'My office has so much wasted space,' Steven Stone silently muses to himself. 'Do I really need an entire floor to myself up here?'
In the extravagant Champion's office at the top of Hoenn's Pokemon League HQ, Steven looks down at the bustling island city of Ever Grande from the wall-spanning window, watching all the people and pokemon below. Looking away to the west, he can see the faintest hint of Sootopolis's top rim on the horizon.
Oh, how he longs to dive deep into the waters of the crater city and find bits of the meteorite that formed said crater over a millennia ago. What secrets and wonder would the meteorite hold? Would it hold an interesting mix of earthly elements, or would it show him something alien and exciting? Alas, the rock-headed members of the Sootopolis city council are adamant that the entire lakebed is a historical landmark and denied his requests to excavate samples.
It would be child's play to overrule them and go anyway, but no one would be amused by a Champion flagrantly abusing their power like that. The Steel specialist shakes his head in disgust, thinking of Unova's Champion, Alder, and the recent scandals the man has been involved in.
"Perhaps when I pass the title to someone else I could go to Sootopolis not as Steven the Champion, but Steven the Devon heir..." He smiles and fingers the mega keystone crowning his lapel pin.
'Ruminating on the meteorite once more?'
The rumbling voice comes not from anywhere in the office, but in his head, making Steven smile a little wider and turn around.
Standing before his desk and gleaming in the sunlight, Metagross regards Steven impassively.
"That I am, friend," Steven smiles a little wider. "A mere sliver of it would tell us so many things about the larger universe out there. It makes my skin tingle just thinking about it!"
If Metagross had eyebrows, Steven is sure one would be raised. 'I understand your fascination,' the pokemon 'says' dryly, but sincerely. 'But perhaps you can daydream another time. You have fifty-four unfinished forms to review, and a meeting with the Gym Leaders and the Elite Four in four minutes and seven seconds.'
Steven looks down at his opulent oak desk. In the corner where his paperwork sits in two piles, the 'In' section has a stack of thick folders several inches high, and the 'Out' has only two.
"I really need to gather a task force to review what gets sent to me. So much of this is junk or just redundant," the Devon heir sighs and sinks into his plush office chair as Metagross just chuckles, a sound so deep it rumbles the floor. Faintly in the back of his mind, Steven feels his pokemon's amusement. It's no greater than a tickle, but the alien feeling, so far removed from what a human might ever feel or even perceive to be emotion, makes his skin break out into goosebumps.
Steven jiggles the mouse of his computer to pull it from sleep mode and opens his email, silently groaning when he finds yet another hundred or so waiting to be read. He ignores them for now and opens his calendar, clicking on a meeting link within. From there, he mutes his microphone and leans back.
Rarely do they ever need his input, and he doubts today will be any different.
Over the next few minutes, several other names pop up on his computer screen. First is Roxanne, ever punctual and the usual leader of these meetings. Petalburg's Norman is next, with Mauville city's Wattson following shortly after, Sootopolis Gym Leader and Steven's best friend, Wallace is next. Dewford's Brawly, Fortree's Winona, and Mossdeep's Liza/Tate pop in one after another. The Elite Four- Sidney, Phoebe, Glacia, and Drake all enter at once, no doubt using a meeting room a few floors below Steven. The only one missing is...
"Is Moore having computer troubles again?" Norman's faintly amused voice asks, the microphone icon by his name flashing.
"Seems like it," Wattson laughs. "The old coot can barely work a toaster."
Sidney's scoff conveys his sneer better than any camera feed could. "Maybe he should retire rather than waste our time."
"No need to be hostile," Roxanne jumps in to play mediator at the first sign of trouble. "I'm sure he'll figure it out."
Just as Rustboro's Gym Leader says that, the name, Moore - Lavaridge, appears on the screen.
"There you go, grandpa. It just needed a reboot I think," the sound of a young woman's voice comes from Moore's icon.
"Thank you, dear. Damn computers, they were easier back then, I swear..." An older man's voice comes from Moore now. "Sorry, everyone! The old confuser was on the fritz!"
"It's no problem, Moore. Thank you," Roxanne says quickly before a certain someone can sling an insult. "If we're all here, let's begin. Moore? You said you had big news?"
"I do!" The old man laughs. "I am both happy and a little sad to announce that I'll be retiring this year and handing the Gym over to my granddaughter, Flannery."
There are murmurs of surprise over the line and even Steven feels one of his eyebrows rise.
"I thought we were the psychic ones here, Tate." Liza giggles
"I have trained her diligently for this day, and she, in turn, has trained her pokemon for the rigors of being a Gym Leader," Moore presses on past Liza's interruption. "All the paperwork is done and just needs to be sent in. In the next month or two, I'll turn her loose to run things on her own. I've even got her here with me to see how we do things. Say hello, dear!"
"Err, hi everyone..." The young woman greets unsurely, getting a few quiet welcomes from several of the other Gym Leaders.
Steven unmutes himself for a moment with a smile. "That's very exciting news, Moore. I have no doubt that Flannery will be a great Gym Leader. We're all going to miss you here in the League, though. You were one of the best Elite Four members and Gym Leaders Hoenn has ever had. I'll have one of my pokemon head out to Lavaridge to pick up your paperwork in the next day or so." He says, muting himself afterward.
"Ohhh, can't wait for the Magcargo mail to get rid of me, eh?" Moore chuckles. "But thank you, Steven. Ty and I are getting old, and it's time to do everything we couldn't when we were young. Wattson! Drake!" Moore suddenly exclaims. "You two are the only ones left of the old guard. Don't let the kids get into trouble, you hear?"
Drake merely grunts, but Wattson lets out a hearty laugh. "What do you take us for?"
"Speaking of new things," Winona leaves off. "We're a month and some change into the new league year. Has anyone had any interesting challengers so far?"
Most answers are negative, with Wallace being the only exception. "Ah! I had a splendid young woman with a beautiful team challenge me just yesterday!"
Steven can almost hear everyone's eyes rolling at his best friend's words.
"Did they win?" Phoebe asks despite everyone knowing the answer.
"They did not, but they were as graceful in defeat as they were in issuing their challenge!"
"Wallace, dear, perhaps tell us when you have a challenger that excels in battle prowess rather than aesthetics..." Glacia dryly says what's on everyone's mind. "Roxanne, Brawly, you two have been silent. Have any trainers of note crossed your path?"
The champion's mind is instantly taken back to several weeks prior when he and Metagross watched one of Roxanne's lessons turned gym challenge live. The scarred, passionate visage of Lee Henson is impossible to forget.
Equally difficult to forget are his pokemon, a rare Vulpix that prevailed against Roxanne's Nosepass with techniques he had never heard of before, and a Corvisquire, a Galarian pokemon Steven had never even seen in person before that day.
The eyes of that Vulpix, even exhausted, burned with unmistakable power. It's only a matter of time before she and Metagross clash, and by then, she'll have matured into a worthy adversary.
"Indeed I have," Roxanne's contemplating voice breaks Steven's thoughts. "Three, to be exact."
Three? Brendan Birch and Lee Henson are surely two of them, but who is the last one?
"The first was an older trainer in his twenties, a Lab Trainer under Professor Birch by the name of Lee Henson," Roxanne begins. "I offered to count a demonstration battle for my class as an official challenge, citing the... lackluster learning material mandated by the League Education Committee. He used a Corvisquire and a Vulpix against my personal team."
That draws a few exclamations from a few of the gathered Gym Leaders. "Lab Trainer, eh?" Wattson hums. "I thought Birch's son was starting this year, and the other slot was going to your daughter, Norman?"
"I decided that May would have more fun on her journey without needing to answer to Nigel, so I am paying for her expenses," Norman answers simply. "It seemed unfair to have Nigel use his only two slots on children anyway. I hope the League board provides him more next year."
"Well, it looks like the professor chose wisely, as both Lee Henson and Brendan Birch defeated my personal team," Roxanne reveals, starting another round of startled chatter. "Lee's fighting style is difficult to pin down, and it seems like he even changed tactics part way through our battle, though he is fond of using status moves to place his team into a favorable position. Corvisquire displayed a mastery of Extremespeed, and his Vulpix was somehow able to control her Fire attacks mid-flight, connecting projectiles even with her line-of-sight obscured. Lee's claims of his research being focused on pokemon moves and techniques certainly hold water."
"Mastery of Extremespeed?" Winona wonders aloud.
"...Controlling Fire moves after launch, hmm?" Moore hums. "Interesting..."
'She didn't tell them about their telepathy?' The champion wonders. 'Well, I'll not rock the boat. If they can cultivate such a skill in such a short amount of time, I think they deserve the advantage.'
"Brendan, meanwhile, is very much his father's son, and played to his pokemon's strengths well," Roxanne continues, ignoring the comments like she would a rowdy class. "He and his Shroomish were content to take the battle slowly, refusing to fall into the trap of moving too fast as many young trainers do. I had to end the first round in a double knockout with Geodude's Self Destruct, lest Shroomish become a thorn in Nosepass's side. His Mudkip evolved mid-battle into Marshtomp, thus rendering Nosepass's electric moves useless. Brendan and Marshtomp capitalized on this and ended the match with Marshtomp's newfound power."
"That's the Birch family for ya," Wattson cuts in. "Be glad most of you weren't Gym Leaders twenty years ago because Nigel Birch was a Gym-sinking terror. You'd play right into his hands without even knowing it and end up crushed. The academic community might give little Nigel the cold shoulder for his short tenure, but none of them would dare slight him to his face." He guffaws. "I bet that kid Brendan had his moves planned several steps in advance just like his pops always did."
"It certainly seemed like it..." Roxanne murmurs. "The last trainer, who just departed for Dewford several days ago is Ash Ketchum."
"Ash?" Norman asks, incredulous.
"I take it you've met him?" Roxanne asks. "Your children were with him and his other friend Brock."
The mic symbol next to Norman's name blips when he bumps something on his desk. "Yes, I've met Ash and Brock, they're good kids. Ash and I had a short practice bout when we were... interrupted by some hooligans calling themselves Team Rocket."
"...So you've met them too..." Roxanne's irritation is almost too quiet to hear.
"We sent them packing and filed a police report," Norman sighs. "I thought they were cosplayers or some practical jokers..."
"The furthest thing, actually. The Rockets were an organized crime ring that terrorized Kanto and Johto for years," Moore openly growls. "Even after they were broken up, cells still pop up here and there. Hoenn police should be on high-alert for them," he says, obviously directing his last line at Steven.
Steven unmutes himself for a moment, "Of course, I'll notify the League Law Enforcement command and the Rangers." He mutes himself again and frowns. 'Why is a foreign gang suddenly encroaching on Hoenn?'
'New victims, new opportunities, escaping law enforcement already looking for them, or just on a whim?' Metagross silently provides. 'The motives of criminals are often illogical and can vary drastically.'
'You're right. We're not letting them get a foothold here though,' Steven's face darkens.
Roxanne clears her throat. "Ash Ketchum is one of Professor Oak's Lab Trainers and proved it in our match. He asked to face my true team, and I agreed even if I was doubtful of his ability. He played to his Seedot's strengths in an unorthodox way, using Rollout, stopping just long enough to cast Absorb, then using Rollout to escape my Geodude's retaliation. We eventually hit Seedot with a Mega Punch for a knockout, but by then Geodude was in no condition to face Ash's Pikachu."
Brawly whistles. "An Electric-type against a Ground-type? That's bold."
"Indeed, but Pikachu's impressive speed and use of Iron Tail secured him the win against Geodude. Nosepass put up a valiant fight, and Pikachu was hurting after their match, but Ash's pragmatic strategy of keeping out of reach with Pikachu's speed and punishing openings with lightning-fast Iron Tail attacks proved effective, even when Nosepass used Sandstorm to try and keep Pikachu at bay."
A contemplative silence descends upon the call, then Dewford's Gym Leader clears his throat and takes the reins. "Guess it's my turn, then." Brawly's smile can be heard in his voice. "My list is more or less the same as Roxanne's. We battled Brendan and Lee just two days ago. Lee's Vulpix and Corvisquire took on Machoke and Hariyama."
"Hariyama?" Drake's gravelly voice speaks for the first time in the meeting. "Which one?"
Brawly laughs. "My dad's starter."
"I didn't think that old mountain was still kicking," The old dragon tamer grunts. "Salamence still remembers him... So the Lee boy lost, then?"
You could hear a pin drop in the following silence.
"Well, it ended in a draw I felt was worth a badge," Brawly hastily explains. "Machoke could only get one good hit on Vulpix before she blew him away with a storm of Embers, and Hariyama weathered a huge Firespin to knock out Vulpix. Hariyama then fought Corvisquire, and the type advantage tipped the scales just a little too much, so Covisquire's last ditch Drill Peck resulted in a double knockout. Hariyama is pushing sixty years old and has slowed down a lot over the years, but he's anything but a pushover," Brawly pauses. "That Corvisquire though...The little dude is hostility distilled into bird form. When he evolves, he's going to be a once-in-a-generation monster."
"I want to see it." Drake grumbles. "Don't bother explaining anymore. Someone play it on your screen. I want to see the other boy, Brendan, too."
It takes a moment, but Brawly shares his screen with everyone else and pulls up the battles that the local TV station captured.
"Corvi! Get up high and use Hone Claws!"
"Machoke! Rock Tomb!"
"Corvi, move in with Extremespeed! Then Pluck!"
"Machoke! Be ready with Thunder Punch!"
"It looks like Lee is using his substitution! Why sub now? And who will he send in?"
"Lee is sending in Vulpix! How will this little fox compare to Machoke?"
"Bulk Up! Then Karate Chop! No more playing defense!"
"What a turn! Machoke proves his power with a huge hit using Dig! Poor Vulpix nearly had her lights knocked out!"
Then the Embers start to fly again.
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.
An air horn blares. "It's over! Machoke is unable to battle! Vulpix is the winner of round one!"
"This pokemon... 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."
Several of the younger Gym Leaders gasp when they see the huge Hariyama.
"Match two, Hariyama vs Vulpix, begin!"
"Firespin!" An inferno overwhelms the cameras.
"My word..." Moore mutters. Flannery can be heard squeaking behind him.
"Vulpix is unable to battle! Hariyama is the winner of the second match!"
"Final match! Corvisquire versus Hariyama! Begin!"
"Corvisquire, Extremespeed! Hit him where it hurts!"
"Is that Corvisqure fighting and using Extremespeed with a broken wing?" Winona sounds equal parts aghast and disbelieving.
Brawly's answer is quick. "As I said, that bird is powered by raw fury."
"No you don't! Defend yourself with Whirlwind!"
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.
"That's it! Round three ends in a double knockout! This match is a draw!"
Brawly lets the video end and jumps right into Brendan's match before anyone can comment.
"Shroomish, start this off with Poison Powder!"
"Mienfoo, circle around and use Acrobatics!"
Mienfoo does as instructed, but runs face-first into a cloud of purple when Shroomish throws out Poison Powder from every direction.
"Shroomish, back up and use Leech Seed!"
"End it fast, Mienfoo!"
The chubby Shroomish dances around every strike with a little twirl as his weasel-like opponent grows weaker and weaker. Then in a burst of desperation, the Fighting-type lands a critically placed Acrobatics and knocks Shroomish out.
"Shroomish is unable to battle! Mienfoo is the winner of round one!"
Wallace gasps. "What a robust Water-type! The good professor certainly picked only the finest pokemon for his child. Look at his height, his muscles, his vibrant color! This Marshtomp is beautiful!" The mightiest Hoenn Gym Leader gushes.
"Fruit…" Sidney murmurs.
"Oh! Mienfoo is down with only one punch! Who will Brawly pick next?"
"Hitmonchan! You're up!"
What follows is a brutal slugfest, where Hitmonchan rapidly loses ground and stamina while Marshtomp only laughs and strikes harder. Even the camera hovering above rattles from the furious exchange.
"Hitmonchan! Ice Punch!"
Marshtomp takes the attack right to the face with barely a flinch. Then he laughs and lashes out with a punch to Hitmonchan's stomach that makes the Fighting-type double over.
Steven can hear a few of the watchers mutter in sympathy for Hitmonchan.
"Marshtomp! Seismic Toss!"
"Hitmonchan is unable to battle! Marshtomp is the winner of round three! Marshtomp and Brendan win the challenge!"
Brawly lets the video end. "Ah, I admit if I had Machoke or Hariyama, I think I could have beaten Brendan. Hard to say, however, because that Marshtomp was insane."
"Hrm. These two are worth watching, I guess," Sidney clicks his tongue. "Is this meeting over yet? I ain't getting any younger here."
"There was also Dewford's local event, the Brawl on the Beach, where Lee and his partner Zinnia Draconid won."
'Like the Draconids in Meteor Falls?' Steven wonders with only Metagross to hear it.
Drake's attention is instantly captured again. "Draconid?" He asks sharply. "Play it. Skip everything else."
Brawly obliges. "We'll do just the last one, it's the good part."
He opens the video, and everyone, Steven included, watches closely. The champion can't help but notice that Sidney goes suspiciously quiet as soon as a teen boy in black is called to battle Lee and Zinnia.
As soon as they all witness Vulpix's Convergence in action, Steven knows there are wide eyes all around even without a video feed, as he himself blinks owlishly at the attack he's never seen before.
Tate, brother of Liza and one of the Gym Leaders of Mossdeep is quick to ask something. "Mister Moore? I've never heard of that Fire move. Do you know it?"
"...No. No I do not..." The Fire-type master quietly replies. Even Steven is taken aback by the answer.
"Hrm..." Wattson snorts. "Moore, my buddy ol' pal, I don't think old Drake and I can keep that promise about keeping an eye on the youngsters if they're going to be this much trouble."
Drake makes no comment, and Steven knows it's because his eyes are locked on the tanned young woman, Zinnia.