So here it is, the unannounced revision to the ending. I've been working on it this past week so it's pretty fresh. I just finished editing it. Hopefully FF will sent out a notification email even though I just removed the former epilogue and that "I'm back" announcement.
Yeah, it's been a long while. School became a huge priority on top of other issues going on my life. The reason I came back to write Pokemon 0 was to go back doing something that made me happy. Yeah, things got that bad. So here I am. Hopefully I gave this chapter the necessary TLC. Also, I don't think this chapter requires extensive background knowledge of the story, so don't worry if things were forgotten. It has been a while. I understand.
There'll be more housekeeping notes at the bottom of this chapter.
Chapter XXX: Motivation
Rob shook me awake and asked if I would rather sleep next to June or in a real bed. I drowsily got up. My muscles were still aching from swimming. Rob guided me around the roof in my sleepy stupor, then I was suddenly in a car. I fell back asleep.
I woke up in a twin-sized bed over the covers still in my coat and shoes, staring at sunlight seeping through closed blinds. Next to the window was a wooden desk with some Pokeballs and my backpack on it.
I sat up and yawned while I looked around. The room was empty aside from a metal nightstand and an open chest at its side.
The room's door was cracked slightly open. That's when I caught whiff of the faint smell of apple pie.
I got out the bed and figured to follow the smell. If Rob dropped me off in some random place where I could smell baked goods, chances are I was safe.
Outside my room was a hallway with several other rooms similar to mine. All of them were empty. Across the hall was another wing of rooms. Between the two halls was a small square lobby with a couch and a flat screen TV mounted on the wall.
From the lobby, I found myself going downstairs into a large kitchen with silver pots and pans hanging from the ceiling. There I found Rob watching something through an oven's window. Zero and a man were sitting at a table talking with one another. Everyone was in civilian clothes.
The stranger noticed me first. He had a mop of blonde hair on top of his pale, yet wide rugged and toned frame. "Ah, so this is Ed?" He said. Then he laughed from the depths of his chest. His heavy Eastern Sinnoh accent and bellowing laughter reminded me I wasn't in Johto anymore. "My God, you took on Abel's Tyranitar? That monster has been schooling trainers since before your parents ever thought you'd exist."
"Hey! At least he tried," Rob defended, then slightly chuckling. "What's up Ed? Feeling better?"
I nodded. "Yeah. I feel wide awake." I blinked. "Where are we anyway?"
"We're in the Hearthome City gym," answered Zero. The polo he wore was a curious light shade of purple. It fit him too perfectly. "And we are currently discussing your future living conditions."
"Future living conditions?" I repeated, confused.
"Yup," said the stranger. "I'm Daniel Attenborough. I'm the Gym Leader of Veilstone City and my pal Zero here has asked me to look after you. As long as you do the Team Zero jobs I give you…"
I felt farther away from Johto once he said that. I was still wearing the black hood.
"I'm in Team Zero now?" I asked innocently. Zero glanced over at Rob. Rob took in a deep breath.
"Watch my pie," he told the two. "Ed, come with me. We gotta talk."
Zero stared at Rob like he had said something foul. Mr. Attenborough laughed deeply again. I followed Rob out the kitchen through a different exit and found the main battling area for the gym. Several scrolls with ancient scriptures hung off of tall black stones next to oil lamps. These stones were put in every corner of a battle pen. Despite the size of the gym, only a few people were training with their ghost Pokémon.
"Right now this gym's closed off to the public," Rob said. "The gym leader's having it renovated, which obviously, is a cover. We're currently trying to relocate all the Team Zero members from Johto somewhere in Sinnoh. The last thing we need is someone snooping around accidentally."
"Zero controls this gym too?" I asked.
"Somewhat. Lady Lydia runs it and she's in control of all of Team Zero's Sinnoh operations. She helped organize this whole plan, but I dunno where she is now. But yeah, Zero kind of lets the high-ranking members run everything."
How big was Team Zero anyway? I wondered. Did Team Zero really have holds in all four of the regions? And Gym Leaders were employed by the Pokémon League.
"I don't get it," I admitted as I followed Rob up some bleachers to sit down. I was going to ask about the Gym Leaders, but there was a more important question. "Am I in Team Zero now?"
Rob didn't answer immediately. He stared down the street at passing traffic. He had heavy red bags of skin under his sleepy eyes.
"Only if you want to," he said. "I know we kinda talked about this already, but that was before anything really crazy happened."
Rob began his explanation. His voice became quieter and his tone grim. "So the deal is that if you decide to stay with Team Zero for good, Zero promised me you would be taken care of just as long as you follow orders. You're at the beginning of being a legit trainer. I see that and Zero sees that. I say you do whatever you want, but Zero wants good trainers to help him out. Most of Team Zero is kids who didn't bother training their first Pokémon, but went straight to living off the streets. You actually have the drive to get badges. To get better. He wants people who know how to use Pokémon to hold off Champions and Rangers."
That made sense to me. "What kind of orders will I have to do?" I asked a bit too absolute.
Rob shook his head. "I couldn't tell you, but I've tried to tell him to have you do simple things like being a lookout for bigger jobs. Or simply talking and getting info from people. But he sees too much potential in you I think. I'll be honest – I'm afraid he's going to make you a good trainer so you can do things I do."
His gaze sunk. His unshaven face and matted hair made him look older. "And I'm afraid for you man. It's one thing if I go head to head against legendary Champions and all that, but I just don't want you to mess up and get caught. Not saying you aren't a capable trainer or won't be one, but I spend most of my time trying to make sure Team Zero members are able to do their jobs right. I'm muscle too, and I've been called in a few times to scare people. Even had to fight off a few people. Hurt a few people."
His voice trailed off for a moment.
"I know Zero talked to you before you jumped through Nina's portal, but I have reason to believe he sweet talked you. He can be that way. He's absurdly influential and always gets what he wants. And I'm telling you all this because I think this is the first time I've never trusted Zero about something."
He turned his head and stared at me with sleep-encrusted eyes. His face was pensive. "I want you to stay with Team Zero, but I don't want you doing anything crazy. I think I'm running out of ways to bargain with Zero," he said.
He violently raked his hair with his hands. Then he turned to stare me in the eye. His black eyes contained a genuine sparkle. "I want you to join Team Zero because I trust you."
Words were lost. The Rob who wanted me to make my own decisions while giving me a guiding push had stepped away. A new, desperate Rob was in his place. Probably the more genuine one.
"If you chill here in Sinnoh, you'll be safe from the Rocket Syndicate and that Riley kid. Champions are still trying to figure out what happened in Ecruteak and the Pokémon League's enforcement in Sinnoh is nowhere as strict as Johto's or Kanto's. That and…and…"
His voice trailed off again. Then returned. "And when things get even crazier, I want you to have my back," he said finally, firmly. He looked off into space and nodded to nobody.
After all that, I came to my decision in a second. I held out my hand and balled it into a fist.
"Rob, how many times have you saved my life? Three times? Four? Or maybe five. On top of owing you, you've become my best friend these past three months. We've gone through too much. You don't need to ask me to look out for you."
Our fists connected. I still remember that fist pound years and years ago. That's how you know it was a good one.
I was given a new reason to become a better trainer - to protect my friends when they needed me. This was something I would see on Saturday morning cartoons with the kid heroes getting super powered up from friendship. Perhaps they were onto something. Wanting to help someone you care about is a strong motivator.
"And don't you worry about a thing," Rob assured. "I don't care what Zero says, I'm getting you strong. David and I are going to have you jacked up. And we'll make you into a crazy good trainer!"
I pictured myself taking on multiple ace trainers at once effortlessly with June, Shox, Nick, and Alan soloing multiple Pokémon. "I can get onboard with that!" The mental image was frame worthy, but there was a nagging question in my head.
"But what made you suddenly ask me to have your back?" I asked, a bit worried.
Rob leaned back and watched two trainers get into a small battle with a Gastly and a very fat Haunter. He calmed down but his eyes darted around the gym.
"I'm sorry, but it's one thing I can't tell you," he said. Then he smirked in relief. "But I do feel like everything's going to work out just fine."
He was being ambiguous on purpose. Then I recalled a conversation we had when we first got into Ecruteak. My body felt light from excitement.
"Hey!" I exclaimed. "Are you talking about that thing you mentioned back in Ecruteak? God I forgot the words, but you sort of talked about putting an end to the Amber Act for sure. Is that what you need help with?"
I was ready to hop on board whatever plan Rob had. It could've been the craziest thing, but I would've given anything to help out. Getting badges didn't matter. The Amber Act going away did.
"Rob's not going to let you in on it. You'll be literally putting your life at risk," said Nina from next to us. Rob and I nearly fell from our seats from jolting in surprise.
"Woah, where'd you come from?" Rob asked her.
Nina was decked out in some stylish clothes with a big black scarf around her neck and tall leather boots. In her hands was a plate of steaming apple pie with a fork and a knife.
"Hey that better not be mine," he said.
She sneered. "Consider it payment for that amazing crafty maneuver of getting upwards of fifty or sixty people across The Great Sea."
Rob frowned. "Well…thanks I guess."
Nina laughed in response. "Yup." She took a bite of her slice. "And Ed, before I forget…"
She put her pie down and pulled an envelope from her purse, then handed it to me. "It's from Alice."
The envelope was thick. Inside were a bunch of notebook sheets. Alice wrote me a lengthy letter.
"I didn't read it, but I think she'd appreciate it if you read it in privacy," Nina said.
I barely got past 'Dear Ed' when Nina stopped me. "No seriously," she said. "You might want to read it somewhere else. Besides I gotta talk to Rob about some secret stuff."
"Hmph, well there's no need to tell him to go away," Rob said standing up. "Let me go and make sure my pie is all in the kitchen, because I have this crazy feeling that it's not because a certain someone ate everything and left a single slice just to lie to me."
Nina got up with him and rolled her eyes. "Something like that. Anyway, we might have to head out soon."
They got into their conversation and climbed down the bleachers toward where the kitchen was. I counted the sheets in my hand – three pages covered front and back. That was the first time anyone had ever written anything that long for me that was personal.
From the corner of my eye, sun shined down from the circular windows. I wanted to go outside since it was daytime. I went back to my room and changed into different clothes, sort of procrastinating on what news Alice would have written so much about.
The moment I pulled my Pokémon out my coat and put them on my bed was when I started thinking of myself as a fool. Things had gone by so fast, but I never sat down to think about how June and Shox felt about Alice. Other trainers probably wouldn't have cared, but I did. We were a family and went through too much already. I wasn't going to leave Rob hanging or my Pokémon.
The memory of kissing Alice often went by in my head and I would smirk in satisfaction, but now it felt sour. That led to me realizing she never gave me the apology I wanted. No, deserved.
With some new clothes on and a black sweater my mom definitely did not pack in my bag, I headed out to get a good look at Hearthome on my own. The cold air hit me hard once I opened the gym's entrance door. I put the sweater on and let June out. Despite going for a swim some odd hours ago, she was radiant. June gave me a suffocating hug. The little orange bird was now a huge, loving yellow chicken with arms who's head reached my neck. She was warm enough for sure.
What surprised me most about Sinnoh was how awfully similar it reminded me of Johto. Ecruteak was more foreign-feeling than Hearthome. I was not in a metropolis like Goldenrod, but a small city where people had different accents than the ones I was used to. When I asked a woman walking her Skitty of all Pokémon where I could let my Pokémon run around, she made sure to point out how I was from another region before pointing me to a park where people walked their Pokémon. She warned that hooligans took over the place at night.
The park was relaxing enough. I found an empty area to myself with enough open space to let my Pokémon out.
Once I made sure none of my Pokémon were out attacking people walking by (especially Alan), I laid down on the grass with my head resting on my backpack. I read Alice's letter. Her handwriting was scratchier than mine, but I was still able to read.
First off, are your Pokémon okay? You should take them to a Pokémon Center. June should never be swimming at all. You fought a Tyranitar too and I don't think you should've used Shox at all. If you did, then you really need to memorize the type chart. It's not that hard. I hope your Pokémon are doing fine. I know you'll take care of them.
Also, burn this letter when you're reading it. Just in case it has anything that could cause Team Zero to get in trouble.
I wanted to say goodbye personally, but Zero already had everything ready for me to leave. I think I told you already, but I'm going to Hoenn. The person Zero has training me was already waiting here in the Hearthome Gym when we arrived in Sinnoh. I haven't gotten any sleep. It's still night while I write this. It's pretty cold outside. I hope Hoenn is warmer. Last I saw you, you were asleep next to June. It was very adorable and I wish I had a camera. I feel like if your Pokémon were at their healthiest before we fought, the fight would've lasted longer and possibly have had a different outcome.
With that in mind, I have no idea why you kissed me. You have every right to be mad at me. I don't know why you didn't ask for a rematch or just blew up in my face. That fight was unfair. You gambled and lost, okay, but that's not what I wanted from you. You are better trainer than that. Even before we fought for the Fog Badge, you should've stood up and said it wasn't fair for you to use your Pokémon when they weren't at their strongest.
I'm saying all this because you're a trainer who managed to make it to his fourth gym. I've seen too many trainers give up way before where we are right now.
Please tell me you haven't given up on becoming a better, stronger trainer. We are rivals competing against each other. Us kissing shouldn't happen at all and don't let that stop you from reaching my level or even winning against me one day.
I'm only fifteen years old. I had a boyfriend before I left Apple Town with Shredder, we broke up the night before because figured what I was doing was stupid. It hurt me when he told me that in my face. He said I should be in school making good grades so I can get into a good college then have a high-paying job. It was obvious he wasn't going to support me and that was the end of that.
I liked you a lot more before we actually had our moment, now that I think about it. I liked how you and I worked together to fight that Venusaur before Rob's Charizard came and burned it to death. You kissing me after me beating your Pokémon to a pulp made no sense.
I don't think you are weak. I think there's barely any weak people in the world. I think you're not as strong as you could be. Which is okay. I'm not either.
I don't think I'll ever be strong enough, and I think that's why Zero having me go to Hoenn in the first place. He wants me to be the best Trainer I can possibly be, but the lady I'm with – Master Gwen told me my thoughts are unrealistic. I hope she's right.
It started when I visited Azalea Town. (There's a paragraph scribbled out heavily. Alice's pen tore a hole in the paper.)
Sorry for all the ink. I'm sorry, but I'm not ready to talk about it. Looking at the words makes me want to throw up. My head started hurting again and my ears start this sharp ringing sound. I'm going to ask Master Gwen if I can see a doctor.
Just know something happened to me in Azalea town. And this is a promise to myself as much as it is to you: I'm going to destroy the Rocket Syndicate. This is my promise to the both of us. What they did to us is unforgivable and I will become the most powerful Pokémon Master in the world to end them if I have to. I will even ruin Team Zero if it meant I could ruin the Rocket Syndicate. I will burn anything and everything if I must.
The Amber Act is the cause of all this most likely. I will become a Champion and fight it on its own grounds. Once the Amber Act and the Rocket Syndicate are gone, I think the world will be a lot better place.
And I want you by my side when this does happen, Ed. When it does, I want you at your strongest. Please don't stop being a Trainer. If you have to, get every badge in Sinnoh. I'm thinking about getting the rest of my badges in Hoenn if Master Gwen lets me.
Anyway, the car I've been riding in stopped at the airport. I have to hurry up and catch my flight. Please try and keep in contact until we see each other again. I vow to see you again. Team Zero is just a tool we have to use for now, but what we have is deeper than that.
Good luck in Sinnoh.
PS. We're going to be stronger than Rob too. We'll even be stronger than Zero. I promise you that.
I nearly shot up from the ground ready to run to wherever the airport was, but a conveniently-timed airplane soared through the skies above me.
If Alice wrote the letter last night, that meant she was long gone. I stuffed the letter back into the envelope and put it on my chest as I stared up at the greying clouds.
Despite that letter depressing me, somehow making me feel weak, and Alice's unintentional condescending wording, I was pleased she wasn't happy with the way I acted. In hindsight, I wasn't.
Things were a lot easier to see and understand once they were long gone and over. Trying to figure out what was going to happen next was always the confusing part. It didn't take a physicist or a Pokémon Professor to know that.
I decided that, sooner or later, I had to talk to my parents. Nina could set that up hopefully. I didn't know if I saw myself as their son still. If Alice needed to apologize to me, then they had to also. Things definitely had to be sorted out with Gavin and my Pokémon Box, but something told me Nina had that under control also. How else was Rob a legitimate trainer with Team Zero?
Thinking about Rob made me howl with laughter out there on the grass by myself. Both he and Alice needed me to be stronger than I was. I didn't know what either of them had planned, but I wasn't going to let them screw up.
Alice was willing to ruin Team Zero to ruin the Rocket Syndicate.
I was willing to ruin Team Zero and the Pokémon League itself just to protect her, Rob, and my Pokémon.
I feel better about this chapter than I did with the former epilogue. I also managed to read the whole thing out loud to myself, which is something I rarely do, and then I fixed whatever sounded off to me.
Writing 'The End' gave me goosebumps.
So for the record, the former chapter labeled 'Epilogue' is now retconned. I didn't want to resort to that, but I figured it would be for the best. Pokemon 0: Hearts of Trainers is also retconned in its current state. That story will be told, but it'll begin a bit differently. I'm also debating about how I want to handle the next story and what exactly the next story will consist of.
I could just wing it like I did this first book.
But enough about me, let's talk about you all - my wonderful readers who stuck with this story even after I had nearly abandoned it. You folks are amazing. I would sometimes look through reviews to motivate myself for other important tasks unrelated to writing. You all are the best.
See you soon,
PS. See you really soon.