|Book One: Reversi
Author: Scrawlers PM
Lea, Cheren, Bianca, and Blair are four ordinary new Trainers from Unova. N is a not-so-normal Trainer from underground. This is their story. "Breakdowns are really just breakthroughs. It takes hitting the bottom to make it to the top."Rated: Fiction M - English - Adventure/Friendship - Chapters: 6 - Words: 90,223 - Reviews: 9 - Favs: 9 - Follows: 8 - Updated: 11-19-12 - Published: 05-14-12 - id: 8116815
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances; if there is any reaction, both are transformed."–Carl Gustav Jung
"Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal."—Albert Camus
Chapter Two: Fresh Faces, First Meetings, and the Beginnings of a Plot
Earlier in the day, three teenagers from Nuvema Town started their journeys as Pokémon Trainers.
The previous day, a teenager named Blair Coalsen had done the same, though he'd started in Striaton City.
Like the three from Nuvema, Blair was sixteen, and originally he hailed from Driftveil City, although there were no Trainer Licenses or starter pokémon to be found there. For that reason, Blair's elder brother Jet had escorted him to Striaton City, where he received his Trainer License, a pokédex, and an oshawott from a kind woman named Fennel on behalf of Professor Juniper. And that, truly, was how Blair ended up in Accumula Town, for while the town didn't have a Gym (and Striaton City did), Blair wanted to head to Nuvema Town before he did anything else, in order to thank Professor Juniper for the pokémon and Pokédex.
Of course, he'd never factored getting lost into the equation.
Accumula Town was the sort of town that liked to pretend that it was a city. The buildings weren't necessarily particularly large, but they were tall; many tried to touch the sky in a way that would block out the sun, and they were packed closely together, as if by touching sides they could prevent each other from falling over. Not only were they jam-packed together, but they were jam-packed together in little clusters, which all seemed to form a ring around a central plaza. That wouldn't have been so bad, except that all of the buildings looked roughly the same, and the only spaces to venture between them existed either in the manner of a well-paved street, or a set of stairs that compensated for a steep drop from one level to another. The only building that was set apart from the rest, in fact, was the Pokémon Center, distinguishable by its red roof. It was sitting off by its lonesome—though still right next to the plaza—and was bordered by a cluster of trees. Everything seemed to be a cluster in Accumula Town, and Blair thought that Cluster Town might have been a better name, therefore.
The point, however, was that he was lost. Every time he tried to make it to Route 1, he either ended up back at the plaza or back at Route 2. Asking people for help didn't get him anywhere, either, but that was mostly because he was the sort of person the universe decided didn't exist. When he tried to call out to people, they never heard him, and when he attempted to tap their shoulders, they walked right past him. It wasn't because they were cruel people, or even particularly spiteful; it was merely that Blair blended into the scenery for just about everyone, even when he tried his level best to stand out. One could almost say that it was like he was a ghost, except that wasn't a true, because even a ghost would have attracted more attention than Blair.
That, however, is a digression.
The fact of the matter is, despite growing up in a large city, Blair had an awful sense of direction, and in a town like Accumula, that was good for nothing except getting lost.
For about the umpteenth time, Blair found himself back at the plaza, and he felt like screaming (something he may have done, had he been the sort to do so). Instead of unleashing his rage at the heavens, however, Blair merely tugged the bill of his baseball cap down over his brown eyes, taking deep breaths to try and release the frustration from his body. Getting worked up wouldn't help him, he knew. Sooner or later, he would have to find his way to Route 1. Nurse Joy had, when he'd asked her, said that it wasn't far from the Pokémon Center at all. It shouldn't have been as difficult as it was.
Blair was pulled from his internal reverie as someone shoved by him, barely looking at him as they did so. He frowned, but as his attention was pulled to the area around him, he realized that the plaza was a lot more crowded now than it had been the previous times he'd traipsed through it. A little stage had been set up near the middle of the left side, blue banners depicting a shield bearing the letter 'P' erected on either side of the stage. No one seemed to be on the stage, yet, but people were already gathering in front of it, apparently curious about what was going on. Though his desire to find Route 1 was still quite strong, Blair found himself wandering toward the stage, his eyes fixated on the banners.
"Um . . . excuse me," he tried, reaching out to tap the arm of a man nearby—a man whose eyes also seemed to be fixated on the stage. He received a light grunt in response. "Excuse me?"
"What?" The man didn't really look at him, but a verbal acknowledgment was more than enough for Blair, who already felt the back of his neck and cheeks heating up in response.
"Um . . . w-what's going on here? I-I mean, what's the stage—"
"Demonstration," the man grunted. "Some pokémon activists are giving a demonstration."
Pokémon activists? "Oh. Um, sorry to keep bothering, but when—?"
"An hour from now," the man snapped, and Blair shut his mouth. "Just clear out, would ya?"
Blair didn't see why he needed to, given that the presentation hadn't started yet, but he was not the type that needed to be told twice. Another quick apology left his lips before he retreated, heading back in the direction of the Pokémon Center. The notion of pokémon activists giving a demonstration was intriguing to him, but mostly because the concept was so new to him. Pokémon rights were important, of course, and in Driftveil City pokémon were protected by labor laws just as people were, but he'd never heard of activists actually campaigning for pokémon rights before that moment.
Did pokémon even need humans campaigning for their rights?
The question was enough to hold Blair's attention fast, and while he still wanted to head to Nuvema Town in order to thank Professor Juniper, he now also wanted to hear this presentation. There wasn't, to his knowledge, any place to wait in Accumula Town besides the Pokémon Center, and so he found himself entering through the glass sliding doors once again, despite the fact that he didn't require any of its services at the moment.
The Center was completely packed—far more crowded than it had been earlier that day, much like the plaza was quickly becoming. Trainers of all ages were crowded into the lobby, sitting on the various couches and cushions or else crowded around the Mart counter or complimentary PC. Blair shoved his hands into the pocket of his over-sized blue pullover, feeling his heart beating a bit faster. Driftveil was a large city that was usually bustling with business, but even so, situations like these weren't his forte.
Given that there were no available seats in the lobby, and that it was loud and clamoring with noise anyway, Blair made his way to the cafeteria, where Trainers could eat for free provided they presented a valid Trainer License. That, too, was jam-packed, but although he couldn't see every table from the entrance, Blair held out hope that there would be at least one empty one, near the back. After securing two juice cartons—one for himself, and one for Saphir—Blair began to weave his way through the tables, his eyes scanning the room for just one single, solitary, person-free space.
No such luck.
Every table and every booth was taken, and as he passed by, several Trainers looked up and gave him quizzical looks that made Blair wish he could pull his head down into the collar of his pull-over, like a squirtle. It had been this way in school, of course—receiving judgmental looks for having no friends to sit with during a school lunch was par for the course—but that didn't make dealing with it any easier.
"Oh, hello! Hello—hi! Are you looking for a place to sit?"
Blair looked around, startled, for the source of the voice. It was light and friendly, and when he finally found the source, he found that it belonged to a girl with blonde hair and green eyes, sitting at a half-circle booth with two others: a girl with wild brown hair tied back into a thick, unruly ponytail and electric blue eyes, and a boy with dark hair and calculating grey eyes shielded by glasses. The table was absolutely covered with food (most of it seeming to belong to the brown-haired girl), and if the pokéball insignia on the brown-haired girl's cap wasn't enough to give it away, the three were Trainers who allowed their pokémon free roam of the table. The blonde girl's lillipup was seated on her lap, while another sat begging for scraps at the brown-haired girl's feet, and a purrloin sat between the boy and the blonde girl, its large eyes fixated on the blonde girl's milk carton.
"Hello?" The blonde girl tilted her head to the side, and though she was still smiling, she seemed a bit less sure of herself now. "Do you need a place to sit?" Blair felt his cheeks redden, and opened his mouth to reply when the dark-haired boy did it for him.
"Bianca, you don't need to call out to every stranger that passes by. Odds are likely that he is either here to meet someone, or would find a place on his own."
"Oh . . ." The blonde girl—Bianca-looked put out for all but a second before she shook her head, giving the dark-haired boy a stubborn look. "But he looked lost, Cheren! I saw him wandering around the cafeteria, and he looked so lost and lonely . . ."
"Really?" asked the brown-haired girl, though only after she swallowed a large bite of a double bacon cheeseburger. Blair frowned at the fact that he seemed forgotten, despite the fact that the conversation was about him. "He just looked kinda weird to me." His frown deepened.
"You would know all about that, Lea," said the one named Cheren, as he took a drink of water. The brunette, Lea, puffed out her cheeks, and thumped one fist on the table.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing in particular. Only that you're the Supreme Mistress of All Things Strange and Not Ordinary."
"I think you mean 'extraordinary,' Cheren."
"While I'm impressed you know that word, I meant what I said. Using extraordinary would carry the connotation that you are special in the positive sense, which I didn't mean to imply at all."
"Yeah, well, you can go on and imply whatever you want, but—"
"Guys!" Bianca interrupted what seemed to be an impending fight with that single word, and while both of them looked over at her, she was looking directly at Blair. Seeing this, he averted his eyes, and shifted awkwardly on the spot. "We both know that Lea's different—"
"In an awesome way," Lea interrupted, and as Cheren rolled his eyes she stuck her tongue out at him.
"—but that's not the point! The point is," she smiled at Blair, "do you want to sit with us, if you don't have anywhere else to be?"
The truth of the matter was, Blair didn't want to sit with them very much. They all seemed to be particularly close, and the look Cheren was giving him was . . . not exactly cold, but calculating enough to make him feel uneasy. Lea had gone back to digging voraciously into her double bacon cheeseburger with all the table manners of a starved tepig, and all Blair truly wanted was a secluded corner to curl up with his oshawott until it was time for the pokémon activists' presentation to start.
The truth was, however, that Blair was absolutely terrible when it came to saying 'no.' So although he didn't particularly want to be there, he gave a half-hearted shrug and managed to mumble, "S-Sure."
"Oh, good!" Bianca smiled brightly, and reached over to lightly swat Lea's arm. "Lea, scoot a little closer to me so he can sit down by you, okay?"
"Y'okay," Lea said, and she spoke around a mouthful of food so that everyone there could get a clear view of it. Cheren wrinkled his nose as Lea scooted closer to Bianca, and Blair awkwardly took a seat at the edge of the booth.
"Lea, that's disgusting. Swallow before speaking, next time."
Lea did swallow her food, but only so that she could grin wolfishly at Cheren. "That's what she said, Cherry-berry," she said cheerfully, and grabbed a french fry off her plate to drop down to her lillipup. Blair reached for Saphir's pokéball when he saw this, remembering that one of the juice boxes in his pullover pocket was for him. Cheren gave Lea a flat look.
"Whitlea, that joke is so tired that it'll sleep for ten thousand years before it's revived again. Please find some new material." Lea shrugged, and dropped another french fry down to her lillipup.
"Whatevs, it was totally appropriate and you know it." Blair pressed the center button on Saphir's pokéball twice in order to release his oshawott onto his lap, and as he put the pokéball away and reached for Saphir's juice carton, all three Trainers at the table turned to look at him. "Whoa, you've got an oshawott?"
"Um . . . yes," Blair said, and Bianca gasped in delight, clapping her hands together.
"Oh, that's so neat, I have one, too!" she gushed. "I don't have him with me right now—Nurse Joy is tending to him right quick, since the three of us decided to battle our first pokémon right after we made it to town—but I picked oshawott as my very first pokémon ever! His name is Wotter, and he's just the sweetest—well." She looked down at the lillipup sitting in her lap, which wagged its stumpy tail excitedly. "He shares the spot as the sweetest pokémon in the whole world with Toto, here."
"Sweet, schweet, no oshawott could ever beat Ganon. That's my tepig," Lea said, and she looked over at Blair with an overconfident grin. With tepig being a fire-type, Blair thought that Saphir had the advantage, but he didn't say anything as she flipped another french fry to her lillipup. "And Bi, Dogmeat here could probably thrash little Toto in a battle."
Bianca held Toto close to her, and frowned over at Lea. "Could not," she protested, "and I still think Dogmeat is just such an awful name. Couldn't you name him something nicer, Lea?"
"What're you talking about? Dogmeat's an awesome name. I can even call him Dog for short—and you can't get into much trouble with a name like Dog. Right, Dogmeat?" Dogmeat barked in affirmation as Lea dropped yet another fry down to him, and Cheren gave Lea a reproachful look.
"He's going to become overweight if you keep giving him scraps like that."
"Oh, lighten up. I've only given him, like, four fries." She dropped another down and added, "And that was just five fries. Bee-tee-dubs, your purrloin is totally gonna knock over Bi's milk carton in the next five seconds."
It seemed true. As Blair punched a straw through the top of the juice carton and handed it to Saphir (who happily dropped his shell into Blair's lap to partake in the juice), Cheren's purrloin put his paws up on the table to reach for the milk carton. Bianca hastily moved the milk carton out of the way as Cheren grabbed his feline by the scruff of the neck and deposited him on the floor.
"No, Crookshanks. Stay off the table." Crookshanks gave a loud meow of protest, but curled up on the floor to sulk regardless, glaring balefully at Dogmeat as the canine pokémon looked over.
"That's such a weird name," Lea said, and Blair thought that she didn't exactly have the right to say that given her lillipup, but he bit back that comment as she turned to him. "Don'tcha think that's a weird name, uh . . . hey, what's your name, anyway?" Blair was suddenly acutely aware that both Bianca and Cheren were looking at him, now, too—well, Cheren was more staring than merely looking—and he looked down at Saphir, again.
"Um—Blair," he mumbled. "Blair Coalsen." Perhaps his last name wasn't really necessary, but he was the sort to always give his full name when introducing himself. Lea seemed to ponder this for a minute before she laughed.
"Isn't Blair a girl's name?" Blair's cheeks reddened, and—used to years of teasing from his older brother, and embarrassing baby photographs of him wearing pink dresses and yellow bonnets—he retorted before he could help himself.
"Isn't Lee usually a boy's name?" The smile faded from Lea's face, and she gave him an odd look. It wasn't exactly a frown or scowl, but it was certainly appraising, and he felt his brief flash of defiance ebbing away.
"Huh. Yeah, I guess so. Hey! You know what that means?" Lea reached out and thumped Blair on the shoulder, roughly enough for it to hurt a little and jostle Saphir, who looked positively indignant as a bit of juice splashed down his front. "It means we've got something in common, Blair-bear! We both have gender-blender names!"
Blair simply stared at her, his cheeks feeling hotter than ever before as his lips mouthed, 'Blair-bear . . . ?' But before he had a chance to respond, Bianca took hold of the conversation, and the slightly higher-note to her voice suggested that she was changing the subject on purpose.
"So! Where are you headed, Blair? Your oshawott baby looks pretty young, still, so did you just start out like us? We only just started out today. Oh! And what's your oshawott's name? You know, so that way we're not just being all rude and referring to him by his species." Bianca seemed to catch herself babbling at that moment, for her cheeks reddened a little bit as she halted her flow of speech, and though Blair felt a bit overwhelmed by the rapid-fire questions, her apparent awkwardness was something that he could empathize with, and that made answering a little bit easier.
"His name's Saphir," he said quietly, and—upon looking down and seeing that Saphir was trying to brush juice drops off his fur with his paws—he took the hem of his pullover and cleaned his oshawott off. "I only just got him yesterday. I, um—I want to go to Nuvema Town, to thank Professor Juniper." A gasp from Bianca made him look up, and Blair found that all three Trainers were staring at him in shock.
"Oh, really? That's so—we're from Nuvema Town!" Bianca's green eyes were practically shining in excitement, and she bounced a little in her seat. Cheren was still watching him, he noticed uneasily, but had at least gone back to eating his sandwich. "Oh, that's so neat! It's so good that we met you, then!"
"G-Good?" Blair asked, feeling a bit confused. Lea interrupted before Bianca could elaborate on her thoughts.
"I don't know about good, but it's totally kickin' that you wanna go visit Juni-baby's lab. She's the one that hooked us up with our first pokémon, too." She dropped a fry down to Dogmeat, who gobbled it up happily, before she looked back over at Blair with an odd look. "But hey, how'd you get a pokémon from her if you've never met her?"
"That's a surprisingly intelligent question, coming from you," Cheren said, and Lea flipped him a rude hand gesture that made Bianca give her a reproachful look.
"Shut up, Cheren." Lea looked back to Blair, who felt his cheeks heat a bit under her scrutinizing gaze. "So? How'd it happen?"
"W-Well . . ." Blair swallowed, trying to wet his throat. He knew there was likely no reason to feel nervous, but he couldn't help but feel nervous when he was being interrogated like this. "I—I took correspondence courses to get my Trainer License, and . . . I passed. So I came to Striaton City to pick up my License, Pokédex, and chosen first pokémon from one of Professor Juniper's friends." Blair licked his lips before chewing on the bottom one a little. He kept his eyes on Saphir, finding it easier to watch his oshawott crush the juice box between his paws than look up at the three other Trainers in the booth. "That's all."
"Oh. Well, that's no big deal." Lea leaned back in the booth, and Blair stole a glance at her out of the corner of his eye, watching as she stretched her arms up over her head. "So, what'cha hanging around here for if you're gonna go thank Juni-baby? Nuvema Town's not far from here, but you should still probably get there before it gets dark, or whatever. There's not a Pokémon Center there, or anything."
"I'm sure Professor Juniper would give him a place to stay in the lab," Bianca said, but she sounded a bit doubtful as she said it. Even if she wasn't willing to voice her doubt, however, it seemed that Cheren was.
"There isn't really a place for him to sleep there, besides the floor, and she's never met him, besides. For once, Lea is actually correct." Blair saw Lea silently mock Cheren out of the corner of his eye, and as Cheren fixed his steely gaze on Blair, the meeker boy averted his eyes. "You really should head out soon if you want to make it there and back here before dark."
"W-Well . . . yeah." Blair's shoulders slumped, and though his inner shame was begging him not to say it, he couldn't help but be honest regardless. "I tried to go earlier, but I . . . I got lost in the city. I couldn't find Route 1." Lea burst out laughing, and Blair felt his cheeks flame in embarrassment. Upon hearing Bianca giggle a little as well, and even a soft chuckle escape Cheren, Blair plowed on, hoping to push his embarrassment behind him. "And—And there's a demonstration going on here soon that I want to see. S-Supposedly pokémon activists are going to be giving one."
That brought the laughter up short, and Blair sensed that Lea had looked over at him. "Pokémon activists?" she echoed, and he nodded. "Huh. What're they for?"
"Pokémon rights, or something," Blair mumbled. He pulled his hat down further over his eyes, making his untidy brown hair that much messier beneath it. "I don't know. That's why I want to see." He heard Lea start tapping her foot on the floor beside him, which disturbed Dogmeat enough to make him pounce at Crookshanks, who let out an angry hiss.
"Well, it's good that pokémon have rights—I mean, it's important," Bianca said, and her tone suggested that she was pondering it. "Although, they have rights, don't they? So why does someone need to raise a fuss about it?"
"People will take any excuse to cause a scene," Cheren said, and Blair looked up just enough to see that the other teen was starting to gather the group's trash onto his tray. "Though I'll admit that I'm curious to hear this group's reasoning as well, including what they're actually aiming for. If it's better working or living conditions, that's one thing, but . . ."
"But nothing," Lea said, and Blair glanced over to see her stick her chin out defiantly, her arms crossed over her chest. "They've got good living and working conditions. I mean, sure, I'm sure some pokémon don't, because they don't have Trainers, but for the most part I think they've got it pretty all right, especially if they've been caught by a super kickass Trainer." She grinned, envisioning herself as the super kickass Trainer in question, if Blair had to guess. "So what could anyone have to bitch about, then?"
"I would assume," Cheren said, standing up and stacking his tray on top of Bianca's and Lea's, "that we would have to watch the demonstration to find out." With that, he turned to take the trays and trash to the trash bin across the room, and Lea gave a fierce grin that made Blair's stomach do a flip.
"Yeah," Lea said. "Let's do it."
The planet's current world population sat at roughly seven billion people, and at least half—perhaps more—of those people happened to be Pokémon Trainers. Even those that didn't actively Trained owned pokémon, keeping them around as pets, or else making them serve as construction workers or servants.
It was, in a word, sickening.
Sickening as well as baffling, when one took into account the fact that the number of pokémon in the world doubled or even tripled the number of humans, and many—if not all—of the pokémon could hurt or even kill humans if they truly wanted to. The fact was, however, that they didn't—that, unlike humans, pokémon were creatures that were pure of heart, without any malicious intent. Even when they were abused they refused to turn, proving time and time again—beyond reasonable doubt—that they were better than the humans who shared the planet with them.
It was admirable, even if it was frustrating.
Accumula Town, known for its clusters of buildings and many stone staircases, was but one small town in the region of Unova, but it attracted enough Trainer traffic to make a Team Plasma demonstration worthwhile. The stage and banners had already been erected, and the only reason the demonstration hadn't yet started was because Ghetsis, leader of Team Plasma's Seven Sages, thought it wise to leave the stage and banners set up for awhile to attract more attention. The point was to gather as many people for an audience as possible, figuring that it was best that the message reach as many people as possible. It was a good idea, in theory, but one that Team Plasma's own king didn't truly care about supporting.
After all, humans wouldn't change willingly, so it didn't matter if they heard or not.
Natural Harmonia—better known as N—stood just to the left of the stage, leaning up against it as he watched people crowd into the plaza, staring at the stage with wonder in their eyes, and curious whispers leaving their mouths. To them, he probably looked like any other Trainer, despite the fact that he didn't carry any pokéballs on him. His shoes were converse and his pants were khaki, and both his black undershirt and collared white overshirt had three-quarter sleeves. He wore a watch on one wrist and oddly shaped bangle bracelets on the other, a planet-like pendant hanging from a chain around his neck while a similar chain held a Void Cube dangling from his belt loop. Long, seafoam green hair was thick and tied in a ponytail, a black and white baseball cap pulled down over matching eyes. Really, while his style of dress might come across as a bit odd, he looked no different from any other Trainer, save for perhaps his height (he had a lot of it, at nearly six feet) and oddly pale skin (he'd only seen the sun for the first time a few months previously).
The fact of the matter was, though, that N wasn't a Trainer—not by any means. And as he watched Trainers gather in the plaza, tossing pokéballs up and down in their hands, or carrying pokémon in their arms like stuffed ragged dolls to be dragged around for their amusement . . . it made him feel sick. He crossed his arms over his stomach, glaring at the crowd, and it wasn't until he felt something soft brush against his ankles that he looked down, his expression relaxing.
"Oh, hello," he said softly, and he squatted down to be more on level with the purrloin that had wandered up to him. The feline gave a meow in response, and N felt a small smile twitch at his lips. "It's brave of you to wander into town," he noted. "Someone could try to catch you here." He reached out and scratched the purrloin behind her ears, his smile widening as she butted her head up against his palm. "Though, you don't have to worry so long as you're with me. I'll protect you."
"My liege, it is almost time for the demonstration to start. Surely you don't mean to waste time by talking to a stray purrloin?"
The voice that spoke to him was deep and smooth, and it removed all traces of a smile from N's face. As he stood up, he put his hands into his pockets, and turned to look around behind the stage. The man who stood there was short and slim, though the battle armament—bearing Team Plasma's crest—that he wore made him look stockier than he actually was. The armament led down to a purple and gold cape bearing eye insignia that N always found strange (though he never commented on it), and covered a white robe that fell over brown sandals. Like N, Ghetsis had green hair (though his was streaked with grey), but unlike N, Ghetsis' eyes were red—and one of them was mechanical.
"Spending time with a pokémon is never a waste, Ghetsis, and that's something I thought you would understand, considering." N let a bit of derision seep into his voice, but he kept most of it in check. Though he was Team Plasma's king, Ghetsis had been the one to raise him, and set the rules; he knew better than to snap. Not wanting to hear any sort of remark on his tone, N quickly continued on. "You're about set to start, then?"
"Yes, just about." Ghetsis' tone was cool, and N knew that Ghetsis knew that he knew that Ghetsis was only holding back an admonishment because he felt like it, but that N was still in the wrong for his tone and could easily face admonishment later. This knowledge didn't sit quite well with N, but he knew that it was worth it, for now—he could put up with it for now, because in the future, it would no longer matter. "We seem to have a sizable crowd. Tell me, Your Majesty; how many people have gathered to hear our words?"
N walked backward a few paces to get a full view of the crowd. Trainers and non-Trainers alike were pressed tightly into the square, crowding around the stage and craning their necks to try and get a better view. N craned his neck a bit as well, to see to the very edge of the crowd, and after a minute's examination, he returned back to Ghetsis.
"Sixty-six, and I saw four more coming here from the Center." A smirk curled the corner of Ghetsis' mouth up. "There's hardly room to walk in the plaza anymore. People are spilling out of the sides. Are you sure that the message will be able to reach all of them? Did you think to bring a microphone?"
"Team Plasma has been preparing for this day for the past twenty years, my lord," Ghetsis said, and his tone suggested that he was not appreciative at all of N's questions. "That is a year longer than you have been born, I'll remind you. Yes, we did remember to bring the microphone."
"Good." N tapped his fingers along his legs, bouncing on the balls of his feet. As sickened as he was by the Trainers, the presence of so many people made him feel nervous. Logically, he knew that they could never capture him as they would attempt to capture a pokémon, but even still, the thought of them raising a pokéball against him made the hairs on his arms stand straight up. "Well, then you'd better get started. I'll watch from the crowd."
"Oh?" While Ghetsis' smirk had taken on an angry tilt before, amusement flashed free within it once again. "Are you sure you'll be comfortable among those people, Your Majesty? There are plenty of Trainers in that crowd—plenty of people who confine and enslave pokémon." N's eyes narrowed, and while one hand squeezed his Void Cube, the other tightened in his pant leg.
"Yes. I'm aware. However, if I am among them, then I can get closer to them. While it's important to keep your friends close, Ghetsis, it's equally as important to keep your enemies closer." Ghetsis raised the eyebrow over his mechanical eye.
"Where did you hear that?"
"Rood taught it to me. He told me that it would be essential knowledge for overcoming my enemies."
"Did he, now." Ghetsis looked contemplative, but before N could ask him what he was thinking, he raised one hand in dismissal. "Well, think what you will, for now. It's time to begin the demonstration. Stay here or join the crowd—either one is fine with me, so long as you do not take the stage while I am talking."
"Understood." N turned to walk back around to join the thick crowd that had gathered before the stage, and the purrloin that had waited for him meowed loudly as he passed. Hearing this, N paused, and then turned to open his arms. As seamlessly as if the purrloin had been with him for his entire life, the cat leaped up to his chest, and N caught her with a smile. "You trust me, don't you?" he asked, and the purrloin licked the underside of his chin with her sandpaper-like tongue. He laughed. "Of course you do. Well, stay with me, and I promise to ensure your safety."
Given the close proximity he already had to the stage, N was able to secure himself a place in the front row, near to the center. While he could still feel the people pressed in at his back and near his sides, it wasn't nearly as bad as it would have been had he been forced deeper into the crowd. The mere thought of their hot bodies pressing in on him almost made him retch a little, and it was only the comfort of the purrloin in his arms that kept him from actually doing so. As much as he would keep her safe, for the moment, she was doing the same for him.
But as the Team Plasma grunts gathered on the stage, standing in perfectly uniform lines, N did take note of the people around him—or rather, he took note of four Trainers to his left that were separated from him by three other people. He might not have noticed them if it wasn't for the fact that a boy with a blue pullover and baseball cap was holding an oshawott in his arms, just as a girl with blonde hair and green eyes was doing with a lillipup. Somehow, though, even more than the pair of them, N's eyes were drawn to a girl who was only a couple of inches shorter than he was, with wild brown hair and bright blue eyes. She was talking animatedly about something—the volume of the crowd at large drowned at her words—and as she spoke she made gestures with her hands as if to illustrate her point.
That wasn't important, though. What was important was the fact that N could tell that—for whatever reason—she had stuffed pokéballs down the front of her shirt. It was almost difficult to tell, due to her breasts, but all the same, N could tell.
He wondered why she kept them there.
Ghetsis took the stage, then, and N tore his eyes away from the female Trainer's chest to look up at the stage, instead. Despite the fact that Ghetsis hadn't said a word, the crowd fell silent, somehow knowing that this was the event that they'd been waiting for. Ghetsis had that sort of presence, N supposed—the type of presence that automatically silenced others, and made the presence of the microphone in his hand rather obsolete.
"Whoa. I'm pretty sure that creepy dude standing there in front is a robot."
Given the sudden silence of the crowd, this comment was more than easy to hear, and both N and the purrloin in his arms looked around at the girl with wild brown hair. Her companions shushed her, but N was already frowning at her remark. Ghetsis looked like a robot? What was that supposed to mean?
Ghetsis, too, had looked at the offending girl, but he barely spared her a scowl, instead choosing to address the crowd. Despite the girl's comment, after all, the crowd's attention was still rapt and riveted on Ghetsis, and N bounced from foot to foot, again.
"Greetings." Though Ghetsis was holding a microphone, he didn't speak directly into it—and to his credit, he didn't need to. A small shiver ran through N's body. "For those of you who are unaware, my name is Ghetsis, and I am here today to represent the ideals and truths of Team Plasma."
"He definitely sounds like a robot." That was the brown-haired girl again, and N looked back over at her, the corners of his lips dragging down just a bit more. Even though she wasn't talking about him, and even though he wasn't quite sure what she meant by her comments, he was starting to feel a little bit offended. A boy wearing glasses standing next to her elbowed her roughly in the side.
Though Ghetsis must have heard her comment—N could tell by the way a little muscle twitched in his jaw that he did—he ignored her, continuing on regardless. Slowly, he began to pace up and down the stage as he talked, though his eyes never left the crowd gathered before him as he did so.
"For years, the largest regions in our world have been force-fed the same propaganda by the various regional Leagues: pokémon serve humans because they want to. Wild pokémon are jealous of those that have Trainers. The relationship between humans and pokémon is symbiotic, to the point where it forms a bond so strong that it can never be broken." Ghetsis came to stand in the center of the stage again, and this time, he did begin to speak into the microphone. "However, is that really the truth?
"Pokèmon are powerful creatures." Once again, he began to pace, and N held the purrloin just a little bit tighter, his eyes glued to Ghetsis' form. "They possess abilities that are far beyond any human being's scope. It is only natural, then, for human beings to want to use them—for human beings to want to possess them as they would any tool." N felt his heart beginning to beat a little bit faster. "Ask yourselves, now: does it make sense that pokémon would want to serve humans? That they would want to do our bidding? That they would be happy completing menial tasks, or hard labor chores, to which they have nothing to gain? That they would be content to be enslaved in tiny capsules, or else stored as digital data in personal computers? Does it make sense that they would want to fight hard, and endure pain and exhaustion all for the benefit of some human Trainer that took them out of the wild?
"No!" Ghetsis' voice was a loud boom, and N felt a shift in the crowd as many of the onlookers jumped. He stole a glance to his left, and saw that the girl with brown hair was scowling, though the blonde girl and baseball cap wearing boy looked uneasy. The glasses wearing boy had a neutral expression. "What do the pokémon have to gain from this relationship? Nothing. They gain absolutely nothing from their partnership with humans, and that is because—despite what the Pokémon League would have you believe—it is not a partnership at all! It is slavery—slavery in its worst form, slavery at its ugliest. Humans enslave pokémon, removing them from their familial units and natural habitats in the wild, forcing them to carry out chores and compete in battles that they wouldn't ordinarily. This may benefit the humans, but it causes nothing but harm to the very creatures that humans would like to preach about being their friends!"
N could feel the unease growing in the crowd—he could sense the uncertainty and doubt, but his heart was beating faster with exhilaration, his breathing just a bit shorter. This speech was everything that he'd ever thought, everything that he'd ever felt. It was true, of course—all of it was true. There was no reason to remove pokémon from the wild, especially not to just do some human's bidding. And humans treated pokémon horribly, besides—N had seen it with his own eyes. Though he'd heard Ghetsis give similar speeches before, every time he heard a new one, he was filled with a rush of righteousness and pride. This was noble. This was pure. And one day, despite how uneasy the crowd seemed to feel now, everyone would see it the same way he did. The same way Ghetsis did. The same way all of Team Plasma did.
"I ask you, then: what do pokémon deserve?" Ghetsis continued, and he raised his voice even as he spoke into the microphone, leaving no room for doubt that everyone there would be able to catch every word. "What do these powerful, beautiful creatures deserve? Should we simply outlaw people from catching new pokémon? Should we try and create more laws to protect their rights, even though the very fact that they're kept in confinement goes against the very nature of freedom, and what is just? I ask you, citizens of Accumula Town: what should we do for pokémon? What should we, as the humans that have captured and enslaved pokémon, give to them in return and apology for all that they have suffered through for us?"
While some people in the crowd whispered uneasily amongst themselves, and while the brown-haired girl was continuously shushed by her friends, no one seemed inclined to answer Ghetsis' question. Because of this, and because N couldn't truly stop himself from replying, N cried, "Liberation!" and punched one fist into the air as he did so. Several people nearby turned to look at him, and in particular, N felt the eyes of the brown-haired girl lock on him. Ghetsis, too, looked down, but the look was fleeting and he quickly turned his eyes back to the crowd at large.
"Yes," Ghetsis said, and N felt his heart soar at the very thought. "Liberation! We must liberate pokémon from the enslavement of human Trainers! Liberation! We must liberate them from their poor working conditions, from their confinement in pokéballs and personal computers. Liberation! We must grant them the same freedom that humans experience, the freedom to live their lives as they please in the wild! Liberation! We must restore to them their rights as living beings, the rights afforded to them simply by being alive! Liberation—liberation for all pokémon, everywhere, in Unova and beyond! Pokémon liberation—that is what Team Plasma strives for, now and forever, and we hope that someday all of you can join us in pursuing this noble goal." Ghetsis bowed, and the grunts—or knights, as N preferred to call them, Knights of Justice—lined up on either side of him did the same. "Thank you for your time."
With that, Ghetsis turned to exit the stage, and the Plasma knights began to gather up the banners to pack up and leave. N remained where he was, though every nerve in his body felt like it was on fire, and he bounced from foot to foot due to his inability to sit still. Around him, the crowd of humans buzzed with nervous energy, and his heightened sense of hearing picked up on a few snippets of their conversations:
"Do you really think that's true?"
"It can't be true."
"Pokémon like battling, this is in their best interests!"
". . . Isn't it?"
The fact that they had doubt didn't bother N—if anything, it only exhilarated him more. They were already beginning to see the errors of their ways. If the humans were this easy to convince, then perhaps they weren't so bad after all. Perhaps there was still some worth left in their species, some miniscule amount of value—
"That guy is seriously the most crazed-up freakin' fruit loop that I've ever had the misfortune of having to listen to, ever, in the history of forever."
N looked around for the source of the voice, and tilted his head as he located it, the purrloin jumping out of his arms to stretch by his feet. It was the brown-haired girl, again.
Most people who had met her said that Lea was a passionate person.
Well, "passionate" wasn't always the word they had used. Some enjoyed using the word "emotional." Others liked "temperamental." Cheren was always fond of "insane."
Nonetheless, most people could agree that when Lea felt an emotion, she felt it strongly, and she didn't spare a single second when it came to showcasing it. As tactless as she could be, one of the good things about Lea was that she didn't lie, and she didn't pretend to feel something when she didn't. Ergo, when she was happy, she would jump around and cheer; when she was sad, she would likely cry or brood. And when she was angry . . .
"Seriously, can you believe any of that bullshit?" She flailed one hand toward the stage, and rounded on Cheren, Bianca, and Blair. Blair was biting his lip as he stared at the stage, his soft brown eyes flicking between her and it uncertainly. "That guy was going on, and on, and on, and on, and on—"
"Lea," Cheren interrupted, sounding a bit impatient.
"—and on about how we 'enslave' and 'abuse' pokémon, and really? Come off it! If pokémon were so 'abused' and 'tormented', don'tcha think they'd, like, revolt or something?" Lea crossed her arms. "Ganon's totally the King of Evil, and Dogmeat's a warrior. If they felt so 'abused,' or whatever, they'd totally just kill me and get it over with."
"I don't know about that, but . . ." Bianca held Toto close to her, nuzzling her face against his head before she planted a kiss between his ears. "I could never stand the thought of hurting either Toto or Wotter. If I thought I was hurting them by keeping them with me, I'd release them right quick, but I don't think I am . . ."
"Of course you aren't." Cheren's reply was brisk, but even Lea could see that he looked troubled, and that just made her frown even more. Cheren was often troubled by her antics (in fact, one could ask him and find that he would say that she always troubled him), but this was a different sort of troubled. This was the sort of troubled that looked like he thought they might actually have a real problem on their hands. She didn't like it. "None of us are, and I don't think that our pokémon feel that they're being enslaved. If they did, then they would—as Lea suggested—rebel and escape. There have been numerous documented cases of pokémon doing just that."
"Then why do you look worried?" Bianca asked softly, picking up on the same cues that Lea did. Lea fixated her attention on Cheren, and she saw Blair do the same. "If you know they're wrong, then why—?"
"Not everyone in that crowd seemed to know," Cheren said, and like Lea, he folded his arms across his chest. "There were numerous people who expressed doubt, even agreement. Obviously we know that pokémon aren't enslaved or abused, but if enough people start believing in that insanity, then . . ."
"Oh." Bianca looked down, and Blair shifted uneasily. "I see what you mean."
Lea continued to tap her foot on the ground, feeling agitated and wound up. She didn't quite know what she wanted to do in that moment. Part of her wanted to rail against Cheren for even suggesting that—because really, who could ever believe anything that Ghetsis creep was saying? Who in their right minds would listen? But a logical part of her brain that she rarely ever listened to reasoned that Cheren was right, and that she'd heard the timid voices of agreement just as he had. That part of her brain wanted to round up every single person who even thought about agreeing with Ghetsis just to yell at them, or else manually knock some sense into their thick heads. There was no way that pokémon suffered by being Trained! No way at all!
But the plaza was mostly empty by that point, giving her no opportunity to give a speech of her own. Team Plasma had completely vacated the premises, and aside from their group, hardly anyone was milling about the plaza anymore. Hardly anyone except—
Lea stumbled back a few paces as someone ran up to her—actually ran, only coming to an abrupt halt once he was a foot away from her. Cheren, Bianca, and Blair all stumbled back as well, rounding on the stranger with expressions of shock similar to Lea's own. The stranger was taller than Lea was, a fact that was surprising given that even Blair was an inch or two shorter, with green hair and matching eyes. What surprised Lea, though—other than the stranger's sudden, abrupt rush up to her—was his skin tone. It was pale, paler than even Cheren's, and it made her think of some of the comic books she'd read about mutant freaks that were raised underground, never getting to see a single drop of sunlight.
The thought that he might have been a mutant freak that was raised underground, away from sunlight, made her sputter a laugh before she could help it.
But though he'd rushed up to stand just in front of her, staring at her with an intense gaze, he didn't stop there. Quickly, his movements somehow jerky yet fluid at the same time, he circled her, never once removing his eyes from her. Lea craned her neck around to try and watch his movements, but he only circled her once before he came to stand in front of her again, staring down at her. At first, Lea ducked down to try and meet his eyes, but after a moment she realized that he wasn't trying to look into her eyes—rather, he was staring at her chest.
Cheren seemed to realize this in the same moment Lea did.
"Excuse you," Cheren growled, and without wasting another heartbeat, he wedged himself in-between the stranger and Lea and placed his hands on the stranger's chest, shoving him back with all of his strength. Though the stranger towered over Cheren, and thus shouldn't have been pushed at all, he gracefully skipped a few steps backwards, his smile never leaving his face. And his smile was weird, Lea thought—there was definitely something weird about it. Something off-kilter. "I'll thank you to back the Hell away from my friend, and keep your eyes off her chest while you're at it."
"Her chest?" The stranger tilted his head, much like a puppy that had been confused, and his smile still didn't falter. "What do you mean? I wasn't looking at her chest." He spoke quickly, too—perhaps as fast as Lea, if not faster, and though no one had many any such mention of a competition, Lea suddenly found herself accepting the unspoken challenge of speech speed demons.
"I think he means my boobs," Lea said, and she stepped out from around Cheren, dodging the arm he put to block her. If she wasn't so focused on proving that she could speak faster than this stranger, she might have batted Cheren's arm away, and even teased him about wanting to protect her when, ordinarily, he made such a fuss about her being an annoyance that he should want to feed her to the wolves. "Y'know, my tits? Ta-tas? My lovely lady lumps?" With each phrase, Blair's cheeks grew redder, though Lea barely noticed. "These things, right here." She cupped her breasts through her shirt and jiggled them a little for emphasis. "This rack that I've got. It's kinda flat, though." She looked down at it, frowning a little. "So I don't know why you're lookin' in the first place, especially since Bi's rack is way better than mine, but it's whatevs, dude." Bianca squeaked, and she held Toto a bit closer to her chest, while Cheren glared at Lea.
"Whitlea, he doesn't need to look at anyone's breasts, including Bianca's."
"I'm just saying, Cherry-berry, that Bi's boobs are, like, way bigger than mine." Unbeknownst to any of them, Blair side-eyed Bianca's chest, yet then hurriedly looked away, his face going even redder (forcing him to duck his head down and try to hide his red face with his baseball cap). "So if this stranger dude is gonna go all creeper, it'd make more sense for him to creep on her than me, even if that means I'd have to kick him in the face and stuff. Seriously, Creeper." Lea looked back up at the stranger—creeper-in question, wagging one finger in warning at him. "Mess with Bi, and you mess with me. Got it?"
"He should worry more about messing with me." Cheren leveled his frostiest glare at the stranger, and he turned, both hands curled into fists. The stranger merely laughed—and his laugh, like his smile, sounded weird to Lea. The fact that his laugh and smile were weird wasn't necessarily bad, but merely . . . well, weird. Lea wasn't sure what to make of it, yet.
"Oh, I'm not interested in your breasts," he said, and he seemed to only have eyes for Lea. After a half-second of consideration, he waved one hand in Bianca's direction, as well. "I'm not interested in her breasts, either. I'm not interested in breasts at all. I wasn't staring at them."
Lea tilted her head to the side, feeling a bit confused now. "You're not interested in boobs?" she asked. "So, are you—"
"Don't lie," Cheren snapped, and he took one step forward. He looked like a cat preparing to spring, and Lea had to fight back a laugh. Cheren was never the type to settle fights physically, mostly because he had no skill for it. The idea of him trying to do so now was, to her, hilarious. "Or, if you're going to lie, at least attempt to be subtle about it. We all saw what you were staring at, plain as day."
The stranger's smile twisted a little. Whereas before it was gigantic, large, and bright, now it became more sardonic. "I would never lie. There is no point to lying. Unlike most humans, it's not a habit I'd ever wish to engage in," he said. "I wasn't staring at her breasts at all. I have no interest in them."
"You keep your pokéballs there, do you not?" The stranger pointed straight at Lea's chest, and her eyebrows rose into her hair. "You're storing your pokéballs inside of your shirt. I could tell—I can see them there, and I can almost hear the voices of your pokémon." He took a step closer, again, but was stopped from progressing further by Cheren, who moved to stand protectively in front of Lea, who rolled her eyes with a grin. The stranger raised an eyebrow at Cheren before he turned his attention back to Lea. "Why do you keep your pokéballs there?" he asked her. "It's a strange place to keep them. Pokéballs in general confine pokémon, but to keep them there seems somehow even more . . . cramped. Are your pockets not big enough? Do you want to keep them close to your heart?"
Lea had made an assessment not fifteen minutes prior that Ghetsis was a seriously crazed up fruit loop. Whoever this stranger happened to be, Lea was starting to think that he would fit neatly into that same category. "Actually, I just thought it'd be kind of funny," she said, shrugging. The stranger's eyebrows rose up to meet his bangs.
"Yeah. You know, like, I enter a battle and stuff, right? And everyone else keeps their pokéballs in their pockets, or their bag, or their belt or whatever. But I just reach down my shirt, and ka-bam! Outta my bra comes my pokémon!" Lea punched the air, and this time it was Cheren's turn to roll his eyes, though he didn't seem nearly as amused. "Plus, sports bras are totally perfect for this kind of thing. I could probably fit a whole team of six in here if I wanted to."
"Sports bras?" The stranger tilted his head, and while his smile was completely gone, now, he didn't look angry—merely confused. Before Lea could lift her shirt to show him what she meant, Bianca intervened, taking a step forward.
"Um, pardon me for interrupting, but who are you?" The stranger, Cheren, Lea, and Blair all looked over at her, and—realizing her own social faux pas quickly—Bianca quickly added, "I just think that we should all introduce ourselves, you know, if we're going to continue talking like this. My name is Bianca, and this is my lillipup, Toto." Toto barked a few times, and the stranger seemed far more interested in what Toto had to say than Bianca. "It's a pleasure to meet you!" She turned, then, to Blair, and nudged his shoulder with her own. He jumped a little, but glanced at the stranger from under the bill of his baseball cap before he mumbled:
"I'm Blair Coalsen, from Driftveil City. N-Nice to meet you."
"I'm Lea!" Lea put both fists on her hips, and gave the stranger her fiercest, broadest, give-'em-Hell grin. He wasn't the only one who could throw others off with a smile. She could best him at that, too, if she tried hard enough. She was sure of it. "Just Lea. Don't listen to anything Cherry-berry says, because Lea is the only name you ever need to associate with me, ever. Got it?" The stranger merely nodded, and Lea glanced at Cheren, who merely continued glaring. Lea kicked him lightly in the shin, and though he glared at her, he bit out an introduction, regardless.
"Cheren." If that could be called an introduction—really, it was debatable. "There. You know our names. Now tell us yours." Lea raised an eyebrow at Cheren, and reached out to give his shoulder a playful push.
"Jeez, rude guy, tone it down a notch, would'ja? There's no need to get all tweaked out. It's not like this guy's one of those Team Plasma creeps, y'know?" Cheren turned to glare at Lea, none of the defensiveness leaving his position.
"Whether he's with Team Plasma or not, he's still a creep. I'm not 'tweaked out;' I'm just being cautious. You could stand to take notes." Lea made a face.
"I've never taken notes in my life, and I'm not about to start now. Seriously. Gross."
"I don't understand any of what you all are talking about," the stranger interrupted, and both Cheren and Lea looked back at them. Lea thought she heard Blair mutter something like, 'Welcome to my world,' and Bianca laughed a little, though Lea could tell that she was forcing it just a tad.
"That's okay. When Lea and Cheren argue, they go off into their own little world," she said. The stranger barely spared her a glance. "Anyway, what did you say your name was?"
"I didn't before. I will now. My name is N." He spoke in such a rapid-fire succession that it was almost all one sentence, and Lea narrowed her eyes a little, wondering how he managed that without having his tongue trip over his words. His eyes were fixed on hers, though, and she wondered if he noticed the same thing she did—that they were both motor-mouths, and that if he was looking for a worthy speed demon rival, then he certainly found one in her. "I heard you, before, during the presentation—and just now, you seemed to express an opinion that Team Plasma is . . . creepy." The way he said the word was almost like he was trying it out, but he continued before Lea could interrupt him. "You disagree with their motivations. You seem to think that they're wrong. I want to know why you think that. Why do you disagree with them? And why do you think that Ghetsis is a robot?"
Excited by the prospect of getting to express all of her feelings on just why Team Plasma rubbed her the wrong way, Lea had opened her mouth to reply, but at the last question, she burst out laughing. Cheren still looked disgruntled, but Bianca's lips were twitching as well and even Blair looked as though he might smile.
"Dude, you seriously have to ask?" Lea asked, and that just made Bianca actually start laughing, forcing her to hide the giggles behind one fist. "He's totally a robot! Just look at him!"
"I have looked at him," N said. "Many times. I don't think he's very much like a robot at all."
"Well, for one thing, he totally has that monotone thing going on, whenever he's not shouting." Lea screwed up her face to better imitate his voice as she said, "That low, grumbly, growly monotone thing." She relaxed her face and went back to her normal tone, laughing a little bit more at the absolutely perplexed expression on N's face. "And for another, didja see his eye? It's totally mechanical and stuff. Robot material if I've ever seen it. His lack of human emotion, along with that eye, just totally secures him for robot status. In fact, that's probably why he wants to separate humans from pokémon, really—because since he's a robot, he can't Train pokémon himself!" Lea snapped her fingers, and let out a triumphant laugh. "Yes! I've figured it out!"
"How would being a robot stop someone from Training pokémon?" Blair asked quietly, and the way he said it suggested that he did so before he could stop himself. Lea rolled her eyes.
"If he's a robot, he can't empathize with 'em and junk, and Professor Juniper always said that you have to be all empathetic or whatever to be a good Trainer. Duh. Seriously, Blair-bear, what classes did you take?"
"Good ones," Blair mumbled, and in his arms, Saphir turned to pat his chest sympathetically. N shook his head.
"Ghetsis isn't a robot," he insisted, and Lea huffed a sigh, wondering if she'd need to go even more in-depth with her explanation, "but that isn't the point. What about my other questions? What about pokémon Training appeals to you, Lea? Why do you oppose Team Plasma's goals?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Lea asked, and when N didn't answer her—but instead merely rocked backwards and forwards on the balls of his feet, awaiting her response—she went on. "'Cause pokémon Training is totally awesome, duh! I mean, think about it: I get to go on this journey, right? I get to travel across the world. And along the way, I catch pokémon, and so we travel together. And so after awhile, once I've got a bunch of pokémon, it's like on huge traveling party! Y'know? We're just a bunch of friends on a big road trip. It's totally kickin'.
"And I think that Team Plasma misses that part. They go on, and on, and on, and on—" she caught a look from Cheren out of the corner of her eye, "—and on about how we abuse pokémon, or whatever, but we don't. At least, I don't. And Cheren and Bi and Blair-bear here don't, either. We know better, yeah? I mean, we had to pass a bunch of classes and tests and junk just to even get our Trainer Licenses. So there's no way that we're gonna go and abuse our pokémon, dude. All that talk about slavery and all that is totally just completely out there. It's all crazy daisy up in here, if ya know what I mean."
N blinked, staring at her, and then shook his head. "No, I don't know what you mean," he said. "But that's all right. I'm not too interested in what you have to say, anyway." Lea gave him an odd look.
"Y'okay? Then why'd you—"
"I want to hear what your pokémon have to say." A meow from N's feet drew Lea's attention downward, and she saw that a purrloin was entwining itself around N's ankles, purring. Looking back up at N, she saw that he was smiling a thin smile, again. "I detest pokémon battles. Pokémon get hurt in them, often for no reason at all. But I also find that most Trainers only ever let their pokémon free to battle, and so it's the easiest way to get close to a Trainer's pokémon. So, Lea, will you release your pokémon to do battle with me? A one-on-one battle: this purrloin versus whichever pokémon you choose."
"Lea," Cheren said, a note of warning in his voice. The problem with giving Lea a warning, however, lay in the fact that she never listened to such things, because she tended to believe that she was superhuman, and superhumans had no use for warnings. With a grin, she reached down into her shirt, and pulled her lillipup's pokéball out from inside her sports bra.
"Sure! I've got no problem kickin' your ass in a battle. In fact, it'd be my pleasure." Pressing the center button once on Dogmeat's pokéball to maximize it, she windmilled her arm up and twisted her wrist to let the pokéball fly in a softball pitch. "Go and get 'em, Dogmeat!"
Dogmeat materialized in a flash of white light, and while N had frowned at the nickname, a smile graced his lips once again at the appearance of her lillipup. Dogmeat wagged his tail and barked twice before jumping forward, his eyes fixated on the purrloin at N's feet. The purrloin, seeing that Dogmeat intended to fight her, slunk forward, her tail lashing. Both pokémon seemed to be communicating in ways that none of the humans could understand, but for some reason unbeknownst to Lea, N was suddenly grinning again—a bright, energized grin that seemed exciting and off-kilter all at once.
"Fantastic," he said, and as he laughed quietly, the purrloin at his feet pounced.
The battle between Lea and N was over with quickly. It became apparent to Blair that Lea's battling style was the type where she made it up as she went along; she had no real strategy, and a part of him wondered if she had a real grasp on her pokémon's attacks; she seemed to call them out at random, and for the most part, Dogmeat ignored her and did his own thing, anyway.
Fortunately for her, N didn't command the purrloin at all. It attacked on its own, and anything he did say to it seemed to be more in the way of advice than anything else. As such, Dogmeat—as commanded by Lea—ended up winning the battle, which only ended because N scooped the purrloin into his arms before Dogmeat could attack it anymore.
Strangely to Blair, N didn't seem upset that he lost. He did seem upset about something– the way he stared at Lea seemed to suggest that, anyway – but his loss didn't seem to bother him. Not in the way that it should have.
He'd left quickly after that, and Cheren and Lea had gotten into an argument—Cheren insisting that N was a creep, Lea insisting that lots of people were creeps and that Cheren didn't need to pick fights that he probably couldn't win, anyway. With the two of them going at it, attracting the attention of the few people that decided to wander through the plaza, there wasn't much for Blair to say or do; it was for this reason that Bianca took him gently by the hand, and led him away from her two arguing friends, assuring him that sticking around wouldn't do much good, anyway.
"When they fight like this, they can go on for hours, sometimes," she'd said, and she laughed quietly. Toto was trotting along at her feet, by that point, and given that Saphir was tired, Blair had returned him to his pokéball. "It's just because Cheren cares a lot, but he's not too good at showing it, and Lea's real emotional, but she's not too good at telling the emotions of others. But it's all right; I know they'll understand each other in the end. They always do."
Blair had only nodded. He didn't know why she told him that, since he found it doubtful that he'd ever see any of them again, but he tucked the information away in the back of his mind regardless. Bianca led him past the Pokémon Center and—to his surprise and embarrassment—Route 1, and it was only once they were there that she had released his hand.
"Nuvema Town is straight down Route 1—you can't miss it, and you shouldn't get lost," she'd said, and he'd blushed a little, nodding. "I know it's getting a bit late, but you should be able to make it there and back before it's too dark. Be careful, okay, Blair?" Once again he'd nodded, and to his shock, Bianca gave him a hug before she returned to town. "I hope we get to meet again someday!"
He hadn't been able to bring himself to say goodbye to her in any form other than a wave, but although he hadn't been too crazy about sitting with her and her friends, running into Bianca or the others again wasn't an idea that sounded too terrible, the more he thought on it.
But the sun was already setting by that point, and so Blair had set off. As Bianca had promised, Nuvema Town wasn't far at all, and he'd managed to reach it by sundown, the setting sun casting an orange glow over the darkening sky. While Accumula Town tried to pretend that it was a city, Nuvema put up no such facade, and its small size—along with the fact that the laboratory was on the only hill in the town—made it easy for Blair to locate the lab he was looking for.
Finding the lab was the easy part, definitely. Working up the nerve to actually go inside was another matter altogether.
Blair stood outside of the large doors for about three minutes, taking a few deep breaths, trying to reason with himself that since he came all this way, it made no sense not to go inside. Finally, he made a compromise: he would ring the doorbell, and then wait for five minutes. If there was no response, then he'd leave, and come back the next day. Now that Bianca had shown him how to navigate Accumula's streets, returning the next day shouldn't present a problem. Steeling himself, Blair reached up and rang the doorbell.
To his surprise—and dismay—it wasn't a doorbell at all.
A soft click echoed in the evening air, a sound that signaled a door unlocking. Blair stared at the door handle uneasily, and though it went against his better judgment, he reached out and twisted it. To his complete lack of surprise, the handle twisted easily in his grip, and when he gave the door a light push, it swung open. He couldn't help but frown, and he hesitated before crossing the threshold. Who put a button that unlocked their front door on the outside of their laboratory? What if someone wanted to break in to rob the place? For all Professor Juniper knew, Blair could have been an ax-wielding sociopath—he could have wanted to murder her. Why would she allow him entrance so easily?
"Hello? Is someone there?" a woman's voice called, and Blair jumped a little, though he took a hesitant step inside. "Feel free to come on in! I'm working in the room to the right."
With the invitation—and his original purpose—Blair forced himself to enter the lab the rest of the way, shutting the door behind him. The lights were bright enough to make him blink a little as his eyes adjusted, and the floors gleamed, freshly polished. With his hands in his pullover pocket, Blair walked into the room to the right, which was occupied—just as the woman had said—by a single woman with toffee-colored hair styled in an up-do, a white lab coat thrown over her shoulders. She was standing by a large, circular machine surrounded by control panels, a little raised platform in the middle of it that seemed perfect for holding pokéballs. And, peeking out of the mountain of hair on her head . . .
"Um . . ." Blair licked his lips a bit nervously, especially as Professor Juniper turned to look at him, raising her eyebrows. It was rude to point, and he knew that, but he still couldn't help but raise a finger to point at the creature crawling out of her hair. "You have a weedle in your hair."
"Hm?" Professor Juniper rolled her eyes upward to look, and then laughed. "Oh, so I do. This little guy just likes to crawl everywhere." Weedle weren't exactly small, being about a foot long on average, but Blair didn't want to be the one to correct her on that. Professor Juniper plucked the weedle off her head as easily as if she was removing a hat, and gently set him on one of the side counters, where he proceeded to inch along the counter top. She was smiling. "I'm receiving a pretty large transport of Kanto-native pokémon to study," she explained, "and this weedle just so happened to be one of them. He's a bit of a young one—he probably shouldn't have been away from his hive just yet—but he'll grow." She continued to watch the weedle firmly, and Blair nodded, toying with the hem of his pullover. Eventually, Professor Juniper turned to look back at him.
"So, is there something you need, Blair?" He jumped a little as she addressed him directly, his eyes widening.
"U-Um, you—you know my name?" She laughed and rolled her eyes, though the gesture seemed more amused than annoyed.
"I am the one that printed your License. I would hope that I'd know your name, even if we never met officially in person." He flushed a little, and looked down at his shoes.
"O-Oh. Right." The silence stretched out before them again, like a treacherous desert, and Blair swallowed and forced himself to be the one to break it this time. "I—I wanted to say thank you, in person. For, um—for Saphir and—and my Pokédex and Trainer License." Blair didn't look up at her again, but when Professor Juniper spoke, he thought that he could hear a smile in her voice.
"You're very welcome, Blair, but you don't have to thank me. You earned it—all of it." Blair smiled a little, but his nerves kept him from smiling too much.
"S-Still. Thank you. You went out of your way to get them to me, and—and I really like Saphir, and—thank you, still. All the same." Blair chanced a glance up at Professor Juniper, and the fact that she was smiling at him—an amused, wry little smile—caused him to relax a little, and even smile a bit in return.
"As I said, you're welcome. But, you know, if you really are that grateful . . . you could do a little favor for me." Those words caused the smile to slip from Blair's face—not because he was opposed to doing her a favor, but because he was perplexed, and unsure of whether or not he actually could.
"U-Um . . . sure? What is it?"
"Well, as you know, I'm receiving an influx of Kanto-native pokémon to study at the moment." Professor Juniper made a motion with her hand for him to follow her, and so he did so, trailing behind her as she led him through the back rooms of the laboratory. "Most of these pokémon have only just hatched, which makes them prime for study. After all, if you study a pokémon from infancy, then you can monitor its growth and compare that growth to how pokémon in the wild grow. Furthermore, you don't have to worry about a sudden transition into captivity altering its behavioral patterns in any way. It's for this reason that many of the pokémon that we professors study have been born and raised in captivity, unless we're doing specific studies on pokémon in the wild. In other words, it's rare for us to go out and capture pokémon."
"Right. Well, one of the pokémon I received today is—well, she's young. Just a filly, still. But she's just old enough that she's having the adjustment problem. She's not used to being in captivity, yet, and life in the lab isn't really something she's willing to adjust to."
The room that Professor Juniper led him to was in the very back of the lab, and was different from the other rooms. For one thing, the walls were padded, and seemed to be fitted with a special, heat proof material. For another, it was blocked off by gates.
Blair could see why.
Standing in the back of the room and watching them warily was a ponyta. Blair was no expert on pokémon (though he hoped to be at least kind-of one someday), but he could agree with Professor Juniper's assessment that it was young, especially as he pulled out his Pokèdex to digitally record an entry. Her coat was glossy, as if she'd been well cared for, but her legs were still skinny, even if she was strong enough to stand and walk on her own. The filly's eyes were a rich, chocolate colored brown, her fiery mane flickering around her face as her matching tail whipped a bit anxiously, and as she watched him, she let out a nervous snort and pawed at the floor with her front legs. Professor Juniper folded her arms across her chest.
"I'd love a chance to study a ponyta—really, I could. But within ten minutes having this little filly here, I could tell that staying wouldn't be good for her." Professor Juniper unhooked the gate and stepped through it, motioning for Blair to follow her. He did so, albeit reluctantly. "What she needs is a Trainer. I was planning on sending her back to Oak's lab in Kanto, but since you're here . . . well. How would you like a brand new ponyta, Blair?"
"M-Me?" Blair's voice shot up an octave, and Professor Juniper nodded. "I—I couldn't. I mean, I—s-she probably won't like me very much, and her mane will burn me—"
"Nonsense. How do you know she won't like you if you won't try? Have a little more confidence." Professor Juniper pushed Blair lightly toward the filly, though he hung back, watching the ponyta apprehensively. Professor Juniper sighed. "You know, one of my former students has too much confidence, whereas you have not enough. I think you two need to meet so you can borrow some from her."
"We have," Blair muttered, "and I can't." Professor Juniper seemed not to hear him.
"Go on and try to approach her, Blair. If she panics, I promise you don't have to keep her, but I think you'll be pleasantly surprised."
Blair sincerely doubted it. The most experience he had with pokémon before Saphir came in the form of his brother's pokémon, all of which seemed to enjoy attacking him. It was enough to make him even doubt that Saphir would like him before he had the fortune of meeting the oshawott (and the tepig and snivy that had been sent along with Saphir had seemed particularly disdainful of him—or at least, that's how he perceived them). Still, Professor Juniper didn't seem to want to let him leave without trying, and so with a heavy heart and the consolation that he did have some Burn Heal in his backpack, Blair walked forward, slowly extending a hand out before him.
Predictably, the ponyta tried to take a few steps back, tossing her head and whinnying softly in agitation. Blair faltered, yet then took another step forward, trying to coax her to him. "I-It's okay," he tried. "It's all right. I—I won't hurt you, I promise. I just . . . I want to be your—your friend, okay? I won't touch if you don't want me to, but . . . if you could, um . . . if you could trust me, then . . . then everything would be okay . . ."
He didn't dare get too close to the ponyta just in case he spooked her, but he continued to hold his trembling hand out, hoping that he wouldn't receive a flamethrower to the face for his efforts. The ponyta continued to watch him warily for a moment, but then—to his sheer astonishment—she walked a few paces forward, and slowly lowered her head to bump her nose against his hand, snorting as she sniffed at him. Blair patted her on the nose, and ran his hand up and down it. She snorted again, but this time the sound was almost happy, and he nearly jumped out of his skin as she lifted her head to lick his face. Professor Juniper laughed.
"There, you see?" she said. "She likes you. I figured you two would hit it off, given that you're both jumpy little mice." Blair frowned, thinking that neither of them looked or acted much like mice, though he didn't really have a chance to voice the thought aloud, especially as she handed him the ponyta's pokéball. "Make sure you take good care of her, Blair. Give her plenty of exercise. Oh, and she has a name already—Arion. Is that all right?"
"S-Sure." Blair looked back to the ponyta—Arion—and held the pokéball up. "Arion, return." Red light engulfed the horse pokémon, transporting her back into the ball, and Professor Juniper clapped him on the shoulder.
"I bet you weren't expecting to receive another pokémon when you came to thank me for the first, were you?" she asked, and Blair shook his head. "Well, Blair, you better get used to it. Because while I don't have any more pokémon to give you, something tells me that this is far from the last surprise you're going to get on your journey." With a grin, she turned to return to the previous room, and Blair followed after her, still holding Areion's pokéball tight in his hand.
As uneasy as it made him to admit it, he thought that she was probably right.