Entry #1: Names.
Names are funny things. At a base level, a name is just a word assigned to something to differentiate it from other things. A pen and a pencil are both used to write, but they carry different names because they themselves are different objects. Makes sense, right? Well, names can be a lot more than that, and that's because Names have Power.
The most literal sense of this is in folklore and mythology, where giving supernatural creatures (most notably fae) your name gives them a measure of (or total) control over you. In a reverse of this, calling out the name of a supernatural entity will instantly earn you their undivided attention, even from a great distance, and normally to your own detriment. Many fictional magic settings use the idea that the name and the thing are one at a conceptual level. Know the name, and you know the thing. This is why speaking the name of some god-forsaken eldritch being is enough to fuck you up.
In anime, it's usually not that extreme, but names still have power.
Utter the name of a technique before you use it? It's going to hit harder.
Whisper the name of some powerful combatant in the waiting room before a tournament? The room goes quiet and dread rattles everyone, even if they're too far away or the room is too loud for them to feasibly hear it.
Show up when things are at their bleakest and someone perks up, shouting "X is here!" to the high heavens? Hello, hero power-up.
For the purpose of the first example, I cataloged Lulu's moves so I can announce them and try to invoke Names have Power in her place. With some luck, I can give her a boost just doing the thing trainers do. So far she's got: Aura Sphere, Power-Up Punch, Detect, Foresight, Bullet Punch, Counter, Bone Rush, Heal Pulse, and Meteor Mash. Those last few are probably from egg moves(?) from Ma and Pops.
Off-topic, where was I?
In addition to the circumstances in which the name is used, the power of a name is near-directly proportional to the reputation attached to it. When Lulu and I become champions, our names will hold that same sort of power. When someone talks about Lulu, her sheer might will be attached to her name. I tried this out a bit, finding myself strangely uncomfortable when saying the names of various League champions, with the greatest effect coming from one Cynthia Shirona, champion of Sinnoh. Lance from Kanto makes me feel just a little too hot to be comfortable, like I'm standing in front of a bonfire… or a dragon. Steven Stone makes my knuckles sting, invoking the feeling of trying to beat down a wall that won't budge. Just thinking about Cynthia's name puts a vision of staring up at a colossus in my head.
It's daunting, to say the least.
To others, hearing these names might make them feel warm and protected if they're just a regular joe, or paralyze them with fear if they're a common crook. Since Lulu and I are aspiring professional battlers, that puts us on a collision course with these figures and explains why their names invoke discomfort. Maybe it'll change as we grow stronger?
I guess it doesn't matter. By the time we clash, it'll be our names making Cynthia Shirona wary.
Lulu's opening move turns her into a blur of black and blue, rushing forward with her fist drawn back and ready to deliver a brick-shattering punch.
"Chimchar, dodge left!" Paul shakes off the Killing Intent bombarding him to throw out an order. "Now!"
The chimp pokemon freezes, looking like a Deerling staring into oncoming headlights. Paul's words shake him out of his fright just in time, as Chimchar rolls to the left in a tight ball, only narrowly dodging the fist that would have belted him across the mouth.
'Take it easy on Chimchar, Lulu.' Julian tries to get the idea across with a silent pulse of aura from deep within his core. 'If I remember right, he's already not treated too well.'
If Lulu got the message, she doesn't show it.
Lulu diverts her inertia the second she misses, stomping one hindpaw down and twirling on it, using the momentum of the failed punch. Her other hindpaw lashes out in a turning kick aimed at the fleeing Chimchar.
The Fire-type glances back as he uncurls, his eyes widening. He raises his arms in defense, but the strike is just too fast. It's only from being on the receiving end of that kick so many times does Julian see Lulu pull back the power at the last second.
"Gah!" Chimchar cries as he's thrown off his feet from the strike. He flails mid-air, coming back down painfully to the dirt with a grunt.
Lulu gives him no breathing room and moves in again, her fists glowing with gray, steel-colored energy. (Bullet Punch, Julian dimly recalls). Her speed seemingly doubles, and it's only sheer luck that a panicked Chimchar ducks out of the way of the attack.
The Lucario's fist comes to halt above her foe's head as she misses, making a dull boom sound that kicks up loose dirt around them.
"Chimchar, Flamethrower now!" Paul orders just before Lulu can strike again. "Make distance!"
The chimp needs no other encouragement as he opens his mouth wide. From his throat, an orange light surges to life, then spills out as a torrent of fire aimed point-blank at Lulu.
Lulu's eyes narrow and her legs tense. Rather than back away, she jumps forward and flips over Chimchar and his Flamethrower, landing deftly behind him.
From his place off the field, Julian can't help but smirk at the direction the fight is going. He schools his expression and eases back on his Killing Intent, stopping himself before he can tempt fate into evening the odds. 'Now that I think about it, Lulu doesn't really need instructions in a fight.' The blonde teen muses. 'She learned directly from Pops, a trained 'mon. He honestly did most of the legwork. Thanks, Pops.'
Paul, meanwhile, is still wearing his scowl and refuses to wipe the sweat glistening on his brow. With his miniscule amount of aura, Julian can't read him, but the severe look eases somewhat as the killing intent pressing down upon him lightens.
Back in the battle, Lulu ducks low and whirls a full 360 degrees with her leg kicked out, leg-sweeping Chimchar and throwing the Fire-type to the ground again. The fall makes his mouth clamp shut on his Flamethrower, forcing him to choke and sputter.
"Chimchar, Dig!" Paul's scowl slowly grows frustrated. "Get under her!"
"O-okay!" Chimchar gasps out, quickly scrambling back to his feet.
Lulu jumps up high in a telegraphed stomp with both of her hindpaws, giving Chimchar ample time to dig his hands into the ground. The chimp pokemon's arms move like lightning, displacing impossible amounts of earth in a plume of dirt as he disappears into a dark hole in the ground.
The Lucario twists mid-air and lands in a crouch by the hole, aborting her stomp. She slowly stands and scans around her, turning her head methodically. Then just as Julian expects her to, she shuts her eyes and centers her aura, sensing for Chimchar. The woven dreadlocks on her head gently float as the aura lifts them.
"You do see the writing on the wall, right?" Julian calls across the field to Paul during the lull in the fight. "If your grand plan was to brute-force your way through this battle with just a type advantage, then you may as well spare yourself and Chimchar the embarrassment and bow out now."
Paul clicks his tongue. "This battle is far from over. A few lucky shots don't decide a match."
"Lucky shots don't decide a match, yes." Julian agrees as he crosses his arms. "But if Chimchar can't land a hit, how is he to win?"
In the field, Lulu tenses. Her dreadlocks move with more vigor in the unseen wind keeping them aloft.
"Like this," Paul's face morphs into the smallest of smirks. "Chimchar, Flame Wheel!"
'Flame Wheel? But he's underground? Can a pokemon use two moves at once?' Julian wonders with some alarm as he looks back into the field.
The ground under Lulu's paws begins to smoke as an orange light bleeds through, but by that time, she's already leaping to the side and out of the way.
A whirling wheel of fire erupts from the ground where Lulu stood, throwing smoking dirt and glowing red rocks all around, forcing Lulu to weave around the unintentional projectiles.
Chimchar's Flame Wheel spins in place with no traction for a second, then it races right for Lulu, who stands her ground with her forepaws held out and ready. In her flowing aura, Julian grins where he feels the slowly dying Rule of Cool around her spike to a new height.
The Flame Wheel bears down on Lulu, easily as tall as she is and filling the air with the sound of crackling fire, but what happens next plants a giddy smile on Julian's face, while Paul's scowl falters for a dropped jaw.
Lulu's forepaws shoot out and stop Flame Wheel dead in its tracks as if it were a solid wheel. The fire licks at the fur of her paws and arms, but it barely even singes. With a growl of effort, Lulu digs her grip harder into the attack, and slowly but surely, Chimchar's assault begins to slow. As Flame Wheel's speed dies, so does its size and power. After five seconds, it's down to half, then to a quarter, then the flames begin to fade. Fast as a viper, Lulu's paws reach past the flame and grasp something within. When the final tongues of flame are gone, a panting Chimchar is left dangling by his arms in Lulu's grip.
"Well, Lulu just no-sold a super-effective attack." Julian wryly comments, hiding his own amazement at the stunt. "So, what's your next tr-"
"Flamethrower!" Paul shouts.
"-ick. Fuck me that's cheeky."
Through his exhaustion, Chimchar opens his mouth wide and takes a deep breath to torch Lulu.
"I'm sorry about this," Julian just barely hears Lulu murmur.
"Huh?" Chimchar asks, but before he can get an answer or fire off Flamethrower, Lulu releases his right arm and drives her fist into the side of his head in a brutal punch, making a dull knuckle-on-skull thwack that echoes off the pokemon center just a dozen yards off.
Chimchar's head whiplashes from the blow and his flaming tail sputters out with a hiss. He goes limp in his foe's grip, out cold.
With the battle over, Julian feels the odd chill of Rule of Cool permeating his brain start to fade away. Rather than vanish totally, a tiny hook remains in the back of his mind, resting right beside the equally small roots of Fighting Spirit and Friendship. 'We'll need to test RoC and see how it works in conjunction with other active tropes.'
As Lulu gently sets Chimchar down, Julian scratches his chin and nods, forcing down a grin as he looks at Paul's shocked visage. "There you have it. A one-on-one bout that Lulu handily won without a word of input from me."
Paul blinks, seemingly not understanding what happened before he regains his bearings and plants his scowl back on his face. He withdraws Chimchar's ball from his belt and points it at the downed chimp with a low growl of; "Return…"
The beam from the pokeball lands on Chimchar, making him break down into a mass of red light that's sucked back into the ball.
'Man, that's still wild to watch.' Julian marvels to himself. He drums the bulge Lulu's ball makes in his pocket with two fingers. 'Schizo tech at it's finest.'
Paul glowers down at the ball in his hand, squeezing it until his knuckles are white. "I can't believe you. You lost with a type advantage? Do you even try during training? Where is that power you showed me?" Paul shakes his head in open disgust as he shrinks the ball and clips it back to his belt. "Useless."
Lulu's hackles rise and her fists clench as she listens to Paul berate his unconscious Chimchar. From her mouth comes a canine growl and Julian can feel her aura jittering in agitation. "You…!"
The blonde trainer is quick to trot out to the field and put a hand on his starter's shoulder, stopping her from trying to give the other boy a piece of her mind. Julian just shakes his head as she turns her glare to him. "Well, I thought you were boneheaded for tossing a Chimchar in against a fully-evolved pokemon," He tells Paul. "But I see it goes even deeper than that. Do you treat all of your pokemon like that?" He asks, already knowing the answer.
Paul sniffs and turns to walk away. "Don't worry about it, loser."
Julian frowns and spools up his Killing Intent again. "Answer me."
When Paul freezes mid-step, Julian can't help but admonish himself once more. Here he is, a grown man bullying a kid by using supernatural powers. 'You're doing it for his pokemon. Sometimes you just have to play hardball, Julian.' He tries to justify it to himself as he once more reigns the hostile emotions in.
Paul stiffly turns around, meeting Julian's eyes without a flinch. "I do what works. I find powerful pokemon and I train them. If they're weak then I release them," he says matter of factly. "I already see the spiel you want to give me, saying 'pokemon are friends first' or some other garbage. It doesn't work, and I know that, so why bother when it has no results?"
"Why bother?" Lulu says incredulously. "I thought that was the whole idea of pokemon and trainers working together, using the bonds between them to overcome challenges? What's the point of you being a trainer then, you ingrate?!" She takes a hostile step forward with a fist raised.
Paul glances at Lulu with annoyance, so Julian steps in before Paul can open his mouth and risk Lulu retaliating. "She says she doesn't see the point of pokemon and humans working together if they aren't going to be friends, and let me tell you something; she's a-hundred-percent right for both the obvious reasons and another you might not expect."
"Really?" Paul's tone is mocking. His brows furrow as he crosses his arms and taps his foot. "Fine. I'll humor you. Why should I bother?"
"What if I told you…" The blonde hesitates. How much does he say? He doesn't want to give away the literal secrets of the universe, but he needs to say something to get Paul to change his tune. "Well, look at it like this. You know Champion Cynthia?"
The purple-headed boy gives Julian a look that screams: 'Did you really ask that?'
"Right, right," Julian clears his throat with embarrassment. "Just making sure is all. I think you'll find it's a common theme that trainers like her, the ones at the very top, share a stellar relationship with their pokemon. Do you know the best feat her ace has ever done?"
"Her Garchomp cracked a mountain down the middle and made a landslide to stop a flood heading for Celestic Town a few years ago," Paul nods along. "Afterward, her Garchomp cleaned up the mess and rebuilt the mountain. What about it?"
Lulu's eyes bug out. "A mountain?" Her aura seemingly flatlines under her skin from the thought before buzzing in agitation.
'Holy shit,' Julian smiles nervously. 'Did he just casually say that a Garchomp rearranged the landscape like it was nothing? Did Garchomp do it without help? How much earth did it move?' The former network tech tries to think of how many tons of rock, soil, and other detritus must be in half a mountain only to come up with a number that seems too large to be real. 'Then Garchomp just put it back like that? No support worth mentioning? No wonder just saying Cynthia's name makes goosebumps break out all over me.'
"Y-Yeah, that." Julian smiles like he wasn't just shocked half to death. "Now, think of the aces of other champions. Roughly as strong, right?"
Again, Paul nods, his expression steadily growing annoyed. "Yes. Where are you going with this?"
"We're getting there. Now, one thing the champs all have in common besides owning powerhouse pokemon…" Julian clasps his hands together and points his index fingers at Paul. "Is that they're nice to their pokemon, exceedingly so. Here's a theory I have." Julian leans in slightly as if his 'theory' is an incredible secret. "That pokemon actually grow in power with how kind their trainers are to them by a measurable amount. This isn't some feel-good hippie stuff, but a real phenomenon. The better the pokemon is treated by you, and the more they love you in return, the stronger they become. A symbiotic relationship with its own inbuilt checks and balances, if you will."
Paul sighs. "That's nonsense, you dolt."
"How did Lulu win so easily when you had a type advantage then?" Julian circles back around to Paul's logic. "As I said, she knew exactly what I wanted because she's my best friend." He puts an arm around Lulu's narrow shoulders and pulls her in for a short hug.
Lulu smiles, and Julian can feel the hug soothing the animosity simmering under her fur. "'Till the end." She replies, putting a smile like her own on her trainer's face.
The other teen grits his teeth. "I made an error sending Chimchar to battle against an evolved pokemon," he grounds out as if admitting it physically hurts, answering Julian circling logic with the same trick. "If I'd sent out one of my stronger pokemon, this battle would have ended differently."
'What other pokemon does he have? I remember him having a Torterra, but not much else. An Ursaring too I think?' Julian hums to himself after releasing Lulu. "Okay, then explain this. Lulu? Can we see your paws?"
She nods and raises her left paw with her palm facing the sky, letting both Julian and Paul see the damage, or lack thereof upon it. The pink paw pads are just the slightest bit red, as if sunburned. The fur around the paw pads and on her fingers is singed, but hardly burnt. With the gentle early spring breeze blowing around them, the scent of burnt hair is difficult to pick up.
"Lulu here is a strong pokemon, but no-selling a Fire attack like that? Even a wild Fire-type would've taken some damage from that Flame Wheel, don't you think?" Julian reasons as Lulu lowers her paw again. Seeing the gears in Paul's head turning, Julian continues. "I'm telling you, I'm onto something here. Lulu took negligible damage from a full power Fire-attack despite having a type weakness. Even if a growth gap exists, she should have been more hurt by that, yeah? I think you'll find much better results by being kind to your pokemon."
As he talks, Lulu looks down at her paws and flexes her fingers. "Did a bond of friendship really do that?" She murmurs to herself, now also pondering Julian's words.
Paul scoffs, but it lacks the heat of his earlier protests. "My brother preaches this same garbage, yet he went nowhere. Year after year, tournament after tournament. He fell short each time, and it's because he didn't have the will to be strict with his pokemon training. He doesn't have the will to do what's necessary, and just coddles his team. Even fully evolved, his pokemon are weak."
"So, the guy is nice to his pokemon, but didn't train them that well?" Julian questions, forgetting where Paul's brother eventually ends up. "Of course that would contribute to a losing streak. You can't do just one or the other, you have to train and love them. It looks to me like you have the opposite problem."
That throws Paul for a loop. He blinks in open confusion, and without the scowl, he looks strangely young. "What?"
"A good training regimen and a strong bond is what makes pokemon strong," Julian patiently reiterates. "Just doing one and not the other is like riding a bike with a single pedal. Sure, it can be done, but you're just making things unnecessarily hard for yourself and good luck winning a race. At the same time, it's also a disservice to the pokemon." He pauses to take a breath. "They may be healthy with strict training, but are they happy outside of a fight? Do they have much to look forward to other than the next scrap? That's a horribly cruel fate, and it'll only twist them into something miserable. Not training them properly will make them weak for sure, and all the kindness in the world won't fix their confidence once shattered. Even creatures as strong as pokemon can lose hope, and if they fall deep enough into that hole, then they may never see their fullest potential. You can't do one or the other, it has to be both."
Lulu smiles as Paul looks away, his visage one of deep thought. "Well said," she comments, turning to him and crossing her arms. "I didn't take you as the philosophical sort, Julian."
"I just call 'em how I see 'em?" He shrugs and stuffs his hands into his pockets. "Not really philosophy, just common sense."
"Not so common, now is it?" The Lucario muses aloud.
Her trainer shrugs once more. "If that's the case, then I guess it's up to us to spread the good word."
"What's your name?"
Julian and Lulu look back to Paul, who stands there with an expectant look on his face.
"Julian Angelo, homeless vagabond and pokemon trainer," Julian grins and introduces himself with a dramatic bow. "You've already met Lulu, my sole pokemon partner and best friend," he says, straightening up and gesturing to the Fighting-type at his side.
"I'd say that it's been a pleasure to meet you, but it really hasn't." Lulu dryly mutters towards Paul.
Silently glad that Paul has no idea what she's saying, Julian holds his hand out for a handshake. "And you are…?"
The other boy looks down at the offered hand and pointedly doesn't take it. "Paul Shinji. How long are you staying in Sandgem?" He introduces himself before bulldozing into a question.
"Erm…" Julian looks at Lulu, but she shakes her head as if to say: 'why look at me?'. After a second of thought, the blonde answers. "Dunno yet. Maybe until the league year starts?"
Paul says nothing else, just turning and walking away back around the Pokemon Center and out of sight.
"Charming guy," Julian mutters sarcastically. "I hope he took what I said to heart."
Lulu openly scoffs. "Probably not," she quickly rains on her trainer's parade. "He doesn't strike me as the type to have a heart." She says, making her opinion on the other boy clear.
Julian winces. "Harsh, but I see where you're coming from."
"There you two are!" Nurse Joy exclaims as Julian and Lulu enter the Pokemon Center again. She waves them over from her place behind the front desk. "Come here please! I've got news for you two!"
"We're being thrown out and told 'tough luck'?" Julian hedges as he leans his arms into the reception desk.
Nurse Joy pants her hands on her hips and frowns, nearly making the teen crack a grin from how non-threatening it comes off as. "Not funny, Mister Angelo. No, nothing of that sort. The Sinnoh Pokemon League has approved the emergency pokemon trainer application I sent in for you. We just need to have an official photo taken, and I can make your ID."
"Emergency application?" Julian parrots unsurely. "Is that a thing?"
"It is," Nurse Joy's smile returns, but it doesn't quite reach her eyes. "The League and Child Protective Services ran your name and likeness through their databases and returned nothing. Since you aren't a citizen of Sinnoh, you aren't eligible for any social services of much worth unless you're willing to live in an orphanage…" Her smile falls somewhat. "But being an official pokemon trainer does open a lot of doors for you. You can bypass the age requirement for employment and having a Lucario will speak very well of your abilities as a trainer. In fact, part of your swift approval was based on your friend here."
Lulu tilts her head. "But I haven't said anything?"
"That's right," Nurse Joy smiles and nods, misinterpreting Lulu before she looks back to a still-bewildered Julian. "Since Lucario are rare, powerful pokemon known for their pure hearts, the League waived many of their usual requirements to fast-track you into being an official Sinnoh pokemon trainer."
'Huh, not even a single day and we're moving right along. I didn't realize how much prestige Lulu would afford to us from the get-go.'' The new trainer grins. "I'm not going to complain about that. Lemme guess, it's less that they care about us, and more that they're gambling on us making it big and looking good for Sinnoh?"
Nurse Joy's smile takes on a brittle appearance. "Yes. As you can guess, it's not a practice I approve of."
"Eh," Julian shrugs. "I like this better than getting welfare anyway. More fulfilling. If worst comes to worst, we can just rough it in the woods."
Joy's fingers rise to briefly touch her lip, which she then chews on for a second, seemingly uncomfortable. "Mister Angelo, I apologize if this comes off as sudden, but if you can't find a place to stay for the night, I can spare a cot in the back room for you to use. Please don't do without."
Julian's eyes widen a little, then he gives the nurse a genuine smile. "Thanks, Nurse Joy. We'll keep it in mind." Another thought strikes him. "Say, you don't mind if we get that ID made now, do you? The day is young and I'd like to get it so we can go find some work. I'd be grateful if you could point me and Lulu in the direction of a job as well."
"Not at all, I was actually about to ask if you were ready. It's best if we do it now before the center receives more visitors. Come around the counter please." She gestures to her side. "And I think I know just the place looking for a bit of help."
The nurse sits Julian behind her desk and snaps a portrait of him with a camera hooked up to her computer. Then she asks Julian for Lulu's pokeball and slots it button-first into a little clawed apparatus on the side of her computer tower. The computer itself hums quietly for a moment, then flashes with a little message saying "REGISTERED - LUCARIO." Joy then shoos Julian from her chair and seats herself, filling out a few more things on a number of screens. She fills out the remainder of Julian's personal details, pausing when they need to find a scale for his weight and height, then she moves to Lulu, most notably adding the Lucario's nickname to her profile. Finally, Joy boots up an ugly monster of a printer under her desk, once that groans and shutters. After a moment, it spits out a plastic card that Joy hands to Julian.
Sex: M | HGT: 5-06 | WGT: 145LBS | EYES: GRN
EXPIRES: April 11 20XX
Issued by: Sinnoh League Approval Authority
Looking at the card, the blonde silently laments his lost seven inches in height. The missing seventy pounds? Not so much. "So that's it, huh? I'm a trainer just like that?" He asks, dropping the card into his shorts pocket without a hole.
"While you're officially a trainer, I would spend the downtime between now and the beginning of the next league year studying and learning the ins and outs," Joy says, shaking a finger at him and Lulu. "That'll give you about two months to get ready. You're welcome to come here and use the public PCs, and the local library is open to everyone. Now, about a place where you can earn some money…" Joy sighs and drums her fingers on her desk in thought. "Try talking to Mister Johansson on the edge of town. He owns the Miltank farm there and is in need of a new ranch-hand after his grandson began his journey last year."
"Gotcha. Thank you for everything, nurse," Julian grins and turns to leave, but pauses when he feels Joy's tiny aura flicker so violently that he can actually perceive it. "You're not happy with how this turned out?"
Nurse Joy jumps at being called out, so Julian turns back to her. She sighs once more. "No. No I'm not, Mister Angelo." She shakes her head, making her looped hair bounce. "I'm of the firm opinion that children should be cared for regardless of trainer talents, not shoved into the trainer pipeline. Had you not decided to become a trainer, I'm almost certain the League would be hounding you to join, just short of press ganging you, really."
Julian smiles back, touched by how much the nurse cares. "Thank you, Nurse Joy, but I would have gone down this route myself either way. I haven't been a child in some time now, anyway." He turns back to the door and looks to Lulu, who nods back and takes her spot on his right. "I'm sure you'll see us enough to get sick of us, so don't worry about that one!" He throws a wave over his shoulder as he and Lulu exit back out into Sandgem.
As they walk back the way they came to reach the farm, Lulu glances at her newly official trainer. "Julian? Why was Nurse Joy so upset? I'm afraid I didn't follow her reasoning very well."
Before answering, Julian scans around to make sure no one out on the street is paying them any mind. Walking through town again, he's noticed that the population of the rural town is on the older side, with the average adult looking to be fourty or older. "In most places, humans aren't considered adults until they're eighteen years old. Trainers can kinda side-step that it seems, but not totally. It's not like in the pack where ability decides who is an adult and who isn't. Nurse Joy was upset that I, a fifteen year old, am willingly stepping into adulthood by becoming a trainer and fending for myself." After a beat, he adds; "Well, not 'myself' exactly since I have you, but you get the idea. She didn't like the idea of me making life more difficult for myself."
The edges of Lulu's muzzle twitch downward into a frown. "That doesn't make sense."
"I get the feeling that you'll be saying that a lot," Julian chuckles. "Whatever happens, this beats working in an office."
"...What's an 'office?'"
"Let's not get into that right now."
Now that Julian is properly clothed, most people don't bother to give him another look. Several gaze curiously at Lulu, but move on without incident. They pass the narrow street of shops, a handful of people, and a woman walking a chatty Growlithe and an exasperated Rockruff. Before long they're back at the edge of the Miltank farm on the outskirts of town.
Julian adjusts his shoulder bag and leans against the fence around the Miltank pasture, watching the same Rapidash from earlier make rounds around the perimeter of the fence. Like last time, she keeps a close eye on Julian and Lulu. As she approaches, Julian smiles and raises a hand. "Excuse me! A moment of your time, please?"
The horse pokemon raises an eyebrow, but she humors the request and trots closer. "I wish every passerby would quit leanin' on the fence…" Rapidash mutters under her breath. "Robert has had to replace three sections in the last two months alone."
Julian immediately steps off and raises his arms sheepishly. "Ah, sorry about that."
"That's fine, just remember if you…" Rapidash trails off with a confused nicker. "Did you..?" She focuses intently on the boy before her, eyes narrowing in suspicion.
Back in the pasture, a few of the Miltank watch the exchange with curiosity.
"I did, yeah. Keep it on the downlow, please," Julian grins nervously, now acutely aware of the heat rolling off of Rapidash, who is leaning over him. In the corner of his eye, he can see Lulu tense slightly. "I was wanting to know if Mister Johansson was home?"
"Why do you ask?" Rapidash asks slowly.
"Lulu and I just blew into town," Julian throws a thumb over his shoulder to his partner. "And we heard he's in need of a new ranch-hand or two. We're broke, but have strong backs and mouths that don't bitch, so I was hoping to do business with him."
Rapidash pulls away, dialing back her hostility. She stomps a hoof, seemingly unsure if her befuddled aura is any indicator. The horse pokemon turns her red eyes to Lulu's. "You'd vouch for this one?"
"Of course." The Lucario answers instantly, not wavering a bit despite Rapidash staring her down.
The sweat-inducing heat finally vanishes as Rapidash takes a single step back, her guarded expression morphing into something more neutral. "In that case, yes, Robert is home. Follow me along the fence and I'll take you to the farmhouse." Rapidash turns and begins a slow trot to the quaint house on the east side of the property.
On the other side of the fence, Lulu and Julian follow along. "Is that sort of greeting necessary?" Lulu asks, not quite hiding her displeasure at the near-confrontation. "All we did was approach and ask a question."
"It's not everyday you meet a human who can actually hear," Rapidash replies, not looking at Lulu. "I've never actually seen one before. Many pokemon are too comfortable with the obscurity deaf humans give them if you ask me, so I wanted to play it safe." She snorts. "We've had a few ranch-hand prospects over the last few weeks too, none of them working out. Someer' whelps wanting too much for too little, and others just ain't able to keep up. I wanted to see if you had some guff to ya."
"Well, I can promise Lulu and I can deal with whatever you toss our way," Julian grins and flexes his arms, feeling no small amount of pride when his biceps strain the sleeves of his shirt. "It's okay to look. I don't mind."
Lulu sighs and drags a paw down her face.
Rapidash, meanwhile, snorts once more. Her mouth doesn't move, but her eyes dance with amusement. "You have confidence, at least."
Following along the fence leads them to the farmhouse on the eastern side of the property. The home is charming in a quaint way, being a small two-story affair maintained with obvious care and a practiced hand. The pasture fence ends just a handful of yards away from the rear porch, so Rapidash casually leaps over to lead Julian and Lulu to the rear of the house.
Their horsey guide trots up to an open window where they can hear the sound of a sink running and someone whistling within. Rapidash sticks her head through the opening, her fiery mane curiously not burning the windowsill. "Robert?" She nickers. "Can you come outside?"
"Hmm?" The voice of an older man inquires as the whistling stops. "Oh! Stella! It's you! Is something the matter, girl?" They hear the running faucet stop and heavy footsteps leaving the window and headed for the back door. Stella withdraws her head and steps back, standing off and to the side.
Julian wipes away the frown his embarrassment puts on his face. 'I didn't bother asking Rapidash-erm, Stella, her name. Maybe I should get into the habit of that.'
The rear door opens, and out steps a man that fits the stereotype of 'farmer' to a T.
Robert Johansson gazes down at them curiously from under bushy gray-and-black brows. His short hair and the beard upon his square jaw is much the same salt-and-pepper color, with more of the former rather than the latter. His long-sleeved plaid shirt has its sleeves rolled up to his elbows, exposing a pair of weathered forearms. His blue-jeans are well worn, just as his brown boots are.
"Well, who might you be, son?" Johansson asks with a raised brow. "Normally my visitors use the front door."
Julian can't help but flush slightly in embarrassment once more. "Sorry about that, Mr. Johansson. I was told you've been looking for help here recently, and your Rapidash, Stella here led us to you," he says, gesturing a hand to the stoic Stella, then himself and Lulu.
Johansson's brow rises a little further. "Well now, isn't that something? Normally my beautiful Stella here ain't too fond of visitors, not after the last few hands we had. What's your name, son? And who is your friend?" He asks.
"Julian Angelo is the name, sir, and my partner here is named Lulu." Mentally, Julian gives the man a point for remembering to include Lulu.
The Fighting-type inclines her head gently to the rancher.
"If Stella likes you, and you've got a Lucario of all pokemon, then probably, a goodun, son." Johansson cracked a smile. "Robert Johansson, at your service. You can just call me Bob if you like. Now, do you actually know all the duties ranch life entails?"
"I don't," Julian admits after a moment of thought. "But like I said to Stella, we've got strong backs, smart minds, and mouths that don't complain. We'll work and get whatever job is given to us done right."
"That second part is some unneeded embellishing…" Stella mutters.
Lulu withholds any comments of her own.
Johansson let out an uproarious laugh. "As good an answer as any, I suppose." He quickly reigns his mirth back in and looks over Julian and Lulu with a critical eye. "You're fitter than most, son. A good sign, but how about a trial run first?"
Julian looks over to Lulu with a grin. "Ready?"
She smiles back. "Of course."
Julian returns his eyes to Johansson. "What's first?"
The man begins a leisurely walk to the barn beside his house. "This way."
As Stella returns to the pasture to resume her patrol, Johansson leads the teen and his pokemon to the smaller red barn and opens the swinging, creaky doors wide. From the barn comes a waft of old wood and the itchy scent of straw. Following after the farmer, Julian and Lulu look around what could potentially be their new workplace.
As far as barns go, it's completely run-of-the-mill. One side is occupied by several empty stalls, each filled with a bed of straw. The other side is divided into two sections, one where a number of tools and rusted tool chests sit under a single illuminating light bulb, while the other is a clear space with what looks like a massage table with a hole cut in the center, oddly enough. Under the hole is a pail, and upon looking at the large metal milk jugs arranged in neat rows just a few feet away, the purpose of the odd, padded table becomes clear.
"We're a dairy farm first and foremost," Johansson begins, gesturing with a callused hand to all the metal milk jugs in the corner. "Once the Miltank have been milked, the milk has gotta be loaded into Stella's cart around the front so we can take it to where it needs to go around town. A lot of folks buy directly from us, but the rest is taken to the airport so it can be lifted to a distributor we got a contract with. The problem? These 15-gallon jugs are efficient, but heavy as they come."
"So doing this every day becomes annoying," Julian nods. "I get it." Silently, he wonders why the man doesn't use a dolly or something to move the jugs, then realizes why when he looks back and notices the uneven ground outside the barn. 'Probably still a pain in the ass.'
"And this is just one job," Johansson raises a single finger for emphasis. "I'm no spring Torchic anymore, as much as I hate to say it, so loading these things is getting a little harder every day. Can't just ignore the rest of the daily work, either."
"Well," Julian flexes his fingers. "Let's give it a shot, yeah?"
He steps up to the closest milk jug and wraps one hand around each of the handles around the top. He gives the jug an experimental lift, raising it only a few inches off of the ground before the muscles in his arms begin to burn in protest. 'Jeez, if this old guy is doing this all on his own, I can see why he wants help.'
Silently, Julian circulates his aura, letting it flow gently from his core and out into his limbs, though not enough to create visible flares of blue around himself. As if by magic, the burden of the metal jug eases, and he finds himself able to lift it with a single arm and only moderate difficulty. With a grin, he releases one of the handles and instead grabs another jug, hefting both. It takes a second to balance himself, but when he does, Julian begins the slow and steady walk out of the barn and around to the front. He briefly looks back to see Lulu lifting two jugs as well without even a grunt of strain. However, she does have to carefully angle her wrists so as to not scratch up the jugs with her paw spikes or mar the stone of her gauntlet against the side of her load.
Julian doesn't see the incredulous face of his potential employer, too focused on carefully walking around the barn. The weight of his twin loads is manageable, but a slow pace is required so the sloshing of the milk doesn't drag him around or trip him.
Finally around the barn, Julian spots the aforementioned Rapidash-drawn cart, which is annoyingly high, the floor of it coming up to about his waist. With a grunt, he sets one jug down and lifts the other with both arms, clearing the lip of the cart and setting it down inside. He grabs the other jug and repeats the process, carefully lifting it up and setting it down within the cart. He waves his fingers to get blood flowing to them again. 'Calluses or not, part of my first payment is going into gloves.'
Hearing the sound of sloshing milk and heavy footfalls, the blonde turns and finds Lulu walking up with Johansson just behind her. Julian smirks playfully as Lulu sets one of her jugs down and hoists the other into the cart just as he did. "What took you so long? Don't tell me I'm finally starting to pull away from you."
"Your legs are longer than mine," Lulu sniffs as she raises her other jug and sets it down in the buggy. "Don't go getting a big head now, mister Zero Wins."
Julian rolls his eyes and turns his attention to Johansson. "That doesn't seem too hard. It'll be just a sec and we'll have the rest loaded."
The old rancher holds out a hand, making both teen and pokemon pause. "You can load the rest a bit later. I'd like to go over your other duties so you know how and where to begin come tomorrow."
"Eh?" Julian glances towards his Lucario, who seems just as surprised. "That was kind of a short trial run. N-Not that I'm complaining or anything!"
"What I really wanted to see is if you were going to make your pokemon do that on her lonesome," Johansson puts a fist on his hip. "If you were, I would've told you that this isn't the job for you. After watching you both haul two-hundred some pounds of milk around and call it 'not too hard'?" He shakes his head. "Hot damn, what are they feeding kids nowadays?"
The blonde teen chuckles nervously, realizing he may have accidentally tipped his hand regarding his aura. "What can I say? Lulu and I eat our greens and drink our juice."
"Is juice what they're calling it nowadays?" Johansson laughs. "Well, if you're willing to work, I've got a paycheck for ya. What's say we tour the farm and hash it out?"
Julian grins. "Glad to hear it."
"Oh!" The rancher exclaims. "And before this old noggin of mine forgets, there's a rear man-door on the barn. You don't have to walk all the way around," he says, pointing behind him.
Indeed, against the barn is a man-sized door, which is currently open. Inside are the other milk jugs within much easier reach.
"…I'm still buying gloves."
"Wise words when working out on a ranch, son."
Julian flips on the light to his and Lulu's new room, looking around and finding not much else other than a dusty bed, a nightstand with a simple lamp, a small dresser against the wall, and a writing desk against the adjacent wall. The window is cracked open, letting in a cool evening breeze that makes the drapes flutter.
"Not much, but it's the best I have for you," Johansson says from behind Julian and Lulu. The man almost appears embarrassed by the sparse accommodations in his home. "Never really needed all that much."
"No no, Sir. It's fine!" Julian insists as he steps inside a bit more. "You really are too gracious to give us so much, and we appreciate it! Right?" He gives Lulu a look asking for backup.
The Lucario smiles gently and gives the rancher a polite bow. "We're very thankful for both the employment and the place to rest, Mister Johansson. Thank you."
The rancher smiles faintly back, even if he can't understand the jackal pokemon.
The remainder of the day has gone off without a hitch. Johansson showed Julian and Lulu around the rest of the farm and listed off the different duties and chores that would be their responsibility. It all seemed like regular farm work, something Julian had missed out on back with his family in the old country. Even if he was the appropriate age, the coddling from his father and brothers meant he missed the experience until it was too late.
Various forms of manual labor, some building upkeep under Johansson's instruction, caring for the Miltank, milking the Miltank, running errands around town, keeping a lookout for wild pokemon who might try to take a stab at the Miltank, and any other duty Johansson assigned. The payment of twelve dollars an hour is a bit of a pittance for the work involved, though the lack of taxes and the covering of their room and board makes up for it somewhat. If the way their conversations earlier went are any accurate indicator, then most people hiring trainers for gigs provide food and shelter as a standard thing. Something pleasant to know since Julian is certain he and Lulu won't have any sponsors for quite some time. The man was even courteous enough to feed them lunch at midday, and then dinner just a short while ago.
"Bathroom is down the hall and to the right, and the laundry is down on the first floor by the water heater." Johansson continues on, looking between the blonde and his pokemon. "If you need anything, just holler. I'll getcha up at sunrise, so get some rest, you hear?"
"We will." Julian smiles. "Thanks again."
"Heh," the rancher chuckles. "We'll see if you're still thanking me after a day on the job. Good night, you two." He steps out and closes the door behind him. The man's heavy footfalls make the old house's floorboards creak as he treads down the hall.
With a sigh of contentment, Julian flops down on the bed, savoring the feeling of a real mattress for only a second before the dust on the covers makes his nose tingle. He grimaces, then lets out a thunderous sneeze that only serves to kick up more dust. "Ech!" He gags. "Lulu, get the window, will you?"
She giggles and opens the window a little wider, then steps aside when Julian drags the covers over and vigorously shakes them out in the wind, freeing the remainder of the dust.
After tossing the much-cleaner comforter and blankets back on the bed, Julian lays back down horizontally across the bed with his legs partially dangling off. All at once, tension he didn't even realize he was holding onto drains out of his body like a basin with the plug pulled. The uncertainty of venturing out into the unknown, playing the role of the confident protagonist, trying to keep himself from second-guessing his own decisions, it all left him with a vicious knot of self-doubt in his stomach. Now, after a successful first day?
It unravels and vanishes. It's as if things were just meant to work out.
He knows there must be some trope that he's forgetting at play, but honestly can't bring himself to care about it right now.
He's a pokemon trainer.
Lulu is here with him.
And they have a whole world to explore.
He feels a weight settle on the edge of the bed and cracks open his eyes, staring up into the ruby reds looking down at him.
"There was a lot of turmoil I felt that suddenly disappeared…" Lulu places one of her paws over the hand closest to her. "Are you well, Julian?"
He smiles back and laces his fingers with hers, giving the paw a little squeeze. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm feeling great." He lets her paw go and folds his arms behind his head. "I think today was a pretty successful first day, don't you think?"
"We did accomplish quite a bit," Lulu nods. She turns her eyes away to the window, watching as the last rays of the sun dye the sky and clouds a brilliant pink. "I don't think I quite understand everything about being a trainer's pokemon, or how humans work, but you'll teach me, won't you?" She returns her expectant gaze to her trainer.
Julian scoffs as if offended. "After everything you've done for me, you actually have to ask that? That's the bare minimum that you're getting from me. I told you that we were going to be champions, and by God I meant it."
She smiles. The pleased flutter of her aura relays her gratitude better than any words.
With a reluctant hiss, Julian stands up, prompting Lulu to stand as well. "Let's get to bed, yeah? Our first day on the job is tomorrow and we should put our best foot forward."
"Mm-hmm," Lulu stifles a yawn. "My, we've barely done anything today, but a long sleep sounds pleasant…"
"We've hardly done anything physical," Julian mutters as he strips his shirt off and tosses it into the corner with his shoulder bag. His Keystone necklace is taken off with much more care and dropped into the drawer of the nightstand. He pauses for a moment to run his thumb over the radiant stone before closing the drawer. "But being out and about in a new place is its own kind of exhausting," he says, doffing his shoes and socks, leaving him in just his shorts. "Thankfully, I think that'll fade with time."
After turning on the lamp on the nightstand, the teen flips off the overhead light, leaving just the little lamp illuminating the room. Then he pulls back the covers of the bed and eases himself in, once more savoring the feeling after sleeping on the forest floor for months. He turns, facing towards the wall, then he feels the bed shift as Lulu crawls in.
It takes her a moment of grumbling about the cloth getting caught on her spikes, but Julian feels her furry back press against his.
It's a neat bit of lore about Lucarios, his sleepy mind thinks. Lucario sleep in pairs, back to back, with the stronger of the two facing the entrance to the shelter ready to spring up and fight if disturbed. During those first few weeks, he thought Lulu was just sharing her body heat to make sure he didn't freeze to death, not knowing the purpose was twofold.
That she declared him worth defending right from the get-go.
With Lulu in place, he reaches over her and turns out the light, then pulls the covers up over the both of them.
"G'night Lulu," he mumbles, already half-asleep.
"Pleasant dreams, Julian," she murmurs back.
'What was the trope I was thinking of?' Julian wonders as the sound of the wind outside and Lulu's gentle breathing lull him the rest of the way to sleep. 'Probably not that important.'
With that, he nods off, content with the first step in a journey of a thousand miles.