DISCLAIMER: I don't own Pokémon or any of its characters, place names, etc. The only characters I own here are the lovely Samara Kantaris (or rather, she owns me...hehehe) and her 'rival' Ivan...and Kate Roscoe too. I guess Stella's mine as well, you could say. None of the other characters are mine (although I heartily wish I owned Lance and Giovanni, but unfortunately I don't...)

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Um…thanks for the anonymous review, whoever left that! I vow to carry on with TWINE (or at least TWINE: The Kanto Journeys, anyway)…by the way, in case you didn't know, I've revamped the other chapters because when I first started writing this, I didn't take it all too seriously and didn't put much effort into my writing. I've tried to improve it in places and I've also added a few things here and there.

Enjoy, y'all (if anyone's still alive out there).

"You wanna tell me somethin', Miss Kate?" Kantaris asked, annoyed.

For the past five minutes, Kantaris had been unsubtly glaring daggers at her friend. And this was due to the fact that, for the past five minutes, Kate had been looking Kantaris up and down with a mixture of intrigue and anxiety. Kantaris hated it when people stared at her with anything except admiration (it hadn't happened yet, but she was sure that it would someday).

The sudden question interrupted Kate's thoughts and made her jump. She didn't think Kantaris had noticed her staring. She waved her hand apologetically and turned her head, pretending to look away, but Kantaris wasn't fooled: she immediately folded her arms and gave Kate an icy glare. And it was a pretty powerful one. Kate couldn't help thinking that, had Kantaris been a Pokémon, she would have caused paralysis by now. That was some Glare attack.

"I'm sorry," Kate said finally. "I was just thinking."

"You might wanna try looking somewhere else when you're 'thinking', then. It's rude to stare."

"I couldn't help it. You're wearing your Team Rock–"

"Terribly sorry!" Kantaris said sarcastically. She glanced down at her clothes and pretended to be shocked. "I'll just leave, shall I?" She stood up and took her bag by its straps.

"Oh, no!" Kate laughed, but she could see that Kantaris was serious. "I wanna ask you something, actually. If you don't like my question, then you can leave."

Kantaris practically threw herself back down onto the barstool. It moved back a few inches and screeched horribly against the floor. She rolled her eyes, leaned back onto the bar and crossed her legs.

"Aren't you worried about being seen in a Team Rocket uniform?" Kate asked.

"No. You can't be arrested for how you dress." Kantaris laughed. "Was that your big question?"

"No, no, it wasn't. I wanted you to explain to me again: how did you end up in Team Rocket. What's the pull?"

"A roof over your head, people you can rely on, food, water, a bit of cash...stuff most people take for granted."

"But why seek it there, of all places?"

"I didn't seek it anywhere. It wasn't the 'pull' so much as the 'push'." Kantaris glanced up, a little guiltily. "I told you I left home when I was younger. I didn't mention that I was on the streets first. Until he...Team Rocket took me in."

"'He?'" Kate had to chase it up: she'd heard it.

Kantaris frowned. She hadn't meant to say that.

"Our Boss..." She lowered her voice and leaned across the bar. "If it weren't for him, I'd still be just another street urchin at best."

"And...does he do this with everyone? Taking them in, I mean?"

Kantaris hated to admit it; she scowled horribly as she said,

"Yeah. Mostly. Well, we – Rockets, that is – we find kids, and if they look desperate enough...we bring them back." Kantaris cracked her knuckles worriedly. "And that's that."

"The reason I asked is...I've heard things about Rockets." Kate sat back and shrugged. "You don't seem to fit the stereotype, that's all. I wasn't staring at you, dear. I was just...mulling something over."

Kantaris placed both her palms in her lap and examined her fingers closely. She was avoiding eye contact, glancing around the bar. Finally she turned, put both hands face down on the bar with her fingers spread and looked Kate in the eye. With the openness of her hands, it was as if she was laying her cards out to be seen.

"Team Rocket means a lot to me," she said staunchly, as if she were expecting Kate to tease her for it. "I'm attached in ways that other Rockets aren't. To them, it's just business as usual. Most of them hate it. But to me, it's my identity. That's why I can't believe you trust me." She winked playfully to let Kate know she meant no harm by her last sentence.

"Stealing? Smuggling?"

"And the rest, yes."

"It just doesn't seem like you!"

"My heart isn't in it sometimes," Kantaris admitted. It was true: she shut herself off emotionally every time she was out on a job for Team Rocket. She wasn't a very moral person by nature, but she did have a conscience when it came to attacking hapless trainers. No matter how much she suppressed it, it always came back at her later. "But I reap the benefits."

It was the benefits that kept her going. Little things that took her mind off what she really was: a criminal. Back when she was on the streets, she'd had a little gang. Now, it still hadn't sunk in, even after a few years, that she wasn't playing around with gangs anymore. Team Rocket was no gang. It was an international crime syndicate, the 'Pokemon Mafia', as people called it. Kantaris was a part of that. In some ways, it scared her and made her want to leave. If she got caught, she'd get a lot more than just an antisocial behaviour order. She'd be in serious trouble. But in some ways, that drove her on. Well, Kantaris couldn't deny that she was proud to be a Rocket, although she didn't know why.

"Pay must be good, then," Kate said. For a fleeting moment, Kantaris thought she might be considering joining. Then she brushed that thought away. It was stupid.

"Financially? Hardly!" Kantaris took out a cigarette and lit it. "When I was living here in Celadon, it took three of us to be able to keep up the rent on a disgusting little flat in the red light district. And we got our food by stealing, or at work. Once you choose a life like that, it's hard knocks all the way, really, or at least until you get a lucky break if you ever do. But, as I said, there are benefits. I came for the money, but I stay for…" Her voice trailed off.

She thought that she'd found love in amongst all of the lawbreaking and trouble-causing. She even considered that, one day, she'd be Queen of it all. Then she wouldn't have to roam the streets and go scrounging around for Pokémon. She'd live like Giovanni did: rich, carefree and glamorous. Such was the life at the top. Okay, so it was also a lonely life. But once Kantaris had finished with the Gym Challenge, she would go back to Team Rocket as her Boss's worthy equal and partner, not just some minion. There wouldn't have to be any loneliness.

"Is that what motivates you? The rewards?"

"Motivates me?" Kantaris awoke from her daydream. "No, I'm just doing my duty. I...I like to stay on the Boss's good side. I feel that everything I do, every little job, everything he asks of me, I owe it to him. I would go across the country on hands and knees with a fine-toothed comb if I had to. And I wouldn't begrudge him anything. That's what sets me apart from most Rockets. That's why I stay, Kate. Not for any amount of money. I'll stay with Team Rocket until the end, whatever that end may be."

She was shocked at how open she was being. It was totally out of character. But she felt that she could trust Kate, and that she should. After all, Kate put trust in her, and trusting a self-confessed Rocket was no easy feat.

"Can I ask you something else?" Kate asked after thinking over what Kantaris had just said. She had seen her friend's eyes glaze over just then, and the look of pure devotion on her face as she spoke, and it worried her a little.

"Go on." Kantaris sat back, more at ease now. She was slouching. One of her arms casually lay across her middle and the other held the remains of her cigarette, dropping ash onto the floor.

"I know you won't tell me who your Boss is, and fair enough – "

"That's not a question." Kantaris grinned involuntarily as she always did whenever anyone mentioned her Boss.

"Is he just your Boss? And are you just another Rocket? Or does it go deeper than that? Is there something more?" Kate launched her tirade of questions before Kantaris had the chance to interrupt again.

Kantaris smiled a tiny smile and shook her head gently, signaling that she would not reply. She tossed her cigarette stub over her shoulder into the ashtray. Gazing around the bar, she smirked. This was one of her hotspots, or at least it had been when she'd first joined Team Rocket. She'd come in here almost nightly for the sole purpose of leading dull-witted guys into traps with the same 'sweetness' and 'innocence' that Brianne had been talking about. The bar was pretty empty now. Kantaris thought that she'd probably cleared all the regular punters out anyway. More fool them for falling for her tricks. Wow, she thought. I'm perfect for Team Rocket. No wonder he loves me. And no wonder the others are jealous.

"Tell me again, Miss Kantaris: how old are you?" Kate asked, changing her tone of voice. She sounded like a therapist.


Kate was more worried than she had been before. Nobody outside Team Rocket knew who the leader of the organization was. Kate wasn't even that curious about knowing, which was unusual but true. But she had heard things. Years ago, before she was born, Team Rocket had apparently been led by a mystery female, their original founder. The general consensus now was that the current leader of Team Rocket was the son of this woman. But Kate had been around for nearly twenty years. She'd been brought up in a very open-minded environment, hence her complete tolerance, but had always been fully aware of the existence of Team Rocket as a criminal organization. And during her lifetime, they'd always been led by a man (according to what people said). So Kate's first conclusion was that Team Rocket's Boss, if it was still the same guy, had to be much older than Kantaris, probably old enough to be her father. And hadn't Kantaris mentioned that she had a boyfriend? A Gym Leader? Did he know about this?

But Kate wasn't the type of person to judge on things like that. What worried her were the other things she'd heard about Team Rocket's Boss. Whether they were true or not was debatable but she could imagine that there was some truth behind the things she'd heard. Mob bosses weren't renowned for being compassionate.

Now Kate found herself staring at Kantaris again. But this time, Kantaris didn't notice. She was staring off to her right absentmindedly, a freshly lit cigarette posed gracefully in her left hand. The spotlights from above the dance floor swirled over her face. She looked to be deep in thought. Kate swallowed hard.

"When you said you were 'attached' to Team Rocket, what did you mean?"

"Hmm?" Kantaris snapped back to reality. She'd obviously been in a world of her own for the past few seconds.

"Kantaris, is there anything...? Do you...? What's the deal with you and your Boss?"

The color in Kantaris' cheeks rose and she looked somewhat surprised.

"Why do you ask?"

"I don't want you to think I'm being nosy. I'm just worried, that's all."

This grabbed Kantaris' attention. She was good and ready for a debate. Or did she want the conversation to end? She wasn't sure. She put her cigarette in the ashtray and stared at Kate challengingly.

"Worried?" she repeated. "Why?"

"Do you think you're in love?"

"What if I do?" Kantaris' voice hardened with the first showings of anger. She hadn't had much love in her life, so she was clinging to the few ideals that she had. She was guarded when it came to such things.

"Do you know what you're getting yourself into?"

"I know what you're gonna say," Kantaris said with a sigh, "because I've heard it before. You're gonna tell me I'm too young to know how I really feel, and that the age difference – "

"I had thought about that," Kate said truthfully. "But who am I to judge? No, it's the other stuff that worries me."

"Other stuff, huh? Enlighten me, seen as you obviously know so much more about this 'crush' of mine than I do."

"You're gonna get hurt!"

"How do you know?" Kantaris asked, her eyes blazing.

"I've heard things! People say that he's cruel and – "

"Well, they'd say the same about me, don't you think? Because I'm a Rocket. That's all."

"Okay, okay…" Kate shook her head. "But I've heard stories as well. Yes, he takes you in, gives you a job, if you wanna call it that, but what of the ones who know too much and who want to leave? What about the Rockets who step out of line? Don't you know what he does to them, Samara? They get –"

"Killed? I know. I've seen it happen."

In the poor lighting, Kantaris saw Kate turn pale. She saw an opportunity to shock her into silence, so she took it and told her little story with no display of emotion.

"I was in the office. A Grunt comes in, not much older than me, protests about the job he's been put on and says that he'll never be able to get any Pokémon, not with the one he's been given. Then he starts going on...just ranting and stuff and saying that we don't know what we're doing and that he was better off working on his own. The Boss tells him that okay, he's off the job. Then he pulls a pistol out of his desk, points it and pulls the trigger."

"And you were standing there?"

"Me? Sure."

I was on his other arm when he pulled the trigger. Of course I was there.

"And you couldn't have stopped it from happening?"

"Maybe. But I didn't. I couldn't! I wouldn't." Kantaris bit her lip nervously. "Yeah, it happens. There's only one way to leave Team Rocket. Everyone knows that. Do you think I'm stupid or something?"

"Ah, so you admit you're not in love?" Kate said. Deep down, she was shocked by what she'd just heard. Her heart was thundering. But she didn't show it. She even smiled. At least Kantaris had a brain. At least she wasn't blind.

Kantaris blinked in surprise. This wasn't the reaction she'd expected. She was running out of things to say, and she'd just badmouthed her Boss and verified everything that Kate had heard.

"Kate!" she pleaded. "Just drop it, okay? You don't know him at all! You're not even a Rocket, and even if you were, that wouldn't count for anything. I know him better than anyone else in Team Rocket."

She realized the connotations of her last sentence, and she blushed even more. Kate noticed and it confirmed her suspicions. The shock that she'd been keeping under wraps came to the surface.

"Samara Kantaris!" Kate's jaw dropped, and she shook her head in disbelief. "He's terrible! He's a murderer!"

Kantaris rose to her feet and for a moment, she looked so furious that Kate was a little scared. But Kantaris simply threw her bag onto her back and left the bar with a disdainful toss of her head. Kate sighed in sheer exasperation and made after her.

"Sam!" she called. "I'm sorry!"

Kate sounded sorry, so Kantaris stopped walking. They were outside now, and it was a little windy. Kantaris' long black hair was blown across her face under her cap, streaking her defiant expression. She was sorry as well, but she wouldn't admit it verbally. She only ever apologized to Giovanni. But Kate seemed to be expecting something. Kantaris glanced up at the dark sky for a moment. Eventually she blurted out,

"I get teased."

"By who?" Kate thought she already knew the answer to the question 'For what?'

"The other Rockets. They gang up on me. They say that not one of my bonuses actually comes from stealing or anything...well." Kantaris shrugged.

"I guess they would," Kate replied delicately. "Favouritism doesn't go down well, no matter where you are. Affairs at work don't usually last. I'm not saying that yours won't last, but..."

What am I saying? Kate thought. I hope it doesn't last. I hope she sees sense.

"They used to call me names," Kantaris continued, "but deep down inside... I'd say they were just jealous."

Kate wasn't sure what to say. She gave an awkward half-smile and nodded a little.

"Cash is cash, no matter how you earn it, and kindness is kindness, no matter who it comes from," Kantaris said. "I hope you never get into such a desperate situation that you experience how true that is."

And she started to walk off.

"Kantaris!" Kate called to her back. "I…I really like you, you know? You're a good friend. And I want to see you succeed."

Kantaris stopped in her tracks and turned round. She looked at Kate and, devoid of emotion, she said,

"Nobody's ever said that to me before."

The next day, Kantaris made the long but scenic trip to the Celadon City Gym. It was a small, out of the way place down a winding, tree-lined lane. Its walls were covered with ivy and there were flowers in the windows. Grass Pokémon, Kantaris realised. It's gotta be. She patted Quilava's Pokéball confidently. This was going to be a walk in the park. Literally.

Kantaris wasn't in the mood for underlings. She was never in the mood. Giovanni never had any underlings, so why should anyone else? But she found out by looking through the window that Celadon Gym did have underlings, and this annoyed her. So, when she brashly walked through the door, she placed her hands on her hips and immediately called,

"Erica? I'm here to challenge you for a Rainbowbadge."

The other trainers there looked rather taken aback. Kantaris was wearing one of her Rocket uniforms, too – the previous day's occurrences and conversations had put her firmly back into 'Rocket and proud' mode – and as they left the room, Erica's companions gave Kantaris dirty looks, turned up their noses and started muttering things like,

"Oh, it's another one from that awful amusement arcade…"

"Let's hope Erica sends her packing."

Kantaris ignored them. They'd be singing a different tune after she'd trounced their Gym Leader, which she was about to do. She stood at one end of the grassy battlefield, casually tossing Quilava's Pokéball up into the air and catching it again with a pronounced smirk on her face.

Erica was kneeling at the other side of the battlefield watering plants. Kantaris thought that she was kind of pretty, but moreover she looked like a weak trainer. Her clothes were all floaty and light and her expression was calm and sweet. She looked the opposite of Kantaris except for the fact that they both had black hair.

Sick of waiting, Kantaris was about to say something or at least cough noisily, but Erica knelt back, surveyed her plants for a moment and rose to her feet.

"I may not look much," she said slowly, turning to face her opponent, "but I am a good trainer."

"That remains to be seen," Kantaris replied, still smirking.

"You've come this far. You should know the ropes by now. The Gym Challenge doesn't get any easier. We are Gym Leaders for good reasons."

"Again, I say: that remains to be seen. Erica, my name is Samara Joanna Kantaris and I've come for my Rainbowbadge! And mark my words, I'll get it."

Why the hell did I give my middle name? I don't usually give my first name, let alone…!

"Is that a challenge?" Erica asked calmly.

"You bet."

"I accept your challenge."

Kantaris had her strategy (if she ever did have a strategy) all lined up already. This was going to be an all-out offensive with her Quilava as the star. Flamethrower, Ember…it would be a breeze. She couldn't lose. Ha, she thought as she faced Erica, hark at her, trying to big herself up. She's only the fourth Gym Leader. Doesn't take a prodigy to do this job.

"Go, Quilava! Let's burn this place up!" Kantaris stylishly threw the Pokéball in her hand; it released Quilava and she caught it as it returned.

"A Fire Pokémon," Erica remarked with a smile. "How predictable."

Kantaris froze for a second. What if she'd got it wrong? What if this place wasn't a Grass Gym after all? She knew better than anyone else that appearances could be deceiving. But no, Erica released onto the battlefield a Gloom. Kantaris laughed.

"And you call me predictable? Oh, I love your fighting talk. It's so cute, it really is. Let's face it, Erica, you're at a disadvantage here. Why don't you attack first?"

Erica became a tad annoyed, which didn't happen often. She clenched her fist and her mouth turned down into a small scowl.

"Gloom, Poison Powder!" she ordered.

Kantaris was still so busy laughing that she didn't bother telling her Pokémon to get out of the way. Quilava backed off in surprise as the powder rained down on it, sticking to its body and even getting into its eyes. Kantaris stopped laughing. She'd been so sure of herself that she hadn't bothered to buy any Antidotes or anything before coming to the Gym.

"That's what you get for being complacent," Erica said. "I just feel sorry for your Pokémon!"

"You won't feel sorry for it soon," Kantaris replied angrily. "Quilava, Flamethrower!"

Unable to see properly, Quilava began to launch powerful but pointblank blasts of fire around the battlefield. The grass surface was fake: it singed but didn't start a fire. Gloom managed to escape most of the flames due to Quilava's lack of aim, but being slow on its feet, it got hit a couple of times. Kantaris waited for it to faint, but it held on.

"Petal Dance, Gloom!"

Not knowing what to expect, Quilava cowered, but most of the petals simply burned up in the fire on its back. The attack hardly did anything. Kantaris wanted to laugh again, but she restrained herself: Quilava was evidently in pain.

"Hang in there," she said determinedly. "Give it another Flamethrower!"

Shaking the toxic powder from its face, Quilava unleashed a mighty Flamethrower that was simply too big and too strong to dodge. Even Erica at the other side of the battlefield shielded her face from the heat of it.

"Oh, no!" she said when the attack had ended. "Gloom!"

It was out for the count. The smirk returned to Kantaris' face.

"You should call back your Pokémon," Erica said as she did so with hers. "Can't you see it's suffering?"

Kantaris glanced at Quilava. It obviously was suffering, but as long as it could still fight, what was the problem? There was a word for this type of battling, in which trainers pushed their Pokémon to the limits, never forfeiting or switching out during battle. It was called extreme, extremist…something like that. Okay, so it was controversial, but trainers still did it. Kantaris had seen it at the Stadium.

"It'll hold," she said. "Worry about your own."

Of course she wants me to re-call Quilava. She can't do anything against a Fire Pokémon.

"I choose…Weepinbell!"

As Weepinbell appeared on the battlefield, Quilava was rapidly losing strength. Its legs were shaky and its fire was dying out. Erica and Kantaris both looked at it silently. Kantaris glanced at Erica and saw the look of angry concern on her face. For a moment, she felt guilty. But then she thought, If Erica wants to drop her guard worrying about my Pokémon, that's her choice. This is my chance.

"Ember attack, Quilava!"

Quilava took a deep, painful breath and shot out a couple of weak fireballs. It could only manage two, and there was no energy behind them. They dissipated into the air before they could even reach their target. Kantaris scowled furiously.

"Fine," she said. "I'm calling back my Quilava and sending out…"

Sending out what? This whole battle was meant to be Quilava's show! She could have sent out Stella to use Psybeam – Weepinbell was a Grass-Poison hybrid and therefore weak to Psychic attacks – but Stella didn't need the training; she did enough work already. Tempest was a Flying type, but that was just out of the question and Kantaris knew it; nevertheless, she was very, very tempted.

Stop being so predictable, she told herself. Break the rules a little.

"Kantaris calls Diglett!" she said. 'Kantaris calls…?' Ugh. How cheesy. Remind me not to do that again.

"Diglett?" Erica looked taken aback as the tiny Diglett emerged onto the battlefield. Surely her opponent couldn't have made a worse choice than that. "Grass versus Ground?"

Kantaris smiled.

"Mud Slap!" she commanded.

Diglett churned up a wad of dirt and flung it into Weepinbell's face, knocking it down.

"Ground versus Poison," Kantaris said. "Tisk, tisk. You forgot all about that, didn't you?"

Weepinbell set itself up again, blinking the dirt from its eyes.

"You'll regret that," Erica said. "Razor Leaf, Weepinbell!"

"Diglett, Dig!"

Diglett burrowed down and disappeared beneath the surface of the battlefield. Erica shrank back apprehensively. Weepinbell looked around in confusion. Suddenly Diglett burst through the battlefield directly under Weepinbell, sending it flying almost all the way up to the vine-covered ceiling. Erica gasped in horror and ran onto the battlefield to catch her Pokémon as it fell. Kantaris raised an eyebrow in mild surprise. Wow. This chick really cares about her Pokémon.

Setting her fainted Weepinbell down at the edge of the field, Erica seized another Pokéball from her belt. Her belt was hidden underneath a translucent thing that she was wearing around her shoulders, so Kantaris couldn't see exactly how many Pokémon she had. Then, just as Erica was about to release her next Pokémon, her gaze fell on Diglett and she gasped. Kantaris looked at Diglett in confusion, wondering what Erica was staring at. She saw that it was glowing.

"Your Diglett!" Erica said excitedly. "It's…it's…"

"Evolving? Oh, that's cool," Kantaris said, sounding not half as excited as Erica.

Where the little Diglett had once stood, a formidable looking Dugtrio now occupied its place, its three faces all bearing tough expressions. That was just how Kantaris liked her Pokémon.

"Congratulations!" Erica exclaimed.

"Save it," Kantaris said snappily. "Release your next Pokémon."

Still looking at the Diglett-turned-Dugtio, Erica frowned a little but hit the button on her Pokéball. An Ivysaur materialized on the battlefield.

"Another Poison hybrid?" Kantaris asked. "Ain't you learnt your lesson yet, Erica? Dugtrio, go! Magnitude!"

"Solarbeam, Ivysaur!"

A rumble was heard and felt from underground. Then the battlefield was churned up in a ripple that rapidly spread from Dugtrio towards Ivysaur, which was powering itself up for Solarbeam. Kantaris couldn't tell whether Ivysaur jumped into the air (she'd never contemplated that Ivysaurs were able to jump that high) or whether it was thrown into the air by the Magnitude attack as it hit. Either way, it launched its Solarbeam attack from the air, knocking Dugtrio out instantly, and landed unharmed. The battlefield was now a complete mess; it looked more like a rock terrain than a grass field. But Kantaris loved to make a mark. She called back her fainted Dugtrio and released her Eevee. It was relatively weak, but it needed the experience.

"Quick Attack, Eevee!"

It may have been weak but it was quick. It rushed at Ivysaur headlong, hitting it in the side and sending it tumbling across the roughed-up battlefield. Ivysaur landed at Erica's feet, who ushered it back onto he field gently with some words of encouragement. Kantaris rolled her eyes.

"Tackle!" she ordered.

I really need to teach this thing some new attacks, she thought.

As if it had read its trainer's mind, Eevee tried its best to impress with the few attacks that it did have. First it ran at Ivysaur again, hitting it head on with a respectable Tackle attack. Then it followed this up with a Bite attack. Kantaris was reasonably impressed, and to her disappointment, so was Erica.

"That's a great little Eevee you have there," she said, even though it had just knocked out her Ivysaur.

Erica smiled and knelt at the edge of the battlefield. Kantaris' jaw dropped as Eevee scampered over to Erica who began stroking its head fondly.

"I just have a way with Pokémon," Erica said, reading Kantaris' expression. To Kantaris' Eevee, she said, "Run along now!"

Eevee did so, running to its trainer joyfully and rubbing itself against her legs. Kantaris stared down at it blankly, not sure what she should do. Feeling a little strange, she knelt down and stroked its fur for a few seconds. She'd never realized how soft it was before.

"Make the most of it," Erica said. "When Eevees evolve, they don't feel half as soft, no matter what they evolve into."

Kantaris said nothing but called Eevee back into its Pokéball.

"You have the criteria to qualify for a Rainbowbadge, Miss Kantaris. Congratulations on your victory." She unpinned a colourful badge from her collar and walked along the edge of the battlefield to give it to Kantaris. "You're raising some great Pokémon, you know. Make sure you take care of them. I get the impression that you're aiming for the League title?"

"Of course."

"Then I should tell you that love and compassion for your Pokémon are essential if you want to make it that far."

Kantaris said nothing. Erica wasn't entirely right: it wasn't essential to be loving and compassionate to be a good trainer. Well, that depended on what 'good' meant. A morally good trainer would, of course, be loving and caring towards their Pokémon, treating them as friends first and foremost. But to be a skillfully good trainer, strength was the most important thing. Kantaris knew all too well of the 'care culture' that surrounded Pokémon training. Young trainers everywhere were indoctrinated into the 'Pokémon are not war' line of thought, and if their careers as trainers were ever cut short they beat themselves up thinking that they didn't love their Pokémon enough. It was most evident in the case of the League Champion, who was always regarded as a figure of pure and perfect kindness and goodness, whoever he/she was. That was the ideal that upcoming trainers were supposed to work towards.

But Kantaris was on the left-hand path. She'd broken free from the conventions of Pokémon training: she'd spent most of her time training amongst Rockets, and she'd had, as a mentor, Kanto's greatest Gym Leader. And he was anything but compassionate. Even Kantaris secretly hoped that she wasn't as harsh a trainer as Giovanni. But most of all, she wasn't falling for the mainstream values. Strength, tactical ability, stamina and stealth: that's what Champions were made of.

But deep down, Kantaris did have some sense of morality and she knew that Erica had a point. She looked down at the Rainbowbadge in her hand and for a fleeting moment she wondered if she did deserve it. But she pinned it to her coat. She was only halfway through the Gym Challenge after all. If she wanted to change her attitude, she had time to do so. Maybe she would. Maybe she wouldn't. She'd have to see.