"So when we get to Pewter, what's the first thing we're gonna do?" Spark asked. "I'm itching to get into the gym fight, myself."

"I was kind of hoping we could check out the museum first," Zephyr said. "I've been meaning to visit for some time, and since we'll be passing through anyway so I figured now would be the best time."

"Either one sounds good to me," Mikey said. "Though we should at least stop by the battler's center first, if only to get Spark registered on the team."

Spark laughed. "Oh yeah, guess on paper I'm still technically not on the team yet, huh?"

They made their way to the center, and as Mikey busied himself with getting Verdantia's new member listed on their profile, Zephyr and Spark took advantage of the stroke of luck that was getting an empty couch to themselves. After a bit, Spark turned to Zephyr and grinned. "Wanna rock-paper-scissors?" he asked.

Zephyr gave him an odd look. "What for?"

"You wanted to go to the museum, and I wanted to go to the gym, remember?" Spark playfully nudged him with his elbow. "Seems like a fair way to see who gets what they want first."

"All right, then," Zephyr said. "Best two out of three?"

"I was just gonna go one and done, but okay."

The two held their hands out in front of each other and commenced the match. Spark won the first, but Zephyr beat him in the second two. "Welp, you win," Spark chuckled. "Though I bet if we were in an actual battle I'd beat you, no problem."

Zephyr laughed as well. "You sure about that?" he asked.

"Duh, type advantage!" Spark playfully nudged him with his elbow. "I've got type advantage on both you guys, it'd be easy."

"Type advantage isn't everything," Zephyr said with a sly smile. "Ever heard of Mister FEAR?"

Spark nodded. The argument, however playful it was, was apparently settled in that moment. They didn't have much time to start up a new line of conversation before Mikey returned to them. "All right, everything's set," he said proudly. "You're officially part of the team. Now, what are we checking out first?"

"Museum," both Zephyr and Spark said. Zephyr cleared his throat and added, "We played for it."

"Glad to know you could settle this like gentlemen," Mikey said with a smile. "Well then, shall we get going?"

"Sure, let's go look at old junk," Spark laughed.

While the Pewter Museum wasn't exactly a grandiose establishment from the outside, one step inside proved that it didn't have to be. It was on the smallish side, but what it did display focused more on the quality of the exhibits than any sort of overwhelming quantity. Mikey took care of their entrance fees, and soon enough the three were perusing the collection. "The historical artifacts they have here are amazing," Zephyr said almost breathlessly. "Look at all this! Genuine Kabutops and Aerodactyl stonework tools!"

"I don't really get what's so great about fancy little rocks," Spark said, examining the same case that Zephyr had been drawn to. "These little plaques don't even give much detail, how's anyone supposed to get what they do?"

Zephyr raised an eyebrow. "You...did pay attention in history class, right?" he asked. "Please tell me you at least know what daggers and fishhooks are."

"Just sayin' that they might get some stupid people coming in," Spark said.

"Like you?" Zephyr said with a smirk.

"...not cool, man, you don't know me well enough to make those kinds of jokes."

"Sorry about that."

"Y'know, Spark, they've probably got things you'd be more interested in upstairs," Mikey said. He pointed out the sign near the stairway, which labeled the collection in the upper floor as being related to more modern achievements. "I think they have a space shuttle."

"Oh, sweet," Spark said, and immediately made his way upstairs.

As Mikey turned to follow, interested in the astronomical exhibits himself, Zephyr put a hand on his shoulder to stop him. "Can I talk to you for a bit?" he asked.

"Sure," Mikey said. "What do you need?"

"I know he probably didn't mean anything by it so I didn't wanna really tell him off, but Spark's comment about the ancient peoples' artifacts bothers me a little bit," Zephyr said. "Like, there are people that still use that stuff rather than more modern tools for tradition's sake, y'know? Some of whom are my friends."

Mikey shrugged. "I can't think of anything to do then to tell him," he said. "Though you did call him stupid, remember?"

"Yeah, that's a good point," Zephyr sighed.

Before they could say anything further on the matter, Spark's frantic stomping back down the stairs interrupted their train of thought, and possibly that of every other patron and worker present. "You guys, you gotta come see this!" he exclaimed. "There's this huge-ass meteor up here!"

"Way to spoil the surprise for everyone," Mikey said with a laugh. "Also I think I saw a little kid or two over there, and I don't think their parents appreciate some random Pikachu dude to teach them a synonym for butt at this stage in their life."

"Speakin' of butts, hope you guys are ready to kick some after we're done here!" Spark said with a mischievous grin. "Remember, we've got ourselves a rocky rendezvous!" He then made his way back up, presumably to admire the remnants of space-faring feats some more, and Mikey and Zephyr followed.

The trio had decided to get something to eat in between the museum visit and their gym battle, so after leaving the museum they found a local sandwich shop to satisfy their stomachs. Despite all his bravado from before, Spark was hardly eating his sandwich. "Um, you okay there?" Mikey asked.

"Huh? Oh, yeah, yeah, I'm fine," he said. "Guess I'm just...a little nervous, maybe?"

"Strange, you don't really seem like the type to get nervous," Zephyr said.

"You guys still don't know me all that well," Spark pointed out. "Sure, I talk a big talk, but I don't really know if I can back it up with action."

Zephyr smiled. "If it makes you feel any better, I don't think there's any real pressure for either you or me to be the big hitters," he chuckled. "If what I've been reading is still up to date, Pewter's gym is mainly host to rock types, a lot of them also being ground types. That's gonna make Mikey be the powerhouse here." He playfully nudged Mikey's arm. "So yeah, no pressure, team leader."

"No pressure indeed," Mikey laughed. "But seriously, it's all our first time trying to take on a gym. I'm pretty sure any one of us is gonna go in there a little shaky. Especially on an empty stomach." He motioned to Spark's barely-touched sandwich.

"Yeah, you got a point." Spark looked down at the sandwich and, to both Mikey and Zephyr's surprise, shoved nearly the whole thing into his mouth. "Lesh go, then!"

Soon enough, they had all finished their meal (Mikey and Zephyr being less hasty about it than Spark) and made their way to Pewter Gym. It wasn't exactly hard to miss, either–it was a very distinct building, not only due to its grey stonework exterior contrasting with the more yellowed beige paneling and faded red brickwork of the surrounding architecture, but also due to a large sign out front in the shape of the iconic Battle League logo. "I see what you meant about getting nervous earlier," Mikey said with a laugh. "Even I'm getting a bit jittery about this."

"It's our team's proper league debut," Zephyr said. "Though it's never gonna start until we actually go in."

"Then let's get things started." His stomach feeling a bit off, either due to pre-battle nerves or the sandwich he ate earlier maybe having something in it his body didn't agree with, Mikey pushed the door open. He wasn't sure what he had been expecting, but somehow the interior of the gym was more...average than he had imagined, if that was the right word. Most of the gym's decor was obviously stonework, making the gym look like they had walked into a mountain cave. Large fluorescent lights hung from above, casting a harshly bright glow on every rock and boulder surrounding the main focus of the layout, an expansive arena where the battles would presumably take place. Several people looked to be training throughout the gym, either by working out or sparring with one another. Near the front door where they had entered was a reception desk, where an uninterested-looking man with blue hair and a tan beanie sat, preoccupied with whatever was on the computer he was working at. "Um, excuse me?" Mikey asked the man. "We'd like to challenge the gym leader, is this where we sign up?"

"Brock's out for the day," the man said, not looking away from the screen. "And even if he wasn't, he only personally accepts challenges from experienced teams. How many gyms have you beaten so far?"

"Er..." They hadn't been expecting this question. Mikey cleared his throat and explained, "Actually, this would be our first. Are you sure he's out all day?"

"Yes, I'm sure, and guessing by what you've just told me he would not personally accept your challenge." The man turned away from his computer, making a name tag that read "Omar" visible. "Look, if this is your first gym, you obviously have no idea how they work. You can't just waltz in and take on the main dude. You'll get crushed, at least you will if you don't have the strength or experience to counter their level of skill. You need to start smart, you can't expect to climb Mt. Moon if you're only prepped for a short trek to the store."

"Look, we really just want to take on a gym!" Mikey protested.

"And I'm telling you, you're light-years away from facing Brock," Omar said. "However, keeping with this metaphor, a more appropriate challenge for a team of your skill level is within a few feet. I wasn't trying to kick you out, just trying to help you guys put your goals at a more reachable level. Baby steps." He turned back to his computer and began to look through something that the three challengers couldn't see. "Yeah, we've actually got a coupla dudes in at the moment who are more in your league." Omar stood and left his desk, making his way to the people working out. "Hey, Stewart, Eric!" he shouted. Two young men with grey hair who had been sparring turned upon hearing their names. "You've got a battle lined up!"

"Well, it's about time!" Stewart, a shorter man with large, muscular arms exclaimed. "I've been craving a real battle for at least a week!"

"So who're the lucky challengers?" Eric, a taller man who was generally buff all over, asked as he stretched his sides in preparation.

"These three," Omar said, motioning to Mikey, Zephyr, and Spark. He then turned to them and muttered, "Wait, do you guys have a team name or do I just call you 'the challengers'?"

"We're Verdantia," Zephyr said. "Should be in the team ID if you guys need to get that data."

Omar sighed with relief. "Oh, good, makes things easier for record keeping," he said. "So many inexperienced teams either don't have their ducks in a row or just can't be bothered to come up with a team name." Mikey handed Omar the team's battle license, which he took with him back to his desk and scanned into the computer. "If you'll just make your way to the arena, we can get things started."

Soon enough, the fighters had made their way to the arena, with Omar following to act as the referee. "So which of you's getting this started?" Stewart asked, grinning excitedly.

Mikey began to step forward, but before he could Spark jumped into the arena. "I'm more ready for this than for anything!" he exclaimed.

"Wait, hang on," Mikey said. "Wouldn't it make more sense to..."

Zephyr put a hand on Mikey's shoulder and sighed. "Let's just let him learn," he said, lightly shaking his head.

The two combatants met in the center of the arena, exchanging confident looks with one another. By this point others in the gym had gathered to watch, as it had been a slow day and any proper battles, even featuring a bunch of new battlers, would be a great diversion. Omar held up an air horn and, after counting down on his fingers, let it blast. Immediately Stewart tackled Spark in the chest, briefly knocking the air out of him. Spark quickly regained his composure with a grin. "You sure don't start slow, do ya?" he laughed. He flicked his wrist and live volts surrounded his hand. "Neither do I!"

He threw the electricity he'd gathered at Stewart, who instinctively flinched away before it hit him and...seemed to do nothing whatsoever. "What was that about not starting slow?" he asked. "I didn't realize I was fighting a masseuse."

Spark's face fell as he made the connection. "Soooo...you're ground on top of rock..." he muttered, more to himself than to Stewart. He shook his head, then ran at his opponent. Stewart braced himself, but the head-on strike he expected didn't come–instead, Spark rolled out of the way at the last minute, then smacked him in the back of the head. "I can hit ya like this though, can't I?" Before Stewart could react, Spark had dashed to his other side and rammed into his unprepared shoulder, causing him to stumble slightly.

On the sidelines, Zephyr watched attentively, nodding. "Surprised he's not tagging out," he said. "It'd make things easier, but I can get that he's probably a bit stubborn."

"I just hope his tactic of whittling the guy down doesn't end up making this battle take all day," Mikey said.

Spark kept dashing around, striking Stewart whenever he could, and every little strike did seem to be adding up. He might have taken Stewart down by himself if he hadn't reached out at just the right moment to block his movement. In an instant Spark went from confidently zipping across the arena to his momentum colliding with the mostly immovable object that was Stewart's beefy arm and sending him sliding onto the floor. While on the floor he curled up in pain, as the impact had hit him in the stomach. "Owwww..."

"Verdantia's fighter is out!" Omar declared. He moved over to Spark and asked, "You need help getting to the bench?"

"No bench for me," Spark said, getting to his feet with a bit of difficulty. "I can still fight!"

"Nope, rules are that if you're down for too long you're out," Omar insisted. "Tag in one of your teammates and maybe you'll get to come back in after five minutes."

"Unbelievable..." Spark made his way to the bench and slapped Mikey's outstretched hand. "Try not to make me look too bad, dude," he said with a laugh.

Mikey made his way to the arena, a confident smile on his face. As the battle started once more, he held out a hand and summoned a handful of bubbles. He flung the bubbles at Stewart, which all popped with such force that they knocked him onto his back. "First out for Pewter!" Omar called.

"Man, I really gotta learn some defense against water sometime," Stewart murmured to himself. His role in the battle done, he tagged in Eric and joined the audience.

Omar turned to Mikey and asked, "You wanna stay in for this round or you wanna switch out for one of your buds?"

"I dunno, honestly," Mikey said sarcastically, turning to Zephyr and Spark. "You guys wanna get in here?"

"Hell noooo!" Spark called out. Zephyr just burst out laughing at this, shaking his head regardless.

"In that case," Omar said, clapping his hands together, "round two start!"

Immediately at the start of the round, Eric ran at Mikey and attempted to grab him. Mikey ducked out of his reach, but he realized too late that was exactly what his opponent was counting on–a sweep of the leg and he was knocked off his feet. "Rude!" Mikey shouted as he quickly leapt back up, creating water bubbles in his hands.

"Hey, it's a legal move!" Eric exclaimed. Mikey flung the bubbles at him, but he dodged nearly every attack. He smirked and stomped his foot. Immediately large rock formations sprung forth from the floor, surrounding Mikey and pinning his arms to his sides. "Maybe you should think about having more proper battle experience before trying to take on a gym, kid."

"You can do it, Mike!" Zephyr shouted. "Don't let him get to you!"

Mikey attempted to wriggle free from the stone prison that had formed around him, kicking his legs that were no longer touching the floor due to the rocks having lifted him off the ground slightly. Eric smiled, then held out his hand and closed it into a fist. A strange pressure gripped Mikey's entire body, forcing his flailing legs together and his pinned arms suddenly felt more stiff than they had been. He let out a yell as he felt the odd presence squeeze him painfully. "Back...off!" Acting more on instinct than anything, Mikey took as deep a breath as he could manage and blew it out. The breath turned to liquid upon exiting his mouth, becoming a pressurized torrent of water that streamed right into Eric's face. He yelped in surprise, holding up his arms to cover his face from further spray, and at that moment both the binding pressure and the rock formation holding Mikey in place relaxed, allowing him full movement once again.

"Dude, could you not aim for the face, please?" Eric sputtered. "It's not sportsmanlike."

"It was the only place I could aim at in that state," Mikey said. "But sure, I'll give you that one, no more face-shots." He grinned and held out his hands in a manner that made his fingers resemble the shape of guns, and from his fingertips began to shoot streams of water similar to what he had just produced aimed at Eric's chest instead. The first stream sent him spinning; the second, Eric was knocked to the ground almost instantly. Letting out a groan, Eric held up his hand in defeat.

"All right, that's a wrap!" Omar exclaimed, making his way over to help Eric to his feet. "The Pewter Gym defenders have been defeated, making Verdantia the victors!"

"Wait, really?" Mikey couldn't believe it. "We...we did it?"

"More like you did it," Spark said with a laugh. "You did most of the work here, after all."

"Regardless of who put in the most effort here, the team reaps the reward together," Omar said. Stewart and Eric nodded in agreement as Omar pulled a small case from his pocket. Inside the case was a lapel pin with the design of a grey octagon with a smaller octagon within, as though it was a chiseled stone. "Congratulations, Team Verdantia. Here's your prize: the Boulder Badge, which recognizes you as victors of this gym's challenge."

Mikey took hold of the case, still in disbelief that they had actually done it. "Our first badge," he said with awe. He looked up at Omar and added, "Thank you so much for this."

Omar shook his head. "Don't thank me, kid," he chuckled. "You and your teammates did the work, you earned it."

"The badges are supposed to be a gym's way of thanking the challengers for bringing their A-game!" Stewart exclaimed with a smile.

Eric gave the team a thumbs-up and a smile of his own. "Good luck with the rest of your league challenge, Verdantia," he said. "Maybe someday we'll be hearing from you in the championships."

The three challengers left with their prize, congratulating themselves and looking forward to a well-deserved rest. Things were looking bright for the team. One gym had been beaten without much difficulty, how hard could the rest be?

AN: Woops, no update for almost a year, but I'm back on the horse! It's in this installment that I show off how the gyms in this universe work. I'm going along the lines of how Origins handles the Pokémon thrown at challenging trainers, and so 'jinka Brock himself would be way too strong for an early-game team to take on. Hence why I've replaced his encounter with just 'jinka versions of his FRLG team. Maybe one day we'll be able to show off Brock's capabilities in this universe. Maybe one day we'll get to see Omar in action, as well. Maybe, considering Omar is an Omanyte and Brock has one on his team in the games that take place three years after, those opportunities will happen at the same time.

And if anyone familiar enough with the meta picked up on and is going to ask about this, yes, Mister FEAR is in reference to that strategy that people can use with Rattata. He's a shiny too, mentioning that because we'll likely never get to see him and I wanna honor my first legitimate shiny, Mr. Gold the Rattata. Speaking of references, I do hope someone gets the one I snuck in with Team Verdantia's gym opponents. Shouldn't be too hard to figure out.

—Jess aka PuppyLuver256