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    I came in like a wrecking ball... [Desolate Divine]'s Avatar
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    Mar 2013
    Melbourne Australia
    Epilogue Episode 4: April


    Both trainers on cue sent out their opening Pokemon. On the home-side, a Rhyperior was sent out, roaring in excitement at the thought of the upcoming battle. On the challenger’s side, the light of the Pokeball vanished, as Milotic appeared, letting out an equally enthusiastic cry. Charlotte hid a grin. She had the advantage straight out of the gate, however did notice that Palmer, the Tower Tycoon, and the final Frontier Brain in her conquest, didn’t seem unnerved at all. Even if she had an advantage, she knew he would not make it easy on her.

    “Milotic, Scald!” Charlotte ordered. Whilst Scald was far from Milotic’s strongest Water-Type attack, Charlotte knew that chances are, Hydro Pump on its own would not be enough to down Rhyperior in a single hit. From her own time using one as part of her team of Rental Pokemon in the Battle Factory, she knew Rhyperior likely had an ability called Solid Rock, which caused it to somewhat resist attacks that held type advantages, and given the fact Palmer sent Rhyperior out as his opening Pokemon, knowing that any Water or Grass Type Pokemon could be sent out as well, she figured that Palmer was confident it could remain in the field long enough to deal damage.

    She saw Scald as the perfect move for this situation. If she couldn’t guarantee a one-hit KO from a heavy hitting attack like Hydro Pump, and would likely require two attacks, Scald would likely also end this match-up in two blows. However, it also held a decent chance to burn Rhyperior, reducing its incredible physical attack power. And if Charlotte were wrong, and Hydro Pump would be enough to finish this, Scald would likely be the same, given the double type advantage, which would warrant a Protect from Rhyperior, and preventing it from being used in a follow up Hydro Pump. Regardless, Charlotte felt confident. Until Palmer gave his first order.

    “Scary Face!” Palmer ordered. “Then Mega Horn!”

    Rhyperior rushed Milotic, barrelling through the torrent of scalding hot water that the Water-Type shot at it. Given the direct hit, Charlotte expected the burn to have held, however this was not something she had expected.

    Rhyperior roared angrily and menacingly, which paired with a terrifying glare, was enough to stun Milotic for a second, which Charlotte knew would result in an apprehensiveness that would slow the serpentine Pokemon down moving forward. Taking advantage of this opportunity, Rhyperior struck Milotic brutally with its horn, causing Charlotte’s Pokemon to recoil and cry out in pain, before Charlotte resumed her own onslaught.


    The Water Type attack was less powerful, but widespread, as the moisture in the air condensed into liquid in a flash, falling to the ground and rushing Rhyperior at breakneck speeds. The torrent of water slammed into the Pokemon, which wasn’t able to wear the second double-advantaged attack. Rhyperior was thrown back, submerged by the great wave, and unmoving when the water cleared. Palmer called Rhyperior back, before tossing forward another Pokeball, revealing his next Pokemon, this one also familiar to Charlotte, though for different reasons.

    “Go, Dragonite!”

    Charlotte had battled Chris enough times to know what Dragonite was capable of, and had battled enough skilled trainers to know what Palmer would do. And as such, she knew that her options were extremely limited.

    “Agility Dragonite, then Thunder Punch!”

    In terms of natural speed, Milotic and Dragonite were almost evenly matched, Charlotte knew from many battles against Chris over the years. However Milotic’s speed had been halved, and now with Agility, Dragonite's speed had been doubled, giving it four times the speed of Milotic, and allowing it to act twice.

    “Aqua Jet!” Charlotte ordered. This was not a move Milotic learnt naturally, and was one she taught Milotic with the help of Chris and his Dragonite who knew it. Granted, she took great care with this, as to not have a repeat of when she had taught her Luxray to use Volt Tackle. Once she had established that Milotic’s biggest obstacle to using this move was her lack of physical strength and preference for ranged attacks, and that the only detriment was that the attack was significantly weaker, she had no qualms about ordering Milotic to use it.

    Milotic unleashed a jet of water, using the torrent to carry itself into the air, and launch itself into Dragonite, striking just as Dragonite hit her with Thunder Punch, throwing her back and knocking her out. Charlotte knew this was the best she could do. Whilst Milotic knew Haze, it had a snowflake’s chance in hell of taking effect before Thunder Punch knocked Milotic out, and whilst there was always the chance Dragonite would miss, it was negligible and not worth giving up the opportunity to land a damaging hit, even if it was only minor. She already had another idea of dealing with Dragonite.

    Charlotte returned Milotic to her Pokeball, before sending out her next Pokemon.

    “Go, Gengar!”

    “Dragonite, Dragon Claw!” Palmer shouted.

    Dragonite flew towards Gengar, who waited patiently for Charlotte’s command. Charlotte knew that with the correct timing and some serious guts, both from her and Gengar who was looking down the barrel of a powerful Pokemon that would not be pulling punches, she could end this matchup quickly.

    “Gengar, wear it and use Trick Room!”

    In the same way that Rhyperior not making any endeavour to dodge Milotic’s Scald attack increased its chances of being burnt, she also knew that there would be a benefit to Gengar not making any effort to dodge the attack. Dragonite struck Gengar, causing the Ghost Type to wince in pain, as its eyes flashed, and the space around the battlefield seemed to shatter.

    “Now Ice Beam!”

    Gengar opened its mouth, as its abnormally large tongue fell out, revealing a pale blue orb of light, which exploded into a beam of freezing cold air. The attack struck Dragonite, throwing it back, thanks to Milotic’s attack reducing it from full health, and by extension, negating its Multiscale ability. Dragonite however remained ready to battle, which Charlotte had been half prepared for. She waited to hear Palmer’s instructions again before giving her own order.

    “Dragon Claw again!”

    “Phantom Force!” Charlotte commanded, knowing the attack wouldn’t hit.

    Dragonite rushed through the air, readying its claw for the attack, however to Palmer’s shock, the draconic energy that would normally have encased the claw didn’t seem to appear. He looked between Dragonite and Gengar as understanding dawned.

    Gengar’s ability was Cursed Body, which had a chance of disabling any move that made contact with it. And the tradeoff of Charlotte not ordering Gengar to make any attempt to dodge the attack, meant that Cursed Body had all the opportunity it needed to take effect.

    In an instant, Gengar disappeared, and a split second later, reappeared behind Dragonite, striking it with a spectral claw, and knocking the Pokemon out. Whilst Charlotte knew that she could have ended the battle quicker with another Ice Beam, she had been intentional about wasting time. Trick Room only worked in favour of a fast Pokemon such as Gengar, when it was up against something faster. And given that Gengar was naturally faster than the vast majority of non-Legendary Pokemon, and those that weren’t Mega Evolved, she knew that odds were high that whatever Pokemon Palmer sent out next would be able to make use of it. Whilst she’d liked to have drawn things out further, she knew that Palmer was no slouch, and weighed the odds, figuring that Trick Room would likely not be able to do much damage in the single round of combat worth of time that remained on it. Or so she thought.

    Palmer didn’t say anything as he tossed his final Pokeball forward, leaving Charlotte curious until the light dissipated, revealing a Pokemon she had never seen in the flesh before, and only recognised having seen Justin’s Regieleki, Steven’s Registeel and Candice’s Regice.

    The twelve foot tall Titan of Titans seemed to glare at her, though she couldn’t tell if the dots on its face were in place of eyes, or even how the Pokemon perceived the world around it. However she could tell that Palmer had decided that one turn of guaranteed speed was enough to make use of.

    “Darkest Lariat, then Rock Polish, Regigigas!”

    Palmer’s response had been perfect, Charlotte had to admit. Modifying speed to make additional attacks like he had done with both Rhyperior and Dragonite was a tactic that required a level of finesse, however doing that to full effect under the effect of Trick Room was even more challenging. Charlotte wondered whether Palmer had set her up for this from the beginning.

    “Protect!” Charlotte ordered just in time as Regigigas, far slower than Gengar, rushed forward at speeds that defied all laws of physics, aided by Trick Room, attempting to make a brutal Dark-Type attack on Gengar. The attack was blocked just in time, however given the difference between Gengar and Regigigas’ speed, and it being reversed by Trick Room, Regigigas had just enough time to use Rock Polish, increasing its speed, before Trick Room ended. Given the finesse of that timing, Charlotte was certain that Palmer had wanted her to use Trick Room, and cringed at the thought of being played.

    “Heavy Slam!”

    “Dodge it Gengar!” Charlotte shouted, knowing that Protect would be less reliable when used on a subsequent attack. She had never battled Regigigas and knew little about it. However she could see that it was built to dish out physical attacks, and be able to withstand them almost equally well. She knew Gengar was naturally a fast Pokemon and needed to rely on that speed. Except to her shock, Regigigas was faster.

    Before Gengar could slip past the behemoth Pokemon, it leapt forward, slamming its entire body on Gengar, putting all its weight into the attack. Gengar lay motionless, and Charlotte knew that it would not be getting back up. She called the Pokemon back, and knew that against a Legendary Pokemon, especially one she knew so little about, that she had one option in order to stand a chance.

    “Go Deoxys!”

    The extra-terrestrial Pokemon emerged, and instantly, Charlotte felt the strange, yet now familiar presence touching her mind, and reading her thoughts. She went to speak, however was taken by surprise when Palmer gave an order, and Regigigas responded with shocking speed.

    “Mega Kick!”

    It was only thanks to Deoxys telepathic connection that the match didn’t end. In a split second, Deoxys, seeing Charlotte’s shock, and seeing her thoughts as they occurred, responded, shifting into its defensive form, and using Protect, to block the blisteringly fast and heavy attack that took both of them by surprise. Regigigas had been faster than Justin’s Greninja and Jon’s Jolteon, both of which were among the few Pokemon that Charlotte could be certain was faster than her Gengar. And based on what she saw, Deoxys was only a fraction faster than it in its normal form, which was already immensely fast. Not only that, despite being in its defensive form and using Protect, Deoxys was thrown back, although unharmed.

    ”It’s getting faster and stronger with every round,” Charlotte thought to herself, as in the little time she had, she tried to figure out what was going on. It was only after she thought about the hit Deoxys just took that it struck her.

    Regigigas was huge, and obviously built for dealing heavy physical attacks. However, the more she thought about it the more she realised that whilst the hit was impressive, to have that effect on Deoxys, it was more the power of the attack it used than its own strength itself. When she considered that, she realised that despite the fact it was getting stronger, it didn’t seem as strong as it should be. That understanding was what made the pieces fall together.

    ”It starts off slower and weaker, and slowly works itself up to full strength…” she thought to herself. It made sense now why Palmer focused on speeding it up first; in order that it can put pressure on Charlotte to stop her knocking it out before it reached full strength. And once it did…

    Charlotte knew that she had the disadvantage. Once Deoxys was in defence form, it was too slow to shift to another faster or heavier hitting form without taking a hit itself, and Charlotte knew that even if not at full strength, the hit it just blocked would have dealt significant damage. And every moment she wasted before she ordered it to shift back would likely increase the chances of a well placed hit knocking even this form out in one foul swoop.

    Charlotte knew that she needed to end this without taking a single hit, and that doing that would require a level of finesse that was hard to master in circumstances such as this. However, a plan was forming in her mind that was her only hope at not losing this. Some would argue the plan was poor sportsmanship, however Charlotte knew that those who argued that were likely those who held a very simplistic, back-and-forth attitude towards battling.

    “Substitute!” Charlotte called out as Palmer ordered a Crush Grip attack. Whilst she knew by now Regigas had eclipsed all but Deoxys speed form in terms of its own speed, the distance that Deoxys had been thrown back bought her precious milliseconds. Charlotte didn’t even see the substitute appear, as it was struck by Crush Grip, revealing the real Deoxys now behind it, floating backwards towards the other end of the battlefield.

    “Crush Grip again!” Palmer shouted.

    “Teleport!” Charlotte commanded. “Then Low Sweep!”

    Regigigas rushed at Deoxys who vanished in an instant, leaving Regigigas on a collision course with Palmer, who was forced to dive out of the way to avoid taking the attack. Regigigas dived, landing where Palmer had been a second ago, and to Charlotte’s relief, Palmer, after a brief moment of shock, let out an impressed laugh, before preparing to give his next order. However, the brief moment was all Charlotte and Deoxys needed. By the time Regigigas regained its footing, and turned to face Deoxys, it had shifted into its Attack Forme, striking at the Titan’s legs, and knocking it back to the ground, doing damage whilst reducing its speed. And making use of this opportunity the same way Palmer had done earlier, Charlotte knew Deoxys had time for one more attack before it would sustain a hit.


    Dropping all pretence of caution, and focusing all its energy into sheer strength, Deoxys assaulted Regigigas in its most brutal physical attack, striking it relentlessly, until finally, Regigigas went still, and collapsed on the ground.

    “Regigigas is unable to battle! Charlotte Jones is the winner!”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    Chris looked between the address listed on his phone, and the house in front of him. The house itself was a villa which seemed far too nice for somebody Charlotte’s age to be living in, even if only temporarily and with housemates.

    ”I guess this is what I miss out on with all the travelling…” Chris thought to himself, as he stepped forward to knock on the door. He had to learn to be frugal the last six months. Whilst there were cash rewards for beating Gyms and the Elite Four, they weren’t much compared to what Chris earned when he used to compete. And knowing that until she was forced to pause as part of her contract with the High Seas Tournament, Charlotte was winning more frequently than himself, it started to make sense that she’d have a bit of money put aside. Meanwhile, Chris was spending most of his winnings in order to sleep indoors, having used all of his free stays in Pokemon Centres for the year already.

    Chris tapped his knuckles against the door, and after a few seconds heard footsteps coming towards it. When they got closer, he couldn’t help but notice they were too heavy to be Charlotte’s. His suspicion was confirmed when the door opened, revealing a boy around Chris’ height with wild, messy blonde hair and brown eyes. He looked to be a little older than Chris, and as he took in the sight of Chris, his eyes widened with excitement.

    “Oh my god!” he said in shock. “It’s you!”

    Chris was used to being recognised, especially during his travels through Sinnoh, having already beaten a world record for his quick defeat of the previous three Pokemon Leagues, and getting some publicity for it. This however was the first time someone had been this star-struck.

    The boy removed his phone from his pocket, quickly tapping, as if Chris weren’t there, before his eyes somehow managed to widen even further.

    “You’ve beaten Cynthia!” he said in excitement. “Holy s**t!”

    “Barry, most people start with a hello, and sometimes even a how are you...” said another voice, that Chris didn’t recognise. Another figure stepped into view, well dressed with neat black hair, wearing a blue coat and a hat. He recognised Chris, before giving a polite nod, and turning his head back in the direction he came from. “Charlotte! You’ve got a visitor!”

    Chris looked between the newcomer, and who he presumed to be Barry, as he heard footsteps rushing along the wooden floor. After a second he finally saw a familiar face, albeit, between the shoulders of her two housemates. He was surprised to see a redness across her face, and an expression of embarrassment that she seemed to be trying to hide. Despite this, Charlotte stood in front of him.

    “Barry, aren’t you supposed to be cooking dinner,” Charlotte said pointedly, as Barry, surprising Chris that he still had room to, widened his eyes further in shock.


    Barry darted past Charlotte, before a few seconds later, a high pitched beeping pierced the air, as whatever Barry had left sitting on a frying pan became a little too well done, triggering the smoke detector.

    “Hey Charlotte,” Chris said, a little awkwardly given the circumstances. “Is this a bad time?”

    “No, it’s fine,” Charlotte replied, seeming to regain her composure. “Chris, this Riley. And you’ve met Barry…”

    The sounds of cursing came from the kitchen, as Barry tried to fan the smoke away from the smoke detector. Charlotte sighed in exasperation, causing Riley to grin.

    “I think we might just order pizza tonight…” Riley said evenly, earning a laugh from Chris.

    The pair barely got a moment to speak, between Charlotte and Riley convincing Barry that the food he just burnt was not salvageable, and that it was okay for them to order pizza, and Chris getting settled in the smaller lounge that hardly got used. The villa contained three bedrooms, a central kitchen, dining and living area, and a separate lounge, which would be Chris’ home for the next few days.

    “So how’re Justin and Candice doing?” Charlotte asked Chris as they sat at the outdoor table in the villa’s backyard. Riley and Barry, after the latter of which had been given a stern talking to about being normal, sat with them, as the four trainers ate dinner, a large pizza that had arrived a few minutes earlier.

    “They’re doing well,” Chris explained. “I saw them about three weeks ago…”

    Charlotte nodded as if she were only hearing this now, and hadn’t been refreshing ProjectSTN multiple times a day to monitor Chris’ progress.

    “I came up with a new tactic to beat Regice and it worked a treat. So Candice convinced Justin to do a sudden death battle with him,” Chris continued. “Except he knocked me on my a** without breaking a sweat! Honestly, I can’t help but take cops a little bit more seriously after seeing how much his training has improved him, especially seeing as I doubt his instructors were better battlers than him to begin with…”

    “What happened?” Charlotte asked. Chris considered answering along the lines of ”I don’t want to give away my trump-card” however decided against it. He wasn’t trying to be better than Charlotte anymore, and as good as a win would be, it wasn’t what was most important to him.

    “Regice versus Charizard, which means Charizard already has an edge on speed. I learned a way to teach Charizard Belly Drum…” Chris said, unable to hide his excitement. “I gave the order, and Candice ordered Regice to use Protect, so I got Charizard to use Substitute to throw off her timing, and then hit Regice with a Fire Punch. The battle was over before we knew it…”

    “That’s impressive,” Riley noted. “Byron told me that there’s a reason Candice is the final Gym Leader, even without Regice. So to win by rattling her personally…”

    Chris nodded in understanding, as Charlotte asked the next question, though already having a hunch she knew the answer.

    “So how did Justin beat that?”

    “The same way he knocked Jon on his a** in our second year at the Academy, or close to it. He figured Alakazam was his most versatile Pokemon, so sent that out. Used Speed Swap, then Power Swap, then used Taunt so Charizard couldn’t use Protect. He made me look like an amateur…”

    Charlotte couldn’t help but grin. It was a very Justin way of handling it.

    “But now I’m over halfway there…” Chris said with a grin. “Four down, three to go. I’ll be having a crack at Steven in about two months, given all the goddamn water in Hoenn, then I’ll have three months left to beat all the gyms in Johto and Kanto, before battling whoever they have sitting in as Champion these days…”

    “I still can’t believe after nearly six years they haven’t found a replacement for Lance,” Barry commented, as he sat back, taking a swig of the beer he was having with his dinner. “When Camilla stepped down as Champion, Cynthia replaced her the next day…”

    “The difference is that Camilla chose to retire, and named Cynthia her successor, which made the whole process a lot easier. Lance was arrested, which nobody saw coming, and by extension, nobody had prepared for…” Riley answered. Charlotte glanced over at Chris, realising that Riley and Barry may not be aware of the relationship between Chris and the disgraced Indigo Champion. She knew that it used to be a part of Chris’ life that he tried to avoid. Chris however seemed unphased by the conversation.

    “That and despite everything, Lance set a high bar, and finding someone willing to follow him in that role would not be easy…” Chris explained, before taking another bite of pizza. Barry’s eyes widened as an idea struck him.

    “Maybe if you pull off STN, you could become the Indigo Champion?!”

    “Maybe,” Chris answered nonchalantly. He figured it was a little too presumptuous to mention he already was aware of that being a reasonable chance. He looked to Charlotte, wanting to move the conversation away from himself. “How goes your siege on the Battle Frontier?”

    “Finished,” Charlotte said with a grin. “I beat Palmer yesterday, and by God, he made me work for it…”

    “I still don’t know how you lost to me on our first day here, and managed to beat Dad,” Barry commented, earning a surprised look from Chris, who had not realised he had been related to the Tower Tycoon. “Especially if he used Regigigas…”

    “Palmer has a Regigigas?” Chris said in shock, looking at Charlotte.

    “He does,” Charlotte answered, before her tone became pointed towards Barry. “And someone knew about this and conveniently forgot to tell me…”

    Barry grinned, before doubling down on his earlier statement.

    “Still doesn’t change the fact I beat you back in December!”

    “And since then I’ve won over three hundred and eighty battles,” Charlotte explained. “I’d be pretty disgusted with myself if I hadn’t improved.”

    “Goddamn…” Chris muttered, looking at Charlotte in shock. “I knew you were a machine, but I don’t think I could find that many if I tried…”

    “To face one of the Frontier Brains, you need to win forty-eight consecutive battles against other competitors,” Riley explained.

    “And I lost to Thorton at the Battle Factory three times before I finally beat him, because we had to use Rental Pokemon,” Charlotte explained. “Then I almost lost to Palmer yesterday because he pulled Regigigas out of his a**, and almost flattened me…”

    “What’s it like?” Chris asked.

    “F**king big…” Charlotte answered, earning a laugh from Barry. “Hits just as hard as Jon’s Mega Blaziken, whilst being just as fast when it gets up to full speed. But it’s resilient as all hell and can take a hit.”

    “What do you mean full speed?” Chris asked. “Does it have Speed Boost?”

    “Slow Start,” Barry answered. “At least that’s what Dad calls it…”

    Charlotte rolled her eyes at the fact that she had to figure that out whilst Regigigas was trying to flatten Deoxys, when Barry knew from the get go.

    “Basically it enters the battlefield twice as slow and half as strong, and every round, gets a little stronger until it reaches full strength. Takes about five rounds,” Barry explained.

    “Except Palmer played me into using Trick Room against his Dragonite that was out before Regigigas, so it was still active when Regigigas took to the field, and used Rock Polish,” Charlotte explained. “I only got the chance to end it by having Deoxys trick Regigigas into almost hitting Palmer…”

    “And how did he take that?” Chris asked.

    “Laughed it off,” Charlotte said with a grin. “Right before Deoxys knocked it out…”

    “That sounds like Dad…” Barry noted, earning a laugh from all of them.

    The conversation died down after another half hour as the sun was starting to set. At Riley’s orders, Barry had to attempt to clean the frying pan that he had used when ruining what was going to be that night’s dinner, which according to Barry, would require ’a s**tload of elbow grease and a miracle’, whilst Riley, a little more aware of Charlotte and what may or may not be going through her mind about Chris, offered to clean up after dinner. When Chris offered to go for a walk down to the beach, Charlotte accepted the offer, knowing that unless she wanted to fill them in on why, she couldn’t exactly ask her housemates to give them some space for a few hours, so she could talk to Chris about what she wanted to talk about.

    “You’d almost think we’re back on Mossdeep,” Chris commented as the pair walked the beach. Like Mossdeep, being largely a place inhabited by the locals and consequently was kept in good condition, the beach here was spotless, with no litter or signs of human disturbance in sight. In the distance, he could see the Sinnoh mainland, with the closest point being the Sinnoh League. He had arranged transport of his motorbike from there to Hoenn, before having Lugia fly him directly to the Battle Zone.

    “Have you heard much from Jon or the others recently?” Charlotte asked.

    “Nothing that wasn’t in any of the group chats,” Chris answered. “I’ve been pretty terrible this year at keeping in touch outside of those…”

    “I mean, you’re literally trying to beat seven region’s Champions in a year. I think it can be excused for now…” Charlotte retorted. “And you’ve made time to see everyone you can while you’re travelling. You might not have spoken to Abbee and Dylan as much as I have, but you’re the one who has actually gone and seen them this year.”

    “I suppose…”

    The pair walked in relative silence for another minute or so, as Charlotte tried to find the nerve to push the conversation in the direction she wanted it to go. Finally, she decided that if she tried to find some roundabout way to talk about what she wanted to talk about, she’d waste her time looking for an opportunity that may not come. Instead, she decided to be more direct.

    “So have you been seeing anyone?”

    “Like a shrink?” Chris asked. “I know that not many sane people would try and do what I’m doing at the moment.”

    Chris meant the comment as a joke, however, despite knowing him well enough to know that was a somewhat predictable answer, Charlotte was still taken aback. He noticed her seize up, a little.

    “Sorry, I guess deep down I’m still the same immature kid I was back when we used to butt heads,” Chris said lightly. Charlotte shook her head.

    “Honestly, I’d say you’ve grown up the most out of all of us,” Charlotte answered. “If anything, I’d say I’ve probably changed the least…”

    There was a moment of silence, before Chris spoke.

    “I’m not seeing anyone at the moment. Haven’t been since Abbee,” Chris said, before backtracking. “Not that there is anything still there with her. It’s just that by the time I worked out a fair bit of my own s**t, I was preparing for this trip. And given how much my ambition made my last relationship difficult, I guess I’m cautious about letting that happen again. I know now that I can’t have my cake and eat it. By default, what I want from life will not naturally fit into a relationship with just anyone. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m holding out until I find someone that either would be able to work well with this life, or someone that I wouldn’t mind letting go of it for…”

    Charlotte nodded in understanding, as the pair walked side-by-side, looking directly ahead.

    “What about you?” Chris asked. “There anything going on between you and Riley?”

    “No!” Charlotte said, almost a little too quickly. “I mean he seems like a really good guy, and I couldn’t have asked for more from a housemate, but that’s it.”

    “Oh, so Barry then…”

    For the first time since they had begun on this topic, Charlotte looked at Chris, who couldn’t hide the amused grin on his face. Charlotte could tell Chris knew there was nothing between her and Barry, and was instead trying to wind her up. He broke and began to laugh, before Charlotte shoved him in the side, causing him to sidestep to regain his footing.

    “Barry is a brilliant battler, and a nice guy, but by God, he can be clueless sometimes,” Charlotte explained. “He’s got the temperament of a Yamper, and given his obsession with battling and competing, I’m not sure he is even aware that women exist, or where babies come from…”

    Chris burst out into laughter at the explanation of her housemate.

    “Be careful though, he seems to be quite fond of you…” Charlotte added with a grin, as Chris’ face went a little pale. She couldn’t help but laugh at the way the conversation went, as the pair continued walking.

    “I’m not seeing anyone,” Charlotte admitted, answering the question that Chris had padded with a joke, and wondering how to broach the topic. “There was this guy…”

    Chris seemed to stiffen a little hearing this, though not completely sure why. However, he had a hunch it was something to do with the fact that when he was attacked near Ever Grande City last summer, and he thought he was going to die, the person he found himself thinking of, and feeling guilty for leaving behind but also relief that she was safe, mixed in with a strange sense of regret, was the person he was now walking the Resort Area Beach with.

    “Things were a bit rocky between us early on, and because of that, I completely wrote off the idea of him being anything but a self-absorbed a**. So when he did start to grow up, and we actually became friends, I found myself trying to pretend that I didn’t want something with him, out of my own stubbornness. I told myself, and anyone who looked like they may see through me, that he was just a friend…”

    Chris began to slow, as understanding dawned on him.

    “Then my best friend started dating him, and when things didn’t work out, he took it hard, and found himself in a not-so-great place, and even when he started finding his way back from there, it still seemed like he wanted to be with her…”

    Chris felt his mouth go dry, as he understood not only what Charlotte was saying, but how hard the last three years must have been for her. He slowed to a stop, not wanting to trivialise what Charlotte was saying.

    “I’m sorry…” Chris said quietly. “I had no idea…”

    Charlotte nodded in understanding, before continuing.

    “Then when someone else hurt me, this guy teamed up with two of the people he would have struggled most to work with, to make the other guy pay for it. And I finally knew that maybe something could happen,” Charlotte continued. “But I kept finding reasons to put off saying anything, until I realised that in six months, we probably won’t get to see eachother much anymore if nothing changes…”

    It was this that caused tears to form in Charlotte’s eyes.

    “I realised that chances are, I won’t get to see any of my closest friends much anymore, and that we’ll all be tied down to whatever lives we’re all building. But I realised that I won’t get to see him anymore, especially if things go well for him, and that made me want to swallow my pride, and…”

    Charlotte tried to speak, but couldn’t. It had been hard enough for her to say what she had said, let alone what would come next. She instead looked at the ground in front of her, too embarrassed to look at Chris.

    After a moment, she heard Chris walk over to where she was standing, and wrap his arms around her in a tight embrace.

    “That’s the difference between you and me,” Chris said quietly. “You knew how you felt, and needed to find a way to admit it. I was too dense to know how I felt until it was made blatantly obvious. We’re both pretty brilliant like that, aren’t we?”

    Charlotte chuckled at the sarcastic brilliance Chris was referring to, as he continued.

    “Honestly, I think had I known that I felt the same years ago, I would have blown it for both of us. So it worked out for the best…”

    Surprised, Charlotte looked at Chris, half expecting some sort of joking expression, or another comment to play down what he just said, however found none.

    “You’re going to be the next High Seas Champion, and the last thing I want is to get in the way of that,” Chris said quietly. “Especially if I’m going to be leaving in a few days, and will be otherwise occupied until September…”

    Charlotte nodded in understanding.

    “So how about this; once we’ve both won our challenges, I’ll fly out to wherever you are, and we can celebrate with dinner…” Chris explained. “But until then, we both focus on seeing our goals through…”

    “That sounds… nice…” Charlotte said, surprised that Chris of all people would suggest it. Chris nodded in agreement.

    “It’s a date…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    “Spectral Thief!” Willow shouted, however made sure to speak before Jon got a chance to, even if she knew that Giratina, having inherited Blaziken’s boosts to strength and speed from Baton Pass just before Willow found an opportunity to knock it out, would act first. She had no intention of the hit landing, however she knew Jon couldn’t risk it making contact. All the spectral copies of Marshadow moved to the offensive, having been produced from multiple Double Team attacks earlier.

    “Protect!” Jon commanded in response. Giratina, instead of attacking first like it had the opportunity to, waited for Marshadow’s attack, blocking it with a barrier, however giving Willow the opportunity she needed to bring Giratina down.

    “Sucker Punch!”

    “Shadow Sneak!” Jon ordered, knowing what Willow was attempting. She swore to herself, as both Pokemon disappeared at the same time, Jon having chosen a move that was equally quick to counteract the speedy nature of Sucker Punch.

    Both Pokemon reappeared, ready to strike each other, and Willow knew that Giratina would still be quicker. And considering Marshadow’s double weakness to Ghost Type moves, one hit would be enough to knock it out.

    Giratina struck, and to Willow’s relief, its target vanished into thin air, before the real Marshadow materialised behind it, striking it hard. Giratina, having been weakened by Willow’s earlier Pokemon, fell to the ground unconscious.

    Willow hid her glee at beating Giratina, knowing Jon only had Blaziken, who was severely weakened left, however also knew Blaziken under Jon’s command was just as dangerous as Latios, Rayquaza and Giratina in a battle like this. To her shock however, Jon placed his hands in the air.

    “I concede. Blaziken is too weak to battle, and wouldn’t stand a chance against Marshadow…”

    If it had been anyone else conceding, Willow would have felt it was a cheap tactic to ruin the victory, but knew that wasn’t Jon’s style. One thing he taught all his students is that it isn’t worth fighting an already lost battle for the sake of your pride, especially when your Pokemon may be injured in the process. For Jon to concede, he had to know that he couldn’t beat her. He walked over to her side of the battlefield, where after a nod, Marshadow had ended the Double Team attack, leaving just the original standing by Willow’s side.

    “Congratulations on your first win,” Jon said with a grin. It had been nearly four months since Willow agreed to take charge of the Castelia Eon Academy, and began training under him at a rate that nobody ever had. In addition to the forty hours of work he completed a week outside of summers, Dylan in his earliest days spent an additional ten hours per week training with Jon to catch up to the other interns. Violet and Jarena spent an additional sixteen hours per week training with Jon, whilst Cassandra set the record at an additional twenty-six hours a week. She would train with Jon for two hours each weekday morning before work, two hours each weekday evening, then six hours on Saturday. Jon only allowed such a breakneck pace because he knew that Cassandra’s first priority amidst all this wasn’t her own growth but the wellbeing of her Pokemon, and given the fact that she entered the Eon Academy at age twenty-seven, with considerably more life experience than Charlotte, who was sixteen upon entering, he knew there wouldn’t be a repeat of what happened with Charlotte’s Luxray back in her first summer.

    Willow however, had broken all records. Granted, this training was to allow her to oversee a new Eon Academy, and was by extension, work, she was training for thirty-two hours a week, spending three of her work days training with Jon, and eight hours Sunday of her own time. When her Pokemon were needing rest, the pair battled with rental Pokemon owned by the Academy, in order that she learn how different species of Pokemon battle differently. And whilst Willow was still the least experienced battler, Jon thought that by this time next month, she would catch up to Violet and Jarena, who were already fair battlers themselves. Once summer came and the Eon Academy ran its next summer program, the first without the original five students, Jon and Willow would have to slow down training. But Jon knew that at the pace she was improving, Willow would be a force to be reckoned with by the time the Castelia Eon Academy opened its doors in the summer of next year.

    This however, was a huge step, Jon knew especially. From experience, Jon knew that beating him in a legitimate battle was a breakthrough, because it began to close the gap between him and students in their minds. Reaching his level became far more realistic to them, and they would strive to get as close as they can. Jon was certain that Charlotte was now a better battler than him, if both trainers used only their non-Legendary Pokemon, and based on what he was hearing of Chris, was sure that Chris had passed him as well. Abbee and Justin were both at a similar level to him, and should they find reason to want to leave him behind, it would not take much. As for Dylan, despite being the weakest battler of the five, Dylan knew Jon well, and how to pick Jon’s strategies apart with enough time. Meanwhile, Dylan was now an impenetrable wall that Jon could not crack at the best of times. Whilst Jon was an exceptionally skilled battler, the main reason he had the legendary status he did that the others didn’t was due to both more public involvement in League operations, but also now being in possession of three legendary Pokemon.

    Even Cassandra was winning against him more and more, and Jon knew that he himself had improved significantly in the last six years. He was certain that when she began competing again, the only person in the competition circuit who would prove a challenge for her would be Charlotte, and that would only serve to motivate Cassandra further.

    What also impressed Jon was Marshadow. The Mythical Pokemon, less than two years earlier fought tooth and nail for Agatha, proving to be quite difficult for Willow to catch even with Latios and Latias at her disposal. Whilst Marshadow was being powered by the Netherlink, it was also battling uninstructed, relying on its own judgement to pick its path forward. And now, looking at the way Willow commanded it, one would think she was the only trainer it ever fought alongside. And unlike Jon, who made a deal with Rayquaza, and had the curse that was placed on him activating to prove Giratina was loyal, Willow had a far more difficult time both with rehabilitating the Mythical Pokemon, but also knowing for sure that it had eventually become loyal to her.

    “You didn’t let me win?” Willow asked Jon, a little suspicious. “Surely Blaziken could have finished off Marshadow?”

    “The only move that Blaziken knows that could let it sneak in a hit before Marshadow is Quick Attack, so it had no way of striking first, and I knew you weren’t foolish enough to let Blaziken land a Shadow Claw,” Jon explained. “Even if you did, honestly I don’t think it would be enough to beat Marshadow with Blaziken not being a Ghost Type, and even Blaziken used Protect to stall for time to use Speed Boost, once Speed Boost had activated once, Blaziken would have still been slower. You would have been able to order Marshadow to use Spectral Thief which would have stolen Blaziken’s speed, even if it didn’t finish off Blaziken, and made Marshadow twice as quick. You’d have to be incredibly unlucky, or oblivious, which I know you’re not, for Blaziken to have a fighting chance. You won this fair and square…”

    Willow grinned at Jon’s analysis. She was impressed that he had predicted almost every move she would have made. She was going to order Marshadow to use Shadow Punch, which only would have failed if Blaziken used Protect. However, Speed Boost wouldn’t allow it to attack first after that, and it would have been unable to reliably use Protect. She would have ordered a Spectral Thief after that in order to negate Speed Boost, and whilst Blaziken could have used Endure, Marshadow would be twice as quick until Speed Boost activated again, allowing time to perform Sucker Punch and end it.

    “I’ve been thinking, and I know what I want you teaching this summer,” Jon continued. “Practical Training and Pokemon Knowledge…”

    Willow looked at Jon with a sense of confusion.

    “Surely any of the others would be a better fit for Pokemon Knowledge?” Willow asked.

    “They would, but I know that I learned the most when I was having to find a way to teach it to other people,” Jon explained. “Practical Training will be good because you will be up against all sorts of trainers and Pokemon, and they’ll be implementing knowledge from every other class against you. We will have to rejig the timetable a bit to make it work, and you’ll be teaching twice as much as the rest of us. But you won’t also be doing four eight-hour days a week of training with me, so it’ll balance out somewhat. And you’ll have assistance in both classes.”

    Willow nodded in understanding.

    “Steven?” Willow asked, recalling that he and Justin taught Pokemon Knowledge the year before. Jon shook his head.

    “I need to be prepared to branch out in terms of staffing, and Steven is the Hoenn Champion. Last summer, this became too much of a commitment for him, and only really worked because he could let Justin run the classes on his own if he needed to duck out,” Jon answered. “I’ve begun conversation with a few former students to work summers here, and am being intentional about hiring more staff than we need for this summer, with the intention that I may make some permanent staff when the Diamond Ladies move on, as well as some may get transferred. Blake Lloyd, Corey Fox, Brent Miller, Christy Duncan and Hannah Sharp are all about twenty-one and will ideally take on teaching roles this summer. And I’m planning on hiring Darcy Key, Imogen Shepherd, Melissa Gilbert, Noah Cummings, Wesley Brewer and Rachael Black as Team Leaders. Whilst I could have the teachers being Team Leaders as well, this means I am training plenty of staff that there are gonna be less gaps”

    Jon rattled off names, most sounding familiar to Willow, having seen lists of campers last year, however only knew the faces of a small handful of them. As Willow counted though, something didn’t add up.

    “Myself, the Diamond Ladies and five new teachers, plus six separate Team Leaders will make this summer a breeze, but what about the one after? Because by my maths, that isn’t gonna even be close,” Willow said, calculating the figures in her head. “Summer of next year, I won’t be here, and whilst they may still be here, there is a reasonable chance the Diamond Ladies won’t be. Unless the teachers you are hiring can handle classes of thirty five on their own, you’ll need to hire another five teachers. Then if the Castelia Academy reaches capacity, you’ll likely need at least fifteen teachers in order to run enough simultaneous classes that you don’t wind up with too many students in each, and not enough teachers. On top of that, probably that many Team Leaders as well. That’s already thirty-five additional staff members between the end of this summer and the start of next…”

    Jon couldn’t help but grin at Willow’s quick assessment of the situation.

    “I’m glad you offered to run this place, because not many people could do what you just did,” Jon explained. “You’re right, even if I’m hiring nearly a dozen new staff members for this summer, I’ll still need to hire triple that in order for the Castelia Academy to run at capacity, and that isn’t including cooking and cleaning staff, as well as groundskeepers…”

    “So will most of the staff next summer have no prior training?”

    Jon shook his head.

    “I can’t hire any more staff for this summer. I can’t afford to do that without running at a massive loss. So instead, I will offer volunteer positions to a few of the older campers this summer that I know and trust. Think Rose and her cohort,” Jon explained, referring to his seventeen year old niece. “They won’t have significant responsibility placed on them, but instead will be assisting the Team Leaders in training and day to day affairs. Four are assigned to each Team Leader, so ideally, this summer’s Team Leader’s can be next year’s teachers, meaning together we have almost enough that every class can have one experienced staff member and one inexperienced one learning the ropes, and this summer’s assistants can be Team Leader’s next year.”

    Willow nodded in understanding, appreciating the solution Jon had brought forward. Even some of the most crowded public schools in Hoenn didn’t have as many students as the combined Eon Academies would, and given how specific the curriculum was, finding staff to manage the combined seven hundred students was no easy feat. This however, seemed like a reasonable, realistic, but also sustainable way to move forward, producing more potential staff members from those who had spent multiple summers being trained by the program.

    “I have to admit, this whole thing is terrifying,” Willow said with a laugh. “Going from two hundred students and less than a dozen staff members last summer to potentially seven hundred students and at least fifty staff next year…”

    “How do you think I feel?” Jon laughed back. “This began with myself and occasionally Alyssa teaching five kids, and in the first week one of them almost died. Nothing could prepare me for what’s coming next…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    “So which Pokemon in particular are you after?”

    It was midday as Dylan stood by the kitchen bench of his house, and sitting on the other side was Mike, a middle aged man dressed in work clothes, seeming to have come fresh off a construction site. Dylan figured that to make it to their appointment, Mike had come during his lunch break. When the man had arrived, Dylan had offered him a coffee, making small talk as the pair waited, before getting to business. On the bench sat Dylan’s laptop.

    “An Eevee,” Mike explained. “We figure that it would make a good pet whilst she is younger, but also have the potential to be a battling Pokemon as well, should she evolve it.”

    Mike was Dylan’s first client, having contacted Dylan in order to breed a Pokemon for his daughter, Ella. Dylan figured that before he had anybody who competed at competition level reaching out to him, this would likely be his clientele. After all, it was a far safer option to hire a breeder to breed a Pokemon with a specific temperament that would suit younger children, than it would be to take a chance capturing a wild one. And for Mike, this made sense, as Eevee were not native to Unova, and he’d likely either need to travel to capture a wild one, or purchase one, which in Unova, would fetch a premium.

    “That’s a good choice, and I have good news for you, and some advice to go with it,” Dylan began. “The good news is that my partner has a Glaceon which has the sort of temperament that would suit a child trainer well. Which means that, pending her permission, I wouldn’t need to track down an Eevee or one of its evolutions to breed, which reduces the time this may take, and by extension, the price…”

    Mike nodded, prompting Dylan to continue.

    “Where things get tricky is that if this Eevee is likely to battle at all, I will need to breed one that I know is physically fit enough to handle it, as if I breed one that isn’t cut out for it, it may be injured in a battle, or worse. This means that I would need to hold onto a potential Pokemon for longer in order to see enough of its physical growth before I can sign off that it is fit for battling,” Dylan explained. “I’d likely have a pretty solid idea by the time it is three months old where it would be suitable for being anything more than a pet, however even then, I’d only be handing it over when it was six months, as by then, any signs that it is not suitable to battle would have manifested. What this means is that there would be an increase in cost, in terms of the cost to care for the Pokemon during that time. Additionally, any Pokemon involved in this project, such as breeding Pokemon, or any Pokemon born that do not fit the criteria, will have 20% of the cost to care for them until the project is completed added to the bill.”

    Mike grimaced hearing this.

    “By the sound of it, I may be better off buying an Eevee from a store.”

    “Financially, yes, however the store exists to make a buck, whilst I do what I do for ethical reasons. I will only breed a Pokemon if I have a buyer lined up already, and because of that, the buyer knows exactly what they are getting in advance. You might pay more than just capturing one, or going to a store, but you will know exactly what you are getting,” Dylan explained. “And if I’m being honest, I doubt that it will take very long to produce an Eevee that fits the criteria. Abbee’s Glaceon is championship level, and if the father is of equal quality, the chances of the offspring not being fit for battling are less than five percent. Even the temperament can be encouraged to be inherited by the offspring if one of the parents is holding a specific item. So theoretically, you have a ninety-five percent chance of an Eevee that ticks all of the boxes, if you have no preference for gender, or inherited moves…”

    “Inherited moves?” Mike asked.

    “All Pokemon have moves they can only learn if they have a parent of a different species that knows it,” Dylan explained. “This is a perk of breeding a Pokemon over capturing a wild one, as they may be more versatile in battle. For example…”

    Dylan began quickly typing on his laptop, searching up research data on Eevee.

    “Eevee can learn through this method Curse, Detect, Double Kick, Flail, Tickle, Wish and Yawn, which they couldn’t learn otherwise.” Dylan continued. “There is a herb from Paldea which can provide these moves to a Pokemon after it’s born, but it requires a DNA sample of a Pokemon that already knows it, so even if I were to use this herb, I’d still need to at the very least loan a Pokemon that knows whatever moves you may want.”

    Mike seemed to take a moment to think before sighing.

    “I know almost nothing about battling. Born to be a spectator,” Mike explained. “So be honest, would any of these inherited moves help?”

    Dylan looked through the list, considering how he would use them to his advantage.

    “Eevee’s usefulness is the fact it can evolve into one of eight Pokemon, and each is a solid example of its typing. None of these moves would overly benefit it once it evolved. However, Eevee naturally aren’t the strongest of battlers,” Dylan explained. “And if being commanded in battle by a beginner, I’d recommend Detect, which allows it to block even the heaviest of attacks, and Wish, which is a delayed restoration move. Both of these should give the Eevee a little wriggle room in a battle, which would help it and your daughter find their feet.”

    As Dylan looked at which Pokemon would pass on the moves to an Eevee, he began formulating the work it would take.

    “And because this is what I would recommend to anyone in this situation, I’ll make you a deal,” Dylan explained. “I won’t charge you for the egg moves, as I’ll likely make a point of breeding a few Eevee that have the temperament you’re after as well as these Egg moves to become breeding Pokemon themselves in order to streamline the process, as Eevee are a common first Pokemon for younger trainers, and you’ll hardly be the first wanting this type of Eevee.”

    “So how much can I expect to pay?”

    Dylan opened up a spreadsheet and began typing, including a base cost for an Eevee, the cost of caring for it for six months, as well as 20% of the cost of looking after Abbee’s Glaceon, and whatever Pokemon Dylan sourced to be the father that knew Detect for the next six or so months. He left off the cost of a Pokemon that knew Wish, as agreed. Once he was done, he spun the laptop around, to show Mike.

    “Where the price may go up is if the first offspring is not fit for battling, in which case, you can add this figure here to the price,” Dylan explained, pointing to one of the 20% figures. “That is a one in twenty chance of happening. But assuming this works on the first go this will get you an Eevee, no specific gender, that is fit for battling, has a temperament that is good with kids, and knows Detect and Wish.”

    Mike looked over the figures. Whilst it was a touch on the expensive side, costing more than even the most expensive store-bought Eevee he had come cross, and also more than the cost of travel to a region where Eevee were native and capturing one, this came with guarantees of temperament, fitness, and even some extra tricks he wouldn’t get elsewhere.

    “What’s the deposit?” Mike asked, as he looked over the numbers.

    “50% of the quote upfront, then the rest of the finalised bill upon delivery,” Dylan explained. Mike nodded, before producing a cheque book from his small work-bag.

    “Whilst I know any parent would pay this price, I’m curious,” Mike explained, as he began scribbling on the chequebook. “Do you think that anyone else would pay this price when they can just capture Pokemon?”

    It was a fair question for Mike to ask. Due to circumstances unique to this job, Dylan was able to reduce the price, but should someone want a team of six Pokemon all specially bred by him, and requiring more work, it would cost as much as Dylan’s car.

    “Right now, no,” Dylan admitted. “Currently my only clients will be people like yourself, wanting to purchase a Pokemon they know will be safe with their kids, and competitive battlers, wanting a Pokemon that is genetically perfect for battling, but also having a conscience and wanting to know any offspring that don’t meet criteria will actually be well cared for. For your average trainer, it would be far too expensive to come to me commissioning Pokemon instead of capturing them unless they had a very specific purpose.”

    “So why would that change?” Mike asked.

    “You’re my first client, and currently the only Pokemon I have access to as breeding Pokemon are my own, my partners, and potentially borrowing some of Jon and Alyssa Drake’s Pokemon that can be spared for a few weeks,” Dylan explained. “But even this project, I’ll be sourcing a Pokemon that knows Detect and is compatible with Glaceon, which will get added to the Pokemon at my disposal, and also breeding some Eevee’s better suited to breeding once they evolve. So theoretically, as time goes on, I’ll end up with more and more options for breeding Pokemon, so that I can reduce the amount of steps and uncertainty in the process, costing me less, and by extension, lowering the price to the customer.”

    “I’m just unlucky to be the first,” Mike joked, as Dylan grinned.

    “You’re lucky that this happens to be a very good starting point for me,” Dylan explained. “Both in terms of already having a perfect parent, and reason to do this job outside of income.”

    The pair spoke for a few more minutes, before Mike departed, needing to return to work. As he left, Dylan began drafting a plan for how to most efficiently produce the Eevee commissioned by Mike. He knew that Abbee’s Glaceon wearing an Everstone would cause its offspring to have a near identical temperament. Meanwhile, Wish could only be inherited after multiple generations, such as breeding a Swirlix that knew the move with a female Raichu, until it produced a male Pichu. However, given that Pichu were too young to breed, Dylan would have to evolve it, which was based on friendship between himself and the Pokemon, and once it became a Pikachu, breeding that with Glaceon. Given how long it would take, he had already decided to use a Paldean Herb, knowing that Abbee’s Gardevoir knew Wish and could provide the DNA sample in order to teach an Eevee.

    As such, the only question for Dylan became which Pokemon he should seek out as the father, however even then he had an answer. Despite being shocked at the apparent logistics of the pairing, Blaziken were in the same breeding group as Glaceon, and could pass on Detect. And he also knew that in the last six years, Blaziken with the Speed Boost ability were becoming more and more popular amongst battlers.

    He quickly opened his phone, drafting a text to Jon.

    ”Hey, I have my first breeding commission, an Eevee that knows Detect. Going to use Abbee’s Glaceon, however, I need a male Pokemon that knows the move. And despite it not making much sense, Blaziken can somehow fit the bill. Mind if I borrow him as well as Carbon to get this underway, and also breed a Speed Boost Torchic or two?

    P.S. I know what you’re thinking and what jokes you’re wanting to make. You’re an adult. Don’t be gross…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    Activity in the Nimbasa City Gym had begun to slow down by the time Abbee had made her way back into her office, where Victini sat on her desk, a bag of chips in front of him, and a video playing on the laptop. It was the recording of Chris’ battle against Cynthia, one of the only ones in Chris’ endeavour to be published. Victini watched as both trainers found themselves using Garchomp as their last Pokemon, effectively making the final matchup a battle of sheer skill. And despite the fact that Cynthia battled with a tenacity and ferocity unlike Victini had ever seen before, Chris managed to push back even harder, and steal the win, only just. Abbee had watched the video when it came out earlier that month, and was impressed both at Cynthia’s level of skill, which seemed to be on a whole other level, and the fact that Chris managed to still get a win in that match.

    “Sorry Victini, but I’m going to need that,” Abbee said casually, as she slipped into her seat at the desk, before spinning the laptop around to face her. “I’ve had challengers all day, and if I don’t get paperwork submitted this afternoon, I will have to stay late tomorrow…”

    “And here we thought Gym Leaders spent their days engaged in high stakes battles, to the awe of all spectating,” Victini said, as he shuffled around to face Abbee. She grinned in response.

    “Maybe other Gym Leaders, but if I battled that way, I wouldn’t be handing out enough badges, and I’d hold up the entire league,” Abbee retorted. It was partially for this reason that Victini didn’t battle as frequently as her other Pokemon, as she knew Victini struggled to hold back when he got competitive, and Abbee’s job was not to win every single battle. “Besides, paperwork makes the world go round…”

    Victini rolled his eyes at the second comment, as Abbee opened a new tab in her web browser. The blank tab page opened up, being in the form of a dashboard in which most of the screen was taken up by recommended websites, whilst one edge showed her calendar and any events coming up, and the other edge showed snippets of new emails. As she went to click on the Unova League Portal, three words from the email section caught her eye.

    ”Is it true?”

    The email was from a former colleague Amber, who was a trainer at Nimbasa City Gym under Elesa’s leadership. She had left after Abbee’s first year working there as a trainer, wanting a change of pace from battling for a career, and instead deciding to study Pokemon Nursing. The pair had gotten along well, despite only working with each other for a short period of time, and had kept in contact. Abbee clicked on the email, anxious at what it contained.

    The email itself contained a link, and Abbee already knew it would be bad when she saw Silver Wing News in the web address. She clicked it, and her eyes widened as she read the title of the article.

    ”Teenage Pregnancy in Nimbasa City Gym.”

    “You’ve got to be f**king kidding me…” Abbee said to herself, earning a shocked look from Victini, who knew that if Abbee were cursing so openly, that something had to be wrong. He stepped up, and jumped onto Abbee’s shoulder in order to read what she read.

    ”The tenure of Nimbasa City Gym Leader Abbee Strauss, one of the poster-children of Jon Drake’s Eon Academy, may be one of the shortest-lived of any Gym Leader in Pokemon League history, in light of recent information that has come to light about the daughter of Richard Strauss, world renowned battler.

    Rumours circulating online claim that the nineteen year-old Gym Leader is in fact an expectant mother. Upon our own investigation into these claims, Silver Wing News made the following discoveries.

    The first is that not long after taking on the mantle of Nimbasa City Gym Leader, Abbee moved in with her boyfriend, Eon Academy alumni Dylan Squier. Since then, it has come to light that Abbee has requested multiple weeks paid leave in August, resulting in Elesa returning temporarily in order to face challengers. Additionally, sources at Nimbasa General Clinic have revealed that Abbee attended appointments in early January, mid-February, and has an additional appointment scheduled for the middle of April.

    Whilst each on their own seem innocuous, all of these observations together paint a pretty clear picture; Abbee Strauss is pregnant, attending multiple appointments for scans at Nimbasa General Clinic, and having requested time off in August, when the baby is due…”

    Abbee read in horror. She was certainly not pregnant, and every indicator that this article listed had only been half true. She had moved in with Dylan only a month prior, and August, when the baby was supposedly due, was only four months away, though she knew this would do little to dispel the rumour. She had requested time off, and asked Elesa personally to fill in, as August would hold the fifth anniversary of her father’s passing, and she had not been able to visit his grave on any of the previous anniversaries. Though she knew Jon would have allowed it, she also knew it would have made things difficult. Now however, it was more viable for her to take the time off, and for Dylan to be with her. And as for her appointments, she had three appointments, like referenced, that year, however the timing had been slightly off, and they had not been for anything pregnancy related. Instead, Abbee had scheduled them due to getting insufferable hayfever, especially being in Unova this time of year. Her last five summers were largely spent on Mossdeep, where the sea air blew away the allergens that triggered it. She had sought out a doctor for multiple prescriptions for stronger medication in order to soothe the allergies that cropped up with the spring weather. They even got her age wrong, Abbee having turned twenty in January. However she wondered if it was intentional, given how attention grabbing teenage preganacy was…

    As Abbee continued reading however, it only got worse.

    ”One would assume that Dylan Squier would be the father, however given other circumstances, it may not be as clear cut. Late last year, the couple played host to fellow Eon Academy alumni, and Abbee’s ex-boyfriend, Christopher Kingswood, who alongside Abbee, wowed crowds with their battle for Chris’ Bolt Badge, as part of the Unova leg of his Project Second To None challenge. Surprising crowds even more however was the friendliness displayed between the pair after the battle, especially considering their history. With Abbee being due to give birth in late August, and Chris’ visit occurring when it did, Dylan may not be unjustified in wanting a paternity test, before committing to raise this child with Abbee…”

    “Where are Silver Wing News based?” Victini asked, as a small flame appeared in his hand. “I think I want to pay their headquarters a visit…”

    Knowing that Victini wouldn’t actually torch their headquarters, or at least, hoping that was the case, Abbee looked at the article in disbelief. She had been dealing with rumours and allegations ever since she sacked Tessa. This however was a whole new level. Not only were they claiming Abbee was pregnant, they were implying that Chris was the father, and that Abbee had betrayed Dylan in the worst possible way. She slammed the laptop shut, as the gravity of this dawned on her. She looked to the door, where she now found herself fearing to walk through, wondering who outside may have read this article, and what they’d think.

    “Are you okay?” Victini asked, noticing Abbee’s continued silence.

    “Not really,” Abbee said weakly. She felt a wave of fury emanating from Victini, unable to control his telepathy as well whilst he was as angry as he was.

    “Honestly, this is nothing new,” Victini offered. “It just shows that your name is worth something. It happens to Cass, and even Jon-”

    “But not this often,” Abbee retorted. “I’ve been dealing with crap from Tessa since I fired her, and that was one thing, but now this. I’ve had more articles and posts slandering me in the last four months than Jon had in his first year in the spotlight…”

    Victini reluctantly agreed. Whilst Cassandra got a lot of bad press, even he had to admit that a chunk of it, especially after the S.S. Wishmaker, was justified. What was happening to Abbee however, was the opposite.

    “You’re right, they do seem to be setting their sights on you especially…” Victini said solemnly. “Maybe because you're young. Or you’re a woman?”

    As much as Abbee hated to admit it, she thought Victini may have been onto something. She knew that Elesa dealt with occasional slander such as this, far more frequently than her male counterparts. She remembered the slanderous article Silver Wing News posted about Justin in their third summer, and how that very quickly revealed itself to actually be an excuse to slander Candice. Meanwhile, Abbee knew that Fantina or Cynthia rarely got this sort of publicity about them, and that Steven or Leon were even more infrequently targeted. Jon was an anomaly, given how very early on, he polarised the views of himself, and did little to stop people speaking against him. For a moment, Abbee wondered whether she needed to do the same as her mentor; simply ignore the lies, and let them make fools of themselves, however realised that was not a luxury she had. She was not Jon. Jon could be outspoken and demand respect, and people would attribute that to strength of character. Due to her age and gender, Abbee knew that she couldn’t do that to the same effect.

    Whilst Abbee considered calling Alyssa, she knew that Alyssa, who was the closest thing Abbee had had to a mom since her own mother passed away, would likely use her position in the media to try and fix the situation, but that would likely only be a temporary fix. Instead, she called someone else who she knew had experience dealing with this level of slander.

    ”Hey Abbee, how’s things?”

    Abbee was surprised when Justin answered the phone. She knew his work kept him busy and that she’d likely need to leave a message and wait for him to call back.

    “Not great,” Abbee answered with a sigh. “I need your advice on something…”

    ”I’m sorry to hear that,” Justin asked. ”More legal advice?”

    “Not that. At least, not yet,” Abbee answered. “I was wondering what you did after Silver Sky News published that slander piece about you and Candice, that got them to leave you alone…”

    There was a pause on the line, before Justin spoke, his tone darkening.

    ”They’ve said something about you, haven’t they?”

    “Allegedly that I am pregnant,” Abbee explained, as Justin swore under his breath. “And not only that, Chris is apparently the father…”

    ”S**t…” Justin muttered. ”As disgusting as they are, that is very ballsy of them…”

    “And if they’ll go to this length once for some clicks, what’s to stop them going to it again?”

    ”You are,” Justin answered. ”You notice that they never go after Charlotte?”

    Abbee hadn’t considered that. Charlotte was only a year older than her, and was also a woman present in the public eye, yet almost never had things like this said about her.

    “They don’t,” Abbee agreed. “Why is that?”

    ”Because Charlotte makes it abundantly clear that she is not somebody to be f**ked with, and she doesn’t just do that by making a fuss. She is the opposite really. Direct and to the point. Like a sniper,” Justin explained. ”Think about it; she has been winning tournaments since she was a teenager, and after coming to the Academy, was clearly the best battler amongst us. She dislocated her shoulder just to get the opportunity to catch Deoxys, called out Mark Hill during the hearing for his bulls**t, as well as Camilla Blakely during our battle at the College of the North Wind. And that’s not even accounting for how brutally she beat that Beth chick from the College…”

    “Victini was just as good-” Abbee began.

    ”Yes, Victini was, and I know you helped him get to that level, but what the audience saw was Victini half taking the lead in that battle…” Justin explained. ”What Charlotte does to keep the press in line, and what I had to do when they went after Candice through me, is show them you can hit them hard enough in the right spots that getting on your bad side isn’t worth the clicks. What are they using to imply that you’re pregnant?”

    “Some leave I’ve requested in August, and a few doctor’s appointments I’ve had this year…”

    ”And you didn’t mention either of these to someone who would leak it?”

    “No, only the people involved in making them happen, and Dylan.”

    ”Well the doctor’s clinic would likely not have revealed the appointments with any malicious intent. My guess is that you were spotted after the first appointment, and somebody called up pretending to be you to confirm the next one,” Justin explained. ”If you can get the clinic to confirm nobody there blabbed, then you’d have ammunition to play their own game against them. I’m not sure about the leave though…”

    Abbee already had an idea forming. It was low, however, if it would be enough to prevent this from happening again, she was willing to stoop that low.

    “I know how to use the leave,” Abbee explained. “I took it to go to Johto and visit Dad’s grave for the fifth anniversary of his death. I’m sure that it will be a great look for them if it got out that the leave they were basing this rumour off was for me to visit my dead dad…”

    Abbee hated the coldness of what she was saying, and could feel Justin wincing on the other end of the line.

    “If you’re willing to play that card, then I think they would definitely think twice before f**king with you again…” Justin explained. ”That would be a shadow that would hang over them forever…”

    “So be it…”

    The call ended, before Abbee contacted the Nimbasa General Clinic to confirm that their staff didn’t knowingly disclose details of her appointments, as well as got confirmation that they received calls from Abbee double checking what dates her bookings were for, and then began drafting a statement. She made a point of towing the fine line she knew that Charlotte especially towed so perfectly. The line between being professional, but also aggressive. Making it abundantly clear that not only would she not stand for this, but that she was willing and able to hit back where it hurt, and hit back harder.

    ”It has come to my attention that Silver Wing News published an article this afternoon making multiple claims about myself, most notably that I am currently pregnant, with strong implications that Chris Kingswood is the father. These claims are untrue and slanderous. They are based on my attending multiple doctor’s appointments earlier this year, which Silver Wing News claims are for scans, as well as requesting leave from Nimbasa City Gym which Silver Wing News claims is when the nonexistent baby is due. Both of these claims are misleading and false. Additionally, I was not contacted for any sort of statement regarding these claims before the article was published.

    I have attended multiple appointments due to severe hayfever, having never spent a summer in Unova before, and seeking medication. As for how Silver Wing News were made aware of my medical appointments, Nimbasa General Clinic assured me that they place great value in patient confidentiality and that their staff would never knowingly disclose this information. What they also revealed was that numerous calls were allegedly made to reception by someone using my name in order to confirm dates of appointments. Calls which I did not make.

    As for my requesting time off, this is not in order to give birth, but instead, to visit my family home in Goldenrod City, and pay my respects to my father, who passed away when I was fifteen, five years ago this August. This was the first year since his passing that I was in a position to take time off from work and return home for the anniversary, and am disgusted that this time away is being used as the source of baseless slander.

    As a self-proclaimed source of news, Silver Wing News exists to inform the public of current events and new information coming to life. However, instead of working in the domain of fact, intentionally or not, Silver Wing News has posted falsified information, with the potential to be to the detriment of not only my well being, but Dylan Squier, Chris Kingswood, and the Eon Academy, as the place where the three of us met, and that all of us proudly represent as alumni. I encourage Silver Wing News to be more intentional about dealing in the domain of truth, in order that they not sully their reputation further with articles published in such poor taste as this one.

    Abbee Strauss…”

    Abbee proofread the post, before making up her mind, and publishing it. She was shocked that this was the sort of person she was needing to become. She had always prided herself on seeing the best in people and giving the benefit of the doubt. And despite this making her a prime target to be taken advantage of, the fact that she looked for the best in people prevented those around her from wanting to exploit her good nature. Now however, she needed to be different. Colder, condemning and merciless. She wondered whether this was for the better, or worse.

    Not even a minute later her phone buzzed. She saw the name on the screen and realised that she had not mentioned to either Dylan or Chris that this article existed, before naming both of them in her statement.

    ”What the f**k is this about you being pregnant and the kid being mine?!”

    Abbee couldn’t help but laugh at her own blunder, knowing definitely she owed Chris an explanation…

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    “This place is incredible…”

    Candice’s assessment was met with agreement by Justin as the pair entered the combined kitchen, dining and living area of the house they were inspecting. It was modern, newer than even Candice’s house, which she had purchased brand new a few years earlier.

    This was the third house the pair had visited, and already was the favourite that they had seen. It was a large, single floor home, made of dark bricks and a steel roof. Throughout the house were four bedrooms in addition to a study, as well as a garage large enough for two cars, but stretched in order that it could also double as a workshop, and whilst Justin was nowhere near as technical as Dylan, he knew how much he would appreciate having the space for his own projects in and around the home. And whilst neither himself nor Candice were in a rush for kids to come into the picture, he knew the pair would rather have a larger home and grow into it later than try and find a bigger place when they actually needed it.

    “This place is basically new,” Candice said to the estate agent who stood by the bench in the kitchen. “Why are they selling?”

    “Same reason practically anyone leaves Snowpoint after less than two years,” the agent replied. “It’s too cold. They moved up here because the house prices were lower, and figured that they’d get more for their money. They lasted one winter…”

    Justin couldn’t help but grin. He had survived his first winter in Snowpoint, which he had learnt early on was quite an achievement. He had been surprised to learn that his colleagues at the Snowpoint City Police Station were running a book, placing bets on how long Justin would last. He knew that whoever was arranging the bets would likely have made a considerable amount of money.

    The pair continued to look through the house, and the more they saw, the more they fell in love with both the house and the property it was built on. After they had seen every room, the pair excused themself to the backyard under the guise of wanting to inspect it. Instead, they just wanted a chance to speak without being overheard by the agent.

    “Honestly, I think this is it…” Candice said to Justin, unable to hide the grin from her face. “It’s just perfect…”

    Justin nodded in agreement. The house could not be better situated for either of their workplaces, in addition to public transport being nearby, which removed some of the pressure for Justin to buy a car. It was close to the main highway entering and leaving Snowpoint, allowing direct travel in and out of the city, whilst being far enough that noise was not an issue. Even the backyard was perfect, with a large entertaining area that seemed to be designed with Snowpoint in mind, covered with removable walls, and a large wood-fire pizza oven which doubled as a fireplace.

    “I think we’d be stupid to let this slip,” Justin agreed. “Let’s just hope that we don’t need to sell kidneys to afford it…”

    Given the fact that Justin had been saving for years, and Candice had done the same, whilst also having bought their current house not long after she and Justin met, the pair were financially better off than most couples their age. At twenty-one and twenty-five respectively, Justin and Candice’s price-range was similar to that of couples ten years older. However, this house was a cut above what the pair had already seen, and likely knew that the price would reflect that.

    The pair discussed further what they could and couldn’t make work. They had already visited a mortgage broker, who had given them an estimate both on how much they would be able to borrow, but also what sort of interest rate the pair could expect. They agreed though that should this property fall into their price-range, they wouldn’t waste time negotiating a better price. When they were finally ready to talk cost, they made their way indoors.

    “Grant,” Justin called out to the agent, who was typing away on his phone. He quickly pocketed the phone, and approached Justin and Candice.

    “So tell me, what do you think of the house?” Grant asked. “I’ll be real with you, if I were in the market for a new home, I’d be snapping this up myself.”

    “I won’t bulls**t you Grant, we love it,” Justin answered. “And we’re ready to make an offer on it if the price is right…”

    Grant grinned at the candour, before removing a notepad and pen from his jacket pocket.

    “The seller is open to all offers this price or higher,” Grant explained, before scribbling a number on the notepad and passing it on to Justin. He placed it between himself and Candice, in order that they could read it together.

    This had proven to be a mistake. Both Justin and Candice’s hearts sank as they looked at the figure. It was thirty-thousand dollars more than the most they could borrow, and even if they were willing to pay that maximum amount to get this house in particular, it would still be far from ideal. Even at thirty-thousand above their maximum, that still placed it at eighty-thousand more than they were hoping to spend.

    Grant seemed to notice their expressions shift.

    “I’ll be real with you, the owners chose a poor time to move. The market in Eterna City is high at the moment, and because of that, they’re trying to recoup their losses by selling this place at the higher end of what it’s worth,” Grant explained. “I’ve tried talking them into lowering the asking price to something a little more reasonable, however they have made it abundantly clear that is not an option for them.”

    Justin remained silent, gutted by the news, as Candice, sensing this, intervened.

    “So there is no chance they would be willing to negotiate a lower price?” Candice asked. “We’re pre-approved for a loan, and could have the money transferred within a fortnight if they’d be willing to go thirty-thousand lower…”

    Grant grimaced at the thought, before sighing.

    “I’ll try and bring that to them, however don’t get your hopes up,” Grant explained. “Now that they’ve survived their first winter, it won’t become a priority to sell the house until autumn hits. So I don’t think they’d reduce their price by that much. But leave your number with me, and I’ll get back to you.”

    The pair left pretty quickly after. When they got into Candice’s car, Justin finally let out an exasperated sigh.

    “There’ll be something else,” Candice said firmly. “And I’m sure that whatever we find, we can make it even better.”

    “I suppose,” Justin said quietly. This was something he had looked forward to doing for years, and this was the first house that they had seen which had this effect on them. “I just really liked this house.”

    “Me too,” Candice said with a sigh of her own. “Come on, let’s get a drink. I think after this, we’ve earned it…”

    An hour later, the pair sat in the same bar that Justin had visited with Chris a month earlier. They sat in a booth, each with a drink in hand, as Candice, on her phone, looked at other listings for houses in Snowpoint. Justin had to admit that he understood what Grant had talked about earlier. There were a lot of newer looking houses, which he was sure was due to people building homes in Snowpoint for the cheaper properties, before they had spent their first winter there. He remembered that the Crown Tundra had been in the same predicament, being viewed as a tourist destination, until the tourists realised just how cold it would get.

    As Candice showed him various houses, he tried to remain optimistic, and show interest, but struggled. Missing out on the last house had stung a bit more than he was expecting, and even the houses that Candice showed him which looked good, he was cautious about getting too invested in, lest the same thing happen.

    Candice was in the middle of showing Justin another house when the website vanished, replaced with an incoming call from an unknown number. Candice gave Justin a glance, upon seeing it.

    “It’s probably him,” Candice said quietly, as Justin nodded. After a moment, she cleared her throat, before answering, “Candice speaking…”

    “Candice, it’s Grant from Evergreen Real Estate. I’m sorry for the delay in getting back to you, but I’ve got some news…”

    “Did they accept the offer?” Candice asked, as she put the call onto loudspeaker, only just loud enough for her and Justin to hear.

    ”Unfortunately, no, they didn’t,” Grant explained. ”However, I had an idea not long after you left…”

    Candice gave Justin a puzzled look, as Grant continued.

    ”You mentioned that the pair of you are pre-approved for a loan. If you don’t mind me asking, is it through the Pokemon League?”

    “No, it’s through Jubilife Bank,” Candice said, confusion evident in her voice. “I didn’t think the League were in the business of loaning money?”

    “Normally they aren’t. But a year ago, they created some incentives for Gym Trainers and Leaders, in order to keep them in the cities they are employed in,”Grant explained. “Low interest loans for houses in their respective cities…”

    Justin’s eyes widened at what Grant had just told them.

    “One of the perks of the pair of you being well known is that I was able to find out how long you’d both been at your places of employment, and by extension, what the minimum you’d be earning would be. I hope I’m not being too presumptuous but I ran the numbers in terms of how much the League would loan you on a twenty-percent deposit with their interest rate,” Grant explained. “And I am certain that they would loan you eighty-thousand more than what you told me was your limit back at the house, at a better rate…”

    “Grant, are you sure about this?” Justin asked, not wanting to get excited for nothing. “The League would loan us that sort of money?”

    “You are it’s clientele for that service, and given how long Candice has been in the role, and how popular she is as a Gym Leader, if they thought this would incentivise the pair of you to not leave Snowpoint, they would be stupid not to,” Grant answered. ”Only reason they wouldn’t is if you were unemployed Justin, or had a terrible credit history…”

    “Nothing like that. Just some student loans,” Justin explained. Candice however interjected.

    “But the house we live in now, I own,” Candice added. “Granted it’s mortgaged, but the plan was to sell that house once we move out, and put the profits into an offset account for the new house…”

    ”In that case, I’d eat my hat if they didn’t loan you the money,” Grant retorted. ”And when they do, call me and make me an offer within the price range, and I’ll make sure they accept it…”

    The call ended, with both Justin and Candice wide-eyed in shock. Justin began looking online for proof of this incentive, and found it, before quickly calculating the numbers, and confirming what Grant had told them. And by his calculations, it was even better than what Grant had said.

    “I can’t believe we didn’t look into this,” Justin said in shock. “I’m almost glad it didn’t work out, because we’d have been over two-hundred thousand dollars worse off just in interest…”

    “I’ll have to buy Cynthia a drink at the next Christmas party,” Candice replied, equally stunned by the news. “I had no idea the League were doing this…”

    Despite himself, Justin grinned. He kept telling himself not to get too excited, however with every passing second, things seemed even better.

    “That’s going to be our home…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    Cassandra felt nauseous as she sat at the dining room table of the staff lodge. She hardly slept the night before. Today was the day that Cynthia was visiting the Academy, and Cassandra’s unease was not due to being star-struck.

    This was the day that the last twenty months had been moving towards. The day that she may be allowed to compete again. To battle, unrestricted, for the first time since the S.S. Wishmaker. All the battles she fought, both in training with Jon and the others at the Eon Academy, and those with real-world consequences, led to this. Cassandra fidgeted with one of her Pokeballs, rolling it across the tabletop, until she was pulled from her thoughts by the sound of a knock at the door. She jolted in response, almost letting the Pokeball fall off the table. Seeing it fall button-side down, and having a hunch that it belonged to Ace, her tallest Pokemon, she instinctively waved her hand, causing it to stop an inch from the ground. Despite the fact that she didn’t use Shadowcraft as much in her day to day life as she used to, she had to admit that being able to cast spells without even a peep was handy. She quickly attached the Pokeball to her belt, before making her way to the door.

    She opened it, and to no surprise, Cynthia stood opposite her. Her demeanour was professional, and whilst not unfriendly, made it clear that the Sinnoh Champion knew exactly what she was here for.

    “Hello Cassandra,” Cynthia said plainly. “It’s been a while…”

    It had been six months since Cassandra, Jon and Steven rendezvoused with Cynthia at the ruins which contained the newly formed Palkia egg. After Palkia’s death in the battle against Blackstone last summer triggered a new egg appearing, Cynthia had travelled to the place it would be, in order to reach it first, before Blackstone potentially made their way there, until Jon, Steven and Cassandra could join her and assist in transporting it elsewhere. For days, the trio travelled by night, before they reached the Sinnoh Pokemon League. Palkia’s egg remained in place, still seeming to form the deity that grew inside it.

    “Come in,” Cassandra said quickly and awkwardly, gesturing for Cynthia to enter. She led the Sinnoh Champion into the dining room, before offering a hot drink, to which the Champion declined.

    “It’s been five years since I was last here,” Cynthia said, almost as if to herself. “Jon was still renovating it for its first summer…”

    “Back when Steven was detained?” Cassandra asked. Cynthia nodded.

    “A lot has changed since then. Both here, and outside of this place…”

    Cynthia took a breath, as if to dispel the small talk, and get herself in the headspace of the task that lay ahead of her.

    “Steven has made you aware of why I’m here?” Cynthia asked, though knowing the answer. Cassandra nodded anyway. “I’m here to assess whether you are fit to have your ban revoked, and be allowed to compete in League competitions. Given the gravity of why you were banned, it was determined that a Champion needed to make the decision, and given that I was the one to suffer a loss to you, it was deemed fair that I make the call.”

    Cassandra nodded in understanding, trying not to wince at the reference to the win she stole from Cynthia many years earlier.

    “The review will be in two halves,” Cynthia continued. “The first will be a formal interview, and the second will be a battle against me. Are there any questions?”

    Despite having the ability to wordlessly put Cynthia to sleep at best, and turn her into a Pokemon at far from the worst, Cassandra couldn’t help but be intimidated by the Sinnoh Champion’s to-the-point tone, especially considering the power Cynthia held over her future as a battler.

    “Just one,” Cassandra said, steeling herself to ask the question on her mind. “I have no objection to battling you, however I think we both know that I don’t stand a chance at beating you, and that part of the reason I want to be able to compete again is because I know I need to improve as a battler. Doesn’t this make the battle a little redundant?”

    “I am aware of both of those things,” Cynthia answered without hesitation. “The reason I want to battle is because I am going to be giving you the chance to speak into your future and why I should give you another chance, but on their own, the words aren’t enough. I need to see that you want this enough to do everything you can to prove it…”

    Cassandra nodded in understanding, before Cynthia spoke again, this time, her tone a little softer.

    “Try to relax,” Cynthia said casually. “I want to give you this opportunity. I just need to make sure that you are ready for it…”

    Cassandra nodded, which Cynthia took as confirmation to begin the interview.

    “So tell me, why is this important to you?” Cynthia asked. “From the moment you revealed yourself to the world after the business with Agatha, you made it clear that you want to compete, and you’re the only one of the Diamond Ladies to want to get back into this world. Why?”

    Cassandra nodded in understanding.

    “Before we started using Shadowcraft to cheat, I barely had any experience battling outside of Trainer School as a kid. And at the time, sure, I would have liked to have made it, and been known as a Pokemon Trainer, but that was never on the table. It’s not that it was too hard but that I was just not good enough to get anywhere, and I didn’t think that would change,” Cassandra explained. “So when the opportunity arose to be able to make it as a battler, even if naturally I would not have what it takes, I took it. And funnily enough, when I did begin winning and making my way up the ranks, nobody thought twice about it. Nobody thought something was up, and that I was doing too well. At least, not until we got cocky and challenged Champions-”

    Cynthia chuckled at the comment, as Cassandra continued.

    “But after everything went down, I realised the person who had the least faith in me ever making it as a battler was me. I let my own doubt lead me to do something I should have known was wrong, and continue to do more things like that, before I even tried actually seeing if I had what it took without it,” Cassandra said. “And after beating Avery, and then battling Jon in the High Seas Tournament Grand Final, and seeing both what I could do without Shadowcraft, but also how much further other people had gotten without it, I wanted to do the same. I used Shadowcraft because I thought it was a secret weapon. But after the S.S. Wishmaker, I realised it was a crutch, and that it was holding me back. Because even if I could have beaten Jon had we not gotten caught, that wouldn’t change the fact that Jon was the stronger trainer by far. I wanted to see if I could catch up to him on my own two feet…”

    Cynthia nodded, satisfied with the answer.

    “Do you still use Shadowcraft?”

    The question took Cassandra by surprise, and despite not being ashamed of her abilities in any way, she found herself reluctant to admit she had used it not even ten minutes earlier.

    “Yes,” Cassandra explained. “But not in the same way I did back then-”

    “I’d hope not…”

    Cassandra couldn’t help but grin at the comment.

    “Honestly, until we got caught, we barely scratched the surface on what we could do with Shadowcraft, but because we knew of nobody else who could use it, we thought we were pioneers. Really, it wasn’t until we got caught, and had to survive in a world that hated us, and then, after we disappeared, survive as Pokemon, that we even began to consider that maybe we weren’t so brilliant with Shadowcraft after all,” Cassandra answered. “Then Alola happened. Agatha and Brianna both were using Shadowcraft in ways that we didn’t even think possible. Even Willow was miles ahead of us. Honestly, it was dumb luck that gave us the upper hand over Agatha. Because if I didn’t figure out non-verbal Shadowcraft when I did, she would have won…”

    Cynthia nodded solemnly, needing no reminder of how close they had come to destruction.

    “Since then, I’ve been using it for all sorts of weird and wacky purposes I never thought I would be,” Cassandra explained. “Last summer, Willow and I ran an infected type game with the kids using Shadowcraft that would spread light illusions between people on contact. Even at the end of summer, when Jon and his original five students got matching tattoos, I used Shadowcraft in order to heal the skin and effectively remove any and all immediate care needed for it. The tattoo studio has been hounding me weekly, offering me work…”

    Cynthia grinned at the stories, content with the answer, before asking another question.

    “If I were to revoke your ban, what would be your next step?”

    “I’d keep the Eon Academy as my homebase for the time being, but after this summer, I’d travel and compete in tournaments, the same way Jon did,” Cassandra answered. “I still have a lot to learn, but the rate I’m growing is slowing down as I get closer to Jon’s level, and I could spend another five years here, learning from him, but if he’s the only trainer I battle who actually challenges me, I’d get very good at keeping him occupied, but be pretty hopeless against everyone else. So I want to get out and compete against other trainers, who want nothing more than to leave me behind, so that I can learn from them, and improve.”

    “And what if I keep your ban in place?”

    The question took Cassandra by surprise.

    “I’ll wait until I can request another review, and I’ll try again. I’ll find out why you said no, and I will work to bridge that gap,” Cassandra answered, her tone simple and to the point. “And if I keep getting rejected for the sake of being rejected, and realise that I’m never going to be allowed to compete, then I might just turn you into a Pokemon for a few days to let you know that you’re better off putting this whole thing behind you.”

    “What Pokemon?”

    There was no hint of humour in Cynthia’s voice, and Cassandra knew why. She had spoken in the exact same way many times, wanting to see if the person in front of her had the nerve to push on with what they were saying, when most would backpedal.

    “Jon kept making comments about not wanting to be turned into a Dunsparce back on the S.S. Wishmaker, so maybe I’d turn you into a Dundunsparce?”

    Cynthia couldn’t help but grin at that logic.

    “I’m flattered you’d turn me into something better than you would Jon,” Cynthia said simply, before standing to her feet. “Take me to the stadium, and let’s battle…”

    Despite being content with the interview, Cassandra’s nerves worsened with every step closer to the stadium. She wondered whether the others were watching the security cameras from Jon’s house. She hadn’t seen any of them all morning, and knew they weren’t tactless enough to invite themselves in as spectators for this battle. However she also knew that all would want to see the battle unfold, and that the security system was likely being streamed to the TV in Jon’s lounge room, where Jon, Willow, Violet, Jarena, and possibly even Steven were likely watching in anticipation.

    “It will be a full team battle,” Cynthia stated, which surprised Cassandra a little bit, considering three on three was the standard in tournaments, as it added another element of strategy, choosing which Pokemon you send into battle, and those which would miss out. However it didn’t take a genius to work out why. Cassandra knew that if she were limited to only three Pokemon, chances are she’d lose the match before she even had the opportunity to beat one of Cynthia’s Pokemon.

    ”She knows I can’t win, and wants to see me work for this regardless,” Cassandra thought to herself. ”So I’ll work for it…”

    Both trainers selected a Pokeball, before Cynthia, acting as the referee, called out ‘begin!’

    “Go Ace!”

    “Go Garchomp!” Cynthia said, as Cassandra resisted the urge to swear under her breath. She knew two things for sure. The first was that Garchomp was likely the worst Pokemon she could send Ace the Ampharos up against in terms of type advantages. The second, having battled Chris’ Garchomp multiple times the summer before, and also seen it in action, was that Garchomp were incredibly powerful Pokemon in their own right. However she refused to let herself be rattled. Even if she knew that Ace would likely not last long against Cynthia’s Garchomp, she knew that every decision she made would say something to the Champion about how far she had come, and what sort of trainer she was going to be.

    “Bulldoze!” Cynthia ordered.

    This was a move Cassandra saw coming, and whilst the sight of Garchomp bearing down on Ace was intimidating to say the least, she didn’t let her nerves get the better of her. As strong as Garchomp was, she knew it would take more than a Bulldoze attack to knock out Ace whilst it was at full strength.

    “Cotton Guard!” Cassandra ordered.

    As Ace took the hit, it let out a cry, as the wool that coated its hide hardened, armouring the Pokemon significantly, as Garchomp readied it’s next attack. Cassandra watched Garchomp intently for any signs of slowing down, however saw none, grimacing. She had hoped that by taking the hit, Ace’s Static ability would trigger, paralysing Garchomp, however she had not been that lucky.

    “Garchomp, Stone Edge!”

    Garchomp roared, striking at the Ampharos with a hardened claw, as Cassandra made up her mind. If Static didn’t take effect this turn, Ace would go down.


    Ace took the hit, leaving it dangerously unsteady on its feet, before its eyes closed and it fell asleep, restoring its health to full.

    “Earthquake!” Cynthia called out, and to Cassandra’s relief, Garchomp seemed immobilised. Static had finally kicked in. However, her relief was short-lived as Cynthia called out “Stomping Tantrum!”

    Angered by its inability to act due to paralysis, Garchomp took its frustration out on Ace, attacking the Pokemon brutally. Cassandra knew that if Ace hadn’t used Cotton Guard, that move would have knocked it out instantly. Ace remained asleep, and Cassandra knew that it would only be by luck that Ace would even wake up before being knocked out.

    “Dragon Dance!” Cynthia commanded. Finally, Ace awoke, as Cassandra ordered it to use Dragon Pulse, however that was the only hit Ace managed to land. Cynthia gave the order for another Bulldoze attack, which struck directly, knocking Ace out, as Garchomp let out a roar of victory.

    Cassandra recalled Ace, before considering which Pokemon to send out next. Finally, she settled on Angel the Swanna. However she knew that she needed to take a risk if she wanted to stand a chance at recovering ground. She wasn’t certain that even one of Angel’s Ice Beam attacks would be enough to put Garchomp down, given the fact that she had chosen Angel, like all of her Pokemon, not for its strength in battle, but its need for a trainer, some having no experience battling before coming into her care. Against a Pokemon in the possession of Cynthia herself, she couldn’t hedge her bets on one good hit being enough to finish off the Pseudo-Legendary, unlike Jon may be able to with his Pokemon. Meanwhile, she was sure that Garchomp, empowered by Dragon Dance, would be able to take down Angel with a single hit. It was just a matter of whether Cynthia chose to go on the offensive now, and if paralysis prevented it from moving.

    “Angel, Rain Dance!”

    “Dragon Dance!” Cynthia commanded.

    Angel let out a cry, as rain began to fall from the ceiling, and Garchomp let out a roar, attempting to use Dragon Dance, however found itself stuck, unable to move. Cassandra breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that the fact she had come as far as she had in this battle against Cynthia was not due to her own skill as much as it was due to luck. And luck was about to desert her.

    “Hydro Pump!”

    Garchomp regained some movement, and leapt aside, which alongside the relative inaccuracy of the attack, was enough for the attack to miss completely. Cynthia saw this opportunity, and took it.

    “Garchomp, Dragon Dance, then Thunder Fang!”

    Garchomp roared, finally using Dragon Dance again, before using the momentum of this success and rushing forward, striking Angel with a Thunder Fang attack. Angel screeched, as it took the attack, and was knocked out instantly, causing Cassandra to grimace. She returned the Swanna, before thinking carefully about how best to handle Garchomp. It was now just as fast as it was before, which was already faster than practically all of her team. However it was also twice as strong as it was before and it was laying waste to her entire team at this rate.

    Cassandra began trying to think about how Jon, or Charlotte or Chris would handle this, however soon realised this was not beneficial. Each of them had trained for years, and had their own experience which informed their battling, and whilst she could learn from them, the way they would handle this would not be in a way that suited her style, temperament and team. As she had this thought, a thread of an idea began to form, which wasn’t quite complete yet, however she knew that these instincts being honed were the blueprint to her success.

    “Go Nami!”

    The Purugly appeared on the battlefield. It was the only Pokemon Cassandra had that would be faster than Garchomp, and whilst Nami wasn’t offensively a powerhouse, her plan didn’t rely on offensive power.


    Nami let out a cry, which seemed to rattle Garchomp. It stood looking between Nami, and Cynthia, as if to protest the fight that would occur.

    “Dragon Claw!” Cynthia ordered. Garchomp wasn’t held back by the paralysis, and began to move towards Nami, however hesitated, before coming to a complete stop. Cassandra didn’t give another order, knowing the next two moves needed to be timed perfectly. This was a tactic that would only work once, and if it failed, Cynthia would not let it happen again. “Go on Garchomp! Dragon Claw again!”

    “Swagger!” Cassandra called out. “Then Taunt!”

    Nami let out two cries as Garchomp attempted to make another attack, both offensive to the Pokemon, drawing it into a rage. The first hit, confusing Garchomp whilst also raising its attack power, and the second taunted it, causing it to, despite its infatuation with Nami, want to attack it at full strength.

    Realising what Cassandra had done, Cynthia removed Garchomp’s Pokeball, calling out ‘return’ however it was ineffective, as Garchomp was too confused and angry to allow itself to be withdrawn. The Dragon type roared out in dismay, as the paralysis that halted its movement, and the infatuation it felt for Nami, mixed with its desire to attack her, compounded the confusion it felt.

    “Nami! Hone Claws!” Cassandra called out, remembering one of Jon’s earliest lessons; to use advantageous circumstances to add to your advantage.

    Finally, Garchomp lost control, and began headbutting the ground, until it knocked itself out, leaving Cynthia looking on in shock. Now unconscious and unable to resist being withdrawn, Garchomp returned to its Pokeball as Cynthia shook her head in disbelief.

    “I have battled for the last twenty-five years, and been Champion for over a decade,” Cynthia said in shock. “Nobody has ever used something like that to beat one of my Pokemon.”

    “I’m sorry,” Cassandra said, not thrilled she had to resort to a tactic that involved interfering so severely with the emotional state of a Pokemon. “I only did it because I knew it would be undone the moment it entered its Pokeball.”

    Cynthia nodded in understanding, before sending out her second Pokemon.

    “Go, Lucario!” Cynthia shouted. Cassandra noticed a newfound determination in the Champion’s demeanour, and she had a hunch that Cynthia was done playing around. She only hoped it meant that the Champion had made up her mind, and for the better.

    “Nami! Bulldoze!” Cassandra ordered. She was thankful that over half of Cynthia’s team were Pokemon also used by those she worked with at the Eon Academy. Chris had Garchomp, Charlotte had Roserade and Milotic, and Justin had Lucario. She had watched them battle, and had enough practice battling against them that she knew to some degree what she could expect of these Pokemon in general when it came to their attributes. And because of this, she knew that unassisted by items, Nami would be faster.

    Nami rushed at Lucario, tackling into the Pokemon as earth erupted from the battlefield floor, slamming into the Pokemon. Lucario was thrown back, however remained standing, though Cassandra was thankful to see that the hit had not been insignificant.

    “Agility, then Drain Punch!” Cynthia ordered with precision that Cassandra knew only came from years of experience. Lucario cried out, using the Agility move, and doubling its speed, before using the newfound speed to counterattack Nami. Lucario struck with deadly precision, landing a heavy blow that left Nami wobbly, on the brink of falling, whilst also replenishing its own energy.

    “Nami, Dig!” Cassandra ordered, as a last ditch effort.

    “Agility again, then Protect!”

    Lucario in an instant had used another Agility, before raising a protect barrier in a heartbeat, blocking Nami who erupted from the earth behind Lucario, and at this point Cassandra knew it was over.

    “Protect!” she ordered, knowing Lucario would be hitting with something highly accurate, not needing a great deal of damage to finish off Nami. She predicted a Power-Up Punch, knowing it’s what Jon and Justin would do with their Blaziken and Lucario respectively in this situation, and wanted to beat Lucario to it. Cynthia however, predicted Cassandra’s prediction.


    Lucario, expecting the protection move, made as if to strike in front, before leaping over Nami, and upon landing, rammed its elbow into the Purugly from behind. Nami let out a choked cry, before falling unconscious. Cassandra looked in shock, understanding that Cynthia had been originally going far easier on her than she was now.

    Cassandra called back Nami, before settling on her fourth Pokemon.

    “Go Marche!”

    The Sandslash appeared in front of her, and Cassandra knew this was her best option against Lucario. Sandslash’s strength was in both its physical attack, but also its resilience to physical moves, which made up for its lack of speed. She knew that keeping up with Lucario now was impossible, and instead, she needed to wait for it to come in and make a move, before striking back with a heavy hit.

    “Power-Up Punch!” Cynthia called out.

    Lucario darted for Marche, before striking with multiple light attacks, that progressively got stronger. Cassandra knew that Lucario was making use of all of its speed, landing every blow it could before Marche retaliated.

    “High Horsepower!” Cassandra ordered, however as she spoke, Cynthia shouted an order simultaneously.

    “Endure! Then Bullet Punch!”

    The difference was one syllable in the first command, which allowed Lucario to prepare for the heavy hit Marche was about to deliver. Marche struck back with a power that eclipsed most Pokemon’s natural strength, throwing Lucario back, the Pokemon holding on with only a sliver of energy left, and ready to collapse. Instead however, Lucario landed on its feet, before launching itself forward, and striking Marche with a Bullet Punch attack. March was thrown back, unconscious, and Cassandra knew she stood no chance of winning. She called Marche back to his Pokeball before raising both hands.

    “I concede!” Cassandra called out. She stepped forward, and after a moment, Cynthia made her way forward to meet her in the centre of the battlefield, raising an eyebrow at the development.

    “Why?” Cynthia asked plainly, as if it were inconsequential to her.

    “Because I know when I’m beat, and I get that this battle is for you to assess whether I am ready to return to competition or not, but Lucario will hit whatever I send out next with Drain Punch, knocking either my Frosmoth or Lilligant out in a single hit, before finishing the other one. Neither Pokemon would last five seconds on the battlefield, and I’m not going to subject them to that for the sake of this assessment,” Cassandra said firmly. “Unless you’re looking to see me force my Pokemon to fight until the bitter end for the sake of proving myself to you, and I don’t think you’re that sort of person, nothing I do from this point will give you any reason to give me a chance that you already wouldn’t have found from the battle so far. So I concede…”

    Cynthia nodded in understanding, her tone giving nothing away.

    “Well in that case, our business here is done,” Cynthia said casually. “I’ll contact you this evening with my decision…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    “She conceded…” Violet stated, as she watched the events unfold in disbelief. Jon nodded in acknowledgement.

    “There was no way she could have landed a hit on Lucario,” Jon answered.

    “But Cynthia wouldn’t let her Pokemon get hurt would she?” Willow asked. Jarena shook her head.

    “It doesn’t matter. Even if Lucario would knock them out quickly and painlessly, there is no point in fighting on…” Jarena stated.

    The four trainers sat in Jon’s lounge-room, having watched the battle from the security camera feed of the Stadium. There had been cheers when Cassandra managed to bring down Garchomp when all present thought that it had gotten too much of an upper hand to be brought down. And quiet shock when Cassandra conceded, and the pair spoke for a moment, before Cynthia left.

    “Do you think they’ll let her return to competing?” Jarena asked.

    “It’s hard to say, and largely depends on Cynthia’s personal opinion,” Jon answered. “That stunt with Purugly driving Garchomp to knock itself out is a perfectly legal tactic in competition, and was a stroke of genius. But…”

    “It’s also the sort of stunt we would have used Shadowcraft to pull on people back on the S.S. Wishmaker if it meant we could get away with what we were doing,” Violet admitted. Jon nodded.

    “Cynthia could see that in one of many ways, but two stand out. The first is that Cassandra has grown to be incredibly resourceful in battle, and knows her Pokemon and how to use them to their best well. The second is that personally, Cassandra hasn’t changed that much if she is willing to use a tactic that affects the faculties of an opponent to that degree…” Jon explained. “And part of this battle wasn’t just seeing how skilled she was. It was putting Cassandra in a position where the thing she wants most seems further away than it is, and putting enough pressure on her so that if the last five years have been a facade, it will crack and show her true colours.”

    “You knew this and didn’t tell her?” Jarena asked in disbelief. She curbed her irritation at Jon withholding this as she knew from experience that Jon had an annoying habit of acting in a way that people thought was wrong, only to know something himself that proved it to be the right course of action.

    “I trust that none of you are the same people you were back then, and know that if Cass is being true to herself, she will give Cynthia no reason to think that there is anything nefarious bubbling beneath the surface,” Jon explained. “But if I tell her, and she tries to compensate for it by pretending to be someone else - well, Cynthia isn’t a fool. She would see straight through it, and hold that against Cass.”

    The group was interrupted by the sound of the door knocking. All four glanced at one-another. Anyone who called the Eon Academy home for a significant amount of time knew to come to the back door that entered into the kitchen. This however was the front door…

    Jon stepped up, having a hunch he knew exactly who was on the other side, and opened it, revealing Cynthia.

    “Cynthia,” Jon said plainly, giving her a professional nod. She and Jon had never been particularly close, given the vast majority of their interaction had been in League Operations, and Jon knew she took her role incredibly seriously. “What can I do for you?”

    “I was hoping to speak to Violet,” Cynthia explained. “Cassandra explained you’d likely all be here…”

    Jon couldn’t help but chuckle at that, before inviting the Sinnoh Champion inside, and guiding her to the lounge. Violet, Jarena and Willow all stood out of respect for their guest, which amused Jon slightly, that Cynthia had almost a militaristic respect naturally brought out of those who knew her. Cynthia glanced at the TV, seeing the empty battlefield on the security cameras, before letting out an imperceptible sigh.

    “Well, seeing as you saw the whole thing, what did you think?” Cynthia asked Jon. Despite the professional barrier between them, she had grown to respect Jon, even outside of her gratitude for his involvement in the previous two League operations. She had just been challenged and beaten by Chris earlier that month, and had been made aware of Dylan’s involvement in the mystery of the comatose boy in Canalave City nearly three years earlier. And she also knew that very few people could humble her former mentor as well as Jon and his students had. She knew the value of Jon’s opinion as a battler, and wanted to hear it.

    Jon resisted the urge to proselytise on Cassandra’s behalf, and answered Cynthia in a way he thought she would respect.

    “I think that you were very intentional in that battle, about stacking the deck so you could look for very specific things,” Jon answered plainly, holding eye contact with the Champion, whose presence was borderline intimidating. “And I think that everything you were looking for in that battle, you found…”

    Cynthia took a moment to consider the answer Jon had given, before nodding in understanding. She then looked over at Violet.

    “Violet, I was hoping to speak with you before I left,” Cynthia stated. “Let me buy you lunch, and we can talk…”

    Even Violet couldn’t hide her puzzled expression, before regaining composure and nodding. She went to follow Cynthia to the front door before the pair were interrupted by a question.

    “Will Cass be allowed to compete?” Jarena asked directly. Cynthia turned, and let the silence sit in the air for a few moments before speaking.

    “She will be the first to know my decision,” Cynthia said with a finality that invited no disagreement. “However…”

    Cynthia looked to Jon, directing her next statement at him.

    “She has come a long way….”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    An hour later, Violet and Cynthia found themselves sitting in a corner of a quiet cafe in Mossdeep. Cynthia had driven the pair in her rental car, intentionally choosing a place that looked particularly empty. She waited until the pair had ordered and food had arrived, before speaking, so that they wouldn’t be interrupted.

    “The three of you changed the world, well before you stopped Agatha,” Cynthia said plainly. “You know that, right?”

    Violet nodded in understanding. Whilst Shadowcraft existed well before they began practising it, the Diamond Ladies being captured was what brought it into the public eye. Before their unveiling, groups such as the one Agatha corralled would not have had the nerve to be as blatantly obvious and visible as they had.

    “Jon wanted to keep Shadowcraft a secret for the sake of battling, because he was worried there would be copycats, and he was right. In the last five and a half years, there have been eight competitors given bans for attempting to use Shadowcraft, and that is with all the countermeasures we have implemented,” Cynthia explained. “It’s not just that. The education system is now having to implement countermeasures that prevent cheating in exams…”

    Violet nodded.

    “Honestly, using Shadowcraft to cheat in an exam would be easy. I imagine with a maths exam for example, using the light based illusions that only specific people can see, like how Agatha directed her followers on Akala Island,” Violet explained. “A light illusion showing all the formulas needed for the exam, that only the person casting it can see.”

    “There is not a single industry where Shadowcraft cannot be used to undermine the rules and laws that govern them, and the only thing keeping them relatively safe is the fact that Shadowcraft isn’t very widespread, and people tend to focus on using it for winning tournaments, instead of performing corporate espionage…” Cynthia explained as Violet couldn’t help but smirk at the reference to the Diamond Ladies. “On the other end of the spectrum, Shadowcraft has the capacity to improve the lives of people and society as a whole. The most obvious point is in medicine, but the Eon Academy uses it for security, and Cassandra mentioned using it for a game last summer, and at a tattoo shop. The sky's the limit for the good it can do in the world-”

    “That wasn’t what people thought five years ago…”

    The comment had slipped out before Violet could even stop herself. Cynthia went silent, however her expression shifted slightly. Violet almost thought it softened. The Sinnoh Champion nodded at Violet, as if to say “continue, and don’t hold back.”

    “After everything went down, we offered to assist the League in how they respond to the aftermath of Shadowcraft being brought into the public eye, and to make a long story short, we were laughed at. I know that wasn’t you personally, but the League chose to go into the changed world blind and uninformed, so they wouldn’t have to work with us,” Violet said.

    “You’re right,” Cynthia agreed. “It was short-sighted of us. On the one hand, we didn’t know whether the change in you three on the S.S. Wishmaker would wear off, but on the other, we chose to accept an unknown with almost infinite possibilities of things going to s**t, because of that. Had we agreed to your offer, we may not have been as on the defensive against Agatha. But this is why I’m here now.”

    Cynthia took a bite of her meal, wary of it going cold, before continuing.

    “Think of the internet,” Cynthia explained. “First it didn’t exist, then gradually it did. Computers began networking together, and though it wasn’t commonplace, and had niche uses, it was there. Then what happened next?”

    “It exploded,” Violet answered, as Cynthia nodded.

    “In the same way, I think Shadowcraft will do the same before too long. It may not be that every household has someone performing it, but it may well be that every industry has use for it, and enchanted items for everyday use are bought and sold with no second thought. And I think we are on the brink of that shift,” Cynthia explained. “Which leaves us two options. We regulate Shadowcraft to the point where its place in society cannot evolve and change everything. Or we enter this new age prepared for it, and be intentional about how society adapts to it.”

    “It’s an interesting thought,” Violet agreed. Currently there was nothing stopping her from accepting one of the many offers from the tattoo shop that she and the others visited last year to do some healing work for their clients. However, there were no laws or legalities in place preventing this. Currently, based on her conversations with Justin, Shadowcraft needed to be used to break a law that already exists, such as assaulting somebody. However if it is used in a way that laws don’t cover, there is little stopping people from doing whatever they like.

    “Because of this, the Pokemon League is wanting to create a division with a sole focus on Shadowcraft, which will eventually act as an advisory board to regional governments in how they handle the increased use of Shadowcraft and its effect on society,” Cynthia explained. “For the Pokemon League, responsibilities will be identifying tactics in which Shadowcraft can be used to cheat, as well as how Shadowcraft can be used to implement countermeasures to that, as well as where Shadowcraft has the potential to impact Pokemon training overall, for better or worse.”

    Cynthia continued eating, as she explained.

    “We are beginning in the League because currently, with the exception of Agatha and the Eon Academy, competitive battling is the place where we are seeing the most consistent involvement of Shadowcraft cropping up, given that people have seen it done before,” Cynthia explained. “But as people have other ideas, and the effect of Shadowcraft spreads wider, this board will advise governments on how to best regulate Shadowcraft in a way that society can improve, without the risk of another Netherlink coming into existence. This could be through regulating who teaches it and how it’s taught, certain reagents being regulated and those who purchase them being on watch lists, or any other means.”

    “It sounds like something we will need before too long,” Violet agreed. Cynthia nodded.

    “And I want you to lead this division…”

    Violet choked on the mouthful of food she was eating, before reaching for a drink to wash it down.

    “Why me?” Violet asked, as she cleared her throat and was able to breathe again. “I’m hardly the best with Shadowcraft, and I don’t know the first thing about politics.”

    “Neither do most of our politicians,” Cynthia retorted, and Violet was shocked that the normally stoic and serious Champion had made a joke. “But there is something about you that stands out amongst the four of you who helped to bring down Agatha.”

    “And what’s that?”

    “You are the one who was most grounded in the world around you when you had it all,” Cynthia explained. “Cassandra and Jarena won battles, got famous and made money, but they just lived the good life. You on the other hand, you took what Shadowcraft gave you, and used the world to get more. You invested your earnings, and I know there were rumours that you had connections in a lot of places far further than the other two…”

    Violet nodded slowly. She had been very intentional to cut ties with the shadowy figures she knew prior to their unveiling, however everything Cynthia said was true.

    “If I’m being real, what the three of you did was minor when you compare it to what could happen. You stole some titles, and won some money that you shouldn’t have. You did turn some operatives into Pokemon, but that was all reversed by the time Jon won the High Seas Tournament. It only seemed huge because we had no idea how much bigger the world was than we originally realised,” Cynthia continued. “Of the three of you, you were the one who showed the most awareness that you could reach further and do more. And honestly, had you not been caught, I think that by the time all three of you got bored with just winning titles and getting rich and famous, you would have been the most dangerous of the three of you, because you saw the bigger picture of what you could do.”

    Violet had never considered that, having always seen Cassandra as their leader back in the day, however when Cynthia explained it the way she had, Violet knew if she were an outsider looking in, she’d agree.

    “For this reason, you are the person I want looking to the future, to lead the way to Shadowcraft becoming a staple in society so it doesn’t snowball out of control,” Cynthia explained. “You are the best person to do this…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    The sun was setting as Jarena found herself sitting on top of one of the outdoor tables at the Eon Academy. Had students been there, and she caught them doing the same thing, she would have been obligated to tell them off, especially seeing as wooden furniture left out in the elements would lose structural integrity, and if eight students were sitting there being less than careful there was every chance it may result in an injury. For her however, she knew that there were things that being a staff member excused from her.

    Violet had returned a few hours earlier, sharing that Cynthia had offered her a job, one that all present knew fit Violet perfectly. Within an hour of returning to the Academy, Violet had called Cynthia, accepting the position, which would begin in September, meaning that she would be leaving the Academy. Meanwhile, if Cassandra’s appeal was accepted, she’d return to the Eon Academy between tournaments, but would spend the majority of her time travelling, concluding her employment for Jon as well. Dylan was well and truly gone, and as for Willow, by summer of the next year she’d be gone too, if all went according to plan.

    “You alright?”

    Jarena turned to see Steven making his way towards the table.

    “What brings you here?” Jarena asked, knowing that it was usually Thursdays where Steven and Jon had their practice battles.

    “Just some paperwork I need Jon to sign,” Steven answered with a shrug, before sitting on the seat that was attached to the table Jarena sat on. “But you didn’t answer my question…”

    “I’m alright,” Jarena assured him. “Just got a bit on my mind…”

    “About the others?” Steven asked, causing Jarena to give him a puzzled look. “Cynthia filled me in.”

    “Do you-”

    “I don’t know what will happen with Cassandra,” Steven said. “She said Cassandra will be the first to know. But I knew the assessment was today, and why she wanted to meet with Violet…”

    Jarena nodded.

    “Well yeah, I’m thinking a bit about that,” Jarena explained. “I’m happy for Violet, and I hope that Cass gets to compete again. But at the same time, part of the reason I’m here is that it meant we would be able to stick together for a little longer. And now it seems like in six months I’ll be here by myself…”

    “Well surely you didn’t plan on being here forever, regardless of what Violet and Cassandra did?” Steven asked.

    “Definitely not. I wanted to open a Pokemon shelter eventually, but it’s still a little bit too far out of reach,” Jarena answered.

    “How so?”

    “Well it’s not like a Pokemon shelter is a for-profit business. It exists for the sake of the Pokemon’s welfare, and relies on good intentions to stay funded. Sponsorship, donations, volunteers, and all that. It won’t be bringing in funds as part of its operations in order to keep operating,” Jarena explained. “And I’ve saved a bit of money since arriving here, but at the same time, a shelter that is functioning well will be haemorrhaging money. Either a mortgage or rent for the space, which will need to be pretty big, as well as the cost of employees if there aren’t enough volunteers. Then all the food and other materials needed to care for them. To make more of an impact than I would just helping out at an existing one, I’d need to be coming in with a considerable amount of money, whilst also finding income at the same time. And I think if I had enough time to prepare, I definitely could make it happen. But I’m seeing the others moving on so soon, and wishing there was a way I could move towards my goals at the same time as them…”

    Steven nodded in understanding.

    “It’s a fair assessment of the situation,” Steven explained. “Anyone who begins an endeavour that is purely for the sake of others will have the hardest time making it happen because of things like keeping the lights on. Some people blame capitalism, however they do that using their name-brand smartphones, on Twitter, so I can’t exactly take them seriously. But you’re right; you’ve set a goal that asks more of you financially than the other two, which has less financial payoff.”

    Jarena nodded in understanding.

    “But there’s something I think you’re overlooking…”

    “And that is?” Jarena asked, unsure of what Steven was getting towards.

    “You don’t have to do this alone…”

    Jarena gave Steven a puzzled look, as Steven pulled out his phone, and opened up a satellite maps application. He quickly began swiping until he found what he wanted and showed Jarena.

    “This is a satellite view of Dylan and Abbee’s house in Unova,” Steven explained before zooming out. “And this…”

    Steven zoomed until the house was a speck on the screen.

    “This is the size of the property they’re on…”

    Jarena’s eyes widened at the amount of land surrounding the home.

    “Dylan has just started his breeding business, and is already going to have at least another half dozen Pokemon in his care on top of he and Abbee’s Pokemon, and the Zorua he is caring for currently before they get leased out to trainers. And this is from his first job, which only needs Abbee’s Glaceon and Gardevoir, Jon’s Blaziken and Alyssa’s Ditto to complete,” Steven explained. “He will need to be sourcing Pokemon for other commissions, and needing to care for them, where any help he could get would make a difference. Meanwhile, you’ll be actively seeking Pokemon that need additional care, in order to look after them, and requiring space to do so as well as some extra help as things grow. I think there is some significant overlap here…”

    “You think I should partner up with Dylan?”

    “I think that you both have goals that are not going to be easy to fulfil, and that you could help each other fulfil them, whilst being set up to both do what you want to do better, if you were to work closely together,” Steven explained. “Like, imagine you purchase part of his property for you to build your own facility on, and begin taking in Pokemon that need to be in a shelter. You have all the space of Dylan’s property for them to live safely in. Meanwhile, Dylan gets a commission for a Pokemon that you have, and is in a state to breed? You lend it to him, and he isn’t having to borrow one from someone else or catch one in the wild. I’m actually shocked the pair of you didn’t come up with this on your own…”

    Jarena remained deep in thought. Honestly, she thought it was a good idea. She could help Dylan with his business, and Dylan could provide her with what she needed in terms of space to do her job well. And it meant that she could theoretically begin working towards this far sooner than if she attempted it on her own.

    “I can’t speak for Dylan, but it’s worth asking him…” Steven concluded, before looking at his watch. “Anyway, Jon’s waiting for me. But think about it…”

    “Thanks Steven…”

    Steven left, and Jarena spent the next hour tossing up the idea, looking for holes in the plan, however the more she considered it, the better the idea sounded. She knew that Dylan’s philosophy for his breeding business was to reduce the impact on wild Pokemon, but also be able to provide specially bred Pokemon without the Pokemon involved in the process being mistreated. This was something Jarena was well and truly in agreement with, and aligned with her own goals. Finally, she worked up the nerve. Opening her contacts on her phone, she tapped Dylan’s name.

    The phone rang for a minute, before she heard Dylan’s voice on the other end.


    “Dylan, it’s Jarena,” Jarena said, trying to hide her nerves. “Have you got a minute?”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    Later that evening, Cassandra sat at the desk in her room, her laptop open in front of her, with her email inbox open. She was sure she was close to wearing out the F5 key, due to refreshing it compulsively as she waited for Cynthia’s email. Violet had received a job offer that she planned on taking, and Jarena had approached Dylan with a proposition about them going into business together, which Dylan had been interested in, albeit, wanting to speak in more detail before making any firm decisions or promises. Now, Cassandra waited for the news about her future away from the Academy.

    For what felt like the thousandth time, she pressed F5, refreshing the inbox, though not expecting anything to change, until she saw it. A new email at the top of the list, from the Pokemon League Department of Registration.

    Cassandra considered calling Violet and Jarena to join her, however decided against it. They may have been the Diamond Ladies, but this was her moment, for better or worse. Taking a deep breath, she opened the email, where attached, was Cynthia’s assessment from that day.

    ”The assessment was conducted in two halves. The first, an in-person interview with Cassandra Silvers, and the second, a Pokemon Battle.

    The interview revealed that Cassandra has grown significantly in the last five and a half years, having not only seen the error of her ways, but looking deeper to what led her to the decisions she made, and setting her sights ahead of her in order to move forward, using her history, spotted as it is, to help her grow into more than she could have grown into without it, instead of letting it hold her back. Her priority above all things is using her career as a Pokemon Trainer as a catalyst to continue to grow further as a person. Because of this, I have absolute faith that Cassandra would not resort to cheating in competition, as it would have the opposite effect with regards to the goal she is pursuing.

    This however did raise concerns with regards to the effect such a narrow motivation would have on the wellbeing of both Cassandra herself, and also her Pokemon. An example of this concern is the effect that losing to Jarena Farrell had on former Indigo Champion Lance, who I believe placed his sense of self-worth in his title of undefeated Champion, and upon losing this, acted irrationally and unreasonably, derailing his entire career and future. As much as I am glad to see that Cassandra’s focus is not on fame, titles or money, but her own growth as a person, my concern was that using her career as a battler as a catalyst for this, would result in it becoming the metric, and significant challenges or loss could have a detrimental effect on her wellbeing, or capacity to make decisions in the best interest of her Pokemon.

    I began the battle with Cassandra pushing her hard enough that the determination she voiced would have to be shown in her actions and battling, and Cassandra rose to the occasion, fighting a difficult battle that she knew she couldn’t win, with the same level of determination that she’d fight against someone where the outcome was still to be decided. She battled with ingenuity and sincerity to herself and her own style of battling. Once this was made obvious to me, I then began pushing her hard enough that by the time she had two Pokemon left, there was absolutely no way she could win, in order to see whether this determination would override her good judgement. After her fourth Pokemon fell, which was the one that would have the best chance of turning the tables, Cassandra conceded, knowing how I would respond should she send in any of her other Pokemon, and that neither would be able to make a difference to the outcome of the battle. She refused to let her Pokemon be knocked out with nothing to show for it, for the sake of her own desire to win. Even when her future in competition was under scrutiny, she did not let her own drive to win get in the way of her Pokemon’s wellbeing.

    For all these reasons, I am making the decision to revoke Cassandra Silver’s ban, and allow her to compete in Pokemon League competitions, effective immediately. I have full faith that allowing Cassandra to compete will be to the benefit of the sport of Pokemon battling, and all who partake in and enjoy it.

    Congratulations Cassandra. You’re back in the ring.”

  2. #212
    I came in like a wrecking ball... [Desolate Divine]'s Avatar
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    Mar 2013
    Melbourne Australia
    Epilogue 4 is done with one left, tying up the first year for the former students, the Diamond Ladies feat. Willow, and Jon Drake after the end of the episodic seasons.

    One left. I may get it done before Christmas. I may not. Given the fact that Episode 4 was fifty pages, and I have four significant battles to write, I get the feeling this may be a big gap. But it will be worth it.


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