Lee squints at the glare of the morning sun in the glass door of the Dewford Gym as he pushes the doors open, making sure to hold it open long enough that a still groggy Zinnia and almost-bouncing Brendan can follow behind him.
Strangely, the anticipation isn't nearly as bad as his first gym battle. Maybe it hasn't fully sunk in that his second Gym challenge is upon him, or maybe Birch's words from the day prior, about Vulpix's telepathy, is still bugging him too much for anything else to get a foothold.
'Rich, powerful people would put their whole life-savings on the table to either buy her or pay a thief to steal her. They might even hurt you to get to her.'
On his shoulder, Vulpix shoos the anxiety away simply by wrapping a little tighter around his neck. '*e c*n ***** ****t s**h ***n** l****,' she telepaths to him. Though much is lost in translation, her intention to soothe him is obvious.
Lee sighs and focuses on the here-and-now.
The Dewford Gym lobby is deserted, as to be expected since Lee took the 7am slot. The Gym is smaller and less extravagant than the Rustboro Gym, and the old but well cared for lobby reflects it. There are several seats off to the side with a few potted plants breaking the lines of chairs up. By the front desk, there is a trophy case filled with glittering gold cups and medals. On the other side of the desk, a table with an old coffee machine sits. Behind the front desk is a door labeled "Staff/Challengers only", offsetting the larger double-doors by the trophy-case saying "Arena Seating".
Zinnia breaks off from the group with a grumble, beelining for the coffee machine as Lee and Brendan walk to the front desk.
"Nervous?" Brendan asks Lee. "Brawly took over for his dad just a few years ago, but he's already considered to be really strong."
"Honestly? Not really..." Lee answers back as they wait before the desk. He leans back on the desk, being careful not to knock a large logbook off the side as he turns to face Brendan. "Whatever happens, happens. I've got confidence in my team."
Brendan gives the older trainer a sidelong look. "You sure? What's actually on your mind?"
The expected reply makes Lee falter some. "Er, nothing, really." At Brendan's raised brow, Lee sighs and relents. "Just an assignment your father gave me. The info is sensitive and I'm just trying to figure out how to best go about it."
The half-truth seems to satisfy the boy, who nods with a smile. "I getcha. If dad is okay with other people knowing, let me know and I'd be glad to help."
"You're a good kid, Brendan," Lee smiles, making the boy grin. "Now, where is the receptionist?"
Lee turns and looks at the front desk, not finding a bell or anything to call someone. He glances down to the logbook that his elbow almost knocked off, and finding his curiosity getting the better of him, he opens it.
Inside is a neat day planner filled with names, trainer IDs, and times. After a quick glance, it seems like Brawly takes six or seven challenges a day if he's in. One repeating name jumps out at him.
Brendan looks at the book as well. "Andre? Isn't he the dick who you and Zinnia beat?"
"Yeah," Lee confirms, flipping through a few more pages.
It doesn't take long to find a pattern. Andre is the last match every other day going back for weeks. Turning a few pages forward, he finds the young Dark-type specialist has slots saved weeks in advance.
"The hell?" Lee mutters to himself, feeling Vulpix's bewilderment as well as she peers over his shoulder.
Lee, Vulpix, and Brendan freeze, looking away from the logbook as one.
Behind the front desk stands an older woman, probably in her fifties. Her light blue hair is tied back in a ponytail and her eyes, framed by slight wrinkles and a set of bifocals, stare at Lee and Brendan disapprovingly. "Perhaps you could not snoop through our schedule? I would be glad to disclose any relevant details if asked."
Brendan laughs nervously and shuts the book on Lee's behalf. "Ah... Sorry about that..."
The woman still clicks her tongue in disappointment. "See that it doesn't happen again. Now, can I help you two?"
"Yes, I'm Lee Henson and this is Brendan Birch," Lee tries to smile past his embarrassment. "We're scheduled to see Brawly for gym matches this morning?"
The woman makes a show of sharply lifting up the schedule book and slowly thumbing to the latest page. After silently scanning the page, she nods. "You'll be first, Mister Henson, followed by Mister Birch. Take a seat and you'll be called when Brawly is ready."
"Sure thing, ma'am! Thank you!" Lee smiles and quickly leads Brendan away with a hand on his shoulder. The pair take a seat in the corner waiting area as the woman vanishes behind the staff door.
"Jeez, that lady was something..." Brendan murmurs. "Why do you think that Andre guy is on the list so many times?"
"What about the brat?"
Lee, Brendan, and Vulpix look up when Zinnia takes a seat to the right of Brendan, a steaming cup held in her hand. Already, the dragon tamer looks to have much more life to her. She takes another sip from the cup in her hand as she waits for an answer.
"He's booked fights with Brawly for weeks in advance," Lee explains, leaning back in his chair. "Is he really getting beat every time?"
Zinnia shrugs and crushes the empty paper cup in her hand before tossing it in a trash can a few paces away. "Dark-type versus Fighting-type, so probably. Brawly probably knows the little shitheel's Detect gimmick and can counter it."
'Now how does one effectively counter Detect, I wonder. Overwhelming speed? Run the clock like we did? Or is there a trick to beating it without wasting so much energy?' Lee internally muses with only Vulpix privy to his thoughts. "Probably," he agrees with Zinnia aloud.
The conversation peeters out into silence, neither Brendan nor Zinnia making an effort to continue. Brendan sits with his two pokeballs in his lap as he pulls out his pokedex. He rapidly flips to the section on common Hoenn Fighting-types as he bounces his knee nervously.
Zinnia, meanwhile, seems content to withdraw her phone from her hip pouch and idly scroll through the news.
With nothing else to do and not wanting to think of the upcoming match, lest he make himself anxious, Lee thinks back to yesterday after the Granite Cave adventure.
Again, Lee is struck by just how normal the squid and octopi in the tanks before him are. One octopus runs a tentacle over the glass, letting Lee see the little suction pads work in sync. He looks away from the glass to the myriad of other tanks in the clean, if dimly lit marina warehouse, finding all manner of unsettlingly familiar sealife. At his feet, Vulpix sits quietly. Lee can feel her displeasure as the fishy smell of the warehouse makes her nose tingle unpleasantly.
Lee's call to Dewford Seafood Outlet the night prior was met with zero resistance from the enthusiastic owner, who accepted Lee's flimsy excuse of wanting to study mundane animals without a second thought. "Our establishment would love to host a trainer and Pokemon researcher of your esteem!" The man enthusiastically agreed, and Lee vaguely recalled his voice among the many he spoke to during the beach tournament. The man even had his employees go out and gather examples from the actual open-air farms that dominate a little corner of Dewford and bring the animals here in display tanks. With Lee, a boy in water waders marked 'DSO' stands several feet behind him, ready to answer any questions the trainer might have.
No doubt this is all a stunt to curry favor with Lee, and thus the much more influential Hoenn Pokemon Lab, but the scarred trainer is grateful nonetheless.
Lee looks down at his notebook, where notes on the animals before him and several crude sketches dominate the page. He slowly walks by the tanks with Vulpix following close, not paying his teenaged farmhand watcher any mind. He passes by a tank containing common bay clams, then a tank containing what looks like several dungeness crabs that scuttle about. Then a thought hits him.
"Say, ah-" Lee turns and looks at the nametag on the teen boy's waders "-Jordan, do you know what species these crabs are?"
The boy jumps, apparently not expected to be addressed. "Oh, uh, these guys? They're just Dewford crabs I think. Some other places have different names for em, though."
Lee frowns at yet another unexplainable similarity. "And the octopi?"
The boy shrugs. "Uh... Dewford octopus?" His answer sounds more like a question.
"Don't feel bad if you can't answer this one, but do you ever see any of these guys in the wild?" Lee gestures to the whole setup of display tanks.
"Well, sometimes," Jordan rubs the back of his head with a hand. "Not often, though. Pokemon gobble up animals pretty fast."
'If that's the case, then how did any animals live long enough to be domesticated? No books or websites seem to know.' Lee feels a headache coming on and sighs. "Right, I should have guessed that. Is it okay with you if I run a quick experiment? It'll involve one of your bay clams being eaten."
"Sure, go ahead. Boss gave you free rein. If you're hungry, though, I can ask a supervisor if I can take you to the marina restaurant."
"Not for me, but thanks for the thought," Lee smiles. He removes one of his gloves and rolls his sleeve up, then reaches a hand into the tank of clams and withdraws one on the smaller side. Then he tosses the little mollusk into the octopus tank.
One of the little invertebrates immediately comes to investigate the clam, it's little tentacles curiously wrapping around the invader. The octopus seems to realize what it has and shuffles the clam to its mouth. With one venomous bite from the octopus' beak, the clam opens to its doom and is promptly eaten.
"All very standard feeding behavior..." Lee murmurs. "It's almost like nothing changed, it's too perfect..."
Lee is drawn from his thoughts when he notices the throngs of people entering the gym heading for the Arena Seating door. Unlike Rustboro, there doesn't seem to be anyone checking tickets.
"Hey hey, guys!"
Beside Lee, Brendan looks up away from his pokedex, then his eyes light up. "Dad!"
Lee looks up as well, finding a smiling Professor Birch standing before them.
"When did you get here, dad?" Brendan can't help but grin like a loon and pocket his Dex and pokeballs before standing to greet his father. "And why?"
"Medicham teleported us this morning," Birch laughs. "Tuckered him out coming all this way, so he's resting right now. I was originally going to come out here to study bird pokemon inhabiting the seaside cliffs, but I figured I would come early to see my son and the lab's cashcow battle in the gym!"
"Oh, cashcow, am I?" Lee snorts and stands. "Gee, professor, glad to know you regard me so highly," he says, sarcasm woven into every word.
"Don't be like that, Lee," Birch mockingly chides. "Your and Miss Zinnia's big win at Dewford's tournament got us a full five percent increase in funding and a flood of independent donations. Keep up the good work, really." The scraggly professor then turns to the still sitting Zinnia with a pleasant smile. "And you must be Zinnia! Thank you for keeping an eye on the boys here."
The tanned woman openly laughs and stands, reaching out to take Birch's hand in a handshake. "It's a fulltime job, really. If your lab has any professional babysitter positions open..." she trails off coyly.
Birch shakes his head. "Afraid not, but it's not often I meet a Dragon type specialist. If any studies that need dragons with a paycheck come up, I'll have Brendan or Lee pass it along. Now!" He looks back to Lee, Vulpix, and Brendan. "It's been awhile since I've seen a good gym match, so you two give it your all, okay?"
"You know it!" Brendan exclaims while Lee just nods.
'Boss is watching. No pressure...'
"Oh, and before I forget!" Birch suddenly jumps, looking over to Lee. "Did you think over the offer of that study I proposed?"
Lee looks over to the fox on his shoulder, and she hesitates before shrugging her little shoulders. "We're... Still debating it, professor."
The older woman from before pokes her head out from behind the staff door. "Please come back here so we can get you ready. Your match will begin shortly."
"That's my cue," Lee begins, shaking away the excitement that makes his limbs tremble. "Wish us luck."
"Break a leg!" Zinnia laughs.
"You got this!" Brendan cheers.
Birch just smiles.
With Vulpix astride his shoulder, Lee follows the blue-haired woman behind the staff door to a barren waiting room with little more than a single chair and a small table holding a few water bottles, a box of nausea medicine, and a little box that is a mess of black wires. Just ahead of them is a large door labeled 'Arena'.
"Need anything to settle your stomach?" The still unnamed woman asks, peering at Lee over her glasses as she taps the little box of generic nausea pills with a finger.
Lee shakes his head. "I'm fine, thanks."
She nods. "Very well. One second here..." She turns to the box of wires on the desk and withdraws a little microphone unit, the same sort Lee used when giving lectures to zoo guests. Without bothering to ask, she clips the unit to one of his front pockets and clips the actual microphone to the collar of his shirt. "The range on that little contraption is narrow, so it'll only work in the marked trainer box in the arena. Keep that in mind."
"I will," Lee confirms. After a second of hesitation, Lee keeps speaking. "Ma'am? I know it's not my place to pry, so feel free to not answer, but what was with Andre having so many reserved matches?"
The woman pauses and looks at Lee with narrow eyes. "Why do you wish to know?"
"Well...?" The scarred man struggles to formulate an answer and rubs the back of his head. "Andre was our final opponent in the Brawl on the Beach, and his pokemon were top notch, but he seemed to have some sort of preconceived notions about me before we even battled, something about me being a failed trainer who ran away to Hoenn. That, combined with his obviously sour relationship with Brawly just... has me curious is all."
The woman sighs with disappointment and pinches the bridge of her nose. "Oh, Andre. Must you lash out at everyone who even looks similar to him? The world isn't out to get you." Her murmurs are too quiet for Lee to hear, but Vulpix telepathically feeds him what her ears pick up. Before Lee can puzzle out who 'he' might be, the woman looks up tiredly and pushes her glasses further up her nose. "Let me apologize for anything he might have said. Andre is rough, but he's a good boy at heart."
Lee nods along. "The condition of his pokemon speaks a lot about him."
"Indeed. Where are my manners? My name is Wilma, Brawly's mother, and manager of this gym," the now-named Wilma introduces herself with a slight incline of her head.
"Lee Henson and this is Vulpix, but I suppose you already knew that," Lee returns her courtesy.
Wilma inclines her head once more. "It's not my place to say much. Andre lives here in Dewford with us at the behest of his mother. He insists that he has something to prove in defeating Brawly's full-powered team, hence his spots on the schedule, but considering his fondness of Dark-types..."
"...It's an uphill battle," Lee finishes with a frown. The answers only muddle things more. "I see. Thank you. I won't pry anymore."
"Welcome to the Dewford Gym! Today we've got an exciting lineup of trainers set to face your Gym Leader, Brawly!" A booming voice can be heard over the gym sound system, rattling the room.
There is muffled cheering behind the door leading to the arena.
"Looks like it's beginning," Wilma mutters. "Alright, young man," she addresses Lee. "When your name is called, head on out and stand in the box on your side of the field. The rest is self-explanatory. Ready?"
The zoologist takes a deep breath. "As ready as I'll ever be."
"Good. Brawly will not be pulling his punches, so beware," the blue-headed woman warns before she pats his shoulder and leaves back to the front room.
"Our first challenger this morning is a doozy! Coming from Little Root town, we have Lee Henson!"
"Here goes nothing..." Lee sighs and walks out to be greeted by a wave of cheers.
The arena is almost a clone of the Rustboro Gym, only the ground is just hard-packed dirt with no rocks scattered around. The bleachers lining the arena are filled to the brim. Some of the more excited fans hold up signs. A few are for him and his team, and an amusingly large number for Brawly are held up by teen girls. Near the center of the right side, Brendan, The Professor, and Zinnia all sit and applaud Lee's and Vulpix's entrance.
Lee waves up to the crowd, and after a mental nudge to Vulpix, she raises a paw as well, easily doubling the roar of the crowd. 'Huh. This is much easier than the first few times.'
'J*** h**e ***fi**n** ** y*****lf' Vulpix snuffles in wane amusement.
"Not only is he this year's Brawl on the Beach winner, but Lee is also a special researcher and Hoenn Lab Trainer under the esteemed Professor Birch! With Rustboro Gym's Stone badge already in hand, Lee is really going to give Brawly a run for his money!" The commentator's booming voice hypes the crowd up even more.
Off to the sides, a TV camera crew takes their place as a gym aide, and a pair of Drowzee, no doubt there to power the barrier, set up a few paces away. One member of the TV crew even releases a Magnemite from a pokeball, who levitates over the arena with a smaller camera hovering at its side.
Across the way, Brawly grins eagerly at Lee, and Lee can't help but grin back, excitement overwhelming everything else.
Finally, a referee in a black-and-white striped shirt makes his way to the field and clears his throat into his microphone, causing the chatter to die down. "This match will be a two-on-two standard battle between challenger Lee Henson and Gym Leader Brawly. Matches will commence until one team has lost two members. Only the challenger may substitute, and may only do so once. Trainers!" The ref looks between Lee and Brawly. "Please select your first pokemon!"
'No brainer on this one,' Lee thinks, taking Corvisquire's ball and expanding it. "Corvi, you're up!"
At the same time, Brawly takes a ball from his belt and throws it just as Lee does his. "Machoke! I need your help!"
Corvisquire bursts from his ball in a shower of white light, a chilling screech already echoing from his beak. The bird's red eyes gleam with malice as he hovers on their side of the field, eager to tear into a worthy opponent.
Brawly's Machoke appears in a flash of light just like Corvisquire. The Superpower pokemon stands six feet tall and is built like a brickhouse. Bulging muscle ripples under his thick, grey hide, and his five-fingered hands are already clenched into cannonball-like fists. The pokemon takes one look at Corvisquire and sighs in distaste.
"It's wicked speed and mobility versus classic Dewford muscle! Corvisquire dominated his fights in the Brawl, but Machoke is an old hand on Brawly's personal team with a punch that can derail a train! This'll be a nailbiter!"
"Are both trainers ready!?" The referee picks up where the commentator left off.
"Ready!" Brawly calls, his voice echoing through the sound system.
'I really hope that 'derail trains with a punch' line was hyperbole...' Lee takes a deep breath. "Ready!"
The Drowzee off to the side raise their hands and wiggle their fingers, raising a transparent barrier and locking the pokemon in the arena.
"Corvi! Get up high and use Hone Claws!" Lee orders quickly.
Brawly and Machoke make no move to stop Corvisquire, who quickly rises to the ceiling. When Brawly smirks, Lee instantly hears alarm bells ringing in his head.
As Corvisquire raises his talons to grind them together, Brawly speaks. "Machoke! Rock Tomb!"
'Oh fuck off with that.'
Machoke drives his fingers into the ground, and with an effortless flex of his arm, pulls up a boulder larger than himself. He reels back his arm and throws the enormous rock with the same ease a human might a baseball while Corvisquire is mid-buff. A faint red glow overtakes the boulder, which cracks and splits into five smaller stones that rush the crow pokemon with menacing whistles.
"Abort and duck!" Lee orders frantically.
Corvisquire heeds his words with only a second to spare, sharply diving and twisting to fly between two of the stones he can't dive fast enough to avoid.
The Rock Tomb crashes against the barrier with a thunderous bang!
'Not going to let us buff, huh? Then we'll just have to debuff you instead.'
"Scary Face!" Lee calls out to his pokemon.
Corvisquire is in motion before Brawly or Machoke can react. His already irritated visage takes on a nightmarish twist, his eyes practically shining red. He opens his beak and lets out a shrill, bloodthirsty cry that makes Lee's spine stiffen. The sheer potency of Corvisquire's Scary Face almost makes a weight settle over the arena. From the corner of his eye, Lee spies several of the audience members rock back in fright.
Machoke stiffens and grits his teeth, sweat breaking out on his brow despite his best efforts to maintain his composure.
"Now, Hone Claws!"
"Machoke! Stop him with Rock Tomb!" Brawly is quick to bounce back.
Corvisquire rises once again and grinds his talons together, dropping glittering, metallic sparks below him.
Machoke gasps and suddenly realizes he was given an order. Arm still shaking, he plunges his fingers into the ground and lifts another boulder up before hastily tossing it, but by the time the rock is in the air, Corvisquire finishes sharpening all his natural weaponry and rolls out of the way of Rock Tomb.
"Corvi, move in with Extremespeed! Then Pluck!"
Lee can see Brawly curse under his breath. "Machoke! Be ready with Thunder Punch!
High above, the raven cackles and vanishes in a blinding burst of speed with the crack of displaced air being the only hint something was once there.
Machoke's right fist only just begins to crackle with electricity over before a razor-sharp beak is driven into his back. The Fighting-type pokemon roars in pain and whirls around like a top, his fist lashing out in a backhand.
Corvisquire can't avoid the partially electrified fist in time and takes the blow to his sternum like a cannonball. The raven's eyes bulge as he's thrown all the way into the left barrier wall with a dull thud!, drawing a wince from the onlookers. Corvisquire wheezes and forces his way back to his feet, his face drawn back into a scowl.
"Corvi! You alright?!" Lee asks. When the bird looks at him with an expression that clearly says What do you think?, the man feels a little foolish.
"Man, I knew that Corvisquire was fast, but that's something else..." Brawly says aloud. "Machoke, square up!"
The Fighting-type stands and brings his fists up in a ready stance, now seemingly ignoring the wound in his back.
'Fast huh? Brawly battles that monster Absol all the time though. Does Corvisquire edge him out?' Lee's mind quickly churns. 'Brawly probably didn't start with his ace, no, I'm sure Machoke is not his ace. An ace that has probably clashed with Absol over and over... That in mind...'
"Ref! I'm substituting Corvisquire!" Lee calls to the ref, who just nods and presses a little button on his mic, causing an airhorn to blare out over the speakers
"It looks like Lee is using his substitution!" The commentator calls. "Why sub now? And who will he send in?"
Across the arena, Brawly raises an eyebrow and Machoke lowers his fists just the slightest amount.
'Grovyle still needs to get used to his new body, so you're up, girl,' Lee sends to Vulpix, who mentally reviews his plan with a nod and slides down from his shoulders. He draws Corvisquire's ball and recalls the raven in a flash of red light. The entire time, Corvisquire wears a betrayed, furious expression.
Lee holds the shaking ball close to his mouth. "No need to be so upset, I'm saving you for the tougher battle. You'll get your time to shine," he whispers quietly.
The displeased shaking calms.
"It looks like Lee is sending in Vulpix! How will this little fox compare to Machoke?"
Vulpix calmly walks her way into the arena through a little hole in the barrier that closes behind her, sealing her inside.
"Match restarting in three, two, one..!" The ref sounds the horn again.
"Vulpix, Baby-Doll Eyes!" Lee rapidly orders. 'Then charge Confuse Ray.'
"Machoke, look away!" Brawly reacts near instantly.
Machoke tries to look away as Vulpix's eyes shine an eerie pink, but the move is just too fast and seeing a split second is enough to force Machoke's muscles to slacken. He groans and his shaking becomes visible.
"Bulk Up!" is Brawly's follow up. "Then Karate Chop! No more playing defense!"
Machoke takes a deep breath and flexes every muscle in his body at once, and he's back to looking like Baby-Doll Eyes never hit him. Then he drops down into a runner's stance and charges Vulpix like an Olympic sprinter, eating the distance between them in a scant second.
Vulpix smirks a vulpine smirk as her eyes glow yet again.
Machoke can barely even react before he trips in his sudden confusion. He falls face-first to the dirt and his momentum drags him painfully across the ground, digging up a shallow trench behind him. The crowd lets out a collective wince.
"What happened?! Why did Machoke suddenly lose his footing?!"
Brawly face morphs into open surprise.
Did Roxanne not tell him about their telepathy? Oh well, now is not the time to be dwelling on that.
The vixen plants her feet and opens her mouth, a white-hot orb forming between her jaws. She rears her head back and throws the ball forward with a dramatic flourish.
"Machoke! Listen to my voice! Dodge it!" Brawly orders
Machoke, even in his confused haze realizes the danger and tries to stand. His powerful legs let him leap well over twenty feet to the side, where he lands in a boneless heap with a grunt.
It's for naught, however, as the slow Will-O-Wisp makes a perfect ninety-degree turn to follow.
With a growl, Machoke rolls to his back at Brawly's order. Then; "Machoke! Intercept Will-O-Wisp with Ice Punch!"
Machoke's right fist frosts over with a layer of blue ice, and with either luck or sheer, confusion-overpowering willpower, his fist rockets forward and smashes into Will-O-Wisp with a loud hiss of steam, throwing up a cloud of vapor that obscures him.
Brawly clicks his tongue and sighs.
"Don't let him have any time to breathe! Ember!" Lee follows up.
A barrage of fireballs fly from Vulpix's mouth and spread themselves out into a wide net to cover the entire steam cloud. They fly through the steam with minute hissing sounds, dispersing the mist after just a second, revealing no Machoke there, only a hole in the ground.
Neither Lee nor Vulpix can react in time when a huge fist bursts from the ground right below Vulpix, socking her right in the chin so hard that she is sent flying straight up in the air with a yelp.
The crowd roars at the titanic hit.
Lee bites back a cry when his own jaw and teeth suddenly flare with Vulpix's pain, and several of his teeth feel as if they're broken. The tang of non-existent blood coats his tongue. With great reluctance, he closes his side of their telepathic bond just enough to reduce the pain to a minor ache. "V-Vulpix! Reposition with Quick Attack!" Lee grounds out, sending her a mental landing point.
The fox twists midair and pushes away the stars in her vision to zig-zag down to Brawly's side of the field where she lands and tries to shake off the super-effective hit. Lee re-widens their connection and winces when he ghosts over her senses. She was hit so hard that she's seeing double, her ears are ringing, and at least one of her teeth is broken. The rapid swelling in her jaw only makes the tooth pain worse.
'You alright to keep going, love?'
Machoke pulls himself out of the ground and stands tall, his eyes now clear. His right hand is raw and burnt, his torso is a mess of less severe steam burns, and the stab in his back still bleeds, but the pokemon is unbowed. He even flexes his injured arm to the crowd, drawing cheers.
"What a turn! Machoke proves his power with a huge hit using Dig! Poor Vulpix nearly had her lights knocked out!"
Brawly smirks. "You two aren't the only sneaky ones!" He yells across the battlefield to Lee.
He knows, and has nonverbal signals of his own.
"Fine then, no stops." Lee grunts. 'Vulpix, get ready,' he sends, falling into her psychic embrace with ease. Lee feels his own body become slightly numb as he pours his being into her. 'Ember!'
Vulpix rears her head back with a quiet breath, and even behind the barrier, Lee can feel the temperature of the arena spike by several degrees. Then she throws her head forward and unleashes a veritable storm of fireballs, easily thrice the volume of before with twice the speed. The sound is akin to an automatic rifle burning through its entire magazine, fitting considering the Embers are little more than bullet-like streaks.
Machoke and Brawly's eyes widen as one, and Machoke is already in motion when Brawly's mouth opens to yell; "Detect! Then close in and cut her off with Revenge!"
Vulpix's large foe leaps to the side, left hand already crackling with red energy, but he's forced back further when the Embers swerve mid-flight to scream right at him. He ducks under one stream only to dance backward as another blasts at his feet. His charged Revenge is used to swat away several fireballs that he isn't fast enough to avoid. Then his back hits the corner of the barrier.
Vulpix and Lee, working in sync, pyrokinetically spread the Embers out in a net spaced perfectly to catch Machoke. As one, all the fireballs descend like demented wasps.
With nowhere to dodge and out of time to use a move, Machoke can only squeeze his eyes shut and raise his arms in defense.
One Ember explodes against his arms and Machoke grits his teeth.
Two, three, four, five, six, and the Fighting-type groans.
Seven, eight, nine, ten, twenty, thirty, and he can't help but cry out as smoke overtakes his form.
Forty, fifty, seventy, and finally the last one strikes and detonates.
"Machoke!" Brawly cries out, his eyes wide and disbelieving.
The crowd waits with bated breath as the smoke slowly clears, and when it does, it shows them all Machoke, slumped against the wall with his eyes closed and body covered in burns.
"Hey, Machoke, buddy! Can you get up!?" Brawly calls, his fists clenched tightly.
Other than the harsh rise and fall of his chest, Machoke does not move.
Three, two, one...
The airhorn overhead sounds and the referee waves his arms. "It's over! Machoke is unable to battle! Vulpix is the winner of round one!"
Lee sighs and drifts away from Vulpix's psyche back to his own as she trots back to their side of the field. His limbs feel the slightest bit unsteady for a moment until he reorients himself. A smile is worn on his face the entire time, however.
The audience erupts into applause and cheering, though Lee can spy a few of the teenaged die-hard Brawly fans adding boos into the noise.
Across the way, the Gym Leader pulls a pokeball from his belt and recalls Machoke in a flash of red. He stares down at the ball blankly, as if he didn't actually expect to lose. Then he huffs out a short laugh and replaces it on his belt, this time taking a greatball from his belt. Even from this distance, Lee can see the top hemisphere of the pokeball is worn down to bare metal in places.
"I gotta hand it to you, Lee. That was something," The surfer smiles. "It shows me I've still got plenty to improve on. Machoke won't go down to a ranged fighter so easily next time. This pokemon, though..." He holds the worn greatball up. "He belonged to my father and was passed down to me when I took the mantle of Gym Leader. He's helped me a lot over the years, and I've stepped away from borrowing his power, but I know when I need help out of a bind."
Lee feels his smile sink a little. "I don't like the sound of that."
Brawly's smile morphs into a wide grin. "It's good to be cautious!" He glances at the ref, who gets the signal.
"Gym Leader Brawly! Please select your next pokemon!"
Brawly throws the greatball past a hole in the barrier. "Hariyama! I need your help!"
The ball bursts open, and a shape wreathed in white light expands onto the field, growing bigger.
And bigger, and bigger...
When the light finally fades, Lee finds himself blinking in disbelief, but the spike of alarm he both feels from Vulpix and sees on her vulpine face tells him his eyes aren't failing him.
Standing over eight feet tall and easily eleven feet wide with his arms spread out, an absolutely gargantuan pokemon stares them down.
The Hariyama before them looks just as Lee remembers them, being a roughly humanoid sumo wrestler of unbelievable proportions. Two-toed feet attached to legs as thick as tree trunks hold a massive torso of pure muscle aloft. His short arms end in wide, flat three-fingered hands perfect for arm-thrusting attacks. But what strikes Lee most is the little details littered across the huge pokemon.
The Hariyama's eyes are framed by faint wrinkles, and the left eye is a blind, foggy white, probably owing to the scar dragged through Hariyama's face. His hands are likewise marked, his palms a menagerie of calluses and scars, leaving almost no unharmed flesh behind.
Lee's dread-filled musings are broken when Hariyama grunts, a low sound that Lee feels in both his and Vulpix's chest. The enormous pokemon puts his palms on his knees and raises a single leg, then he brings it down like a lightning strike, shaking the entire gym. The lights above rattle, someone in the crowd screams, and one of the cameramen falls over. Lee himself bends his knees to not be knocked over.
Hariyama raises his other leg and brings it down again, pulverizing the ground under him and rattling the entire building again. Then with his knees still bent, he plants a hand on the ground, taking a sumo-like ready stance. An almost tangible weight settles over the arena, eerily like standing before Steven Stone's Metagross.
"Get ready," Brawly's smile could light up the arena if Hariyama's preparation accidentally knocked the lights out. "We're going full tilt!"
"Match two, Hariyama vs Vulpix, begin!"
For a moment, no one moves, and it gives Vulpix ample time to pull Lee back into her mind for his added strength.
'Love, while I'm not doubting your abilities, there is no way you can beat him after Machoke nailed you with Dig,' Lee gulps. 'We need to wear him down as much as possible for Corvisquire.'
"Not going to move first, eh?" The Gym Leader nods. "Fine by us. Hariyama! Belly Drum!"
'Fuck! Confuse Ray!'
Vulpix growls and fires off the invisible, sinister ray from her shining eyes.
Hariyama draws his huge hands back, then pounds his own stomach with a series of deep thuds. The sound Belly Drum makes moves something primal inside of Vulpix, and Lee can feel her sudden thrill of fear.
The pupil of Hariyama's one good eye dilates, and a hazy cloak of red energy diffuses from nowhere to cover his form. He slows for a moment as Confuse Ray strikes him, leaving his eye unfocused, but after a single blink, the confusion vanishes and Hariyama finishes Belly Drum with a loud, echoing strike to his own abdomen. The cloak of red, smoky energy surges and crackles.
"From bad to worse," Lee grimaces. 'Vulpix, Ember! Come in on his blind side!'
Like before, Vulpix draws her head back and fires off a stream of Embers more akin to laser bolts than fireballs.
Some rush Hariyama from the right, but the majority of the flames twist and curve into his blindspot.
"Whirlwind!" Brawly orders.
Hariyama's arms are little more than blurs as his flat hands move the air like fans, kicking up rushing currents of tornado-like winds on both sides of him. Vulpix's Embers, even empowered by pokemon and trainer working in tandem, are snuffed out like candles in the face of the Whirlwinds.
Then Hariyama thrusts his arms forward, merging the Whirlwinds and sending a titanic tornado right for Vulpix.
The tornado gains power as it moves, dragging in all manner of dirt and rocks as it howls furiously at the shocked fox. It crosses the arena in less than a second, and by then, the tornado is too big to dodge. Vulpix screws her eyes shut in panic.
"Firespin!" Lee screams, both in body and mind. 'Counter Whirlwind's rotation!'
Vulpix's eyes snap open, shining a hellish orange.
A spiraling inferno pours from Vulpix's throat, and in an instant, Whirlwind is met with a twisting, raging tower of fire that roars just as loud as the Whirlwind shrieks. The two elements meet, and Whirlwind begins to peter out as it feeds the vicious Firespin, which grows into a seething wall of white, spinning hellfire that splashes against the top of the barrier.
Lee can't see Brawly or Hariyama or even hear anything over the din of Firespin, but he does see the attack rush forward and engulf the other side of the field.
Sadly, Vulpix's burst of might runs dry after a scant ten seconds.
Firespin dies near-instantly, leaving a cloud of smoke and deafening silence behind.
When the smoke clears on the Brawly's side of the field, it reveals Hariyama standing with his arms raised and blackened, burn-coated palms out. Grunting, he slowly and painfully pulls his arms back into a ready stance, revealing that his body is pockmarked by smaller, less severe burns that overtook his defense. Around his feet in a perfect V formation is charred dirt and soot, meaning he stopped the Firespin.
Even with the unmistakable power Vulpix displayed in her battle with Corvisquire, Hariyama stopped Firespin.
"Jumping Joltiks, folks! Vulpix unleashed the fire within and turned Whirlwind right back around on Hariyama, but Hariyama was having none of that!" The audience goes wild when the commentator breaks the ice.
Vulpix wavers on her paws, and Lee can easily feel her exhaustion. She pants harshly and falls to her rump.
"Hariyama," Brawly hesitates for a second. "Force Palm!"
The massive sumo pokemon thrusts a hand forward, shooting a screaming shockwave that crosses the field like a tank shell.
Vulpix scrambles up and leaps away, but the explosion Force Palm makes when it hits the ground she was standing on throws her down to her side where she tumbles. Another Force Palm flies from Hariyama's hand and crashes into her like a missile, throwing the limp fox head-first into the barrier with a painful thunk. She slides to the ground, her breathing shallow and body unmoving.
Lee winces. Already he feels the phantom pain in his sternum and head fading, meaning his vixen is in blissful unconsciousness, but it does nothing for the deeper hurt in his chest whenever Vulpix is harmed. 'She's just knocked out. Nothing she can't handle,' he silently reminds himself. With great reluctance, he catches the eyes of the referee and shakes his head.
The airhorn sounds and the referee raises his arm. "Vulpix is unable to battle! Hariyama is the winner of the second match!"
The crowd applauds and cheers. As Lee recalls Vulpix to her ball and near silently murmurs how proud he is of her, he scans the crowd. Almost instantly, he finds who he's looking for.
Brendan, Birch, and Zinnia all sit near the middle of the right side. Brendan's face is one of open shock as if he can't believe what he just saw. Zinnia's is harder to pin, being a combination of surprise and worry rather than the calculating expression she normally wears when viewing an intense battle. Birch...
Birch's eyes are glued to Lee, and in his lap is a notebook with several full pages already flipped. The look is so intense that the younger man looks away.
"Challenger, please select your next pokemon!"
Lee grabs Corvisquire's ball, which wiggles in anticipation. Like before, he holds the ball close to his mouth to whisper to it. "Corvi, whatever you do, take this seriously. This guy tanked Vulpix at her full power, even after hurting himself with Belly Drum. He's torn up, but this is still an uphill fight. If we want to win, we need to play smart, got it?"
The ball goes still.
With a deep breath, Lee reels his hand back. "Go! Corvisquire!"
The ball flies from his hand and releases the raven pokemon, who screeches and flies into the arena when a hole in the barrier opens up for him. He glares down at Hariyama with malicious glee, and Hariyama stares back cooly with his working eye.
"Final match! Corvisquire versus Hariyama! Begin!"
"Swift!" Lee orders to feel out Hariyama.
Corvisquire caws and swipes a golden, glowing wing through the air, throwing a wave of shining stars down at the sumo pokemon.
Hariyama just swats the stars out of the air with a single broad hand when they approach. Some of the burnt flesh on his hand cracks and bleeds when the Swift rays explode against it, but he ultimately seems unbothered.
"Force Palm!" Brawly counters, his smile growing.
Hariyama's massive palm flashes forward, and a rippling shockwave rushes the raven pokemon.
"Corvi! Extremespeed into Pluck! Get out of there!" Lee cries.
The raven vanishes from sight with a crack of displaced air, letting Force Palm smash into the barrier behind where he was.
Hariyama whirls around one hundred and eighty degrees with speed that should have been impossible for a creature of his size, his palm lashing out the instant Corvisquire appears behind him. The raven is so shocked that he loses focus on his Pluck and his beak loses its glow. An instant later, Hariyama's palm strikes him like a battering ram.
Corvisquire is thrown into the barrier without an arc to his flight, crashing into the invisible wall with a bang! that rattles the whole thing and a plume of loose feathers. His eyes bug out from the impact and he can only wheeze in pain. Unlike with the blow from Machoke, Covisquire is much slower to get to his feet.
"Don't let up! Close in and end this with Close Combat!" Brawly orders, even pointing a finger for emphasis.
Hariyama grunts and thunders forward like a locomotive, every step shaking the Gym.
"Corvi, get up!" Lee urges. "C'mon! Don't go down like this!"
Corvisquire's eyes light up hatefully, and with a shrill cry he shoots up into the air away from Hariyama with a single powerful wingbeat.
Hariyama doesn't stop his charge, and with a stomp that rocks the building, he leaps right at the bird pokemon in stark defiance to gravity. His hands shine a baleful red just like the cloak of energy still wrapped around him. He winds up an arm thrust just as Corvisquire flies up higher.
It's almost too quiet to hear, but Hariyama grunts something that makes Corvisquire's entire face twist into a rictus of loathing, and rather than run away out of Close Combat's range, the raven howls and dives right at the sumo pokemon, making Lee's heart sink.
Corvisquire narrowly dodges one arm thrust, but the other one clips his wing with a quiet snap that Lee almost doesn't hear, making Corvisquire spin in the air unevenly. Nonetheless, Corvisquire's beak lights up with sky-blue Flying energy that he brutally drills right into Hariyama's left shoulder, drawing blood.
"Hariyama!" Brawly yells in alarm, his smile dropping for the first time in the match.
The sumo growls and slaps away Corvisquire like one might do a mosquito as gravity takes its hold again and drags him back down.
Corvisquire contorts his body mid-air and flares both his wings, even the broken one, to stop in a hover. His face shows no pain, only seething, burning anger.
Hariyama crashes into the ground feet-first, throwing up a short plume of dust. His good eye glares up at Corvisquire, who stares right back without wavering. Hariyama raises his hands into a ready stance again, but his left arm shakes and sinks ever so slightly.
'Corvi's attack must have nicked something important in his shoulder...' Lee silently theorizes. 'He's blind and now partially lame on that side. We need to take advantage of it now, before Corvi's rage-fueled adrenaline runs dry... Can he safely use Extremespeed? If I dare even imply that he's not fighting-ready, he'll be pissed... More than usual.'
"Corvisquire, Extremespeed!" Lee orders. "Hit him where it hurts!" he says, silently hoping his pokemon knows how to interpret the order.
"Hariyama, behind you!" Brawly yells in advance. "Arm Thrust him into the wall!"
Again, the avian pokemon blurs into motion as if his wing was never injured, and again, Hariyama turns a perfect one-eighty to catch him.
Only this time, Corvisquire appears above him. Before the Fighting-type can defend himself, Corvisquire, cackling like a villain, is upon him. He drives his beak right into the same wound on Hariyama that he created earlier and cruelly twists at whatever he can bite.
The larger pokemon roars in pain, his first sign of weakness the whole match, and swats at Corvisquire, who blurs away again with a cackling laugh. The strength in Hariyama's shaking left arm wanes, and he can't raise it up any higher than his waist.
"Stay angry, Corvi! Win this! Come at him again!" Lee calls, the excitement from earlier beginning to grow in his chest.
"Hariyama, watch your left and above you, that's where they're coming!" Brawly instructs.
'Corvisquire is a little too smart to hit the same location three times in a row.' Lee smiles. 'Hariyama is too slow to keep up, so if he doesn't know where Corvi is going from...'
A caw echoes through the room and Hariyama turns to his left, his good arm blasting forward at nothing. At the same time, a twirling beak shining a sky-blue drills into his upper right arm, savaging the muscle and connective tissue.
'...Then he's going to get picked apart.'
Hariyama growls and swings at Corvisquire, who once again backs off with Extremespeed.
"Bring him down!" Brawly's face is now losing confidence and his fists are balled up. "Whirlwind!"
A broad right hand swipes through the air, kicking up a huge gale, but not anywhere near the tornado that ravaged the arena earlier. With a flick of his wrist, Hariyama throws the Whirlwind forward.
The raging wind tears at the flying blur that is Corvisquire, slowing him enough that his form becomes visible once more. He struggles to not be sucked into the Whirlwind as his broken wing just can't flap with the same power of his unbroken one. The Whirlwind passes and dissipates, but to Lee's despair, he can see Corvisquire's energy beginning to flag. The bird pants and even his ever-present wrath slowly begins to fade
"Force Palm, knock him down!" Brawly's voice shocks Lee out of his thoughts.
Hariyama's eyes narrow in concentration as his right fingers flex, and he throws a shock wave right at the hovering Corvisquire, who just barely dodges by folding his wings and plunging from the sky. Force Palm smacks the barrier with much less force than earlier.
"Corvi, finish him! One more Extremespeed! You can do it!" Lee calls up to the raven.
"No you don't! Defend yourself with Whirlwind!" Brawly counters.
Corvisquire rushes forward just as Hariyama draws his hand back, and that's when Lee knows they lost.
Hariyama spins around, Whirlwind following his palm and wreathing him in a cloak of swirling, protective air.
Then Lee's jaw drops.
Corvisquire pulls up at an angle that rips at his broken wing, making the bird grimace as he flies directly up, abreast the Whirlwind, then he flies over the mouth and drops down right at his foe. He closes his injured wing and holds his good one out, letting the air currents in the Whirlwind spin him up like a drill. His beak bursts into an eye-searingly bright blue just as vibrant as the sky, and then like a screaming missile, he drops onto Hariyama in a full-powered Drill Peck.
The sumo pokemon's eyes widen, and in a last-ditch effort to defend himself, he pulls back his right arm and thrusts it at the raven with a roar.
Beak meets palm, and Flying meets Fighting in a contest as old as the pokemon world.
The whole tornado glows with the clash, crackling red versus screaming blue. Blue overtakes red, and the Flying energy overpowers the Fighting with an explosion that kicks up a huge cloud of dust.
The entire arena holds its breath.
Slowly, the dust settles, and Lee's heart sinks.
Prone on the ground, a broken and battered Corvisquire lay, his eyes closed and unconscious face peaceful. Scattered around the bird are broken stones and loose feathers. Then Lee's eyes look further.
Just as knocked out as his raven, Hariyama lays on the destroyed and cratered ground with only his breathing as any indication that he's alive. Behind Hariyama, Brawly's eyes are wide in boldfaced surprise.
Above, the airhorn sounds.
"That's it! Round three ends in a double knockout! This battle is a draw!" The referee calls.
The audience goes wild, everyone standing, shouting, clapping, and more than a few cellphones are held up, some of which flash with camera lights.
"A... draw?" Lee wonders, his mind flashing back to the League rulebook he is still trying to finish. What was the end result of draws? Was it the challenger's loss? "Damn..."
Slowly, the Gym Leader on the other side of the arena smiles a big, goofy smile. "Wow! That was awesome! Hariyama hasn't had to fight that hard in years!" He draws the battered greatball from his belt and points to his pokemon. "Hariyama, return!"
The behemoth of a pokemon is withdrawn in a flash of red, leaving behind a crater that several grown men could stand in easily without touching shoulders.
Lee licks his lips and mirrors Brawly, taking Corvisquire's ball from his belt before recalling the bird in a flash of red. He shrinks the ball and holds it gently in his hands. "Thank you for going above and beyond, Corvi. Be a pain in my ass all you want, I won't ever give up on you because I know you would do the same for me, even if you deny it..."
A few onlookers audibly go "Awww...", and that's when Lee realizes his mic is still on with a blush. He flips it off and starts walking when the barriers drop and Brawly begins walking to meet him.
Both men meet in the middle of the devastated field. Still grinning widely, the blue-headed trainer claps Lee on the shoulder. "Now that was the battle I wanted. I knew it would be good, just not that good. It's going to be a while before someone tops this one."
Lee sighs and smiles ruefully. "Well, you're getting more here soon, so don't worry too much. We've got a ways to go now that you've seen our best tricks firsthand."
The Gym Leader blinks. "Huh?"
"I'll schedule the next one here in a week or two. We'll win then, it's a promise," Lee smiles and turns to leave for the Pokemon Center, but Brawly doesn't let go of his shoulder.
"I don't know why you're leaving," Brawly's smile grows a little. "You need this first," he says, holding out his hand.
In the surfer's hand is a shining Knuckle Badge
Lee feels his mouth go dry. "Hold on, that was a draw, not a win."
"Maybe," Brawly smirks. "But my Gym Leader authority says I get to choose the win condition for our match, and after a showing like that? You're the winner here, dude. Take it, you earned it."
Slowly, Lee reaches out to take the badge.
Lee's hand stops.
Brawly's eyes shine with mischief. "On the condition that I get a rematch next time you're in Dewford."
The scarred trainer lets out a short laugh. "I can do that."
Lee's hand raises the badge up for everyone to see, and the crowd roars their approval.
"At least four days with no strenuous activity and at least six with no battles, Mister Henson," Dewford's Nurse Joy hands Lee the pokeballs he turned in just half an hour prior. "Your Corvisquire's wing suffered two breaks and he'll be exhausted for at least a full day. Vulpix, however, will be fine with a day or so of rest. Next time..." The nurse's hands fall to her hips and her pretty face frowns. "...Don't push your pokemon so hard."
"I'll try, nurse," Lee promises with a sheepish smile. "For a while there, Corvi was keeping himself in the air by sheer force of anger alone."
The joke seems to go over Nurse Joy's head, but at Lee's side, Zinnia snorts back a laugh. "Hhehe..." She clears her throat. "C'mon," she elbows Lee. "Let's go find a good spot to watch Shrimpy's match."
The pair stroll away from the Center's front desk to a waiting area in the corner with a large, wraparound couch that faces a wall-mounted TV. Several other trainers ranging from young adults to teens watch Brendan's match on the TV closely. Beside one of the trainers, a Ralts sits on the edge of the couch and kicks her feet.
Thankfully, Brendan wasn't upset when Lee left to take care of his pokemon... So long as the older trainer promised to watch the match remotely. Brendan just stuck his tongue out at Zinnia when she left with Lee.
Zinnia and Lee watch Marshtomp overpower Brawly's Hitmonchan when the fists of the two pokemon meet again. Hitmonchan grits his teeth as the grinning Marshtomp pushes him back.
Earlier, Shroomish battled Brawly's Mienfoo and wore down the weasel-like Fighting-type enough that Marshtomp could steamroll him. Now Marshtomp and Brawly's Hitmonchan are locked in a slugfest where Hitmonchan is losing steam. Meanwhile, Marshtomp only gets more eager the more bruises he accumulates.
"Think he'll win?" Zinnia wonders aloud.
"Brendan?" Lee asks with a smile. "Hitmonchan is on borrowed time." He watches Marshtomp take an Ice Punch to the face from Hitmonchan, only to laugh and lash out with a punch of his own that makes Hitmonchan double over.
"Say, Zinnia? That freighter we sailed with last time. Do they do runs to Slateport?
"I think so. Why?" Zinnia turns and blinks at him.
Lee draws his phone from his pocket and opens the browser, typing in the name of the cargo company they rode with. "It's where we're heading next."