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Today, 02:09 PM   #61
Lady Vulpix
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Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina
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<Caledor's POV>

It all started out like a normal day. I was playing with my little bouncy ball in the garden, where Gabi had confined me after the ball hit the side of the TV set, since she was afraid I would break something. I wouldn't, of course. I wasn't as careless as some liked to say I was. I was just experimenting. And having some fun while at it. But why argue with her?She had the right to be concerned about the stuff we had at home. She was the one who'd paid for it, after all.
The only problem with playing at the garden was that I couldn't use strong attacks because they might end up hitting Sylvan. She was busy tending to her plants - well, our plants, but she's the one who takes care of them - which meant that not only she wouldn't play with me, but she wouldn't leave me much room to move around either. I missed the Eevee House. There, I could do anything I wanted. But Gabi was too busy tending to her million and one projects and activities to take me there, and going without her was not the same. I stopped to reflect on my current situation, and my conclusion was so shocking I could hardly believe it: I was bored!!

"Aren't Hero and Tsunami around?," as usual, Lagi appeared at the right time with less than comforting words.
"I don't know where they are," I told her. "But I don't care. I don't want to talk to them until they get over it."
"Get over what?"
"Whatever it is that got into their heads. Hero looks at me with a scary reflective look I'd never seen on him, and doesn't even say a word! And Tsunami... if he asks if there's anything he can do for me once more I'll zap him back to reality. That's not like him at all! Why can't they understand that I'm perfectly fine?!"
"If you're fine, then why are you so mad at them?"
"I'm not mad at them!"
Sitting on the ground, Lagi made a pause and I realized how stupid what I'd just said was. Never lie toLagi about your feelings. You'll only make a fool of yourself.
"Alright, I am," I admitted. "But that's because they're acting so strange and so annoying! As if there was something wrong with me. Do you know what Tsunami did this morning?"
"What did he do?"
"He called me by my name!!"
"Now that's unforgivable," Sylvan laughed, joining the conversation.
I stuck out my tongue at her.
"Go ahead, laugh, but you don't get it," I told her. "Normally, I would be glad that he stopped calling me 'Kid'; but he's not doing it because he sees me as an equal. He's doing it because... I don't know why he's doing it!"
"Has it ever occurred to you that your closest friends simpl care about you?," Lagi questioned me.
"I know they do," I replied. "I care about them too, but why do they have to treat me differently now? I'm the same Caledor I've always been. They didn't do this even when I evolved, so why now?"
"Now as in...?," Sylvan inquired.
"Pardon?"
"When do you think they started treating you differently?"
"What are you, analyzing me? It's not something I think. It's the truth. They've been acting this way since the trip to Easter Island."
"I'm not trying to analyze you, I'm trying to understand you. Do you have any idea why they began to act that way?"
"Why are we even discussing this? I just wanted to play."
"But something is upsetting you," Lagi remarked. "Let it out. You'll feel better afterwards. I know it works for me."
"I'm not you, Lagi. You have something eating at you, the whole world shakes and then there's a big explosion and you cry and your tears are felt all over Ulthuan. I'm different. When something's bugging me, it only takes a good game to flush my worries away."
"Or, rather, to bury them until they come out with an explosion."
"You know what, Lagi? This time you're wrong. True, I had a little outburst on the ship, but I'm way over it. I face the present and the future, not the past. You must know it, Lagi. Please make them understand. I want the terrible trio back just as it was."
"I don't know what you think, Lagi, but I'm not so sure I'd like to help him achieve that goal," Sylvan commented.
I stared at the Venusaur, my gem turning red and a matching glow coming out of me.
"Uh-oh. Always cooperate with the glowing Espeon. We'd better do as he says," Sylvan retracted herself, faking fear.
"Yes. Cooperate or else you'll feel the wrath of the electric willow!," I replied, faking seriousness.
Both Lagi and Sylvan gave me a puzzled look.
"I heard Gabi say that once," I explained. "Doesn't she make the most ridiculous threats?"
"I can't picture Gabi threatening anyone," Sylvan said. "It was probably a joke."
"Getting back to our topic..." Lagi had to ruin the atmosphere, "I understand you better than you think. I'll tell them how you feel. They know you, and they'll understand."
"What will you tell them?"
She thought for a moment, and then replied.
"That you don't need any special attention... and that you want the 3 of you to be the friends you've always been."
"That's ok," I approved. "And please tell them to come and play because there's only so much a single pokemon can do with a little plastic ball."
"I'm sure you'll be able to tell them that by yourself. I'll get going now and see if I can find them."
"Wait, why were you looking for them in the first place?"
"Gabi got a challenge at the Battle Tower, and managed to find an opening in her really tight schedule, so I'd say a battle is on its way. I figured they'd like to watch."
"A challenge? Who's battling?"
"It's not completely set yet. I guess it's up to you. The challengers are Rachel and Sidius. He's an interesting pokemon, by the way, but I can't tell you more or else I'd be cheating."
"Wait. Let me get this straight. Are you saying they're challenging... me?!"
"Well, you were Gabi's first choice and Rachel has agreed, so now it's up to you to decide if you want to battle or not."
"Are you serious? I wouldn't pass out on this one! I've never been challenged by a Dragon Tamer before! But are you sure Rachel has accepted?"
"I'm positive. I was there."
"Wow! And what did she say about my moves? She must have read my Battle Tower papers, right?"
"She did, and she asked Gabi how you'd got them, to which Gabi gave her the standard response."
"Prize pokemon. Was that enough for her?"
"It satisfied both her and Jay, who has agreed to be the judge."
"Alright, then. What are we waiting for? Let's go!"

So, it wasn't such a normal day after all. As we headed for the BT, I was really looking forward to my battle. Win or lose, I'd get to train, burn out some energy and show my friends what I could do. It was funny, because I took my little ball to the arena, and Sidius showed up carrying an Igglybuff plushie! I liked that guy from the begining. But we were there to battle, so after a little competition over the control of the elements, we both released our attacks. Only that mine was stronger because I had the weather on my side, so I ended up winning the match. After Sidius got up, I thanked him for the great opportunity he'd given me. Someone like me doesn't get to battle everyday, and I'd also met an interesting pokemon, just as Lagi said, and probably a new friend.

Many things happened after that day. To start, my new friend and his whole team changed their names (what's with so many teams doing that lately? I think it would be confusing to be called a different name.) Water Angel had a go at the EMT at the Goldenrod Tower and learned an amazing new move, and then Someone gave Gabi a Hidden Power TM and she gave it to Ventura. We were all speculating about what type of power she'd have; I thought it would be Psychic, Gabi thought it would be Bug (because she's always bugging her)... I don't remember what everyone else thought, but it turned out to be Poison type.
"Well, that's a good thing," Gabi said after watching Ventura try out her new attack. "As a Poison type pokemon, you won't have any problem harnessing that power."
"I'm not one of those who have had problems with that anyway," Ventura replied, probably making an allusion to me and Amber. "But I realize it's convenient."
"I see my training is bringig remarkable results," Water Angel laughed.
"Your training?," Hero asked her. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about vocabulary, of course," the Kingdra clarified. "What else could I possibly have to teach Ventura?"
"I can think of a few things," Gabi said.
"Yeah, let me guess..." Tsunami joined in. "Modesty? Humility?"
"Look who's talking," Hero retorted. To which, naturally, Tsunami stroke back with a:
"Look who's talking too."
"Modesty's such a rare value these days..." I laughed.
"Alright, have fun, everyone. Make all the jokes you want. But then don't dare say that I am annoying," Ventura complained.
"Easy, everyone," the local peace seeker stopped us. "There's no reason to fight. No one has meant to hurt anyone in any way."
"You know what, Gabi? I think you started it this time," Ventura pointed out.
"Me? How?"
"I don't know, but you said something about me right when I finished testing my power."
"I just said you were a Poison type pokemon, which shouldn't offend you, since you are."
"Are you sure you didn't say anything else?"
"I said you'd make good use of that power. I didn't say anything you can turn against me."
"Wow! It looks like Ventura lost an argument! This day will be marked forever in history!," Tsunami joked.
"You never know when to stop, now, do you?," Pidgeot sighed. "But why did it have to be Poison type, I wonder?"
"Well, poison has always been an excellent weapon for pokemon and even other beings to attack or defend themselves, and it's been known as a powerful annoyer since... I think ever since pokemon battles were officialized. It makes sense; I'm a natural battler and annoying is my speciality, though I know you'll be laughing all day long because I said it myself. But it's true."
"I think there's been enough making fun of others for one day," Gabi said.
"Sometimes it can be relaxing," Hero ponted out.
"I don't see how," Gabi replied. "But then again, that's the one thing I never got to understand about your little group."
That was the second indirect reference to me in just a few minutes. There are nicer things to say about me, aren't they?

Well, nevermind all that stuff. Even more days went by as we were virtually locked inside either the house of the DT Central. I mean, we could leave if we wanted to, but there wasn't much we could do without Gabi, and we didn't want to leave her alone. And her life those days was a succession of projects and exam, mixed with a touch of hard work for the Dragon Tamers and the breeding center. Speaking of which, someone requested a little Vulpix and it was Hero's turn to do the honors. We didn't ask any qustions, but we did go to the Eevee House to watch the birth of the baby. It was a cute little girl. And Hero was so... disoriented! He didn't know what to do with her, he just sniffed her and watched her and there was a mess in his mind. (Don't ask me what was inside that mess, my psychic powers aren't nearly that strong).
And then, after what seemed like centuries, we heard about the Ulthuan Spring Festival and Gabi realized it was high time we went for a day out.

The festival was held at Pokemon Square Garden, one of the biggest squares in Sector Alpha - or Caledor City, for the friends; I could say they gave it that nickname after me, but it would be blatantly obvious that I'd be lying. Still, Caledor City has a nice ring to it.
The place was filled with fun things to do. There was this big fair, with lots of games and sweets and balloons and stuff. There were also two arenas for pokemon battles. We first checked out most of the games. We had a team whack-a-mole session just for fun (there was nothing interesting to get for the tickets that machine gave us). Then we went for the water gun competition: 4 players had to throw water at a target until a little ship stroke a bell and made it ding. There, Gabi won a small toy shaped like a Sharpedo. Then they made a round for pokemon, so Tsunami and I played against another Vaporeon and a Golduck using our own Water Guns. But the other Vaporeon won and got a small Vaporeon toy (makes sense). Tsunami was glad that at least it was one of his kind who won. I didn't see how that mattered, but then again, I didn't have his race pride.
Then, we went to register for the battles. It was clear that some of us would be battling, but we couldn't decide which of us would. Luckily, the woman at the registration booth said we could decide that later; for now we only had to choose the arena. Tsunami and Water Angel preferred the swimming pool, but they didn't really need the training at that moment. I didn't mind either arena; anyway, I had recently battled, so I didn't think I'd be doing it again that day. Hero, Ventura, Sylvan, Amber and Iael preferred the meadow, so unless the remaining 3 all chose the swimming pool, they were the majority. Gabi chose the meadow before Pidgeot and Lagi got to make up their minds, so it was 6 against at most 4. We were registered to batte on the fields.
Something funny happened right after Gabi signed the registration paper. A pair of reporters from UNN and a camera man came out of nowhere and blocked our way to the arena. One of the reporters was holding a mic. That man started asking Gabi questions about the festival. She answered as well as she could, but then the guy interrupted her in the middle of a sentence, said something to the camera and left along with his partner.
"That was weird!," Gabi exclaimed once the reporters had disappeared.
"Indeed," Hero agreed.

Once we reached the battlefield, we so trainers scattered all around the place, either engaged in battles or looking for opponents. One of them, a young man with spiky brown hair, walked over to us and asked Gabi if she wanted to battle.
"Alright," she said. "But I'd like to know your name."
"Oh. My name is Gavin," he said.
"It sounds similar to mine," she commented.
"Gabi, right?"
"Yes," she replied, startled. "How did you know?"
"I saw you talking to the reporters a minute ago," he explained. "I'd seen you on TV before, but I hadn't heard your real name. It will be an honor to battle you. But I must warn you, I may not be famous, but I'm good. My pokemon and I train hard to be the best."
"The best at what?," inquired Gabi. Now that was a question I'd always wanted to ask too.
"Umm... odd question. We just try to become as good as we can. At battling and everything else too."
"Oh. Then we have something in common," Gabi said.
"I can imagine. People say your pokemon are very high leveled."
"Well, we've been training hard for years. Are you from Caledor?"
"Yes, I live here in Sector Alpha. I haven't joined the Dragon Tamers because I like independence."
"I like independence too. And being Dragon Tamers doesn't put bounds on it. It just means we'll be there for each other when we're needed, and we notify each other when something interesting comes up, like this festival. I call everyone when there's an emergency, but no one is forced to attend. We just try to help."
"Yes, I heard you've all gone to Eataine and Nagarythe? Aren't those places out of your jurisdiction?"
"Scott got us permission to act all over Ulthuan. Besides, we only help those who need it. We don't get mixed in politics or anything, and we don't take the law on our hands, so it's not really a matter of jurisdiction. If someone in Eataine asked for your help, wouldn't you go and help them?"
"It depends on who they are and what kind of help they need. I don't see myself trying to stop an invasion or bring down a criminal organisation."
"I didn't see myself doing that either. Scott himself said I wasn't made for war, and he was write for the most of it. But when it comes to either waiting for the end to come or doing something to prevent it, my choice is clear. If there's something I can do, I'll do it."
"Are you always giving those speeches?"
"This is the way I talk. It's not a speech, it's what I feel."
"You're strange."
"I've often been told that."
The two trainers looked at each other, and then finally Gabi broke the silence.
"Are we going to battle?"
"Yes, we are. Choose your pokemon."

Gabi looked at us, either trying to decide or expecting one of us to step forward.
"Come on, it mustn't be that hard of a choice!," Gavin told her.
At last, Pidgeot decided to take the chance.
"If no one else goes, I'll do it," he said. "I won't miss out on this opportunity."
"Alright, Pidgeot, you go first."
"A Pidgeot, uh? What level is it?"
"57 right now," Gabi answered.
"I have a Venusaur of the same level. I think he'll make a good opponent for your bird."
"Are you sure?"
"Don't give me the type disadvantage speech, please, save that for the newbies."
"I wasn't going to. You're being too aggresive to me, I've done nothing to you."
"Alright, then. Yes, I'm sure. I know what I do and I like a challenge. Besides, Pidgeots don't learn very strong attacks, so I won't have that much of a disadvantage."
"Ok, then."
"Sunbringer, come here!," Gavin called out.
A huge Venusaur came out of the crowd of pokemon who were walking around the field. By his looks, I reckoned Pidgeot might not have the upper hand in that battle. But my feathery teammate was not intimidated. He was quite big for a Pidgeot himself, and he knew as well as I did that there's no telling how tough a pokemon is in battle until you've seen them in one. So, Pidgeot shook his wings and got ready for the rumble.

Level 57 Pidgeot vs. Level 57 Venusaur

Pidgeot went straight for it with a Wing Attack. The Venusaur shrieked for a moment, but then he retaliated with a Sludge Bomb before my friend could get away, with the worst possible result (worst for Pidgeot, I mean).
"Poison! I HATE poison!!," my teammate shouted.
"Then you should have known better than to challenge me," Sunbringer replied.
"You don't know, it's personal. If you have an electric attack, a rock attack... even an ice attack, use it against me, I don't mind. But poison... that's something I can't stand."
"Whatever you say," Sunbringer answer. "But you might want to set yourself in motion before you're brought down by that thing you hate so much."
I could see the rage in Pidgeot's eyes. It was something I didn't see everyday. He picked up some dirt from the ground and slapped Sunbringer's face with it. The Venusaur knew better than to waste time trying to shake the mud away. Instead, he showed us what he'd got his name for, making the sun shine brighter. It became quite hot all of a sudden.
I heard Pidgeot cry. It couldn't be because of the heat, I knew him better than that. It was the poison. He shook his wings strongly and rose above the Venusaur. High above him. Actually, so high he looked like a little birdie in the distance. Sunbringer used that time to replicate himself. Pidgeot would be in trouble if he couldn't target the real pokemon.
My friend plunged down at an incredible speed. I wondered if he'd be able to aim while moving so fast, but I should have trusted him. He got it right. Very right. Still, he was far from winning. The poison was taking its toll on him. He and Sunbringer were about as weak now, and the Venusaur had a very dangerous trick up his petals. He'd used a Sunny Day for something, that much was clear.


<Pidgeot's POV>

I was hurt and worn out, but I wasn't paying attention to any of it. I'd have time to collapse later. Right then it was Sunbringer I was worried about. Him and what he could do if I wasn't careful enough. I had blown most of the air out of him with that attack, but that wasn't necessarily a good thing. Now I realized I'd played right into his trap, done exactly what he'd wanted me to do. But what else could I have done? I was glad I had at least used that Mud-Slap, that way I had a chance of avoiding the devastating move that was coming next. That and my speed, and the fact that I did know what Sunbringer's next move would be, were the only things I had in my favor.
All those thoughts ran through my mind in a split second. My mind does that when I'm in a battle. That characteristic had saved me multiple times, and I hoped this wouldn't be an exception. I knew it was just a friendly match, but since I had been poisoned the 'friendly' part had popped out of sight for me. I didn't like that Venusaur, and I didn't care much for his arrogant trainer either. That Venusaur was out to get me. So... how do you evade an Overgrow-boosted Solarbeam...?
"By getting on the opposite side," the answer suddenly came to me. If I was lucky enough, Sunbringer wouldn't realize where I was going until it was too late. I moved as fast as I could. As soon as I saw the bright spot of light form in the center of Sunbringer's treetop, I dashed forward. The beam came out about half a second after I'd reached the back of my opponent. There it went, the most powerful Solarbeam I'd ever seen, headed exactly on the opposite direction to where I was. It was quite a spectacle. I was really glad I hadn't been in the middle of it. Bird pokemon or not, I wouldn't have lasted that one.
I was up against a smart opponent. The same trick wouldn't work twice. Chances were the poison wouldn't give me the time to try it again anyway. I had to finish the battle right now. From my strategic position, I hit Sunbringer's backside with my wings as hard as I could. The Venusaur tried to turn around, but that only served him to get hit on his head as well. He tried to attack, but his strength failed him. With a sigh, he let himself fall.


I grew to level 58!

That had been a good battle, but now that it was over, the pain and exhaustion had come to me and there was no way to block them. My legs failed to hold me and I fell, breathing heavily and with my heart making the same sound as a machine gun. Gabi shouted out my name (well, it wasn't really a name) and ran to my side. All my friends gathered around me, asking if I was alright, and I didn't even have the strength to say "no, I'm not". That was until Gavin opened my beak and put something inside. I didn't know what it was, and it tasted a bit bitter, but I felt I had nothing to lose, so I swallowed it. As if by magic, my internal organs stopped hurting and my heart calmed down.
"You should equip some poison cure berries if you battle seriously," Gavin told my trainer. "Especially if your Pidgeot hates poison so much."
"How did you know...?," Gabi began. But he didn't let her form the sentence.
"It was quite obvious. The way he reacted... Not many pokemon get so mad when hit by a Sludge Bomb. You should teach him to control that."
"He's been through hard times," Gabi explained. "He's had some awful experiences. He's great at dealing with it most of the time, but you can't blame him for hating poison after it's been used to torture him."
"Oh! I'm sorry, I had no idea."
"It's ok," Gabi said. "You had no way to know." Then she turned to me again and hugged me. "Do you feel better now?," she asked me.
I nodded and rested my head against her chest. It wasn't something I'd do very often, but at that moment I needed her comforting tough, and I was grateful for her caring about me so much. I was also grateful for Gavin's help. He was a bit rude in his manners, but now I could see I had misjudged him. He was a good guy.
"Thanks for helping him," Gabi told Gavin.
"No problem," he said. "You don't have to battle again, I'll understand it. I can look for another opponent to finish my training session."
"Is Sunbringer alright?," Gabi asked.
"He'll be fine. He's a natural fighter. I see you have a Venuraus too. Does he like battling as much as Sunbringer does?"
"Actually, she prefers to spend the day in the sun and enjoy the view, but she wants to be strong enough to confront any dangers that come to her, so she trains when she gets the chance."
"Oh. I see you have some extraordinary pokemon. Now I understand how you became the head of the Dragon Tamers."
"Actually, the reporters were wrong about that part. I'm just one of the co-owners. I wouldn't be able to keep the whole thing up on my own. Right now, it's Amy who's doing the most to keep everything going."
"Amy?"
"Nala98."
"Oh, yes, I've seen her too. She looks like a very caring trainer."
"She is. It's much easier to work with her than with Scott. We think alike most of the time. Well, I guess I'd better take Pidgeot to a Pokemon Center now."
"Don't," I told her.
"What?! Why not?," Gabi asked me.
"Later. Have your battle. I want to watch. I won't get worse now."
"Alright, if you say so..."
"If he says what?," Gavin asked.
"He wants us to have another battle. He wants to watch his teammates. Well, teammate, whoever it is that goes next."
"In that case, I won't say no to a challenge. Even better, it can be two."
"What do you mean?"
"Your Venusaur's not a fighter but she wants to train, right? Well, you can have her and another pokemon battle together against my Arcanine. That way it should be fair. I think Tiger is a bit stronger than her, and he has type advantage, but if he battles against her and... say, your Venomoth, it could be interesting."
"Is it me or has he just said the magic word?," Ventura declared.
"I guess my Venomoth won't reject a challenge by a Fire-type pokemon," Gabi noted. "Sylvan, what do you say?"
"Fine for me as long as I don't get burnt," was Sylvan's reply.
"Ok, we accept. Just one thing, can we use items?"
"Sure. Tiger has a Pokemon Collar. What items do your pokemon have?"
"Sylvan has a 4-Leaf Clover and Ventura has a Magical Glass Koffing Sculpture."
"What's that?"
"Something you shouldn't mind after our last battle."
"Alright, if you want to be all mysterious, go ahead."
"Well, you've heard a lot about me and I had never heard of you before today. I have to level the field somehow."
"Sounds logical. Maybe you're a better trainer than I thought."
"Same to you."

Tiger, the Arcanine, who was sitting nearby and watching all the events, came over to where we were. Sylvan and Ventura moved to his side, and the rest of us made room for the battle.

Level 45 Venusaur & Venomoth vs. Level 53 Arcanine

Tiger didn't waste time. He took a quick glance at his two opponents and immediately shot a Fire Blast at Ventura! Luckily, Ventura was ready for it and teleported away right in time. Knowing that she wouldn't stand a chance if an attack like that one hit her, she poured some Sleep Powder on the Arcanine, who instantly fell asleep.
"This will buy us some time," Ventura told Sylvan. "Let's make good use of it."
When Sylvan hit Tiger with a Headbutt, Ventura scolded her.
"What part of good use don't you understand?"
The Venomoth then sent Sylvan a psychic pulse. I heard Caledor say it. He didn't know what was in it, but he felt the energy.
"He's asleep. I wouldn't do that to a sleeping pokemon," Sylvan protested.
"That pokemon won't hesitate to use a Fire Blast at you when he wakes up," Ventura said.
Sylvan turned to Gabi.
"This is a friendly battle," Gabi told her. "Don't do anything you'll feel bad for. He uses strong attacks, so you can use them too, but you don't have to if you don't want to."
"Oh, please, I don't want your pokemon holding back," Gavin said. "I want a decent battle. I won't be holding back at all. Tiger's at a disadvantage now, you can choose to make use of it or not, but when he wakes up, he won't be grateful for your softness. He'll bring your two pokemon down."
"You've heard him," Ventura said. "Now do something."
With this, Ventura used a Psychic attack on Tiger. Then Sylvan threw herself at him with a Body Slam.
"Well, that's a bit better, but I still think you're not taking this seriously," Ventura said. "That Arcanine threw a Fire Blast at me. If I hadn't teleported in time, I would be ashes by now. He could do the same to you."
"He wouldn't have killed you. He's not evil," Sylvan remarked.
"I'm not talking about evil. He uses strong moves against us. He wants to win. I want to win. Why don't you? You say he's not evil, and I agree with you, he's not. Then do you think you would be evil for doing the same thing he does?"
"You were not asleep when he attacked you. You had the chance to defend yourself."
"At this rate, he won't be asleep when you attack him either."
"Hold it," Gavin interrupted. "I thought your pokemon would be battling against Tiger, not each other."
"They have their differences," Gabi explained. "But they should put them aside now. They're arguing about whether it's fair or not to use strong moves against a sleeping pokemon, but it's not the right time for that. So please, Ventura, Sylvan, stop arguing and do what you think is right."
"I'll do my part," Ventura said, summoning her hidden power. Tiger didn't move. "Not strong enough," Ventura sentenced. "But I had to try."
Sylvan went for another Body Slam.
"We're lucky he hasn't waken up yet," Ventura said.
"I still think it would be fairer if he did," Sylvan insisted.
"No, it won't," Gabi said in a puzzling tone.
At that moment, Tiger woke up and released a powerful Flamethrower at Sylvan!
The fire burnt mercilessly. Sylvan had to call for her Hidden Power to put it out. While Ventura held Tiger back with another Psychic attack, Sylvan let all the remaining water pour on the Arcanine's body. He returned to the ground but, this time, it didn't look like he was going to get back up for the next hour.


Sylvan and Ventura won! They both grew to level 46!

"So that's what she was hiding!," Gavin exclaimed. "Hidden Power Water. I should have known it had to be something like that."
"Yes. She didn't want to use it on Tiger while she was asleep, but then he woke up and she was lucky to endure his blow."
"I understand what you meant when you said she didn't like battling much. But I do have some questions."
"What are they?"
"Well... first of all, what did that Koffing thing do? I didn't notice anything special about it."
"Oh, that's because Tiger fell asleep and the sculpture didn't have a chance to act, but it has a chance of poisoning the pokemon Ventura is attacking."
"Wow! Now I get it. Sunbringer poisoned your Pidgeot, so you wanted revenge."
"I wouldn't say I wanted revenge. I just thought you wouldn't mind if Ventura did the same as Sunbringer."
"Where did you get that thing?"
"Oh, I got it a long time ago. A guy named Joelie held a contest and gave magical sculptures to the winners."
"I missed that one. I'll watch out for things like those."
"I think we should go to the Pokemon Center now. Are you coming too?"
"Yes, but I didn't get to ask you the rest of the questions."
"Oh. Ok, ask."
"How did you know what your pokemon were arguing about? And what was that 'no, it won't' right before Tiger woke up."
"Oh, those things are harder to explain. Sometimes I just know things, I don't know why. I understand my pokemon and I knew Tiger was about to wake up and attack Sylvan with fire. I think I have some kind of low level psychic ability."
"It would be cool to have that."
"Yes, some people think it's cool and some others are freaked out," Gabi said. "But I've met many people with different degrees of psychic abilities. I'm not the only one. Most of my friends can at least communicate with their pokemon."
"You have a singular group of friends. Mine are all normal, as far as I know."
"What's normal, anyway?"

Gavin didn't answer that question. Gabi sent me and Sylvan into our pokeballs to take us to the Pokemon Center. Ventura was so lucky, she didn't even have a scratch on her.
Both Sylvan and I had exhausted ourselves a bit too much for a friendly battle, so we had to stay for the night. But we were fine soon enough. Sylvan was nice company, and the following day I was allowed to go to the pool before leaving. I took a refreshing dip in the company of Water Angel, and when I got out I shook my feathers on Tsunami to pay him back for the many tricks he'd played on me in the past. Then he jumped into the water and try to do the same, but water didn't stick to his skin as it did to my feathers.
Once we got back home, we returned to the normal routine. Which in my case was flying around and paying some visits to the Eevee House. Some interesting events happened there, but that's another story. The good news was that Gabi finished most of her university work, so he finally had a little free time.
Then, one day, Gabi received a letter from the Dragon's Guild. That was odd considering they hadn't contacted her since te beginning of the year and now she was running an investigation on them. When I saw the envelope, I wondered if the Guild had become aware of what Gabi and Tracker were doing. But when she read the letter out, I saw it had nothing to do with her personal quest. They were asking her to write a report on Vigoroth, and to remember the words she was told when she first joined the guild.
"Now that's puzzling," Ventura commented.
"What were you told when you joined the guild?," Iael asked Gabi.
"Well, during the welcoming ceremony, Sott told me I was someone people would turn to for guidance in times of peace, but when war came it would be time for others to take the stand. Something like that. I can't think of anything else I've been told at that moment, so it must be that. But I still don't understand."
"Do you have any idea what it might mean?," Lagi tried to help.
"I don't know. I just know those words have come to my mind a lot lately, and that something just doesn't feel right. Now I'd really like to know what the Guild knows, and if Scott is still connected to it in any way."
"Why don't you go and ask?," Lagi suggested.
That solution was impossibly simple. But none of us could think of a reason why it necessarily couldn't work.
"Alright," Gabi accepted. "I don't know what I'm getting into, but I'm a high rank Guild member, and I think I have the right to talk to the authorities and find out what they want with me. I may be drowning in a glass of water. We've found no proof that the Dragon's Guild is up to anything bad or dangerous these days. I'll still try to find more about those secret labs and all those things they're hiding, but maybe a direct approach would be best right now. That's the way things work best for me."
So it was decided. We would all go and check on the Dragon's Guild.
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~~ Lady VulpiX ~~
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<Pidgeot's POV>

So, things changed since that letter arrived; in more ways than I would have imagined. For me at least, I can't speak for the others. It all began with Gabi paying an irregular visit to the Dragon's Guild base of operations, and the whole team tagging along. There, we were received by a red-haired woman who we had seen a few times before. She went by the name of Lady Ninetales, which was confusing, since Gabi was Lady Vulpix and both of them had been mixed up before. I hadn't expected to see her again. I hadn't heard of her for the last year or so. But there she was, sitting behind a desk and asking Gabi the motive of her presence. My trainer started off with the 'easy' part, stating that she couldn't possibly write a report on Vigoroth, since there were no known Vigoroths in Ulthuan yet. To this, Lady Ninetales replied that the Guild would offer her the means to travel to a location where they could be found.
"That would be nice, but I'm afraid I can't leave the Dragon Tamers," Gabi told her. "Not to mention my studies. I have too many things to do here to go on such a long trip."
"I'm sorry to hear that, but we need the report finished by the end of the year," was the reply.
"I can write a report on some other pokemon. I've been taking a closer look at some supposedly genderless pokemon, and I have some ideas that I think would be interesting for a report. I even have a theory on Dittos and, if I could prove it, it would be..."
"Hold it, please. We need to think about this."
"Who's we?"
"The Dragon's Guild, of course."
"I'm a member of the Guild. And I have a high rank, unless things change and I haven't been notified."
"Oh, of course you do, you're still a... What was your rank again?"
"Universal Scholar. Or Philosopher Lord, or whatever its current name is."
"Oh, dear, your rank is hi- nevermind, yes, I guess you can write a report on any pokemon you decide as long as you have it here by December 1st for the other Guild members to revise it."
"I guess I can do that. Thanks."
"Anything else?"
"Oh, yes, I'd like to know more about the letter I got yesterday. Hold on, I'll take it out so that we can discuss it."

As Gabi started checking her pack, I felt one of my tail feathers being pulled. I turned around and saw that it was Tsunami.
"Hey! What's gotten into you?," I growled.
"Sorry, I just wanted to call your attention," the Vaporeon said.
"There are better ways. 'Hey, Pidgeot' would have been a good one."
"Sorry again. Would you like to join me for a walk around this place?"
"What for?"
"Just to talk and see old places."
Something was definitely strange about Tsunami. Stranger than usual. I decided to follow him and find out what was going on.

My Vaporeon friend guided me through a corridor, up to a garden with a fountain in the center.
"I used to play here," he smiled. "Remember this place?"
"Yes. I'm surprised you remember, since you only lived here for a few days."
"More like two months, actually. I wasn't even the last one to come to live here. After me came Sylvan, Lagi, Amber and then Ventura. Until the place became too crowded with all the trainers and the new pokemon they were bringing, so they decided that everyone should get their own place. Then the Dragon Tamers came up and we were offered a new home."
"Yes, I remember that."
"Hey, I even remember where the old Adoption Center used to be. It had a nice swimming pool, though not as big as the one at the Eevee House."
"Yes, I took a few baths in it before I was adopted."
"Really? I thought you only got into the water to keep Water Angel company."
"Whatever gave you that idea?! I like the water!"
"I see. Sorry. I understand; I was an Eevee when I was there, and still it was hard for the workers to get me out of that pool. I guess that's why I was given to Gabi right away when she came looking for a Vaporeon-to-be."
"I must admit it's hard to imagine you as anything other than a Vaporeon. Even when I did see you as an Eevee. But that looks like a few lifetimes ago. Why are we having this conversation anyway?"
"Is it so strange that I wanted to talk and remember old times?"
"It is when you pull me away from the rest to do that. And in any case, I'd have thought you would pick Hero for that."
"Well, I need someone who can see beyond his nose this time. Besides, I want to sort things out with you and make up for the big mistakes I made in the past."
"I knew something was up. Care to explain?"
"You know, when I first joined the team I didn't make the best entrance. I was just a little kid who was suddenly facing a fierce leader, a big... big... I didn't know what role you played but you looked really big to me, and well, Water Angel, who was always either in Gabi's arms or under your wings. It looked like I was the only one who had to prove himself, earn my place in the team."
"It turned out you were the only one who didn't need to prove yourself."
"I know. Now I know. But then I didn't. So I did what I could just to feel important. Wrong moves, I must admit. I made fun of you and Water Angel for all the time you spent together, and as soon as I evolved I tried to take on the big boss."
"A painful way to learn that a type advantage doesn't necessarily grant a win."
"Well, things turned out well with Hero in the end. We made a fun habit of picking on each other, and then when Caledor joined the fun everything was perfect. But you and Water Angel didn't see things the same way. You were hurt by my comments, and I didn't notice that until it was too late to go back. So I want you to know that I'm sorry for that. A long time has passed, and I've grown up, and I would like us to be friends."
"I thought you just had a natural incapability to keep your mouth shut. If it helps, I've thought of you as a friend for a while now."
"Really? Wow, that's a relief!"
"I've learnt that you weren't serious when you called us names; you did that to your best friends too. It was actually a bit funny to see you come up with a new nickname every day, but since we're at it, don't do that again. Though you did fail to keep that same promise after you lost our bet."
Tsunami sighed.
"But you didn't fail to remember. Well, I like coming up with funny names, but I will never say anything offensive to you from now on. That much I promise. Same goes for Water Angel."
"Good. I'm glad that's cleared. So, what was the other thing?"
"What other thing?"
"The thing for which you needed someone who could see beyond his nose."
"Oh. That. Don't you thing that something strange is going on?"
"Yes, that's why we're here. To find out what it is."
"I know, but something tells me that Lady Ninetales won't tell us. We know Scott has been keeping information from Gabi and the others. Who knows how many secrets the Guild may have? They won't hand them out so easily."
"Those are my own thoughts. But what else can we do?"
"Well, I can take the water while you take the shadows. Here's to prove I do trust you."
"Pardon?"
"You know."
He gestured to a dark corridor with his head. Yes, I did know what he was planning. I was just a bit shocked at his proposal, and at the fact that none other than Tsunami was inviting me to take part in a conspiracy of a sort. But it was true that many things had changed since we had lived in that place. And now it was up to us to do things which would have been either impossible or too scary for us back then.

<Gabi's POV>
I was getting irritated. This Lady Ninetales looked just as evasive as Scott. But I tried my best not to show it. Two could play the same game.
"I don't know who wrote that," she told me.
"Do you have any idea of what it means?," I inquired.
"Well, let me see..." she said, taking the letter in her hands. "It's a bit cryptic."
"Yes, it is. I'm afraid I won't be able to follow the Guild's advice if they don't express themselves clearly."
She looked up at me for a moment, then let her eyes focus on the letter again.
"I could only assume this person is trying to dissuade you from attempting to take Scott's place."
"His place in what? I have no choice but to take his place at the Dragon Tamers, since he left the organization."
"Oh, of course the Dragon Tamers should keep going. But I mean, just in case anything came up, you shouldn't try to do the things Scott did."
"If that is the case, you shouldn't worry. I wouldn't embark myself on a suicidal mission all on my own, that's not my style. I believe in the strength in numbers, and more than numbers, in a solid and well-meshed team."
"Which you don't have right now, that's why we think the Dragon Tamers should refrain from engaging in any kind of combat situation until someone more apt for such tasks joins your ranks."
I didn't even care to ask who the we referred to this time. I was having a hard time keeping my anger to myself.
"Let me remind you that Scott didn't do everything when it came to confronting the forces of evil. Half the time he wasn't even there, and we managed quite well without him. Besides..."
"So who will you turn to now?," she interrupted me. "Alexandre? Nolan? Maybe Charles? Oh, no, wait... Ryan!"
"Ryan would be a good choice, yes! And everyone else who cares to join. The Dragon Tamers are a solid group and we've..."
"Calm down, please! There's no need to get so upset! You're acting as if you were under attack. Actually, if that's the way you act when you're under attack I wouldn't think there's much hope left for the Dragon Tamers."
I took a deep breath. I was losing it, I couldn't allow that to happen.
"That's not the way I react to an attack. Sorry, sometimes I don't realize how high the volume of my voice gets. But that only happens when I'm talking to someone who's supposed to be on my side."
"We are on the same side, Lady Vulpix. Shall we keep the conversation in a softer tone?"
"Of course."
"Alright, then. Speaking of Ryan, you two haven't been seen together since New Year. Are you sure he would be available if you needed him?"
I didn't like the way things were turning. I didn't know if Lady Ninetales was hiding vial information from me, or if she didn't know more than I did and was just testing me. In any case, I was now determined to remain calm, and I knew I could do it.
"He will be there if he's needed. We both lead very busy lives, but neither of us has ever failed the other, and we never will."
"I hope you're right. It could be catastrophic if you found out at the wrong time that you've put your faith in the wrong place. Or, rather, on the wrong man."
"That's not going to happen. And even if it did, it would be my problem to deal with. It wouldn't carry the Dragon Tamers along. Besides, Ryan and I are not the only ones. Connor's around, Amy would go as far as I would to bring peace back to Ulthuan, and there are many others we can always count on. Like Ade."
"No offense, but Amy's just like you, Connor has never been around during the hard times and Adrian relies on luck most of the time."
"How do you know so much about each of us?"
"We need to know what's going on in the organization we're funding. You should know that, you've sent us progress reports frequently."
"Well, we rely on what we have, and so far it has never failed us. If something comes up, we won't stay with our arms closed. If you know us as well as you think you do, you should know that whenever we can do something to make things better, we do it."
"I know, I was just suggesting you evaluate your risks."
"Funny how I've never heard any of you suggest that to Scott. Or was it because he was the 'Dragon Master'? Or because he was a Mc Henry?"
"Both, actually."
"Oh. It's good to know. Finally, a few things are starting to look clearer."
"I'm glad they are."
"Just one thing."
"Yes?"
"Why have you sent this letter now? It's been months since a threat has last appeared. Or at least showed itself in public."
"Oh, well, as I told you I didn't write the letter. But I assume it was because Scott was with you before and now he's not."
"Scott has been gone for months too."
"I don't know, then. I'm sorry."

I shook my head and put the letter back in my pack. She was hiding something, but I wasn't going to get it out of her. I'd been suspicious ever since the attacks at the hotels, but back then I had the feeling that Scott had things covered. Now, on the other hand, there was no Scott. At least not visibly (I wouldn't be surprised if he was orchestrating things from behind the curtain). I wouldn't let an impersonal, invisible entity such as 'WE' to tell me what to do and what not to, nor to decide what I should know and what I shouldn't. That could take a long time, but in the end, things would become clear. The forces that moved the Dragon's Guild, and transitively the Dragon Tamers, would be transparent once and for all. For now, this conversation was finished.
"I must get back to the DT central now," I told Lady Ninetales. "I have work to do, as I'm sure you have too. I won't hold you any longer. See you."
"It was a pleasure, Lady Vulpix. See you later with your report."
I shook her hand, and tried to collect my team to head to my office. However, two of my pokemon were missing.
"Where...?," I began, but Lagi stopped me by putting a hand on my shoulder. I felt she didn't want me to ask the question.
"They'll reach us later," she told me.
"Have you lost anything?," Lady Ninetales queried.
"Oh, no, it's ok. My Dragonite has already found it," I replied.
With that, I said goodbye again and left with the 8 pokemon who were by my side.

I was worried. I had to spend the whole afternoon without Pidgeot and Tsunami. They had left on their own before, but usually just to stretch their wings and legs respectively, or to take a dip at the Eevee House swimming pool. Now they were in a place we had once called home, but weren't quite comfortable with now. Lagi kept telling me to trust them. She'd seen them leave, and she'd felt that Tsunami had an idea that could help us all. I would have felt better if she'd known what the idea was, but I knew my Vaporeon friend well enough to know that I should trust him. With helping us sort out big problems, at least; I wouldn't trust him with keeping a pile of cushions in one piece while having Hero and Caledor by his side. We always need to know which things each individual can be trusted with.
My team became complete in the evening, when we got home for dinner. Pidgeot and Tsunami were waiting at the door.
"Hi. You should change the lock on this door for one that we can open," Tsunami greeted me.
"I'm afraid such locks haven't been invented yet," I told him. "Why didn't you come to the office?"
"We just came back. We wouldn't have found you there."
"I think it would be a good time to open the door now," Pidgeot remarked.
I complied as soon as I managed to find my key.
"You should organize your pack better," Tsunami suggested while he walked into the house.
"Impossible, I store too many things in there. Besides, certain individuals keep looting inside for items, so there's no way to keep things in order."
I directed a look at Caledor while I spoke, and he gave me the widest grin an Espeon can show.
"So, did your plan work?," I asked the newcomers.
"Do you know what the plan was?," Pidgeot asked back.
"Not really, but I guess you must have been trying to get information just like I was."
"You're right about that," Pidgeot confirmed. "We did get something, but we'd better talk about it after dinner. What about you?"
"I know as much as what they don't want us to do, but not why they think we could do it. Nor who they are, either."
"We haven't found out who they are, but I think we may have an answer to the other question," Tsunami stated.
"Not now, Tsunami. Let them digest their meal," Pidgeot advised him.
From those words, I knew that what the two had brought wasn't good news. Odds were my food would hit me like a rock anyway with that knowledge. But knowing exactly what it was would probably be worse, so I let the conversation wait until we'd all finished dinner. I ate very little, and Pidgeot ate nothing at all. I had a strong feeling I knew what this was all about.

After dinner, I picked up the dishes and took them to the kitchen to be washed later. Then I came back and took a look at Pidgeot's eyes, trying to figure out if it was what I thought. His look clearly confirmed it: Team Rocket.
"I'm sorry you of all pokemon had to find out about this first," I told him.
"I'm not," he responded. "I'm sorry this is happening, but I'm not sorry for knowing. If I know, I can do something about it."
"Wait a minute. You knew what he had to say just by looking at him? Are your psychic powers that strong?," Hero queried.
"No, Hero, yu could have known too," Water Angel noted. "Just like I do."
"You know too? Well, that could be because you know Pidgeot enough to... Oh!"
Hero closed his eyes tight in realization.
"Don't mind me. I just... I wasn't expecting this right now. I should have known," he said.
I figured all of us knew Team Rocket was up to something by then. What, was something we all wanted to find out.
"So, how did they get up from the dust, what are they up to and how does the Dragon's Guild know about this?," Ventura finally asked.

Pidgeot and Tsunami explained how they'd heard some people talking about a place called Dark Island, and how Team Rocket had allied themselves with 2 other criminal organizations and were setting their base there. They were saying an attack to Caledor was to be expected any time soon. I couldn't take it anymore.
"How are they planning to deal with that without the Dragon Tamers?," I asked, frustrated.
"They may be calling the army," Tsunami suggested. "Unless they have some secret forces working for them. Which is unlikely, that would have been hard to hide."
"Right now, I can expect just about anything from the Dragon's Guild," I said. "But they should also know what to expect from the Dragon Tamers. We won't sit here with our arms crossed and wait for an invasion to come. Better strike now, when they haven't fully regrouped yet."
"Are you going to summon all the Dragon Tamers?," Hero asked me.
"I won't force anyone," I said. "Lady Ninetales was right about something; we don't have a charismatic field leader at this moment, and some may not be comfortable with going into the darkness without one. I'll give everyone the chance to help, but only if they want. Those who have experience will aid those who don't."
"Sounds fine," Hero agreed. He was currently showing the side of him he was the most confident with, the side that knew what was going on and what should be done.
"You may get started with the phone calls and letters, I'll start packing for the trip," Amber offered.
"Can I ask you guys something?," Iael interrupted the preparations. I held myself back from giving him my typical 'you just have'.
"What is it, Iael?," I asked instead.
"Sorry if I'm supposed to know this already, but... where's the Dark Island?"
That question fell like a bomb. I realized I had no idea. I had never heard of it and, apparently, neither had the rest of the team.
"No one's expecting you to know it, and asking never hurts," I told him. "Actually, I'm afraid I don't know either."
"I believe we have a map of Ulthuan somewhere, don't we?," Ventura reminded us.
"Yes, if I can remember where I'll left it, I'll bring it here so we can check it," I said.

All my pokemon followed me to my room to help me search, or maybe just to watch me make a fool of myself. I was lucky. I only had to empty a few drawers before I found the map. It didn't even take me half an hour, which, given my special inability to find lost objects, was quite surprising. The bad news was, the name "Dark Island" didn't appear anywhere on the map.
"Maybe it's not in Ulthuan?," Iael suggested.
"Maybe, but many of the islands on this map don't have their names written, so it could be one of them," I replied while my eyes scanned each of the islands on the map. I hadn't noticed there were so many! "Oh, wait! Could it be this one on the east? I think it's one of the Shifting Isles. It's drawn darker than the others."
All my pokemon got closer to look at the map.
"Could be, but it could also be a printing error," Hero pointed out.
"How are we supposed to know?," Sylvan sighed, getting discouraged.
"There is one way," Caledor assured. "If one of us who has psychic powers manages to focus them enough to find out if our enemies are there. I know I'm not even closed to getting that kind of control over my psychic abilities, but maybe if I could use the stone, I could make it."
Wow. I didn't expect such a suggestion to come from Caledor. He was certainly full of surprises.
"It could be risky," I told him.
"You've been wearing that stone for months, and it's been touching your chest 24/7," Caledor pointed out. "If it hasn't done anything bad to you, I'm sure I can handle it. Besides, I have special joy powers, remember?"
"Joy powers?," I laughed, trying to imagine what he was going to say next.
"Yes. No matter what happens, I can always cheer myself up, and everyone else around me. So we have nothing to fear."
I burst into laughter. Not that it was unusual in me; if I'd ever spent a day without laughing, I would have started worrying about my life coming to an end.
"Well, you have proven that we can trust you with that," I told him once I managed to hold my laughter. "I'll lend you the stone, but be careful."
"I'm always careful."
"I have a few million electrified cells that would deny that statement," Tsunami contradicted him.
"I was careful. I never hurt you more than you deserved," Caledor replied, sticking out his tongue.
With this, the Espeon touched the clowing stone that hung from my neck like a pendant. He closed his eyes and a bright purple glow surrounded him. Even his gem, usually a smooth goldenrod color, became purple for a moment. The light was so bright I had to close my eyes too. And once I did, I saw no light. Only darkness.

<Lagi's POV>

I didn't know exactly what was going on, but I didn't like it. Whatever Caledor was experiencing, it wasn't good, and somehow Gabi was sharing it. I stepped ahead to pull them apart from each other and the stone, but Ventura sent a pulse for me to stop.
"Let them finish," she told me.
I didn't know where her confidence came from, especially since she was somewhat worried about them. But I did as she said and waited for both my friends to open their eyes. They felt relieved to see us again, and so did I.
"That was... unexpected," Caledor said. "But yes, that's the island. That's where we should go."
"What did you see?," Sylvan asked.
"I saw the Dark island, and some men doing awful things to pokemon," Caledor said. "Some were wearing Team Rocket uniforms, and some had others. They were on different places of the island."
"Yes, Caledor is right, I saw that too," Gabi said. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go to the bathroom. We'll talk later."
It didn't take empathic powers to know she was hiding something. Gabi doesn't normally take her phone to the bathroom. Actually, she prefers that room and that machine to stay as far away from each other as possible. But I let her be; whatever was bugging her would come out when she was ready to share it.

She took a long time to get out. I couldn't hear what she was saying, and I didn't let anyone stick their ears close to her. I wanted her privacy to be respected. Though, while I managed to stop others from intruding, I wasn't quite as succesful in stopping myself. Her feelings came to me like the smell of the muddy garden on a rainy morning. She was shocked, worried, scared, lonely... her heart was crying, and probably her eyes were too. I wished I could do something to help her. I wished I could hug her and make her pain go away. I wish I could heal her soul like she'd healed mine after the battle against the Black Battalion. But how do you fix a heart that has just been broken by the one person she'd thought would always be there for her? Yes, that much I could deduce. The feelings were clear. Too clear.
"I'm going out for a while," I announced when I felt Gabi was ready to come out.
I didn't answer any questions. I was the worst liar anyway. I just didn't want Gabi to have to face me and know that I knew what she was going through. And I also wanted to check on my eldest daughter, and make sure that she would be alright.

<Amber's POV>

"Where's Lagi?," Gabi asked as soon as she came out. Her eyes were read. I could see she had been crying.
"She's gone out. She wouldn't tell us where she was going," I told her. "What happened? Are you alright?"
"I'll live," Gabi said. Then she ran to my side and gave me a big, tight hug. "I'll live and I'll be fine... Eventually. That's what survivors do. I guess I just take some things... well, too seriously. And my imagination also tends to be too wild."
"Is there anything we can help you with?," Sylvan offered.
"Actually, yes. You can help me get Dark Island and the world rid of Team Rocket and they're allies. It turns out we have less people on our side than we used to, so we'll have to give it our best. We can't afford to lose against them."
Her reaction looked familiar. She was acting the same way I had when I knew that Volvagia had dumped me. Could something similar be happening to her? She'd never had an established relationship with anyone, but over the time I'd spent with her it had become clear that she had feelings for someone.
I decided to support her in the best way I could.
"Would you like a cup of tea?," I offered.
"I may be unable to sleep if I drink one now," she told me. "Though I guess I'll accept. I don't think I'll be getting any sleep tonight anyway."
"Camomile?"
"Perfect."
"Ok, I'll go to the kitchen and prepare it."
"I'll follow you," Gabi said. "We can make some for both."
"That will be nice," I accepted.

Gabi followed me to the kitchen and, while we waited for the water in the kettle to get close to the boiling point, I decided to ask her. Keeping it to herself wouldn't help her.
"Is it about Ryan?"
She looked at me, and then smiled.
"You know me that well," she said.
Then she made a pause, turned off the gas range and poured the hot water on the camomile tea bags resting inside the two cups.
"He's leaving Ulthuan," she finally revealed. "For good."
"But didn't he say... I mean, wasn't he going to confront some big threat with us and Tara? I mean... I don't know what I mean, I'm confused."
"So am I. It seems I've been confused all this time. He said he's tired of the insecurity and of fearing that his life could collapse at any time. He got a good job offer outside and he's taking it. He'll be teaching, that's what he likes, so he'll probably be happier there than here."
"Have you told him about Dark Island?"
"No, I didn't want to force him to stay. Then if anything went wrong, he would have blamed me for his life being screwed. I don't want that."
"You should let him take that call. If he knows you need him, he'll come running to your side like he always has."
"Maybe. Maybe not. And even if he does, he'd be doing it only because he'd be thinking I can't handle things without him. Not because he cares for the future of the people in Ulthuan, nor for what I feel. Actually, I've often had the feeling that those two kisses didn't mean nearly as much to him as they did to me, and that he'd be creeped out if he knew what I felt."
"Why? Everyone has a right to feel. I thought he cared for you too."
"I came into his life at a time in which he needed me. Then he grew past that, the need was gone and there was nothing left I could do for him other than hold him back. That's what I feel."
"You don't know that."
"I do. I do now. I won't force him to live a life that he hates. What kind of person would I be if I did that? I won't leave Ulthuan either. Each of us has chosen a separate path and we'll have to learn to live with our choices."
"I just wish you didn't have to go through that like I did."
"Well, Ryan and I were never truly together, so it's not the same. I'm just mourning the loss of a dream. So it will hurt, but I'll move on. I must tell you, I was feeling this would happen. I'll move on and, some day, I will find someone who can give me what I've never had. For now, saving the world once more will have to do."
I couldn't help letting out a giggle.
"So, let's go and save the word to make up for the pain of being dumped," I told her.
"You know? It sounds awful when you put it that way! Besides, I don't know if what will be doing will count for as much as saving the world, but we'll do something good because that's what we want to do. We want to help those who need it, and stop those abusive..."
"Goons?," I completed the phrase noticing she'd go stuck.
"For lack of a better term. You're as bad at insulting as I am, aren't you?"
"Well, remember my mum was cast out of her clan for being a sweetie, and I grew up to be one too. Besides, I came from her arms to yours, so I've never had much of a chance to learn good insults."
"We may have to resort to the help of some other team members."
"We could ask Tsu or Hero, I'm sure their vocabulary's large in that area."
"Nah. We can leave without that kind of acoustic pollution at home."
By that moment, we were both laughing. That was when Iael came in.
"Is everything alright?," he asked.
"Yes, everything's just fine," Gabi told him. "It got a bit too late. I'll start making the phone calls first thing in the morning. We should go to bed now."

I wasn't quite sure if Gabi would get to sleep that night, and I wondered where Lagi had gone. But there wasn't much more that I could do, so I followed Gabi back into her room and, as everybody left for their sleeping spots, I decided to stay by her side for the night.
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<Gabi's POV>

I admired the people who could cry themselves to sleep. I couldn't. I could cry all night until I bathed myself in tears, and sleep wouldn't come. At least I was not alone. At least Amber was with me. I believe I finally dozed off at some point, since I didn't notice the rising of the sun. I eventually felt the light coming through my open window, and a part of me wanted to get out of bed, while another part kept telling me "not yet... just... not now".
I couldn't tell my dreams from my thought. They were all about the same things: the Dragon's Guild, the Dragon Tamers, Team Rocket, the other 2 teams, Dark Island, Ryan... And when my mind got to that point I felt like a blade was piercing my chest, and I dismissed the thought and started over. "Not now... not yet. It will be a hard day, you need more strength." "But it will be even harder if I lose the whole morning. I need to get up!" "Later... not now. Rest now." "I can't... I mustn't... Lagi, please come here! Please help me!"

Lagi stepped into the room slowly. I heard her open the door from under the blankets and I knew she was coming to help me... To save me from myself. How awful that sounded! But yes, there were times when I could be my worst enemy. And that precise moment was one of them.
"Do you need help?," the Dragonite asked me.
"As much as you can offer," I replied. "Might start by helping me sit up."
Lagi's thick but gentle arm slid behind my back, and slowly led it to a vertical position.
"Thanks a lot," I told her.
"You're welcome. What else do you need?"
"Peace?"
"I'll do my best to help you get that. But it might take some time."
"Most good things do. You're actually helping more than you think."
"I think I know exactly how much I'm helping," she smiled. "I wish I could do more."
"Well, you can."
"Hmm?"
"You can tell me where you went to last night."
"Oh... I was..."
I gave her a firm look, letting her know I wanted her to continue.
"I was checking on Beck. I wanted to make sure she'd be alright, and wishing her good luck."
"Beck?... Oh, Edie! Sorry, name changes make me dizzy. I'm sorry, Lagi. I was so consumed in my own problems, I didn't notice this was affecting you too. Will you forgive me?"
"I understand you, Gabi. Beck is fine; she's actually excited about moving to a new place and getting a whole new life. She has grown used to changes, and is facing them with enthusiasm. I'll miss her heaps, but I know she has to move on. She's a fully grown Dragonite, I can't keep thinking of her as my little baby."
"True. But that doesn't make it any easier, does it?"
"Nope," she admitted. "But at least... At least I know things will turn out well in the end and that gives me hope."
"Hope," I repeated. "Were would we be without it?"
"According to a book I read, probably in hell," Lagi replied.
"How come?"
"The words inscribed at the entrance of hell: those who enter this place must abandon all hope. Or something like that, I don't remember the exact words. I don't actually believe that such a place exists, but can you imagine a worse hell than a life without hope?"
I thought for a while. I'd always priced my own imagination, but...
"I can't. I can't think of anything worse."
"Then let's remember never to lose it."
"How do you do that, Lagi?"
"Do what?"
"Always say the right words to make me feel better."
"That's easy. I just look at your heart and tell you what I see."
"Come here."
I opened my eyes as wide as I could, and Lagi reacted to my gesture by picking me up and giving me a lovely warm hug like only she could give. It felt so good that Amber got jealous and asked if there could be some for her too! Then the 3 of us got tied in a refreshing embrace... And we were at that when Tsunami entered the room and had to shatter the environment with his comment.
"You have no idea how ridiculous you all look."

"Who called you in, Tsu?," Amber complained. "We were doing just fine."
"I never knew I needed an invitation. Really, what are you girls doing?"
"You wouldn't understand it," Amber said.
"Try me."
Then something I couldn't have foreseen happened. Amber left my side to pick Tsunami up, and gave him a tight hug while holding him up in the air!
"That's not the way I like my friends to show their affection," Tsunami said. "Argh! You're pressing too tight! Put me down. Put me down unless you want a Water Gun on your face!"
"Calm down, it was just a hug!," Amber said, leaving the Vaporeon on the floor. "I'm sorry I pressed too hard. I didn't mean to."
"It's ok, I can take a lot more than that. It was just... bizarre."
"It shouldn't be. We're good friends. We've known each other for years. Anyway, if you don't like it, I won't do it again."
"You can pat me once in a while if you want, or someone without your sharp claws can scratch my back. But I prefer not to be crushed against anyone else's body, please. Especially not in the air. I like to have my paws on something I can feel."
"As you wish."
"And I like to move freely too."
"Ok, I understood! I'm not doing it again."
"Fine. So, Gabi, when are you planning to call the other trainers?"
"Right after breakfast, which comes right after I've brushed my teeth, which comes right after now," was my response as I headed forward to complete my morning tasks.

The phone calls and letters for the people I hadn't been able to reach through the phone took longer than I'd expected, but in the end I managed to get it all done. Then I began to pack for the journey. Most of my pokemon helped with that task, while one was out of sight. Can you guess who? Well, actually most of them got out on their own once in a while, but Ventura was the only one who disappeared when I least expected it.
"She'll be back before we leave," Lagi assured. But she couldn't hide the fact that she didn't know where Ventura was either.
It was already late afternoon when the unpredictable Venomoth showed up again. When we all asked her where she'd been, she gave us a puzzling reply.
"I was doing something necessary, which would have been a lot easier if humans could understand simple pokemon speech, or at least make sense out of my telepathic messages."
"What did you do?," I asked her again.
"What do you think I did? I talked to the police, that's what I did. I'm surprised you didn't think about it yourself. No offense, but sometimes humans just don't make any sense."
"Offense taken. Excuse me if I don't think of the police right away; where I come from, they're not much more reliable than most criminals. Nevertheless, if you wanted to talk to the police, you could have told me and I'd have gone there myself. No offense, but sometimes you just don't make any sense."
"And then you say you don't understand our ways?," Tsunami questioned. "We have to watch out or else you and Ventura will leave the Terrible Trio behind!"
"It's not the same..." I began, but I didn't know how to finish the sentence. And I didn't get the time to think for a proper ending, as Hero spoke first.
"Was Officer Jenny there?"
"She wasn't, but I strongly recommended they sent her and Tracker to assist us, so you may get lucky," Ventura replied. "If they pay any attention to a Venomoth's suggestions, that is. They kept wondering whether I had a trainer, if they were supposed to call an Adoption Center, and why I was there even if all my images were clear about all those aspects. It was frustrating! I wonder what they have inside their heads."
"Well, not everyone is used to having conversations with pokemon," I defended them. "And no one's used to having them with you, so give them some credit. They understood you in the end, didn't they?"
"I think they did," she told me, ignoring my sarcastic remark.
"Then I guess it's time to go now," I concluded. "Any preferred route or means of transport?"
"I can take you there," Pidgeot offer. "I might have to make a stop if the journey's too long, but I'll do my best to get there fast."
"I can always count on you for doing your best," I told him, caressing his left wing and neck. "Thanks. I'll take your offer, and we can stop and take a boat or something whenever you get tired."
"Or I can serve as transport for a while," Lagi offered.
I smiled. I was really glad that all my team was willing to help.
"What would I do without you all?," I wondered. "Don't answer, I don't even want to think of that. We're a weird bunch, but I couldn't wish for a better team, and I hope we stick together for as long as we can."

I can't talk much about the journey, because I really wasn't paying much attention to it. I had too many things on my mind. We tried to follow the most direct route we could, but it was already quite late when we took off, so we had to take a detour through Eataine, stopping in Selenia for the night (I was glad that there was at least one city in Eataine whose people were friendly towards us). From there, we took the straight path, flying over a small part of Eastern Eataine, Sapphery and Yvresse. We had lunch as soon as we reached Yvresse, and then continued flying until we reached the outer shore, and finally the Shifting Isles.
We made a final stop on the east of the largest island (which had to have a name and I made a mental note to find it out when I had the time) to set a camp that would serve as our base of operations. There, we received some of the newer trainers and responded to their questions. I was also lucky enough to find Amy, and she helped me set things in motion before heading to the depths of Dark Island herself. Once everyone had left, I reckoned it was time for me and my team to go too.

We hovered over the sea as quietly as we could. Team Rocket already knew me, so I couldn't expect to rely on the surprise factor much, unless we went unnoticed for long enough to reach their base. The biggest pokemon in my team went inside their pokeballs not to call the attention of any possible eavesdroppers. It felt strange not to have them standing by my side, but I knew they were with me and they would come out when the time came. I went into the forest with only Hero, Tsunami, Caledor, Ventura and Iael next to me. Most trainers had headed the same way, so with any luck most rockets in the area would have been taken care of and retreated to their base by then.
The darkness and sickness of the environment reminded me of our incursion to Nagarythe, something I really didn't want to think about. Well, at least we weren't going against the Dark Cloak next time; not even the Black Battalion. Just the remainders of a Team Rocket that forced itself to linger, but apparently didn't have the strength to stand for themselves anymore. I hoped I was right; if it was a setup, we'd be in serious trouble.
Ventura kept on searching for the TR base, and finally her radar sense picked up the presence of a building. We moved towards it, carefully. We had been lucky so far. No men nor pokemon had come to block our way. But we couldn't expect our luck to last forever, could we?

"What's that noise?," Hero asked as soon as the building became visible.
I pushed my ears to catch any sounds coming from inside, but I could only hear a fait sound which meant nothing to me except that the place wasn't empty. Of course, if I'd been able to hear something from outside, it had to be really noisy inside.
"It seems someone got there before us," Lagi said, coming out. "More than one, I think. They're causing a huge commotion inside."
"Wow, I really wasn't expecting this!," I exclaimed. "Could we be any luckier?"
"We could, if we didn't have to face Team Rocket at all," she replied.
Good point.
"Are we going in?," Ventura asked. "It would be relieving to find something like a central computer and rip it to pieces."
"I didn't know that side of you," I commented.
"I'm just fed up with these people. They should have learnt to quit their dirty business years ago. I mean, how much have they won and how much have they lost? Even if they don't have any feelings, which many of them don't seem to have, the numbers are against them."
"Well, some of their business must be going better than we know," Hero said. "They get all those members and machinery and weapons and stuff... They must come from somewhere."
"I wouldn't be surprised if they were involved in every illegal activity known to the world," I said. "I guess that's why they endure so much. Beat them on one front, they still have the others."
"Let's just make sure they don't have this one anymore," Caledor suggested. "They may be tough, but we're tougher. We don't have half the stuff they have, and still we always come out on top. That must be worth something."
"It is," I said, smiling at my Espeon friend.
He was right, we didn't have to stop every criminal activity in the world tonight. We only had to shut down one base, and that would stop them from laying their hands on Ulthuan for a while. The 'impossible' is achieved one step at a time.
"Alright, we're going in," I decided.

There were no guards on the door. That had never happened before; either it was a complete chaos inside or it was the worst setup I'd ever seen. But it was too obvious for a setup. If they wanted to make a trap, they'd try to make it look real. The door was closed, naturally, but Ventura could easily teleport us inside, her radar sense preventing her from landing us into anything solid.
Once in, the chaos theory was proved (no, not the theory that refers to calculation errors spreading unpredictably in the presence of unstable functions, just the one that stated it was a mess inside the TR base). I could hear people running along the corridors and shouting.
"Where's the central computer?," I asked Ventura.
"I don't know, there are many rooms and offices, and I'm sure most of them have computers. There's too much noise to get anything clear."
"Which one's the most protected?," asked Hero.
"In the entire building? I don't know."
"Ok, let's just go anywhere and break something, then," the Ninetales suggested.
"Hold on, let's think carefully," I said. "All the TR buildings we've been to had the most important things on either the highest floor or the lowest basement, and placed exactly in the center of that floor. I don't think they'd suddenly change their style."
"Good point," Tsunami agreed. "I didn't see any upper floors, so we should search for a basement."
"I can't sense anything underground!," Ventura complained.
"You mean there's only one floor?," Iael asked.
"No, I mean it can't be probed. There must be lead or something like that. Something's blocking me."
"No easy way down," I sighed. "Ok, let's start searching. Maybe we should go in separate groups."
"Sounds ok. We're 11. We can make 4 groups of 2 and 1 group of 3," Ventura said.
"I think we'd better go together," Iael argued. "We don't know what we can find, but Team Rocket has been kidnapping pokemon before. It wouldn't be safe to go in such small groups."
"He's right," Amber said, coming out of her pokeball. "We're stronger together."
With that, everyone else who was still in their pokeballs came out, except for Water Angel who would stay in hers during this mission, unless we found a large pool in the building, which was unlikely.
We started moving, but it didn't take a long time before one of the grunts found us.
"What?! Another intruder?!," the guy roared.
I'd never seen him before, and apparently, he didn't know me either. But taking a look at my pokemon was enough for him to run away, possibly looking for reinforcements.
"I'll follow him," Hero decided.
He launched himself forward without giving us the time to discuss ideas, as usual. But TR wouldn't give us that chance either, so he'd probably done the best thing he could do this time. The rest of us followed him, trying not to lose track of him (he ran really fast!), and we caught up with him and the grunt in front of a metallic door with a card lock next to it.

"Freeze!," a female voice shouted behind me.
I turned round and saw the voice belonged to a blonde woman, who looked a few years older than me. She was wearing the standard black Rocket outfit.
"Horace, what are you doing?!," the woman scolded the male grunt. "Giving the Dragon Tamers a guided tour?"
"I was looking for my pokeballs," the guy said with a pathetic look on his face. "I left them at the lab."
I reckoned I'd just come across the most disorganized section of Team Rocket.
"Get lost!," the woman yelled, gesturing with her right hand.
Horace understood the sign and ran away.
"You're mine now," the woman said, giving me a menacing look. "You have some nice pokemon with you. They'll make a good addition to our ranks. I'll take one for myself... Maybe the Charizard or the Dragonite."
All my pokemon took fighting positions. I could feel the air heating up around them, and it wasn't just Amber's tail flame growing higher.
"Oh, wait. It's that Charizard!," she exclaimed, taking a closer look at Amber. "I guess I'll just put her out of her misery and take the Dragonite instead. I'll be the envy of the 3 teams."
So much for remaining unknown. But this was starting to get really weird. How could she know enough about Amber to distinguish her from other Charizards? And at the same time, she didn't seem to know much my other pokemon; she hadn't even directed her look at Pidgeot, who had been captured by Team Rocket before. I smelt something disgusting, but nothing made much sense.
"I don't know what she thinks she knows about me, but I'm ready to prove her wrong," Amber said. She turned to me and I nodded in agreement.
"Oh, so the sweetie wants to fight," the woman reacted to our looks. "Let's show her what real pain is."

As soon as she said this, a red beam of light came out of a pokeball on her belt. The light soon took the form of 4 legs, a trunk, a tail and a head with a short muzzle and pointy ears. The pokemon began to growl even before becoming completely solid. It was a Mightyena. I'd never been so close to one.
"Number One, attack!," the Rocket called out.
A lousy name, but what else could I expect from a Team Rocket member? I was surprised she even called her pokemon something other than Mightyena. But that also raised a question: if this was number one, where there other numbers too?

Level 45 Charizard vs. Level 50 Mightyena

Number One looked strong, but Amber was faster. When the Mightyena jumped at her, she released a powerful Flamethrower that hit its target straight on. Still, Number One's attack also connected; passing through the flames, the Mightyena aimed straight at Amber's neck, sinking sharp fangs into it viciously. It was worse than a Bite... It was Crunch!
"Amber, are you alright?," I asked, concerned.
But Amber seemed to be fine: she took the Mightyena in her hands and lifted it in the air, quickly hurling her opponent against the nearest wall.
"They always forget..." Amber said, shaking her neck to make the pain go away. "The fact that I don't like violence doesn't mean I'm not strong."
Well, she had just given the Rocket pokemon a sample of her Strength, so she'd proven her point before putting it in words.
The Mightyena was now furious, its red eyes glowing with rage. It ran back to the place where Amber was standing and sank its teeth on her stomach, only this time a dark fluid started flowing out of them. Before Amber could realize what was going on, it was already too late. Even when Number One was unable to endure her following Flamethrower, the pain that came to her as she released her flames proved that the hardest part of the battle was only starting for her.[i]

Amber grew to level 47, but became poisoned!

<Gabi's POV>

I ran to Amber's side and asked her to hold on. I wanted to help her, but there was nothing I could do for her until we got out of the TR base. Even Water Angel got out of her pokeball during the commotion, to offer encouraging words. Then she tried to comfort the others too.
"Her will is hard as steel," she said. "She can overcome this. The answer's inside herself."
"Even steel pokemon can't do anything to fight poison if it reaches their blood," Pidgeot contradicted her for the first time I knew about.
"How touching!," the rocket woman mocked us. "Baby Charizard gets hurt and all the twisted family runs over to lick her wounds. Spare me this sight, it's disgusting."
I could have done it. I could have spared her that sight. I still had the amulet Ryan had given me. It hurt me to even think about it... about him. But I would use it if I had no other chance. I doubted she knew about it, so she wouldn't stop me if I reached for it. I could stun her, recall Amber and Water Angel and run away. It was simple. Then... why couldn't I get myself to do it?

<Caledor's POV>

I could tell something was wrong, aside from Amber's condition. But I didn't know what it was. I hated when that happened. One would have thought an Espeon's psychic abilities would at least be strong enough to have some use other than sending psychic blasts. I tried to focus, but all I got was noise. I knew I should have trained harder during peace time. But back then, playing with my friends had been so much more tempting!
Then I felt it. It was evil and painful... and it was sinking into my right back leg like sharp teeth. No... they were teeth! I looked back and saw another Mightyena biting me.
"Oh, there you are, #2. I was waiting for you," the Rocket grunt said. Then she said something about getting rid of the rest of us. I couldn't get it quite clearly because #2 was biting my leg and it really hurt! I couldn't even turn around for fear of those teeth sinking deeper into me. I know, not an example of how a pokemon should act in a battle, but things look different when a Mightyena's teeth are cutting your flesh.
Sylvan, always helpful, hit my attacker with what I soon found out was a Fury Cutter. It was a weak attack, but at least it did the job of getting #2 away from me.
"Why don't you mess with someone you don't have both type and level advantages on?," Sylvan confronted him. "I don't think I've seen a pokemon as coward as you in my whole life."
"I'm not a coward, I'm just practical," #2 said. "I go for the easiest target first. But I'll gladly mess with you if that's what you want."
The way he said that... it sounded disgusting.

Level 46 Espeon & Venusaur vs. Level 50 Mightyena

[i]#2 did something to Sylvan, but I couldn't tell what it was. They were staring at each other and then some sort of energy surrounded her. She didn't look hurt, though. I was intrigued. But I wouldn't wait to see the result of whatever he had done. #2 was dangerous, I knew it first hand (or first leg). We needed to bring him down.
I didn't have much time to think of what to do, but it was enough to rule out Sunny Day. We were in an enclosed building and the night couldn't have been darker. Rain Dance wouldn't help much either. Psychic attacks were out of the question. So I went for something that just had to work: Thunderbolt. My lightning bolt hit the Mightyena, but he didn't look too battered from it. He turned round to look at me and cackled.
"So you still want to fight!," he exclaimed in a sickly playful tone. "2 against one? Now who's the coward? Can't fight your own battles, but think the 2 of you together might stand a chance against me?... Sorry to disappoint you."
He turned around completely to face me and opened his mouth, ready for a Crunch. Sylvan's Razor Leaves couldn't have had a better timing. Though it wouldn't have hurt if they had arrived earlier.
"What took you so long?," I asked her.
"I tried to use Fury Cutter again, but I couldn't," she answered.
#2 turned around again and sank his teeth into Sylvan's flesh instead of mine. Luckily for her, she wasn't a Psychic type.
"Let's try that again," I suggested, charging up a second Thunderbolt.
"No," Gabi stopped me.
I looked at her, waiting for an explanation.
"Oh, sorry, Caledor. You go ahead," she told me. "But Sylvan must do something different."
"Alright," I said, finally releasing my charge.
At the same time, Sylvan blasted #2 with spheres of water, which helped electricity flow all across his body. That, finally, was enough to put the scum out of combat.


Sylvan and I both grew to level 47!

"You owe me an explanation," I told Gabi.
"As soon as we get out of here," she replied.
"Oh, you want to run away so soon?," the grunt said.
Strangely, she didn't seem to care at all that her 2 pokemon had fainted. I wouldn't have expected her to be concerned about them, but she should at least notice she wasn't in the best position now. Unless she was hiding something.
"What are you hiding?," Gabi asked. Had she read my mind or what?
"Oh, you're dying to know, aren't you?," the Rocket laughed. "Is that why you didn't use that little pendant of yours?"
"If this is a nightmare, wake me up!," I cried out. Unfortunately, Lagi did quite the opposite.
"It's real," my friend revealed. "She knows a lot about us. That's why she's so confident. She's using the power her knowledge gives her."
"But how does she know all that?"
"You're not a grunt, are you?," Gabi questioned.
"Oh, so you're not as stupid as I thought! The clothes didn't fool you."
"Who are you?"
"You can call me Gia. Of course it's not my real name, but it's the name you'll hear in your nightmares."
"I have better things to dream about than you."
"Oh, sure. But doesn't it eat you inside? We know so much about you and you'll never find out why! Not until it's too late. You may even win this battle, but soon the Dragon Tamers will be finished and there will be nothing you can do about it. Who knows? We may even leave you alive to mourn."

At that moment, a male grunt (or at least a guy dressed as one) ran over to Gia and said something into her ear. She frowned, but then shrugged it off.
"We don't need that formula anyway," she told him. "We'll soon have access to the originals."
Then she seemed to notice that we were listening, and looked at us. More particularly, at me!
"Sorry to leave you like this, but we need to flee," Gia said. "Bye bye, Lady Vulpix. Nice to meet you. I'll take yur Dragonite next time. And maybe your Espeon. He couldn't hold himself against #2 on his own, but he's an interesting specimen. If only his DNA wouldn't destroy itself upon contact with another!"

The guy took out a pokeball, and an Alakazam came out of it. He caught his trainer and Gia in his arms, but before he could teleport away, a beam struck Gia. It came from Gabi's amulet. I tried to use a Fire Spin to trap the Alakazam, but as soon as he saw the red light around me, he blinked away with the 2 rockets. Fainting Gia hadn't helped after all.
"We need to go," Ventura said. "If they're evacuating, something bad will happen here. This place could explode."
"I don't think so," Gabi argued. "I think they're leaving because there's nothing left for them to do here."
"And because the police are coming," Lagi added.
They were right. It didn't take a minute before the place was filled with Shifting Isles police officers, and even some from a place called Crossroads. There were no signs of the Caledonian police, but it was natural. This wasn't their jurisdiction after all. The TR members who didn't escape were arrested, and then the police began to scout the area for Team Aqua and Team Magma members. They caught some, but only low level grunts of all teams.
After talking to the police, we went back to the camp and got some medicine for Amber. It was late, so we stayed there for the night before going back home. The environment wasn't a happy one. We had succeeded to destroy that base, but had we really won anything? Things weren't looking to bright for us. TR members were famous for their lies, but Gia's words hadn't looked like empty threats.

"Once we get back to Sector Alpha, we'll talk to Tracker," Gabi broke an hour of silence. "You were right, Caledor. This is a nightmare."
"Why couldn't they be just a little group of renegades?," Hero complained. "It wouldn't hurt to get the job done completely."
"We will, but it will take time," Gabi assured. "And we'll have to be very careful."
"What do you know that we don't?," Tsunami inquired.
"Nothing certain, but Gia may have just spoken too much while trying to scare us with her display of knowledge. I wish this weren't true, but I think I know where she got the information from."
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<Caledor's POV>

So... Gabi didn't tell me why she'd told Sylvan to switch to a different move during the battle against #2, but after doing some research I found out about the effects of Torment. Too bad I couldn't torment Gabi for not telling me about it when she said she would. But she had too many things on her mind and it wasn't my style anyway. Besides, I didn't know that move. Which got me thinking... I could be learning a set of new moves soon. Moves of a type I wasn't too comfortable with. I had to get ready for them, ready to handle them with no fear and with precision when they came. And, as far as I knew, there was only 1 pokemon who could help me with that: Pidgeot.
Surprisingly, Pidgeot's reaction was calm and agreeable when I asked for his help. I don't really know what kind of reaction I expected from him, but his saying yes with such calm was a surprise for me. I thought that maybe I should talk to him more often. So, we trained together for a while. During that time there was a flying race at the Eevee House and Pidgeot won his category, so Gabi rewarded him with a set of TMs that would make any bird jealous (Rest, Snore and Aeroblast!) After that, I started helping him gain control of those moves while he helped me get a better hold on mine. I was mostly concerned about my psychic abilities. I could use them well in battle, but I could hardly use them for anything else. I was nowhere close to the standard for an Espeon (at least by the things I'd heard most Espeons could do). Then Pidgeot said something that stroke me.
"Standards are overrated. I don't know what most Espeons can do, but you can do things that none of them can. Don't try to be like the rest. You'll get nothing but disappointment from that. Be yourself, and be the best at it. That's how you'll find your true power. And I'm not talking about just battle moves."
When I looked at him startled, he told me that was a valuable lesson he'd taken years to learn. Trusting who we were could be harder than I thought. Of course, I'd never put too much thought into it. Or at least, I tried not to. When my thoughts went too deep, I'd get scared and snap out of it immediately. But when Pidgeot asked me what I was afraid of, there was no escape. I had to face my fears, give them a name and vanquish them. How else could I expect to ever learn to harness Dark type attacks? After a few minutes of beating around the bush and being constantly put back on course by my teammate, I began to formulate an answer.
"I think I feel I'm not myself when I think about deep and scary stuff," I said. "And when I do it more and more often... It's like I'm turning into something dark and bitter and just the opposite of what I am and what I want to be."
"And don't you think the reason why those thoughts are coming to you more often is because you refuse to face them?," Pidgeot questioned me. "They won't leave you by looking away from them. They're things you are worried about, and you need to sort them out. You're not turning into anything. Everyone has worries every now and then. Considering the world we live on, it's a wonder you haven't had them all your life! It may be hard, but we need to face our problems and sort them out before they rip us apart. Ask for help, if you need it. Everyone here will be glad to help you, and we won't think any less of you if you're only cheerful 99% of the time instead of 100%. Even more, that 99% will be better, because it will be more sincere."
"You're talking through personal experience, aren't you?"
"You know I've had more demons to vanquish than I can count. Luckily, I've had plenty of help, and the best beings to rely on. With an exception every now and then, but I knew even Tsunami was good inside. He had issues of his own which, hopefully, he has sorted out by now for the good of us all."
"I didn't know you thought that way about Tsunami. He's always been good to me. Of course we have our regular word fights, pillow fights and whatever kind of fights we manage to come up with, but those are the rules of the game."
"I know. But that's not my kind of games. And you must forgive me for being oversensitive after the constant torture I received from Team Rocket."
"Sorry, I didn't mean to... What do I know? I made a big fuss about being raised in a lab when you had it infinitely worse! I can be more tactless than Hero. Zap me if you must."
"That's not how I sort things out. That's your style. Poor Tsunami may become the first electric-proof Vaporeon after all the shocks he got from you."
"Well, it helped him at the Dragon Games, didn't it? And I don't zap him that often, most were just empty threats. Besides, he knows he can throw a Shadow Ball at me if I do that."
"How many times has he hit you with one?"
I thought for a moment.
"None that I remember," I finally admitted.
"See? Tsunami's heart is much better than his mouth."
"Speaking of Tsunami, where is he now? And where's Hero?"
"They went to the police station to look for Tracker and talk about the Dragon's Guild. They would have taken you with them, but you hadn't waken up yet, and they knew we had a practice session scheduled for today."
"Aargh! Say what you want, but I must learn to get up early like other Espeons! I'll bite their tails when they get back, it could be a good practice for when I learn Bite."
"Be careful not to pull Hero's tails. Not all legends are true, but that one just might be."
"Eternal curse? Nah, I'd rather stay as fast as I am. Though does it still work if the Ninetales in question only has 7 tails?"
"I don't recall the legend saying anything about how many tails there had to be. Now, seriously, if you want to wake up early, I can help you with that. Tell me what time you want to get up, and I'll wake you."
"Thanks. Wake me up whenever something interesting is going on. I mean something I wouldn't like to miss, like Hero and Tsunami going out or anyone bringing good news."
"Ok, it's a deal."

After that, everything went on smoothly... until my friends returned. I didn't bite their tails like I said I would, but I did tell them to take me with them next time they went out. Especially if it was for something important. How could I react when Tsunami told me the thought I didn't like important stuff? I didn't do much, really. I just said that the electric willow would take revenge on him. Yes, that phrase was stupid, but it was sort of sticky. And it was funny to imagine a tree taking revenge on Tsunami (not a grass pokemon, just a tree). But I got him to apologize because he realized I did want to know about the Guild-related stuff. So he and Hero told me that Gabi had a theory about a spy having infiltrated the Dragon's Guild, and that Tracker was going to do some research her own way.
It didn't take a long time before our Ninetales ally contacted us saying she'd heard Guild members talking about "the gates". She didn't know what gates they were referring to nor what was special about them, but by the tone of their voices, she thought those gates had to be important. She told us she would continue investigating, and said she'd appreciate any information we could give her. I was amused at the fact that, with all the policemen in Caledor, it was a Ninetales who was conducting the main investigations.
As for Gabi, she kept up to date with Tracker's findings, but she was working on an investigation of her own. He paid many visits to the Dragon's Guild, mostly to talk about the report she had to get done by December 1st. She argued with some people until she got them to give her 4 Dittos to watch and an open space for them to... Well, to do whatever they wanted to do, really. I don't recall all her arguments, but she made lots of mentions to her past works and how all good guild reports were based on direct experience with the pokemon or something like that. I didn't quite get what her plan was, especially when she left the Dittos alone, not to check on them again for a month. She wouldn't tell anyone what she was thinking because she wasn't sure if any of her plans would work. I didn't like that, I wouldn't make fun of her or accuse her with the Guild if she was wrong. But I accepted to wait for a while before pressing her for an answer.

A month later, we checked on the Dittos, and they were... a month older. Of course, I didn't think Gabi would put that in her report. She started contemplating the possibility of asking for other kinds of pokemon for the Dittos to interact with, but she knew as well as we all did that the Guild wouldn't spend so many resources on her just to prove a theory that, first, could be wrong and, second, they didn't even know what it was. What she could do was take some of the pokemon at the Adoption Center for a walk on the park. I had no clue what that was all for, but the pokemon had fun, and the Dittos started playing with them and transforming into them.
Iael acted like some kind of tour guide for the AC pokemon, and he looked quite happy when they started to follow him. Then one of the Dittos copied his shape, and another of them copied a Vulpix from the Adoption Center and the two started role-playing together. It was funny... I didn't know the Vulpix much, but the Stantler didn't act like Iael at all. Not to mention they both got the genders wrong. They turned into a female Stantler and a male Vulpix. This caused Gabi to write down some staff, and me to run quickly to her side to see what she was writing. Too bad that didn't give me any information I didn't already have, she'd just written down "opposite genders", and a tick next to the words.
"Will you PLEASE tell me what you're doing?," I asked her. "I'm your friend, you don't have to keep secrets from me. I promise I won't tell anyone. I don't even talk with the people who told you to write this report."
"Ok, I'll tell you," Gabi finally accepted. "I'm trying to find out how Dittos are born. We know they can breed with nearly any pokemon, but no one has ever seen Dittos breed with each other, so a Ditto's child can't be a Ditto, as far as scientific research states. But that's impossible, because Dittos have to be born somehow. I'm trying to figure out how."
"If that's all, why don't we ask them?"
"The Guild wouldn't accept a report based on the words of a Ditto. Some don't even believe a human can communicate with a pokemon even though reality's hitting them on the face. And there's also the chance that the Ditto could lie. So I think we should keep coming and see what happens. So far, I've already proven a small theory I'd had for years. It doesn't tell how Dittos are born, but it does banish some old beliefs about them."
"What beliefs?"
"Some people thought Dittos copied the exact genetic code of the pokemon they transformed into. I knew this wasn't true because a transformed Ditto doesn't have the same endurance in battle as its opponent, and especially because Dittos can breed with the pokemon they transform into. If they copied them completely, they would become the same gender and be unable to breed. So they copy just a part of it. I've also noticed that some Dittos transform only into one specific gender, like the blue Ditto Amy used to have. And I've seen many genderless pokemon who identify with one gender and not the other. There's a lot we don't know about those pokemon. I don't know if I'll find out much, and if I'll get something worthy of a Dragon's Guild report, but it's worth investigating, don't you think?"
"I guess. I'd never thought of all those questions."
"I wonder how Dittos can breed with other 'genderless' pokemon, who can't breed with others of their own species. I have little hope of finding that one out."
"No idea. So, what is it you want to do? Keep coming and see if the 4 Dittos suddenly turn into 5?"
"Basically."
"And if that happens, how can you the 5th Ditto didn't just come from elsewhere?"
"I'm still thinking about that. Well, if the Dittos want to cooperate, we could take samples of their DNA and send them for analysis. If they don't... I guess I'll have to write a report full of questions and no answers. That can still help, though. It can provide a basis for other researchers to work on."
"Sounds ok. Whatever you do, just don't turn into one of the Guild's secret mad scientists."
"Do you see me turning into one?"
"Not really. You have ethics. Just trying to make sure you never get tempted. You're not just my trainer, you're my friend and I wouldn't like to lose you."
"You never will, Caledor," she said, hugging me. "I'll stay on the sane side of the world and think of you if anyone ever asks me to do something that's against my principles."
"I wouldn't mind your thinking of me the rest of the time too," I grinned.
"Of course! You'd never let me forget about you. You won't stop drawing attention to yourself."
"Well... No, I won't. It's fun."
"Why don't you go and play with the others?"
"And risk a Ditto transforming into me? Just imagine the chaos that would cause!"
"If that happens, you can put the Ditto back on its place. Tsunami and Hero can help you if things get out of control, but these Dittos don't look like the kind that would go insane from getting some extra power."
"True. Hey, what's wrong with me?! Saying no to fun and games for caution? What was I thinking?! Gabi, if you ever see me mature to much, stop me, ok?"
"It's a deal," Gabi laugh.
"Alright. Everyone... ready or not, there I go!"
I borrowed Gabi's Beach Ball as I left. Of course it wouldn't have an effect on me, but it was fun to play with magical stuff. Nothing important happened that day, but we all had fun. The Dittos turned out to be quite nice. I didn't know if Gabi would get anything useful for her report, but at least we'd all have a good time.

<Hero's POV>

Caledor had lots of fun when we took the AC pokemon to visit the Dittos. I thought there were too many pokemon going wild to handle. The Vulpix wouldn't stop looking at me and, inevitably, ended up asking about my tails. Then some of the pokemon went out of control and started playing roughly, and the Slakoth and Magikarp started crying. I got in the middle to stop the fight and got kicked by the Machop before he could even realize I was there. The ramble didn't stop until I roared and everybody froze. Well, everybody except my teammates and the ones who were playing ball and were too concentrated to notice what was going on. But well, everything was fine after that.
Then things went smoothly for a while. I got to see Tracker so often that it felt as if we were living together again. Only that now she was much more concerned about her work than who would win the next seeking contest. She had changed a lot since our days at the forest. Or maybe I hadn't really got to know her back then, I wouldn't be surprised if that was the case. She said I had changed a lot too, and for the better. Considering she was comparing the present to the time when I looked like a normal Vulpix, only fairly faster than most, I was glad she thought of me that way. The look of enlightening on her face when I told her the whole thing of the gates reminded me of Griffon Gate -where I'd won the Griffon Games and brought Caledor to the team- was priceless! And when she said I really deserved the name she'd given me... I didn't know what to think. But it felt good... Really good.
I thought that investigation would go on for a long time without interruptions, but then something came up that drove our attention away from that. A crisis. Nothing related to Team Rocket, nor the Dragon's Guild. Just something to remind us that the evil in the world doesn't come from only one place, and never will. And that a crisis won't wait until everything is in order, and all the other things you can say on a moment like that one and that, after all, are quite useless to think about. What happened is that some evil creature somehow got control over the natural reserve of Templa Taure and all the pokemon who lived in there. That reminded me of the times we had to fight Mewtwo and his army of mind slaves. And I wasn't the only one who made that association; Iael was so mad you could almost see steam coming out of him. The situation hit the news and we all agreed that we had to do something about it.
Gabi did her best to collect as much information as possible about Templa Taure and what was going on there. Some of it was scary, especially the rumors about what had happened to the last person who had gone there. Ironically, this time the Dragon's Guild didn't send us any letters trying to dissuade us from going there. Whether we had proven our strength to them, they thought we weren't crazy enough to attempt an assault on Templa Taure, or they just didn't care because they had no interests involved, was anyone's guess. At least that gave us more freedom to act; it was true that we'd disobeyed the Guild's indications before and we were currently running an investigation on them, but we didn't want them as our enemies, especially since we were (or at least Gabi was) a part of it, and they provided a great part of the funding for the Dragon Tamers.
After gathering enough information, we decided it would be best to go in as large a group as possible. So, just like in the old times, Gabi called all the Dragon Tamers and gave each of them all the information she had. Everyone seemed more confident after coming out of Dark Island safe and sound, even though I had a feeling we'd missed most of what really was transpiring there.

Before we knew, it was time to go. Pidgeot took us flying to the forest, which turned out to be closer than I'd expected. I'd got used to long journeys, so it was hard to believe that this time the action was so close to our home. Even more, it was hard to believe a legendary forest like Templa Taure was practically under your noses. But hadn't the Dragon's Guild and, consequently, the Dragon Tamers settled in Caledor because of all the legends around this kingdom? I'd heard Scott talk about the Dragons of the past to the point of boredom; they used to live in Caledor, so it made sense that we'd eventually see one of the places where those mighty dragons used to nest. With all that background, I expected to see something magnificent. The view that greeted me when I arrived, however, was close to the rotten forest we had seen in Nagarythe, minus the parasites.
Lagi was furious when she saw the blackened and dying trees. She promised to do everything in her power to stop this abuse on nature and... I don't quite remember everything she said, it was quite a long speech, but the essence was that she was really mad. Sylvan and Amber looked at the forest with sadness, and I marched ahead, ready to do my part. If the controlled pokemon were as powerful as we'd heard, it was clear that I would be needed. As far as I knew, what we had to do was find pokemon with pendants and break the stones they were wearing. A speed-based approach would be the best strategy, and I was the best for that.

We walked for hours. I wished Tracker had been with us, she would have known the exact place where we would find the Dragon pokemon before we even started looking. We had Ventura and her radar sense, but there were too many solid objects in the forest for her to get a clear picture. Caledor did his best to detect the thoughts of other pokemon, I can testify he put all his concentration into it. But it didn't work. And Lagi was spooked out or something. I was afraid that whatever was affecting the Dragons might be getting to her too; after all she was not only a Dragon pokemon, but also the most sensitive being I'd ever known. A dangerous combination at that moment. The good thing was she was strong. She'd been dealing with the feelings of others all her life, so she was quite good at controlling herself. But she wept as she walked.
It was already getting dark when Ventura detected something moving. I asked her if it was a pokemon. Why did I open my mouth? The next second, I was feeling something round and heavy walking to me on 4 legs that seemed to hardly hold it... and a headache. I was having the headache, not that thing; as far as I could tell, it didn't even have a head.
"Is it possible for a pokemon to walk if it has no head?," I asked anyone who would answer.
"I once heard a nasty story about a Spearow," Gabi said. "I'd rather not tell it, it's horrible. But I don't think that's what you were talking about. What is it?"
"I don't know. What's that thing that's coming?"
"I think it's a Shelgon," Ventura said. "And it does have a head, it's just hidden inside the shell."
"Oh. That explains it. Hmm... What can Shelgons do? I'm sorry, but I've never seen one before."
"Neither have I," Gabi told me. "But I've read about them. They're Dragon pokemon. The evolved form of Bagon, before they evolve into Salamence. They're not originally from here, unless they were so well hidden that no one could find them before. I heard their weight makes them slow, and their shell protects them from physical attacks. As for what they can do, I guess we'll have to find out."
"Well, I can work with that. Thanks."
"You should learn more about the pokemon you may have to battle," Ventura told me.
"And you should learn more about the pokemon you use that tone with," I stroke back. "I've been battling for longer than you, thank you very much."
"Sorry, but I don't think this is a good time for arguing," Gabi warned us.
The Shelgon had already found us, and was standing in front of us, ready to attack. I crouched and tried to quickly think of the best way to find the pendant and break it. The Shelgon looked strong and heavily armored, but I wasn't afraid of fighting if I had to. It would be just another battle...

Level 66 Ninetales vs. Level 70 Shelgon


I approached the Shelgon with a Quick Attack with the intention of getting close enough to find the pendant, and not getting hurt in the meantime. I wouldn't tell Katnip about this, but I failed. I didn't miss, of course. But it felt as if I'd hit a wall and, to make things worse, I didn't get a visual on the pendant. I jumped back and took a look at my opponent. The legged ball didn't seem phased. I got to think I might be up against a machine instead of a pokemon. But I'd heard this forest had been corrupted and magic, and magic and machines don't mix well, do they? I knew Gabi would have found a counterexample; she always does. But I just didn't think this was the case.
Then the thing charged against me. I could read its moves and picture the way it would hit me with its front side and send me flying. I didn't have the time to stop it, so I focused on bracing myself for the impact and landing in a position from which I'd be ready to attack. What I didn't calculate was how much it would hurt. That thing was like a truck on 4 legs! I told myself that I should have dodged. But at least I made a good landing. I turned around in the air, amazing even myself, and ended up facing the Shelgon's back side, which didn't look any better than the front. I tried to look for the pendant, but I couldn't find it. I wished I had Tracker's eyesight, or at least Gabi's... Or Ventura's radar sense, that would have been great. That way I would have been sure I wasn't missing anything. Not that I had complaints about my sight... It was fine, average, but sometimes you just need a little more than you have. That applies for anything during a crisis.
I took so long trying to find the unfindable that the Shelgon managed to turn around and target me again. I Quick-Attacked out of the way, but the Shelgon got to hit one of my hind legs. By then, I had reached a conclusion: my opponent might not be fast, but it was a powerhouse. I needed to find a way to turn that against him. The answer came to me as fast as the question did. I eyed the Dragon (if it was, indeed, a Dragon) and trapped it in a circle of shadows of which it wouldn't get out... for a short time, at least. I got a bit worried when I saw no reaction. I began to question my own strategy: what if I really was facing a machine or something equally lifeless? In that case, my Confuse Ray would have been a waste of time and energy. You can't confuse something that doesn't have a mind.
Luckily for me, my original plan defeated my last theory. The Shelgon's legs moved all in different directions, and the heavy ball fell straight on the ground. Then the Shelgon began to twist from one side to another, and I reckoned it was the time to do something for myself. I tried a move I hadn't used in battle before: Imprison. I'd had little practice with that move but, if I was right, it would save me from the Shelgon's deadly Headbutts.
My plan seemed to work. The Shelgon kept on shaking, not knowing what was going on, and hitting trees as it tried to get back to reality, or to me. It didn't seem to notice what I had done. The bad news was... I didn't have much to hurt it with. Dragon pokemon were resistant to fire attacks, and this one in particular seemed to have a good protection against physical attacks as well. Scratching all those out, it left me with... nothing. Unless I kept on using tricks. Like...
An idea formed in my mind and I gave it shape. The shape of something so creepy (or should I say crippling) countrymen all over the word were afraid of it. The Shelgon, in its confusion couldn't escape, and was debilitated by my Will-O-Wisp.
"Now that was spooky!," I celebrated, to be met by an awkward silence.
I shut my mouth, since the only one who could understand the joke was too far to hear it. Too far even for her. And why the hell was I thinking about her in a moment like this? Well, it didn't matter. Either way, the Shelgon would now have as much of a hard time attacking me as I would. And if the battle became too long, the burns would do their part to grant me the victory. There was only one thing I was worried about : where on earth could the pendant be?!
I didn't like my opponent. It hadn't said a word since the battle had begun, and so far it hadn't made any signs of feeling any pain, nor anything at all. It was as if it weren't even alive. But it was moving, and I could feel its attacks quite well. When, stumbling, the dragon pokemon manages to scratch my skin with one of its claws, it hurt. I knew those legs had to be very strong to hold such a heavy load on them; now I'd proved it first hand. A little blood was dripping from my left side, but I wouldn't let that stop me. I'd just been given an opportunity and I wouldn't be stupid enough to let it pass. That had been a Dragon type attack. Now if only I knew exactly how the Shelgon had done that...
I spent some time concentrating, trying to remember the details and thinking of how to replicate the attack, only from the other side. Luckily for me, the Shelgon allowed me that time, as its next attempt to hit me failed miserably due to its confusion. When I was ready, I charged my front right paw with a kind of energy I'd never thought of handling before (and which for some reason reminded me of Water Angel) and dug my claws into one of the Shelgon's legs, which I thought would be more vulnerable than its shell. Bingo! I got the Dragon type to lose balance and hit the ground. But there was something strange about my opponent. It had stopped shaking. When it stood back up, it held itself firmly in spite of the wounded leg. It seemed it was no longer confused, and without any reactions to my attacks, there was no way to know how battered it was, nor which one of us would endure the longest. I was forced to ask the question I'd been hoping to answer by myself.
"Ventura, where's the pendant?"
"I can't believe you're asking me!," Ventura said.
"Well, I am. I can't see it. Words, please, I can't afford to get distracted."
"Words take long, but it's your call. I can't sense it either, which means it's hidden behind a strong barrier."
"I was afraid you'd say that," I told her, but before I could say anything else, another sharp claw landed on my scapula. "There's only one thing I can do," I said to myself. "Sorry, whoever you are."
I used another Dragon Claw, but this time I aimed it at the only open spot on the shell, straight to the Shelgon's face. I tried not to get too close to its eyes, and seeked with my paw for the place where the neck should be. To my surprise, at that moment the Shelgon stopped moving, giving me plenty of time to find the stone and pull it out, tearing apart the chain that tied the pendant to the Shelgon (or, rather, the Shelgon to the pendant). When it was liberated, the dragon collapsed. It looked like I'd hit it harder than I'd thought.

I grew to level 68!

"I hope the Shelgon is fine," I said, looking at my fallen opponent. "It wasn't reacting, so I didn't know how hard my blows were on him... or her."
"He'll be fine," Lagi assured. "He's already feeling better; he's in shock, but he'll get over it."
"How can you know that?," I questioned. "Isn't it unconscious?"
"He doesn't hear us, if that's what you're asking, but his feelings are more active than they have been for a while. And he's relieved."
"Wow! Well, that's good, I guess. How can you know its gender?"
"That's hard to explain, but... He feels like a male. How are you doing? You took quite a lot of blows."
"Don't ask me how I'm doing. You probably know it better than me."
"Hero, please. I'm trying to be your friend."
"You are. That doesn't mean I have to like everything about my friends. I'm fine. A bit hurt, especially on the side, but it's nothing like that time when I took a bullet. I'll be ok as long as I don't battle again today. I have no problems walking, so no one has to carry me."
"Carry you?," Gabi laughed. "We wouldn't dare. Anyone who tried to do that would have to endure serious pain."
"Hey, you're making me look bad! Though that's probably true now. I think one of my ribs may be hurt, so if anyone touches it, they're in for trouble."
"What shall we do now?," asked Sylvan.
"We need to keep going!," Iael said. "Save more pokemon, find the one who's after this... We can't leave things as they are."
"But what if we find another Shelgon?," the Venusaur questioned.
"If we do, I'll handle it," Lagi offered. "And the rest of you can still battle too. We're still a solid force, so we should keep going at least a bit longer."
"Why don't we wait for the Shelgon to wake up and ask him what he knows?," Ventura suggested.
"That could be a good idea," Gabi agreed. "We'll be safer if we have a better idea of what we can find, and where to go."
"That could take some time," I pointed out. "But yes, I guess it's the safest plan. I have to admit I'm tired myself, so a stop would be nice. But if I stop moving, I'll feel the pain more, so if you have some medicine or bandages, it would be great."
"Of course, I've brought bandages and a few other things. I'll take care of your wounds. So... Any objections?," Gabi asked. Nobody spoke. "It's decided, then. We'll wait and talk to the Shelgon, and then we'll keep going."

<Lagi's POV>

We waited for a while until the Shelgon woke up. He was confused. I told him that everything was alright, that we were there to help. Then he asked us who we were and Gabi proceeded to introduce each of us and ask for his name.
"Curious, no human had asked me that before," the Shelgon said. "Actually, no human had ever talked to me before. But you don't see many around here. My name is Estel."
"I think I've heard that name before," Gabi commented.
"I haven't," Pidgeot said. "You must have heard it many years ago. Or maybe you heard something similar."
"Anyway, it's a beautiful name," I told him.
"Thanks. Why are you all here? It's dangerous."
"We're trying to free the pokemon from this forest," Gabi told him.
"It's too dangerous," Estel said. "I tried to fight, but they caught me. They put something on me... That thing! Destroy it, before it hurts someone else!"
We all knew he was referring to the pendant. What we didn't know was how to destroy it. The stone looked solid.
"It will break if you crash it against something hard enough," Estel said, guessing our thoughts. "I managed to break one, but they had more. They were too many. They must be even more by now."
"I wouldn't be so sure," Gabi told him. "Many trainers and pokemon like us have come today for the same reason as we have. We've managed to do things that seemed impossible in the past, so we should have hope."
"Funny. Hope is what my name means," Estel said.
"Really? Oh! Now I remember!," Gabi slapped her head as if forgetting something like that were unforgivable.
"What is it?," Iael inquired.
"The name. I read it in a book. Sorry about the change of subject, I just hate forgetting things."
"As long as you don't forget what we're here for," Ventura warned her.
"You know I never would. Estel, could you please tell us what happened here, or anything you know that can help us?"
"All I know is a black dragon came and hid in the temple in the depths of the forest. After that, many pokemon began to act strangely. Nothing like that had ever happened here, so it took me some time to realize that they were being controlled. They wore pendants like that one and went around hurting others and forcing them to wear those pendants too. When they reached me, I fought. You know what happened next. I lost in the end and ended up struggling against something that was inside me. I saw horrible visions, and good ones too, but I couldn't set myself free. My senses slowly faded away and I finally blacked out. Some time later, I was able to see, hear and feel for a few moments, but I didn't know what was going on. I saw a Ninetales with seven tails and I thought it was another illusion. The force was still there, so I fought it. I stopped it from attacking for a while, caused my body to tumble and fall on the ground. But then I lost control again until I woke up and saw you all around me."
"You saw me while we were battling?," Hero asked.
"For a moment. Sorry I didn't realize you were real."
"I thought it was the confusion what caused you to tumble and fall."
"Well, since he was being controlled by the pendant, maybe the confusion caused that control to break for a moment," Gabi theorized.
"Is the black dragon still in the temple?," Ventura asked Estel.
"I don't know. I haven't been around that place since everything started. It was horrible, everything around the temple became dry and colorless, and the sickness spread faster the more pokemon fell under the control of the pendants."
I nodded. I couldn't explain what I was feeling, but the sensation was like hearing the cries of the whole forest. Cries of agony, cries for help. Nothing could bring more anger into me than the defenseless being hurt.
"Can you please show us the way to the temple?," I asked Estel.
"I'll do more than that. Your friend saved me and you're all trying to save my home. The least I can do is help you. I'll go to the temple with you."
"Thanks," Gabi said. "But are you sure you're alright? You've had a tough battle."
"Don't worry, I'm hard to break," Estel said. "In more ways than one. Your friend must know by now. By the way, is he a Ninetales or-"
"I'm a Ninetales," Hero interrupted him. "And a very good one at that. You'd know if you could remember the whole battle."
"Easy, Hero. He wasn't questioning your abilities," Gabi told the Ninetales.
"No, he was just questioning my species. One gets tired of this, you know."
"Sorry, I didn't mean to offend you," Estel apologized.
"It's ok, I should have got used to that by now," Hero admitted. "It's already been 3 years since I evolved."
"Yes, and now with all the juices and stuff, looking different is seen as something good," Tsunami pointed out. "Congratulations, Hero! You're in!"
Hero burst into laughter.
"I still don't see what all that fuss is all about," Caledor said. "I mean, you know how to take advantage of your opponent's confusion in a battle, I won't preach to the preacher. And it's not like having 7 tails has ever caused you any problems, has it? You're the only one who's ever made a fuss about that."
"That's because Scorch and Flame never got to see me. But that's ok, I really don't mind looking different. I'm just tired of going through the same again and again each time I meet someone new. And having others' eyes stuck on my tails, or deliberately looking away from them."
"So, let me get this straight," Ventura tested him. "You're upset when they look at you, and you're upset when they don't?"
"It's not that, it's the intention. Bah, why am I even trying to explain this? Let's drop the subject, shall we?"
Everyone agreed. Nobody wanted to make Hero mad, and come to think of it no one would have liked the consequences if he'd got really mad at them. Good thing self control wasn't one of his issues. Actually, he might be controlling a bit too much. Cutting loose could be good for him, especially with Tracker. It was unsettling to know the two Ninetales had such strong feelings for each other and neither of them dared walk one small step to follow them. The only reason why I hadn't intervened was because that could have made Hero angrier than anything else, and I didn't want to lose a friend.

"We should get going," Gabi said. "It's getting late and it will only become darker."
"Not if I can help it," beamed Caledor, letting a bright golden light emerge from him.
"Make that 'we'," Amber cooperated by making her tail flame shine brighter.
"Alright," Estel said. "Let's go, but first, put that nasty thing on the ground and let me crush it to pieces."
We didn't delay it any longer. I wasn't sure whether Estel's weight was enough to break the pendant, but it turned out it was. Either the stone was more fragile than I thought, or I had underestimated the weight of a Shelgon.
We walked through the thick forest for over an hour. Some began to doubt that we'd find the temple, but nobody questioned Estel's guidance. That was until Ventura assured she had found it, and gave us all the directions and description in her own particular way.

"Ventura, how many times do I have to tell you to warn us before doing that?!," Gabi complained.
"As many as you want. It won't work anyway," joked Caledor.
"Laugh as much as you want, but the temple's right there, so we can either go or wait until we get assaulted by a horde of slave pokemon attracted by Gabi's yelling."
"You must always have the last word, right?," Gabi questioned.
"It's either me or you," Ventura replied.
"Before you start another argument, let me have the last word and let's move on," Tsunami interrupted them.
"Look who's talking about arguing," Gabi remarked.
"It's different. You two take the fun out of it."
"It's never been fun for me," Gabi said.
"Are we going to the temple or what?," Ventura reminded the other two.

It turned out that 'what' was the closest answer. While my friends were arguing, another pokemon found us.
"We've been spotted," I told the others, looking upwards. "Another pokemon with a pendant, and this one seems to be struggling."

Everybody turned in the direction I was looking at, and soon a dragon-like figure shadowed the sky. When it descended and the sun's rays allowed us to get a better look at it, we could all see it was a Charizard. The pendant around the pokemon's neck was also clearly visible. And now that both the Charizard and its possessor were closer, I could feel the strong tension between them. The Charizard was still fighting against the controller. I said this to the others, and Amber immediately decided to step forward and help determine the result of that fight.

Level 47 Charizard vs. Level 50 Charizard

The possessed Charizard slashed Amber as soon as she stepped ahead of the group. Amber instinctively took of as a response and hit her opponent with her wings. The other Charizard closed its eyes tightly and pressed its teeth together, trying to keep its mouth closed, but it still opened and released a turquoise flame that hit straight on Amber's chest. Amber stroke back with a Slash on her opponent's shoulder.
The controlled Charizard shook its wings, but its feet pressed the ground firmly. It was hard to tell who would gain control in the end. Amber stopped to watch the internal struggle.
"Maybe there's something we can do to help, other than battling?," she suggested.
Her opponent's eyes opened widely like windows. I could feel surprise and familiarity behind them. But the spirit saw that as a chance to take over, and released another Dragonbreath. This time, the effect was quite worse: the draconian energy penetrated Amber's muscles, and now she, too, began to have problems controlling her own body.
I felt the spirit make a call, but I didn't understand what it was. Not until Caledor let us know.
"It's requesting another pendant!," he shouted out.
Everybody turned to look at him, and he shrugged in response, too worried about his friend to allow a second thought to what he had just done. A green stone began to materialize in the Charizard's hands.
"No, I won't do that!," the Charizard roared. Although the voice was deep, it confirmed that its owner was a female.
At that moment, something ran through Amber's heart like a lightning bolt. It all happened too fast. Amber bit her opponent's wrist, and the other's hand opened, letting the gem fall. Strong emotions stormed through both Charizards, and I could hardly believe what I was witnessing.
"Cherry?," the older one spoke out, casting the spirit away for long enough to let her true soul resurface.
Amber couldn't speak. Whether the cause was the paralysis or the shock, I couldn't tell: both were equally strong. And there was a good reason to it.
"What's going on?," Hero asked.
I turned towards him and gave him the answer.
"This Charizard is Amber's mother."
Everyone was stunned by the news, each in their own different way.
"Cherry... Help me," the mother begged.
Amber looked frozen. She hadn't expected to see her again, and their encounter being a fight was too much for her to take. There was a pause, and the spirit managed to take control again. It got to Amber with another Slash.
"I can't hurt my mother," Amber managed to utter.
"You don't have to," Gabi told her. "Destroy the pendant."
The solution was so simple, Amber felt like slapping herself for not thinking of it herself. I couldn't blame her, though. The shock had been too strong for her to think clearly.
Amber made a quick move in spite of her paralysis, and cut the chain off her mother's neck, using her Strength to crash it against a rock, turning it to dust.


Amber grew to level 49!

The released Charizard blinked, getting used to being fully in control again, and gave her daughter the strongest hug. I could now see where Amber had got all that strength for.
"Mrs. Plum?," Sylvan stepped forward to greet her, stretching out a vine.
"That's how my daughter used to call me," Plum replied, taking the vine in her hand. "Without the Mrs., though. You can drop that too, I'm not used to being treated formally. By the way, what's your name?"
"Oh, sorry. I'm Sylvan. You probably don't remember me, but I was born in the Valley. I saw you a few times, but we never talked. You were flying most of the time."
"Really? I'm sorry, I can't say I remember you, but it's good to know my daughter has a friend from her old home. And apparently many other friends too. And a great trainer, judging by her current strength."
"Thank you," Gabi said. "I do my best. I'd heard a lot about you, it's an honor to finally meet you."
"You can understand me?"
"It's a long story, but I guess I could make it short for you. Latent psychic abilities boosted by a stone, and an Espeon friend who finishes the job when necessary. Speaking of which... I'm impressed. Caledor, you intercepted a psychic communication and understood its content!"
"Heh. Great, isn't it?," Caledor grinned. "Guess I'm not such a lousy psychic after all. Right in time, I should be getting another set of powers after my next win."
"You're an impressive crew," Plum commended us.
"Strange is more like it," Tsunami laughed. "But yeah, we're impressive too."
"There he goes again," Caledor said, intensifying his golden glow as a 'friendly warning'.
"How did you get here?," Amber asked her mother.
"That's a long story too," Plum replied. "A strange force began to call the Gyarados in the river. It was powerful, but in a bad way. Your father tried to warn the others to stay away from it, but as usual, they ignored him. All the other Gyarados went downstream to find out what was going on here, and never returned. Finally, your father and I decided to look for them. We followed the dark energy and ended up in this forest, but we were ambushed. I was bound to the pendant you destroyed, and I haven't seen your father since then. I don't know if he got caught too or managed to escape."
"We need to find him," Amber said. "And the other Gyarados."
"You need to rest and get well," Sylvan told her. "We will find them, but you must take care of yourself now. You're not in a state to battle again and I'm surprised you're managing to talk fluently. We need to find some healing herbs, or berries or something."
"I wouldn't mind a few of those either," Hero pointed out.
"Hero and Amber, you two should stay away from danger for now," Gabi said. "The thing is, no place is safe in this forest. I guess we'd better go together, and I'll call you into your pokeballs if someone tries to attack you. Either that, or we can go home and come back later once you're both feeling well."
"No way," Amber replied. "I won't leave until I know my father is safe."
"I thought so," Gabi smiled. "We're going together. Estel, where can we find enough water for a whole clan of Gyarados?"
"In a chamber inside the Temple," the Shelgon answered. "We're almost there. I'll guide you."
"So... Amber, eh?," Plum looked at her daughter and smiled. "Nice name. I'm impressed at how you managed to become so strong and still be as sweet and gentle as you were as a child. I'm proud of you."
"Thanks. Though you should be mad that I didn't recognize you earlier. Not until you spoke. I can't believe it."
"Don't be so hard on yourself. We hadn't seen each other for a long time. I've got older and, in your eyes, much smaller. And I was possessed, so my expression probably didn't help you recognize me."
"In any case, I'm so glad to see you again!"
"So am I. You can't imagine how much."
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Today, 02:13 PM   #65
Lady Vulpix
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This picks up from my last post at Templa Taure.
In case you don't know the characters, I'll post their names, genders and species so that you don't become lost.


My party
Gabi: female Human (me)
Hero: male Ninetales
Lagi: female Dragonite
Pidgeot: male Pidgeot
Water Angel: female Kingdra
Tsunami: male Vaporeon
Amber: female Charizard
Ventura: female Venomoth
Sylvan: female Venusaur
Caledor: male Espeon
Iael: male Stantler

Ade & Soo's party
Ade: male Human
Soo: female Human
Pearl: female Ninetales
Katnip: male Raticate
Beckham: male Wartortle
Lucky: male Meowth
Kirei: female Espeon
Milliardo: male Umbreon
Pandora: female Houndour
Kasumi: female Growlithe
Scratchy: male Paras
Marius: male Dratini
Bolovayr: male Gastly
Kassandra: female Charmander
Sindel: female Kadabra

<Gabi's POV>

We resumed our quest for the temple, this time with the company of 'Plum', the Charizard. Estel, the Shelgon, led the way across the forest. We faithfully followed him, though we weren't quite sure of what to do when we finally reached our destination. I pushed my mind hard, trying to devise a plan. I got some ideas, but they sounded too crazy even to myself. If Ventura heard them, she'd have all the reasons to say I'd lost it. But then again, what else could we do? We were up against an opponent of whom we only knew was evil and capable of summoning spirits and having them control many pokemon... We didn't even know how many, but they seemed to be all over the forest. The possession wasn't flawless, but it was still a considerable threat.
"What are you thinking?," asked Ventura as if she knew she'd just crossed my mind.
"A backup plan," I told her.
"Do you have a main plan already?"
"No, feel free to come up with one. Apparently everything I can think of right now is too crazy and too risky."
"Tell me what it it, and I'll judge by myself."
"Using our psychic abilities to separate the spirits from the pokemon they're possessing."
"Did I hear our?"
"Yes, and that's where the risky part comes in. We're clearly outnumbered, so we'd have to make use of everything we have."
"I believe I know what you're thinking. You're right, it's too crazy. But having to fetch you from a dream dimension is preferrable to being killed by ghosts."
"Wow! I thought you'd say I'd lost it... I'd never imagined you'd consider it an acceptable risk."
"You've misjudged me, apparently. Getting that to work could be a shot in the moon, but we can keep it as a backup plan. I've had many chances to think you'd lost your mind before, but we're still here."
"Yes, same with you."
I received a psychic signal which felt like a strong glare. I glared back at Ventura with the same intention. She shook her head and kept on flying. At least this hadn't turned into a fight. Ventura and I actually respected each other, even if that was sometimes hard to see. I admired the Venomoth's energy and will to earn her place in the world -even if she went overboard every now and then-. Ever since her parents left her, she had struggled to become her own master... And she'd clearly succeeded.

"What's that?," Caledor asked, bringing me back to 'here and now' (or rather there and then).
Ventura scanned the perimeter.
"It seems there's a lot of psychic activity going on," she declared.
I focused and let the psychic waves in. The feeling was quite familiar... Like light was quite fast. I'd felt that kind of energy many times since Pegasus Games. It'd feared it, felt curious about it, worried about it more than once, and welcomed it. Right now it was the latter.
"More than that..." I revealed with a grin. "It's seems we've just found some friends."
I felt Lagi's smile echoing back. I turned to the origin of the signals and everybody followed, including Estel. Only a few steps and trees ahead and there they were: Ade, Soo and the bunch. Bunch which had apparently just got bigger.

I waved my hands, not wanting to shout out. Soo saw me and called Ade's attention. Our greeting was the most pleasant moment I'd had after entering the Templa Taure forest. After the 'hi's and 'how are you doing's and a 'what a great surprise to find you here', I asked my friends what was going on over there.
"Not much," answered Pandora, the Houndour, "just your everyday stoll through danger-infested forests..."
"We can't really get used to that, can we?," Sylvan shook her head. "No matter how many we have to get through."
After that little exchange, Ade told me quite a shocking story about his recent encounter with Abbadon, the destruction-hungry Charizard who had caused a massacre while working for the Dark Cloak. Hearing his name made a wave of disgust run up my whole body. Thus, I was even more surprised when I learnt that the Charmander who was now taking shelter by Soo's side was actually Abbadon's daughter. Ade explained the circumstances of her entrance to the team, and I hoped she had inherited nothing of her father's personality. In any case, the poor Charmander would have a lot of demons to fight before she could have a normal life. I was glad she had fallen in good hands.
"I hope she's going to be okay," said Soo, cradling the now asleep young Charmander in her arms. "The poor thing's hardly moved since she got thrown at us!"
"I'm sure, given a night in a decent Pokcentre and a few days to get used to everything, she'll be fine," Ade assured.
I smiled at Soo, certain that Kassandra had just found the right person to help her get out of the darkness she'd grown up in.
"She's probably just reacting to the trauma in the only way she knows how. In the meantime we have to concern ourselves with her father. He could be a real threat. The instant we get out of here I think I should warn the others to be on their guard. Just in case. Anyway, what were you guys planning on doing here? Or weren't there any real plans?"
"Yeah, let's find a burger bar and get a bite to eat!," Beckham burst into the conversation.
"Not really," Ade confessed. "We thought we could make something of a difference but there's just too many to deal with. What about you, did you manage to uncover anything that might help?"
"Yes, I heard there's a temple somewhere in this forest, and for what I've heard I think that must be the Black Dragon's base of operations. Estel told me that was the first place where things started going wrong."
I had to mention Estel's name to realize I'd forgotten something important.
"Oh, sorry I didn't introduce you before. He's Estel, a Shelgon from this forest. Hero released him from the pendant. And the Charizard next to Amber is Plum, her mother. She came here with Amber's father trying to save a group of Gyarados from the Dark Dragon, but she got caught and lost track of him, so now we're trying to look for the Gyarados in the temple too."
"Only that we haven't decided what to do when we get there," added Ventura. "Gabi's idea is too crazy to work."
"Not that you have a better one," I told her. "Are you coming with us?," I turned back to Ade's group. "Maybe we can think of a better plan together."
"Of course," Ade accepted, "the more the merrier I always say. Not that there's much chance of being merry whilst this chaos is all around us."
"Ade, Milly isn't all around you, you're hallucinating," joked Pandora.
I laughed.
"Well, if things go well, it will be merry when we get done," I assured.
"Now that's my kind of talk!," agreed Beckham. "Okay, people, are we going off to find this temple of absolute doom or not?"
"Yay!," Caledor cheered.
"You guys are crazy, but yes, that's what we need to do," Iael said.
"You should try being a little merrier," suggested Caledor.
"I'll try... Once we get out of here. Possessed pokemon are something I just can't smile at, sorry."
"It's quite easy to force a smile, even if you don't feel like smiling," Milliardo told him. "Okay, it may not do you much good, but..."
"What about if you don't have a mouth?," Beckham interrupted, though his comment didn't get a response from anyone.
"That doesn't work for me," Iael replied to Milly's suggestion.
"I don't think forcing smiles is a good idea, actually," I tried to put an end to a discussion that would do Iael no good.
"Honestly, am I the only one in this trio that's not totally tactless?," Tsunami wondered, most likely referring to the trio composed by himself, Caledor and Hero.
"Don't worry, you'll get to join us soon at the rate you open your mouth," Hero stroke back.
"Are you planning to keep talking until they find us? We should get moving!," Ventura remarked.
"I agree, the last thing we need is to start bickering here," Pearl noted. "Let's get this over with, then we can all argue as much as we want."

We followed the advice of the Venomoth and Ninetales, and Estel took the lead again. We walked in silence for a few... seconds. Then whispers became heard, and the voices among the group quickly became louder. I could hear Pandora comment "at least this is a little better, random wandering with a purpose is better than wandering without any plan at all!"
"We've been doing far too much of that lately, I agree. A decisive plan of action is just what we needed," Marius replied.
"Yeah, and we didn't even have to consult Tsuyoi either, what's going on there?," asked Milliardo.
"Do you consult him all the time?," I intervened.
"Not unless we need his psychic power, it is sometimes handy to have an ally with that level of strength," Ade told me. "He's just a little... opinionated."
"I.e. you can't do a bloody thing without the bugger going 'honestly, this is how you should do it, do I have to do everything around here?'," Milly translated.
"Hmm... It reminds me of someone I know," I commented.
"Like yourself?," Ventura caught my intention and turned it back.
"Not quite," I told her, staring at her again.
Come to think of it, maybe I was being a bit unfair. Ventura was really nothing like Tsuyoi. But I was a bit edgy at that moment... Walking through a once beautiful forest taken over by evil forces and without a clear perspective of how to handle the whole situation was getting at me.
"Honestly, why does everything have to always end up in some sort of argument?," Pearl intervened. "Even faced with the dangers we have to deal with at the minute there's no escaping the constant bickering!"
"That's how it goes, Pearl, deal with it," Milliardo told her.
"Actually, I think she's right," I said.
"I wasn't arguing. Just pointing out facts," Ventura had to get in.
"That's enough, this is not the moment for a competition," Lagi stopped us.
"Hey, you want fact, guys? Here's one for you." Milliardo ignored her, right when the argument seemed to have ended. "Fact. You're all totally useless. Every last one of you."
"Enough, already!," shouted Ade. "Weren't we looking for a temple?"
"Weren't we looking for a burger bar?," Becks brought back his old joke.
"Whatever, we need to get there fast," said Amber. "Not the burger bar, of course."
"If we find that first, mine's a double cheeseburger with large fries!," blared Kirei. The pokemon were talking so fast they'd already started missing each others words. "Although I get a funny feeling we should be veering a little more to the right, guys. Listen to the magic Espeon, if she can't get you to the temple then at least we'll find the burger bar!"
"Magic Espeon?," asked Caledor. "I thought that was me."
"I don't know about magic, from what I can gather most Espeons are really scary," said Milliardo the Umbreon, as 'gentle' as ever.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you," Caledor countered.
"I'm glad I evolved the way I did, that's all I can say."
"Agreed. You'd look stupid as an Espeon anyway," Pandora chuckled.

"We may be more effective if we search for the Gyarados and the Black Dragon in small groups once we get in," Lagi suggested, interrupting what could easily become a quarrel. "We'd cover a larger area and wouldn't be stopped by so many arguments."
"That's the best idea I've heard so far," Pearl agreed. Then she made a pause and winced as if in pain, shaking her head. All arguments stopped as we all gathered around her, trying to find out what was wrong.
"Uhh, sorry about that. I think I'm coming down with something."
"Why didn't you tell me before we set out?," Ade softly scolded her, worried, and kneeled down to pet the Ninetales.
"I wasn't feeling bad when we set out, was I?," Pearl snapped, but she instantly regretted it. "I'm okay. Just a little cramp, honest."
"Where is it? Maybe I can help you," I offered, getting down to take a better look at her.
"I've just a bit of a stomach cramp, I'll be fine in a minute or two. Really," Pearl assured.
"If you say so, Pearl. In the meantime I suggest we organise our groups now, it'll save us a lot of time when we actually enter the temple," Marius proposed.

I was still worried about Pearl, and I could tell so was Marius by the way he spoke. But if she didn't want to open up, there was nothing we could do about it.
"That's a good idea," I sighed. "And Pearl, please take care of yourself. We're most likely going to get in trouble, so please don't make it worse for yourself by neglecting your own health."
I wished I could know what she was feeling, as she looked at me in a silent reply.
"Eh, don't worry, dudes," Katnip grinned, moving over to Pearl and giving her and giving her a hug so warm it made me wish someone would hug me that way too. "Ya all know anyone who's getting' too close to her's gonna be mincemeat in seconds!"
"Or confused into silence by your stupid accent, one or the other."
"Whatever works," Tsunami grinned. The way he seemed to be having so much fun ganging up with Milliardo was somewhat scary. Fortunately, the Raticate wasn't phased by their remarks. Instead, he took them with humor.
"Heh, who cares how we manage it? As long as the job gets done, right?"
"I thought we weren't arguing, guys," Pearl reminded the group, rolling her eyes.
"Hey, this isn't arguing!" Milliardo smirked. "This is ganging up on Katnip. Who doesn't give a ****, so that makes it alright, doesn't it?"
Fortunately enough, nobody saw it fit to start yet another argument.

It was Hero who put the conversation in course so that we could start getting organized.
"Actually, Katnip seems like a good choice to pair up with. Even if we do have a small dispute going on about the copyright of a certain move."
"I think the Pokemon League has beaten you both to it," I laughed.
"Actually, that ain't a bad idea," Katnip reflected. "Can't think of anyone I'd rather pair up with than the only guy I know who comes close ta givin' me a run for me money!"
"Doesn't anyone know anything around here? Both Hero and Katnip carry far more authority than the Pokmon League!," Pandora broke in.
"Wish they did, Pandora," Ade sighed, turning to look at Soo, who was still tending to Kassandra and didn't return the gaze. "Then we could claim copyright on Quick Attack and be a lot better off!"
"Ade, you're turning into Becks. Stop it. Now. We've already got one too many as it is," Milliardo nudged Ade's leg with energy.
"I like your thoughts, Pandora," Hero smiled at the Houndour. "And as for you" He now turned over to Katnip, "if it's a run for your money you want, you'll get it."
"Sounds good ta me," Katnip grinned widely with excitement.

At the same time, a discussion seemed to be going on between Milly and Tsunami.
"You never rest, do you?," the Vaporeon said. "And I thought I was good with comebacks!"
"Well I can't help it, can I?," the Umbreon replied without flinching. "If somebody says something stupid, they deserve a retort, and I make it my business to supply it seeing as I'm so good at it."
"Umm" can we get organized please?," Sylvan finally spoke out. "I'm not following half the conversations, but we're clearly not getting to the point and I really hate what they're doing to this place. I'll go with anyone, I just want to get this done."
Both Iael and Lucky nodded in agreement.
"Same here," Iael commented. "Well" almost anybody, anyway." I could feel his tension begin to build as his eyes turned to Kasumi, and it got worse as she responded by blowing him a kiss. "Er, come to think of it, can I go with Pearl?"
"Sure! It'd make a nice change to have some company that isn't either ridiculously antagonistic or totally bizarre anyway."
"Are you referring to me there, by any chance?" Milliardo asked innocently.
"Of course she is, you moron." Pandora rolled her eyes.
"Actually, I wouldn't mind going with someone like that. It could be fun," Tsunami blared.
I stared at my Vaporeon friend, not knowing what to make of his last comment. For all the time we'd been together, I still couldn't measure him well.
"Of course, as long as we still get the job done," he finished when he found all our eyes fixed on him. "Oh, come on, you can't all be party poopers! Arguments can be fun sometimes!"
"Give it up, kid. You know how it works." Hero rolled his eyes. Clearly he and Tsunami understood each other a lot better than I did.
"No, no, we should thank him. He's just saved me from having to go with my usual partner. If you want arguments, Tsunami, you're welcome to him," Pandora shoved Milliardo towards the Vaporeon and, for the first time ever, he didn't seem to know how to react. "Okay, does anyone slightly saner want to keep me company?"
"I'll ignore those last words for Pandora's safety," Tsunami declared.
"I think she was referring to Milliardo, not you," I pointed out.
Actually, I thought those words could easily apply to Tsunami -at least in appearance- considering the decision he'd just made. But I was no longer rash to judge him; I'd learnt that whenever there was something about him I didn't understand, I was in for a surprise.
"Depending on what you mean by sanity, it may be hard to find," Lagi diluted the argument once more. "But I think it could help if you and I went together. As long as that won't make you uncomfortable, that is."
It was one of those moments when Lagi's emotions overflowed her and I could feel them too. It was like walking on the top of an active volcano. She was aware of the disaster a single step in the wrong direction could awaken, yet she was ready to walk that path if the Houndour accepted... If she was not afraid of Lagi's inability to lock her perception away... Of revealing all her emotions as they came.
"Okay with me..." Pandora accepted the challenge. "To be honest I'd be glad to pair up with someone like you. It'd make a nice change."
Lagi gave the Umbreon one of her deep, warm smiles.
"Thank you."

"Okay," Beckham butted in, "if we're all pairing up, I reckon me and Caledor are an obvious choice, between the two of us there's not a thing we couldn't manage. What do you say, buddy?"
"It couldn't get any better!," the Espeon agreed.
"Dunno, if we get out of the forest and into that burger bar I was talking about it probably would..."
"Great. All you need to do is find Megan again and it'd be disaster for the entire planet," Milly provided us with more of his usual sarcasm.
Ade had told me some stories about their encounters with a most hyper Marill named Megan. I took it it was her Milliardo was talking about.
"Please, just shut up!," Sindel tried to silence him. "I'm not really bothered who I go with, anyone who needs a partner I'm fine with."
"Just make sure you don't lose focus," Ventura advised the recently formed pair. "Too much is at stake for you two to go chasing a burger bar."
"Didn't you know, burger bars are far more fun than possessed pokmon?" Interjected Milliardo. "Although having seen some burger bars, I'm beginning to wonder if that's entirely true..."
"Oh, give it a rest. We're all sick to death of your attempts to be the pokmon Oscar Wilde," Pandora responded to his comment.
"C'mon, you love me really," Milly replied with a smile.
Ventura tried to bring order back to our impossibly messy group.
"It's not the time for jokes. Some pokemon here seem to have lost their sense of reality, and that's something to worry about."
"Great, everyone just ignore me..." Sindel rolled her eyes. "I agree with Ventura, can't we just get our priorites right for once?"
"Hey, what do you do if you can't get a Pikachu on a bus? Poke-im-on!"
Milliardo was clearly enjoying going against everything the most sensible ones were saying. It was starting to get ridiculous.
"Give them a chance," I tried to conciliate both parts. "They've been through as much as we have or more. We're all worried, and what we're up against is too big to just forget about it. I don't think lightening up the mood is a bad idea. But I do agree that we should get organized as fast as we can."
Also on the conciliatory side, (and so far on the ignored side too), Sylvan asked Sindel if she'd like to go with her.
"Oh, okay then!," the Kadabra smiled. "I'm glad to see somebody actually listens to me..."
Here she directed an obvious glare at the Umbreon.
"Thingy, the instant you say something interesting, I'll start listening," Milliardo stuck his tongue out at her.
"They haven't been listening to me either. Not that I can blame them, situations like this one get the worst out of everyone," Sylvan explained in an understanding tone. "I'm assuming you'll go with your mother, right, Amber?," she now turned to her old friend.
The Charizards looked at each other before Amber, smiling, confirmed her friend's assumption.
"Yes... I think I will."

"Hey, hey, if we're talking pairing up here, why has nobody asked to pair up with me? After all, I'm one hell of a catch, aren't I?," Kasumi jumped into the conversation in a scarily hyper manner.
"Maybe they all know you're not going to keep your mind on the job, Sumi..." Pearl rolled her eyes at the Growlithe.
"Hell is a good description," Ventura remarked, only to start yet another argument.
"Aww, jealous are we," Kasumi began, "just because Venomoths and Growlithes..."
"I'll stop that one right there thank you very much," Pearl tried to cut the word fight short.
"Aww, Pearl, you're no fun," Kasumi put on a clearly fake sad face.
"Actually, I'm known for my skills to keep fire pokemon at bay," Ventura just had to stretch it out a bit longer.
"She says that because she's beaten some at the Battle Tower," I explained, hoping that would be enough for her to finish.
But no... Ventura didn't know the meaning of the word 'enough'. Words had never been her strong point, after all.
"I don't want to brag, but you don't want to touch me."
"Hey, if I CAN touch, I will! Anyways, plenty of pokmon who'll let me touch them, it's no skin off my nose!"
"Look, are we going to pair up or not? Like it or not, SOMEBODY has to pair up with Sumi..." Pearl began to sound irritated. "(And if you ask me, she's all bluff anyway)."
"Maybe she should pair up with someone who's more used to her company," I replied. "Same goes for Ventura. She tends to be quite bossy when it comes to teamwork."
"Gabi gives me a bad reputation. All I ever do is do everything in my power to get things done," the Venomoth defended herself.

At that moment, the most unexpected thing happened. A large blue creature with six limbs and menacing eyes and fangs appeared out of nowhere. I had felt his presence many times before, though now that we were face to face it was stronger than ever. I had been given a physical description, but seeing him was still shocking. I'd engaged in several silent arguments with him, always from a safe distance... But this was different. Now he had decided to break his tradition and show himself... And I couldn't help but wonder why.
"I offer my services at keeping the little bombshell under control," Tsuyoi announced. "This whole thing is getting too long-winded for my liking, and I grow restless."
That was his only greeting.
"Wow!... Now THIS is something I wasn't expecting."
That was my greeting.
My whole team fixed their eyes on the demonic half-Ninetales.
"Yes?," Tsuyoi glowered at everyone. "I trust none of you have a problem with this?"
"Tsuyoi, you are the least subtle guy I know, with the possible exception of myself...," Milliardo told him. He was clearly a lot more used to having Tsuyoi around that we were.
"Ehem... Sorry if I'm asking this, but what has caused you to appear right now?," Pidgeot put in words my own question, and probably everyone else's.
"Various things, really," Tsuyoi replied. "For a start, I couldn't stand to watch you imbeciles arguing any longer. Secondly, obviously nobody is going to pair up with Kasumi owing to the fact that only I can deal with her. Thirdly, I sense something is in that temple that might provide me with a little entertainment. Anyway, what have my motives to do with any of you? I do what I do."
"What you do affects those around you. You should know that," Pidgeot confronted him without flinching.
"Yes, and what if I tell you that the actions of another are going to unbalance the scales? I can't allow that."
I had to change the subject before trouble broke in.
"I thought so. Let's focus, shall we? Let's not get another big problem to deal with. The one we have is already big enough. Tsuyoi, after years of hide and seek I can tell that what you mean is more than what you say in some ways, and less in some others. And I'll save my opinions to myself, since you must know them already and saying them aloud won't help. I suggest we get back to forming the rest of the teams."
"At least in that way we agree, my dear Lady Vulpix. Do what you will. All I do is to keep my little Growlithe with the company she needs, and stay on hand. For whatever you may think of myself and my motives, the balance must be kept, and it swings too far for me to ignore."

An unusually long silence followed, after which Pidgeot spoke again.
"Alright, I can carry Water Angel in her pokeball until we find some water. Someone else may come with us, unless we're only supposed to form pairs."
"I haven't heard anyone say that," I noted.
"Good," said Lucky, "because, if there is a space I wouldn't mind taking it. You're both quite level-headed. I'd quite like to get away from all the distractions to be honest."
"You'll be welcome, then," Pidgeot accepted.
"Am I such a distraction, Lucky?," Kirei pouted.
"Umm.... yes, keep that up and you are!," the Meowth said with a smile.
"Oh, goodie! Glad I haven't lost my touch!," she winked at him.
Kirei grinned.
"Now, who wants to come with me? I may talk nonsense most of the time, but I bet whatever our team is, we'll find the temple first!"
"Actually, you could be quite helpful in your own way," Ventura reckoned. "My radar sense and your luck together could be a perfect combination."
"OMG, you can't be serious. She's KIREI! Do you REALLY want the second coming of Scarygirl to assist you????," Milliardo butted in.
"So, what do you say?," the Venomoth insisted, ignoring the last comment.
"Okay then!," Kirei accepted. "I just want this over with, right now the burger bar sounds better than what we're doing, and I don't even like burgers!"
"We'll get this over with as fast as possible. I don't really think anyone can feel comfortable here." Ventura assured.

"Ade, are you and Soo going together?," I asked my friends.
"Yeah, of course we are!," Ade replied. He then glanced at the battered Charmander in Soo's arms. "And I guess Kassandra is, too."
"I think that's a good idea," I agreed. Right then Kassandra needed to spend as much time as possible by the side of her new trainers.
"Although that leaves Scratchy, Marius and Bolovayr to pair up for me," Ade noted.
"Well, apparently no members of my team are going with me," I reckoned, "so is it ok if I go with one of them? Actually, I've been wanting to get to know Marius better for some time."
": By all means, I would also enjoy a little time together. I feel... we would probably get along quite well, don't you think?," the young Dratini smiled at me.
I smiled back in agreement.
"Okay, that's decided then. What about the others?," asked Ade.
"I go alone, as I always have. I don't need others to drag me down, thanks all the same," Scratchy grunted.
"Do you even know what you're up against?," Estel, who hadn't spoken in all this time, confronted him.
"Unfortunately so, and even worse is the fact that we have even worse to contend with in the future," Tsuyoi added, causing everyone to stare at him.
"Let's deal with one thing at a time, shall we?," I proposed. "Otherwise we won't get anywhere."
"Yeah, we're supposed to be dealing with this threat, the last thing we need is knowledge of another future problem!," Ade supported me.
"I've seen the Temple before, and I think I have a good idea of how to find it," Estel declared. "We're almost there from the look of the trees around us. So, I can go with you to the entrance. I have no wishes to become possessed again, but I'll go in if that's what it takes to get the Black Dragon away from Templa Taure."
"For the first time in my life I'll be serious," Kirei said. "Do you think we'll get there faster if we join forces?"
"She thinks! You two get us there and we'll take it from there," replied Pandora. I was beginning to wonder if sarcasm was contagious. " I don't really care as to what happens as long as we escape alive. My family is all that matters to me."
Estel didn't know her, so he didn't react to her last words. He only pointed out what he knew.
"Reaching the Temple's not the problem. We can get there together; believe me, we're just a few steps away. The problem will be getting in, and finding what we're looking for inside the temple. And even harder will be to get out in one piece."
"Defying death is what we do. I don't really care," Milliardo stated.
"Really?," Pandora asked, but all she got for an answer was a long silence.
"We don't need to get so gloomy," Pidgeot did react. "I hate how this has become a habit, but we'll do what we need to."

"So, where is the temple?," Hero queried, as tired as everyone else of our ever-darkening surroundings.
"Once we pass these black trees we should find a large rock with a signal. There are four around the temple, one on each corner. If we follow the stone's indications, we'll be there in no time," answered Estel.
"So we split up once we get in?," Ventura suggested.
"Yeah, I kinda feel that myself! Okay, we do that, and we win a million pounds!," Kirei joked, her serious time having quickly ran out.
"Kirei, if you're right about that, I'll praise you," emphasized Caledor.
"Yeah, great if you happen to have pounds as your currency!," Milliardo retorted.
"And of course we split up," said the Umbreon. "What do you want us to do, wander around until we get picked off one by one?"
"Sometimes I wonder who leads this team..." Ade reflected.
"Whoever finances you. Never forget that," Tsuyoi affirmed himself on the spot.
"One-leader systems hardly ever work from what I've seen and heard, and never for a long time," Ventura contradicted him.
"Depends on the leader," Tsuyoi told her.
I took in a deep breath. Dealing with Ventura and Tsuyoi separately was hard enough. The last thing I needed was an argument between them. Ventura was at a clear disadvantage, but she'd probably see it as a challenge.
"Oh, for ****'s sake, let's just find this temple!," Ade stopped the two in their tracks.
"That's what I was about to say. More pokemon are falling under the Black Dragon's power as we speak," Lagi added. "We have no time to spare."

With that, we finally got on the move again. Since only Scratchy, Estel and Bolovayr were left to be paired up, we assumed the three would go together. We followed Estel's directions until Kirei told us to stop for a moment. I could have asked what the reason was, but she probably didn't know it herself. All she said was that her paws were killing her. In a matter of seconds after she was ready to keep walking, we reached a large building that seemed to be built out of stark white stone, supported by massive pillars and surrounded by statues sculpted in great detail, each one different from all the others. The large, gold-painted door at the entrance was strangely unguarded. I put two and two together and understood who had brought us there on the best possible moment.
"Right. I guess this is where we split up," Ade said. "We HAVE to find those Gyarados, and wherever the hub off all this chaos is. Okay?"
"Indeed," agreed Amber.
"Yeah, we understand," Pearl assured, but her pain immediately caused her to wince again. "I'll be fine, before anyone dares say anything. Okay?"
"Does everyone know what to do when trouble comes up?," Ventura chose to follow Pearl's indication.
"Yeah. Hide behind the nearest gallant Umbreon," Pandora cackled.
"If anyone doesn't, we'll improvise. We all have our ways of either hiding or fighting back. Or both," Pidgeot pointed out.
"Gallant?," Marius rolled his eyes before echoing Pidgeot's words. "Yes, the best thing to do is to somehow get in touch with the remainder of the group. We all know what is supposed to be achieved here."
"That's exactly what I was going to say," I told him.
"Bolovayr would probably tell us about how to exorcise demons at this point, right?," Milliardo asked.
"If only. Demons are the least of our worries," the Gastly affirmed.
"I can't take much more of this. Can we kindly enter the temple and search like we were going to do?," Tsuyoi glared at the usual time wasters.
"Yes, and if we find something, we can always release one of our cool signals, as long as a certain Espeon doesn't end up zapping anyone," Tsunami ignored the glare.
"Oh, right when I was thinking of zapping a certain Vaporeon's big mouth..." Caledor stroke back.
We started moving, heading for any doors or passages that would allow us to split up.
"I'm not too sure about this now... this place creeps me out," confessed Kirei, who seemed to be beginning to panic.
"None of us are too happy about it, but we do what we have to," said Pearl, turning to the Espeon to whom Lucky was now offering a supportive paw. "Now shall we all split up and try our best to find what we've came here for?"
Everyone agreed, and we finally entered the temple. The place was quite dark and dirty, but the paintings on the walls and ceiling and some symmetrically distributed sculptures gave the idea that the building had not long ago been beautiful. As soon as we found doors and corridors that diverged from the straight path, we began to split up, until we were left with the groups we had agreed to form.

<Estel's POV>
<Amber's POV>
<Gabi's POV>
<Tsunami's POV>
<Caledor's POV>
<Iael's POV>
<Pidgeot's POV>
<Hero's POV>
<Sylvan's POV>
<Ventura's POV>
The conclusion
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Today, 02:15 PM   #66
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<Gabi's POV>

Countless things happened since our encounter with the Black Dragon in Templa Taure. I wouldn't even know where to start; it was as if a whole life had gone by in a few months. I even ended up spending New Year with my family, after years without seeing them. I didn't believe that would ever happen again... Not with all of them, at least. But things took the most amazing turn right when my friends and I returned home from our adventur in the forest. Or, rather, the next day, since I was too exhausted to check my e-mail until the following noon. But when I did, I was caught by the news I'd hoped for the most and expected the least: my brother was awake.

I'd only talked about my brother to my closest friends (both human and pokemon), and only with Ryan I'd had a long conversation on the subject. He'd been open to me about his horrible past experiences, so I'd told him everything about how Guille (that's my brother's name) had allied himself with the wrong friends and how that, added to Team Rocket's involvement, had ended up putting him in a comma from which he might never return. I'd never lost hope, though everyone else, even Ryan, considered him as good as dead. But now, knowing he'd woken up after 3 years of slumber was a miracle, and one I didn't know how to react to, no matter how many times I'd both thought and dreamt about it. My mind was full of questions: what would life be like for Guille now? Did he remember what happened? And everything else? Had he completely recovered from the toxics he'd ingested? Was he the same person I'd grown up with?

With all these things in my mind, the thoughts about Ryan faded away. As time went by I'd think of him eventually, and even exchange a few e-mails with him which helped both of us sort things out and feel better, but at first Guille was the only thing I could think about.

I still don't know how I made it, but I managed to arrange everything so that I could fly back to my old house for a couple of weeks. Thankfully, Amy and Karin were very understanding, and didn't mind covering for me during that period. I spent the whole journey trying to picture what things would be like when I arrived, trying to think of what I'd say to Guille when I saw him, and I caught myself by surprise being lost for words.

It turns out things were better than I imagined. Guille was recovering amazingly fast considering what he'd been through. He had some problems speaking, and there were a few things he didn't remember clearly, especially about the fatal encounter with Team Rocket that had cost him a friend and almost his own life. But he did remember everything about our past together... The things we talked about, the games we played... And somehow he also remembered our parents getting divorced, even if that had been the trigger that had pulled his life downwards. He was still angry at our parents, and didn't like the fact that I had left, but he could understand why I'd done it. I would have suffocated if I'd stayed.

Now, things were looking a lot better for everyone. My mom had a boyfriend and many friends who cared for her, and she was beginning to get paid for her work. My dad was about to move to a new house with his girlfriend and was really excited about it, especially since Guille had decided to move in with him. And my brother was getting ready to go to university... Only that subject was still a bit edgy, as he had no idea of what to study yet. I remembered he'd been trying to make that choice when everything happened. I wished I could help him with that, but I'd already learnt you can't always help everyone; some things can only be sorted out with time.

I had a wonderful time with my family. I couldn't recall the last time I'd seen my parents so happy. We had 2 great New Year parties, went to a Chinese fair, visited my dad's future house, had many dinners with each of my parents, I helped my mum fill in some papers related to her job and I even got some new TMs for my pokemon friends, who also had a lot of fun (especially Caledor who was blessed with the ability to have fun anywhere at any time, and Tsunami who paired up with the Espeon this time). A part of me wished I didn't have to go, but I knew I was needed back in Ulthuan. I'd built a life there, so that was my place now. But before I left, I promised to write a lot more often, and to pay another visit to them as soon as I could. It would be much easier for me now that I was no longer afraid of what I'd find if I returned.

I went back to Caledor to find a huge pile of work waiting for me, so I had to get down to it immediately. I thanked Amy and Karin for all their help, and got started with organizing the Eevee House races, making an inventory at the Reward Center and resuming my seemingly endless report project for the Dragon's Guild. I was beginning to think I'd made the wrong choice when I picked the subject; maybe finding a Vigoroth would be easier than witnessing the birth of a Ditto. But I'd never turned my back on a challenge and I wasn't going to start now. I'd just have to be more creative. I started posting on message boards asking for other people's thoughts and got the weirdest replies... Well, at least now I had some material to work on. If I couldn't get the real deal, I could always make a statistical report about people's beliefs on the subject of how Dittos are born.

Then there was also my thesis for university, but even that started making progress and I eventually forced a break from it by missing a pointless meeting with my director (only 2 days after our previous meeting). I didn't mean to miss it without a warning. I'd sent him two e-mails, but he didn't reply until the time for the meeting had passed, time when he wrote "have a nice weekend". Well, whatever works is fine.

And even more things happened. I somehow ended up dating a guy from university (I say somehow because I still don't know how it happened, it was so fast...) Just when I felt I had finally got over my previous deception. We had our ups and downs (the downs marked by his wanting to go too fast for my comfort), but he finally understood I needed my own space and time to do the countless things my life was made of. So, all in all, I felt great about this. I was already feeling this was going to be a wonderful year.

But not everything can be perfect, can it? Some things you can never quite get rid of - namely Team Rocket. For some days I had forgotten to continue my research on the Guild's obscure secrets, and then this happened: the Dragon Tamers' worst nightmare resurged from their ashes yet again to cause a wave of attacks all over Ulthuan. From everywhere, I began to get calls asking for help, and wondering whether we'd ever be able to see the last of the criminal organization that had caused so much harm to all of us. Virtually everyone in Ulthuan, especially in Caledor and Eataine, had suffered greatly from something Team Rocket had done. My case was far from being the worst. I didn't know how to respond to that, except by saying we'd do everything in our power to stop them from hurting anyone again.

Of course, the Guild's authorities had to differ. It had become a lot harder to deal with them ever since Scott had left our side (I'd make him want the earth to swallow him if he was actually digging into the Guild's secrets on his own). I couldn't understand why they didn't want us to get involved, knowing all we had done in the past, but they insisted there were some things they had to deal with first and I would have to trust them.

"I'm a Universal Scholar of the Dragon's Guild," I told the coup. For them, ranks were all that mattered. "I should be able to take part in the Guild's affairs, especially one as important as this."
"You're a Universal Scholar, not the Dragon Master," a man I'd never seen before told me. "And you've been keeping your association with the Dragon's Guild to a minimum, mostly dedicating yourself to the Dragon Tamers and your personal studies."
"Are you blaming me from having a life?"
"Not at all, but in life you have to make choices. And there are orders for only those deeply involved with the Guild to take part in this."
"Who did these orders come from? Who's the Dragon Master? Is it still Scott?"
"The fact that you don't know that proves our point," a brown-haired woman said. "Tend to your own business. You'll be able to take part in matters like this if and when you decide to make the Dragon's Guild your main priority."

The last thing I wanted was to spend my life choking in bureaucracy, secrets and pointless arguments. I went back to the Dragon Tamers central, more determined than ever to continue my investigation and get to the bottom of the Guild's intrigues. But first I needed to focus on the emergency at hand. I contacted all the Dragon Tamers and, as exhausted and frustrated as they were from confronting Team Rocket in the past, most of them responded to my call. I was getting ready to go and chase some Rockets myself, when a Sneasel came knocking at the door of the Dragon Tamers central. Some people thought it was more material for the Adoption Center, but I recognized her when I saw her: it was Evenstar. And the look on her face and the fact that she was alone meant that something was deffinitely wrong.

I invited the Sneasel in, but she didn't want to enter. She was too worried about Karin to waste any time, and I understood her once I heard her story. Her trainer had left, leaving her to take care of the house, and some hours later she had phoned home saying that Team Rocket had caught her, and giving her directions. I promised Evenstar that we'd get Karin back home safely, even though I wasn't quite sure of how to do that yet. I called Amy, knowing I could always count on her, especially for something like this. She told me where she was, and I went to meet her followed by the rest of my team.

It probably didn't take long for us to get there, but at that moment it seemed too long to me. I was too shaken from everything that was going on and, to no avail, I kept on trying to figure out where everything would go from here. I had already phoned everyone I'd managed to reach, and now I was thinking of Ade's words during our last conversation. We needed to find out what was going on with Team Rocket, and we'd have to do it before they could cause any more damage to us, starting with Karin. And yes, I was worried about her. I knew she was tough, but she didn't have that much experience battling the likes of Team Rocket. I didn't believe she'd get killed (even if they lay hands on her again, her captors were bound to try to bargain with her life), but I couldn't begin to imagine the horrors she could go through if they decided to torture her. I really hoped this whole situation wouldn't leave any scars in her; too many lives had already been ruined by the group who was keeping her captive right then.

Finally seeing Amy shed some light on my gloomy thoughts. She was waiting for me on the street, with some of her pokemon standing around her. I was really glad to be with someone I could lean on for a while. Our meeting wasn't the most joyful, given the circumstances, but we managed to remain focused. Amy suggested following Evenstar's directions and going for Karin right away, but taking only a few pokemon by our side. She didn't need to say it, but I knew she meant for us to stay away from Team Rocket's eyes for as long as possible.
"Maybe the largest members of our teams should hide in their pokeballs, so that we can go unnoticed for a while longer," I agreed.
"Maybe," she nodded. "So I guess that would be Dodger, Talut, Flame, Blazer and possibly Yana for me; most of my team is rather large. But at least that still leaves Simba, Kiara, Kovu, Sugar, Sweetie, Sparky, and Ayla for me. My stronger smaller members."

She said that with a smile, which was returned by her pokemon.

"And I'll keep Hero, Tsunami, Caledor, Ventura and Iael," I decided. "I trust the first 3 will have enough judgement not to cause trouble in the middle of a crisis."

Tsunami returned my stare twofold, his eyes saying something along the lines of "you should know better than to distrust us in a moment like this". Well, at least communication wasn't failing. We could express ourselves even without words, that had to count for something.

"And there's Evenstar, of course," I added, getting back on topic. "I suppose she'll want to come with us."
I turned to the Sneasel, and she nodded firmly. She gave the same response when Amy tried to confirm if she had the directions.
"I'm pretty sure that Sugar won't be too keen on practical jokes at a time like this either," Amy commented. Both our teams had some colorful members in them.

<Hero's POV>

No one wanted to stay behind, so my largest teammates hid into their pokeballs, waiting for the right moment to come out. We followed Evenstar until we reached what looked like an abandoned warehouse. A really big one at that, but nothing compared to the tall and luxurious buildings Team Rocket had got us all used to. The only windows were small and high up, so it was impossible to see through them from outside. Strangely enough, no one was guarding the entrance. But that could be just a trick to prevent people from finding the hideout; after all, their whole approach was different this time.

"It looks like there are no guards at the entrance, but there has to be some sort of alarm system, or cameras, or something," Gabi said as if reading my thoughts.
"Maybe," Amy replied.
Gabi thought for a moment and looked at Ventura, who was floating by her side. She then turned to Amy again.
"So, how about having Ventura teleport us in, and then each of us starts exploring the base?"
"Sounds good to me," Amy nodded.
"I knew you'd say that," Ventura told her.
"I guess you have a better plan, right?," Gabi questioned.
"No, it's ok. I'm the safest way in," the Venomoth answered. "But we're still many, so it will be easier and faster if Hero helps me. He's learnt to teleport too, hasn't he?"
"Yes, but you're the only one with a radar sense," I told her before Gabi could meditate on her idea. "I think I don't have to tell you what would happen if I teleported in without knowing what's inside."
"You're forgetting my psychic powers. Don't worry, I'll guide you."
"No one can possibly forget your psychic powers, Ventura. But I guess I'll do it. We'll make it faster and give them less of a chance to find us while we're out here."

I must admit I was a bit nervous. I'd never teleported anyone else before, and I'd barely practised the move at all. Setting a destination based on a telepathic image wouldn't be easy, but my friends trusted me, and they did because I had no reason to let them down. I stood next to Tsunami and Caledor; if I could take anyone with me on my first trip through a wall it would be them. I tried to look confident, but I wouldn't be surprised if I learnt they'd noticed how worried I was. They knew me too well, and Tsunami's observational skill was scary. Plus Caledor was a psychic pokemon, if that counted for anything; he wasn't skillful enough with his mental abilities to steal Ventura's place as the team's most prominent psychic, but he might pick up some thoughts if they were loud enough.

I waited until I received Ventura's signal. It was as if a tridimentional map formed in my mind, only instead of visual images it was made out of sensations. I knew the exact layout of what had to be the main hall, and the relative position of everything from where I was standing, but it would have taken some additional effort to imagine what the place looked like. And I needed to concentrate all my efforts into landing safely inside with my two closest friends. Everything turned out well in the end. It was an interesting experience. It served me to realize I needed to practise teleporting, but also to realize how many possibilities lay ahead of me. I was capable of more than I'd originally thought. In any case, one trip was enough for now. I let Ventura take care of the rest of the group.

Once we were all inside, we arranged to split up. Not in 13 teams like we'd done back in Templa Taure, but in two. The two most logical ones too. Evenstar decided to go with Amy's team. I wondered why no Rockets had come to greet us yet. We were alone in the room we'd landed in. I could hear some noises coming from other parts of the building, which reminded me of the time we'd assaulted the other base on Dark Island. I began to wonder... Had Karin caused enough commotion to keep all the Rockets away from the hall? Maybe she was more resourceful than everyone gave her credit for.

<Ventura's POV>

The humans wished each other good luck and the two groups left the hall in different directions. I tried to register the layout of the building. It wasn't an easy task, since there were many walls and basements, and humans running from one place to another. Before I knew, I was taking the lead. All the better for us, I could guide the group through areas where we were least likely to get in trouble. But I couldn't seem to find Karin and I was beginning to get frustrated. That is, until I found something just as good: not far ahead and below us, on the first basement, lay a room filled with computers, all interconnected in a network. And the best thing was there was only one person in the room. A woman, from what my radar sense could pick up.

I signaled the rest of the team, showing them my discovery, and gave Gabi an extra signal not to shout. Gabi shook her head and sighed. We wouldn't jump into the same eternal argument about sending psychic pulses without warning. In my opinion, saying aloud "hey, everyone, I have a pulse to send you" would defeat the purpose of the pulse itself. Besides, we needed to go unnoticed, didn't we?

"I guess arguing would be fruitless," Gabi said in whispers, getting closer to me. She was right about that. "Is there anything you can tell us about that room, those computers or that woman?"
"You felt it all just as I did," I answered.
"I wish we could know more. I think we could learn something from going there, but we need to be careful. She could be one keystroke away from alerting the whole organisation of our intrusion."
"And we will be, as always. Oh, wait. She's turning off the monitor. I think she's leaving."
"Why would she turn off just the monitor and not the computer?," asked Hero, joining Gabi at my side.
"That computer's part of a network," Gabi explained. "Someone else could be using it remotely, or it could be running batch processes."
"I'd ask you what a batch process is, but I don't think there's time for a long and boring explanation," he told her.
Gabi frowned. The delight of being in a tense situation and not being able to get involved in an argument. I like Gabi and respect her as a trainer, but I must admit I was enjoying every bit of it.
"The room is clear," I announced. "It's a good time to get in."
I received a weak and almost empty psychic pulse that could be best interpreted as "your cue". Its source was as clear as it was unexpected.
"How did you do that?," I turned to Gabi.
"The wonders of having latent psychic abilities, Solitude's gift and years spent at your side," she grinned. "I could already send psychic pulses before I met you, but all I could do was get others to look at me, and not even everyone."
It was my turn to sigh. "Ok, we go in."
"Stand close by her, make no sudden moves," Gabi told the others.
I got the impression her phrase was some kind of joke, but it was either too bad to find anything to laugh at or it getting it required knowledge I didn't have. Or maybe both, knowing Gabi's taste for jokes. I reckoned I'd better not ask, so I limited myself to teleporting us into the computers room.

<Gabi's POV>

It was so tempting to turn on the monitors and start exploring those computers... to dig into whatever information I could find. I was especially interesting in finding out what TR's plans were, and how they were managing to keep tabs on us. Though my common sense told me that information wouldn't be easily accessible, and I wasn't one of those animated computer wizards who could hack into any system given the 5 minutes cartoon rules required. All I could do was hope to find something useful that wasn't password-protected, and not to do anything that would trigger an alarm. Someone could think I was a bit paranoid, but who wouldn't be when standing inside a Team Rocket base? I didn't know what resources they had, and I'd learnt that anything could happen when this group of criminals was involved.

I pressed my left hand against my chest while sitting in front of the computer the woman had been using. At that point, beneath my clothes, was the white stone the Vulpix named Solitude had left for me; the stone that could enhance the psychic abilities of anyone who touched it (provided there were any psychic abilities to enhance). I didn't know exactly what sort of help I was expecting to get from it this time, but any kind of help would do. I turned on the monitor, and had to hold my laughter when I saw the operating system they were using. I didn't know what to make of it; why would any Team Rocket member choose an overloaded and disgustingly childish interface over any more secure, efficient and stable option? Unless the people who used these computers weren't too good at handling such machines, or unless... I could think of several reasons, but none of them seemed good enough. I decided to stop wasting my time with theories and start searching. The computer was prompting for a username, but there was a default user option, so I went with it. To my surprise, it wasn't password protected. And, naturally, the desktop was the same for all users, so even if I didn't have permission to access all the files, I'd be able to see what was there.

<Tsunami's POV>

I watched Gabi interact with the computer. It looked as if she were in a trance. I wasn't sure if I would have liked to hear her thoughts at that moment. She clicked on one icon and then another... sometimes a grey sign would pop up and she'd click on accept, and so on. She went on like that until she suddenly stopped and turned off the monitor again. She looked and Ventura, whispered "thanks" in such a low voice it required lip-reading to understand her and stood up. Unfortunately, that was all she could do before a serious-looking blonde woman walked into the room. Her face was one I'd seen before, along with her long wavy hair and her pronounced curves. She'd been at the previous Rocket base we'd dismantled, back on Dark island.

"Gia," Gabi said once the two women's eyes were locked on each other.
"I should have expected you," the other replied. "Oh, wait. I did. Just not so soon; I must give you credit for that. Has your hair got darker?"
"Maybe. Who cares?"
"True. So... found anything interesting?"
"No. Only you."
I had to admit Gabi could deliver a blow of incisive sarcasm when she wanted.
"Oh, I'm hurt," overacted Gia. "I guess I'll have to... umm... send my pokemon to get you."
"Why don't you spare us the comedy act? You're not doing good at it."
"Oh, you think so? I find this whole situation quite amusing myself. You and I, standing in front of each other in an enclosed room, only this is my territory and my people are all over the place. Not to mention I know every little secret of this base. Can't say the same about you."
"Not that it helped you last time."
"Dark Island? Don't remind me. The whole thing was screwed up from the start. I don't know whose idea it was to let Team Aqua and Team Magma anywhere near us. Now it's different."
"Thanks for the info."
"What info?"
"Nevermind. So, if you want the act to go on, I guess we'll play along. Who are you sending out next time? Number one? Number two? Or is there a number three now?"
"Numbering pokemon of the same species is the easiest way to identify them. I wouldn't go as low as giving them names like Rocky or Sparky like your folks do."
"Get people to call you a number and see if you like it."
"Says someone who calls her first pokemon 'Pidgeot'."
"Ok, now this is freaky. You're doing this intentionally, but it's not going to intimidate me."
"Your face doesn't seem to agree with your words. You were never good at playing solo and doing the hero act."
"Who says I'm solo?"
"Oh, of course. Your pokemon. You rely on them so much! You treat them like equals. You live in a dreamworld. Too bad for you, because it will hurt like hell when you wake up."
"Do you even have a pokemon with you?"
"Of course I do! But this isn't the best place for a battle. Too many fragile objects. Follow me across this door and then we'll battle."

I looked through the door to see what was on the other side, and all I could see was an empty corridor. I looked at Gabi. She was staring at the corridor too, and looked undecided. Her hand reached for one of the pokeballs on her belt. Then she let go of it.
"Ok," she accepted.
She followed Gia through the door. Hero, Caledor, Ventura, Iael and I went after her, but the door closed itself before we could pass.
"I'm beginning to think this is all smoke and mirrors," Hero told us. "I mean, if she knows so much about us, she must know we can teleport, right?"
"She must be doing all of this to make us feel uneasy," I reckoned. "I must admit it's not nice. Not to mention it's freaky how much she knows. What do you think her source is?"
"Her source?"
"She couldn't know who Gabi's first pokemon was just by watching us. The Dragon Tamers didn't even exist when she got Pidgeot. I was already there when they began their activities."
"Good point. Unless they overheard Gabi mention it, it must be someone in the Guild, then. They're the only ones who have records of pokemon adoptions registered in Caledor before the foundation of the Dragon Tamers."
"I knew it!," exclaimed Caledor out of nowhere.
"How did you know it?," I queried.
"Strong hunch, I guess. Am I the only one who never saw everyone in the Guild as all pure and innocent?"
"No, but you're the last creature in the world I expected to come up with a conspiracy theory," Hero told him.
"Thanks, but it's not that hard, really. As Gabi said, no one likes to be called a number. And growing up among test tubes and strange machines and sleeping in a cell isn't so nice either. I wouldn't be surprised if i find out some of the TR scientists have been working for the Dragon's Guild."
"Why hadn't you ever talked about that before?," Hero asked.
"I think I did. But not much because it's not a nice thing to talk about. I'd much rather talk about games and parties and how funny the two of you can be."
He chuckled when he said that.
"Look who's talking," my response came out automatically.
"Do you think Gabi's fine?," Iael brought a sense of context back to us. "I can't hear anything through that door. Maybe we should go and see what's going on. Or maybe Ventura can tell us."
"They're battling," Ventura replied as if she had been waiting for the question. "Sylvan't facing a Stantler. She shouldn't have much trouble; she's seen you in action and knows what your kind can do. I think we should wait until the real action comes."
"The real action?," queried Iael.
"Yes, that Stantler doesn't seem too tough by Gia's standard. My guess is she's literally going through an act and has something set up for the finale."
"Ok, we'll wait. Just let us know how everything goes."

<Ventura's POV>

I couldn't find the words to describe everything fast enough, so I just linked everyone's minds to mine, delivering everything as I perceived it. It wasn't the best view: none of my physical senses could reach the corridor, so I (and therefore everyone else) had to rely on my special awareness. Still, we could get a general idea of how things were going.

Level 47 Venusaur vs. Level 48 Stantler

The battle had started well for Sylvan. Luckily for her, she had her clover protecting her and the Stantler's first attack (a Headbutt) hadn't done much damage to her. Now it was time for her to act, and she chose a Body Slam as her starting move. I can't say that had a much better effect, but at least she didn't flinch. I was rather disappointed at her choice, though. There were far better ideas than using a physical attack with normal effectiveness against a Stantler, and if she was going for a side effect why not just put him to sleep? But well, it was her battle, not mine. I could always pop in and help if things got out of control.

The Stantler kicked and blew dust from the floor at Sylvan's face. I hadn't noticed how dirty the floor was until then. The room we were in was much cleaner. Sylvan tried to clean it away with water, throwing some at the Stantler at the same time. 'Tried' being the key word. She simply made a mess out of herself. I could almost hear Gia's laughter; I got the sensation it was making the walls vibrate. Then the walls did start vibrating noticeably. And the floor, and everything all over the place. Or was it just me who felt it that way? Sylvan didn't seem too phased by the sudden Earthquake. Moreover, she went for another Body Slam and this time she fell right on top of the Stantler! The poor pokemon had a lot of trouble getting her bulk away from his back. She had the chance to drop some water on him before he could get back on his feet. And that blast did more damage than any of her two previous attacks (not to mention the failed one).

Now the Stantler was staring at Sylvan from the impression I got of the position of his head. Gia gave him a command, but I couldn't make it out. Nor could I make out what happened next. Not until Hero voiced his complaint.
"Hey, why did the show stop?!"
"What show?," I asked, confused.
"Your show. Weren't you supposed to be transmitting the battle live for all of us? Why did you stop."
"Oh, a psychic interference! It's not my day. Let me set up the link again."
"If it's a psychic interference, why didn't I detected?," wondered Caledor.
"I guess it was barely strong enough to disrupt a psychic link established by a poison type," Tsunami told him.
"Hey, stop it!," Hero said.
"Stop what?," Tsunami asked.
"Sounding smart."
"Coming from you, I'll take it as a compliment."
"Whatever, kid."
"Could you two please stop? I need to know what's happening!," Iael urged the Ninetales and Vaporeon.

I got the link back up as soon as the big mouths got closed. Sylvan didn't seem to be doing well at all. If the psychic force had made it past her to severe our connection, I didn't want to think of what it had done to her. There was only one safe way for her to strike back. I could tell her, but after the blow she'd just received, any psychic signals sent to her would hurt more than they could help. I'd have to trust her judgement, and her ability to react in a critical situation.
"We can start to worry now," I said to my friends.


<Sylvan's POV>

Every nerve in my body felt as if it was on fire, and I still had some sand stuck in my eyes and nostrils, but I needed to be strong; I wouldn't let a Rocket pokemon bring me down. I went for something I didn't need my eyes for; something that would hopefully get me back in shape. I took in all the light I could gather and let it fill me. I felt the energy surge through my body and ease the pain, soothing my skin, refreshing my leaves, warming up everything inside me as it passed. I now felt much better, and was ready to face the Stantler again. He hit me with another Psychic, I used Synthesis again. And this time I felt even better. He finally realized he wasn't going to beat me that way. It was comforting to know myself capable of overcoming the worst my opponent could through at me, and coming out better than I was before the attack. I could have made several analogies with life in general, but I was battling, it wasn't the time for such thoughts.

The Stantler hit me with a Headbutt. It looked like he was running out of options. I felt inclined to tell him we didn't have to keep fighting, but he looked as determined as his trainer was annoying. Especially since he insulted me as he charged against me - the only words he ever said to me. I didn't let him get away after he hit me: I caught his neck in my mouth and started sucking. He didn't even fight back; his eyes opened widely and he dropped to the floor, leaving me wondering what his latest reactions had been all about.


I grew to level 48!
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"Fun," Gia said, unphased. "I must tell you I wasn't going for a win with this one, but that Venusaur of yours looked scared for a moment. I didn't think she'd had the guts to grab her opponent by his neck and dry him out."
Put that way, it sounded really horrible. I was beginning to feel guilty for what I'd just done. But had the Stantler left me any other choice? Besides, I hadn't thought he would go down so easily. I'd expected him to fight back.
"Oh, look at her face now! Isn't she cute? She's feeling sorry! And look at her big and neat petals - not a sratch on them; her leaves: so thick and so green... That's not what a fighter looks like! Tell me, why are you putting her through this? She'd be so much happier out in the wild watching plants grow than here getting hurt and ripping off her own innocence."
"Stop talking about her as if you knew her," Gabi defended me. "Or me, for that matter. You've heard about us, read about us, whatever. You don't know us. And I don't intend to change that by giving you explanations. Sylvan knows what she does and so do I. Now, are you getting down to doing what you're really here for, or are you just buying time?"
"What I'm really here for? I work here! You're the one who burst in."
"Don't joke with me. I'm getting tired of it."
"Oh, that's good to hear. One more and we're done."
"One more what? One more battle?"
"That's right."
"Why are you doing this?"
"That's for me to know and for you to wonder. As everything else, apparently. But let's not delay it. I'm having so much fun!"
I'd never been one to hold grudges, but I was beginning to hate this woman.

"Alright, next pokemon up," Gia called. "Let the battle begin!"
At her call, a Typhlosion came in from the other side of the corridor, Just like the Stantler had. I wondered who else was back there, and what Gia was up to. The only thing that was clear was that I wouldn't be facing this pokemon. He looked much stronger than me, and the way he showed off his fire made me want to be as far from him as possible. There was someone on our side, however, who wouldn't feel threatened by that fire. More than one, actually, but it was Amber who responded to Gabi's call. I could picture her coming out next even before Gabi spoke. She'd always stood up for me, and Gia represented everything we both despised.

<Amber's POV>

I had the feeling that at least one of Gia's goals was to irritate all of us so that we couldn't think clearly and therefore missed the big picture or made stupid mistakes. With that in mind, I decided not to let her get to me. It wouldn't be hard for her to make fun of me just like she'd done with Sylvan - it wouldn't have been the first time - but I was stronger than she gave me credit for and I had to put that to my advantage.

The Typhlosion looked very strong, and his eyes didn't show the slightest bit of compassion. In a way, that would make things easier for me. I wouldn't have to hold back, nor worry about whether I was hurting him too much. All I had to do was stay focused, try to act quickly and get things done. Then I'd worry about Gia, and finding Karin. That was, of course, if I could make it through the battle in one piece. "One thing at a time," I thought to myself. "It's the only way to make it through them all."

Level 49 Charizard vs. Level 55 Typhlosion

I was glad I'd been given a box of Matches from the Reward Center recently. I knew I could use any advantage I could get. I started off with a Dragonbreath, trying to put some distance between me and the Typhlosion. By the way he reacted, it looked like the draconian flame was barely stinging. The fire in his eyes looked much stronger than it; even stronger than the flames I'd perceived in Hero's eyes the few times I'd seen him really mad. I wondered why. He'd never seen me before, so where could all that anger and hate come from? It could be the result of being trained by Team Rocket - I'd heard about some of the tortures pokemon caught by Team Rocket had to undergo - but if that was the case, why was his rage directed to me and not his trainer, nor the criminals who held him captive?

All those questions took over my mind and let me lower my guard. Big mistake. The Typhlosion got back to me and attacked me with a vicious Body Slam. The surprise made it hurt even more than it should have. That and the fact that my dragon flames hadn't been put out completely. I could feel my whole body sting when I was hit. Almost as if someone had thrown a truck on me. Well, at least that helped my mind stop wandering and brought me back to my senses: that pokemon was not a slave; or if he'd ever been one, he was so brainwashed that there was nothing but a killing machine left in his place. He'd fight to the last consequences to bring me down. And I needed to stop him before he could go too far. I tried to hit him back, but I had trouble getting my muscles to respond. Only then I realized I was paralyzed. I sighed. "Well," I thought. "At least now I know where all the pain comes from. It's not as bad as it seemed, I mustn't have any internal bleeding or anything." That thought was slightly comforting, but how long would it last? The Cut I got on my left cheek from the Typhlosion's claw didn't make things any better. I needed to do something fast. I released another shot of Dragonbreath before the Typhlosion could step away from me. This time it went right into his face. It forced him to close his eyes, and gave me the opening I needed.

I felt like flying away to put some distance between us, but I couldn't trust my wings at that moment, so I merely stepped back. My first step separated me from my opponent, the second made the floor below him shake as if it wanted to swallow him whole. The Earthquake caused even Gia to lose balance. A crack was open on the floor and the Typhlosion tripped on it and fell on his back. That way I got a much needed break, which I used to get back at my opponent with a Rock Slide. It wasn't like me to exploit someone else's weaknesses like that, but I'd realized that holding back was not an option. My muscles were still cramped, the cut on my cheek still hurt and I could smell blood coming from it. I hoped it wouldn't leave a scar, but I couldn't allow myself to give that much thought or else I would be caught off-guard again. For a moment, I thought the victory was mine. But then the Typhlosion got back on his feet.

"We're not done with you yet," the Typhlosion said. Those were the first words he had uttered since he came into the room.
With that, he pressed his feet against the floor and jumped towards me as if he were flying. He turned in mid-air and hit my breastbone with a Mega Kick so strong it made me choke for a moment. Come to think of it, I was lucky my bones didn't crack from it. But it was painful to even breathe; using Dragonbreath or any fire-blowing moves was out of the question. So I did the only thing I could at that moment: I used my claws. The blow made me close my arms instinctively, so I used that impulse to Slash the Typhlosion's torso. I was not aware of the strength of my attack until I smelt the scent of blood coming from the cuts I'd just made. The Typhlosion blacked out immediately, in the same weird and sudden manner his partner had.


I grew to level 51!

I'd won the battle, but I didn't feel well at all. I was badly injured; my muscles were cramped, my chest felt as if it was about to crack from the pain, and my cheek still hurt when I thought about it, though the bleeding was stopping. And to top it all, I had lost control again, if only for a moment; and I was mad at myself for letting that happen; and at Gia and the Typhlosion for causing it in the first place. I felt used, and there was no worse feeling than that. All of a sudden, I realized I'd fallen into Gia's trap, letting my inner demons loose. It became even clearer when she spoke. Her words were aimed directly to me.

"Oh, well. It seems you're not the weakling everyone says you are. You do have it in you, after all. That killing instinct's in your blood."

I was too shocked and hurt to even think of a reply, but I stared at her, angrily. I did feel a scarily intense rage, but some part of me was still strong and wouldn't let her have me.

"She's too smart for you," Gabi came in my aid. "She's above your dirty tricks and your filthy words. What is it you want? Are you on a quest to drive us mad or something?"
"I must admit the idea sounds tempting, but you're doing a good job by yourselves," Gia laughed.
"Then what is it?"
"Honestly, do your regular enemies answer when you ask them that? If so, I can see why they've always been out of your league so far. Well, things are different now, so you'll have to get used to them."
"That means you don't intend to kill us."
"Where's the fun in that?"

For a moment, there was silence. As if both women were thinking of what to do next. It was Gia who broke the silence, first with a sigh and then with a cryptic phrase.
"You know... If you keep that attitude we're not going to get anywhere."
"Attitude?..." Gabi's face changed right after she repeated the word to herself. "I don't know what's going on, but I think I know of a way to fix that."
"Sorry, time's up," Gia said looking at her watch, though I doubt she actually checked the time before she spoke. "Goodbye, girls. Have a nice day; you won't get many of those."
As she spoke, a Porygon 2 appeared in front of her. She held it and they both disappeared, as if they'd never been there. At that moment, another pokemon came into the hall: a Sneasel. I was afraid I'd have to go through yet another horrid battle, but then I realized this wasn't a TR pokemon: it was Evenstar! And even better, Karin came running after her. She was fine; Amy's team had found her. They all arrived one by one, glad to have found us. And not just them! A huge surprise came when I saw Amy: she was holding a young Vulpix in her hands! The little pokemon still had only one tail, but it was already the same color as the rest of her fur. And her topknot... that was a thing you don't see everyday: it had strands of different colors, just like a rainbow. It looked like this Vulpix had fallen asleep in Amy's arms. I looked forward to hearing her story.

"Karin, you're fine!," Gabi ran to her friend's side as soon as she saw the group arrive. "Amy! I'm glad you're both here. I'm just had the weirdest couple of battles ever. I have the feeling it's not over yet, but my opponent's gone for now."
Before the greetings could continue, Ventura, Hero, Tsunami, Caledor and Iael made their appearance by teleporting into the hall.
"Is everyone alright?," queried Hero. "A Porygon 2 just popped into the computer room and did something to the computers. They started making some irritating beeping sound, which didn't strike me as a good sign."
At that point, the Vulpix Amy was holding began to open her eyes, diverting the attention from Hero and his message.
"Oh, how cute!," Gabi exclaimed. "Did you find that Vulpix inside the base?"
"Yeah. She was in a cage that was so small that she couldn't even stand or move around in," Amy replied.
"Oh, that's awful!," reacted Gabi.
At that point Hero called for our attention again.
"Hey, there! Beeping sound. Can we hold the rest of the conversation away from here? We already have Karin, that's what matters."
"Maybe we should find somewhere else to catch up... I managed to fool the Rockets once, but they're probably going to be more careful this time," Karin agreed.
"Yeah, we probably need to get out of here," Amy joined them.
"Ok, we'll meet right outside the entrance. Everyone who can teleport take the ones who can't. We'll see where to go from there," Ventura delivered the instructions.
"I think I'll get into my pokeball again until we're out of here. I'm not feeling very well," I told my friends.
Actually, 'not feeling very well' was an understatement, but I didn't want anyone to get worried when I knew it would only take time and some attention for me to get better.
"Yeah. Same here," Sylvan joined me.
Gabi nodded and let us both into a slightly more comfortable place.

<Gabi's POV>

As soon as I recalles Sylvan, and Amber, Amy did the same with the pokemon who were still by her side, except for the little Vulpix who didn't have a pokeball yet.
"It probably wouldn't hurt to recall my team as well so its less of a job," she explained while doing so.
"Can anyone teleport aside from Ventura and Hero?," Gabi asked.
"None of my team can," Amy told her.
"None of mine, either," Karin said.
"Then I guess it's up to them," Gabi confirmed.
"I'll recall everyone, too. Switchblade, that includes you," Karin decided, sending everyone into their pokeballs. "Most of my team is exhausted, anyway, after what they've been through. There's no sense having them expend their energy now."
Switchblade looked at Karin for a moment before getting in like the rest of his team.
"I guess the rest of us can get in for a second too. Let's not cause our friends trouble," Tsunami offered.
"How considerate of you," Hero remarked.
"I wouldn't risk you teleporting me into a wall," the Vaporeon retorted. They couldn't be serious for once, could they?
Tsunami pressed his pokeball's button with his nose as soon as he spoke. Caledor and Iael followed him shortly afterwards.

Hero and Ventura teleported the remainder of us outside the building. Once there, most members of my team and Amy's got out; Sylvan, Water Angel, Amber and Kovu being the only ones to stay inside their pokeballs.
"Shall we go to our base or somewhere else?," I asked the others.
"If your concern is about getting caught, I wouldn't worry. They're all taking the leave," Lagi informed me.
"Why?," I asked.
"It's become too dangerous inside, from what I can gather. And some seem to feel their job here is done."
"Gia?"
"I think she's gone. I can't sense her feelings and they were quite distinctive."
"Yes, about that..." I remembered what I'd meant to ask her since the battles. "I wanted to ask you: what did you pick up from Gia while we were with her?"
"Many things, actually," Lagi replied. "I noticed some sadistic pleasure, and even some sort of secret pride... the desire to irritate everyone to the limit that you noticed as well... But there was more to her and the whole situation. During the battles, and even during her conversations with you, it felt like she was measuring everyone's reactions... Analyzing them... Testing them."
"Was she studying us?," I asked her.
"Maybe," she said.
"Well, for once I have gathered some information on her too," I declared. "I couldn't open any of the locked directories, but I did notice one that was labeled Singlehorn Project."
"Interesting," Karin commented.
"Does that ring a bell to any of you?," I polled.
"Nope," was Karin's answer.
"No," confirmed Amy.
"Nope, but maybe we could go to the police with that info," Hero suggested.
"It's as good an excuse as any, isn't it?," Tsunami teased him.
The Ninetales stared at the Vaporeon with fire in his eyes.
"Actually, we could," I remarked before the whole thing could turn into a fight. "Tracker has been conducting a research on Team Rocket's activities. We could benefit from each other's findings."
"Wasn't she investigating the Guild's activities?," asked Pidgeot.
"Both, actually," I answered.
"I just hope both things don't end up being the same," Caledor commented, quickly shrugging off the thought. "Shall we go home now? The Rockets are gone for now and we haven't had a party for a while."
"Only you could think of parties after what we've just been through," I told him.
"No; I'm sure Beckham would too," the Espeon grinned.
"Who's Beckham?," asked Karin, who hadn't had much contact with that particular team.
"Ade's Wartortle. He and Caledor have ended up getting on quite well," I explained.
"Oh."
"Ok, shall we go to the DT Central and sit down, get over this commotion and then think of what to do next?," I proposed. "And maybe have something to drink in the meantime. I could use some tea, and I'm sure so could Amber. Then we can head to the Pokemon Center."
"Sounds like a good idea to me," Agreed Amy.
"That's the best thing I've heard all day," Karin cheered.

Before we could head off, Amy's Skitty stopped us to ask quite an alarming question.
"Where's Simba?"
"Did he come out of his pokeball?," I tried to confirm before sounding the alarm.
"Yeah," Amy assured.
"I hope TR didn't take him," Iael began to worry. "Shall we split up and look for him?"
"No... That won't be necessary," stated Karin. She took a deep breath before she countinued. "I saw him slip away. I don't think he's coming back."
"What do you mean?," inquired Iael.
"She means he wanted to leave, and slipped away when no one was looking because he didn't want to have to say goodbye," Lagi aided the trainer. "Right, Karin?"
The Dragonite got a nod for an answer.
"Sometimes... Goodbye is the most painful thing to say," Karin explained.
"Yes, it is," Amber's voice came out as her pokeball glowed with a red light for a moment. I hadn't heard sound emerge from such a device until then; I wonder how Amber had managed to make that happen.
"I'll miss him. We used to have fun together at the Eevee House," Tsunami remembered. "It feels like eons ago. Hope he's fine."
"We may meet again some day," Lagi stated.
There was silence for a while, as everyone held onto their own thoughts. Then, we headed back to the Dragon Tamers central. There was a lot to be done.
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<Sylvan's POV>

It had been a long week for everyone. Gabi was barely at home with all the preparations for the Games added to her regular activities. Some of us would often follow her while the others would stay at home or just walk or fly around. I was one of those who stayed most of the time; I'd spend my time tending to the garden and thinking... Thinking mainly of where I stood in life. Most pokemon would have that kind of thoughts before taking a decision that would produce major changes in them and in the way they lived; not me, I just liked to put things in perspective and I just couldn't picture myself surviving without dedicating a considerable amount of time to such thoughts. Especially after going through yet another tough situation, or after waking up with my cheeks wet.
They hadn't been nightmares at all. They were sweet dreams, mostly. I'd been having them ever since I'd come back from Templa Taure. Dreams of my childhood, of the valley, my family and my old friends, with an anachronism here and there, like the presence of a pokemon who used to live in that valley but hadn't entered my life until a long time later. I thought that was just a minor detail, the way dreams worked... but for some reason I would often wake up with a piercing feeling of loneliness, and a sense of fatality to it. As if, no matter what I did, nothing could save me ffrom being alone for the rest of my life. Of course I knew that was wrong. I wasn't lonely at all; I was surrounded with the greatest friends I could ever hope for. And as soon as I got into the kitchen and shared breakfast with the others, the odd feelings would quickly fade away. But they would return the following night, and each time they were more persistant.

The morning before we headed for the training grounds I found Lagi looking at me when I woke up. I got scared for a moment, and she turned away with an apology. But before she left, she told me she'd be there in case I needed to talk. She left me wondering how much she had found out. Not that I didn't trust her; I did, but thinking that someone could have probed into feelings that were too deep for even myself to figure them out made me uncomfortable to say the least. So I spent most of that day reflecting, trying to understand what exactly was there for Lagi or others to find out, what was going on with me. Thankfully, I was left alone for as long as I needed to; most probably Lagi's doing.
During that time, I found more questions than answers, but I remembered something that, now I realized, had made the situation a lot worse: Gia. The piercing look in her eyes when she was facing me. She felt almost like a twisted version of Lagi, one that wouldn't stop drilling into your heart regardless of the consequences or, even worse, would do it until the worst happened, until she could cause a soul to break. Of course, that was just a feeling I'd had, just my own perception of the look in her eyes. There was nothing that could prove that she was doing anything else than try to look, sound and feel irritating. But it was hard to believe how well she succeeded at that. I'd barely managed to contain myself while I was battling, and even when Amber was fighting Gia would often direct her looks at me. I didn't know why she did it, but I knew those looks filled me with a rage I'd never known.
But I hadn't realized that back then. At that moment, while Amber was fighting, all I could think of was her. I'd think of Amber and pray that she'd be alright, that she would endure the assaults of her vicious opponent, and the more subtle but just as harmful remarks on behalf of his trainer.

"Is everything alright?," a deep yet sweet voice spoke softly behind me. "I thought I'd find you here."
I turned round and saw my Charizard friend, as sparkling as ever.
"Amber to the rescue, as usual," I smiled.
"Really? And exactly what did I rescue you from?"
"Shady thoughts, that's all," I said, now turning around completely to face her.
"You know you can talk to me if anything's bugging you."
"How curious. Lagi said the same earlier today."
"That's because we care for you."
I looked at her for a moment and smiled again.
"I know," I said.
"Then, what is it? Is anything wrong?"
"I'm not quite sure, that's the thing. The best I can say is that our encounter with Gia has left me thinking."
"But that was months ago!"
"Yes. I'm slow, I know. Or some things are just too subtle to notice them easily. The thing is I think there's more to her than she's let us see."
"Well, from what we could gather it seems she's an executive of some sort. An executive of one of the most merciless criminal organizations. It figures she wouldn't let us know everything about her. She'll just tell us enough to leave us worrying about how much she really knows about us."
"And how do you figure she knows so much about us? I mean, I know the theories about her having access to the Guild's files, and I know how long we've been on the spotlight, but she said some things not even the Dragon's Guild could know."
"Like what?"
"She said I liked watching plants better than fighting. Gabi never told the other Guild members that I'm the local gardener. And she went into such detail about how messed up my leaves and petals were after the battle... As if she knew how much I cared about them."
"Now that you mention it, she did say something about me having a killing instinct. I don't have it, of course, but I've often been afraid of failing to measure my own strength and hurting others permanently. Though it could still be a coincidence. I mean, how could she possibly know?"
"It might be. But I'd rather be on the watch. We've seen enough to know that just about anything can happen."
"True. We'll be ready next time she shows up. Just don't let her get to you. Don't let anyone get the best of you."
"You neither."

I felt better now. I'd taken some weight away from my shoulders, and knowing that Amber agreed with me made things even better. It wasn't all, of course. Gia's attitude towards me had done nothing but bring out what was already there. But I didn't have to talk about it. It wasn't big enough to worry about, after all. Just one of those things about life. The future was ours to make, but not to tell, so there was no telling whether that little gap of loneliness that still lay within me would get filled some day. I wanted to trust that it would. And it wouldn't have been fair to bother Amber with that. Not when she was so sweet, so caring, and knew so well how it felt for love not to be returned.

The following night I had just about the same dream, only I didn't wake up covered in tears. I was happy. I'd been playing with my Oddish and Ditto friends for hours, and also with the Charmander who'd left the Valley before I could meet her, but who had eventually come to me when I was already leading a new life. They called her Cherry back then, and they didn't even have a name for me. But even in the dream she'd call me Sylvan and I'd call her Amber. I told her something I had actually said to her in the past: "when you grow wings and fly, please tell me what it feels like". And she replied: "I'll take you to fly with me". In the morning, for the first time, I told Amber about my dream. She smiled sweetly and told me that she could actually take me to the sky if I wanted, even if we wouldn't be able to get too far. But I kindly rejected the offer: I was too heavy, and I didn't want her to get hurt. I still appreciated it a lot.

Shortly after breakfast, the whole team headed for the Training Grounds. It was a day we'd all been waiting for. Everyone was excited as we wonder who would get to battle in each room. Before we got to talk about that, Gabi informed us that she'd made a deal with Karin and she'd watch over two of Karin's pokemon at the Blizzard room, while her friend would substitute her at the Lava Room.
"I'm afraid I've given up getting into that room, all my attempts have failed miserably," she explained. "Just as I won't ask any of you to battle in an adverse environment unless there's no other way, I've decided to allow myself the same treatment. I know all of you can do well on your own, and Karin will be there in case you need anything. And I'll be waiting outside the room. That's for the Lava Room, I mean. For the rest, I'll be with you."
"Sounds fair," Hero accepted. "I'll get to show Karin a few of my tricks. Because I get to battle there, right?"
"Of course, Hero. I wouldn't deny you the pleasure of battling another fire pokemon."
"I guess that means I get the Pond Room," deduced Tsunami.
"Err... Actually..." Gabi began.
"Actually what?," Tsunami said, nervous.
"Well... You and the rest of group B have had a lot more training than the others lately, so I think..."
"What?! We don't get to train?"
"Wait, please, Tsunami, don't look at me like that. I've been giving this a lot of thought, and I think the others could use a chance to level up more than you three. You four, actually; I'm not counting Amber in either."
"It's ok," said Amber when Gabi directed her look at her. "I still don't get the concept of friendly battles; I'd mess up and regret it. Besides, I've battled more than anyone else in the team lately."
"Yes, more than us," Tsunami insisted. "How long has it been since I last battled?"
"Not too long; you've been at the Battle Tower recently. The others need the training more than you do. Especially Iael. Don't worry, you'll get to battle on the next chance we get. Besides, I thought you would enjoy a weekend at Glacier Peak instead."
"Glacier Peak?," Tsunami's expression changed, his eyes shining with excitement. "Why didn't you say that before?"
"Because you wouldn't let me speak," Gabi retorted. "I have bookings for the new pokemon resort at Glacier Peak for you, Pidgeot and Water Angel, and I've made sure there'd be room if anyone else wanted to go. Caledor may want to join you after his battle, I'm sure he'll have a lot to talk about and show off. And everyone else is invited."
"Show off?..." Caledor thought for a moment, before he lit up like a living lamp. "Whoa, that's right! I almost forgot about it!"
"What is it, kid?," asked Tsunami.
"I'll show you when I've won my next battle. Wow! Thanks, Gabi! I'll make sure to join the group at Glacier Peak after my battle and find new ways to have fun. Do I get to battle first?"
"I knew you'd get excited," Gabi laughed. "You may battle first if you don't mind doing it in the water. We're heading for the Pond Room first. I can't take anyone to the Lava or Blizzard rooms before I meet Karin, and I'm not too sure about who should battle in the Desert and Jungle rooms."
"I can battle in the Jungle Room," I said. "If I'm going to battle, I think that's the best place. And I already know how to stay away from that paralyzing bush if it's still around."
"Yes, I was counting on you for that. The question is, will Ventura battle there with you, or will she go into the Desert room? Depending on that, you may battle in the Desert room too or have two battles on your own at the Jungle room. That's something for you and Ventura to decide."
"Good, you've put so much thought into this I was beginning to fear there'd be nothing left for us to decide," Ventura remarked.
"You know that could never be the case, don't you, Ventura?"
"I guess. I'd end up making my own choices anyway. But this time I think it's up to Sylvan. Clearly the Desert room would be easier for her, but maybe she's up for a challenge this time."
"I'll think about it," I concluded, ignoring the tone of Ventura's words. I knew words had never been her forte, it wasn't worth getting irritated by them.
"So, where will I battle?," asked Iael.
"I was thinking you could battle in a variety of environments," Gabi said. "That way you can test and improve a wide range of skills. If you want, that is."
"And that means...?"
"That means I've left room for you to battle in the Desert, Blizzard and Lava rooms. Of course you wouldn't go to all of them in a row, and the Desert Room would go between the other two."
"Wow, that's a lot!"
"Yes. Feel free to reject the offer if you want. I just thought that, since you put so much of you into battling, you'd like a chance to develop some tactics and battle creatively. And since they will be friendly battles, there's a good chance you won't have reasons to lose focus."
Gabi worded her thoughts carefully, but Iael could still read between lines.
"It's ok," he told her. "I won't get mad and forget the lives of those I care for are not at stake."
"That's not what I meant..."
"It is, but I don't blame you. Thanks for the chance."
"You've spoken like my brother, did you know that?"
"Really?," then Iael paused for a moment, thinking. "I guess we're not that different."
I couldn't tell whether he was referring to Gabi's brother or Gabi herself.

We walked in silence for a minute, and then Lagi spoke out.
"From what I can gather, I'm battling in the Pond Room with Caledor, right?"
"That's what I was thinking," Gabi confirmed. "But how did you know?"
"Well, all the spots for the Jungle, Desert and Lava rooms are taken, and you wouldn't have me battle in the Blizzard Room. And you never said I wouldn't battle."
"Nice deduction," Ventura told her. "Which leaves one spot open for the Blizzard Room. Do you have a pokemon in mind for that one, or can I take it?"
"You can take it. You may be up against a psychic pokemon, though. But knowing you, you may see that as an incentive."
"Well, I will if I end up proving I'm better than my opponent at harnessing my psychic abilities."
"They say the sky is the limit, but I have the feeling it's only the starting point for your ambition," Gabi laughed.
"You make it sound as if it were a bad thing," Ventura responded. "I only struggle to make the best of myself. Just because I have a type, or two in fact, it doesn't mean I have to let my type become a weakness."
"Are you trying to revolutionize the type weakness concept?," Tsunami asked her.
"I'm not after any revolutions, and I'm not the first one who wants to show no weak points and turn away from no challenges."
"Type weakness doesn't affect everyone in the same way," said Pidgeot, who was hovering close to us. "Just like physical pain in general. But we all have points where we can get hurt the most. And the deepest wounds aren't physical."
His words showed me I hadn't been the only one affected by our encounter with Team Rocket. I almost felt guilty for bursting into tears while Pidgeot had gone through so much worse and was still standing strong. But it wasn't something to feel guilty about. We all react to the same things in different ways.

We split up about halfway to the Training Grounds. Pidgeot took Water Angel's pokeball with him and let Tsunami sit on his back. He waved to us and took off, heading for Glacier Peak. We had arranged to gather there after the battles, and we all had permission to go as soon as we wanted, but I reckoned only Caledor would make use of that permission, and maybe Hero if the Lava Room was not the last one. The rest of us went straight to the Training Grounds complex and, after filling in a lot of forms and consciously ignoring all the stores, Gabi told us we were ready to begin. Since the Pond Room would be the first stop and I wouldn't have enough room to stand and watch the battle, I decided to stay outside. Amber stayed with me. She wasn't going to battle, but she'd wanted to stick with us instead of going to Glacier Peak.
"Are you sure you don't mind standing out here with me?," I asked her.
"Yours is great company," she replied. "Besides, I don't have a better choice either, do I? It's the way things are. I'm the Gyarados's daughter who can'ta have fun in the water."
I smiled. In the past, Amber had only mentioned her father a few times, and none with the grin she was now displaying. I figured it had hurt her to have had so few chances to be with him as a child, but having seen him in Templa Taure and realizing how much he loved her and how proud he was of her had changed her feelings about him for the better.

<Caledor's POV>

I was so excited I wouldn't have minded it if the water had been as cold as it had been at the Course, back at the winter Games. Well, maybe I would have minded a little, but it would have been worth the extra effort to stay focused. The way things were, with the water at a perfect temperature and the perspective of a whole new range of powers just a step away from me, I couldn't feel any better. I jumped into the water and swam around, looking for an opponent to battle. Lagi did the same, only she seemed more interested in diving than in battling. I couldn't blame her, first because she had been born in the water, and second because that meant I'd get the chance to battle first. Or so I thought.

Luck had it that a Dragonite would catch other pokemon's attention more than an Espeon did, and by the time I started contemplating the possibility of glowing to attract curious looks, someone was already challenging Lagi. It was a big blue sea lion with a large nose and huge tusks. It wasn't as big as Lagi, but for the little I knew about its kind, it would pose a big threat for her. Unless, it held back, of course. After all, it was an Ice type.

"You look strong. Can I battle you?," the Walrein asked Lagi in a deep, yet female voice. "I promise I won't use Ice attacks on you. I'd never seen a Dragonite before, I want to know what battling one is like."
"Then we're even," Lagi told her. "I'd never seen a Walrein before, except in brochures. Did you come from far away?"
"From the other side of the world. My trainer likes travelling a lot. He's built quite an unusual team with pokemon of all regions."
"That must be interesting. I've traveled too, though not that much. I've been to South America twice and to Kanto twice too. The rest of the time I've stayed in Ulthuan, though I've been to most of the Kingdoms."
"I haven't seen much of Ulthuan. We've only just arrived to Caledor, and before that we were in Tor Syle, in Eataine. We may go to Ellyrion for the Unicorn Games."
"Then we may meet again there. My trainer will be judging the tournament."
"Really?! Then I'm talking to a celebrity!"
That comment caused Lagi to chuckle.
"I haven't done more to become a celebrity than any other Dragon Tamer has. I've battled in the first Eagle Games, but that was ages ago. Lots of things have changed since then."
"Well, my opinion hasn't. We barely missed the chance to enter this tournament, but here at the Training Grounds I can meet some of the contestants. And if I do well here, maybe I can enter the next tournament whenever there is one."
"I'll make sure to see you, in that case. By the way, what's your name?"
"Baui. And yours?"
"Lagi. Nice to meet you, Baui."
"You too."
"Ahem..." I interrupted before they could go on with the conversation.
"Oh, Baui, this is my friend Caledor," Lagi introduced me.
"Like this place?," Baui asked.
"Yes, that's right. Is anything wrong, Caledor?"
"Wrong? What could be wrong? Other than the fact that you're taking forever to start your battle and no one's going to battle me until you two get done."
"Oh, sorry," Lagi apologized. "I guess I got carried away by Baui's excitement."
"By my excitement?," Baui asked, not fully understanding.
"That's Lagi for you," I told her, hoping the battle would start soon while trying not to take Lagi's only possible advantage away from her. Not that she was doing much to help herself.
"Ok, I got it, Caledor. We'll battle first and talk later. You don't have to be so impatient."
"Sorry. It's just that I don't get a chance like this one everyday."
"I know and I understand. So, Baui... Shall we battle?"
"Sounds good to me."

Level 68 Dragonite vs. Level 70 Walrein

It was Lagi who got to strike first. She shook her wings until her feet were barely touching the water, and then she dashed forward to where Baui was floating, hitting her with her wings.

"Ouch! Not bad, but you got too close," Baui told her as she launched herself towards Lagi, falling on the Dragonite's stomach. Lagi was pushed into the water, but quickly emerged from it. Moreover, she used the impulse to soar even higher. Not that Baui wasn't prepared for this: she used the chance to curl up and increase her defenses. When Lagi came down, the impact was not as great as she had expected. And if I could read the look in her eyes correctly, she realized she'd fallen into a trap the second before Baui's plan was put into motion.

I saw Baui clap her fins excitedly. I wasn't too sure about what was going on until I saw Lagi take off again, as if pushed up by an invisible force. Then Baui curled up again, and the next impact was even smaller. The scene was repeated once more, and the 4th time Lagi rose into the air Baui claimed that she was tired and, yawning, went to sleep. I felt sorry for Lagi. She didn't deserve to be made fun of like that.

"It's ok," Lagi said, plunging into Baui once more. "She's playing fair, I'll get out of this."
"Lagi, you're despicable!," I laughed. Of course, I knew she'd know I was joking. But I was the psychic one and yet she was the one who acted as if she could read my thoughts. I guess reading my feelings was close enough.

One more virtually useless blow of Fly and she was free. Baui was still sleeping, but she snored loudly.
"Flying moves won't help me anymore," said Lagi, not afraid to speak out while her opponent slept. I'll try something different.

It turns out 'something different' was Dragon Claw. After the first strike, Baui snored once more and Lagi got another chance to use her best Dragon type attack. Then Baui woke up.
"Hmm... You're still there..." she mumbled. "Go on."

With that, she clapped again. But that was a mistake; she hadn't realized Lagi wasn't using Fly anymore, and now she had to face another Dragon Claw, whether Lagi wanted it or not.
"Whoa!," the Walrein exclaimed, shocked by what had just hit her. That had woken her up completely, and I reckoned it would be hard for her to fall asleep right away. "Slow down!," she told Lagi, using a form of Secret Power you don't see at the Battle Tower.
But I guess her attack didn't get the desired effect, since Lagi stroke again right after her. Upon receiving the blow, Baui fell underwater. Instantly released from the Encore, Lagi dove to bring her back to the surface.


Lagi won and grew to level 70! She got Earthquake as her free TM!

Gabi and I both congratulated Lagi without bothering to ask her how she knew Baui wasn't coming out on her own. They say good things come to those who wait, and I had to wait until Baui was fine before I could get on with my battle, so I really hoped it was good. I had to hear Gabi's and Lagi's conversation about how Lagi could have avoided falling into the Encore trap but didn't become aware of it until it was too late, and how switching to Dragon Claw had been such a good idea considering Lagi and Baui had both tacitly agreed not to use any super-effective moves. When Baui was fit to speak again, she was still really excited. They kept on chatting for a while, but I didn't take part in their conversation. I was eager to win a battle. Not for the battle itself, but for the opportunities and challenges it would bring. Over the years I'd managed to get a decent control over my powers (though I really wished I was better at using my psychic abilities) so I was no longer worried about the next set being too much for me to handle. In any case, I could always ask Kovu for assistance, or even Pidgeot if that wasn't pushing things too hard. There was also Milliardo, but I wasn't sure if asking him would be a good idea; I might be better off asking Tsunami to help me improve my Surf attack.

I was just swimming around when I noticed something coming out from the bottom of the pool. I pushed back as fast as I could, and barely avoided getting hit as a Gyarados emerged from the water. The Gyarados fixed its eyes on me. I didn't know how to react, so I just said 'hi'. Bad idea: the Gyarados's stare became firmer and angrier.

"Sorry, I didn't want to disturb you or anything, I was just looking for an opponent to battle," I apologized.
"Then let's battle," the Gyarados roared in a voice that could have been either male or female.
Evidently, there would be no room for social talk. But what did I have to complain about? Hadn't I been hoping my battle would start as soon as possible? By the look of things, I'd only have enough time to push back a little more and brace myself for the first attack.

Level 49 Espeon vs. Level 55 Gyarados

Things aren't always the way they look, however, and I noticed an opening when the Gyarados turned away to gain distance. Not expecting to get many chances like that one, I decided to take advantage of what I did have, and sent a Psychic blast at my opponent. For the little use I could give my psychic powers in my everyday life, they'd never failed me in a battle, and this time wasn't the exception.

The Gyarados didn't complain. Instead, it came back to me spinning at a high speed. The attack sent me flying and I hit the water hard. It hurt so much I didn't think I could resist another blow like that one. And from what I knew about Trash, another was certainly coming. I stayed underwater for a moment, trying to think of a good way to defend myself and hoping the spinning Gyarados would take enough time before finding me. Then I remembered I had an item with me, which I hadn't given much use to yet. I swam as fast as I could, trying to make for the trainer's platform in time before I got hit. I was lucky the Gyarados was spinning wild and I had a good speed, even in the water. When I reached the platform, I did two things almost at the same time, with the Gyarados still chasing after me. First, I let my die fall on the little piece of solid floor available. Second, I used Reflect to put a psychic barrier between me and the Gyarados. My opponent was closing in when the die stopped rolling. I didn't have time to look at it and see what it had landed on, so I decided to look at my opponent and try to guess. I got hit all the same, so the serpent was neither asleep nor frozen. However, I barely felt the blow this time. I trusted my Reflect to be effective, but the difference between this blow and the previous one was so huge I had to have received some other kind of help. The answer became clear when my opponent winced after attacking me, if only for a brief moment. So burn it was. The thought of a pokemon being burnt in the water was funny, but I soon remembered fire was not the only thing that could cause burns, and went back to focusing on my battle.

It was time for me to attack again. I could have put an end to the battle quickly with a Thunderbolt, but I wasn't so cruel as to exploit a 4 weakness like that. Besides, I was intrigued as to whether I'd be able to win this battle using only moves that an Espeon could learn normally. It was some sort of challenge I'd imposed to myself, to prove myself I had enough self control to handle what would come to me if I won. After being hit by the first Thrash, I'd lost some confidence. But now that my opponent was burnt I felt I still had a chance. I used Psychic again. The Gyarados's reaction was confusing, but I felt my attack had been fairly good. Then my opponent stopped spinning and turned to face me. I said to myself it was the time of the truth, and instantly laughed at how ridiculously solemn that sounded.

I didn't expect another Thrash, nor any other physical attack for that matter. The Gyarados was already impaired enough. It would try to use some special attack, probably Bite if it was as mad as it looked. Unless...

No time to think of the other option, all I could do was hope for it to happen. The Gyarados came over, showing its sharp teeth. I sank underwater, diving as far towards the bottom as I could. I didn't stop to look back until I heard a sudden move in the water followed by a wincing sound. Then I couldn't help but look back and see what was going on. I was surprised by what I saw: the Gyarados curled up like a giant wheel, biting its own tail. The sea serpent opened its eyes widely for an instant, before sinking into the depths. That's when my lungs started craving for some air and I had to rush back to the surface. I took a deep breath as soon as I felt the air on my face. Never had a mixture of gases felt so delicious before. As I took in the air, I felt my new power surge through me.


I grew to level 51! I learned Bite, Pursuit, Faint Attack, Taunt, Torment and Snatch!

I swam back to Gabi's side, proud of my achievement. She hugged me and congratulated me. I asked her for how long she'd been looking at me, and she said she'd been watching since the Gyarados had first popped out of the water. She gave me my die back: I'd left it on the platform. Then she asked me how I felt.

"Great!," I told her, grinning.
"That's so good to hear!" she replied, hugging me again. "After seeing how worried you were before getting your fire and Psychic moves, I thought maybe..."
"I'd be afraid of the dark ones? No way, I'm past that. Many of my friends have been using those moves for ages and done nothing wrong with them. I just have a new set of moves to train with, and maybe I can return Tsunami a few favors..."
I rolled my eyes and Lagi sighed loudly. I ignored her.
"Besides, I've always been wondering if it was possible to do a certain thing," I added before trying an experiment.

I thought back to the instant after the battle was over, trying to remember the feeling of the energy that had raced through my body at that moment, grasping it, trying to send it out to the world in what seemed like a visual oxymoron.
"Black light?," Gabi laughed. "If someone was able to pull that one out, it had to be you!"
I laughed with her, still glowing. "What do you know? Black light does exist after all!"
"What are you going to do now?," Gabi queried.
"Do you even have to ask? I'm going straight to Glacier Peak to find Tsunami and show off!"
"Alright, just try not to break anything this time. I had to pay enough for the pillows at Yvresse, not to mention how embarassing the whole situation was."
I felt like saying "oh, but it was so worth it," but I reckoned that would get me in trouble, so I held myself.
"How are you feeling?," Gabi asked Lagi.
"Fine. Just a bit hungry," she replied. "If we have lunch now, I can take Caledor to Glacier Peak right away."
"Oh, that would be great, thanks," Gabi told her. "So, I guess we're off to the dining room. It was a pleasure to meet you, Baui."
"The pleasure was mine. Just one question before you go. How is it that you can understand me? It took my trainer years, and I've only just met you."
"Oh... Well... Caledor is good at translating."
That was true, but that was not the reason. Still, I had resigned myself to be her permanent excuse. Not that it would hurt me to take some credit when Gabi didn't want to draw attention to herself and her little white stone.

We said goodbye to Baui and left the Pond Room without waiting for the Gyarados to come out. I didn't feel like talking to it anyway, and I hadn't even found out its gender, let alone its name. We started heading for the dining room, joined by the rest of the team (those who were present, anyway). While we were walking, Lagi asked Gabi what was on her mind.
"I wonder were Karin is," she answered. "I expected to find her today."
At that moment, out of nowhere, a young guy with straight light brown hair and blueish eyes shouted out: "hey! The princess... is in... another castle!"
We were all startled; Gabi looked at him, speechless.
"Hehe, I'd always wanted to say that," the guy laughed. "Sorry, I heard you were asking for Karin. She's at the Blizzard Room. She's been there for hours."
"Really? And you are...?"

Through a weird conversation we found out the guy's name was Andy and he was only there to watch. In the end he turned out not to be as odd as he seemed at first, though I never got to understand why he'd shouted the way he had. He did explain it was a phrase from a game, though. It turned out that Karin had apparently forgotten the deal and gone into the Blizzard Room with her pokemon, so Hero and Iael decided they'd go into the Lava Room on their own. Or, rather, with Amber, who wanted to see if she could find an old friend of hers inside. After that, lunch felt excessively normal, but the food was good - and there was even a burger bar! I would have liked to find Beckham there, or at least tell him about it, but I didn't say no when Lagi told me she was ready for the trip. After all, there would always be time for old jokes later, and I couldn't wait to see the look on Tsunami's face when I popped out of the shadows just like he did in the water. Though I'd practice a little before looking for him. I had to make sure everything would be perfect.
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<Iael's POV>

The post-lunch talk went on for quite a long time, even after Lagi had left with Caledor. We kept bumping into trainers, and all of them had something to talk about. I was wondering when the next battles would begin? I wasn't sure whether I was excited or worried at the prospect of battling 3 times within 2 days. In any case, I wanted it in my past rather than in my future. I hoped I wouldn't fail Gabi, she seemed to have great expectations of me and I really wanted to live up to them. I also hoped the next room we were going to would be either the Blizzard or the Lava Room, as I didn't think I could handle having my 3 battles one after the other. But I didn't tell anyone about my worries. They'd think I wasn't up to the task.

Luckily for me, when the encounters finally ceased and Karin hadn't shown up yet, the Lava Room became available and Hero jumped at the chance. Gabi asked me if I was ready too, and I nodded firmly. Maybe too firmly, I don't know.
"Alright, I'll wait for you right here. Take care and do your best, but don't push yourselves too hard, remember it's just a friendly battle. Good luck to you both!"
She spat out the whole stream of words, as if it were a speech she'd been preparing. Maybe she had. I had the feeling I could have answered something, but I just nodded and walked into the room as soon as Amber pushed the door open. She came in with us; Amber, I mean. Hero and I were looking for opponents to battle, but she was looking for something else. Or, rather, someone else. There didn't seem to be any pokemon around, though.

"Where's everyone?," Amber finally asked.
"You know how this works. Sometimes a group of pokemon come in and wait for opponents, and sometimes a trainer does," Hero reminded her. "I guess we arrived in the middle of a switch. Someone's bound to come in soon."
"I wonder if Eliot has come this time around. I was almost sure I'd see him here."
"Eliot?," I asked.
"Old friend of hers," Hero told me. "She's met him a few times right here in this room. She even battled him once, and that's when she decided friendly battles were not her thing. You didn't miss much by not watching that battle. It was shameful. Both pokemon were holding back."
"We have different feelings about battling friends," Amber addressed Hero with a fierce look on her face. "I'd appreciate it if you respected mine."
"Sorry, I didn't think you'd be offended by my telling Iael what happened."
"You called our battle shameful, so yes, I do find it offensive. Caledor and Tsunami may enjoy having word fights with you, but I'm different, as you have pretty much noticed."
"Okay, miss, calm down! I didn't mean to hurt you. Honest."
"I'll take that as an apology," Amber said in the same serious tone.
Hero remained silent, and so did I. It wasn't common to see Amber mad at her friends, so I could only assume Hero had hit a nerve.

Before the tension could wear off, or get worse, a trainer came in. He had black, semi-spiky hair with red streaks on the front, and was wearing torn blue jeans with a matching jacket. His skin was light-brownish, like a cup of coffee with milk, and he wore a collar of what looked like fangs, but I was sure they were fake. He was an unusual sight, but I'd already learnt each trainer had pretty much their own style, so I didn't get caught in thoughts about the looks of this one. He looked around for a while, then looked down to Hero and me.

"Have you come to battle here?," he asked.
Hero and I nodded, unsure of whether he would understand anything we said.
"Where's your trainer?"
"Out there," Hero pointed to the door with his head. "She couldn't stand the heat."
"Huh?"
That vague reply didn't let us know whether he could understand us or not.
"Well, I guess I can let my pokemon out," the human decided. "They'll know what to do. Let me check which ones are best for you two..."
He took one of those electronic devices trainers normally use. I wasn't sure if it was a pokedex, pokegear or one of the more modern variants, but it seemed to give him enough information to make his choice.
"Alright, that's it," he said to himself, putting his gizmo back in his pocket and walking several steps back. He then took a pokeball in each of his hands. Two red beams of light came out of the spheres, and soon two pokemon took shape in front of us: a Blaziken and a Camerupt.
"Guys, could you please find out what's going on?," the trainer asked the two. "Then you can battle or wait, or tell these two where to go. I'll help you if it's time to battle."
The two strange pokemon nodded in agreement, and then directed their looks at us. Up to then my mind had been busy trying to find a way to explain the situation, but now that I was facing these two pokemon, I wasn't too sure about wanting to battle either of them. They belonged to two of the kinds of pokemon that had arrived to Ulthuan barely a year ago, and I'd never had a proper encounter with them before; all that was clear was that they looked very strong. I'd heard Camerupt was Fire/Ground type, and Blaziken was Fire/Fighting type, and they were both fully evolved pokemon. That was about as much as I knew about them. Which meant I'd have to improvise a lot. I looked at Hero; he seemed quite excited.

"Hello, we're here to battle," my friend spoke. "Our trainer has signed us up to battle at the Training Grounds, but this room makes her really sick, so we've come on our own. Only me and my Stantler friend are battling, the Charizard will just watch."
"That's right," Amber nodded.
The Blaziken and Camerupt directed puzzled looks at each other. Then the Blaziken shrugged.
"I haven't seen anything like this before," he said, "but I guess it's ok. If you want to battle without your trainer, it's your choice. But we won't hold back and wait until you think of what move to use next."
"Good for you, because I'm not going to wait for you either," Hero retorted. I could see how funny he found the idea of having someone wait for him.
"I see you're brave," said the Camerupt in a voice as deep as a cavern. "I'll be your opponent. What's your name?"
"Hero. I've been using that name ever since I battled at the Domain of the Sleeping Dragon?"
"The what?"
"A training room, like this one but even hotter."
"Oh. My name is Vesuvius. For... obvious reasons. My friend is Bruce."
"Nice to meet you," Hero and Bruce said to each other.
"Who's your silent friend?," asked Bruce.
"Oh... me?," I reacted. "Sorry, I'm Iael. I just didn't want to interrupt."
"It's ok," Bruce said. "I must warn you I'm a tough opponent, Iael. And I have a type advantage against you. So does my friend against yours. If you have any doubts regarding this battle, you're still in time to quite."
"Never."
My voice was firm now, all my doubts finally washed away. I'd given Bruce a wrong impression of me. He thought I was weak. No matter how our battle turned out, I'd make sure he didn't think that way once we were done.
"Ok, then. Let's go first before that fire wears off," the Blaziken suggested. Then he turned to his trainer to tell him we were going to battle, and barely a second later he was facing me once more. I hadn't expected him to act so fast. I'd have to be really good at improvising this time.

Level 37 Stantler vs. Level 45 Blaziken

I felt a slash on my side before I could even begin to move. This was getting ridiculous. The battle had just started and, if it went on like that, I'd be lost in no time. I stopped thinking and used my mindpower to push my opponent away instead. It was not bad for my standard as far as Psychic attacks go. Living with Caledor, Ventura, and even Gabi and Lagi, my psychic powers weren't normally worth mentioning. They were too raw. But they were good enough to send a Blaziken crashing against a rock. I heard Bruce's trainer shout out a command: Blazing Kick, though I'd never heard of that move before. I could imagine what it was like by its name, and it didn't sound like something I'd like to get a taste of. I had to do something, but what? I knew Bruce would recover quickly, so I tried to run away in order to gain some time. I didn't have much room to run, so I had to jump from one rock platform to another while trying to think of what to do next. I couldn't send another Psychic blow now, Bruce would be ready for it. I still had two other moves that were good against fighting types, but...

He caught up with me before I could think of how to pull out my next move. His legs were definitely better than mine for running and jumping, even if I had four and he had only two. I felt one of them burning on my back. I rolled over the rock floor in time for my skin not to catch fire, but the damage I'd receive was beyond anything I could have expected - and in just one blow! There wasn't much more I could do; one more hit and I wouldn't tell the tale. So I tried the trick my kind would resort to when everything else failed. I began to shake, as if in fear... Only that the shaking of most of my body was just a farse, only the movement of my antlers actually mattered.

"Bruce, finnish it off with a Rock Smash!," the trainer commanded. His pokemon took a look at me before attacking.
"Are you scared, little friend?," Bruce said to me. "Don't worry, this will be over soon. I promise I won't hurt you more than I have to in order to win this battle."
At first I didn't know if my plan would work, but I was lucky. Bruce was directing all of his attention to me, and thus took a full dose of my hypnotic powder. He froze in his place before he could deal the next blow, so I took the chance instead. I gave him another blast of Psychic and, as soon as he hit the ground, I lifted him up with my Flying type Hidden Power. I was ready to continue, but it turned out that had been just enough.

"Iael wins!," announced Vesuvius in his cavernous voice.


I grew to level 39!

"Congratulations! You're quite a surprise," the Camerupt commended me. "I thought he had you there before you put him to sleep. That will teach Bruce not to take an opponent for granted just because his type is weak against his own. I can see you have that issue covered."
"Thanks," I replied.
"Oh, that's nothing. He didn't even use Earthquake," Hero added. "Of course that would have been too dangerous in a place like this. Could have caused an eruption or something."
"Oh, this isn't a real volcano," Vesuvius informed us. "The lava's artificial. They have some tremendous heat generators around here, but the ground below us is solid. It's a controlled environment."
"Oh, that's good to know. I should have figured it, though. Whoever made this place wouldn't want us to risk our lives. So... is it time for our battle now, or shall we wait until your friend comes back from Dreamland?"
"Can we wait, if you don't mind? Bruce and I like watching each other's battles."
"Is it ok if I go out?," I asked everyone. "I may have to battle again today, and I will need a potion or something. And a break."
"Go ahead," Hero accepted. "One more pokemon to describe my epic battle to."
"Epic?," Vesuvius raised an eyebrow.
"My battle, whatever. I like to boast, ok? But don't make the mistake of thinking that makes me overconfident."
"And why are you warning me?"
"Because I want you to do your best, just as I will. That's what makes battles interesting."
"You're strange."
"You took longer to tell me that than most of the opponents I've faced. And most of the pokemon I've met, actually. I'm surprised you haven't asked any questions about my appearance yet."
"Would you want me to?"
"Nah. It's better this way."

I let the two keep on talking as I walked out of the room and back to most of my friends, still thinking of my battle. It had been close, but things had turned out quite well! When I told the others, they all congratulated me. Gabi hugged me until I had to tell her I was still too hot from the Lava Room to hold physical contact for so long. Ventura then took me to the pokemon center inside the complex, explaining the situation to the local nurse in psychic flashes and telling me everyone would be back for me after Hero's battle. I'd have rather have someone to talk to, but it was ok. I'd see them all soon, and I needed some rest before my next battle anyway.

<Hero's POV>

It took a while before Bruce was back on his feet. He started asking where Iael was, and his friend had to tell him he'd won the battle and left to recover.
"But how...? Didn't I hit him with my Rock Smash?"
Vesuvius shook his head.
"He used Hypnosis. Stantlers can be quite tricky, you should have taken that into account."
I thought Bruce's face looked redder than before, if that was even possible.
"He could have stayed," was all he managed to say.
"He has another battle scheduled for today," I told him. "But if it helps, he looked quite impressed by your power and your speed."
"Oh... Yes, I was the fastest one in my family," Bruce said, taking his hand to his head before standing up.
"You too?," I smiled. Then I turned back to Vesuvius. "I guess we can battle now, right?"
"Right," he accepted. "Let's see how many of your words you can back up."

Level 68 Ninetales vs. Level 70 Camerupt

From what I had seen so far, Vesuvius was a nice pokemon. Centered, not quick to judge others... He seemed like someone who would have been nice to have around, even if I couldn't picture him taking part in a comeback fight any time soon, let alone a pillow fight. He was just too serious for that. Now it was time to see how he performed in battle. By asking me why I was warning him, he'd made it clear he didn't want me to give him an advantage. I respected that, since I would have done the same. So, no more warnings, and no keeping any of my best tricks to myself.

I started the battle with a Double Team. That can always help if you can think of good ways to pull it out. Running around your opponent and creating holograms of you is a good way to start, but you have to do something else if you want the move to be effective. Like, for example, I had my copies move in different ways in order to distract my opponent's attention. With years of practiced I'd managed to get up to 3 sets of copies to perform different actions at the same time. Moreover, if the action was Quick Attack, they could launch themselves in 8 up to different directions. If I had 8 or more holograms, that is. Sometimes an attack came by before I could create them all, but I was considerably faster than Vesuvius, plus he had to wait for his trainer's command, so I had the time to create 11 copies of myself before he could attack me. But, as soon as the human commanded Vesuvius to start off with "the trap for elusive fire types", the attack did come, and not exactly from the Camerupt's direction. It came from all directions: small rocks and blocks of earth pulling away from the ground and walls and hitting me and all my images at the same time. From the sides and from above. It was a move I didn't see everyday, but I knew about it. I knew enough to determine that a) it was bad for me, b) it could be even worse and c) using Dig was now out of the question.

"Keep it up," the trainer instructed the Camerupt. I continued running, trying to keep as many images coherent as possible. Now that I knew what my opponent could do, any chance of getting him to miss was precious. But Vesuvius was a fire type too, and his moves could do about as much damage to him as they could do to me. I came up with a plan.

"Are you just going to keep running?," Vesuvius asked. "Or are you up to something? If it's the latter, let's not give you the chance to pull it out."
More rubble came in my direction. Or, rather, in the direction I'd been a moment earlier. I was now standing safely behind my opponent. I had teleported, leaving a hologram running in my place. When Vesuvius saw his projectiles phase through his target, he turned around. I was waiting for him, with a Confuse Ray charged up. I fired as soon as he fixed his eyes on me. "It's not Hypnosis, but it might be even better," I said to myself.
No sooner said than done, the next wave of earthly projectiles landed right on the Camerupt's head. I took my chance to create even more copies. It was the best thing I could do, since I had no moves that were good against a Camerupt yet. Luck was on my side and Vesuvius hit himself once more, but after the last impact his look changed and I knew he wasn't under the influence of my Confuse Ray anymore. And I doubted I'd be able to teleport again without his noticing. But I wasn't lost, not yet. I still had a few tricks left.

I gathered all of my clones around Vesuvius to obscure his vision, having them jump from side to side, away from him or towards me. I moved as if I were one of them and, when I noticed he wasn't looking at me, I Quick-Attacked out of his reach, landing right behind the rock where Iael's first Psychic attack had sent Bruce crashing. I hid behind it and watched as Vesuvius tried to figure out which of the Ninetales around him was me. In the end, he got tired and shot another Magnitude at them, even if some blocks fell too close to him. I watched everything carefully, not missing a detail.

Vesuvius turned around upon noticing all of his targets were fake, but this time he didn't find me behind him either.
"Where are you?!," he roared, almost making the floor shake with his deep and loud voice.
He turned to his trainer, who shrugged as a reply. They both kept looking around.
"He must be hiding behind one of the large rocks," the human finally deduced.
The camel stomped on the ground, more blocks coming out and shooting themselves towards the nearest rock, but that wasn't the right one. Now I could have teleported behind that one, as he was unlikely to hit it twice in a row, but then the battle could have lasted forever. And it would have felt dirty, anyway. So I decided to come out and give the Camerupt a taste of his own medicine.
"Look, this is how it's done," I told him, repeating the same sequence of moves Vesuvius had been using again and again.
The rubble hit my opponent just like it had hit me the first time. The impact wasn't that great, but thanks to my collar it was good enough. With a bit of luck, one more hit would be all I needed.
"You know Magnitude?," Vesuvius asked, stunned. "I didn't think a Ninetales could learn that move."
"We can... In indirect ways," I replied mysteriously.
"This is taking too long," the trainer said. "How about taking a big chance?"

A big chance... I didn't like the sound of it. Was he going to use a move I'd never seen, just like his friend Bruce had? Was he about to use some Ground type version of Hyper Beam?... No, when the human had said 'chance', he'd meant exactly that. They were taking a chance, as I confirmed when the Camerupt showed me his heaviest stomp ever... opening a crack on the ground. The crack expanded itself, evading the few remaining clones and coming my way... But it was too slow for me. I didn't even have to use Quick Attack to jump over to the next platform, protected by the same lava that was now making its way through the openings.
"I thought you said the ground was stable," I claimed.
"Stable enough for an Earthquake, anyway. Fissure's another thing," Vesuvius replied, not looking surprised at his failure.
"Yeah, speaking of that... Don't you know better than to use that here? And against me, on top of it? You should have known I'd have no trouble dodging and you'd just give the maintenance guys a lot of work to do."
"I know, but he thought it would be a good idea," he replied, gesturing to his trainer with his head.
"You can have ideas of your own, you know," I told him. "Trainers can help you, but they don't have the view of battles you can only get from the inside. And you strike me as being experienced enough not to need that much advice."
"I haven't tried battling any other way," he admitted. "I guess my moves have always been good enough to make up for a miss or two during a battle. But I'll think about it."
"Good. Shall we continue our battle now?"
"Go ahead."

And ahead I went. A part of me wanted to know what attack Vesuvius could come up with when choosing on his own, but another part reminded me that whatever that move was, I wasn't bound to endure it. So I decided to let him try a new battling style some other time, and hitting him with another Magnitude this time. The trainer's seemingly random comment as he checked his poke-whatever and said "that got a 7 in the Magnitude scale" didn't tell me much, but the sound of Vesuvius's heavy bulk hitting the remnants of the platform he's been standing on definitely did.


I grew to level 70! I earned a free TM and, after this long battle, I made up my mind to ask Gabi to get me Toxic!

"Now this is weird," the trainer said, calling Vesuvius back into his pokeball and looking at the sphere with puzzled eyes. How funny, because I was having the same thought about him.
"Is he really the one who trained you?," I asked Bruce.
"Yes, but I guess he got nervous. It's the first time he's had to battle two pokemon without a trainer. He didn't know what to expect."
"And I did. You really should consider a change in your strategy, Vesuvius isn't too fast, but he's strong enough to defeat two of me."
"Maybe. But twelve of you?," the Blaziken joked.
I laughed when I realized what he was referring to.
"By the way, how did you learn to use Magnitude?," he asked me.
"I didn't. I just copied your friends move by using Mimic."
"Mimic? Interesting, I'd never heard of that move."
"We're even. I'd never heard of Blazing Kick either. You should go to the pokemon center in Selenia, they always have some Mimic TMs in stock. It's quite a good move if you can buy yourself the time to use it."
"Since you're giving so much advice today, I'll give you some too. Stop talking as if you knew everything and everyone else knew nothing. It's irritating and it can earn you some enemies."
"I wasn't talking like that."
"You should hear yourself when you talk. Of course I can tell you don't mean it. After all you didn't make fun of us for losing. But you do brag a little too much."
"Really? I thought I was holding myself. I didn't say a word about how I won the first Griffon Games and the first Eevee House race... Err... Sorry."
Bruce laughed.
"What's going on?," asked his trainer.
"Nothing, the battle is over," Bruce replied. "I guess we'll meet some other time, or maybe not, in any case it was nice to meet you."
"Same here," I told him, understanding it was time to go back to my group.
Amber waved goodbye to Bruce. Only then I noticed her again. She had been silent throughout the two battles.
"I'm sorry you didn't find your friend," I told her as we both made for the door.
"It's ok," she replied. "That's the way with everyone around here. We never know when we're going to bump into each other, nor when we're not. I may end up finding him when I least expect it. I'm not even sure if he remembers me, anyway. We've only met a couple of times and he's probably faced hundreds of pokemon, being trained by a mercenary."
"Believe me, you're hard to forget. Wait a minute... Have you tried looking for him at Caledor's Nature Protection Agency? He might be there. That's where mercenary trainers usually take their fire pokemon to battle."
"You're right, I hadn't thought about it. I may go there someday. Not to battle, though. Just to talk."
"I'm glad I could help."

The conversation didn't last any longer, as we'd got to the spot where everyone was waiting for us.
"Another victory for our team," I announced, and everyone cheered.
"That's great! Would you like to go to Glacier Peak now?," Gabi offered. I considered it for a moment.
"No, thanks," I finally decided. "I'd rather wait until Caledor's excitement has worn of. I wouldn't like to become another target for his random attacks. Besides, I'd like to watch Iael's next two battles. He's done quite well and I'm intrigued about how much he's really capable of. Oh, and you owe me a Toxic TM."
"What?"
"Dragon Tamers rules. I've earned a free TM, and I've chosen that one."
"Oh, sure. I'll get you one at the pokemon center as we check out Iael. Let's go there now, I think there's still time for one more room today."
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<Iael's POV>

I knew we were going to the Desert Room next, and I knew I was going to battle in it. What I didn't know was who was coming with me. Sylvan and Ventura had been arguing for a while. It was strange to see Sylvan take part in an argument, but Ventura had been especially edgy over the last few months, and that was a lot to say about her. She could drive anyone mad without putting much effort into it. From what I could make out, Sylvan didn't see the point of having two battles in a row and straining her body to the limit when we were only here for some training. Ventura seemed to interpret that as a refusal to face a real challenge and told her she'd get nowhere if she always had things the easy way. Then their words turned into a loud noise. All I could tell was that Sylvan felt really offended, and at one point I heard her tell Ventura that she had nothing to prove to her. Then the noises became unclear again, both pokemon talking on top of each other until Gabi stepped between them and stared at them. She had her back against me, so I couldn't see if her stare was one of anger or concern. But it was enough for my teammates to stop in their tracks.

"I'm afraid to ask what's going on here," Gabi said. "It may cause you to start arguing again, or me to get a headache."
"Forget it," Ventura shrugged in the best way a Venomoth can.
"I was given a choice, I took it," Sylvan stated. "You may have chosen differently in my place, but you must respect me."
"What choice was this?," Gabi asked, but the girls ignored her.
"How can you demand respect if you back off from any chances of proving yourself?"
"Everyone deserves respect, Ventura. And this is not a test, it's not a trial... It's just training! Straining one's body beyond its limits isn't good for anyone."
"How would you know? You've never done it."
"You'd be surprised at the amounts of strain I've been through."
"If we were to compare each other, I think you would be shocked."
"Well, maybe that's the way you like it, but I'm not you, Ventura. Please understand that."
"It's not the way I like it. It's just the way it's had to be. Some are lucky enough to have all problems worked out for them and a guardian angel watching over. Some of us need to find the strength within ourselves. And at the end of the day, I'm not so sure which ones are more blessed."
"We've lived together for years, but somehow you don't seem to know me yet."
"That goes both ways."
"Maybe."
"That's enough," Gabi sighed. "What's gotten into you two? Everything seemed to be fine a moment ago."
"It's still fine, Gabi, you don't need to get worked up about this. I was just givig Sylvan some friendly advice."
"Friendly advice? Since when is questioning my decisions, my values and even my own essence friendly advice?"
"What?! You're taking this too far! I only said..."
"I know what you said!"
"You don't seem to."
"Let... me... be. Let me make my own choices and handle my life the way I want to. I know you've always seen me as a weak and defenseless creature, and back when we first met I was, but I've grown up even if you can't seem to understand it."
"Then why won't you try and have 2 battles in a row?"
"Because I consider that having 2 separate battles will help me more. Because my style is different from yours and what's good for you is not necessarily good for me, and because if the time ever comes for me to prove myself to you, it won't be in a controlled environment."
"I think we all know each other enough to know no one has to prove themselves to the others," Gabi asserted.
"Is that so...?," now it was Ventura who sighed, her eyes lost in the distance. "I've always felt that life itself was some sort of test. And those who fail pay the most terrible prizes."
"It's not like that!," Sylvan seemed horrified at the thought. "Sure, we've all been through awful times, some worse than others, but there's a lot more to life than that. If you can't grasp the good things about life, and realize how lucky you are to be here, then I don't see how it's worth living."
"I guess I'm not making myself clear," Ventura said. "Facing challenges is something I enjoy. Struggling to achieve what seems impossible and then coming on top or trying harder next time. Not letting anything or anyone bring me down. That's what life is about for me."
"We live under the same roof and have totally different concepts of what life is," Sylvan finally smiled. "I guess we should just stick to what works for each of us."
"I guess so," Ventura accepted. "I take it you won't be wanting my coaching any time soon."
"I don't know. Maybe if another football or hockey game comes up. Or if something important is at stake. But I'd rather handle training battles on my own. Even if I lose some, I'll learn more than I would if I got the answers sent to me whenever things get tough."
"That definitely proves you have grown," Gabi stroked Sylvan's neck.
"I have. Earlier than you all think. You two have always been protecting me, and so has Amber. Don't think I didn't catch the 'guardian angel' reference. But it's been a while since I learned I could protect myself and others as well. And I haven't had a dark past, but I've made some tough choices and things haven't always been bright for me. So I would appreciate it if you'd stop saying I've had all my problems sorted out for me."
"We won't compete to see whose life's been harder. I know the answer, but I'm sure your problems are important for you too," Ventura said.
"I've never talked about my problems with you, so I can't see how you'd know the answer."
"I've heard you each and every time a crisis landed upon us. You don't have to talk to me personally to make it obvious."
"There are some things you don't know about me."
"And how much do you think you know about me?"
"Why is that so?," Gabi interrupted them. "Wouldn't it be better if we all shared our feelings and concerns with the others? Maybe that way no one would hurt others unintentionally."
"Then our lives would turn into a soap opera, and that's not my kind of life," Ventura rejected the offer. "As I've always said, I accept you as my trainer and thank you for giving me a place to live and any help I may need, but don't try to pull me over to your corny side of the world. I'm not made for it."
"You're always so nice..." ironized Gabi.
"I leave that job to you. I'm direct," Ventura replied.
"Is everyone going to start fighting now?," I interrupted the trio. It was getting late and that was as much as I could take of their argument.
"I seriously hope not," Gabi answered.
"We shouldn't even be having this argument," Sylvan sighed. "We all know Ventura's edgy by nature. And that trait seems to be developing even more as time goes by."
"Has it ever even occured to you that there might be a reason for my edginess?"
"Really? And what is that reason?"

There was silence for a few seconds. Not only me, Sylvan and Gabi stared at Ventura, but everyone in the team did. We all waited, wondering what she was going to say. What we finally got was hardly what any of us was hoping for.
"I have the right to have feelings too, don't I? Everyone else here does and no one makes a fuss about it. Now why don't we all go to the Desert Room and watch Sylvan and Iael battle? It's getting late."
With those words, Ventura clearly marked the end of the conversation. I sighed. I was convinced that we'd all be able to get on with her better if only she'd open up and share her feelings and her worries with us. But I also knew how hard that could be when something too painful was plaguing your heart. For Ventura's sake, I hope that wasn't the case with her.

"Not a good way to start," my more strategic side told the emotional part of me. "It will be harder to focus on the battle with so much on our minds, both for me and Sylvan. But all in all, what was it? It was just a pointless argument, nothing really happened and nothing that mattered was said. There's nothing new about Ventura getting easily irritated and trying to direct everyone's actions; it was strange to see Sylvan getting back at her, but it was bound to happen eventually. Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing to really worry about. Nothing the rush of the battle can't quickly wash away."
With those thoughts, I lead the way into the Desert Room. I didn't know how Sylvan's emotions would affect her battle, but I did know I was going to be at my peak as soon as I was face to face with my opponent.

I waited at the door until Gabi came to open it. When she did, a sudden gust of wind blew sand right on my face.
"Nice greeting," Gabi said, coughing. Apparently I hadn't been the only one hit by the sand.
"Didn't you arrange this whole thing?," Hero questioned her.
"I just had some people restore the rooms to what they originally looked like," Gabi answered. "I might make some changes next time, if there is a next time and I happen to be in charge of it again. Anyway, the wind's stopped blowing now, I think it was just a nasty coincidence that it would come our way right when I opened the door."
"Yeah, bad thing your psychic powers didn't predict it," Hero joked.
"You know as well as I do that I don't have the faintest idea of how my psychic abilities work. Except for the psychic signals, I think I can control them quite well even if there's not much I can do with them."
"Good, keep training and you'll soon have the psychic prowess of Caledor."
"You're aware of the fact that Caledor is a psychic pokemon, right?," Gabi reminded the Ninetales.
"Yes, but I doubt he'd take offense if he were here. He knows his psychic powers are as good outside of battles as a toaster without bread. For now, at least. Besides, I kinda miss my little buddies; I need to tease them so that I don't feel their absence so much."
"I gave you the choice of going with them," Gabi told him.
"I know, and I stick to my decision. There's a couple of battles I don't wanna miss."
"And you also want to wait until Caledor's not so hyper before you start teasing him in his presence," I added.
"Why you little... You're overstepping your bounds, Iael. Keep at it and you'll soon be one of us."
"Are you saying I could join the terrible trio?... No, it doesn't feel like me. And I can't imagine your little group changed in any way. But thanks."

Shaking the sand away from my face, I walked across the dunes of what, according to Gabi, looked more like a waterless beach than a real desert. I overheard Hero's comment about me being weird, but I didn't care. Who wasn't weird in our party, or in any of the teams we were in close contact with? I knew some aspects of me contrasted with each other; I knew I sometimes didn't make sense to most of my friends. But I was ok with it. I'd finally learnt that it was not a problem, it was just the way I was.

I faced front and kept walking until a rambling sound reached my ears. It was quite strong, even on the sand. Whatever was causing it sounded heavy. I wondered if that would be my opponent. I moved cautiously towards the source of the sound, until I reached the top of one of the highest dunes and an image became visible. I'll be honest, it looked like a gigantic wheel with a handle on each side. It was rolling across the sand without an apparent pattern. For a moment, I felt it would be nice to do the same... Just to move around with no reason, no purpose, leaving the world behind. But it was just a moment. I was there to have a battle, everything else could wait. I trotted down the dune and went after the rolling pokemon. I ran by his side for a few seconds until he finally noticed me and stopped. The base of the wheel opened to leave room for 4 thick pillars to step on the ground, while the front side unfolded, taking the shape of a trunk and revealing a pair of sharp-looking tusks below it. The transformation was impressive. The Donphan's eye turned to look at me.
"Are you my opponent?," he asked me.
"I guess so," I replied.
"I wasn't expecting a Stantler," he said twisting his mouth a little. "Ok, I'll assume you're as good an opponent as any."
"What were you expecting?," I asked.
"I don't know... It's just... You don't see many Stantlers coming to this place. Let alone one experienced enough to challenge me. I thought I'd see a Scizor, and Alakazam or the odd cocky Charizard. Maybe even a Venusaur... that would have been a real challenge."
There was an oddly sad tone in his voice.
"How do you know I'm not?," I questioned him. He sighed.
"Sorry, I didn't want to hurt your feelings or anything. It's just that Donphans are naturally stronger than Stantlers. But if you still want to battle me, I'll have to assume that you're not completely defenseless. I'll give you a chance. Please make it worth my time."
I didn't like this Donphan's attitude at all, but this situation wouldn't be resolved by talking. Though in a very bad way, he was asking me to prove myself in battle. I could do that. I'd leave no openings and give him no reasons to think I was weak. I'd make him change his view on Stantlers from that day.

Level 40 Stantler vs. Level 45 Donphan

I'd seen and heard the Donphan rolling across the Desert Room; I knew he hadn't bluffed when he said his kind was stronger than mine. Brute force wouldn't win against him, but there were still other things I could do to help myself. Leer was a start. I stood right there, facing my opponent, and pierced him with my eyes. He seemed to flinch for a moment, but it was just a moment.
"Yes, I know you can do that," he spoke vaguely, as if he were talking to the air or to himself more than to me. "You can weaken me a little, but not enough. I'll still come out on top."
He came charging in my direction. I tried to dodge, but it was hard to run on the sand. The Donphan's head hit my left side and sent me rolling on the ground. I was glad that at least his tusks hadn't touched me. I used the same impulse of the fall to get back up, and gave the Donphan a taste of his own medicine. My Headbutt blew the air out of him for a second. He turned towards me, and looked at me as if he was seeing me for the first time.
"Alright," he spoke out. "It won't be the same this time, that much is clear."
With that, he kneeled down and turned back into a wheel. It was obvious what attack he was going to use. I let him hit me the first time: I was close and he wouldn't have had the chance to build up his speed. As I expected, the impact was not too strong and it left me close enough to my opponent to kick some sand into his face. Well, a lot of sand. He'd have some troube getting rid of that, especially if he didn't stop rolling. I quickly jumped away and watched him miss on his next attempt at rolling over me.

The Donphan resumed his normal shape and shook his head. While he was distracted, I took the chance to plant another Headbutt on his side.
"This isn't working," he muttered.
He took a deep breath and blew away the sand from his face with his trunk. He opened and closed his eyes until no grains of sand were obstructing them.
"Are you ready to continue?," I asked, though I wasn't sure if asking that was a good idea.
The battle was coming out quite differently from what I had expected. I'd prepared myself for battling a cocky brute and showing him what I was capable of, but the Donphan's reactions had taken me by surprise. I couldn't quite measure him yet.
"Give me your best, Stantler," he told me. "Make it so that I can do the same and feel no remorse."
"Why would you feel remorse? This is just a friendly battle. Neither of us is going for the kill or anything."
"I know. But that doesn't erase the memories."
"What memories?"
"Bad times. I'd rather not talk about that. Let's get on with the battle, I bet we can both use a discharge."

The last thing I had expected was for my opponent to go reflective on me. He was making it really hard to stay in battle mode. Now I was struggling between a surging need to understand what was going on with the Donphan and help him, and my desire to get the battle done.
"Oh, no, don't you start having doubts now," he told me. "Believe me, you do want to finish me off. I just don't want to make things worse by telling you why."
"How can you say I want to finish you off?"
"Because of the color of your fur. Now come on, less talking and more battling."

The Donphan was making less sense with every phrase he spoke. I reckoned it would be best to just keep on battling. Battle was the only aspect of life in which everything was clear. There was a goal, a set of options that opened different sets of possibilities, better and worse paths to reach the goal... And the rush that made all worries and all thoughts that weren't directly related to the battle go away. Yes, battling would be best.

I used another Headbutt, and he countered with something different this time. Now his tusks did hit me. And his trunk. I don't know exactly how he pulled it out, but it felt as if he were hitting me on many places at about the same time. I stopped the attack with my antlers and pushed forward with another Headbutt. That was enough. The Donphan stopped fighting and let himself fall with a sigh that almost sounded like a "thank you". I'd won the battle, but I was left with a disturbing sensation I just couldn't shake off... or explain.


Oh, and I grew to level 42.

Everyone in my team walked over to me to congratulate me. Only then did I notice their presence.
"Are you alright?," Gabi asked me. I wasn't physically battered, so I thought she'd seen something in my eyes.
"Yes, it's just... I'm not used to not knowing where I stand in a battle. I won, but I still don't know what was at stake. Was the Donphan battling me, or was he fighting himself?"
"I would say both," answered Amber. "But I think only Lagi would be able to clarify things, and I don't think she'll be back until tomorrow. If she knows what's best for her, she'll take a dip in the thermal waters of Glacier Peak before heading back to the Grounds."
"If we wait until he wakes up, maybe we can ask him," suggested Hero.
"That could take some time," I stated.
"Come on, you didn't beat him that hard," Hero told me.
"No, I didn't. But with everything he has inside, I doubt he'll want to wake up and face the world in less than a few hours. If I can predict anything about him at all. I really can't figure him out."
"Maybe you'll meet again some day and you'll be able to talk," Gabi said absently.
"I don't even know his name..." I went on. "And what was with my fur color? Was that a joke or what? It's chocolate-colored with lighter spots on my back just like most Stantlers born in the Caledorian forest."
"Maybe he just said something random to put an end to the conversation, or maybe most Stantlers from the Caledorian forest would have something against him," analyzed Amber.
"No way. He's not Mewtwo," I shook my head. I'd known I'd end up taking the conversation to the worst of all topics, but I couldn't help myself. "There's only one pokemon I resent, and I seriously doubt anything can change that. The worst anyone else can achieve is to make me mad for a while."

"Well, I hope he can get over whatever it is that happened to him," Gabi sighed. "This has been quite an eventful day, hasn't it?"
"It's not over yet," Sylvan pointed out. "I still want to have my battle."
"Alright. And tomorrow we'll request a two-on-two at the Jungle Room," decided Ventura, who seemed to have accepted Sylvan's choice and also come up with a new plan.
"I guess I can cope with that," Sylvan chuckled. "We've worked fine together in the past. But today please let me battle my way."
"Fine. I don't see any bushes around, you should be alright."
"Ventura, you're impossible! That happened about 3 years ago!, can't you just forget about it?"
"What are they talking about?," I asked Gabi.
"An embarrassing moment within a battle," she told me. "Nothing that wouldn't normally happen to an inexperienced pokemon, but Ventura doesn't seem to see it that way. Either that or she really doesn't realize how much Sylvan has grown over the last 3 years."
"I've heard you," Ventura said in a loud, vibrating voice. "I was joking, you know. An ancient practice based on something named humor which you probably wouldn't recognize since you laugh at just about anything you hear, see or think."
"You're wrong there," Gabi responded. "I laugh easily, but I can tell good jokes from bad ones. And making fun of someone's bad experiences isn't good."
"Sylvan didn't mind, did she?"
"I wasn't sure of whether you were joking or not," Sylvan answered. "If it was a joke, I guess it's alright."
"So no one can tell when I'm joking?," Ventura wondered.
"You're not exactly expressive," Gabi pointed out. "It takes years of careful observation to notice a variation in the expression of your face and the tone of your voice."
"Come on, I'm complex but not that complex."
"I didn't say you were complex. I said you were inexpressive. It's not the same."
"Well, you should try to get to know me better. You all should."
"Really?," Gabi's expression changed as she made a pause. "I thought you didn't want others to get through to you. If I was wrong, I'll try to change that from now on."
"Please," Ventura nodded.
Quite an eventful day, really. I'd thought exactly the same as Gabi, that Ventura didn't want to be known and understood. This came to me as a huge surprise. It wasn't that she didn't want to open up... She just didn't know how to! But something had changed in her over the last few months. What could it have been?

As we spoke, another rambling sound invaded the area.
"I hope it's not another weird Donphan," I said.
But no, it didn't sound like a huge and heavy rolling wheel. This sounded more as if it were slithering. A slithering train of boulders. When the pokemon finally came into sight, I laughed at my own description of it. It hadn't been far from the truth. "Maybe I should start training my hearing," I said to myself. "It can be quite useful."

A massive stone snake was now in front of us, examining the group. It soon spoke, with a voice that, although deep, had a female ring to it.
"I've been sent to battle a pokemon in the 5th level range. Which one of you is my opponent?"
"That would be me," Sylvan stepped forward. "You work here, right?"
"Right now, yes. My team and I do training events. This is my second time in the Desert Room, the first one was for the last Griphon Games."
"Two tournaments ago," Sylvan remembered. "I came here to train back then, but I don't think I've seen you."
"There were many pokemon around. The chance of meeting the same one twice is really low."
"A friend of mine met the same pokemon three times at the Lava Room," Sylvan told the Onix.
"Really? That's amazing."
"So amazing that I expected him to be there again this time," Amber added. "But I guess that would have been too much of a coincidence. You wouldn't happen to know him, right? His name is Eliot, he was a Charmeleon two years ago, he's bound to be a Charizard now. He lives with a mercenary trainer."
"As a matter of fact, I have met him," the Onix said. "I guess coincidences keep popping up. His trainer's name is Randall. We've been in several events together."
"Great! Do you happen to know where he is now?"
"Not right now, but I wouldn't be surprised to find him at the new training facility. Randall and his pokemon don't miss a chance to train. Unless they think the battle is unfair. They have an interesting policy; they'd rather lose a battle than obtain a hollow victory."
"I see. He hasn't changed," Amber smiled. "Well, neither have I."
"Oh, yes, you have," Ventura contradicted her. "You have evolved and you've started rejecting any friendly battles whatsoever. Back then you would accept them as long as they were fair."
"That's because I gained a lot of strength in little time," Amber explained. "I'm not 100% sure I can always control it, and I wouldn't like to hurt my friends."
"Then you could battle someone who's resistant to your attacks," Ventura suggested. "Like a Rock type."
"I have a Steel type Hidden Power," Amber pointed out. "I could always not use it, but I really don't see the point of battling just to gain experience and learn how to battle better. With all the things we normally have to face, I know I'll end up battling many times. But when I'm with friends there are plenty of other things I'd rather do."
"I see. And back in the time I would have thought that if anyone was going to give up friendly battles it'd be Sylvan."
"Me? No, battling's not my favorite activity but the life I lead requires me to be strong and battling helps me achieve that."
"Why don't you lead a different kind of life?," the Onix asked, intrigued.
"I wouldn't change my friends for anything," Sylvan answered with an unusual determination. "And I wouldn't step back when things get ugly. It's not like me to turn my back on those I care for."
"I see. That's a perfectly good reason. I also battle for the ones I care for: my trainer and my team."
"Good. What's your name?," Sylvan asked.
"Amethyst. And yours?"
"Sylvan. You seem to be a reasonable pokemon. Can I please ask you not to use any Grass type attacks in our battle?"
"Of course. It wouldn't be fair if I used them. But that doesn't leave me with many moves left and Normal type attacks won't do much to you. Is it ok if I use my clover?"
Amethyst lower her head to the level of Sylvan's neck to inspect the 4-leaf clover.
"Ok. Any other restrictions?," the Onix asked.
"None on my side. You?"
"Anything else is fine."
"Ok, then. Let's battle."
"This is going to be a long battle," I heard Ventura comment. "Unless Sylvan does something which I doubt she will do."
"Don't start it now," Gabi told her. "Let her battle her way this time. That's all she's asked for."

Level 48 Venusaur vs. Level 55 Onix

No sooner did Sylvan take her battling stance than a strong wind began to blow around the Onix, lifting up huge amounts of sand with it. The radius of the Sandstorm became wider until I could no longer see what was going on at the battle field.
"Ok, I get to do something useful," Ventura said to herself. "Who wants to subscribe to Ventura-vision?"
"Do we have much of a choice?," Gabi asked.
"Yes. The choice is yes or no. Which one will you take?"
"Ok, I'll take the 'yes' option, but without the extra headache, please."
"If you get a headache it will be solely on your account. And you'll have earned it for treating me like that when I'm offering a service. Anyone else?"
We all ended up accepting. We didn't want to miss the action. And I new for a fact that Gabi tended to exaggerate the effects of Ventura's telepathy on her.

Sylvan hit Amethyst with a Body Slam, but if the attack had any effect at all, it didn't show. Amethyst's attack was slightly more effective: she managed to lift some rocks from below the sand (and, if I interpreted Ventura's transmission right, she also created some thick sand balls) and sent them crashing against Sylvan. But the effect wasn't spectacular at all. The sandstorm seemed to be hurting Sylvan more than the rocks were. Sylvan tried another Body Slam with the same disastrous results as before.
"I knew she'd do that," groaned Ventura. "She's going for paralysis, but at this rate she won't get the chance. Amethyst can summon a new Sandstorm as soon as this one receeds."
"There's also the chance that she might have a plan," Hero commented. "Don't underestimate her."
Whether I was underestimating her or not, I didn't know where this battle was heading. I got an image of Amethyst burying herself in the sand as fast as if she were a worm and not an Onix. The sand kept hitting Sylvan, but the flower on her back managed to collect some sun rays that filtered through the sandstorm, filling her with their warmth and nurturing her.
"I knew it!," Hero cheered. "She's using Tsunami's strategy."
"Tsunami's strategy?," I asked. I'd seen Tsunami battle many times but I wasn't sure of what he was referring to.
"Making the battle last as long as possible and wearing your opponent out. As long as Amethyst can't heal herself and her attacks can't do more damage than Sylvan can recover from, the battle is hers."
"Or Amethyst could just get tired of clashing with Sylvan without either of them feeling it and give up," Ventura added sarcastically.

Amethyst emerged from the ground and hit Sylvan, who countered with another ineffective Body Slam.
"Even Fury Cutter would be better than this!," complained Ventura. "At least it could build up."
Amethyst dug into the ground again. Sylvan took one more chance to heal herself, but when the Sandstorm receeded we could see she wasn't at her peak. I was starting to have my doubts. Would her strategy work at all?

When the Onix came out, Sylvan used Synthesis again instead of attacking. This time, she managed to collect a lot more sunlight, and the effect was evident. The Venusaur's leaves and petals were shining as much as her smile. Sylvan was as good as new.
"If they repeat the same sequence of moves they've used up to now 4 more times Sylvan will win the battle," Gabi calculated.
"That is if Sylvan can gather that much sunlight in the night, because this is bound to take really long," Ventura countered.

As we all expected, another Sandstorm began to brew. And Sylvan used yet another Body Slam. Only this time something different happened. This time Amethyst couldn't counter the attack.
"She made it! She got her paralyzed!," cheered Ventura, much to my surprise. "Do something different now!"
Sylvan sighed and shook her head. Even though she did comply. She used Fury Cutter. The effect was unnoticeable but, as Ventura had said before, she'd have the chance to build up the attack. Amethyst, however, seemed determined not to give her that much of a chance. She stayed firm on her place, and opened her mouth to emit a loud acute sound. If the noise hadn't been muffled by the sandstorm, it might have been enough to deafen us all. Sylvan responded with another Fury Cutter, which was just a bit stronger than the previous one.

Amethyst spoke, but it was hard to make her out through the sandstorm. Her voice wasn't too different from the sound of the raging wind. The only word that reached me clearly was the last one: restrictions.
"I stick to our agreement!," Sylvan's voice came through the storm.
The Onix spoke again briefly. Something like "alright then" (I heard "I ten", but I guessed she'd actually said the former).

What came next was hard to describe, especially since I just got the images from Ventura-vision. There was a change in the air. The floating sand somehow took the shape of wings and closed in on Sylvan, carried forward by a gust of the purest wind. I wouldn't be able to tell where I got the word 'pure' from, it just felt that way. Ventura's signals were strange, but something felt very familiar. I broke the psychic link without noticing; I needed to feel the air and its movement. Something inside me was pulsating, wanting to join it.
"No," I stopped myself. "It would hurt Sylvan. There will be plenty of time after the battle."
A cascade of fresh water interrupted my train of thoughts, breaking through the sandstorm and whatever gusts of wind hadn't hit their target yet. That was way too much for the Onix to endure.


Sylvan grew to level 50!

Our Venusaur friend emerged victorious, using the last rays of the sun to heal herself.
"I didn't think you'd do that," Ventura told her once she was close enough to hear her without having to raise her voice.
"I didn't want to, but she made the first call. If she can use a Super Effective Hidden Power, so can I. I guess we were both getting tired."
"And I can see why!," The Venomoth exclaimed. "The only battle I've witnessed that took longer than this one was between two Metapods."
"Well, at least it's over now. She should be fine. I employed most of the water to wash the sand away, so only a small part actually hit her."
"Not bad for a day's training. So... are we having dinner here or at home?"
"As you all prefer," Gabi told us.
"Before we have dinner, can I please stay on this room a little longer?," I asked.
"Of course," Gabi granted me the permission. "Do you want to wait for the Donphan to wake up?"
"Not exactly. There's just something I'd like to do. You can wait outside, you can even order dinner if you're having it here. I'll join you in a few minutes."
"Okay..." Gabi said, puzzled.
She and the rest of the team left the room, directing a few intrigued looks at me. If I'd wanted to explain myself, I don't think I could have done it. I just felt an urge to run. Run across the sandy dunes, with nothing around me but a large plain, the first evening stars above me (which were visible through the room's transparent ceiling), and a friendly, gentle wind pushing me forward, carrying me away from all doubts, all worries, all unanswered questions, all sad feelings I wanted to leave behind... Nothing and no one to disturb me, to remind me of what I couldn't do and what I couldn't change. Just me and my wind... roaming free... If only for tonight.
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If you don't get this, read the Interludes to find out more.

Warning: weird story ahead.

`,,`,, ` ,,`,,`

The scene: an unrecognized location, could have been anywhere. The protagonists: a female, apparently in her mid-thirties (though this is coming from someone who's hopeless at guessing people's ages) with blond hair and deep blue eyes; and a young male of around 20 years of age, with dark brown hair and matching eyes. They both looked human, though you can never tell. Their images weren't as clear as their voices.

"I didn't expect to see you so soon," she started the dialogue.
"I know," he replied. "I didn't expect to come back before completing my task, but it seems even harder than I thought. I guess something inside me just needed to return home. Now I'll need your help to get me back there."
"You know only your determination can do that job. Though I can try to help you find it."
"Please."
"Alright. Tell me, has anything gone wrong?"
"Not exactly. It's just that not much seems to have gone right either. Sometimes I feel I'm only there to choke in bureaucracy."
"I thought that might happen. But you need to find a way to get past it. It's the only way you can help."
"Yeah, well, I've done a few other things. I think I'm earning their trust, I've been gaining access to more information and to some... amazing creatures."
"I guess you must be happy about that," she smiled.
"Definitely. I just wish I could bring them back home. Especially Sol, I think she found me rather than the other way around. She could follow me if she wanted too, I'm sure. But she says it's not meant to be that way. She's so mysterious!"
"I see you're surrounded by mysterious beings everywhere you go."
"Yes, I'm afraid I'll have to get used to that."
"What about my friend? Have you contacted her?"
"Yes, I have. And you know what? She seemed very strange as well. No offense."
"None taken. We all are. What have you told her?"
"Only what she needed to know. She knows I'm a friend and I'm helping her on the research she's conducting. What is this all about, anyway? Why me?"
"Because you're the best for the job. The only time I went there I was helpless. I could do nothing but cause confusion, and you needn't say that's what I'm best at because I already know. But you... You're a natural. Your connection to magical creatures and your skills at taking care of them are exactly what's needed to fill the position you're at now."
"Is it? With all that paperwork I hardly get a chance to be with them."
"Don't you get any free time at all?"
"Yes, I do, but..."
"Then you can find a way around it. Remember what this is really about. It's about them. Your friends can help you keep the main goal in sight, and you can help them grow and get stronger like you always have. Remember that: no matter where you are, what any of you look like or what they call you, the connection between you and your friends cannot be broken. Spend some time with them and things should become clearer."
"Thanks. I'll try."


<Gabi's POV>

It took me a while to remember where I was and what day I was in. The former was quite strange, considering I was at home; but I'd just had one of those weird dreams that were hard to brush off my mind. I felt the bed with my legs, trying to recognize the touch of Caledor curled up next to me like I'd often find him in the mornings, but he wasn't there. Then I remembered: he was still at Glacier Peak. And Lagi, as much as I could have used her help to get out of bed that morning, hadn't returned either. "Ok, it's the hard way, then," I told myself. I started taking deep breaths, feeling my whole body and trying to command it to move, in hopes of eventually managing to sit up. It was harder in practice than in theory: the voices of my dream were still echoing in my head, driving my concentration away from the task of getting up. I finally gave in and started analyzing them. A dream that persistent could hardly be just a dream.

<Amber's POV>

Once I had breakfast ready, I waited in the kitchen for the others to show up. The house was unusually silent, the absences of Tsunami and Caledor being the most noticeable. Hero was still there, but he wasn't the same without them. I could picture him trying to sleep through the morning in order to make the lonely day shorter. And Iael had seemed quite worn out the night before, so I wasn't expecting him either. Sylvan and Ventura showed up at the usual time. But I was surprised not to see Gabi yet. She was usually up with the sunrise. I decided to check on her and see if everything was alright. After knocking on her room's door and responding to her "yes, please, come in", I found her in her bed, still struggling to sit up.
"Can you help me, please?," she asked me. "Just put your arm behind my back and lift me up slowly. Then I'll be fine."
I did as she said, and she thanked me.
"Is everything alright?," I asked her. "Is your blood pressure low?"
"Maybe," she replied. "Or maybe my head weighs too much for my spine to lift it. Who knows?"
"You know that's physically impossible. Unless you were referring to your thoughts. Is anything bugging you?"
"Nothing new, I guess. I was just thinking of the Games and the Dragon's Guild, and... a strange dream I had. Now that I think about it, it doesn't seem to special: just two people talking. But their words were so cryptical I couldn't make out what they were talking about, I just got some sensations out of the whole conversation. And I think I knew one of them."
"One of the sensations?"
"No, one of the people. She seemed a lot like someone I... I don't think 'met' is the word. Bah, even thinking about her confuses me. She's a living puzzle, if she exists at all."
"Ok, you've lost me there."
"Don't worry. It was just a dream, and you know I sometimes don't make sense when I talk about the things in my mind. Have you had breakfast yet?"
"Not yet. I was waiting for you."
"Really? Thanks! Wait for me in the kitchen, I'll be right there."

Gabi lived up to her word and we all had a tasty breakfast together. Iael joined us before the end, without many words about anything. Hero didn't show up until we were about to leave, only grabbing a bit of cheese not to leave the house with an empty stomach. I thought cheese alone wouldn't make much of a difference, but I wouldn't be the one to discuss how to best take care of himself with him, especially with his constant "I know what I'm doing better than anyone else" attitude. We headed for the Trainng Grounds once more, hoping to complete the last two rooms that day.

There seemed to be even more people than the day before at the Training Grounds complex, though I couldn't see anyone I recognized. They were mostly new trainers, or trainers from other regions. I followed Gabi to the desk where she registered Ventura and Iael for the Blizzard Room, and listened to an oblivious woman talk about how we could watch the battles on TV while taking a cup of hot chocolate. I must admit the hot chocolate sounded like a good idea to me, but I knew how things were going to work out: as usual, Gabi would pick one of the special suits from the wardrobe and she'd stand by our friends' side throughout the battles. And so would Hero. As for me and Sylvan, we were left with the choice. We all knew Sylvan was going to wait at the cabin; she and blizzards didn't mix well. So, actually, I was the only one who had to think of where to be while Ventura and Iael battled. After a while, I decided to wait at the cabin with Sylvan. I didn't want to leave her alone, and while I wouldn't say it aloud, the hot chocolate had tempted me after all.

<Gabi's POV>

I must admit the Blizzard Room was cold even from me. The part of my face that wasn't covered by the suit felt like it was getting frosted. But I could handle that. Ventura and Iael didn't have a natural resistance against cold and I didn't hear them complaining (and my ears weren't frozen yet). They had other thoughts occupying their minds.
"Can you sense any of our opponents yet?," Iael asked Ventura.
"I'm working on it," she answered.
"I hope we get a good battle today. This room invites you to move more so you can keep your warmth. I hope my opponent won't stop himself this time."
"Did the Donphan wake up before you left the room last night?"
"No, he didn't. Two men came in to pick him up. I guess I'll never know what his problem was."
"Hey! I've found a human!"
"You mean Gabi's not the only human who's out in the cold?"
"See for yourself."
Ventura must have sent Iael one of her psychic pulses, because he seemed to cheer up in an instant. He trotted forward until he disappeared in the mist (only then I realized there was mist apart from wind and snow - it was hard to notice when everything in the room was white). When the rest of us finally reached him, we found him standing face to face with a guy in a protective suit that looked just like the one I was wearing. The shadow of his hood made it hard to see his eyes.
"Hi," I greeted him. "I'm Gabi. Have you come to train here?"
"I know who you are," he told me. I'd heard his voice before. "We've met at the Dragon's Guild, remember?"
I thought for a moment, until I finally remember who that voice belonged to.
"Golden Growlithe?"
"Finally! I'd heard you had a good memory, I didn't think it would take you that long."
"Well, sorry. I can't see your face behind that hood, and we haven't met that many times. We've been communicating through e-mails, mainly."
"That's right. Sorry, I guess I didn't make much of an impression."
"You did. I remembered you, I just took some time to link your voice to you. Besides, I didn't expect to see you here. I didn't know you trained pokemon."
"I was a trainer long before I joined the Guild. I wouldn't have lasted a day in there if it weren't for my pokemon friends. We've had a lot of work to do lately, so I didn't get to train them much, but I got permission to come here today and I'll make the best of it."
"That's good to here. So, are you my opponent, or are we both looking for some local pokemon?"
"They told me I could choose. I have some high level pokemon and they said your Venomoth was going to battle. So if you don't mind, I'd like an encounter with her."
"Ventura and Iael are both going to battle. But who told you that?"
"The lady at the desk."
"I didn't know she was allowed to give that information."
"Only to local workers, registered mercenary trainers and Dragon's Guild personnel."
"Does that mean I can ask that too?"
"Only if you come here as a worker. But I don't think you can now, since you've already been using the rooms as a regular traner."
"I guess I'd have chosen this anyway, but why didn't I know that before?"
"I think you have to be more involved in the Dragon's Guild to pick up all those details. They're funding the Games, so they get to set a lot of rules."
"Shouldn't you say 'we'?"
"Ok, we, but I don't have a high rank. Formally, my rank is lower than yours."
"What do you mean 'formally'?"
"My rank is lower than yours but I end up having access to more information because I'm more directly involved with the Guild's activities. But don't worry, I'll let you know anything you need."
"Thanks. It's good to have someone like you to count on. I used to think everyone who worked at the Guild full time was so devoted to bureaucracy they had forgotten what life really was."
"I almost did," GG laughed. "Fortunately, I have friends who can remind me of what I'm really here for."
I had a strange feeling all of a sudden. I shook my head, trying to clear my mind.
"What is it?," GG asked.
"I think I've had a deja vu or something. A strange feeling in any case."
"Oh. Ok. Shall we battle? Who's going to battle first? Ventura or Iael?"
"We can let them decide or flip a coin. I think they're both eager to battle. Did you know their names from before, or did you remember them from when I said them?"
"Both. All your pokemon's names and some info on them is registered in the Guild's database, and you said they were the ones who were going to battle."
"I think my team's at a disadvantage, then. We know nothing about your pokemon."
"True, but I think they can make up for that. Those two are very good at battling, while my friends are still getting the handle of some new things."
"New things? You mean new tactics?"
"Yes, something like that. I'll call them so that everyone can see each other before the battles."

I expected GG to take out his pokeballs, but instead he took something that looked like a remote control and pressed a button.
"What's that?," I asked him.
"I'm sending them a signal to find me. I told them to wait at the cabin until I found our opponents."
I thought GG was quite an unusual trainer. But I was beginning to like his style.

Soon, a group of Pokemon made their way towards us. I saw a Glalie, an Espeon, a Smoochum, and sliding behind them came a Lapras and a Dewgong.
"I see you have mainly Ice types," I commented.
"It wasn't my intention, it just turned out that way," he quizzically replied. "There's a Clefairy too, but she doesn't like the cold. And... Wait a minute, where's Sol?"
"She didn't want to leave the cabin," the Espeon informed us. "By now we know better than to try to convince her when she's made up her mind."
"Who's Sol?," I asked, remembering the name from my dream and starting to believe that I'd been right about it being more than it had seemed.
"A Vulpix," GG said. "She's not technically mine, but she's tagged along with us for a while. She's helped us find our way around this place and many other things."
"This place?"
"Yes, she's from Caledor, so she knew how a lot of things worked around here when I was just a newcomer. It was strange, it was as if she'd been waiting for me. She was just there sitting on the grass with a distant look in her eyes, and the first thing she said to us was 'Welcome to Caledor'. And she's been with us ever since."
"Do you understand pokemon language?," I asked him.
"Not really, but Glyph does a great work translating. Actually, all my pokemon have some good psychic abilities, so I don't have much of a problem with that."
He looked at his Espeon when he said the word Glyph, so I figured that was the Espeon's name.
"Then have him translate this:" Hero spoke out, "what color are Sol's eyes?"
"Grey. Why?," asked GG once his Espeon had translated the question for him.
"Is there a reason why she doesn't want to see us? Or does she just like pulling the strings without anyone knowing what's going through her mind?"
GG was puzzled at Hero's question.
"I don't get what you mean," he said.
"Sol is short for Solitude, right? If she's involved, then we're in the middle of something bigger than we thought. Unless she's just dropped by to say hello, but that's not like her, and if that was the case she wouldn't stay at the cabin and refuse to see us."
"Do you know her?"
"Can anyone really know her? We've been in the same pack for years and she hardly said a word. She spent her time staring at the sky, and whenever she spoke, she did it in puzzles. For years I thought she was autistic, though from what I've heard she's turned out to be some freaky psychic. Although she could be both."
"Why are you so mad at her?," now it was I who made the question.
"Why aren't you? All this time she's been keeping who knows what secrets, pulling the strings from the distance and leading us to fulfill whatever idea of destiny she seems to think we have, and she doesn't even let us see her. It's like she's always one step ahead and we only hear about her when she's already gone."
"She's not like that," GG assured. "I'm sure she'll let you all see her after the battles. She's quiet, and a bit of a loner, but she's always treated everyone with respect. I don't know what happened between you and her, but she's been nothing but helpful to me and my friends."
"Nothing happened between me and her," Hero stated. "She rarely even spoke to me. All she'd ever do when I was around was give me odd looks and sigh."
"Maybe she liked you," suggested Glyph.
"No way, and if she did that was an odd way to show it. Of course she could never express herself in a way that wasn't odd. Everyone in my pack had some strange qualities to them, but Solitude was the only one I could never figure out at all."
"I must admit she's rather mysterious," agreed GG. "But I've seen worse. Whenever I end up not knowing which way is right and she does, she tells me right away."
"Strange..." Hero said. "Anyway, wasn't there going to be a battle here? Why are we all talking about someone who isn't even with us?"
"That's right, some of us should be battling," Glyph agreed. "Orknye?"
"What does Orknye mean?," I had to ask.
"That would be my name," the Dewgong said, pressing the frozen ground with his fins to slide forward. "Is it still, Glyph?"
"I guess so. We were never given other names," the Espeon said.
I was getting too confused to even know what to ask.
"You can all use the names you're used to," GG told his team. "Now, Orknye, will you please start the battle before things get out of control?"
I was begining to wonder whether their whole conversation was a trick to get us confused for the battle.
"Of course," the Dewgong accepted. "Who's my opponent?"
"I am," Iael stepped forward.
"Good," I sighed. At least if the battle began I'd know what to expect. "Don't let him play mind tricks on you, just battle the way you always do."
"I will," Iael assured, already giving Orknye an intimidating look.

Level 42 Stantler vs. Level 45 Dewgong

<Iael's POV>

Gabi seemed to think our opposing team was going to use confusion tactics. She could be right, since most of what they'd said didn't even make sense. If that was the way they were going to do it, I wasn't worried: they could babble incoherently for the whole battle, that wouldn't stop me from attacking. I'd already been reviewing my attacks while they were still talking, mentally checking if any of them would be ineffective against a Dewgong. Good news: anything would be fine. Then I'd examined my opponent. Orkney had lowered his head as soon as he saw me looking at him. His fangs and horn were not negligible, but they didn't seem too sharp either. I couldn't see his tail in that position, but I'd get the chance to check it out later.

When I saw that both of us were ready to begin, I ran to where Orknye was and planted a Headbutt on his chest. He couldn't dodge: he wasn't fast enough on the ground. He knew it, since he didn't even try to move away. He stayed there, looking at me, with his head still lowered but his eyes fixed on mine. When two seconds had passed and I still hadn't understood what he was doing, I stopped trying to. I focused on my next move, except that... now it wasn't as easy as before. I finally understood what Orknye had done and I wanted to hit myself for not recognizing one of my own moves.
"Do you have any Psyduck or Golduck relatives?," I asked, trying to hide the fact that it had taken me more than 2 seconds to realize what he'd done to me.
"Not exactly," Orknye replied. "Selkies can do many things."
"Orknye, stop talking!," his trainer asked him, or almost begged him.

Once more I didn't know what he was talking about, so I proceeded to attack again. Nightshade would have to work, even if I hadn't had the chance to practise that move much. I had to close my eyes to focus; it wouldn't matter much, since everything was about to get dark anyway. I found that was a good way to get in contact with the darkness. It wasn't that hard when I managed to put my thoughts away. That was something I was used to doing when I battled: fill my mind with sweet, dark nothing and push everything else away. Only this time, I shot that darkness forward, opening my eyes to see my opponent fade into the pure blackness. It lasted for just a few seconds, but for me it was a moment of peace.

As with most moments of peace, that one didn't last. When the light came back, I saw Orknye's body moving fast in my direction. He was almost over me - I wondered how he'd managed to pull out such a high jump. Running sideways, I managed to avoid being smashed under his stomach, but I couldn't stop him from hitting my ribs. The blow was stronger than I had expected. I was about to ask how he'd done it, when I got a closer look at him. Now that he was next to me, I could finally see his neck, and the transparent collar wrapped around it. It looked as if it were made of ice or crystal, but I figured it had to be made of a more resistant material.
"Impressed?," Orknye asked me. Apparently he'd noticed me staring at his collar.
"A little," I replied, already launching my next Nightshade attack.
"This isn't working," Orkneye shook his head and closed his eyes. His head fell to the ground as if his soul had left his body. Had he fainted?
"What the hell is he thinking?!," roared Orknye's trainer. "Get him back," he turned to Glyph.
"Sorry, I can't," the Espeon apologized. "Don't worry, he'll be back soon. He's actually using a legal move."
"It looked like something else to me."
"Well, it's an unusual way to perform it, but I bet it will work just like a normal Rest would," Glyph assured.

So he was using Rest. It didn't really look like he was sleeping, but I took Glyph's word and acted in consequence. He was bound to have healed completely by now, so I had no time to waste; I needed to hit him before he woke up. I released another Nightshade, and then one more... And that was as much as I could get in. I'd waited for too long before attacking to hit Orknye for a third time before he woke up.
"Ah, that was refreshing!," the Dewgong smiled. "I know what to do now."
He fixed his eyes on me again and, once more, I didn't feel anything. But something made a click inside my mind. It was now hard to cast my thoughts away for another Nightshade, they kept coming. Questions about Orknye, like what he'd meant with 'selkies' and what had been different about his Rest... Images I didn't even recognize, like a group of seals with human eyes swimming in the sea, and images of a griffin, a plesiosaur, a fairy, a little sprite and a huge ice creature my mind didn't have a name for. And along with this images came others, triggered by the sudden burst of uncontrolled thoughts: the forest, the Golduck lake, my old friends, my family... my parents... the day I went for a walk in the depths of the forest and... No, I didn't want to go any further. I knew what was coming. I wanted the thoughts to stop. STOP!
"STOOOOP!!!"

I only realized I had actually screamed when the present world returned to my eyes and the echoes of my voice vibrated in my ears.
"Sorry," the Dewgong issued a void apology. "I didn't know my Hidden Power would affect you like that. I don't know much about you, or of how things work around here for that matter. I think I'll have to meditate on it some more."

He was about to leave again, I could feel it. He was gathering psychic energy to go wherever it was he went to when he used rest. Until then I hadn't known I could detect psychic activity, but I realized I'd been doing it before... at the Desert Room when I broke Ventura's telepathic link, at the latest TR base when some members of my team were facing Gia and the others were locked in the computers room... all the way back in Nagarythe when Gabi sent her strongest psychic pulse ever with the help of her stone and then slipped away, too fast for me to reach her, or to even know what had happened to her. But now I knew it: at that moment I'd felt the same I was feeling now. I didn't have much time to reflect on that, though. I had to stop Orknye before he healed himself again. I used the only move that, I thought, could be effective enough: Thunderbolt. However, all I managed to do was delay Orknye's action; I couldn't stop him.

"So he can use Thunderbolt! That's interesting," Golden Growlithe commented. "I bet he was trying to see if he could win the battle without it, but realized he couldn't."
"Probably," Gabi nodded. "Though it didn't work, did it? Orknye still managed to use Rest."
"How do you know he hasn't fainted?"
Gabi sighed as her only response. Then she turned me.
"Iael, your Thunderbolt isn't so strong that you should refrain from using it," she advised me.
It was strange to hear her encourage me to use a Super Effective move, but she'd been acting strange ever since we'd met Golden Growlithe and his team. She could be right, though. I was getting worn out, and I might not endure another attack. Was using Thunderbolt repeatedly the only way to defeat Orknye?
I had to try something different first.

"Everybody back off," I warned everyone who wasn't battling.
My friends took the message immediately. The other team took a bit longer to react, but soon moved away as well. I was left with enough room to use an Earthquake attack without hurting any innocent bystanders. I stomped firmly on the ground and caused it to shake... but the result wasn't nearly as good as I had wished. If only I...

And then it came to me: I was free to use use Headbutt again! I dashed forward and hit Orknye with all my strength. The Dewgong's head rose. I walked back a few steps, and then charged again. Orknye's eyes opened right before I hit him. His body shook... He couldn't react in time. I put all my effort into one final attack; I could win without using Thunderbolt, even if a little pain came from it. It would be nothing like the mental pain Orknye had put me through. My last blow took him down literally.



I grew to level 44!

"I take back my words, he made it," Golden Growlithe said.
"That was great, Iael," Gabi complimented me.
"Thanks, that Dewgong played dirty. But I don't blame him, he had no way to know what I've been through."
"Is that why you screamed?," Gabi asked me, leaning over to me. "What happened?"
"He brought back old memories. The ones I'd rather keep buried. I think his Hidden Power broke my concentration and thoughts just came rushing one after another."
"I'm sorry," was all Gabi could say.
"It wasn't your fault either," I comforted her. "It's an issue I'll have to deal with sooner or later; I just can't seem to get over it no matter how hard I try. But right now I'd rather think of something else."
"I'll help you with everything I can," Gabi promised.
"Thanks. I think there's something else you can help me with, but we'll talk about it after we leave this room."
"Can you please tell me what it has to do with?"
"I think the attack also triggered something else inside me. I'll need your help to make sure of what it is and to tie some loose ends."
"Alright," Gabi accepted.
"Listen, I'm sorry about what happened in the battle," Golden Growlithe said to me. "I don't know what experiences you've had, but if I'd known a psychic attack could hurt you so much I would have stopped my friend. He wouldn't have done it either if he had known."
"It's in the past," I accepted the apology, not wanting to go back to that subject. "Psychic moves had never had that effect on me before, but I'll watch out for things like that from now on. If it had to happen, it was best that it did in a training battle."
The human nodded, understanding. He was strange, but I realized he wasn't a bad person. Moreover, he seemed to share a bond with his team that you didn't see everyday.

"Am I still going to get my battle?," Ventura demanded.
"If you still want to," the male trainer said. "It will be an honor to battle you."
"An honor? That sounds good, but I'll have to ask why."
"Well, I've heard a lot about you. From different sources. I've heard you've done some admirable things."
"Which tells me you already know what I can do. This will be an interesting challenge, then."
"So you don't want to level the field by asking me something about your opponent?"
"I know all your pokemon have psychic abilities, you said that yourself. I know I have to watch out for any surprises, and I know you have a tendency to try to break your opponent's concentration. Am I missing anything vital? Otherwise I'd rather find out the rest by myself."
"Impressive. Now I'm more eager to see you in battle. Telling you anything else would put my champion at a disadvantage, so I'll leave you and Glice to test each other in the field."
The Glalie, who had been silent so far, leapt forward to face Ventura.
"Glice?," Gabi asked. "Is that a fusion between Glalie and Ice?"
"More like an alternate spelling for the name of a planet, but that would make sense too," Golden Growlithe said.
"A planet? You wouldn't be saying... I used to invent planets when I was 11, and I gave them names. One of them was Glais. You're not saying there really is a planet with that name, right?"
Then I felt it again: the same psychic energy Orknye had used for his Rest attack. Only that now it stopped before anything happened.
"Would you mind not asking me those questions?," Golden growlithe asked Gabi. "They're not doing me any good."
"Why, what's going on?," Gabi couldn't hold herself. "Is anything wrong with you?"
"I need to stabilize myself. Maybe we can talk later. I... I want to talk to you. I'm on your side, you know. It's just... If I think too much of... the things I'm not supposed to go back to yet... Why don't we get started with the battle? I think that may be just what I need."
"Okay," Gabi accepted, still looking worried.
I wondered if she'd felt the psychic energy. She normally did detect those things, so she probably had. But somehow she seemed more concerned than freaked out now.

Glice fixed his blue eyes on Ventura and spoke with a cold voice.
"Shall we battle?"
"Alright, make your move and I'll make mine."

Level 48 Venomoth vs. Level 55 Glalie

No matter what Golden Growlithe had said, the way I saw it Ventura was clearly at a disadvantage. Glice looked a lot stronger than her and we knew he had at least one Psychic type move. Probably Hidden Power just like Orknye's, which meant Ventura would be in trouble if it reached her. However, Hidden Power wasn't the first move Glice used: it was Light Screen. Well, that was a psychic type move, but was it the only one he knew? It could be a trick to have Ventura lower her guard, or maybe he knew Ventura used mostly Psychic and Giga Drain in her battles and was trying to protect himself (now Giga Drain would be absolutely useless). There were many possibilities. If I'd been battling I would have stopped wondering about his motives a lot earlier, but since Ventura gave me some time to think while hovering around the Glalie, I used it.

Glice seemed to have some trouble following Ventura's course with his eyes. When she went behind him he turned around, but she didn't stay there. She kept flying around until powder began to fall from her wings. Glice couldn't defend himself from it, and soon fell asleep.

"I should have known she was going to do that," Golden Growlithe scolded himself. "Anyway, we still have a chance, if Glice wakes up in time. His Light Screen is still in effect."
"True, but it won't protect him from all of Ventura's tricks," Gabi replied.
Both trainers were watching the battle with excitement, as if it were a live show.

Ventura dumped some thick drops of poison, that had no problems passing through the psychic shield. She repeated the procedure twice more before the Glalie woke up. When he did, he shot an Ice Beam at her, hitting straight on.
"Ouch! That would have hurt a lot if we weren't already in a ridiculously cold environment," Ventura stated.
The Venomoth went over to release another dose of Sleep Powder on the Glalie. However, he managed to focus enough to reopen his eyes right away and set up a new Light Screen. Ventura must have concluded that more powder was what was needed, so she released even more.
"Glice, attack, fast!," Golden Growlithe commanded, but it was too late: the Sleep Powder had already taken effect.
Then he yelled out something that didn't make any sense to me.
"Fei dais Hazemeit!"
That somehow caused Ventura to turn away from her opponent and stare at his trainer in confusion. And Gabi did the same.
"Who are you?," Gabi inquired.
"That's always a hard question to answer," Golden Growlithe replied. "I could give you a couple of meaningless names, but that wouldn't satisfy you."
"Don't play games," Ventura told me. "You don't go calling me 'Faerie of Fortune' in the middle of a battle, in a language I'm not even supposed to know, and then evade all our questions."
"Sorry, but you said you'd brace yourself for any surprises."
"Any surprises that make sense. Really, who are you? Why did you call me that, and why did I understand it?"
"I think I can answer the last two questions," Gabi told me. "He knows about our trips to Bei. You've been there yourself, haven't you, Golden Growlithe? You've used a language that's known by everyone there, and that Ventura and I have traces of for having been there. You know what Ventura's name means in Spanish, and also that shee took the form of a faerie while she was in Bei. Isn't that right?"
"Wow, you've said all that and I'm still here? Amazing! Ok, I guess I can speak freely now. I haven't only been to Bei. I'm from there. I'm only here because a mutual friend has asked for myself."
"Harims," Gabi affirmed. "She sent you to help me find out what's going on at the Dragon's Guild, right? And she chose you because you were a trainer?"
"Ok, now you've caught me by surprise. How did you know all that?"
"You've given me many hints, and a dream gave me the rest. Though I'm still confused, I didn't know there were trainers in Bei. Not to mention I don't even know what Bei really is."
"Well, there aren't pokemon in Bei, but there are plenty of magical creatures, and I've been dedicated to raising them all my life. Some of them came along with me and became pokemon upon arriving here. All of my team except Sol. Without their psychic powers I wouldn't have made it here. As for what Bei is... It would be hard to explain. I will if you tell me what this plane is, because I'm not sure about it either."
"Is it another dimension? For some time I wasn't even sure if it was real."
"I guess we're from different dimensions or something like that. Our minds are the key, that's all I know. I'm not an expert in travelling or anything, I don't even have your psychic abilities."
"My psychic abilities are no big deal either. I went to Bei twice, and both times it was by accident. And I have trouble telling premonitions from dreams. Some parts of the last one may have well been a dream; you said something about wishing you could take some creatures home, but if your pokemon are from Bei they shouldn't have problems getting back, right?"
"Oh, you heard that? Then you must have heard my conversation with Harims! I was talking about Sol and the Unicorn Games prizes. They're quite special, even more than I originally thought. And as far as I can tell the Ponyta was naturally born like that! Just like your dragon!"
"Ok, don't change the subject, please."
"Oh, please, do change the subject!," Ventura interrupted them. "And tell me this: has my battle been cancelled?"
"What? Oh, no, go ahead," said the guy from another dimension. "Sorry I bothered you."
"As if I didn't know you did it to buy time for your Glalie or whatever he is to wake up. But I gave him a huge dose of Sleep Powder, so I still have time. So, if you'll excuse me..."

Saying this, Ventura went right back to where Glice was and started shooting Signal Beams. After the third shot, the Glalie fell over and his trainer granted Ventura the victory.


Ventura grew to level 50!

"I feel cheated," Ventura complained. "This could have been a really exciting battle and you had to ruin it by becoming the center of attention."
"I'd say I'm sorry, but I've said it so many times today it's lost all meaning," came the reply.
"So it turns out I wasn't even battling a pokemon. Does it count as a battle at all?"
"Oh, but he is a pokemon. While we stay in this dimension, all my friends have the traits and abilities of the pokemon identities this world has given them. They could even be stored inside pokeballs, but that would be too awkward for them. Their past experiences are the only thing that makes them different. And in Glice's case, I guess he's not used to movng around with no limbs yet. I guess that must be why he was so defensive in the battle."
"All of us need to make an effort to adjust," Glyph remarked. "I used to be able to fly. I miss it, but if I think too much about it my mind will pull me back, so we need to focus on this place and the task we must complete."
"I appreciate your help, but why has Harims asked for it?," Gabi queried. "And why did you accept? Is there anything I don't know yet?"
"We accepted because Harims is important to all of us, and it seems that you're important to her. To be honest, I don't know what's going on, but Harims had a bad feeling and said things could end up getting nasty. She asked me to find out whatever I could about the secret lab, about Team Rocket and about who was running the Dragon's Guild, and share that information with the Dragon Tamers; and also do my best to fulfill any requests by your group while I'm here."
"And how long are you going to stay?"
"I don't know... Until everything's cleared out, I guess. I must warn you not to expect too much from us, though. We'll try to help out, but we don't have any special powers. I'm only your contact inside the Guild, and my friends are just helping in the best way they can and taking a chance to train when we have the time."
"That's fine," Gabi accepted. "I can also help you if there's anything you need. Just call me and I'll do what I can."
"Thanks... Though what I need right now is some heat. Aren't you freezing here?"
"Freezing? Oh, will you believe it? I got so carried away in our conversation I totally forgot about the cold!"
"That's hard to believe. I don't have any special powers, but I think you do."
"If being less affected by cold and more affected by heat than the majority is a special power, then yes. We can go to the cabin if you want, they must be waiting for us there."
"Finally something that makes sense!," Hero shot out.

So, once both Orknye and Glice were ready to move again, we all headed for the cabin, where we found Amber, Sylvan and a Clefairy who, according to her trainer, used to be a pixie.
"I could have bet money on us not finding Solitude here," Hero growled.
"Arim, have you seen Sol?," Golden Growlithe asked the Clefairy.
"She was with us," she replied, "watching the battles and talking like never before. She left moments ago, saying she'd meet us again sme other time. She said she wanted to live her own life for once, and she didn't want to be too close to what she couldn't have. I don't know what she meant, she wouldn't speak after she said that."
"That's so Solitude," Hero sighed. "She can never make herself clear. Did you two get to see her?"
"Yes, and she was quite nice, actually," Amber replied. "Even if some of the things she said were hard to understand. But it was clear enough when she said she realized she'd been living for everyone else but herself, always doing what she was supposed to and never stopping to ask herself what she felt. She said she thought she now knew where she wanted to be, and what she wanted to do, so I guess she must be trying to get there now."
"Yes," Sylvan nodded. "And about not wanting to be close to what she can't have... I'm not too sure I agree with her decision, but that's her call."
"But what was she talking about?," Hero asked.
"Something she gave up, I would assume," Sylvan replied. "Either that, or something that she knows isn't meant for her. From what I've seen and heard, it might be both."
"I never got to thank her," Gabi reflected, taking her hand to her chest and holding the white stone that hang from her neck. "She's given up a lot for me... Especially if she did base her life on what she thought she was supposed to do. I hope she can find freedom now."
"Whose side are you on?," Hero questioned her.
"There are no sides here. Nobody's fighting."
"Not yet, anyway," said Golden Growlithe. "Who knows what the future holds for us?"
"Well, Solitude does," blared Hero. "She can see the future, can't she?"
"Only faint glimpses," Arim said. "And they're usually quite vague. She told me her power was stronger once, but she gave most of it up for someone who needed it more."
"Would that be you?," Arim's trainer turned to Gabi.
"I guess all secrets are out now," Gabi chuckled. "Yes, she gave me a stone that enhances psychic abilities. Or, rather, left it on my way for me to find it. So, now that we've all learned so much about each other's history and secrets... will you tell me something?"
"Sure. What is it?"
"What's your name?"
Golden Growlithe started at her, stunned by the question.
"Your original name. You haven't told me yet, and I'm not too comfortable with calling you Golden Growlithe, just like it's weird when people I know call me Lady Vulpix."
"Well, I go by the name of Ivan here. But if you want to know my original name, it's Eshree."
"Eshree," Gabi smiled. "Nice to meet you."
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<Hero's POV>

I tried to shake the thoughts about Solitude off my mind as I watched Gabi and Amber drink hot chocolate at noon. They offered me some, but it was too sweet for me, especially at that time. I mean... it was noon! We were about to have lunch and the girls were having hot chocolate. Though I shouldn't have been surprised, I'd seen crazier things, like Gabi's pre-dinner ice-creams. And even weirder was the bunch we'd come across that day. They stayed with us for a while at the cabin, acting normal as if we could see aliens everyday... If aliens was what they were; I wasn't even sure of what to call them. In the end, I insisted on leaving until the rest of the team accepted. Everyone else seemed to be curious about Golden Growlithe and his gang, but I felt I was about to go crazy if I stayed there any longer. Like reality was no longer making sense. I didn't want to admit it, but I missed my buddies. Maybe going to Glacier Peak right after my battle would have been a better idea.

Both teams left the cabin -and the Blizzard Room- at the same time, in different directions. GG had to continue with his work at the Dragon's Guild, and we had another room to go to, and let's not forget lunch. Before saying goodbye, the humans encouraged each other to continue with their investigations; I reckoned it would be good to investigate some more as well. I could catch Tracker and see if she had any leads, and also if she knew that Solitude was in town (knowing her, she'd probably smelled her as soon as she arrived), and then maybe we could watch the beginning of the Games together and do something to escape the current madness. I had some things in mind, but I doubt that I would dare to ask her. But maybe if she suggested something...

"Hero, are you following us?," Gabi's voice brought me back to reality.
"Yes, I'm here. I was just looking around. What are all those colorful signs for?"
"You'll find out if you read them," Gabi chuckled. "Come on, if we have to keep waiting for you I'll start to worry. Normally you're the one who goes ahead and I have to yell at you to keep you close."
"Well, nothing is normal today, is it? Were are we going anyway?"
"We're going to have lunch. And don't tell me you're not hungry because then I'll ask you what's going on."
"Hey, I'm not always hungry!," I protested. "Half the team eats more than I do, and I exercise more than they do. But I won't say no to a tasty meal right now."
"I think the ones who eat more than you are at least twice your size, but we'll get nowhere with this argument. Where would you all like to eat?"
"Have you noticed how she always tries to end her arguments right after saying the last words?," Ventura whispered in my ear.
"She's not the only one," I glared at her. I didn't want to be used in an argument between the two.

Then came another argument about where to eat, but that wasn't a long one. We didn't have enough money for the big restaurants, and we wouldn't settle for fast food either, so the real choice was only between a bar and a self-service buffet, and Sylvan was the only one who rooted for the bar (and Ventura couldn't care less). Gabi and Amber took our orders and fetch the food for everyone. The queue was too crowded for all of us to walk along it comfortably. Though they made some space behind Amber; I guess no one wanted to be too close to a Charizard's tail. Right before they got their plates, they had to take another order: Lagi arrived just in time. Everyone at the buffet turned to look at her when she walked in. I guess Dragonites will always attract everyone's attention no matter how much time passes. So she had no problem reaching our friends before they picked up our meals.

Lunch was filled with stories. I was glad to relive my Lava Room battle by telling Lagi all the details, and it was good to hear the pranks Tsunami and Caledor had been pulling on each other at Glacier Peak. It was cool to hear some news of my best friends, and to get vital information so I could get ready for them when they got back. I wouldn't let the guys catch me off-guard with Faint Attacks and Acid Armors. But then, when Gabi began to tell Lagi about the Blizzard Room, I felt an urge to get as far away as possible. And so I did. I'd already finished my part anyway.

So, I walked around the complex for a while, stopping to look at the various screens which showed scenes of the recent battles. There were some good ones, though I couldn't recognize any of the pokemon involved in them. For a moment I felt I might be getting old. But no, I was just starting to live - and I wouldn't stop until I'd surpassed the legendary thousand years a Ninetales's life is said to last for. (Hey, I can dream, can't I?) Well, the thing is nothing interesting enough did happen; except that I had my whole team searching for me before I knew. I only realized I was being missed when Ventura startled me with one of her teleports followed by a psychic pulse indicating me to stay where I was. Before I could even say "hello to you too", I heard everyone's steps racing towards me.

"Hero!," Gabi shouted as soon as she saw me, immediately apologizing to everyone who turned to look at her at that moment.

She walked to my side, a bit calmer but still with a serious look on her face.

"What is it with you?," she said once she was close enough to talk to me without getting everyone's attention. "Can't you stay at a Training Grounds complex without causing trouble?"
"What do you mean? I wasn't causing trouble," I told her. "I was just walking around. And I didn't cause trouble in most of the Training Grounds we've been to. Only in Yvresse and you've already scolded me more than enough for that single innocent pillow fight."
"I'm shocked at how you can completely neglect the damage you caused back then. It shows that you didn't have to pay for it."
"Ok, I said I was sorry. That was a long time ago, there's no need to bring it up now."
"Alright, let's talk about now, then. What were you doing? Why did you run off like that?"
"I was just curious. I wanted to take a look at what was going on around this place before we left. I don't think there are any laws against that."
"No, but you know you should have told us where you were going."
"I would have, if I'd known. I didn't have a fixed route, I've been more like... improvising."
"You know what I mean."
Now her tone sounded sharper, and her eyes looked angrier.
"Okay, okay, I'm sorry," I gave up. "You win. This place is really boring anyway, I miss the times when we could find all our friends here."
"I miss them too," Lagi said, though I don't think she realized exactly who I was missing. Her powers weren't that precise.
"Shall we go to the Jungle Room before it closes?," Ventura interrupted us. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think one of us still has some things to do later today, and unfortunately the rest of us won't be allowed in the room without her."
"We're going now," Gabi sighed. "No need to remind me of my duties; my to-do list is so long it hurts just by thinking of it."
"What else is new?," I laughed.
"Maybe you should try and help me, then see if it's so funny."
"Maybe when I become a computer scientist, or a Dragon Tamers worker, or a Dragon's Guild scholar, or a tournament host... I think I know what the problem is. You have too many jobs. Why don't you give up one of them?"
"Because if I did, we'd all be in trouble."
"Hey, guys! You're getting sidetracked again!," Ventura warned us. "JUNGLE. ROOM. NOW."
There was no arguing with that logic. We all headed for the Jungle Room immediately.

However, things don't always go as planned, and they seemed to have chosen that day for making that point. When we reached the Jungle Room, we found out it was busy. We'd have to wait until the battle was over and the room was properly conditioned for the next one. And then it would be too late for Gabi's to-do list to get any shorter. The Unicorn Games were about to start and she had some urgent arrangements to do, so whether we wanted it or not, we had to give the Jungle Room for later. A LOT later.
"Sorry, girls, I'll make it up for you," Gabi promised Sylvan and Ventura.
"It's ok," Sylvan understood.
"I've already battled today anyway," Ventura sighed.
I evaded Gabi's look, but I still had that hot and pressing feeling on my neck one gets when they know someone is staring at them.

<Amber's POV>

When we went to fetch the guys at Glacier Peak, Gabi offered everyone the chance to stay for a while longer while she finished writing her opening speech for the Unicorn Games. Sylvan and I followed her; my friend found the air outside too cold and the water too hot, and I wouldn't miss the chance to help Gabi out with her speech. Hero jumped into the water with an excitement I hadn't seen in him for a while. From the noises I heard, I could tell a splash-war started right away. being a fire pokemon, Hero was at a clear disadvantage, but when it was finally time to head back home, we found him soaked but sporting a wide grin on his face. In the end I gave in to the temptation and asking why he was smiling like that. "Neither of them had managed to fade in time," was his puzzling reply. After thinking for a moment I realized what he meant; I ended the conversation then, getting him to talk more about his 'games' with Tsunami and Caledor would have spelt disaster.

Then came the Unicorn Games. What can I say about them that hasn't already been said? They were quite exciting, and surprising in many ways. We took a break after the first round and spent some time at the Eevee House. We got to watch a water race and have some fun with some of our best friends. I particularly remember Milliardo bragging about his victory the same way Hero used to - then his attitude gave a huge turn after the results were announced, and that was for the best, I think. Everyone became silent and turned their eyes in the same direction when his sister Rhiannon entered the house, but the awkward silence didn't last for too long, as she soon joined the group who was playing ball.

After that, Gabi was completely absorbed by the Games and her studies and her everyday jobs. So much that even the investigation on the Guild and Team Rocket was postponed, Hero being the only one who kept working on it (and I'm not sure even him was so dedicated to it, he had other reasons to go to the police station that had nothing to so with the investigation we were conducting). In the meantime, some training groups were formed so that we could all stay fit and get a better hold on our abilities. I trained a little, but mainly on my own. Iael was the one who trained the most: he was determined not to let another psychic attack blow up his own mental defenses. Caledor helped him with that, since he felt the need to improve his own psychic abilities. It was the first time I saw him conducting a training session, and I must admit I was amazed. He did drive it all as if it were a game (he wouldn't have been Caledor if he hadn't), but I think even that was good for Iael, who, ever since I'd known him, had always had trouble relaxing and having fun. Iael also turned to Pidgeot for advice. I don't know what they talked about, but after that they had a long training session and burnt out a lot of energy together. Come to think of it, Pidgeot was quite uneasy most of the time, and he was often out flying over the city. Maybe he was trying to find Team Rocket on his own. In any case, he didn't say a word about it.

As for me, I mainly focused on helping Gabi as much as I could, especially when she told me she'd been assigned to write a new report for the Dragon's Guild. I started to look for a new subject, since reports on evolution and breeding were already overdone. It would have been interesting to write a report about pokemon's lives from the views of pokemon themselves, but the Guild would have never taken that - they even thought Gabi was joking when she credited me for my help on the Charizard report. Finally, after thinking about it for several days, I came up with the idea of gathering old rumors about pokemon and trying to prove how much truth there was in them, and how much was just a myth. Gabi was delighted when she heard the idea, so we both set ourselves off to find material for the report.

Some time later, while Gabi was working on her computer, she got an IM from none other than Milliardo. By the time caught up, they'd already been conversing for a while. He asked Gabi if any of us was going to get an account, and she told him about my embarrassing experience when I first tried to use the keyboard (and also that no one else in the house would stay close to the computer for longer than 10 seconds), but it got me itching to find out what it felt like to have an account of my own, and to be able to send messages to friends who were away from me. I immediately thought of Banx and Alucard, though I really doubted I'd be able to contact them that way. Still, I got Gabi to create an account for me, and even type a long description for my info. She told me the basics of how to use her program, though I had as much trouble typing with my claws as I'd had on my first attempt. I was glad Gabi accepted to help me, and we even managed to have an IM conversation with Thunderblast. I laughed at the thought of how the Guild, or trainers from places like Kanto, would react if they saw two pokemon communicating through a computer. Still, my method was less than satisfying. Gabi told me that Marius had found a quick and amazing way to get messages through to a computer; then I decided to wait for the first chance to talk to him and ask him if he could help me improve my typing. After all, I'd heard his Hidden Power was somehow involved, and it just happened to be the same type as mine. But before that chance came, I got to talk to Soo and Kassandra on AIM and we had quite a long (and weird) conversation. I made some mistakes typing, but I realized I was getting better at it.

I also learned something else during that AIM conversation, which reminded me of the lab we were looking for. Soo told me she was taking care of a Minun and a Plusle who had escaped from a lab where they were supposed to be subject to cruel experiments. At first Soo was afraid of Gabi reporting her to the police if she found out, but I assured her she'd never do something like that. I was glad Kaguya and Yuki (those were their names) had found a trainer who would take care of them, and a mentor -Sparky, the Raichu- who would help them improve their abilities. But the whole thing left me worried about the pokemon who might still be in the lab. Or in any of the two labs, if the one we were searching for and the one Yuki and Kaguya had come from were not the same. I would have done anything in my power to help them... if only I'd known what could be done.

<Ventura's POV>

It took long enough to get us back to the Training Grounds. Most people were already gone, and we hardly saw any pokemon around. They were all probably heading for Unicorn Gate, as the finals were about to start. We got there in a rush because, well, Gabi owed us and she wouldn't let us miss the last chance to train there. This time, fortunately, we found the Jungle Room ready for us. Though with the complex being as empty as it was, my concern was about whether we'd find an opponent.

Entering the Jungle Room was... good. It had a comfortable familiarity to it. All the plants mixed together forming a spectacular flora that was distinctive of that place. Well, those were Water Angel's words, but my "you see all those plants together and you know you're here" just didn't have that ring to it. I checked for the old paralyzing bush, and it was still there. I don't think I can explain why, but it felt good in a way. It was a nice place I'd been comfortable in before, and I was still comfortable in it. And it reminded me of some good past battles. The river was also there. I couldn't remember whether it had been there the first time, maybe it had but we hadn't seen it. But it had certainly been there when we came to train for the 2nd Eagle Games. Water Angel was already in the water when I turned to look. Oh, and the sunlight! It filtered through the transparent ceiling, filling me with energy. I almost wanted to keep flying around instead of spending my time and energy battling. Almost; but I knew what would be better for me in the long run. I felt a bit strange; I'd never appreciated my surroundings like I did at that time. Maybe I needed that place for some reason? I just hoped I wasn't turning into a softie like Sylvan and Amber, I wouldn't forgive myself if I ever did.

So, when I first heard leaves shaking, I focused all my senses in detecting what was behind them. It had quite an unusual shape, like a huge hairy potato with a cartoon duck's beak and a mariachi hat. I'd only seen that pokemon in pictures, though it wasn't hard to recognize its species: a Ludicolo can catch anyone's attention easily. I caught him by surprise by teleporting right behind him.
"Hello," I said. "Are you here to battle?"
"Hey!," the Ludicolo jumped in the air. "You startled me! Are you my opponent?"
"Well, partially," I told them.
"Partially? What's the other part, then?," he scratched his head with one of his thick hands.
"I'm here with a friend," I explained. "We'd like to have a two on two battle. Can you get a partner?"
"Well, I didn't know you'd be looking for a two-on-two..." he began. Would he be that slow all the time? I was starting to get frustrated. "I guess I can call Flora. She was going to come after me, but I guess we can battle together. We've practised together a few times."
"Ok, could you call her, please?"
"Sure."

So the Ludicolo left in the same direction he had come from. I returned to my team.
"What's going on?," Sylvan asked me.
"I've just arranged a two-on-two battle for us. Our opponents are coming soon."
"Oh, alright. Do you know what kind of pokemon they are?"
"One is a Ludicolo who, if you ask me, looks a bit dumb. You should watch out, it could be a trick. I don't know what the other is, but she's female and her name is Flora."
"Probably a grass type," Sylvan deduced. "We seem to have a type advantage."
"Yes, but don't get overconfident."
"Have I ever done so?"
"Hmm... You're right. You haven't. You seem to have the opposite problem most of the time. Ok, trust yourself, but be on the watch for any surprises."
"Yes, mom," she retorted.
"Ok, that was uncalled for. I'm just trying to help, we're going to work as a team, aren't we?"
"I didn't think what I said would be offensive. I was just trying to tell you not to overprotect me. I'm as strong as you are, and even if I'm not an innate fighter, I have some experience handling myself in battles. So don't treat me like a child."
"Oh, so that's your concept of mom. I wish my mother had ever been like that."
"I didn't know... You never talk about your mother. Or anyone in your family for that matter."
"I told you all there was to know. They wanted me to be strong and independent, so they left me to fend for myself. Guess it worked out in the end. Now's not the time to have a long tear-jerker conversation about family. Our opponents are coming."

The Ludicolo and his friend arrived just in time to save me from hearing once more how happy Sylvan had been as a child. My radar sense gave me a good picture of Flora's shape as she walked among the trees in our direction. "This is going to be interesting", I said to myself.

<Sylvan's POV>

I fixed my eyes on the spot Ventura was looking at, but it took some time before I could actually see the pokemon coming our way. I understood Ventura's whispered comment when I saw who was next to the Ludicolo. I'd seen a similar pokemon once, at the Unicorn Games; a pokemon who had given one of the current finalists a hard time during his first battle. And since it was a flying type, I was bound to have as much of a hard time battling this one. But I couldn't step back now; if I did, everything I'd said about being strong and capable of holding myself up in a battle would have been a lie. "It's just a training battle," I thought. "Not a matter of life and death. No matter the outcome, nothing will go too wrong."

"So, you must be Flora," Ventura said to the Tropius as soon as she stopped walking.
"Yes," the long-necked one replied. "And you are...?"
"Ventura. And she's Sylvan. We're both our opponents."
"Nice to meet you," Flora smiled. "You've already met my friend Don."
"I hadn't," I replied. "Nice to meet the two of you."
I stretched out a vine as a greeting, but as usual no one understood my gesture and I was left with my vine hanging in the air. I retracted it and smiled sheepishly.
"Shall we battle now?," Don suggested.
"Of course," Ventura said. "That's what we're here for."
I shook my head and chuckled at the thought of how Ventura was always so eager to battle. Or to spring into action in any way.
"Alright, I'm ready when you are," I accepted.
"I was ready before you were born," Ventura told me. I ignored her senseless comment and braced myself for the battle.
Our opponents turned to look at Gabi before they began to attack, and that caused me to do the same in order to see what they were looking at.
"Go ahead," Gabi said. "I'm here for anything you need, even silence."
I assumed she was talking to Ventura when she spoke about silence. If anny commands were to be given during the battle, I knew who'd be giving them out. I didn't mind, really. Ventura had been a good guide in past battles, and it was easy to respond to her signals. As long as she gave me some room to act instead of treating me like a marionette, we could work together quite fine.

Level 50 Venomoth & Level 50 Venusaur vs. Level 49 Tropius & Level 55 Ludicolo

I had to give Ventura credit. She was fast. Before I could even think of who to attack first, I already felt the sun shining brightly, and got a strange mental image of Ventura using Sunny Day, from her own perspective. A strange course of action, coming from Ventura, but just what I'd been wanting: she was showing me her tactics and giving me room to act in relation to them. The sulnight would be useful for both of us. We could heal ourselves better this way, and it also allowed me the chance to release a Solarbeam at any time. But I wouldn't reveal my strongest attack right away. I thought it would be best if I saw what our opponents were capable of.

I took too long trying to decide what to do, and before I could attack a loud noise hurt my ears. I felt my clover protect me, but that didn't prevent my head from ringing for a while after the attack. I'd never heard of a move like that one before, but now that I knew it existed and could be used against me in this battle, I'd have to watch out for it. As I was thinking that, the noise came over again. It was really annoying, but at least this time I noticed where it came from. It was Don, the Ludicolo.

"Sylvan, will you please focus?," Ventura told me.
I heard her loud voice through my ringing ears. She sounded quite angry. But why? I hadn't done anything wrong. In fact, I hadn't done anything at all yet.
"What's wrong?," I asked.
Then I saw it, Flora hitting Ventura with her wing-like leaves, leaving deep scratches on her chest. It was a flash; it had happened while I was busy thinking of how to start the battle. Now I knew our opponents were taking the battle seriously, and wouldn't give me time to reflect. Ok, I could deal with that.
"Stay safe," I told Ventura, not sure of what she'd make of that.
I then fired a Solarbeam at the Ludicolo. I couldn't keep holding back now. Even so, the attack didn't seem to be as effective as I'd expected. My beam only managed to push Don back a little.
"This is too easy," Flora said to her partner. "Let's push them around a little before we end this."
"Ok, if that's what you want," Don replied, shrugging.
"I know just the way to do this," she said before throwing herself full-on against Ventura.

Ventura got hit, but avoided being smashed against the ground. Too hurt to risk taking another blow, she used the Sun's rays to restore her body.
"What did you just do?," asked Flora.
"That's called making up for the advantage I gave you before," she replied.
I'd obviously missed something but there was no time for asking. A group of star-shaped missiles was already heading my way. I stepped back and shot another Solarbeam which broke through most of them and hit its target, before the remaining stars reached me.

"Ok, if you can heal, I won't go soft with you," Flora said to Ventura. "How does another Aerial Ace sound for you?"
Flora hit Ventura so hard, she had no choice but to heal herself again in order to stay in the battle. She did so after she hit the ground, about 3 meters (or 10 feet) away from the Tropius. And, as I could see, just a few steps away from the paralyzing bush. Was that what she'd meant when she said she wanted to push us around? Were our opponents trying to get us trapped between them and the bush in order to get us paralyzed? I'd heard it only affected poison types, so Flora and Don would be safe if we all ended up there; but Ventura and I would be in trouble. Ventura was practically incapacitated as long as Flora kept attacking her from such a close range. It was left to me to change the course of the battle. And, surprisingly, all those thoughts passed through my mind fast enough for me to form a plan and execute it before getting hit again.

I stepped back again, getting closer to Ventura, and shot a set of spikes that formed a barrier between us and our opponents. Now, if they wanted to keep pushing us, or even touch us, they'd have to walk across that line, getting the spikes stuck on them in the process. Don stopped on his tracks, pausing to think of a better course of action.
"Well done," Ventura commended me.
But the joy was short-lived, as the attack Don decided to use against me was a lot worse than anything he'd tried before, and not even my 4-leaf clover could protect me from it. The pain from the beam's impact was followed by a coldness that ran all through my body and into my heart. It was too much to bear and, for a moment, I thought I would freeze in my place. But the sunlight was still strong, and the warm rays gave me the strength I needed to keep going.

"Who said I needed to touch you to get you where I wanted you?," Flora said, before shaking her leaves and causing a tremendous gust of wind to rise. Most of the spikes wer stuck on the ground firmly, and only a couple of them were lifted by the wind. But that had never been Flora's intention. The wind was aimed for Ventura, as I could see when it caught her and started spinning around her, sending her away. It picked up leaves from the paralizing bush as it advanced, and soon I could no longer see what was inside it. When it finally stopped, Ventura was gone. Literally gone.
"Ok, what did just happen?," Don queried his partner.
"I guess my whirlwind sent her away," Flora shrugged. "We only need to worry about one of them for now."
"Oh, that will be easy," he assured. "Just another Ice Beam and she'll be ready for the Pokemon Center."

I knew what was coming, so I tried to make sure I would endure it. The green leaves on my back and the bright Sun helped me just in the nick of time, and I was back to full health a split-second before the Ice Beam hit me. I must admit the contrast was awful, and quite shocking. But at least I was still standing.

"Another healer," Flora sighed. "Whatever, your Synthesis can't possibly save you from both of us. And let me tell you something. Your spikes..." she shook her leaves again as she spoke, this time sending the wind down and pushing herself upwards, "won't stop me."
She had her wind lift her up until her body was right between me and the sun. I had to close my eyes for the bright light not to hurt them. However, I still saw her coming, and knew what attack to use against her, where to aim it and when to use it.

I trusted the mental images and launched a Sludge Bomb in the indicated direction. I heard the bomb hit Flora before I heard her falling in my direction. I tried to move away, but she came down too fast and hit me on my side before rolling away from me. At least, unlike with the Ice Beam, the effect of my clover did cushion the impact. Then I opened my eyes. What I saw was stunning, even if not completely unexpected. Flora was there alright, struggling to stand up; and close to her was Ventura, hovering above an unconscious Ludicolo.

"Why do I have the feeling I'm missing the best parts of this battle?," I inquired.
"Don't blame me," Ventura said. "I've been giving you the best view I can provide."
From the tone of her voice, I could almost swear she was smiling. Though it was hard to tell with her, and she hardly ever did smile like that.
"I'll ask what happened later. Now we have a battle to finish."
"Oh, I can show you," Ventura told me as soon as Flora was back on her feet. "I did exactly this to defeat Don."

She closed her eyes, not to protect them from the sun like I had, but to focus.
"You know," Flora began to speak. "It's not a good idea to announce your attacks like that, because I saw what you did, and now I'll be prepared and I must tell you I can also..."
But the poisonous fluid that seemed to form out of nowhere hit her before she could finish the phrase.
"Whatever it was you could also do, you should have done it instead of opening your big mouth," Ventura told her, but Flora could no longer hear her.


Both Ventura and I grew to level 51.5!

"You know, she was really getting on my nerves," Ventura aditted. "She talked too much. I knew she wouldn't miss a chance to open her mouth if I told you what I was about to do."
"Is that why you did it?," I asked her.
"Yes, and also because I was mad at her for saying 'thank you' after I used Sunny Day."
"She did? I didn't hear her. It must have happened when Don was shouting out."
"Yes, she dared to mock me because I didn't know the sunlight would make her faster. I had to make up for it somehow."
"Oh. And why are you telling me this?"
"What do you mean?"
"I didn't know you'd made a mistake. And you've just told me. It isn't something you'd normally do."
"Well, I thought you'd better know that for the next time you have to battle against a Tropius. And it's not true that I don't admit my mistakes. It's just that I rarely make them."
"You must forgive me, but I can't tell if you're joking or you're serious."
"If I were joking, would I change too much to your eyes?"
"No, you wouldn't. I'd just feel happier for you, because that would mean you're opening up. And maybe I'd get a chance to help you some day, like you're always helping me."
"Yes. About that... you did a great job this time. It took you some time to get started, but once you did you never flinched, and even had some good and original ideas."
"Thank you. I'd spent months thinking of how I could put my spikes to use. It's the first time they've actually helped us."
"You were both great," Gabi said, walking over to us. "I think waiting all this time before coming back here brought something good. The way you two were fighting last time, I don't know if you'd have been able to work together so well."
"We'll never know," Ventura stated. "Just make sure it doesn't happen again, because I won't tolerate such a long wait every time I'm about to battle."
"And I thought you were being nice today. Anyway, good job, both of you. I just wonder why your opponents used so many physical attacks on Sylvan. Couldn't they see her clover?"
"They probably didn't know what it was for," Ventura replied. "They don't look like they're from around. But next time we battle them, things will be different. We'll have to be prepared."
"That's if we ever battle them again," I noted.
"Sorry to interrup you girls, but we need to go," Hero came to us. "Tsunami's playing with the water of the stream, and by just taking a look at him you'll realize it's not fair play."
"You mean he didn't watch the battle?," Ventura asked him.
"Oh, he did watch, but now that it's over he's found other ways to entertain himself. So plase take us someplace where odds are even."
"Sorry, Hero, but I can't do that," Gabi replied. "You see, what you've asked for is an oxymoron."
It took some time for Hero to react, and when he did he responded with a growl.
"Sorry, I never said my jokes were good," Gabi apologized. "How does Unicorn Gate sound to you? We need to get going anyway, the finals will start today. If we leave now we'll make it just in time."
"That sounds better," Hero accepted.
And so we left the Training Grounds once more. I stretched out my vine in a symbolic wave to the Jungle Room that had seen some of my best and worst moments as far as pokemon battles went. I didn't know when we were going to return, and I wished we could stay longer to enjoy the view, the sun and the smell of the flowers, but the Unicorn Games finals would start soon and that was something we wouldn't want to miss.
__________________
~~ Lady VulpiX ~~
___________________________



Owner of the Necessary Unown Trophy
Keeper of Karin's Zealous Unown Trophy
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Today, 02:22 PM   #73
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Here's my first RBG battle! I haven't eaten for 24 hours, so I hope I haven't done anything stupid. It also has some hints to what the next scenario will be about (for those who don't go to Tsuyoi's Lair and therefore don't know what it will be yet).

`,,`,, ` ,,`,,`

<Terabyte's POV>

I lay in my trainer's PC, backing up important files in case something caused the hardware to be destroyed just like so many other computers had. All the ones I'd failed to save from the fire, as she would so often remind me. Al things considered, I couldn't really complain. She wouldn't have assigned me an important task if she thought I was to blame for the material losses, and we'd already made backups for all the important data those computers used to store. Years ago, I could have seen this as a punishment, but over the years I'd learned to get in and out at will, so I had nothing to be afraid of. There was no way the worst time of my life could come back... the time before she found me, stuck inside a primitive database, abandoned by my previous employer (I wouldn't call him a trainer). Many things had changed since then. I had changed, evolved, got a new name (not much better than my previous one, but with it being my trainer's only attempt at naming a pokemon I actually felt honored). And since then I'd never lacked anything I needed: company, some way to make myself useful, a place where I could feel at home. Of course there were some drawbacks, like having to watch motionless while others less lucky than me were caused to suffer, and having to stay close to my trainer when she was angry (something no one would ever want). Not that she'd ever laid a hand on me, she knew better than to become her worst nightmare. But sometimes words could hurt more than any form of physical violence. And if there was a way to hurt someone with words, she would know it.

I heard a door slamming through the microphone, which had been left on in case I was needed. Not a good sign.

"Terabyte!," my trainer called out. "Get out, I need you to log something."
I followed her command. If I was afraid of what she could do in her current state, I was more so of what she might do if I dared to disobey her. She started dictating as soon as she saw me come out.

"Singlehorn Project log, September 7th.
Infiltration successful.
Satisfactory findings: none as of yet.
Project status: endangered.
Reason: A.D."

I loged everything she said without emitting a sound. I was curious as to what had happened, but this wasn't the right time to try to find out.

"Log this too," she told me, waving a piece of paper in her hand. The main cause of her anger, I deduced by the way she grasped it. I took a look at its content, and things suddenly became clearer.

Ms. Giana Constanzo
Head of the Information Department
Ulthuan Branch

Dear Ms. Constanzo,

It has come to our attention that your department has been dedicating an excessive amount of time and resources to a project which has shown no effective signs of progress so far.
We now inform you that all resources assigned to the Singlehorn Project will be reallocated within a week's interval.

Regards,
The Management.


"A week?!," I couldn't hold myself from speaking this time.
"I know, it's ridiculous."
Had she just replied to my words? Was she finally beginning to get close enough to me to understand what I said?
"Did you understand me?," I asked.
I was unsure, but somehow excited. If she could listen to me, if she was letting me into her heart, maybe I could help her. May be I could make things better, get us both a better life.
"Not you too, Terabyte. You're the last creature I want to see possessed by the spirit of false hope."
Her comment hurt me like an arrow piercing right through my core. I had to remind myself that it was just her thing, what she did to protect herself from being hurt any further.
"There's no hope in this world. I know it because I've seen the worst side of everyone I've met. After all this, you may wonder why we bother to fight," she continued. "I'll tell you why. We fight to stay alive. We fight to be stronger than our enemies and to make some achievements to be proud of in the process. We fight for any brief moments of satisfaction we can get. And we fight to get back at life and make others pay for the suffering we've experienced."
"I see," I said to myself. "She's still fighting to fulfill her promise."
The promise she'd accidentally confessed to me in a moment of weakness, the one she'd made to the one person who had loved her the most... who had hurt her the most: that she would grow up to become a powerful and successful woman, while he would turn into a miserable lowly beggar who would live on the streets and beg to get just enough money to introduce another drop of alcohol into his filthy, stinking body. I didn't know how the second part was going, but she had deffinitely put a lot of effort into the first one, into escalating positions and achieving success. And, in a way, one could say she was scarily powerful. That day, after opening up, she'd told me she only spoke about that to me because I wasn't real; I was just a set of chips and circuits arranged in a way that barely ressembled a pokemon. For a long time, I thought she'd meant it, and I was deeply hurt. Then I realized she could have talked to a computer if she'd wanted to vent out in front of a lifeless piece of circuitry, and a machine that isn't really listening has no need to hear her reason for talking to it. She had chosen me because she needed someone who would listen without judging, and then she'd bashed me because she couldn't handle the fact that she had exposed her weakness. She'd never admitted any of that, but it was the only theory that made sense.

"What are you going to do?," I asked once she'd sat down and the look in her eyes was less painful.
"This thing was written by a secretary," she said, still looking at the letter. "It has the signs all over it. He can't even address me by himself, can he? Come to think of it, he's never stood directly in front of me since he arrived. I could barely see his face from the distance. 'The Management', it says."
I then learned what an angry chuckle sounded like.
"Are you talking about Armand DiAnnio? He never did show much interest in the Information Department. I think he has other ways of getting the information he needs. He must have sent the order to cancell all projects that were over a month behind their schedule or something. I'm actually glad he hasn't shown up around this office."
"He must know," she muttered. "He doesn't want to see me face to face. Like everyone else, he has something to hide. Many things, probably. Well, things won't end like this. If he's not interested in the Singlehorn Project, I know someone who is, and he won't be happy with the news of it being discontinued."

----------------------------------------------------

<Gabi's POV>

I had a lot of catching up to do upon arriving back in Caledor after the Unicorn Games closing ceremony. And the events that had taken place during the finals had reminded me that some things shouldn't be postponed. At least Soo, Ade and Karin had managed to bring back the festive mood in order to carry out a celebration. As I had expected, Milliardo started acting just like Hero had when he won the first Griphon Games. But then I told him that, and he started developing a conspiracy theory about Katnip trying to get close to all tournament winners in order to win by association. Speaking of the winners, none of them kept the pokemon they had won. Ade offered his prize pokemon to Soo, and Karin gave hers to Becca who in turn decided to release her own, even after Danny came asking for a chance to train that special Aipom. There was some tension at that time, but there was nothing I could do, so I decided to let things be and wished the Aipom a good life.

Now, back at home, I found 3 new letters on my mailbox, and a whole lot of new e-mails. I started writing mental notes in order to organize my time to reply to all of them. I started by checking the senders, and sending them some short notes about how busy I was and my plans to write back as soon as I could. "I think I'll dedicate Thursday for answering the letters," I said to myself before I reached an e-mail that immediately caught my interest. Its sender was Golden Growlithe, of the Dragon's Guild. I read it through.

"Hello, Lady Vulpix. (Should I call you Gabi?) How are you? I hope things are going well for you. I heard about what happened at Unicorn Gate, some people here are talking about it. Remember I told you I'd contact you as soon as I got anything interesting to tell you? Well, here it is. Today our mutual pain in the rear had an argument with the guy who gave me two of the prize pokemon. From what I could gather, I think he was mad about the Aipom being released. He didn't exactly say the word 'Aipom' or mention the Unicorn Games, but he did say that a pokemon like that couldn't be in the wild, and that something had to be done about it. Then L.N. told him something about having lost track of other pokemon before, and that got the man into an even worse mood. You could see his face turning red. Before leaving, he turned to me and told me to make myself useful and ask you how your Espeon was doing. L.N. wouldn't say another word about the whole thing after the man left, but now I'm sure that something's going on. Or at least that someone really wants to keep tabs on the pokemon who came from The Gates. So, that's all the news for now. I'll write again if I find out more. Take care.

G.G."


That was one message I replied to immediately, even if it took me some time to meditate on it and decide how to respond. This was my answer:

"Hi, G.G.!

Yes, you can call me Gabi. It's good to hear from you again. Don't laugh at me, but I was already started to think I had dreamt the whole thing about our encounter. Caledor is fine. He's always fine, actually; so cheerful that I start to worry whenever I don't see him smiling, but that doesn't happen often. Right now he's teamed up with Tsunami and they're both trying to see if they can catch Hero off-guard. You can imagine what their games are doing to the tranquility of our home, but the rest of us are already used to them. Maybe I should take them out to spend some of their extra energy. I think I'll do that after I've finished catching up with my most urgent e-mails (they've really piled up in my absence).

What you tell me is interesting. Do you know anything else about The Gates? By the way you refer to them it seems you know something that I'm still missing. Does this all mean that the lab is still functioning. Do you know anyone who may know more about it?

Sorry if I'm asking you too many questions. I just feel I've been in the dark for too long, and I'd rather make sure the Guild is not involved in anything that's causing harm to innocent beings. Given the relationship you have with your friends, I think you must understand. How are they, by the way? And how are you? If there's anything you need, don't be afraid to ask. I'll do what I can to help you all.

Best wishes,
Gabi."


I was sure that the Guild wasn't interested in the games Caledor played with Hero and Tsunami, but if they weren't specific about what they wanted to know, I could play their own game and have them come to me. I was frustrated at the fact I still didn't know who was in charge. Anyway, it would take some time before I got a reply to that e-mail, so I reckoned I'd better focus on other things in the meantime. I couldn't concentrate enough to reply to my other e-mails at that moment, so I decided that was the right time to get out.

My friends could hardly believe we were going for a day out (or an afternoon, whatever) when they expected me to be stuck in front of my computer for the rest of the day. When the question of where to go was raised, it was hard to come to an agreement. Everyone had different ideas, there were lots of places we hadn't gone to for ages. For example, Sylvan wanted to go for a walk in the forest while Water Angel, Tsunami and Caledor wanted to pay a visit to the Eevee House, and Iael thought it would be great to watch some battles at the Battle Tower; Ventura didn't mind as long as it got me out of my chair, while Lagi said it would be nice to check on the Dark Cave but it didn't have to be now since there were so many other things everyone wanted to do. Hero and Pidgeot had been out a lot on their own, so they didn't participate in the discussion; but Hero's ears perked up when Amber mentioned the training facility that had been installed a few months earlier and we were yet to see.

"Of all the creatures here, I'm surprised that you are the one to mention this," Tsunami pointed out.
"Well, I'm not interested in battling there myself, but I'd like to see what the place looks like, and see if I can find an old friend of mine who's supposed to be there," she explained. "Besides, I know some of you wouldn't mind a battle after all the time that has passed since most of us had one. Only Sylvan and Ventura have battled since the Unicorn Games began."
"And Iael has battled a lot more than anyone else right before that, so I think he shouldn't count when we pick the lucky ones," Hero suggested.
"Just note that we haven't agreed to go there yet," Pidgeot reminded the Ninetales.
"That's right, but why wouldn't we?," he replied. "It's good, it's new, and I've been itching for a battle for a long time."
"Which isn't possibly longer than the time I've been waiting for one," Tsunami added.
"Oh, yeah, but you've had the race at the Eevee House. That's gotta count for something," Hero told him.
"If everyone agrees, we can roll the magical die to see who gets to battle," I suggested.
"My status die?!," queried Caledor.
"No, not your status die," I laughed. "The online die I have programmed. It has helped me with several decisions where the actual choice was not as important as the action of making one."
"Oh, great. My fate is decided by a computer program," Hero groaned. "Just how many times have you based your decisions on it?"
"I don't know, I haven't counted them. No important ones, anyway."
"So this decision isn't important?," Tsunami questioned me.
"We have to pick a random choice, don't we?," I said. "Does anyone else have a better idea?"
"I assume we've already ruled out going to the forest, right?," asked Sylvan.
"Ok, let's vote first," I let out a sigh, noticing that making a decision had turned out to be harder than it seemed. "Who wants to go to the new training facility?"
That option got the votes from Caledor, Iael, Amber and, of course, Tsunami and Hero. Half the party already, myself not counting.
"Who wants to go to the forest?"
Sylvan raised a vine, but she seemed to be alone on this.
"Who wants to go elsewhere?"
Nobody voted this time.
"All the others don't care?," I tried to confirm.
"Hmm... I think I'll add myself to the group who has voted for the first option," Ventura decided.
"Ok, that's an ample majority, then," I concluded. "Does anyone have any sensible reasons not to use the die, and can provide an alternative method?"
Since no one answered, I got back on my chair for a moment and opened the web page that contained my 'magical die'.

"Ok, how many options are there?," I asked before picking a number of faces. "Does anyone other than Amber not want to battle?"
"I think I'll pass up on this one," Sylvan decided. "I've battled a short while ago and I'd rather just watch this time."
"Fine. Anyone else?"
"I think Hero was right," Iael said. "I've battled more than anyone else lately, I should give others a chance."
"Ok, so that leaves 7 of you, right?"
"Why not go for a 2-on-2 battle?," Ventura suggested. "That way 2 of us can get the chance. You could let your die choose among the teams of Hero and Lagi, Tsunami and Water Angel, Tsunami and Pidgeot, Pidgeot and Water Angel, and Me and Caledor."
"But then Tsunami, Pidgeot and Water Angel would get 2 chances where everyone else has one," Hero pointed out.
"It's ok, I can balance the odds by giving all the other options a double chance," I responded. "It's actually a good idea."
"Thank you," Ventura replied.
There were still 7 choices (counting the double ones as 2), so I picked the 8-sided die, which was the closest option I had.
"1 or 2 is Hero and Lagi, 3 is Tsunami and Water Angel, 4 is Tsunami and Pidgeot, 5 is Pidgeot and Water Angel, 6 or 7 is Ventura and Caledor, 8 means we roll again," I announced before clicking on the 'Roll' button.
A 2 appeared inside the result field.
"I win! I win! I WIN!!," Hero just couldn't hold himself from celebrating.
"Seems I'll be getting some excercise today," Lagi commented casually.
"Alright, there we go, then. If we have time after the battle, we can still go for a walk in the forest in order to please everyone including myself."
I turned off my computer, checked my address book to make sure I knew how to get to our destination, called Water Angel into her pokeball for the journey and left the house along with the rest of my team.

<Amber's POV>

I didn't notice I'd been flying ahead of the rest until I looked back and saw the others far behind. I guess I was excited at the prospect of seeing an old friend after all this time, even if I wasn't sure of whether I was going to find him. When we reached the building, I waited until the door was open and immediately started to explore. However, there were so many doors and corridors that I desisted in my attemps at finding Eliot by myself. I finally decided to ask Gabi if she could ask about him. It didn't take long before we were greeted by a young man with bright orange hair. He introduced himself as Ian, and asked if he could do anything to help us.

"Actually, we're here for two reasons, so maybe you can help us with one or both of them," Gabi told him.
"Really? And what are they?"
"First, we're looking for a trainer named Randall. He has a Charizard named Eliot who has been at several Training Grounds, and he made friends with my Charizard, so she'd like to meet him again."
"Oh! You must mean Randy. I guess I could call him, but I don't know about his Charizard. I think he has a mate already."
I sighed and shook my head. That wasn't why I wanted to see him!
"They're just friends," Gabi explained. "It will be nice if you can call him, he doesn't have to come today if he's busy, but if Eliot knows Amber's looking for him maybe he can pay us a visit at the DT central."
"Ok, I'll tell him. What's the other thing you came for?"
"Oh. We're also here for a battle. Hero and Lagi would like to train here today, if any pokemon are willing to battle them."
"Sorry, but I don't know who Hero and Lagi are," Ian replied.
"Oops! I am sorry. I'm so used to calling them by their names... Hero's my Ninetales and Lagi's my Dragonite."
"I see..." Ian said before walking towards the challengers to take a closer look at them.
After examining them for a while, he took a pokedex or something of the sort to complete his analysis.
"Quite an interesting pair!," he exclaimed in the end. "You're lucky I was around today. You should tell us in advance next time you want to train such high level pokemon. Unless you want to battle some of the common ones, but I'd feel better if my own pokemon could confront them."
"Common ones?," asked Gabi. "Sorry, you've lost me."
"Oh. We have a group of high level pokemon who practically train themselves here. Sometimes one of us takes them for a battle, but no one in particular is registered as their trainer. But, as I said, I'd rather train my own pokemon and a chance like this one doesn't present itself everyday."
"Then I take it you have high level pokemon too?"
"I have some of the finest pokemon trained in the mountainous regions of Caledor."
"In the mountains? But I thought... Wasn't there some sort of..."
"Protective shield around them?"
Gabi nodded.
"I'm surprised you know about it," Ian told her. "Few people do. The natural conditions are so harsh that not many venture into that region anyway. But yes, there's a shield that has protected that area since the time of the wars. Only the descendants of the Caledonian warriors who fought in that was can walk through it."
"Does that mean you're one of them?"
"Indeed. I descend from Tethlis himself. Though I must admit I'm sort of a black sheep in my family. I've decided to become a pokemon trainer instead of joining the army or getting involved in politics. My parents weren't too happy with my decision, but in my defense I can say I'm good at what I do, and I don't regret it."
"That's admirable," Gabi remarked.
"What is?"
"That you've had the courage to pursue your own goals like that, regardless of what others said. I've often found that quite hard myself."
"I see. But you've done quite a good job, haven't you? You're at the top of the Dragon Tamers organization."
"I feel more like I'm at the bottom of a huge pile of work and a lot of uncertainties. You make me sound like a corporate leader, I'm nothing like that."
"You make it sound as if it were a bad thing."
"It's not my thing in any case. I'm here partly by choice and partly by chance, and I focus on working hard and doing my best in all aspects of my life. And keeping the Dragon Tamers running is a really hard task. If I were alone in it, it would have fallen apart years ago. We've had ups and downs, especially with all the attacks and all the people who have left us, but I think we're a solid group now and that's what keeps us going."
"I see. What happened to your leader?"
"Leader?"
"Scott McHenry. Wasn't he in charge? Where is he now?"
Gabi sighed deeply.
"I wish I knew. I thought you might now, since you're somehow related to him. But he was not our leader, he was one of us, like me, Amy and Karin are now. He only had the tendency to try and do everything on his own."
"I'm not directly related to him. Though there must be some common branches in our family trees if that's what you mean. I haven't heard of him since the Dragon Games."
"Neither have I."
"Then why are we talking about him?"
"You picked the subject."
"No, I mean, why are we talking about someone we haven't heard of in a year, instead of having the battle we're both looking forward to?"
"I was wondering that myself!," Hero exclaimed from behind.
"I think we should get started," Gabi agreed. "Can you lead the way, please? It's our first time here."
"I certainly will. Follow me, please."

Ian turned around and started walking. I thought he spoke funny, but he seemed to take pokemon training seriously. After taking some turns and leaving a considerable amount of doors behind, he stood in front of one and used a card to open it.
"Here we are," he announced. "My personal favorite. I helped with the design of this room. It's still under construction, but it already has enough features to sustain a good battle. And the scenery resembles the mountains, so you can have an idea of what they look like from a close range... Only without the volcanoes and occasional avalanches. Unless our pokemon cause one, that is."
I took a look around as soon as I walked into the room. The paintings and the sculpted walls immediately brought back old memories. Though the mountains were redder than the ones I'd grown up on, and the earth below us was dryer. It reminded me more of the placed my mother had described in the stories of her childhood. A hot and arid place, shielded from the wind but not from the striking sun. The room itself was quite hot, as the roof seemed to be made out of a magnifying glass; I was comfortable in it, but Gabi was starting to turn red. Still, she didn't back off. If she had gone pale I would have taken her out of the room, but it looked like she could handle it for now.

"Before we begin, I must tell you something about this arena," Ian spoke. "There's a 7 feet layer of earth below our feet, so all ground-type attacks are safe to use. I'm telling you this so that ignorance doesn't hinder you or your pokemon in this battle."
"What did you say before about pokemon causing an avalanche?," Gabi questioned.
"Oh. Well, breaking the walls would have a similar effect. I wanted to stick some rocks on them in a way that the right moves could release them, but we haven't got around to doing that yet. So far all we have are these rocks on the ground."
"Interesting. We could add a room like this to our next themed event, whenever that is. It feels better than the Lava Room."
"Oh, wait until we incorporate the lava pit!," Ian laughed. I couldn't tell if he was joking or not. "Shall we battle now?"
Gabi nodded in agreement.
"Alright! Helios! Selene! Show yourselves!"

A beam of red light emerged from either side of Ian's belt. Upon contact with the earth, they changed their shapes to assume the forms of two familiar pokemon: a Houndoom and a Flareon. I shouldn't have expected to find any of the imported species; after all, Ian had mentioned his pokemon had been training in Caledor for a long time. The Flareon, however, had a rather unusual color. Instead of being reddish orange, most of his fur was golden.

"Two fire types," Lagi commented thoughtfully.
"Perfect for me," Hero replied. "They're my fevorite opponents."
"I know," she told him.
"Just be careful. If he's sending fire types against a Dragonite it means he has a trick up his sleeve."
"I know that too, but thanks for the advice," Lagi smiled.
"Are you both ready?," Gabi asked the two.
"Readier than ever!," Hero grinned. Lagi simply nodded.
"We're ready to begin," Gabi told Ian. That was the cue for all pokemon to assume combat positions.

Level 70 Dragonite and Ninetales vs. Level 70 Flareon and Houndoom

The battle began in an unusual way, with the golden Flareon smiling at Lagi and giving her a wink. Lagi's eyes opened widely for a moment, and then her face adopted a thoughtful look. Oblivious to that, Hero opted for a conventional start, and began to fill the place with clones of himself, possibly waiting to see what his opponents were capable of. Not that it helped him much, since the Houndoom saw through his trick and got to him by using a Faint Attack. Lagi shook her head and pushed forward, moving as fast as she could until she took off from the ground and started flying in circles. I'd seen Pidgeot do that before, but it was the first time I saw Lagi do it. I couldn't shake the feeling that something was strange about her, but I couldn't pinpoint what it was.

"Helios, use Toxic. Let's make this faster," Ian told the Flareon.
Helios spat out a toxic goo at Hero, who had to use all of his speed and quick reflexes to evade the attack.
"Oh, no, you won't," Hero said to the Flareon, staring at him firmly. A shadow engulfed Hero's opponent, gripping him for a moment before disappearing inside him.
"What did you just do?," asked Helios, speaking for the first time since he'd shown up.
"That's for me to know and for you to find out the hard way," Hero grinned. Then he turned to his partner. "Lagi, what are you doing up there?"
"Trying to think," she replied.
"Well, think faster. We're in the middle of a battle."
"No, you don't understand," she said. "Something isn't right. Something doesn't make sense and I can't seem to bring my heart back into the battle."
"Are you leaving me alone?"
"No. Just... Ouch!"
Before she could finish the sentence, Selene -the Houndoom- caught him by her leg and sunk her teeth into it.

"Hey, easy there!," Helios told his partner. "She can get back at you."
"I thought we were having a battle," the Houndoom pointed out, releasing her grip on Lagi. "Isn't that what you normally expect from your opponent?"
"Not always," he smiled.
"Save those smiles for your fans. I'm your half sister, remember?"
"So what? Can't I be nice to my sister?"
"You're a lost cause," she sighed. "Why hasn't she attacked yet?"
"I don't know. Maybe my charms are so powerful that she doesn't want to hurt either of us."
"Well, if Lagi doesn't want to attack, I will," Hero decided.
"Not so quickly!," Helios said, but before he could move he had been Quick-Attacked into the ground and Hero was back in his initial porition.
"Blast it!" Helios coughed out some dust. "I know what he did to me now. Still, that was too strong for a Quick-Attack."
"That was a... critical Quick-Attack!," Ian confirmed looking at his gizmo.
"There must still be something I can do!," growled Helios. "No Dig, no Toxic... at least I know what I can expect from you now. Oh, well, you get them, Selene!"

A bright light came out of Helios's chest and landed into Selene's. The Houndoom crunshed Lagi again, this time pulling her down to the ground. This was more than Lagi could take without countering, and she responded by scratching Selene's side with a Dragon Claw.
"I told you that would happen," Helios shook his head. "Well, I can still do this."
He launched himself into Hero, causing him to hit the ground below his weight.

Hero's mouth twitched in a way that looked exaggerated given the power of the attack he'd just received. His eyes closed for a moment, and when he opened them again, they were burning with rage. From their color I could have sworn the 'burning' part was not a metaphore. His few remaining copies disappeared.
"Dont you think I haven't seen the little box tied to your neck below your mane," my friend spoke in an unusually slow but firm tone.
"You have a collar. We're even," the Flareon replied.
"We were even," Hero corrected him. "But you've dared to paralyze me with a Body Slam. Now it's personal."
"This guy's crazy," Helios commented.
"No, just too proud," Lagi replied.
"What side are you on?," Hero questioned her.
"Everybody's side. But that can't do in a battle. Just let me recover from past blows and I'll be back with you."

Lagi took in some air and shook her wings to get a just a bit higher. The teeth marks on her leg were healed away.

"She knows Recover!," Ian exclaimed. "You two, bring her down quickly! Don't worry about the Ninetales for now, he's paralyzed."
I could have told him how big of a mistake he was making by neglecting Hero, but I was rooting from my friends and besides, he wouldn't have understood me anyway.
Selene tried another Crunch, while Helios hit Lagi from the distance with a Shadow Ball. Lagi let out a sigh.
"It's the only way to make things clear," she spoke mysteriously, calling for the water molecules in the air to gather around her forming a crystalline body, which subsequently advanced towards her attackers, drenching them. I looked for Hero, wanting to make sure he hadn't been hit by Lagi's Surf, but he was nowhere to be found.

Helios and Selene tried to attack Lagi again, but she had already set up a protective barrier.
"That's a waste of time," Selene told her. "You know we'll get you sooner or later."
"Maybe, but only one of you, in any case," Lagi sentenced.
Helios looked confused at her statement. Selene looked around quickly and seemed to notice Hero's absence, but realization came to her too little too late, as hero emerged from the now muddy ground and hit her with all his strength.
"How?!," questioned Helios. "You were..."
"Paralyzed. not beaten," Hero replied.
"I know. But you were all the way over there," Helios pointed with his head to the place where Hero had been lying. "You couldn't have possibly moved so fast."
"Well, I have, so I guess you've miscalculated."
"Selene! Are you alright?," Ian asked, but taking a look at his gear answered his question for him. "My team's down a member," he concluded. "But your two pokemon are battered. I still have a chance."
"Make that one pokemon, and not as battered as he looks," Lagi responded. "Listen, Helios, you're nice and I know you were just battling and didn't really mean to hurt my feelings, but you've been playing with something more delicate than you thought and caused me to fight myself before I could fight you while my partner felt I was leaving him alone. I would appreciate it if you didn't do that again in the future."
"What do you mean?," Hero and Helios asked in unison, causing Lagi to giggle.
"The question was the same but the answer's different for each of you," she answered. "To Hero: he used attract on me. You can imagine what a mess he's caused; you've seen most of it anyway. To Helios: I'm an empath. Messing with my feelings is not a good idea. It can even backfire since I knew the way you felt all along. And Hero, and Selene. It takes a lot of self control not to let all those mixed feelings take over."
"Really? Wow, I had no idea!," Helios replied. "Still, we're battling. Attract is a legal move, it was nothing personal. And I have nothing personal against you either," he said turning to Hero. "You just took it that way for who knows what reason."
"Messing with my speed is like messing with Lagi's feelings: a bad idea," Hero explained. "You're lucky to be still standing after doing both."
"Your speed?," Helios asked, confused. "I was being careful not to make any tactless comments about your tails, but I'd have never guessed that one."
"If you had made any tactless comments about my tails on top of it all, you wouldn't have told the tale," Hero assured.
"Oh, come on. You're tricky but you're not really that strong," Helios told him. "I'm sure I can beat you on my own. Someone who brags like you do can't possibly be able to back up his words."
"Do you know that from personal experience? I'd like to see you try and back up yours," Hero dared him.
"Pleased to serve," Helios answered, hitting Hero with another Body Slam.

"Lagi, do you think you can help with anything?," Hero asked, catching his breath.
"Only if you leave the path clear," Lagi replied.
"Hey, that's not fair!," Helios turned to Lagi. "This was a personal challenge."
"When did it become one?," Lagi asked. "It used to be 2-on-2."
"Helios, watch out!," Ian shouted out, but the Flareon was lost in the conversation.
"Let me give him one blow and then I'll be with you," he told Lagi.
"Can't say no to that," my friend accepted, though it was already too late for Helios. Hero had buried himself again.
"You distracted me!," Helios roared.
"I guess we're even now," Lagi replied.
"No, now we'll be even!"
Helios threw himself into Lagi's stomach, pinning her to the ground.
Lagi pressed her arms against the ground, trying to get up, but then let herself fall.
"How did you learn to use Body Slam like that?," she asked in a thread of voice.
"Years of practice," Helios said, getting down... only to be caught by Hero who just then emerged from the ground.

Hero caught Helios's mane in his teeth as he ascended, and let him fall against the ground at the highest speed he could muster. The blow was strong enough for the Flareon's body to give up.


Hero and Lagi won and they both grew to level 71!

Hero let out a long sigh as the end of the battle was declared.
"See? They can do anything to me and I'll still be the best," he bragged.
"The best boaster," Lagi completed his statement, getting up slowly. "That was a tough battle."
"Yes. If that's what you get from training in the mountains, I wish I could go and train there," Hero admitted. "But I guess I'll have to settle for beating the ones who train there."
"Hero, bragging so much won't do you any good," Gabi warned him.
"It's never hurt me before, has it?," he retorted.
"He needs a cold shower," Tsunami suggested. "I can gladly provide one."
"No, thanks, Tsunami. If you're going to have a brawl again at least wait until he's back in shape and not paralyzed."
"What?! You're not stopping him now?," Hero looked at Gabi in shock.
"I've just stopped him, haven't I? But I'm fed up with stopping the three of you each time you want to get at each other."
"The three of us? What have I done?," asked Caledor.
"Enough to know you were the third one," Gabi retorted.
"If you're done conversing with your pokemon, I would like to shake your hand," Ian said, approaching Gabi. "Good battle. You've trained your pokemon well; I haven't seen you give them any commands."
"I would have if it had been necessary," Gabi told him. "But Hero and Lagi normally know what to do in a battle better than I do."
"You've trained them to be independant. I like that. We should battle again some other time."
"If I have the time, I'll try. I'm normally too busy to come here. I've been wanted to come since this place was founded, and only now I've been able to."
"Well, I can wait. Shall I call Randy, then?"
"Oh, yes, please. Tell him to come to the DT central or let Eliot come by. Amber will appreciate it."
"Amber is your Charizard, right?"
"Oh, right. Sorry, I've done it again."
"It's ok. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go and fill some papers now. You're not the only one with piles of work to do."
"It's alright. I have to take Hero and Lagi to the Pokemon Center now."
"I'll do the same when my pokemon are ready to get up. If you stay, I may see you there."
"Maybe," Gabi smiled.

We left the building with Lagi and Hero in ther pokeballs. As much as Hero hated to admit it, he couldn't keep up with the rest of us while he was paralyzed. And, as we soon found out, so was Lagi. Helios was good with his Body Slam.
"You know," Gabi commented to me on our way to the Pokemon Center. "When Ian started talking about the mountains, I was afraid he was going to turn out to be just like Scott. I was relieved to see he wasn't. He seems to be quite friendly after all, he just..."
"Speaks funny?," I asked.
Gabi burst into laughter.
"Yes, he does," she said. "Though who am I to say anything about him? I'm too weird to make any comments of that sort."
"You're too weird, period," said Ventura.
"Oh, Ventura, why don't you grace us with your silence once more?"
"I will if you grace us with yours," she replied.
"And you said we wanted to get at each other?," Tsunami remarked.
All in all, it was quite a normal day.
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Old 12-11-2004, 03:29 PM   #74
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<Gabi's POV>

"I'm fed up with this scene," I thought to myself. I took a look at my alarm clock. 6:12 AM. I could have bet I wouldn't be able to get up for another 3 hours, maybe even 4. "Don't think about it or it will happen," I scolded myself.

I was reaching the end of yet another restless night. I'd had too many of those lately. I couldn't get myself to sleep till about an hour after I lied down, and then I'd wake up every hour or so. Then in the mornings I'd usually need help sitting up because of my low blood pressure, and even then my body would try to pull me back into my bed because it hadn't had enough sleep. The reason? Tension, I assumed. The effects of my huge to-do list combined with all that was going on and the uncertainty of when the whole situation would explode on our faces, and of what we would do when it happened. But this time it was even worse than the previous nights. This time I could hear my heartbeats in my head and I couldn't shake the awful feeling that something was about to go horribly wrong.

"Why?," I asked myself. "What makes this day different from any other? Why am I feeling this way?"
"Because it starts today," said an ominous voice inside my mind which, scarily enough, I recognized as my own.
I looked down at my chest and noticed that my white pendant was glowing. There was no room left to doubt. Unexpectedly, I managed to sit up.

I imagined knocks on my door. A second later, reality echoed my thoughts.
"Now that's more like it," I said to myself. "The useless psychic powers I know and love."
A slight smile made its way across my face. If I didn't keep some humor inside me, I'd go insane.
"Come in," I said.
The door was slowly pushed open, revealing the image of a worried Dragonite.
"Figures," I sighed. "Come in, please. Are you restless too?"
"Half the team is," Lagi answered, walking into my room and standing next to me. "But I was especially worried about you."
"About me? Why?"
"Let me once more tell you what you already know. You've been pushing yourself too hard, stressing yourself to the limit and now when you were feeling like you were about to collapse, everything changed suddenly and exhaustion gave way to fear, uncertainty to sad realization... How could I possibly not worry about you?"
I let out a sigh with a bit of laughter in it.
"Caring and motherly to the end, aren't you?"
"Yes, but this is not the end," she affirmed. "Now will you please tell me what's going on?"
"She and me both," said a voice above my head. I looked up and saw Ventura hovering above me.
"Yes, just come down because my neck hurts," I told my Venomoth friend, who decided to land on my bed. "I'll tell you what I know, which really isn't much. Something bad is about to happen, and it's starting today. I think it may have something to do with the Rocket attack we'd been expecting for some time now, but I can't be sure since you know how vague my premonitions are even with the stone."
I held my glowing stone in my hand as I said this.
"Then maybe you should let someone else try to figure it out," Ventura suggested.
"No offense, but I'm not sure giving it to you would help. Have you ever..."
"Not me, Caledor," she interrupted me. "He's done it before, hasn't he?"
"Oh... Yes, he has," I remembered. "He's used the stone before, but if I remember correctly, all it did was make him glow purple."
"But that was before he developed his psychic abilities... No, developed's not the word... Before he started manifesting them. He hasn't really developed them yet, but it's worth a shot."
"Ok, we'll try. Just let me finish getting up," I asked her and Lagi.

I stood up and went on with my morning ritual. When I emerged from the bathroom, Lagi and Ventura followed me to the kitchen for breakfast. I was surprised to find Caledor and Iael already there.
"I told you half the team was restless," Lagi reminded me.
"What's going on?," asked Iael.
"We don't know yet."
"I don't know but I don't like it," said Caledor. "All those long and gloomy faces? Come on! It can't be worse than everything we've already faced! I think what we need is a little game to cheer us all up."
"Not now, Caledor," Ventura told him.
"Bah, spoilsport. You don't have to play if you don't want to. But in my opinion you could use some fun. Maybe more than anyone else here. I don't recall you laughing even once since we first met."
"Then your memories are wrong. I have laughed... a few times at least. But I can tell when the situation calls for us to be serious."
"Me too, and those are the moments when a good laugh is needed the most."
"Do you realize you'll never come to an agreement on that topic?," I pointed out. "Everyone has their own way to handle the tension, but I think we should focus on how to deal with the problem... Whatever it is."
"Let me get this straight," Iael spoke out. "We're getting awfully worked up about a problem we know nothing about?"
"Basically yes," I chuckled noticing the absurdity of the situation. Caledor laughed in response, but Iael seemed even more serious than before.
"Then we're in trouble," the Stantler said.
"Does anyone want anything for breakfast? I think it will help us think more clearly. Tea, Gabi?"
"Have I become that predictable?," I laughed at myself knowing the answer. "Yes, please. Any variety will do."
"Camomile, then. And I'll have some too. Anyone else?"
"I'll have some cinnamon tea, but don't worry, I can make it myself," said a still sleepy-looking Charizard as she walked into the kitchen.
"Can I have some cheese?," asked Caledor before Amber asked the inevitable question.
"What's everyone doing up so early?"
"Will you believe that we don't know?," I told her. "I've been having this awful feeling and it seems I'm not the only one."
"Why don't we do what we can to verify it?," suggested Ventura. "You know my plan."
"Yes, I know. I just don't know if Caledor will agree with it."
"Me? Wha?," Caledor's ears perked up.
"Ventura would like you to touch the glowing stone and see if you get a premonition or something," I told him. "But I won't force you to do it if you're not ok with it."
The ever-so-joyful Espeon looked scared for a second.
"Ok..." he said. "I guess I can try, there's nothing to lose. I don't know to come out as a hypocrite. It's easy to laugh when everything's fine, the true art lies in laughing when things get tougher. So let's prove how good I am at laughing at this one."
His logic scared me, but I kneeled down and let him touch the stone with his paw.

Upon contact with the stone, Caledor's fur began to glow, and his gem adopted the same bright purple color. He put his paw down slowly, silently letting the light fade away, and looked up at the window.
"Are you alright?," I asked him.
"I'm always alright," he said, but his tone expressed the opposite.
"What did you see?"
"The sky... It's staying as black as it is now. Don't ask me why. I saw a few glimpses. I'm not a good psychic, you know. I saw Team Rocket members fighting each other, and many others running away scared. And then I saw..."
I looked at him waiting for him to finish the phrase, but he seemed to be having trouble with that. Lagi left the kettle and kneeled down to stroke Caledor's back. Her touch brought the smile back to his face.
"Thanks, Lagi. I know you're already a lot here, but please don't tell anyone you saw me like that. It'd ruin my reputation."
"It's ok," I said. "You don't have to say it if it hurts too much. I'm sorry I've exposed you to that."
"No, it's not that," he said. "Not at all. It's just that I can't make out exactly what I saw next, but it felt as if someone was after me. It scared me a little, you know, like one of those nightmares when you feel someone is after you. But that was all."
"Only that wasn't a nightmare," Amber pointed out. "It was a vision. So either someone is after you or you've tapped into the mind of someone who's being chased."
"Yeah, that could be it," Caledor reflected. "Anyway, it's gone now. We have an idea of what's going on, so now we can start getting ready for it and stop worrying about it."
"I'm shocked at how much you've matured lately," I commended Caledor.
"Are you talking to me?," he tried to make sure. "No way! You must be mixing things up."
"Maturing is not inherently a bad thing, you know," Ventura told him.
"I'm not saying it is. I'll just warn you that you shouldn't expect me to ever stop playing games, making jokes, laughing at everything and being just plain silly."
"I really hope you hold on to your word on that matter," I said, giving him a warm hug.
"Hey, maybe gloomy premonitions aren't such a bad thing after all!," Caledor exclaimed. "I've got stroked and hugged by two ladies in less than two minutes!"
"You don't have to be that silly," Ventura scolded him.
"What shall we do now?," asked Amber.
I meditated on it for a few moments.
"The only thing I can think of is calling for a DT meeting. There's no one else we can rely on right now. I could try to contact the people I still trust at the Guild, but this time we won't be able to lean on anyone's shoulders."
"I know," Amber nodded. "Will it be a DT staff meeting, or a broadcast to all Dragon Tamers?"
"Staff first, I think. There are some decisions we should make before getting the newer trainers involved, and most of the experienced ones are gone save for Ade who's probably one step ahead of us already. I'll try to contact him after we've talked to Amy and Karin."
"Are we going out now?," Iael queried, "or are we waiting until the others wake up?"
"Water Angel's already awake," Lagi informed us. "The only ones still sleeping are Sylvan, Hero and Tsunami."
"What about Pidgeot?," I asked.
"I wish I knew," Lagi said. "He's not in the house and Water Angel's worried sick about him. He must have left before I woke up."
"He takes the term 'early bird' to a whole new level," Caledor commented.
"He's been spending a lot of time outside lately," Amber noted. "I've tried to ask him what he was up to, but he wouldn't talk. I can understand Water Angel's concern. You guys don't think he's trying to pull a Scott, do you?"
"Going up against a dangerous and powerful force on his own? I really hope that's not the case," I reflected.
"It's probably the case," Iael argued. "He may not be trying to fight Team Rocket on his own, but he's definitely trying to find them. If I heard Mewtwo was back and plotting something, have no doubts that I'd be out there looking for him."
"I hope that never happens, but if it does, please don't," I told him. "You're not alone. Neither is Pidgeot. We're a team, and everyone should remember it. We're stronger together."
"True, but there are some things one can only deal with on their own," Lagi stated in a sad tone.

<Pidgeot's POV>

I was out early that morning, and I must admit I lost track of time. The sky wasn't helping me; it gave no signs of the passing of hours. That reminded me of a game Gabi normally talked about... only this was not a game. I realized something was wrong when the first pokemon started running across the streets in panic, or taking off into the air. Natus, Espeons and a few Smoochums. You can tell something's not right when the psychics start getting scared systematically. I wondered how everyone was at home, but now I didn't have time to go back and check on them. I was too close to finding out what was going on. And they were a strong team, they'd know what to do. I only felt sorry for Water Angel. She'd seen me go, and nothing she could say would stop me, but it still tore me to hurt her; to cause her to worry. But if I was right, this would bring me closer to ending her worries once and for all. Not only hers, but everyone else's too.

I'd been following tracks and rumors for many days now. I'd reached many dead ends, but now I was certain that I was on the right track. After all, I'd seen that Alakazam sitting casually at the front of that office building. And I'd never forget that face.

I hovered around the building for a minute, watching for anything that moved. It was dark and I couldn't see much, but I'd learnt that darkness could be my ally. There were planty of shadows to hide in, to spy on those inside the building without being noticed. It wasn't hard to get inside using my Faint Attack. The office I landed in was empty, and the door was open. It looked too much like a setup. I tried to convince myself that I'd be safe as long as my hammering heartbeats didn't reveal my position. After all, they considered me a failure; I couldn't be on their top 10 threats list.

I moved carefully along the corridors, until I heard the sound of voices. I followed the sound to its source. Some kind of conference seemed to be taking place. I reckoned that going where everyone was gathered wouldn't be safe, so I stayed in the shadows, trying to listen. What I heard was shocking. It seemed Team Rocket members were about to go on a war against each other. They could all kill each other as far as my wishes went, but I knew innocents would get hurt in the process. They always did. This war needed to be stopped before it went too far.

"I predicted this," a voice said behind me. I turned back to see it was the Alakazam. "It was just a matter of time. Now I wonder what side you'll be helping."
I looked at him, still hiding. He couldn't possibly see me, but...
"Come on, respond. I didn't let you watch all of this not to get an answer from you. You may come out of the shadows now, everyone else is too busy fighting each other to pay attention to us."
I decided to emerge. Staying hidden was pointless now.
"What do you want from me?," I asked.
"Haven't I made myself clear? I want to know what side you'll be on."
"I'm not one of you. I'm not going to help either side."
"Wait. They're starting to come out. Let's go somewhere less crowded."

The Alazakam teleported me to the top of the building. I was surprised... again. I thought he'd take me to an enclosed space, but instead he took me where I had the most room to maneuver. I wasn't too pleased with this either. My inability to predict his actions meant he was in control. I needed to change that somehow.
"I must admit I'm surprised," he told me once he made sure no one else was around. "I didn't expect you to embrace your dark side so soon."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," I emphasized.
"You know full well what I'm talking about. Using your dark powers to break into Team Rocket's facilities and try to spy on us... How much darker can you get?"
"Oh, dark in the literal sense of the word, you mean. You'll find there's a big difference between that and what others normally call dark."
"I see... does that mean you're still pretending to be Mr. Good Samaritan? Is that why you came here on your own?"
"I don't see why I should keep talking to you. You sicken me."
"What? Like poison?"
I couldn't stand the grin on his face. Why did he have to remember the one thing I hated the most?
"Come on, don't be such a chick," he continued. "We're big now. We've been big for quite some time, actually."
"If all you're gonna do is talk senselessly, I'm leaving."
"You'll leave when I let you," he said. "First I need to know. You've seen what DiAnnio's capable of. If his side wins, there'll be a massacre. No one will be safe. Are you going to help us? Or him?"
"Last time we met you didn't seem to think much of me. Why do you want my help all of a sudden?"
"You have powerful allies. I'd have to be blind not to notice."
"And you're against that lunatic because...?"
"I'm not sure if I should tell you this, but... what the hell; he's ordered the cancellation of AEP."
"Wow, for all his wrongs, I can't believe he did something good after all!"
"Don't be stupid. I know how much you hate our program, but he's not doing it for the good of your poor damaged soul. He's trying to dismantle everything Giovanni has constructed to replace it by something that's far worse. Even a dumbass like you has to understand that."
"Listen. I'm not going to help you. I'm happy that they'll stop torturing young pokemon and forcing them to evolve before they're ready; I'm not going to help either side. If anything, I'll do whatever I can to stop ALL of you."
"Oh, please, how STUPID can you be?! Don't you see? If you don't help us, you're helping them! I'm not even asking you to recognize the good AEP has done to you. But you MUST see the suffering the Crimson Blades will cause if they're not stopped!"
"I'm not saying I support them. I'm just saying I'll never side with you. I'll never work for Team Rocket. I think I've made that clear before."
"You mean before they dumped you for being unable to stay on your feet? Or that time at the Dragon Tamers party when you had to hide behind a shield in order to stand a chance against me? I seem to remember a scaly babe tried to stop me from hurting you before our battle began."
"This conversation ends now," I declared, ready to take off. But some sort of barrier stopped me.
"You wouldn't think I'd let you go if you're not going to help us," the Alakazam said. "You're every bit as dimwitted as you look. I can see why they branded you as a failure."

I turned to face him again. This wasn't my best day at all. I needed to think clearly - a hard thing to do when Team Rocket was involved, but the only way I'd be able to get out of there and tell my friends what was going on. I told myself not to fear. I was no longer the frightened little bird in a body too large for him and at the mercy of evil masters. I was stronger now; and wiser. Moreover, I'd beaten that same Alakazam once before. I'd had my friends to back me up at that time, but I'd defeated him by myself. I could do it again.

Level 60 Pidgeot vs. Level 65 Alakazam

"You'll find out I've learnt some new tricks since our last encounter," my enemy announced before attacking.
I would have been susprised if he hadn't learnt anything in such a long time, even if he was stupid enough not to understand the meaning of the word 'no'. I tried to remember what moves he'd used in our previous battle, but it had been so long ago... He'd said something about me hiding behind a shield, so he had to know an electric attack... probably Thunderpunch. And I seemed to recall he had a healing move too, which had scared me during the battle. Those two things alone were reason enough to be extra careful, especially since I didn't have my shield with me right now. But I had some extra tricks too, and I knew the best way to find out what he could do without getting hurt in the process.

I fixed all my senses on the Alakazam, ready to detect and evade whatever he was about to send against me. My worst fears were confirmed when he spat out an obscene amount of toxic goo in my direction. I managed to avoid it, but it still had an effect on me. I knew this was going to be tougher than any battle I'd had so far. I was fighting for my life; I couldn't afford any mistakes.

"That was just a warning," he told me. "I'll get you sooner or later. Either you're with us, or you're going down. I won't be as lenient as the humans were."
Lenient? How had they been lenient? They'd literally dumped me away, with a swollen body I could barely move and a soul too hurt to push forward. I still had a small spark inside me, that's true. That's what they weren't counting on. I still held on to the faint memory of a life that was actually worth living, and that's how I recognized the good intentions of those who took me in and healed me, and why I welcomed the starting trainer who offered herself to help me get a new life and be at peace with myself, even if back then I wasn't sure whether that would be possible. But that had never been what the Rockets expected. What they wanted for me was a slow death, as my punishment for not bending to their will. What leniency was this guy talking about?

An intense pain in my head revealed that I had made a terrible mistake. I had got distracted. I couldn't afford that to happen again. I hid in the shadows, if only to decide what to do next. Even if my opponent could sense my presence, the dark energies of Faint Attack wouldn't let him pinpoint my exact location. The Alakazam didn't look phased by my actions.

"I dare you to try that," he said. "Your Faint Attack isn't strong enough to defeat me. I'm not an Abra, you know? I can't say I even remember being one."
"That's your problem," I said, coming out of the shadows and hitting him with my Faint Attack.
I hated to prove him right. His calmness was disconcerting.
"I told you so. Of course you're welcome to try again. You'll find out it will be even less effective this time. You can even try that dark Hidden Power of yours if you've already unlocked it."
"You're wrong," I told him, smiling inside for the first time that day. "I've already unlocked my Hidden Power. It's not dark type."
I had forgotten how quick he was to jump to the wrong conclusions about me.
"Well, whatever type it is, I don't care. You're not strong enough to beat me. That much is obvious."
"I've already beaten you once."
"You just got lucky. And I've become stronger since then."
"That's the problem with you Rockets. You think everything's about physical strength."
"No, I'm talking about mental strength too. You must have noticed the improvements of my Psychic attack."
"I'd tell you what I think, but your square mind would never understand it."
"You think you're smarter than me? You're amusing. Please do tell," he laughed.
I didn't know what he'd make of it, but I said it anyway.
"It's not the strongest who survive. It's the ones who have hope."
"It's so funny to watch you talk," he kept on laughing. "That's the corniest thing I've ever heard."
"Look for examples in history, medicine, and even the results of scientific research. You'll find that I'm right."
"I couldn't expect any more from a Dragon Tamer. So what? Are you trying to talk me to death?"
"Now that you ask, I was using the chance to get my item to work. Thanks for your time."

That really got to him. I could feel I was in control for once. My sacred ashes had healed me, and I'd kept them hidden so my opponent had no way to know what my item was. But my advantage wasn't long-lived. The Alakazam came to me with a Thunderpunch I had no way to avoid. I felt the electricity surge through my body, burning each and every one of my cells. I tried to counter it with my own power; electricity wouldn't hurt so much if some of it was my own. I managed to stop it before being paralyzed or fatally wounded, but the effort drained me so much that I knew I wouldn't last another shot. This was my last chance. I had no choice but to use my strongest move before the Alakazam could do anything to stop me. I stretched out my wings and took in as much air as was possible, before sending the most powerful blast of wind I could muster against my opponent. The puzzled look in his eyes before he went down proved that he literally never knew what hit him.


I grew to level 62!

I guess I was lucky after all. My Aeroblast had been at its strongest (or near its strongest at least). The Alakazam wouldn't wake up for some time, and without him the barrier that held me there was bound to be gone. Now I needed to flee before more Rockets arrived, and get help right away.


[Edit: this story should provide enough context information to understand this post. Especially the flashback and what comes after it.]
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Last edited by Lady Vulpix : 12-26-2004 at 03:57 PM.
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Old 12-26-2004, 10:19 PM   #75
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Thanks for the stamps, Amy! And also thanks to Ade, Amy and Karin for reading the first part of my story for this scenario. ^_^ Here's the 2nd part.

`,,`,, ` ,,`,,`

<Pidgeot's POV>

I heard sounds in the darkness. At first, nothing had meaning. All I could feel was a general numbness. Then I remembered the battle, my encounter with the Alakazam, the Team Rocket meeting, the Crimson Blades... I wished it had all been a nightmare, but it was all too real. All the physical pain soon came to me to confirm that. What had happened then? Why was I on the ground? I recalled something hitting me while I was flying for help. Possibly a stray attack from a battle below... or maybe the pain from a wound my mind had blocked out during the battle, coming back to me once the threat was gone. Either way, the sound of fights all around me made one thing obvious: the war had begun.

I made an effort to open my eyes. For a moment I thought the light would blind me, but then I remembered the sky was all dark. When my eyelids finally moved away from each other, I saw a pair of reddish pink eyes (or maybe pinkish red) looking at me.
"Welcome back to the world of the living," a female Ninetales voice said.
The voice echoed in my head, barely standing out from the loud surrounding noises. I focused my sight and the full image of the Ninetales took form. She looked like she hadn't had an easy morning, though it couldn't had been as bad as mine. I knew her, of course. I had even battled her once, but it had been a friendly battle, nothing like the one I'd just had. I knew I could trust her. I'd finally found some of the help I was looking for.
"Thanks," I told her. "How long was I out?"
"Hmm... I'd say about an hour, judging by how the scents of the street have settled on you."
"I bet that's something only you can say," I commended her, trying to sit up. She helped me, lifting my head with hers.
"There are many who are much more powerful than me," she said. "Without going too far, I have a friend who can see the future. I only have good senses."
"We work with what we have," I said.
"That's true. I just wish I could do more at a moment like this. What happened to you anyway?"

I started to tell Tracker everything: how I had made it into the Team Rocket headquarters, and everything I'd seen. Officer Jenny soon came running after her Ninetales, yelling at her for running off again, but stopped when she saw me, letting me finish my story. I then said everything about the Alakazam, the battle and how I had escaped, but then I had fallen before I could get back home.
"It's ok," Tracker said. "We'll take you to a Pokemon Center, and then I'll find your team and tell them everything. Then we'll all stop Team Rocket and this new group too."
"That won't be easy."
"What kind of police pokemon would I be if I backed off whenever things got tough?"
I nodded. She was right.
"I wish I could speak Pokemon language," Officer Jenny said. "This Pidgeot belongs to Lady Vulpix, right?"
Tracker nodded.
"We'll have to find its trainer. But first he'll need some help. I'll call the Pokemon Center and ask them to fetch it."

I wasn't used to being called 'it' and I can't say I liked it, but I appreciated the help. Especially since I didn't feel like I'd be able to make it there on my own. After the officer made the call, both she and Tracker stayed with me for a few minutes, until two young men came to me with a stretcher. I could stand up by then, though my wings didn't seem ready to lift me yet. They watched as I was taken to the ambulance which was already carrying several wounded pokemon, and then left with Tracker's promise to get the rest of my team.

<Gabi's POV>

The meeting started rather well considering the fact that it was arranged on such a short notice and we didn't have enough information to act upon. I felt sorry about interrupting Karin's vacation, but this was important and she wouldn't have wanted to miss it anyway. Gwaihir carried her and the rest of her team to the DT Central so fast, it felt like they hadn't gone away at all. Once we were all there, I tried to tell my friends everything I knew about the current crisis. Amy and Karin seemed disoriented; I attributed that to my own inability to explain the situation clearly, though how clear could I be when I wasn't certain about what was going on myself? We all agreed that something had to be done, but none of us seemed to be willing to take the lead this time. Then, in the middle of the meeting, my gearphone rang. Weird, since it had been over a year since someone had last phoned me on that number. I wondered who'd bother me at a time like this... though it could be something important. I picked up.

"Hello?," I said.
"Hello, this is Golden Growlithe of the Dragon's Guild."
The formality sounded out of place and confused me for a moment, but I soon recognized my interlocutor.
"Ah, it's you! Sorry, you caught me in the middle of a meeting."
"Oh, I'm sorry. But if I hadn't called you, Lady Ninetales would have and I assure you that you'd rather talk to me. She's become even more irritating than usual."
"Oh, I see. So is this about the report I handed in last week? Or do they want me to start a new one already?"
"I swear you're psychic."
"It's the only reason why she ever calls me," I explained.
"Well, yes, they're asking you to write a new report. You can pick the subject and location. You're also allowed to take company with you to help you with your research. They want something good and said they don't want to limit your scientific developments in any way, so you literally get to go anywhere you want this time. I wish I would get all those benefits."
"A year ago I'd have been grateful, but now I'm starting to feel they're trying to drive me away. I wonder what I have done to annoy them so much... Or what they're hiding that they don't want me to find out."
"Yeah, I'm working on it. But for now I don't even know who the Dragon Master is. If there is one at all. Maybe we should talk about this personally someday, but I can see the Guild is facing more internal problems than they care to show. Maybe if you take me with you to do your research we can talk more freely."
"I'll think about it, but that will have to wait. We're in the middle of a crisis now."
"A crisis?"
"Yes... I have a feeling you'll understand what I'm talking about if you get out of the building for a moment."
"Ok, I will, but LN wants to know what the subject of your report will be and she'll ask me about it as soon as she comes back."
"She wants me to come up with a subject right now?! She knows I'm not good at taking decisions on such a short notice!"
"Hey, don't yell at me. I'm just the messenger."
"Sorry. I just can't right now. Can I please have a week to think about it? I can think of something good for next week, but not today."
"I don't know... that decision's not up to me. I have just enough power to call you, but not enough to decide what to tell you. Maybe if you think of something now... and then if you want to change it before next week I don't think anyone will mind."
"Ok, let me think..."
I didn't know why the thought crossed my mind. It was always unexpected when it came, but it was recurrent. Sometimes it brought nostalgia, sometimes sorrow or even guilt, and sometimes it came with the weight of unfinished business. Well, maybe I'd get the chance to get rid of one of those feelings now. I just needed to give it a title...
"Ponytas in high places."
"What?!"
"Sorry, I think that didn't make any sense. Maybe you can help me word it better, I mean... how high altitude affects Ponytas, since they're known to live on the plains, but a few colonies of Ponytas have developed on mountainous regions... I'd like to write a report about how those groups of Ponytas have adapted to life in the mountains."
"Ah, ok. I think I can work with that. Thanks, you're really not that bad at coming up with ideas on a short notice."
"To be honest, that's not what I did. I needed a reason to go to a certain place and now I have it. If the Guild is going to use me, I might as well play the same game and use them in the process."
"I didn't know you were capable of such actions."
"I'm normally peaceful, but I react if they push me too much. I'm not going to hurt anyone, there's just something I need to sort out in order to be at peace with myself. But only after we've dealt with this more urgent crisis."
"Alright, if there's any way I can help you, I will. Oh, by the way, before I forget... A woman came by about an hour ago. I don't know if this means anything, but I didn't know her, and my pokemon were uneasy around her. She didn't look like she was from the Guild, but she ended up leaving the building with one of the Guild's most prominent scientists. And he didn't look too pleased. I thought you might want to know."
"At this time anything out of ordinary could be a clue. What did the woman look like?"
"Blonde, long wavy hair, well built for a woman if you get what I mean. She wore a black skirt and a blouse with large pink roses. She had a wide smile plastered on her face, but it didn't look like a sincere smile of joy, nor a completely fake smile... it was somewhat disturbing, I can't tell exactly what it looked like."
"I see... I don't know anyone who would wear a blouse with large pink roses, but please tell me if she shows up again. Did she or the scientist say anything? Who was the scientist anyway?"
"People call him Gene. I think his first name is Eugene, but he doesn't say his last name in public. I think it's classified or something. He's a weird guy. He rarely shows his face around here. He works with the guy who threw a fit when the rainbow Aipom was released, but I don't know what they're working on."
"Alright, I'll... think about all of this when I get the chance. It may or may not mean something, but right now..."
"You have a crisis to avert. I know. Good luck with that, my friends and I will help if we can."
"Thanks. See you."
"Bye."

I turned back to my friends at the meeting room. They were talking, but hadn't seemed to come to an agreement while I was on the phone.
"So, where were we?," I asked.

<Hero's POV>

The meeting was being carried out as it had begun: plain boring and useless. These girls took ages to make any decisions. It was easier when Scott was around, he'd decide what to do and everyone else would have to adjust immediately. Or even Ryan: he'd never been a part of the DT staff, but he always had a plan and Gabi would always find a way to implement it. I couldn't tell if they really had no ideas or none of them was willing to take responsibility for the whole thing. And the pokemon weren't really participating. What can I say?, I guess everyone was confused about what was going on. Even Caledor seemed uneasy, and that's something you don't see everyday. Then Gabi got the phone call... for a moment she looked like she was about to explode. And she started talking about things that made no sense to me, so I stopped paying attention and started looking through the window. The sky was still unnaturally dark. Down on the streets, even the crickets had gone silent. But far away I could hear the sound of things getting broken and beams being shot. Typical pokemon war, if you asked me. But no one did ask me. And then, also on the street, I saw what came to me as a ray of sunlight in the darkness. And Officer Jenny was running after her, as usual.

It was a good thing that the door wasn't locked. I pushed down the knob and ran down the stairs until I reached the entrance. Naturally, I made it there before Tracker did and waited for her. Unfortunately, I had to wait for someone to open the main door. In the meantime I looked at her. She looked rather worn out, and her hair was almost as messed up as mine, which was unusual in her. I'd always wondered how she managed to keep it neat all the time; now I knew the answer: she didn't. Her ears were moving sideways, as usual whenever something was going on. She never missed out on anything. But her eyes... her light ruby eyes were fixed on me. I was glad I had fur all over my face to cover the blushing.

When the door was finally open, both Tracker and Jenny walked into the building.
"Hero," Tracker said with a smile. For some reason when she said it it didn't feel just like my name, but the original meaning of the word.
"Beats Speedy and Spooky," I answered, immediately scolding myself mentally for not coming up with anything better.
"Well, Speedy was Scorch's idea, not mine. Between us, I think he was never good for picking names. Flame was better at it."
"Flame's names weren't that far from the obvious either. They were just a little more poetic, but still unoriginal. Blessing, Sunrise, Sunset..."
"...Tracker..."
"Well, your name suits you, but there's a lot more to you than that."
"Thanks for noticing," she smiled. "But that happens with all names. They can never fully describe their bearers. That's why it takes time to get to know others well."
"Yeah, some need more time than others. You're good at figuring others out."
"It's just a matter of attention, really. I'm sure you can do it too, if you try."
"You know my attention's only good for battles and competition. That's my only flaw."
"Sure," she chuckled, "because you don't seem to have any modesty problems."
"Nah. No modesty to worry about," I laughed. "Really, it's good to see you here."
"I'm glad to see you too. I've been so busy lately... training, patrolling, investigating, chasing criminals... working as a police pokemon is a demanding job and today it's started out as the worst day we've had this year. I hadn't seen riots like these since the attacks on the hotels, only now it's all over the city. Only a few have been caught so far, it looks like were doing clean up work more than anything else. It's like they're always one step ahead of us."
"Then it must be time to stop and think of what they're going to do next so you can catch them, isn't it?"
"Don't think I haven't thought about it, it's just that the attacks don't seem to have any visible pattern yet. Except that most of the targets have been pokemon and pokemon trainers, but that's still to vague a track to follow. And now, from what I've heard, the Rockets are fighting each other. Oh, before we accidentally change the subject again, I met your Pidgeot friend today. He knows more about this whole thing than I do, I think you should talk to him. He's at the Greendale Pokemon Center now."
"Is he hurt?"
"He is, but don't worry. They're looking after him and he'll recover soon. He has an amazing willpower from the stories you and he have told me. He won't be taken down easily."
"Yes, that's his strong point in battles. Will to keep fighting and a good ability to adjust and improvise. I guess that helps in life as well. So, what happened to him?"
"He had a clash with a Rocket pokemon. And old enemy, apparently. He managed to escape after watching Team Rocket declare some sort of a civil war."
"We need to tell the others."
"I think my trainer's already taken care of some of it. She must have told the Tamers what she knows, though one of us or both will have to go up there and fill in the gaps because she couldn't understand what Pidgeot said."
Only then I noticed Officer Jenny was gone. I really needed to work on my attention.
"She doesn't understand you yet?," I asked Tracker.
"No," Tracker shook her head. "She has no psychic abilities, and while we care for each other, communication between us hasn't improved that much. I think I'm to blame for a part of it. I know I always keep acting on my own initiative instead of waiting for her to make a decision, or sometimes even in spite of what she says. But in our line of work often every second counts and I can't help but trust my instincts. Most of the time I have more information than she does. And I think the fact that she's my second trainer doesn't help her confidence. She looks a lot like her cousin, but they don't act the same way. Plus I think she knows she's not the reason why I decided to stay here instead of going back to Goldenrod."
"I see. It sounds like a complicated situation. I'd like to help you, but I have no idea how to fix that."
"It's ok, I know it will take time. I wasn't asking you for advice on this, but I think you can help us stop Team Rocket from trashing the city and spreading to the rest of the country."
"I promise I'll do my best."
"Shall we go up now?"
"Up? What for?"
"To talk to our trainers and decide on what to do."
"Oh! Of course. Up we go."
...And up we went.

After we told everyone the story, the staff finally reached a conclusion: this was a job for all the Dragon Tamers. Or at least all those who volunteered; the situation was too dangerous to have anyone participate without considering the risks first. Each Tamer would be contacted individually - Gabi didn't think it would be safe to broadcast the message this time. That would take time, but at least everyone would be informed of what was going on, and hopefully enough trainers would decide to help keep the crisis contained.

Once the meeting was over, everyone got on the move. Gabi and some of my teammates went to the Pokemon Center to check on Pidgeot, while the rest of us (namely Tsunami, Caledor, Amber, Iael, Ventura and myself) decided to patrol the streets. I followed Officer Jenny and Tracker and offered them my assistance. The others formed pairs to explore the city, except for Ventura who preferred to fly on her own.

<Caledor's POV>

I paired up with Tsunami because he was the obvious choice. Not only because he was one of my best friends and the other had decided to follow his girlfriend or whatever their current status was, but also because he was the only one who could distract my thoughts from the vision I'd had earlier that day. I hated to admit it, but I just couldn't shake it off and I didn't even know why. And the general dark and gloomy environment wasn't helping me make any jokes either. Hopefully I'd find some Rocket to battle and then my mood would change. I had a reputation to maintain. At least with Tsunami I managed to get some light talk, and soon we were speculating about whether Hero and Tracker would ever formalize their relationship. Though he said something really puzzling at the end of the conversation; something about him not wanting our bond to be broken, since even I was getting lucky this days.

"What do you mean?," I asked him. "I build my own luck. It's the same way it's always been. What do you mean by 'these days'?"
"Ah, forget it. I just... feel lonely sometimes, but I know you and Hero will always be there for me. You're the best friends I could have hoped for. But don't tell Hero that or it will go to his head."
"I didn't know you felt lonely. Well, you can call me any time you need some cheering up, because you know that's what I do best!"
"Indeed," he chuckled. "And I can tell you're not about to change any time soon. You don't even like changes, do you?"
"Only if they're for the best. But why change what's already working? I'm not ever going to become serious if that's what you're referring to."
"That wasn't exactly what I was talking about, but it's still good to hear."
"Then what were you talking about?"
"Forget it. I wasn't making sense. Hey, look who's there!"

After wondering about for a while, we'd end up bumping into Amber and Iael again.
"Hey, guys!," I greeted them. "Did you find anything?"
"I just saw a pair of grunts running away after a battle," Amber replied. "Probably newbies; not a real threat. What about you?"
"We saw an ambulance pick up a wounded Rattata a couple of minutes ago," Tsunami said. "No Rockets yet, nor any signs of those Crimson whatever."
"Blades," Iael said. "I wonder if they have real blades with them."
"We don't know much about them, so I guess anything's to be expected," Tsunami answered. "Wait a minute. What's that noise?"
I perked my ears and tried to find whatever Tsunami was referring to. It didn't take too long before I noticed the noises coming from a store nearby. It sounded like the whole place was being torn down.
"It's in that store," I pointed. "We should check it out."

We ran over to the store, which reminded me of the PokMart at Selenia for multiple reasons. Well, for two reasons, actually: because they both sold stuff for pokemon and because they were both a complete mess the first time I saw them. The store seemed to be closed, but the door was open. There were boxes and broken bottles all over the floor, the counter had been pushed against the wall and it was hard to find any shelves that were still in a horizontal position. I looked up to find the cause of that chaos, and couldn't believe my eyes when I saw it... It was a Dragonair!

"Hey, you! Stop it!," Amber ordered the dragon, who was sitting on the highest shelf and waving his tail to throw down whatever wasn't on the floor yet.
The vandal stopped for a moment to see who was talking, but then went on with his task.
"I'm not going to stop just because you say so," he replied, not even looking at us.
"Why are you doing this?," Amber queried.
"Because it's as good a way to cause trouble as any other."
"Do you work for Team Rocket?"
"Team Rocket? Don't insult me," the Dragonair chuckled. "I'm with the Crimson Blades. We're stronger, more powerful, and have the conviction Team Rocket lacks. Those amateurs are going down. Soon you won't even remember their names."
"Conviction? What kind of conviction?"

The Dragonair stared at Amber for a moment, just before launching himself off the shelf, coiling his tail on the floor and stretching up the rest of his body to share Amber's eye level. He had a fierce look on his face I'd never thought a Dragonair would be capable of.
"I'm not a hotline for you to ask me all those questions," he confronted her. "What are you here for? If you want a fight, let's get down to it, but make it quick. I'm busy."
"I don't think he's up for any kind of reasoning," I pointed out.
"So you both want to fight? No problem. I'll take you both down and give you pests a taste of true power. Then I'll take care of your two friends if they haven't run away by the time I'm done with you. It should be fun, I must admit that wrecking a closed store was getting boring."
Maybe it was prejudice, but I had trouble picturing a Dragonair as being so vicious as this one seemed to be. I reckoned not all the pokemon of the Dratini line could be as friendly as the ones I knew, but it was hard to imagine one of them joining the Crimson Blades. Still, I had to face the facts; no matter what this Dragonair's story was, he saw us as the enemy and wouldn't talk things out over a cup of hot chocolate. Amber and I accepted his challenge.

Level 51 Charizard and Espeon vs. level 55 Dragonair

Amber managed to attack first, thanks to her matches. She didn't hold back, or at least she tried not to, as I could see from the attack she chose to use against the dragon type: Dragon Claw. I tried to do my best too, and attacked the Dragonair with Psychic, but our attacks combined weren't strong enough to bring down our opponent. The Dragonair sent a Thunder Wave in Amber's direction; that was enough to neutralize the effect of her matches, but not enough to intimidate her. I tried another Psychic, and it seemed to work quite well. The Dragonair couldn't hide his pain anymore. But that didn't last. He stretched up as if to let me take a closer look at his scales... the scratches left by Amber's claws were healing; the wounds sealed in a matter of seconds.

So he knew a healing move... That didn't mean we couldn't beat him, it just meant we'd have to think fast. I rolled my die. Nothing bad could possibly come out of it. The die hit the Dragonair and landed on the floor. The spiral on the top side started spinning, illuminated by a pink light that came from the inside of my item. The Dragonair, who was trying to summon a new attack, hit the few shelves that were still standing and landed his head on one of them. Then he stopped moving, but not without letting a pile of random objects fall on top of me. Something similar to a pokeball hit me and opened upon contact with my fur. Some powder came out of it. I couldn't see it, but I felt it spread all over me. It gave me a strange feeling, and then vanished.

"What happened? Are you alright?," Iael asked me.
"I'm fine, though I'm afraid Gabi will have to pay for this," I told him. "I think I've used a TM by accident... or something like that."
"I take it you don't know what it is?"
"No idea. With the labels over the floor I don't think I can find the right one. I think it was one that I could use, though, so I guess I'll find out soon. What happened to the Dragonair? Is he asleep?"
"So it seems," Amber confirmed. "Do you think there's anything here that can heal paralysis? I'll work to pay for it."
"I don't know," I said, walking to pick up my status die. "It'll be hard to find anything among this mess, but you can look around."
"Don't you think we should do something about the Dragonair first?," Tsunami reminded us.
Why did he have to open his mouth? The Dragonair started moving in his sleep... spinning around in his place. Then set of tornados formed out of nowhere and came heading my way. I tried to run, but I got caught in them. Luckily, they passed as quickly as they had come, leaving me lying with my back on the floor, but still able to stand back up.
"Yes, we should, Tsunami, but remind me to keep your mouth shut next time," I told my friend. "Every time you open it something bad happens."
"Hey! Don't blame me! It's not my fault that Dragonair knows sleep talk. Focus on your battle or I'll have to pick you up next time you fall."
"No way, I'm not falling again. Check this!"
This time I opted for a move I normally didn't get the chance to use. You could have said I was showing off, and you'd have been right, but my Dream Eater was very effective... even if it left me with a disgusting taste and I couldn't even be sure it was in my mouth. The bad news was that the Dragonair woke up as soon as I attacked him, and he didn't look too happy about my eating his dreams. Amber managed to stop him from getting back at me, by spitting a cloud of smoke on his face. But now he got mad at Amber.

"I'm going to stop playing now," the Dragonair said.
He picked up some herbs from one of the boxes on the floor and swallowed them whole. I had a bad feeling about those herbs, especially if he'd chosen to take them instead of using Recover again. My die wouldn't help me this time, nor would my Dream Eater. I was running out of options. I disappeared into the shadows, if only to create some confusion in my opponent while I thought of what to do next.

Well, at least I succeeded at something. The Dragonair started looking around, trying to find out where I'd disappeared to, leaving himself open for an attack. Or so I thought. When I tried to hit him with my Faint Attack, he somehow managed to evade me.
"You can avoid a Faint Attack?!," I yelled out of sheer frustration.
"And you can perform one! What's more surprising? I think you'd make good fighting material if you weren't so soft inside," my opponent replied.
"You don't know what I'm like inside," I said while I waited for Amber to make her move. "I can't say the same about you," I added when she managed to pierce his skin with her Dragon Claw.
Ok, so that was a nasty joke, but it wasn't my best day and that Dragonair had had it coming. The downside to all this was that now he looked like he wanted a piece of me. And none of my 36 known moves would be strong enough to stop him before he reached me. There was no option left but to take a chance and try out my 37th move... the one I'd just acquired, and which could be just about anything for all I knew. I wondered how I'd be able to pull out a move when I didn't even know what it was supposed to be, but it's amazing what you can do in a critical situation and a part of me which knew exactly what to do reacted immediately to my need to defend myself. I couldn't tell exactly what I'd done, except that it had been a furious psychic attack that had left me quite drained, but had also left the Dragonair panting, leaning against the wall against which my mental blow had made him crash. I'd never been able to do anything like that.
"This ends now," declared Amber right before stopping the Dragonair's attempt at getting up with a Dragon Breath attack.


Both Amber and I grew to level 52!

I couldn't understand what I'd just done. It was certainly a move I'd never seen or heard about. I really doubted it had been for sale, since I would have probably heard of it if that had been the case. I didn't know how it had ended up at the store, and falling on me, but it probably meant I'd be in trouble as soon as the shopkeeper found out. But there was something more urgent to think about: what to do with the Dragonair.
"Does any of you think he was really just here to mess up the store?," Tsunami asked the rest of us.
"I don't think there's a way to find that out right now," Amber told him.
"What shall we do now?," Iael asked.
"I think one of us should get the police here to pick him up," Tsunami suggested. "I don't know how they'll deal with a case like this one, but it's more along their line of work than ours. I'll go out and send a signal, hopefully our mighty Ninetales friend will notice it and bring Tracker and Officer Jenny with him."
"Ok, we'll stay here to watch in case he wakes up," Iael agreed. Then he turned to me. "Nice move you pulled out," he said. "What was it?"
"Honestly, I have no idea," I told him. "I'm not even sure if I can do it again, I'm just glad it worked in time to stop the Dragonair."
"Hey, watch out!," Tsunami warned me from the door. "You're starting to sound almost serious."
"Me?! Never!!," I shouted while emitting a strong golden glow.

<Sedosa's POV>

I'd never thought I'd associate myself with humans again. Not since I'd got rid of the one who had dared to claim ownership over me. But I wouldn't say no to an opportunity to deal a fatal blow at those who had given me to her in the first place, back when most of my potential was locked in that week Eevee form. Besides, I'd be returning a favor; no one would accuse me of being dishonorable. The woman who had requested my help was the same who had once helped me get rid of my so-called trainer, back at the Dragon Games. I had to admit she was skillful, for a human. She'd even got her to believe it was me she was confronting, and had managed to get ahold of an improved version of the Dig TM which wasn't for sale at that time, just to scare the living hell out of her. And she'd succeeded. Crystal was disqualified from the tournament, and never once bothered me again. Moreover, she retired from training pokemon altogether. So now that we'd come across each other again, I thought it wouldn't hurt me to help her get the information she wanted. After all, she was going to use it against the Dragon's Guild.

She arrived at the spot we had agreed upon, a deserted clearing in the forest, in the company of a middle-aged man. I could sense his fear even before I could see his face. When his gaze met mine, something inside him changed. He tried to regain his composture.
"An Espeon?," he turned to the other human.
"Were you expecting something more intimidating?," she said with a smile. "Maybe a Seviper? Or... No, wait. Maybe Mewtwo!"
"How do you...? Nevermind, will you please tell me what's going on? What do you want from me?"
"Not much. Just the same thing I get from anyone I talk to. You see... gathering information is my job, and I'm good at it as you must have noticed by now. Don't worry, it won't hurt if you cooperate, and then you can resume your life normally. I won't reveal anything about those results you stole from Dr. Freeman in order to join the ranks of the Dragon's Guild's elite researchers."
Now he was visibly shaking. He was such a weak human. I took my chance to suck in all the information I could gather about the Guild's secret facilities, and forward it to her. Of course he tried to resist, causing himself a considerable amount of pain. But for all his alleged intelligence, his mindpower was shameful. I, on the other hand, had always been proud of my psychic abilities. He fainted from the mental stress as soon as I was done. The other human laughed.

"With any luck the shock will have removed his last memories, or he'll wake up thinking it was all a dream," she considered.
"It doesn't matter," I told her. "He won't be on to you. He doesn't know who you are and won't be able to explain what happened without admitting his guilt. As for me, even if the Dragon's Guild has files on me and he somehow recognizes me, I'll say let them come. I haven't faced a good challenge in some time."
"What will you do now?"
"Just leave and mind my own business. Which I suggest you do as well. I've given you the information you needed. Now it's up to you to decide how to use it."
"I know, and I believe thanks are in order."
"Whatever. Just go, you don't want to be here when he wakes up."
"He'll be out for a while. Anyway, I should get going. Time is priceless at a moment like this, and it's a long way to Unicorn's Gate."
"Good luck," I told her.
"Why are you wishing me good luck?"
"Because you're the only human to whom I can relate."

Those were the last words I said to her before I left the clearing, and Sector Alpha... perhaps forever.

`,,`,, ` ,,`,,`

Post-story notes: Sedosa is a borrowed character from *Dratini*, a great writer who left TPM during the times of the EZBoard. I would have liked to asked for her permission, but I had no way to contact her. I'd still like to thank her for writing such amazing stories back in her time.
The new move Caledor used is actually the TM Karin gave him at the Goldenrod Tower. She made me want to come up with an interesting way to introduce it. I hope I have achieved that, though I'm aware that I haven't explained its presence at the store yet and I hope I'll manage to get more into details next time I write. I thought this story was long enough already. Thanks to whoever reads it for your patience.
__________________
~~ Lady VulpiX ~~
___________________________



Owner of the Necessary Unown Trophy
Keeper of Karin's Zealous Unown Trophy
____________________________________

And how did this forum get into my sig?

Last edited by Lady Vulpix : 12-26-2004 at 10:24 PM.
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