"It's all still undergoing analysis by lead experts in the area." The smartly-dressed, middle-aged man says to the camera before him. "Modern analytics technology has come a long way in the on-going pursuit of better understanding Psychic pokemon, with the acclaimed Dr. Cyan's recent advancements in EEG machine manufacturing as the spearpoint of continued research. These specialized EEGs can read a much wider range of brainwaves, peeling back some of the mystery. On this chart, you can see-"
The Rustboro school video upon Lee's phone is interrupted by a little ding! and an alert in the corner, showing a new text message.
From his shady spot in the grassy knoll he and his pokemon found at the edge of Rustboro, Lee groans and leans up, scooting his back against the tree. Opening the message, he sees it's from Brendan.
Brendan: my match is soon its almost 12 your going to be there right?
Looking up away from the phone briefly, he sees his pokemon out training. Or rather Corvisquire and Treecko are training.
Treecko glows white and dodges another set of Swift rays with his newly learned Quick Attack, moving when the rays are too close to the ground to correct their course and home back in on him, leaving divots in the grass where they explode. Treecko lands from his leap and focuses back on his aerial foe, favoring one leg over the bruised other.
Above in the sky with the sun at his back, Corvisquire cackles and swings a golden, glowing wing, sending yet another wave of starry rays down at Treecko.
Off to the side, Vulpix watches and mediates.
After days of morning training with him and Vulpix, Treecko had come to learn Quick Attack. It wasn't terribly fast, nor could he go from still to full speed like Vulpix, but it was a foundation to build upon.
And build upon it Treecko did. Quickly, at that.
Where he would be brutalized by Swift just three days ago, now he's dodging the attacks consistently, which is rather impressive considering the inbuilt homing of Swift.
Treecko expertly ducks under one incoming ray and sidesteps another, before launching himself left with Quick Attack, avoiding the main mass of Swift that would have surely tagged him otherwise.
'But he's training until he drops each day...' Lee frowns as he watches. 'The thought of stopping doesn't even cross his mind...'
High above, Corvisquire screeches, slowly becoming infuriated with the repeated misses. He winds both wings back, both of them glowing brighter than over before, then throws down a truly massive barrage of Swift.
Treecko's face hardens, the white aura of Quick Attack flaring around him again.
'Corvisquire was so eager to volunteer to help with Treecko's Quick Attack training, but now that his attacks are missing, he's getting frustrated.' Lee's frown deepens. In his head, he reaches out and taps the ever-present connection to Vulpix. 'Love, that's too much too fast, intercept with Ember.'
The vixen blasts a wide net of Ember from her mouth, covering the entire area between Treecko and Corvisquire. The tiny fireballs curve into Swift's path, some missing, but the Embers outnumber the starry Swift rays at least three to one. With a great staccato of explosions, Ember and Swift cancel each other, making a hanging screen of smoke.
Treecko looks between Vulpix and Corvisquire, brows downturned and mouth drawn into a tight line. He turns his gaze to Lee with narrowed eyes.
'...My stupid speech in the forest didn't give him some kind of complex, did it?' The more Lee thinks of the exchange between him and Treecko after the tree fell, the more he dislikes how he worded it. The more he dislikes how his greed took hold, unable to resist the allure of a pokemon with such potential. He should have let Treecko go, they weren't meant to cross paths, but Lee promised the world to the shattered young pokemon and now that promise hangs over his head. 'He worked hard and took his training seriously under Ash, but not like this.'
"Alrighty, everyone!" Lee climbs to his feet and pockets his phone after sending a short 'on the way' to Brendan. "Brendan's gym battle is coming up in a bit and we're going to go support him, so we're going to end it here for today. Treecko," The man regards the aloof green lizard, silently debating on what to say. "You're really giving it one-hundred percent every day and I'm really enjoying your progress. You got Quick Attack down at an astonishing rate, but don't overwork yourself. You don't need to go full-throttle until exhaustion."
Lee gives Treecko a wide smile, but Treecko's own lips pull down into a thin frown. Before his smile can become brittle from the silent treatment, Lee turns to Corvisquire, who lands several feet away.
"Corvisquire, your Swift was already great and is only getting better. It's a good projectile to fall back on and you use it masterfully."
The raven smugly puffs up under the ego-stroking.
The puffed feathers quickly ruffle in agitation.
"You really need to save the brutal, all-out attacks for real matches," Lee says, slowly lowering himself to a knee and earning a glare from Corvisquire. The trainer raises his hands in a gesture of surrender and continues. "You can't blast your own teammates to smithereens," he says more gently. "All of us are in this together, and hurting a part hurts the whole here."
The bird openly sneers and turns his head away.
"You might not see it now, but you will someday," Lee finishes before standing again. 'Act up all you want, pal. I've dealt with your type before and I've yet to lose.' He takes a breath. "Alrighty, we'll have an early lunch then head over to the gym, sound good to everyone?"
Lee gets a pair of nods and one slightly eased sneer, prompting him to unshoulder his bag and open it. In short order, he has three bowls set out each with its own unique food. Vulpix gives him a gentle smile and Treecko a simple nod before they start eating. Corvisquire meanwhile digs into his bowl without any such nicety.
As he watches his pokemon tuck into their lunch, Lee pulls his pokedex from a jacket pocket and takes the device out of sleep mode, scrolling over to the voice recorder. "Day forty-six," he leans into the tree at his back as he talks. "I should probably start doing these on my phone. My Pokegear? Is Pokegear the name or the brand? Eh, it's a phone. The pokedex is fine as for its own functions, but sending huge media files through this thing takes for fucking ever and kills the battery. Anyway, as I've noted before, Treecko's growth is nothing short of explosive. He's been working hard to master Quick Attack, and now has an adequate grasp after only a few days. He's in excellent shape and health, and I have full intention of helping him stay that way, He throws himself into training with admirable aplomb, but I have fears of him burning out." The glare from Treecko as he looks up from his food is ignored. "We'll... work on that more later. Corvisquire was already powerful at his time of capture and his performance in battle speaks volumes of his abilities. He improves quickly as well, adding power and technique to each of his moves with their repeated use. Now I just wish he would curb his enthusiasm for violence..." Lee looks over to the bird in question, who ignores him in favor of his food. "Again, we're working on it."
"On to other topics, I'm glad that both Treecko and Corvisquire are responding well to their diets. Corvisquire was easy, as I just copied Vulpix's mix with more red meat and some grains substituted with nuts. To ensure healthy armor growth upon his eventual evolution to Corviknight, who I'm told is a Steel-type, I do add some iron supplements in for him. Treecko is where I ran into issues." Lee pauses to watch Treecko take another bite of his leafy-green lunch. He does so not reluctantly, but it's obvious he doesn't particularly care for what he's eating. "I was surprised to learn the Treecko line is strictly herbivorous. I guess it makes sense given the Grass typing, but it threw me off. I admit I'm... not well versed with herbivores, as I spent most of my time working with carnivores. His mix should meet all his nutritional and calorie requirements even with his instance on harsh training factored in, but it leaves taste as something to be desired. I'll wrap this up as I've got to go. Brendan's match with the Rustboro gym leader is coming up and my team is about done with lunch. Lee, out."
Treecko is the last to finish and takes his last bite right as Lee's report ends.
By the time Lee and Vulpix made it to the Rustboro Gym and purchased a spectator ticket, the match was set to start in only fifteen minutes. As the pair walk in, they take in the sight of the gym, having not seen much during the brief visit to Roxanne to collect their winnings and TM.
The gym is structured like a miniature arena. There are stands with padded seats along the sides of the battleground. A few areas in the stands are devoid of human seating, instead having large padded spots for pokemon. The battlefield itself is made of the same hard-packed dirt of nearly every other battlefield Lee has seen. Milling around the battleground is a few gym staff in uniforms, a referee in a black and white shirt, and a pair of camera crews, one looking official with high-end equipment and the other one staffed by teens with an older camera. 'They're probably the ones who record fights for Roxanne and the school,' Lee realizes with a blink.
There is a decently large number of people and pokemon in the audience with many of the seats already taken. A sharp whistle breaks through the dull roar of the talking audience, making both man and fox look up, seeing Zinnia waving near a set of seats with pokemon access.
"What took you so long?" The Dragon tamer asks as Lee shimmies over a few people to seat himself next to her.
"We were getting some early morning training in and grabbed an early lunch before heading over," he says, bending his shoulder so Vulpix could slide down into his lap. "Brendan has been blowing up my phone with reminders all morning, so I had plenty of warning."
Zinnia nods and looks back out to the field. "How well do you think shrimpy is going to do? You barely won against Roxanne, so..."
"We were working with a type disadvantage for both battles," Lee replies with a raised brow, wrapping his arms around the vixen in his lap. "Brendan has the opposite and is working with a type advantage today, and Roxanne may not use her personal team, either."
"I'm pretty sure she is," Zinnia says with a lopsided smile. "What Hoenn Gym Leader doesn't know the name Birch?"
'Makes sense,' Lee thinks. "True," he says, looking around at all the people.
"You seem surprised by something," the tanned girl says, following Lee's gaze all around the room.
"Just surprised. I didn't realize how... involved gym battles are."
Zinnia laughs. "Televising it probably earns the League big money, so why wouldn't they? I think the League is going to be mad they missed your match."
"Again, true," Lee says. "Just surprising to a bumpkin like me I guess."
The remaining seats begin to fill until most are taken by a medley of people and pokemon. A decent number of people are in suits and work uniforms with a few glancing at their watches.
'Did they come here on their lunch?' Lee idly wonders. 'Can it be because it's Nigel Birch's son battling?'
The ref near the edge of the arena glances at his watch adjusts a small microphone on his shirt collar. He clears his throat, the sound carrying over into the Gym speakers and quieting the crowd down. "Welcome, everyone, to another Gym Battle at the Rustboro Gym!" He says, walking to the center of the battlefield as the camera's focus on him. "Today's match is an official gym challenge between challenger Brendan Birch-"
A number of the watching people whisper excitedly.
"-and Rustboro's own Roxanne!" The ref finishes.
The crowd erupts into cheers when both Brendan and Roxanne enter the arena. Roxanne is the image of cool, unphased by the crowd, while Brendan is decidedly more nervous looking. The boy fiddles with the tiny microphone on his shirt and looks up at all the people with trepidation. His eyes finally land on Lee and Zinnia, silently begging for reassurance.
Lee pulls his lips up into a smile and Zinnia visibly debates with herself, probably wondering if she should be antagonistic, Lee thinks, before offering a short wave.
Brendan steadies himself and smiles back.
'Poor kid, this is a lot of pressure,' Lee sends to Vulpix, who flicks an ear in reply. 'I'm glad we just had some kids watching.'
"Today's bout will be a two-on-two match with standard rules! Pokemon will battle until they are unable to continue or by trainer forfeit!" The ref continues. He holds an arm up and sections of the wall above the seating open up, revealing large screens. The screens come to life and display portraits of Brendan and Roxanne, each with two empty pokeball slots below them.
"Challenger Brendan may substitute mid-battle while Gym Leader Roxanne may not! Items are forbidden for this match! Trainers!" The referee gestures for both Roxanne and Brendan to step forward. "Please meet for the pre-match!"
"I said it before, I'll say it again, this is really involved," Lee says, rubbing a thumb through Vulpix's chest tuft as he watches.
Zinnia says nothing, focused on the proceedings.
Both Brendan and Roxanne meet in the center of the arena and shake hands, exchanging words too quiet to hear before splitting off to take their sides of the field.
"Pre-Battle, set!" The ref cries, chopping a hand at Roxanne. "Gym Leader, please choose your first pokemon!"
"Gladly," the teacher says, her voice now carrying over the speaker system. "Geodude, ready!"
Roxanne throws her pokeball, and out pops a familiar Geodude. The living stone is impassive in the face of the cheers sent his way.
'The same Geodude, the one Roxanne said she recently captured for her personal team.' Lee squints and sees the healed gashes in the Rock pokemon's arms and side. The healed stone is a lighter shade of gray than the rest of Geodude.
"Challenger Brendan! Please choose your first pokemon!"
Brendan visibly gulps and palms a pokeball. "Shroomish! You're up!" He says, voice cracking a little over the speakers.
Shroomish appears in the field in a flash of light, looking just as stoic as Geodude. He looks around at all the people and moves his mouth in what is probably a grumble.
"Battle, set!" The referee cries, backing out of the arena and gesturing to a Gym assistant, who draws a pokeball and releases a Mr Mime. Mr Mime wastes no time and raises his hands, erecting shimmering walls around the arena that fade into invisibility shortly after.
"The battle between Challenger Brendan and Gym Leader Roxanne will begin..." The ref raises his hand.
Roxanne's eyes narrow.
Brendan's knuckles go white from clenching the pokemon in his hand.
The hand chops down. "Now!"
"Shroomish, Stun Spore!" Brendan calls the instant the ref falls silent.
"Blow it away, Mega Punch!" Roxanne counters.
Shroomish shakes a noxious yellow cloud of spores from his body and sends it right at Geodude, who cocks his glowing fist back. With a cry of "Dude!" Geodude throws his fist forward, generating a shockwave that scatters the paralytic spores.
"Now, Rock Throw!" Roxanne calls.
Faster than Brendan can react, Geodude plunges his hand into the earth below and slings an earthen cannonball at Shroomish.
The mushroom deftly twirls out of the way on his short legs like a ballerina, letting the Rock Throw crash and shatter on the invisible barrier behind him. He looks back to Brendan, awaiting instruction.
Brendan shakes himself from his stupor and growls. "Shroomish, just like we practiced! Close in!"
"Getting close with a status fighter like Shroomish?" Zinnia wonders aloud. "What's he doing?"
Shroomish trundles towards Geodude as quickly as his stubby legs will let him, and Geodude's face shifts into the barest hint of confusion.
Roxanne's face morphs into a frown. "Not so fast. Geodude, Magnitude!"
Geodude raises both hands and brings them down like lightning, slamming his palms into the floor.
The entire gym shakes, pulling a few screams and cheers from the onlookers as Shroomish stumbles and grimaces as the vibrations run through his body.
"Hang in there, bud!" Brendan calls. "Just remember our practice!"
'No idea what kind of practice this is, but it sounds suicidal,' Lee grimaces along with Shroomish. 'What are you up to, Brendan?'
The Mushroom pokemon keeps running, now notability slower, seemingly running right at Geodude's now glowing fist. The Rock pokemon cocks his fist back in a retaliatory strike that a disappointed-looking Roxanne doesn't stop, then unleashes his Mega Punch point-blank.
...Only for Shroomish to again twirl out of the way near-instantly, Geodude's knuckles skimming Shroomish's soft hide, all the while the mushroom spews yellow spores and engulfs both he and Geodude in a dense cloud.
The crowd roars and Lee feels his jaw drop. He doesn't even need his bond with Vulpix to feel her surprise, as her flicking fan of tails gives her away.
"Damn... That's smart." Zinnia blinks and watches as Shroomish backs away from the twitching Geodude. When she notices Lee looking at her for an explanation, she continues. "Shroomish is a squat little guy and his center of gravity is really low, so he can spin quickly and stably. It's a good sidestep maneuver that really takes advantage of his stature," the Dragon tamer says with an amused huff. "Shrimpy really thought out of the box there."
Roxanne's face is bewildered before she quickly recovers. "Geodude! Scatter the remainders!"
It takes a moment for the living rock to respond, out he throws a sluggish Mega Punch hard enough to disperse the cloud. It takes him a moment to put his arm back down and he does so with gritted teeth.
Brendan's face is beaming and his shoulders shake with so much adrenaline that Lee can almost feel it from his place in the crowd. "Now, Leech Seed!"
"Geodude, catch it!" Roxanne calls, her brows furrowed hands clenched.
Shroomish bends and shoots a single walnut-sized seed from the cap on his head. Geodude reaches up and catches it with herculean effort, crushing the seed in his hand, but Shroomosh simply fires another that hits his face. Vines sprout from the seed and wrap around Geodude, lighting up with stolen yellow energy that flies to Shroomish as yellow orbs that sink into his skin. The stone can't help but stiffen in obvious pain
"Geodude, pull it off!" Roxanne orders.
"Don't let up, Shroomish!" Brendan yells, pumping a fist. "Mega Drain next!"
Roxanne's face becomes grim.
Geodude struggles in the vines and his own paralysis then lets out a yell of pain when the mushroom pokemon points his crown-like cap at Geodude, pulling even larger globes of yellow away from the Rock-type. After several seconds of torture, Geodude rips the vines off of him and hurls himself backward, throwing himself out of Mega Drain's range. He lands several yards back and regards Shroomish warily, taking harsh, struggling breaths all the while.
"I must admit, it's rare to see such a battle capable Shroomish," Roxanne says in the lull, watching the little mushroom with the same level of caution as Geodude.
Shroomish meets the Gym Leader's gaze evenly.
"Heh, it took a while to get ready for this match, but I knew Shroomish wouldn't let me down!" Brendan says, casting a wide smile at his pokemon, who looks back at the boy with a small upturn of his lips.
The young Birch's smile is infectious, as Roxanne can't keep her severe look in place for long before it cracks. A moment later, she sighs and shakes her head. "This is going to make me feel a little guilty...But this would not be a challenge for you if I did not give it my all."
Brendan and Shroomish both tense up.
"Geodude..." Roxanne's eyes harden. "...Self-Destruct."
A gasp runs through the crowd and Zinnia swears under breath at Lee's side.
Geodude, face set in grim determination, launches himself at Shroomish with a desperate burst of speed as his whole body glows a sinister orange.
Lee's arms tighten around Vulpix as he screws his eyes shut and looks away.
Vulpix is quick to grasp his mind with her own, engulfing him in a comforting shell. A muted explosion rocks the Gym with sound and tremors as the audience thunders in reply, but Lee is so pulled inward that he barely notices.
When Vulpix finally lets him go, the Gym comes back into focus over a few seconds, first with his eyes opening to blurs that sharpen just as Brendan yells something that sounds as if he's speaking underwater, a pokeball leaving his hand that materializes into Mudkip who opens his maw in a soundless bellow. Across from the mudfish, Nosepass already hovers.
Between them, a blackened crater blemishes the arena, making goosebumps break out along Lee's flesh.
A second later, the muted sounds come back as if his ears were plugged and suddenly cleared. "Lee!" A hand grabs his arm.
The man almost jumps out of his skin and turns to his side.
Zinnia's ruby eyes bore into him with unusual intensity, her usually smirking mouth is pulled down into a deep frown. "What was that? Are you alright?"
It takes a moment for Lee to formulate a reply. "I'm fine," he croaks through his suddenly dry mouth. He grimaces and reaches into his bag at his feet, quickly drawing a bottle of water that he takes a sip from. "Just fine," he says after a gulp of water, voice more even.
The draconid woman looks him in the eye until he can take it no longer and looks away. "You're certain?"
Zinnia holds her look for a moment before withdrawing her hand and slowly turning back to the battle. "If you say so..." she says, her expression giving away how unconvinced she is.
The scarred man just hugs the fox in his lap a little tighter and turns back to the match.
'So Shoomish and Geodude went down in a double-knockout. Brendan was probably hoping to wear down Nosepass before having to switch to Mudkip,' He thinks to himself. 'He knows that Nosepass has Electric attacks and Mudkip can't rely on his typing here. This could get messy.'
"Nosepass versus Mudkip, begin!" The ref cries.
"Nosepass, Spark." Roxanne calmly orders
"Mudkip, Mud Sport!" Brendan counters.
Nosepass rockets forward like a missile wreathed by a corona of sparking and snapping electricity, crashing into Mudkip and electrocuting the mudfish before he can even complete Mud Sport. Mudkip can only writhe and twitch in pain as Nosepass carries him and slams him into the barrier around the arena, throwing the breath out of him like a sledgehammer to the gut.
"Mudkip!" Brendan cries, his eyes wide as the onlookers explode into cheers.
"He's too slow..." Lee murmurs, drawing both Vulpix and Zinnia's attention. "Nosepass is damn fast with that magnetic levitation, and Mudkip isn't a slouch, but Nosepass could keep up with Vulpix and Corvisquire. On top of that, he knows Rock Polish and can get even faster. Brendan and Mudkip have an uphill battle even with a type advantage."
Nosepass finally backs off and lets Mudkip fall to the floor, and in his usual fashion, he gets to his feet without even acknowledging the electrical burn on his chest. He bellows out a challenge to Nosepass and the crowd cries out with him.
Brendan can help but grin. "It'll take more than that to beat Mudkip. Now, Watergun!"
Mudkip takes a deep breath and shoots a huge torrent of water like a demented firehose at Nosepass. Then at the last second, he closes his mouth further and narrows the Watergun into an even more powerful stream.
The Rock pokemon dodges to the side without any prompting, but still gets clipped by the Watergun when it unexpectedly changes speed mid-stream. The Watergun knocks a few chips of rock loose off of Nosepass, but Roxanne's pokemon is otherwise unhurt.
"Looks like he thought of the speed gap, too," Zinnia muses.
"Now, Mud Sport! The close-in!" Brendan orders.
"Thunder Wave, Nosepass!" Roxanne says at the same time.
Mudkip fires a torrent of water at the hard-packed dirt of the ground and throws out a cloud of mud just in time, as Thunderwave strikes the mud plume instead of Mudkip, throwing smoking clods of baked mud everywhere. Mudkip rushes through the mud an instant later, charging right at Nosepass with reckless abandon.
"Rock Tomb, then Rock Polish, Nosepass!" Roxanne calls.
Nosepass raises his arms, and a number of boulders materialize from seemingly nothing around him. He throws his arms forward and the boulders rush at Mudkip.
The water pokemon weaves between the falling boulders that hit the ground with bone-rattling crashes, slowing him long enough for Nosepass to glow brilliantly as his edges all smooth out from Rock Polish.
"Now back up and Rock Tomb again!" Roxanne orders.
Where it took Nosepass a second to charge Rock Tomb before, the attack is almost instant now. A barrage of boulders screams towards Mudkip as Nosepass hovers back to Roxanne's side of the field, sliding through the air like a knife.
Mudkip dodges one boulder, but another one smashes into him with a crunch that makes the whole room wince. He rolls to his feet just long enough to duck another other boulder that scrapes one of his orange gills, leaving a bloody furrow. Then with a growl, he rears his head back and headbutts the last boulder, shattering it into hundreds of pieces and opening a gash on his forehead. He raises his bloody head and bellows.
The spectators go wild and even Lee has to resist the urge to stand up and cheer. Zinnia...
"That was badass! If Shrimpy is teaching his pokemon stuff like that, then maybe he isn't so bad after all!" She shouts, standing and joining everyone.
Roxanne doesn't seem phased. "Impressive. The Mudkip line is known for their physical abilities, and yours is going places, Mr. Birch."
Brendan can't help but grin.
"It's for that reason I need to go all out."
Brendan's grin falls.
"Nosepass, Discharge!" Roxanne cries.
The compass pokemon explodes into a dome of electricity that overtakes Mudkip in an instant, making him spasm and twitch and the volts rip through him. When the brutal attack finally ends, Mudkip keeps twitching and struggling in the tell-tale signs of paralysis. The mud that was coating him from Mud Sport chips and flakes off, baked into dirt by Discharge.
"Why doesn't Roxanne just use Electric moves?" Zinnia wonders aloud. "Why not just spam Discharge and end the match if she's going all out?"
"Nosepass is a Rock-type," Lee begins, watching Mudkip struggle to his feet. "He can use electric moves, but it takes time for him to charge back up, giving Brendan a small window to work with. For actual Electric types, they charge much faster and have a much higher capacity, or so I think..." Lee thinks back to all his cramming and research in Little Root, but it seems like a lifetime ago after just a few weeks.
Mudkip finally gets up and glares at Nosepass, who gives no indication that he saw it.
Down in the arena, Brendan bites his lip, his eyes darting between his roughed-up Mudkip and the nearly untouched Nosepass with despair. He growls clenches his fist. "Mudkip! Close in!"
Mudkip, still sparking a little, powers through his paralysis and charges Nosepass at full speed, his little feet thudding across the ground in his wild haste.
"Nosepass, Sandstorm! Then Rock Tomb!" Roxanne orders, the same combo she used on Lee and Vulpix.
'Well shit. You had a good run, Brendan.'
A whirlwind of sand spins to life around Nosepass before expanding and engulfing a huge swath of the field in a howling, ripping desert gale.
Mudkip flinches and shuts his eyes, slowing down when the sand tears at him.
Then through the Sandstorm, a boulder falls and lands right on Mudkip with a muted crunch.
"No! Mudkip!" Brendan screams, reaching out a horrified hand but otherwise frozen.
At the sound of his trainer's voice, the Water pokemon slowly lifts the huge rock off his back and to the side with a dull thud. He stands with one of his front legs obviously broken and can't dodge the next rock that clips him and throws him end over end. For a moment, Mudkip lays on the ground and pants as best he can without his mouth filling with sand.
Brendan grits his teeth and seems perilously close to tears. "C'mon Mudkip! One last try! You can do it!"
On her side of the field, Roxanne shakes her head. "I'm sorry, Mister Birch, but I won't drag this out. Nosepass, Rock Tomb!"
Even in the whistling of the sandstorm, Rock Tomb can be heard flying through the air to finish off the mudfish pokemon.
Brendan screws his eyes shut. "Mudkip!"
Mudkip's eyes shoot open, and white light engulfs him.
'No fuckin' way,' Lee feels his eyes widening. 'This is some anime clutch bullshit. Brendan, you are one lucky kid.' He turns to Zinnia, who looks just as astonished.
Mudkip's form morphs and grows, limbs thickening, forelegs turning into forearms, hindlegs moving to stand upright, tailfin splitting into two, one-and-a-half foot form growing to just shy of three...
With a roar, the newly evolved pokemon lashes out with a forearm and turns an incoming boulder to gravel in a single punch before the light of evolution fades, revealing a snarling, unscathed Marshtomp. Three more boulders fly from the sandstorm, all of them destroyed with a single punch each, throwing rock fragments everywhere.
Brendan blinks and rubs his eyes, as if not believing what he's seeing.
Marshtomp turns and looks at Brendan, the same savage grin he had as a Mudkip etched on his face.
The boy can't help but grin back. "Hell yeah! Now thats what I'm talking about! Marshtomp! Rush him down!"
Marshtomp bellows a deep note and surges forward into the sandstorm, now totally unbothered.
Roxanne's sweating brow furrows. "Nosepass..." she hesitates. "End Sandstorm and circle around with Rock Tomb!"
'Now that Marshtomp is part Ground, all her Electric moves go out the window. What a turnabout.' Lee sends Vulpix, who is too glued to the fight to reply.
Sandstorm dies down, showing Nosepass quickly levitating away to flank Marshtomp, Rock Tomb charged and mid-firing.
"I'm sick of Rock Tomb!" Brendan yells. "Marshtomp, catch Rock Tomb and send it back!"
Roxanne's eyes shoot open in alarm.
Nosepass fires his boulders, sending them hurtling towards Marshtomp, who sidesteps one, two, three boulders. On the last, in an incredible feat of strength, he catches the boulder nearly as large as himself in both of his hands, skidding back only a few inches. With his loudest bellow to date, the mudfish raises the huge rock over his head and hurls it back at Nosepass just as fast as it came.
Nosepass moves to the side but still takes a glancing blow from the rock, shattering it and sending him spinning to the ground.
"Marshtomp. Mud Slap!"
"Nosepass, get up!"
Marshtomp rushes in just as Nosepass begins to hover back up and slaps a water-coated hand along the dirt ground, throwing up a thick wall of mud that slams into Nosepass like a run-away truck, throwing the Rock-type all the way into the barrier. The compass pokemon sinks to the ground but quickly hovers back up, though with a noticeable wobble.
"Sudden evolution or not, we're not about to give up!" Roxanne calls, "Nosepass, Double-Edge!"
Brendan's grin turns brittle. "Uh oh."
Nosepass shoots forward headfirst like a bullet, smashing into Marshtomp's stomach and knocking the wind out of him. The tackle is so fast and violent that Marshtomp is picked up off his feet and smashed into the psychic barrier again for the second time in the match.
The mudfish gets his fight back quickly and punches Nosepass several times with his powerful fists before finally blasting Nosepass with a point-blank Watergun, shaking off the compass pokemon.
Nosepass backs up, letting Roxanne order him again. "Double-Edge!"
Marshtomp crosses his arms in a block and takes the bone-rattling blow again with a wince when he's crushed into the psychic wall again.
"Marshtomp, you can pull through! They can't!" Brendan orders, smiling.
'Some kind of code phrase?' Lee wonders. 'But what move would...!'
Marshtomp falls to his knees and takes another Double-Edge with a grimace, his arms shaking. When Nosepass winds up for attack again, Marshtomp suddenly stands and cocks back a brightly glowing fist.
'Bide. Damn good move.'
Marshtomp roars and throws his fist forward like a meteor to meet Nosepass's Double-Edge. For a half-second, time seems to slow, then the point of contact between the two pokemon explodes in a dramatic plume that fills the whole arena with dust and shakes the Gym to its core.
After a long minute, the dust begins to clear, showing a bruised and panting Marshtomp...
...Standing over an unmoving Nosepass, whose rocky shell is covered in spiderweb cracks.
The referee holds up three fingers and counts them down. Three, two, one. A horn sounds over the speakers. "Nosepass is unable to battle! Marshtomp and Brendan Birch win! The challenger is the victor!"
The crowd, Lee and Zinnia included, rise and give a deafening ovation for the winners. The barriers shimmer and fall, letting Brendan race into the arena and hop the crater in the middle to pull Marshtomp in a hug. The pokemon totally ignores his bruising to hug his trainer back.
Roxanne sighs and recalls Nosepass, saying something quietly to the ball before shrinking it and putting it away. She clears her throat in her microphone and everyone quiets down. She makes her way to the center of the arena and offers Brendan and Marshtomp a smile. "Brendan, you, Shroomish, and Marshtomp battled well today, better than I could have ever hoped. With a combination of strategy, power, and close bonds, you've overcome your first Gym challenge and show everyone how bright the future is with young trainers like yourself rising to take the mantle one day. I am happy to present you with the Stone Badge."
She holds out a hand, where the glittering Stone Badge lay, letting Brendan take it gingerly. The boy can't help but grin like a loon and raise it over his head to the crowd, who cheers again.
"Oh jeez, I wasn't even the one battling and I'm beat..."
Lee watches Brendan lean back on the bench outside the Pokemart he, Brendan, and Zinnia visited after Brendan dropped his pokemon off at the Pokemon Center. Marshtomp just needs rest, but Shroomish needed a longer visit after taking a Self-Destruct.
"High-stress battling does that," Zinnia comments, finishing off the soda she got from the Pokemart and throwing it into a trashcan by the sidewalk. "Just your body pumping adrenaline tires you out."
"I was the same way after my battle with Roxanne," Lee says, petting the dozing vixen in his lap as he watches the people and pokemon walk by on the street. A few of them had come up earlier to ask for pictures with Brendan, who bashfully accepted. 'Being in the Gym Circuit kind of turns you into a pro athlete I guess.'
"I still can't believe that Mudk- er, Marshtomp evolved mid-battle," Brendan says, rolling Marshtomp's ball in his hand with a mystified expression. The ball shakes in reply, making him smile.
"Whatever you're doing with him, it must be working. I imagine that Shroomish and whatever pokemon you catch next will be following along shortly," Lee says, turning to Brendan with a smile.
The boy rubs the back of his head sheepishly. "Heh. I've, well, kind of been winging it and maybe copying you a little, Lee. You're the best trainer I know, after all." He steadfastly ignores Zinnia's raised brow and cleared throat. "Best I know," he says again.
Lee blinks at the unexpected admission as warmth blooms in his chest. "Well, uh. Thanks, Brendan. That means a lot to me, even if I'm pretty mediocre."
Brendan just rolls his eyes. "C'mon man, just take the compliment. I mean it."
The scarred trainer exhales a half-laugh and smiles. "Alright, don't get so huffy."
Brendan grins back and reaches into his bag to fish out a slim aluminum case, popping it open to admire the Stone Badge resting within again. Besides the badge, seven empty slots await.
'A hundred and fifty fucking credits for a League branded badge case. The League really knows how to rip that paycheck right back out of you,' Lee thinks with a scoff. His own Stone Badge simply rests in an inner pocket in his bag. 'I have to admit, it does look nice, though.'
Then with zero warning, a hand reaches out from behind them and snatches the badge case right out of Brendan's hand.
"Hey!" Brendan cries, whirling around to see a man in a red hoodie booking it down the street in a full sprint, pushing startled people out of his way.
"Oh no you don't!" Lee snarls, palming Corvisquire's ball and standing. Behind him, a grim-faced Zinnia takes a pokeball of her own. With a mighty hurl, Lee sends his pokeball high, where it pops open and lets out Corvisquire with a loud cry.
"Corvisquire! Don't lose the guy in the red!" Lee yells. Corvisquire caws in reply and zooms after the thief. "C'mon!"
Brendon is on his feet and racing towards the man in red before Lee can even finish his last word, his expression equal parts rage and terror at the sudden theft.
Lee runs after the boy, giving Vulpix just enough time to climb on his shoulder, with Zinnia trailing not far behind.
The thief is quick, jumping over benches, dodging people and pokemon, sometimes running in the road between cars, and ducking whenever Corvisquire comes down to take an angry swipe at him. He moves at full tilt, forcing his pursuers to do the same as they all run deeper into Rustboro.
"Stop! Thief!" Brendan yells, pumping his arms and legs even faster, slowly pulling away from Lee and Zinnia.
Lee feels his lungs begin to burn from the running and his limbs slowly begin to feel heavy. He dodges past several people, almost tripping and eating cement for his trouble. With a growl, he calls up to Corvisquire. "Corvisquire! Knock him down!"
The crow lets out a shrill shriek and dives again, making the thief tense and get ready to duck.
It would have worked had Corvisquire not aimed for his legs.
The man is swept off his feet by the bird, tripping and falling to the sidewalk with a pained grunt. The badge case slips from his hand and tumbles along the sidewalk to a stop. He gets up to grab at it again, but Brendan blows past him to scoop the case up off the ground. The boy, red-faced and panting, holds the case to his chest and glares at the thief with more anger than Lee has ever seen on him.
The man gets up, his hood falling to reveal a scraggly street tough just as Zinnia, Vulpix, and Lee stop before him. Corvisquire comes down and lands, flanking the man and cutting off any escape routes.
The thief in red growls and looks around at all the people stopping to watch the spectacle. He backs up into the street from his place on the sidewalk but stops when Corvisquire flutters over the sidewalk across the street to block him. "I can't leave without that badge, kid. Hand it over." he says, reaching into his hoodie pocket.
Lee freezes. 'Oh shit, he's got a gun.' When the man pulls out a pair of pokeballs, the zoologist breathes a sigh of relief. 'Thank god... Wait, pokemon are more dangerous than any gun. Shit, again.'
"Back up!" Zinnia shouts, fanning her arms out to ward away the bystanders, who all wisely comply with fearful chatter.
The thief throws the pokeballs in his hand, both bursting open midair.
One materializes into a Houndour, and the other into a Buizel.
The Houndour snarls and the Buizel gazes at everyone with a reluctant stare, not a single sign of aggression.
'Yellow teeth, patchy fur, underweight, these pokemon are not well cared for,' Lee frowns. 'I'll have to see if the League places criminal pokemon in rehab homes after this.'
"Vulpix, run damage control for Houndour's fire attacks, Corvisquire, makes sure no one runs," Lee says, reaching for his final pokeball. Vulpix slides off his shoulder and takes several steps back, watching Houndour carefully as Corvisquire's eyes narrow at being sidelined.
"If it's a fight you want, it's a fight you got, pal!" Brendan says, unclipping Marshtomp's ball. "Marshtomp! You're up!"
Marshtomp appears before the thief's pokemon, still covered in battle damage from his Gym battle against Nosepass, with a loud, echoing cry that makes both pokemon flinch.
"Treecko, get ready!" Lee throws his pokeball too.
The wood gecko takes form next to Marshtomp, regarding his opponents with dismissal. Instead, he turns his envious eyes to Marshtomp and clenches his jaw so minutely that Lee almost misses it.
Houndour's bravado lessens when faced with Treecko and Marshtomp, and Buizel just closes his eyes with a long-suffering sigh.
"Buizel, Aqua Jet! Houndour, Ember!" The thief opens up with a yell.
"Treecko, intercept Buizel!" Lee wastes no time countering.
Treecko zooms forward in a Quick Attack and meets the water-coated Buizel in the middle of the makeshift street battlefield, the pair struggling for a moment before Treecko overpowers Buizel. The water weasel is knocked aside and thrown down hard to the hot asphalt. Treecko doesn't give Buizel a moment to rest and uses Absorb without any prompting. Buizel squeals and writhes in pain as his life energy is stolen away from him.
Meanwhile, Marshtomp steps up before Houndour, taking the Ember attack meant for Treecko without even a flinch. The mudfish even has the gall to croak out a mocking laugh. Vulpix's Ember is thrice as powerful on a bad day!
"Is that your best?" Brendan taunts with a laugh of his own. "Marshtomp, Watergun!"
"Shit! Houndour, run!" The man in red yells.
The dog pokemon tenses to leap away, but Marshtomp's Watergun is far too fast. It catches Houndour just as he jumps, battering and throwing the yelping canine down the street until he rolls into a mailbox with a painful clang, leaving a body-sized dent.
Lee winces. 'Shit. I hope we don't have to pay for any damages...'
Buizel finally musters up the effort to fire a Watergun at Treecko, who cancels Absorb and ducks the attack with room to spare. He leaps back to Lee's feet, looking at his trainer and awaiting an order. Buizel, meanwhile, slowly gets to his feet.
The cocky look on the thieving trainer's face is now absent, replaced now with naked panic. "H-Houndour, get up! Buizel, uh..." He stutters. "Use Swift on both of them!"
Buizel grits his teeth and whirls around, shooting a fan of shining rays at Treecko and Marshtomp.
Treecko steps into the rays and weaves around them, doing so easily after having to face Corvisquire's much faster, deadlier version. The Swift rays can't turn fast enough and most crash into the ground with pops, kicking up loose asphalt.
With another croaking laugh, Marshtomp simply bats the Swift out of the air with barely a wince when the Swift hits his arm.
The few fliers are quickly taken care of by well-aimed fireballs from Vulpix before they can hit someone.
Buizel's furry shoulders slump in disbelief while his trainer can only gape.
Back near the mailbox where he impacted, Houndour limps to his feet, favoring one hind leg over the other. He regards Lee, Brendan, Treecko, and Marshtomp with his head low and ears laid back, all his bravado dead.
'What was this guy expecting when he stole from a kid who just beat them Gym?' Lee wonders. 'Did this guy have any idea what he was getting into? It can't be th-' Then a thought strikes him. 'Oh. Gym Leaders use underpowered teams to issue challenges. This guy didn't know we fought Roxanne for real...'
"Treecko, finish this with Quick Attack."
Before Buizel can react, Treecko blitzes him with Quick Attack, knocking the breath from his lungs and throwing the weasel end over end. He lands nearly twenty feet away, unmoving and breath coming out in sharp gasps.
Houndour needs only to look at his fallen teammate for a moment before laying down submissively and whimpering, trying to shrink under Marshtomp's savage visage.
The thief blinks, as if not understanding what just happened. He looks between his fallen Buizel and his surrendering Houndour, mouth dropping open in surprise.
Brendan grins. "Busted. Give it up, creep."
Shrill whistles cut through the air as someone pushes their way through the gathered crowd. "Everyone put your hands in the air! You're all under arrest for unlawful battling in city limits!"
Rustboro's Officer Jenny pushes her way into the circle that formed around the battle with a Growlithe hot on her heels. Her angry hazel eyes scan over the silent crowd. "Well?! Is someone going to explain or do I have to force it out of you?"
"Here are your IDs back, boys."
Lee idly takes his ID back from Officer Jenny as he watches the red hoodie thief be loaded into a squad car by a regular officer. The Buizel and Houndour were easily contained by their balls thanks to their injuries, but their ultimate fate is still a mystery to him.
"We can't charge you with anything since you're League lab trainers acting as peace officers, but try to avoid damaging things next time," Jenny says dryly, glancing at the dented mailbox another officer is photographing.
Brendan has the decency to look sheepish.
"Any idea what the guy's motive was?" Zinnia asks from her place at Lee's side.
Jenny looks at Zinnia with a raised brow before turning her gaze to Lee.
"She's with us," he confirms. "It won't hurt to tell her."
The police officer nods. "He said his tomfoolery was to impress a recent radical eco group called 'Magma', as they want some sort of merit before they admit members.-"
The world slows to a stop for Lee as he focuses on four words Jenny said in particular.
"Radical eco group."
'Holy fucking shit, I totally forgot about them,' Lee feels dread pool in his stomach like ice water. 'Those maniacs Magma and Aqua are going to try and tear apart the world, and I've already fucked up the timeline just by being here. God only knows the damage I've caused by catching Ash fucking Ketchem's Hoenn ace. Jesus Christ, Lee, what is wrong with you?!' From his shoulder, Vulpix presses her face to his cheek to try and ease the turmoil, but only succeeds in taking the barest edge off.
'-We're about to upgrade them to a gang if this keeps up. My guess is he wanted to pose as a trainer who got a badge." Jenny finishes.
Lee has to bite his tongue to stop himself from insisting that Magma be sent right to the top of Hoenn's threat list as terrorists. How would he explain what he knows?
"Tch, what a loser," Brendan says, leaning back with his hands behind his head. "C'mon, did some two-bit gangster wannabe really think he could beat us?"
"One Gym win and it goes to your head," Zinnia scoffs with an unladylike snort. "Oh Shrimpy, the world is going to chew you up."
"Again with the shrimp thing!" Brendan turns to Zinnia, staring daggers at her. "You're like three inches taller than I am, thats hardly tall!"
"Taller than you," she smirks.
Brendan wrings his fingers like he wants to strangle the tanned woman while Jenny watches bewildered.
'Joy, a crisis is slowly moving it's way towards us and these two are my back-up.' The scarred man screws his eyes shut and tries to fight away his blooming headache. 'Love? I'm sorry in advance for being a needy bastard, but you're the only one I can rely on around here.'
Vulpix lets out a scratchy, vulpine chortle.