter of seconds if the need arose.

Nevertheless, since their mysteries would be so important to both of us, the stones were something we always examined together. Soon after my call I spotted a patch of bright white spiraling down towards me out of the ever-darkening sky, and I instantly felt better. Altaria alighted gracefully on top of the statue and pulled its beautiful wings tightly around it. "Here we are with another statue, my friend," I smiled, "and this one feels strong. Let's check it out." I pulled out my Key Stone from its pouch on the lanyard I kept around my neck. As always I noted the stone's surprising warmth and solidity, and the way its shimmering depths seemed to swirl and pulsate in my hand. I rolled it around on my palm and held the object out for Altaria. He hopped over to my outstretched hand and pecked curiously at the Key Stone, brooding over it as he liked to do, and then we both turned our attention to the relic of the sacrificed Pokémon.

Half an hour later our search remained fruitless. i had run my hands over what seemed like every inch of the statue I could reach, while Altaria hopped nimbly around the upper portion. Though the power of this stone, as with all the others, was palpable, neither my Key Stone nor the bond between me and my partner had yielded a reaction. I looked up at Altaria's beautiful wings, now streaked and ruffled by bits of dirt and forest debris, with a sad sigh. Then my attention was dragged beyond him, up to the clouds.

The sky beyond the shadowy forest was darker than I'd ever seen. It was known to be fierce in this part of the region, but to me it now appeared downright angry. The sun was invisible behind the masses of leaden gray. I knew this wasn't a regular storm. Unlike all the others pushed up from the sea, this one was spreading out towards us, over the mountains from the Kalosian interior. Both Altaria and I flinched as a massive fork of lightning blasted out from that direction. Even as its afterimages flashed in my eyes I almost couldn't believe them. The underbelly of the storm had been illuminated with a bright, lurid red--splashed there from the lightning, which, to my utter shock, had itself been red as blood. In an instant the rain swept down, drumming on the Pokémon monolith and setting up a jarring hiss from the countless needles of the pines.

Altaria was shuffling around and chirping nervously, becoming more waterlogged and miserable by the second. "Well, we can't have that, can we?" I murmured, and grabbed the magnificent dragon bird's Poké Ball. "I don't want you flying around up there in this, and I kind of doubt you want to either. Now, Altaria, return!" He disappeared in a flash, looking noticeably grateful, and I clipped the Ball to my belt. "Don't worry, I'll get you nice and cleaned up when this is all over." I couldn't help glancing upward another time, against the driving rain. Shaking my head in frustration, I turned and stomped off back under the slight cover of the trees.

I had barely gone four paces when something entirely unexpected brought me to a halt: it felt like a weak ray of sunshine was falling on my back. Whipping around, I saw that I hadn't been mistaken. The long, slanting rays seemed to be coming from far away, and as I stared into the golden light, a shape appeared within. The brief sunshine began to fade right before my eyes, but in its place, a Pokémon appeared and landed on the statue where Altaria had been sitting not two minutes before.

"Shaymin!" I whispered in amazement. I could tell by its wings and flying entrance that this must be its Sky Forme. I hunkered down beside a tree trunk, waiting to see what would happen. The Gratitude Pokémon hadn't spotted me, as far as I could tell. It stood with its eyes closed and its head high, seeming unbothered by the wind and rain in spite of their violence and perhaps even savoring them. As Shaymin held its confident pose, slender vines began curling their way up the rough stone. When they reached Shaymin's feet, their ends burst out into clusters of vibrant Gracidea flowers. They were absolutely gorgeous; I caught myself mumbling "Thank you" over and over again just for having been able to see them. Its work seemingly done, the Legendary Pokémon gave a satisfied nod and jumped strongly into the air, circling once before flying off over my head. Still filled with awe at my lucky encounter, I rushed to follow its path from the ground.

Shaymin's bright, healthy coloration made it easy to track, though I couldn't say that it had any specific destination in mind as it flew. The little Pokémon seemed to be roving back and forth low over the trees, while trying to stay abreast of the wind gusts that kept buffeting it. I lost track of time, but sooner or later I realized that Shaymin's path and mine had carried me within range of a deep-seated, familiar sensation. Another gravestone from the Ancient War was close by; at the same moment I noticed it, my unwitting guide shot off with a burst of new confidence. "Is Shaymin seeking out the statues as well?" I wondered aloud. Hurrying between the trees, straining for a glimpse of our mutual destination, without warning I tripped and fell flat on my face.

A small, jagged vein of raised crystals snaked across my path, standing a little higher than the usual pine roots. I had seen something similar, though on a larger scale, in a guidebook, and I figured we must have drawn close to Route 11. Clapping a hand instinctively to my belt first to make sure Altaria was okay, I then looked up to see the base of the statue about 20 yards away, in an open space at the crown of the small hill I had been climbing. Still lying on the ground, I was just in time to see Shaymin approach the Pokémon statue from above and land gently on its head like before.

At the exact moment Shaymin's feet touched down, there was a reaction from the storm. The last of the rain drifted down as a renewed torrent of wind ripped over the mountains like a shriek of rage. The imposing peaks and cliffs, which from Route 10 had felt distant, now towered directly over our heads. The blackest clouds I had seen yet poured over the high passes like a dark aura. The Legendary Pokémon in whom I had inadvertently taken such an interest was trembling, but held its ground defiantly. New growth was again pushing up around this second monolith. I wanted to cling to that sight, to the promise of the fresh, resilient life fighting that fought to keep going, but the sudden scent of death wouldn't let me. Just as steadily as the vines, the same bloody glare that had spilled from the lightning crept in a terrifying wash over the sky. Shaymin scowled down at its feet, panting in concentration. I began army crawling along the rough ground, dragging myself forward, hoping and praying that Shaymin would succeed and I would be able to catch another glimpse of the flowers of gratitude.

Finally the tendrils wound their way to the peak of the statue. My vision felt sharpened so that I could see everything. I watched a single bud take shape between Shaymin's front paws. I watched it thicken and swell. I watched the purplish-green sepals split and peel, allowing the dusty red petals contained within to spring out into the world. And I watched as a giant avian creature blasted over the mountains with a horrific scream. It barreled down toward us before coming to a halt overhead, flaring its unmistakable red-and-black-feathered wings. The awful light that hung over us poured straight from the heart of this thing's own body: the legendary Pokémon of death and destruction, Yveltal.

At the appearance of Yveltal Shaymin leapt into the air and fired off an Energy Ball. In the midst of my fear I still admired its guts. The Grass-type attack was right on target, but it never reached its mark. The patterns on its body flared to glowing life as Yveltal flapped its wings mightily and fired a crackling, knifelike beam of energy. I'd never seen an attack like it before. The move smashed through Shaymin's Energy Ball like it was nothing, and though it merely grazed the Pokémon itself, Shaymin was sent tumbling through the sky nonetheless. The beam from Yveltal scored a direct hit on the flower-crowned monolith; I was blinded for a moment by the intensity of the crimson flash it kicked out.

When I could see again the attack had ended, though Yveltal's massive wingbeats still thudded in my ears. To my astonishment the huge stone and its surroundings seemed totally undisturbed, except for one thing. Tears pricked in my eyes as I jumped to my feet and strained to see the Gracidea flower. For one heart-wrenching moment its form hung in front of me, deceptively still and solid. Then the blossom crumbled away into gray ash drained of color.

Oblivion Wing. That had to be the attack I had just witnessed. Shaymin, now borne by the currents far above both myself and Yveltal, seemed to falter on its wings, and let out an agonized wail as though it had taken the full force of the attack itself. Then it suddenly launched into a dive, rocketing towards Yveltal with Quick Attack. The Dark-type Legendary, huge by comparison, was slow to react, and Shaymin dealt it a hefty clip on one of its clawed wings. For a brief while the exchange was purely one-sided. Yveltal didn't seem able to keep up with the flurry of high-speed blows coming at it from all angles at the hands of Shaymin, who kept circling and darting in at every opportunity.

"What's Yveltal doing?" I wondered aloud. Surely it wasn't that overwhelmed by its tiny opponent. I ran into the open, trying to get a better view of the battle, and then I saw it. Yveltal's eyes were darting around furiously, not only tracking Shaymin's movements, but analyzing them. It was allowing this to happen. "Shaymin, watch out!" I yelled.

My warning was too late. The shift came in a split second. Shaymin passed in front of Yveltal, as it had done several times before, and Yveltal struck out with a lightning-fast Dark Pulse. It had waited for that moment, charging up power, and wasted no time when it arrived. With some distance finally between them Yveltal pressed its attack, swooping around in a great curve to gain momentum. A fearsome blue aura encased its whole body: Dragon Rush.

Not to be outdone, Shaymin set off an explosion of light that left verdant streaks of energy arcing toward its assailant. I hoped that what I assumed was Seed Flare, Shaymin's strongest attack, would be able to turn things around, but it wasn't so. Yveltal twisted to dodge the attack, and in one fluid motion continued into a spin. Its daunting wingspan left Shaymin with nowhere to run, so the plucky Pokémon did the only thing it could. Yveltal's Dragon Rush and Shaymin's Quick Attack met head on, blue against white. I thought for a second that they were evenly matched; a wisp of smoke drifted up from the fusion point of the two intense energies. Then I heard an audible crack. Yveltal powered through with a concussive bang that rocked me on my feet, and Shaymin plummeted.
 

Typhlosion

Flaming Torch
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Storms from Two Directions
Part 2
I flung my Poké Ball. "Altaria, catch it!" My partner materialized in a flash, already racing to intercept the unconscious Mythical Pokémon. His timing was spot on; Shaymin fell with a gentle thump onto the cottony down spilling over Altaria's back. Altaria then pivoted quickly in the air and glided down to a landing beside me on the grassy hilltop. I could tell that one of the winglike growths on the Sky Forme's head was badly damaged from the clash with Yveltal; any bones in there were probably broken. As I gathered the injured Pokémon carefully into my arms, a piercing shriek from above caused me to flinch and almost drop it. Altaria's wings fluffed out in fear and he jumped onto my head with a hiss. Holding Shaymin close, I turned my gaze upward. Yveltal showed no signs of leaving.

"Altaria..." I began slowly. "I think we may be about to fight a Legendary Pokémon." My partner craned his neck to look me upside-down in the eye. "Are we ready for that?" Altaria was silent for just a second, then he nodded decisively. I grinned. That was good enough for me. "Alright," I ordered, "get ready." Altaria spread his wings and hunkered down. "While it's waiting, before it knows what we're going to do, we'll make the most of that opportunity," I whispered. "Prepare for Sky Attack!"

A powerful glow began to surround me. We had Yveltal's attention now for sure; its baleful blue eyes were locked onto our position, but still it seemed content to watch and wait. That had been Shaymin's downfall, but I was counting on Yveltal not knowing what to expect from us yet. When Altaria's glow became almost blinding, I knew we couldn't wait any longer. My voice was steady as I gave the command. "Now! Let him have it."

Heat washed back over me as Altaria rocketed forward. His Sky Attack scored a smashing hit, carrying Yveltal backwards for several seconds while the attack lasted. "Great shot!" I cheered. "Follow up with Dragon Pulse!" Altaria pulled back briefly and fired the bluish-purple shock wave at close range. Without warning an explosion erupted between the two Pokémon. Altaria was knocked back at the receiving end of another Dark Pulse, but he shook it off and faced the resulting cloud of smoke resolutely. As we watched a familiar brilliant blue light suffused the cloud. I knew what was coming. I called hurriedly up to Altaria, "Look out! Here comes its Dragon Rush! Use Dragon Dance as a way to dodge!"

Yveltal barreled into view at an incredible speed, but Altaria and I were one step ahead. Surrounded by his invigorating red and purple aura, Altaria zipped around effortlessly. We trained enough together that he didn't need any prompting from me to know how to make the most of the situation. Turning away from the aerial combat for just a moment, I nestled Shaymin deep into a clump of grass at the base of the statue. Then I tore off down the hill, resolved to do my best to follow the action from the ground.

Now cruising directly in front of Yveltal, Altaria lured the massive Pokémon inland. A sheer, towering bulwark of the mountains was right in front of them when my partner shot upward, hugging the cliff face. Unable to overcome its own momentum, Yveltal rammed full bore into the bone-crushing rock, smashing a huge crater into the vertical wall. A veil of dust and crumbling shards of the mountain descended around the thrashing, disoriented foe.

I burst out from the trees just in time to witness the spectacular move. I had made it all the way to Route 11, Miroir Way, after all. "That maneuver was genius," I muttered under my breath. "Extra Pokéblock for you later, my friend." Louder I continued, "Good one, but we're not through quite yet! Take Down!" Altaria folded back his wings, tucked in his head, and took on a white aura. I wasn't sure, but I hoped this would be enough to end the battle right then and there.

Out from the cliff came a huge Focus Blast. The infamously inaccurate attack nevertheless hit its mark, and Altaria was completely overpowered. "How?" I gaped. Being a Flying-type, my Pokémon was supposed to resist that move. "Perhaps using Take Down caused him to be less resistant. If a Normal-type attack were to make Altaria temporarily be influenced by Normal-type characteristics, then maybe Focus Blast could be induced to deal more damage that way...Altaria, get out of there!" It seemed Yveltal had recovered to the point that it was able to push off from the mountain and give chase once more. My Pokémon, meanwhile, struggled to get the wind back under his wings after that painfully effective Focus Blast. "Hurry!" I yelled again. "Time for another Sky Attack!"

Yveltal, closing in fast, spat out a Dark Pulse. "Drop!" I commanded. Altaria understood; this was another handy aerial trick we had worked to perfect. He simply fell, taking advantage of his struggle to fly and letting gravity do the work. That gave him enough momentum to spread his wings and pull out of the dive with great speed. The harsh light began overtaking his body once again. Yveltal tracked downward trying to keep up, and the Dark Pulse intended for Altaria sliced across the ground at my feet and sent me held over heels in a storm of dirt clods and twigs. I landed hard on my back with grit in my eyes. The Key Stone pouch around my neck flew up and landed in my mouth, almost choking me. I spat it out into my hand and scrubbed my eyes open. Still not entirely sure what was transpiring above my head, I just prayed Altaria was ready. "Do it!"

A long, echoing cry sounded, and I smiled. That was it. Of course he could do it. Then I heard another sound, and I leaped up. It felt like a deep, sonic thrum, one that twisted through me touching off a buzz of fear. My smile crashed down and I blinked hard past my blurry vision.

Two bolts of light collided in front of me. One, the dazzling golden shine of Sky Attack. The other, the heartless crimson glare of Oblivion Wing, whose devastating power we had already witnessed.

"Go, Altaria, go! You can do it! The sky is yours!" I cheered. Inside I was so scared about the effects of Oblivion Wing, that my friend would be drained of life just like the flower, but so far nothing seemed to be happening. "Keep it up, Altaria, keep it up!" I thought it could be the power of Altaria's own Sky Attack that was shielding it from harm; so far he hadn't been hit directly by the beam. So far neither Pokémon had yielded a bit; their attacks were going strong. A renewed gust of wind cascaded down from the mountains; it tugged at my hair and clothes. I didn't think much of it, but all of a sudden I saw Altaria waver. "No," I cursed. I figured this unnatural storm was somehow Yveltal's doing. The wind blew from behind it, giving it more force and bearing down on my Pokémon. "Hang on!"

I felt so helpless. That little breath of air had tipped the scales; Altaria fought on, but slid back inch by inch. My heart was hammering. So was Altaria's, I thought. "Our two hearts fight as one!" I cried. It might have been my imagination, but I felt a tiny pulse of warmth from my Key Stone. "I'm right here with you, Altaria! Don't give up!"

I really meant those words, for all the good they did. Altaria kept up the struggle for just a second, and then his face went blank. He accelerated backwards, streaking gold like a meteor, as Oblivion Wing took over, but he never hit the ground. Yveltal's attack pinned Altaria against the largest crystal spike on the route. I gasped a breath of relief when its attack ceased just as the last shreds of Sky Attack faded away. Then I gasped again in pain. Another Focus Blast came whizzing by from my right. It smashed into my partner, my greatest friend, and even shattered the crystal behind him. An overwhelming sound like the toll of a huge, high bell lanced through my head and I collapsed dizzily to my knees. Altaria slumped what must have been 20 feet to the ground while wicked splinters of pale pink crystal rained around him.

A fold of the terrain blocked my view of Altaria. I couldn't see him. I didn't know what was happening. I didn't know if he was okay. My voice broke with a sob. "Altaria...please..." A quick pulse of light stabbed my eyes. I glanced down. It was coming from between the clenched fingers of the fist that held my Key Stone. I ripped open the small leather pouch and dumped its lone occupant into my palm. The little rainbow gem was shining like I'd never seen before. I stared at it in a daze. "What does this mean?"

An explosive, joyful trill rang out from over the rise. I'd have known that sound anywhere. "Altaria!" I cried. "Please be all right!" My partner, his whole body beaten and ruffled, flapped laboriously into view. In one of his feet he clutched a large, irregular chunk of crystal that seemed to be illuminated from within. He looked over at me with a chirp, then turned once more to face Yveltal.

I rose smoothly to my feet. A tingling rushed through my whole body. "Two hearts! As one!" Altaria perked up. The same words as before, but this time I continued.

"From the land! From the sky! From the Stones! Living bond! Living power! Power...to...MEGA...EVOLVE!"

Rockets of energy arced out from the Key Stone I was holding and from Altaria's crystal. They met in the middle, creating a glowing field of power linking our hearts. Rainbow light like that of my Key Stone surrounded Altaria. Once, I had never thought I'd see the day when my partner would evolve again. The tassel of feathers on his tail lengthened and broadened. His talons as well became longer, and sharper. The two streamer feathers on Altaria's head grew and split, bursting out into many more plumes of cotton. When the awe-inspiring rainbow sigil burst out from him, Altaria's whole body seemed larger than life, abounding with so much energy that his frame could hardly contain it.

There was no time to celebrate this incredible thing we'd just achieved together. I grinned a fiendish grin. "Mega Altaria. Here we go, one more time!" Altaria nodded. He knew we had a job to do and he knew we could do it. "Dragon Dance!"

Altaria flapped in place, building up energy. Yveltal launched a third Focus Blast, and I had to laugh out loud. The attack practically bounced off my Pokémon. "Get behind it and try Dragon Pulse!" was my next command. With Altaria's newly boosted speed, Yveltal couldn't hope to keep it in sight, and Dragon Pulse scorched it from behind. Against all odds, Yveltal was looking distinctly battered.

"At last," I muttered to myself. "See if you can shut this one down." I'd done my research. "Altaria, Take Down! Time to send it on home."

Altaria nodded. I realized there was barely even a need for me to speak. In those moments we knew each other so well, better than ever before. Altaria swooped around in a wide circle, exactly as I had envisioned, and bulled Yveltal back toward the high mountain pass. The feeble Dark Pulses mounted as a counterattack by the great Legendary broke in waves around the fairy aura radiated by Mega Altaria. With a great clap of its wings, Yveltal broke away from the onslaught. Altaria, attuned to my every instinct, halted. We waited to see what would happen.

For over a full minute Yveltal and Mega Altaria flapped in place, gazing at one another without a sound. Then Yveltal let out a weak call and soared away over our heads, off in the direction of the wide Kalosian ocean.

I probably would have stood there staring after it forever, but Altaria spiraled down to break my trance with a peck on the head and a babble of chirping. "You're right!" I snapped my fingers. "Take me back to Shaymin!" Despite their fluffy appearance, Altaria's wings were fully capable of bearing my weight. He hooked his clawed feet under my shoulders and we were off.

Only seconds later we landed back on the grassy hilltop. In a rush of sparkles Mega Altaria returned to his base form, and the crystal chunk reformed along with him. Shaymin was exactly where I had left it, still fast asleep. Its fur was suddenly awash in sunlight, and I looked up to see a fleeting ray of sun poking down past the rapidly retreating reddish clouds. As quickly as it had come it was gone, cut off by new thunderheads, but I didn't mind that. This storm billowed up from the sea, with a tang of salt on the cold fresh breeze. I shivered pleasantly, and Altaria nestled up beside me. This was how things ought to be. I could see a sheet of rain being driven on the front of the storm. When it passed over us I heard a small squeaking and rustling from the grass nest. Shaymin was awake! I cupped my hands to catch some of the rainwater and offered a drink to my injured charge. Its little tongue tickled like crazy but I managed to hold myself still until it had lapped up every drop. Shaymin wriggled happily, but the movement ended with a wince and pain in its eyes. "Aww, Shaymin," I sighed. "Maybe I've got something in my bag that can help you, let's see."

That idea was quickly put to rest when Shaymin clambered into my lap; I didn't want to risk getting up and disturbing it. Altaria leaned over for a nuzzle. Then, before our eyes, Shaymin transformed. Its body shape changed as Sky Forme became Land Forme. With that, Shaymin's wings were gone, and it showed no more signs of being in any pain. "I guess that's that, eh?" I chuckled. "Anything else we can do for you?"

Shaymin looked up at me intently. Then it screwed up its eyes in concentration, and after a few moments, a gorgeous Gracidea flower popped open on its back. The tiny Pokémon turned to me again, this time with a little hop. "Is that...for us?" I breathed. Shaymin nodded with a smile. "It's beautiful." The blossom and its stem lifted away easily in my hand. I reached over and stuck it into one of Altaria's wings, right by his shoulder. He shot me a quizzical glance. "Looks great," I promised, trying not to burst out laughing. "Really brings out the blue of your feathers. A badge of honor." Altaria gave himself a haughty shake while Shaymin giggled. In a more serious tone I said, "Thank you, Shaymin. I mean it. Without you we might never have found this...Mega Stone." Shaymin pressed a delicate paw to my hand in acknowledgement and farewell. It hopped over my legs into the rain-laden grass, bustled its way down the hill, and was gone.

I flicked away a stray tear. "Well, my friend," I began as I leaned against Altaria, "where to next?" He flung his head back dramatically, eyes closed and beak hanging open. I rolled my eyes. "Ah, yes, some rest. Your first Mega Evolution probably took a toll on you, didn't it, not to mention that battle!" For the first time I became aware of how heavy my own limbs felt. "And maybe I could use a bit of that myself. The nearest Pokémon Center is, of course, in Geosenge Town. We can stop there before heading through Reflection Cave, and after that, the Tower of Mastery!" I pushed myself to my feet with the help of the statue. "I've enjoyed tracking you down, but this part of our quest is complete now," I murmured. "Thank you all as well."

With his consent I returned Altaria to his Poké Ball for the next leg of our journey. I squared my shoulders, turned into the wind, and began following the silvery rivulets of rainwater down the hill.

- - - - - -

I felt on the verge of crying from frustration. "Master Gurkinn, sir, please. It's not enough. We've been here for weeks and we still have not managed to re-achieve Mega Evolution even a single time! We need more help! Is there nothing you can do for us?"

The guru turned his famously sharp gaze on me. "Young man. I've heard your story before, of how you obtained your raw Mega Stone and Mega Evolved your Altaria spontaneously. Quite an impressive tale. Have you ever stopped to consider why Yveltal behaved as it did? Unusual for such a great Pokémon as that to reveal itself and attack seemingly without cause."

The question blindsided me. "Actually, I...no. No, sir."

Gurkinn's lips twitched, a thin smile. "I thought not. But I, on the other hand, have a theory. Would you like to hear it?"

I nodded frantically. What else was I supposed to do? Grumpy though he might have been, Gurkinn was undeniably wise, and I had come there to learn from him.

"Shaymin is known as the Gratitude Pokémon, is it not? From what I've heard, when you encountered it, it seemed to be planting Gracidea flowers on various gravestones from the Ancient War. In other words, spreading gratitude. I believe this may have enraged Yveltal, the Destruction Pokémon. It was there, you know, three thousand years ago. Theirs were ugly, pointless deaths. Shaymin seeks to be grateful for all things, and certainly we can take a lesson from its example, but my thought is that Yveltal would not welcome gratitude for deaths such as those."

"But you!" Gurkinn continued sharply, pointing a rigid finger my way. "On that day you took the side of Shaymin. You understood gratitude like never before, and along with that, compassion. These are part of Mega Evolution as well! You must be grateful for its power, and you must recognize how it ought, and ought not, to be applied. Focus on these, and that power will be within your grasp once again."

That night I sat with Altaria on top of the tower, as we often did. I looked over to the Gracidea lodged in his cottony wing. The flower given to us by Shaymin had lost none of its color, none of its vibrancy, none of its memories. I locked eyes with Altaria, who returned my stare questioningly, and pulled him in close for a huge hug, one he returned enthusiastically. "Tomorrow," I told him softly. "Tomorrow is the day."

While I was fleshing out the ideas for this story in my head, I came up with two major ways it could go. Obviously I settled on the Altaria route, but I feel like it'd be a shame not to sketch out the other idea as well. Most of the story would have stayed the same, as far as Shaymin's role and the battle with Yveltal are concerned. However, in the alternate version of the story Mega Evolution would not be featured as a plot point at all. Instead the protagonist's partner would be a Pichu. In the same manner as the full story it would evolve into Pikachu at a climactic moment, and immediately learn Volt Tackle. Being Pikachu's strongest attack, the protagonist would order Volt Tackle multiple times, with the recoil damage beginning to stack up significantly. Yveltal, being the Destruction Pokémon and all, would take a kind of perverse satisfaction in watching Pikachu bascially destroy himself trying to defeat it. That sort of sadistic vibe would be enough for Yveltal to balance out whatever gratitude Shaymin had inspired, and it would eventually leave of its own volition. So yeah, definitely a bit darker overall than the Altaria version of the story. I think the Pikachu version would've been a great story too, though, and it was really hard for me to decide between them. In the end it came down to the point of me thinking it would be much easier to explain someone traveling through Kalos with an Altaria than with a Pichu, due to having the motivation of Mega Evolution.
 

Typhlosion

Flaming Torch
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Rainbow Rocket Executive
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Alexis and Ali
“Well of course, that’s not really news.” Alexis swapped the Pokégear to her other shoulder and settled herself more snugly on the couch. “The National Rose is always held at this time, every second year.”

“That’s true,” the woman on the other end of the call grinned mischievously. "The exact date is coming up in two weeks. The news is that this time it will be held in Cherrygrove City!”

Interest sparked in Alexis’s eyes and she sat upright again, her Pokémon’s grooming routine momentarily forgotten. “Really? Why’s that, Ali? What happened to National Park?”

“Oh, several things. The restorations to the usual venue are behind schedule. There’s a Nincada emergence cycle this year that’s tearing up Route 35, preventing people from traveling from Goldenrod City. Cherrygrove City has a respectable port itself, so they figured it would make a decent substitute. But the point for us is that it’s now in a location where certain people will be able to attend who otherwise couldn’t…”

Alexis looked out the window at the neat houses of New Bark Town. “What are you saying?” she chuckled. “I’m a bit new to this whole business. I have exactly one Ribbon and I’m not a tenth of the Coordinator you are. The National Rose…”

Ali’s soft voice morphed into a teasing tone. “Come on, come on! The only way you’re going to get any better is through practice! One Ribbon is all that’s required to enter. You’ll have to get moving, though, if you’re going to meet the registration deadline!”

“I’m not sure—”

“Great, I’ll see you there!” Ali chirped. She ended the call before her friend could say another word.

Alexis rolled her eyes, shook out her sandy, frizzy hair, and jumped to her feet. “Let’s get packed, then, Sandshrew. It’ll take us a day or two to get to Cherrygrove City.”

------

Alexis fidgeted as she stood with the 255 other entrants to the National Rose, hoping her blue hair ribbons would be able to hold her side pigtails together for the entire day. Ali, standing at her shoulder, tossed her waist-length silver hair casually. “Honestly, it’s okay! To see your face, you’d think I’d just asked you to free solo Stark Mountain.”

That got a chuckle. “I love rock climbing and I love Contests,” Alexis admitted, “but I don’t see many similarities between the two. Now let me be! It’s not every day I get to see the National Rose opening ceremony in person.” She spent a moment admiring the gold-and-silver Rose Trophy, complete with crystal petals, which was being displayed on the center stage, then turned her attention to the matchup board. As always, the contestants would be randomized into pairs for the first round. Alexis clenched her fists as the cards began to swirl, then stopped, showing 128 matchups.

Beside her, Ali gasped. Alexis furiously scanned the cards and was amazed to see that the board mirrored her real-life position: right next to her best friend. “You and I were matched up!” Ali squeaked. “1 in 255, that’s…less than 0.4% odds!”

Alexis couldn’t help shooting a sideways glance at her best friend. “Still a brainiac, eh?”

Ali pretended to slug her taller, more muscular friend on the shoulder. “Still a jock. We’ve got a while until our turn, anyway. Let’s go find some seats!”

The National Rose was as serious and prestigious a competition as any, and carried real bragging rights, but Alexis was happy to see that fellow Coordinators of every skill level were giving it their all and thoroughly enjoying themselves. The first round was being conducted in a Double Battle format, so with matches going simultaneously on the red, blue, green, and yellow stages, there were a total of sixteen Pokémon and eight Coordinators to watch at any one time. Before Alexis knew it, Ali was jostling her. “Time to go!” She added with a wink, “I won’t be holding back! Better prepare yourself!”

The two women scrambled out of the stands and made their way to the staging area. Attendants guided them towards separate doorways, and the next time Alexis saw her friend was across a battlefield.

“Round 1, Match 56! Coordinators, take your places!”

Immediately Ali knelt, quickly flipped open a case she had been holding, and retrieved her trusty Devon Switch. Alexis was delighted to see the custom joycon skins patterned after Ali’s favorite Pokémon, Umbreon and Dustox, which she had given her for her last birthday. “How are those skins treating you?” Alexis called.

“Just fine!” Ali responded. “And I hope the same goes for that.” She nodded to the Bounsweet plush, a souvenir from a trip to Alola, clipped to Alexis’s belt.

“I love it. My good-luck charm!” She grabbed two of the Poké Balls next to it. “Now let’s do this! Sandshrew, Deino, on belay!”

Ali gripped the sides of the Switch with white knuckles, holding it straight out in front of her like a steering wheel. “Power on! Umbreon and Dustox!” Without even being touched, Ali’s two Poké Balls sprang open to release those Pokémon.

“Let the Contest Double Battle…begin!”

Psychic light flashed from both of Ali’s Pokémon. Each one took mental hold of its joycon, while the Switch console between them detached and glided smoothly down to the floor.

“Brainiac,” Alexis breathed, impressed. “She’s got the whole thing rigged through the Devon joycons!” Ali flicked the controllers, her thumbs hovering over the buttons, and her Pokémon sprang into action without so much as a word from their Trainer.

Alexis jumped at the sudden movement. “Hyper Voice! Sandstorm!” she called reflexively. Deino’s multi-target attack caused the opposing team to hesitate just long enough for Sandshrew to execute his own attack.

“You’re going to allow your Deino to get all covered in sand?” Ali pouted. “But it was so cute! The interference of the sandstorm won’t stop our psychic tether and now Deino can’t even see!”

“We’re not afraid to get dusty,” Alexis warned. Her friend shuddered visibly as Umbreon was struck by Sandshrew’s Fury Cutter and Dustox suffered a Crunch from Deino. “Deino can’t see anyway! We’re just fine!”

“That may be…” Ali conceded, her demeanor serious. Her next commands came as a series of wordless jerks. Moving as one, her Pokémon lashed out. Deino was flung backwards in a daze, but Sandshrew hastily vanished into a current of windborne sand. The next moment, though, Dustox loosed a Flash. Sandshrew’s profile was thrown into sharp relief, and he let out a squeak of surprise as he found himself next to Deino, completely visible and open to attack. Umbreon charged forward, surrounding Alexis’s disoriented Pokémon with a tight ring of Double Team. The lithe Dark-type wasn’t finished; a dozen shadowy mouths stretched wide, pummeling Sandshrew and Deino from every direction with Snarl. Unable to move, they were helpless to avoid the choking sheets of PoisonPowder that Dustox rained into the ring from above.

The horror she felt was evident on Alexis’s face. “She’s got us! It was so fast!” Drawing an utter blank, Alexis squeezed her Bounsweet plush involuntarily. It was part of a collection called Inspirations and had come with a themed tag and a note. Alexis knew the words by heart. If the world seems upside down…

“…you just have to spin it,” she finished. “Like Bounsweet’s Rapid Spin!” She had gotten the inspiration she needed. Alexis still remembered the day not long ago when she had discovered that Deino loved to play fetch with the plush. The excitement had given him the energy he needed to master his Work Up attack, and he had affectionately chomped down on the plush so many times since then that its scent was ingrained in his mind. Alexis yelled with all her might, “Deino, Work Up!” and tossed the plush into the air. The battered Pokémon, his focus instantly renewed, barreled through Umbreon’s attacks effortlessly to reach his Trainer’s side. "Now, Sandshrew!” Alexis continued. “Gyro Ball! Umbreon, Dustox, all their attacks…spin them! Spin them all!”

It worked perfectly. The inexorable gravity of the strange move drew the whole battle into a compact sphere centered around Sandshrew. The clouds of both Sandstorm and PoisonPowder were sucked away and grated harmlessly off the Steel-type energy. Umbreon was unable to maintain its Snarl, and its afterimage clones disappeared as it was dragged off its feet. It collided with Dustox in midair and both Pokémon began to swirl in place over Sandshrew, held by the force of the Gyro Ball.

Ali strained to reign in her Pokémon with their combined psychic powers, to no avail. She heaved on the joycons, but they seemed frozen in place. “Double…Moonlight!” she choked out.

No way! Top out, Deino!” Alexis commanded. “Dragon Rush!” Together, the immobilized Dustox and Umbreon were impossible to miss. The fearsome Dragon-type attack blasted both of its targets heavily to the ground. Sandshrew spun to a halt and hopped to his feet to survey the damage.

Neither Dustox nor Umbreon was able to stay conscious. With difficulty, Ali herself unclenched her hands from around the two joycons and let them both clatter to the ground. Wearing a shaky smile, she looked up at the victorious Alexis. “I knew you could do it, see? The National Rose is yours for the taking.”
 
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