For the first time since I started writing this story, I have almost nothing to say in the author's comments. I've been inspired. Inspiration has struck me like lightning and a meteor in quick succession and its source is The Sun Soul by 50caliberchaos, AKA my new god (of Poke-fics). Go read his story and see why I'm so jazzed right now.

Chapter 019 - Tales of Springbloom City II - Gale of Change

"Sit still, darn it! Just let me catch you already!" The metallic thumping of Poké Balls hitting the forest floor rang out irregularly as an angry hissing persisted in the background. The young boy groaned his frustration growing as he took aim at the blue alligator for what felt like the hundredth time.

Juniper was the first to come upon the source of the noises and observed the scene with rapt intrigue. A well-dressed young boy – no older than fourteen, she guessed - with a round face and neatly kept brown hair stood opposite a small growling Totodile on all fours near the edge of Springbloom Lake. At the boy's feet was a large bucket filled to the brim with shiny new Poké Balls, and scattered all around Totodile's side of the confrontation were no less than a dozen broken or shattered ones. Grey and the Pokémon arrived after Juniper not a moment later and Grey immediately began to laugh once he had a grasp of what was going on.

"It's toyin' with him, that Totodile!" he said between peals of amusement. "I get it; this kid's gotta be a total newbie."

Juniper shot him a wry smirk and nudged him in the ribs with her elbow. "Just like you were a few months ago?" she asked before stifling a giggle. Still chuckling, Grey countered,

"Please. I was never that green." He turned his attention to the boy and called out to him. "Yo, kid! You're doin' it wrong!" Startled, the boy dropped the Poké Ball he was about to throw and stared the teenagers and their Pokémon, wide-eyed and afraid and more than a little bit impressed.

"First off," Grey began as he strode over to the boy while paying the Totodile no mind, "you need to weaken it with another Pokémon before you even think about throwing a ball." He bent down and picked up the dropped ball. "Second, you never face a wild one alone and third!" The boy jumped when the older boy's voice spiked in volume. Looking the boy dead in his deep brown eyes, the older trainer gave his junior a quick once over and frowned. "Third… What the heck's up with your outfit?"

The boy took one look at his clothes, a white dress shirt, blue and gold sweater vest and black slacks, and quickly grew defensive. "There is nothing wrong with the way I dress," he said incredulously. "And who are you?" His senior simply tossed the Poké Ball in his hand into the air and caught it, grinning.

"Name's Grey and for someone who I'm guessin' is a trainer, there are several things wrong with what you're wearin'."

"He is right, you know," Juniper supplemented. "Your manner of dress is highly impractical."

"I… Uhm, well…" the boy faltered. "It is?"

Before either trainer could give an answer, the Totodile, annoyed at being ignored, gave a second's worth of a warning growl and lunged at the round-faced boy with a deadly hiss, fang-lined jaws agape. Strabi was first to react; the little Shinx cub's fur needled as she sent a charge racing through her body and then dashed. Strabi jumped and tackled Totodile, her Spark attack sending the little blue crocodile tumbling away with a bruise and a numb body. Totodile fell out of the air and rolled to a stop at the lakeshore where it lay in a twitching heap while Strabi landed gracefully and triumphantly with a proud yowl.

"Good girl," the Shinx's trainer mumbled, fully on guard as Totodile struggled to its feet. Grey looked away for a second to check on the boy and saw him slump to his knees as his breathing grew labored thanks to a fear-induced adrenaline rush. Juniper flew to his side and when the Totodile shot forward again, this time with Scratch, Maverick jumped in front of the attack and took it, the blow doing nothing to his rocky hide. Grey wasted no time in taking that chance to strike.

"Soul, use - !" he began, but in the middle of the command, Strabi loosed a vicious snarl that drew the attention of everyone present. "S-Strabi?" the trainer stuttered, shocked. "What's goin' on? You never acted this way before."

The Shinx paid her trainer no mind as her eyes became golden slits trained on her target. The Totodile bravely met Strabi's challenge with yet another hiss that made the Shinx snarl again and bare her fangs. All of a sudden, the yellow rings on the cub's front legs shone with a golden light and begun to shoot off electricity while sparks arced across her sky blue and black fur. Strabi loosed another yowl, cowing her opponent, and her body became a blinding white silhouette. Chills ran down Grey's spine and an ecstatic grin appeared on his face. His Shinx was evolving!

Strabi's form expanded and grew taller as the light persisted. Her voice grew deeper and the sparks she generated grew in intensity until miniature lightning bolts ran from her head to the tip of her new tail. The evolutionary glow finally faded, revealing Strabi's new appearance as a Luxio to have remained mostly the same as before, save for the addition of a short scruffy black mane around her face and another pair of yellow ring on her front legs. The most noticeable change was in the Luxio's eyes; they had been a bright golden color before her change and were now sharper, meaner, and a darker shade. Any confidence Totodile had before promptly slid right off its face as a look of shock and fear overtook its features. Grey suppressed laughter when the water lizard's toothy jaw dropped open and its red eyes shrank, a look that practically screamed, Oh, crap!.

Grey looked to his newly evolved Electric-type and threw a hand out towards Totodile. The Pokémon froze with shock before promptly turning tail and sprinting deeper into the forest. "Oh, no, you're not gettin' away that easy!" shouted Grey. "Strabi, Bite!"

"Lux!" Strabi grunted, and she pushed off the ground, her new legs sending her forward by leaps and bounds. She easily cleared the gap separating her from Totodile and pounced on it, sandwiching the Pokémon's tiny body between hers and the ground, and chomped down its shoulder. Totodile let out a squawk of pain and lashed out at Strabi's face with its tiny claws but every swipe it took only made the young lioness bite harder. Then Strabi stood up, Totodile still locked in her jaws, and flung her catch to the side like a rag doll.

The blood on Strabi's fangs glinted in the sunlight and more flowed from the punctures in the Big Jaw Pokémon's shoulder. It rolled on its side to fix Strabi with a hateful glare but the second it opened its eyes, Totodile's vision flashed red and it felt itself leave the ground.

Grey strode over to the Poké Ball and smirked at it before suddenly tossing it at the feet of his shell-shocked junior. The boy shakily rose to his feet looked up at the older trainer from behind his bangs, struggling to form words. Behind Grey, Strabi sauntered over to her teammates and swished her tail about in a haughty manner. Ever amicable, Soul congratulated her with a pat on the back while a jealous Donte turned his trunk in the air with a huff and Maverick rumbled indifferently.

"It's okay," June said in a low motherly tone after the younger boy went silent and started looking at his polished-to-a-shine shoes. "We all get a bit scared sometimes. You were out here without a partner so it just seemed all the more frightening." The boy picked up Totodile's Poké Ball and said nothing even when the redhead put a comforting hand on his shoulder.

"You were lucky we were out here, man," added Grey. "You really shouldn't be out in places like this without a Pokémon for protection." Realization flashed in the dark-haired trainer's eyes when he realized he didn't know the name of the boy he was talking to.

"Hey!" he said sharply, making the boy flinch.

"Wh-what…?" the younger answered, finally looking the teenagers in the eye.

"What's your name?" The boy blinked twice in confusion but cleared his throat and answered nonetheless.

"My name is Asher," he said in a meek mumble that Grey barely heard. "Asher McConnell. Thanks for your help…" Grey flashed Asher a bright grin and gave him a good-natured thump on the back, a gesture that almost threw the younger boy face first into the ground. Despite that, Asher straightened up with the smallest hint of a smile on his face.

Then he took a step back, looking at Juniper and Grey curiously. When the older boy asked what he was looking at and the girl tilted her head to the side, confused, Asher stuttered,

"Oh, n-nothing, it's just…" his feet shifted a bit and he averted eye contact. "You're really cool," he said to Grey, "and you smell like my mom," he mumbled at June. Grey beamed at the compliment and June, unsure of hers, gave a smile of uncertainty.

Grey snickered and nudged his friend. "You smell like a mom," he ribbed childishly. June merely shook her head and tried to flick Grey on the nose which proved difficult due to their height difference.


"Hush up, you."

Grey and Juniper escorted Asher into Springbloom City chatting amiably with the boy the whole way back. After a quick introduction on the part of the older two, Asher explained that he was from a wealthy family in Rustboro City and that his father had arranged to have him sent to the archipelago so that he could 'build character' on a Pokémon Journey. Asher's recountal of the exchange between himself and his father was a somber one, so Grey cheered him up by reminding the kid of his new Totodile. Juniper told the boy that it was unlikely for Totodile to immediately warm up to him what with it being a newly captured Pokémon but promised to help Asher and Totodile get acquainted with one another tomorrow. Grey added in his two cents by saying if Asher treated Totodile like a friend, then the Pokémon would reciprocate and everything would be fine. They also said it might do the boy some good to get himself some new clothes. As Grey put it, dressing like one was going to church wasn't the coolest wardrobe choice. Their words boosted Asher's spirits considerably, and when they reached the Pokémon Centre, the sun had begun to hang low in the sky and Asher was in a noticeable good mood. The boy waved goodbye to his newfound friends and scurried into the Pokémon Centre to rent himself a room and get Totodile fixed up. June and Grey returned their Pokémon to their capsules, save Soul, Strabi, and Rosewood, and sat with each other on the steps of the Centre.

They sat in the waning sunlight with a comfortable wordlessness between them wherein Rosewood draped herself across Juniper's shoulders and dozed while Grey scanned his new Luxio with his Pokédex. Both trainers were smiling calmly with the only sound between them being a grateful Strabi's purring as she was scratched behind the ears.

Juniper was the one to strike up a conversation. "Well, that was interesting," she said, giggling. "Then again, interesting things always seem to happen around you, Grey."

"You think?" the boy answered absentmindedly. "If it's true, I never really noticed it."

June raised an eyebrow, a mixture of suspicion, disbelief, and surprise overtaking her features. "Are you being serious?" she asked slowly. "I mean, I was joking, slightly, but you have to admit that odd things happen around you."

The boy shrugged and shifted positions as Strabi rested her head in his lap and Soul dug around in his bag for something to eat. "Seriously, I never really noticed, June," he said truthfully. "And if weird stuff does happen around me, I sorta get caught in the moment of it and then I completely forget it ever happened." He shrugged again. "I've always done that."

"That's…" the redhead searched for a word. "Unusual," she finally said. "Very unusual."

"What's so unusual about it?"

June counted off on her fingers, "Running into those odd men outside of Geo Pass after we met Jameson; the incident at the Museum Tower in Mélange Town and, most recently, the random wild Pokémon raid on Lyle's orchard." She fixed Grey with a puzzled look that he returned with one of pleasant amicability. "You honestly mean to tell me that you do not find any of that the least bit concerning or important enough to remember?"

He laughed once. "Okay, when you put it that way, it does sound a little bit sketchy, don't it? Maybe a bit connected, too." Rising to his feet and dusting loose Pokémon hairs and dirt from his jeans, Grey stretched and continued with marked indifference, "But that doesn't mean it's got anything to do with me. I just ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time."

The girl turned her gaze to her hands and fiddled with her fingers. Biting her lip, she looked back up at Grey, trepidation and concern shining in her big gray eyes. "Are you sure? You said you encountered a man with a Magmortar and a Scizor when Lyle's orchard was attacked and there have been reports lately…" Grey's eyebrow shot up in interest.

"Seriously? Dude, I didn't know that." June's face fell.

"That is because you do not pay attention to the news," she deadpanned. "Which you should!" she added quickly when Grey opened his mouth to rebut. Rosewood started on her perch and chattered, annoyed, and the boy and his Charmeleon flinched at her tone. It was strict and harsh yet well-meaning all the same.

She is just like a mother, Grey thought to himself. Wonder how I didn't notice before. Pushing the thought out of his mind, he walked up to June and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. He felt the girl tense for an instant but smiled when she relaxed.

"June, chill. That dude from the orchard was dressed like those guys from the tunnel, yeah." Juniper's frown deepened and she readied a response in her head but her friend cut her off. "But that doesn't mean anything to us. If they try anything, the authorities will get 'em. International Police agents are trained for stuff like this and I bet they're in the archipelago now takin' care of business."

"But how can you be sure?" she pressed.

"I'm not," he responded with a shrug. "But it's the most logical outcome, right? Everything'll be fine."

And just to be sure, he gave her a smile that Soul copied while Strabi nuzzled her leg reassuringly. Juniper let out a held breath and surrendered. She had to admit that Grey had a point; he had never done anything to directly anger anybody. Well, she amended mentally, not anyone that would want him hurt or worse. The fledgling researcher managed a small smile and Grey grinned.

"Okay," the girl conceded. "Okay, maybe you are right and I'm just worrying but still, be careful, okay?"

"Who do you think you're talking to?" countered a still grinning Grey as recalled his Pokémon and started up the stairs to the Pokémon Centre doors. "Careful's my middle name!"

"Your middle name is Isaac, after your maternal grandfather," June said matter-of-factly. Grey stumbled mid-step but Soul was quick enough to catch and right his trainer before he fell.

"Who told you that?" he asked incredulously.

"Rachel." The younger Thomas sibling scowled but, not wanting to worry his friend further, quickly wiped the look off his visage and shrugged.

"Figures," he muttered. Choosing to ignore it, he beckoned June to follow him into the Centre, shivering a bit when a rush of artificially cooled air ghosted past him.

"Seriously, though, be very careful when you're out, okay?" she persisted as the pair and their Pokémon took a left into the food court. He nodded in response and flashed her a thumbs up.

"Alright, alright, I'll be careful," Grey promised, grabbing a tray and getting into line, "just don't worry so much; you're my friend not my mom." When June's eyes widened before she smiled brightly at him, he followed up with a bemused "What's with the look?"

"I did not know you considered us friends!" she cried jubilantly, startling some of the other people in the cafeteria. The young man in the Arcanine jacket reached up and rubbed the back of his head sheepishly.

"Yeesh, talk about mood whiplash."

"Sorry, it's just that you never said anything about considering me a friend before. I guess it's just nice to know?"

"I get that. What I don't get is why you would think I wouldn't call you my friend," the boy answered, honestly and simply.

June reddened slightly but her beaming face remained. Grey returned the gesture in kind and the two paid for and ate their meal, chatting like they'd known each other since childhood. Later, James arrived at the Centre and dropped off his Pokémon to be treated. He looked haggard and tired and wore an expression no-one had ever seen on his face: a wide ear-to-ear grin. He dropped off his Pokémon at the front desk and, when his two traveling companions noted and pointed out how unlike himself James seemed as he approached them with a noticeable spring in his step, his smile grew wider and said that they'd see why he was so happy tomorrow when he took on the Gym Leader. James said nothing more on the subject and proceeded to eat more than either Juniper or Grey had seen him eat. After eating and retiring to their rooms, James kept all of his Pokémon in their Poké Balls and refused to let them out like he usually did, grinning the entire time. Grey eyed his companion's four Poké Balls suspiciously while the older boy silently went over his training notes, but the thought faded from his mind the moment his head hit the pillow.

"Tomorrow," James whispered excitedly, still grinning in the darkness and holding Sniper and Torchic's capsules in the air above him. "Tomorrow, that Gym Badge is all mine."

"Alright, everyone, we will begin the written portion of the certification exam now." Thatcher looked out over the testing hall, a large rectangular room with rows of windows on either side and a large image of the Thorax Badge emblazoned at the room's front, and took a pause as the applicants vying for their Trainer Cards awaited further instruction. Most of the applicants were no older than twelve but the two siblings related to the local Nurse Joy he knew so well sat side by side looking confident. This was the final portion of the exam, he thought, and they had both scored exceptionally on the two previous parts. In his opinion, they had a right to be.

"You'll have forty-five minutes to answer seventy-five multiple choice questions and twenty-five short answer questions, each counting for one point. You need to score a seventy or above to be certified. When you're done, come up and hand it to me, then you're free to go. Your time begins…" Thatcher checked his watch and waited for it to strike noon. "Now."

It went quiet in the testing hall, all except for the occasional scritch-scratching of pencils on paper. The Thomas siblings, both wearing identical confident grins, dove into the test with full intent to pass. All of the questions were concerning Pokémon care, battle basics, and type match-ups, with the latter two making up the majority. Grey blazed through the test like it was nothing to him; his pen never stopped moving and the answers popped into his head the second after he read the question. Rachel started off strong, her Ranger training having armed her with much knowledge on Pokémon care. As soon as the test transitioned into the questions about how Pokémon types matched up and which items they could hold and which strategies one would use in battle, she fell short. She only knew a handful of the answers pertaining to those and the ones she didn't know were either left blank or answered to the best of her limited ability.

"Which type matches up best against the Dragon type? A – Dragon, B – Normal, C – Water, D – Steel, E – None of the above," Rachel read under her breath.

Okay, well I know Water-type attacks do half damage and normal is neutral to everything but… Was it Dark or Ghost? Whatever; it's neutral to Dragon meaning A and E are the only answers left. Rachel desperately stared at her test paper as she weighed the two answers in her head. Agh! I don't know this crap! …Maybe beating it in a staring contest will get it to give up the answer…

So she stared.

And stared.

And stared. And a full two minutes passed before she blinked and groaned under her breath in frustration and let her head slump onto her desk with a thump.

This is impossible! she lamented to herself. A test on the worst possible thing they could have tested me on; am I being punished for something?

To her right, she heard her little brother snickering at her misfortune as he answered the last question on the test. The boy stood and strode over to Thatcher to hand over his test and leave the room. As he passed his sister, he flashed the biggest, smuggest grin he could muster before laughing quietly to himself and leaving the room. Silently fuming, Rachel made a mental note to get back at him for that before focusing her full attention on the test before her. She blocked out everything else, unaware of the fact as time went on, the youngsters that occupied the room with her slowly dwindled in number until she was the only person left. Time passed unnoticed by her before, finally, she punctuated the last sentence on question number one hundred and stood triumphantly from her seat, test raised above her head like a flag of victory.

"DONE!" she shouted, spirits skyrocketing only to peter out and crash seconds later when she saw the time – two in the afternoon – and noticed that the only other person in the room was her aunt, sitting at one desk with her feet propped up on another while she read a magazine. Nurse Joy looked up from reading with an amused smirk playing on her lips as Rachel, embarrassed, coughed into her hand and recomposed herself.

"A-Aunty, you shouldn't scare people like that."

Nurse Joy only snickered and took the test from Rachel when the girl handed it over. "Good, now that you're done, you just have to wait a few hours for the official to grade them and process your Trainer Cards."

Rachel fidgeted and asked, "Can you look over my test now and give me an idea of how well I did?"

Joy shook her head and Rachel frowned. "Sorry, against the rules, hun."

"Awwww!" the girl groaned. "Please? I think I might have failed and I've never failed a test before in my life!" The nurse put a comforting hand on her stressing niece's shoulder.

"I'm sure you did fine. Now, let's get you something to eat and calm your nerves, hmm?"

"I don't want to calm my nerves!" she shouted, "I want to pass this test!" She suddenly lunged for the exam paper but her aunt was quick enough to move it out of the taller girl's reach. "Come on! Give it; I need to change a few answers; please!" Rachel threw her arm out and managed to brush the edge of the paper with the very tips of her fingers but Nurse Joy danced out of reach and stuffed it in between her magazine while shooting Rachel a disappointed glare.

"But - !" Rachel started.

"No! That was completely undignified!" Nurse Joy said harshly. "You'll get the results back tomorrow." The elder Thomas sibling slumped back into her chair with a long drawn-out sigh, face in her hands.

"I am so dead…" she moaned.

"I take it we're interrupting something?" came the sound of Thatcher's amused voice. The rosettes turned to the Gym Leader to see his long face twisted into a sly smirk, one hand on his hip and the other scratching his stubble. James stood behind him confidence apparent on his face as he practically bounced in anticipation. Rachel's face went beet red as a mortified look flashed across it.

"How much did you see?" she asked, dreading the answer.

"Pretty much all of it," the two young men answered. Her face went right back into her hands and her head receded into the collar of her uniform jacket, muffled words of embarrassment whispered under her breath.

"Leslie, we're here for a Gym Battle," Thatcher said to Nurse Joy as if Rachel's making a fool of herself hadn't happened. He dug into the pocket of his gardener's jumpsuit a hair tie and a tooth pick, and as he put his reddish-brown hair into a low ponytail, he told Leslie to go get the flags to prepare.

"Yo," James grunted in greeting as he approached Rachel. "What was that about?"

"My certification exam," she grumbled in response when she finally looked up at the brunette. "I think…" She grimaced as if she'd just downed a cupful of lemon juice and forced the words out. "I think Grey might have actually beaten me..." James faked a wince.

"Ouch, rough. I take it this is a heavy loss for you?" Rachel glanced up at him with a venomous deadpan look that made the boy recoil in earnest. "Message received…"

"Yeah," grunted Rachel. She got up and shuffled her way towards the exit like a zombie, all vitality gone.

"Hey, where're you going?" he asked incredulously. "You're not gonna stick around to watch?"

"Food. Nap. Work. Bye."

James frowned. "Thanks for the support!" he shouted at her retreating back.

"Ignore it. Let's just get the ball rolling, kid," Thatcher called from the previous room. James's hand immediately moved to hover over his belt before he followed Thatcher in and took a look around. James knew beforehand that Thatcher's greenhouse and the battlefield were one and the same, making it the largest one James had set foot on. It was sweltering and overrun with vegetation and Pokémon, either wild or owned by Thatcher, moved freely through it. The Gym Leader led James into a cleared area where Nurse Joy and the official battlefield stood in waiting before calling to his Pokémon and going off into the cover of the dense foliage. James noted the obvious menagerie of Bug-types following behind Thatcher, including an oddly dark-colored Scyther slightly smaller than his own, but also saw a few that didn't fall under Thatcher's type specialization like a Marshtomp and Sudowoodo. James didn't have to wait long for Thatcher to return hands shoved in his pockets and an anticipatory smirk on his rugged features.

Suddenly full of energy, he stretched out his back and announced, "Alright then! Since you chose a Classic Style battle, we'll be fighting here instead of using the entire garden like I usually do. No big deal; I'm glad to accommodate."

"I'd have chosen Special Style but I'm not exactly familiar with it," James admitted scratching his head sheepishly.

"No sweat. Make it up to me by making this a fun battle for the both of us, 'kay?" James said nothing but eased himself into a ready stance as Nurse Joy took the referee's spot in the center of the field. Thatcher was utterly and kept both hands in his pockets, his stance loose and relaxed.

"This is an official Gym Match between the Gym Leader of Springbloom City, Thatcher, and the challenger, Jameson Rhodes of Fuchsia City. The chosen battle style is a four-on-four single battle in the Classic style. Each trainer will use four Pokémon with unlimited substitutions. The first side to have their Pokémon rendered unable to battle loses the match."

"Let's get this fight underway, then!" James said, impatient.

"Hold on, there's one more stipulation Leslie didn't talk about yet," Thatcher said coolly.

Leslie continued, "The entire botanical garden will be the stage for today's battle. However, the full scope of the field will not be accessible until the Gym Leader gives the command."

"The entire garden?" repeated a flummoxed James. "Why?"

"Makes the battle that much more fun!" cried Thatcher. "What," he began as a grin to rival Grey's took form on the man's face, "you're not scared, are ya?" James scowled and gripped a Poké Ball tight.

"As if. Let's get it on!"

"Just what I wanted to hear!"

Nurse Joy raised her flags above her head and looked between the two competitors. "Let the battle begin!" She brought her arms down and jumped out of the way as two streaks of light took form before she even finished her sentence. Sniper took the field opposite a large Beedrill whose buzzing wings drowned out Thatcher's lightning-fast order to attack.

"Twineedle!" the older trainer commanded his insect. The bee zoomed forward not an instant later with both its javelin-like hands extended and trained on Sniper's chest. The Scyther's trainer gave no order and instead left it up to his Pokémon to act; Sniper ducked under Beedrill's line drive attack and dashed to the other end of the battlefield with his blade-arms at the ready. Beedrill stopped on a dime right in front of a nonplussed James and turned to attack again. Sniper slid his arms between Beedrill's lances and pushed them apart before striking wasp-like Pokémon with a brutal head-butt.

Dazed, Beedrill quickly distanced itself from its opponent and increased its buzzing's volume in fury. "Easy, buddy!" Thatcher called and Beedrill's buzzing ceased as it landed. "No need to get so riled up so early, okay?" Grudgingly and without taking its eyes off Sniper, Beedrill acknowledged Thatcher with a nod and raised its lances. Then James called out,

"Sniper, I've finished the preliminary analysis!" The Mantis Pokémon allowed itself a tiny smirk of anticipation and raised his guard. Hearing that, Thatcher silently prepared himself for whatever was to come next and opened his mouth to speak, only to be cut off by a gust of wind tousling his hair when Beedrill was sent rocketing backwards and past him. Sniper was now directly adjacent the Gym Leader with his shoulder lowered after having blindsided his opponent with Quick Attack. Beedrill recovered and launched into a rage-fueled Fury Attack. Sniper took to the skies and danced around the Beedrill's furious stabs with unparalleled skill. Beedrill would stab and Sniper would parry the hit. Once, twice, three times this happened until Beedrill broke through Sniper's guard with a feint and landed two good hits on the mantis's upper arms.

"Beedrill!" Thatcher boomed, catching his Pokémon's attention in the middle of its barrage. "Calm the hell down! Agility!" Beedrill relented and beat its segmented wings at a rapid pace concentrating on boosting its speed. "Now Aerial Ace!"

If Beedrill had possessed a mouth, it would have been twisted upwards in a sadistic snarl. Sniper returned to the ground a split second before Beedrill tore after him and suddenly appeared in his blind spot. The green insect only had a fleeting moment to whirl around and block the first lance before getting slashed across the chest with the other. Annoyed and wincing, Sniper kicked Beedrill away and looked to James for an order.

"It's fast but not as fast as you," the trainer said confidently. He threw a hand forward and narrowed his eyes at Thatcher's Beedrill. "Let's end this in two swipes!" Sniper nodded and let out a short, sharp cry and dropped his stance, bending his knees and leaning slightly forward while bringing his right arm down to his left hip and straightening his wings.

Two strikes. he murmured to himself as he turned his blades' edges outward. He cocked his head at Beedrill, daring it to make a move.

"As if," Thatcher said. "Beedrill, Focus Energy into Poison Jab and make sure you don't get hit!" Happy to oblige, Beedrill filled its lances with its potent poison like a doctor fills a syringe and once again beat its wings furiously. Already familiar with Focus Energy, James noticed the slight twitches in Beedrill's arms and legs and accounted for them. A fraction of an instant later, it charged forward leading with its right and flying twice as fast as before.

"NOW SLASH!" James suddenly bellowed. It happened faster than either trainer could process; Beedrill's right lance was a mere foot from Sniper's chest – too close for the taller insect to dodge, Thatcher thought – and before anyone could blink, Sniper was standing with his back to Beedrill, right arm outstretched, while the Poison Bee Pokémon kept flying and stripped away a chunk of bark from one of Springbloom's monster trees with its attack. The insect slumped against its accidental target and slid down the rough bark leaving a wet green smear on it. Sniper straightened up and flicked green fluid off of his blade before turning to his fallen opponent and bowing.

"Beedrill is unable to battle," declared Nurse Joy. She raised the green flag in James' direction. "Scyther is the winner." Said Scyther's trainer released a held breath. He hadn't anticipated Beedrill being able to match Scyther's speed even with an Agility boost, nor had he expected Sniper to get hit. To an untrained outsider, it would have looked as if James were the stronger battler but he knew full well Sniper was pushed near his limit with dodging and blocking alone.

"Critical," grumbled Thatcher. He held out Beedrill's Poké Ball and recalled it, thanking it for a job well done. "You didn't even need two hits," he said to James. The challenger merely smirked and nodded his head in his Scyther's direction. Sniper preened at the show of approval and returned to his trainer's side.

James put a fist in his palm and bowed to his Scyther who returned the gesture in kind. "Outstanding, Sniper; excellent work as always."


"You know, something, kid, there's something weird about you," said Thatcher. He took another Poké Ball off his belt and examined it thoughtfully before replacing it and choosing another.

"Not bad weird," he corrected at Jameson's slightly affronted expression, "like special. I ain't seen many kids your age that can keep so calm and act so efficiently. Most of them just charge in without a plan. That and your Scyther is obviously well-raised. I should know." There was a slight tone of pride in the Gym Leader's voice at the end of his statement but James ignored it and accepted the compliment.

"Thank you," he said politely. "It's nice to be acknowledged by a Gym Leader in such a way."

"But you know…" Thatcher said threateningly. He locked eyes with the young challenger and James fought back the urge to flinch. Thatcher's calm easygoing mask had morphed into the face of a warrior. Part of James wanted to curse his luck for knocking out Beedrill so easily; it only meant that Thatcher would make this battle that much harder. But, at the same time, James wanted a tougher battle. A victory is that much sweeter when it's won after a hard fight.

"Beedrill won't be happy if I just up and lose after letting her go down like that," the Gym Leader said in a low voice. He opened the Poké Ball in his hand and allowed himself a smirk. "And you can bet that I'm not going to disappoint her. Better bring your best, kid. This just got real."

At first there was silence as James took stock of the Pokémon materializing before him. Slick teal skin marked it as a Water-type, and a strong sturdy build with thick arms defined it as a heavy defender, something Sniper would have some trouble cutting through. James didn't have to take his Pokédex out to recognize his opponent's next choice; the Marshtomp he'd seen earlier psyched itself up and thumped the ground.

James grinned.

"Wouldn't have it any other way," he said just as eagerly as Marshtomp presented itself. He called Sniper back into his ball and released his laughing mad Zangoose to take on the blue mud fish. "Luna, I'm gonna need all your power for this!" Picking up on her Trainer's drive, Luna unsheathed her claws and tore out a good chunk of the earth in a display of power. Marshtomp was unimpressed but grew visibly more excited.

This is gonna be good, he thought aloud.

My thoughts exactly, said a fervent Luna.

"Let the record show that the battlefield is officially open. Move anywhere ya want, kid," Thatcher said before nodding at his referee-slash-nurse.

"Round two: Zangoose VS Marshtomp!" Nurse Joy announced. "Fight!"

"Crush Claw!" James roared as the adrenaline surged.

"Marshtomp, Take Down!" Thatcher bellowed at equal volume.

The two combatants charged for one another spurred on by their trainers' encouragement and with no desire for anything outside of dealing damage. A loud thud rang out followed by a strident scream and a low rumbling shout. The battle was now truly underway.

Grey shifted on the stone bench he and Soul occupied as he ruminated over what Lucas had relayed to him. He crossed one leg over his knee, folded his arms and closed his eyes in thought before, finally,

"So you're saying that we've got some kinda power?"

The man had garnered the boy's interest at the mention of their being similar in more ways than one, and had just finished explaining on of the possible origins of Grey's ability. After having his test graded and getting the highest score of all the applicants, Grey was handed his official Trainer Card by the resident League Offical and spotted Lucas in the Pokémon Centre shortly after. The boy recounted the events of Mélange Town and Lyle's orchard after making small talk with his senior before being told there was something he needed to know out of the blue. The two then relocated to the courtyard in Thatcher's botanical garden to sit and chat away the other trainers and their challenges to battle.

Lucas, Solace in his arms and Oberon the Ursaring at his side, took a look around at the paved marble courtyard and breathed deeply as he formulated a response. How best to make it simple to understand without patronizing the kid? He supposed that it would be best to give a demonstration first.

"You and I, Grey, we're two of a kind," he began with a grand gesture towards himself and the younger Thomas sibling in turn. An annoyed Soul grew leery and hissed under his breath at the man but Lucas ignored it and went on. "Not many other people can bond with Pokémon like we can and it's all thanks to our gift."

"The fact that we can talk to Pokémon, right?" the boy asked.

"Exactly!" said the older loudly. "Where other trainers struggle to understand their partners and befriend new captures, it comes as easy to us breathing. Observe." Checking to see if he had the boy's full attention (he did), Lucas set his Leafeon and shook his arm out with a flourish. He placed two fingers in his mouth and whistled loudly. A moment later, a wild Pidgeot swooped down from the treetops and landed in front of Lucas, scattering leaves with its wings as it did, and cocked its head curiously.

"It's like it's one of his own," Grey noted, enthralled. Then a slight doubt arose.

"Wait, that's not one of yours, is it?" he asked suspiciously. Lucas chuckled.

"Of course not. It's completely wild." He turned back to the massive bird Pokémon and knelt down to its eyelevel. Pidgeot went about preening its wings completely comfortable despite a near imperceptible edgy stance that bespoke of an awareness of the possibility of capture.

Lucas took his bag off and offered the Pidgeot a plump Oran Berry from its side pocket. Relaxing at the show of good faith, Pidgeot snapped up the berry without hesitation. Confident that he wouldn't be attacked, Lucas reached out and petted the Bird Pokémon's glossy crest feathers and smiled. "How are you doing, friend? My name is Lucas. It's quite nice to meet you." The wild Pidgeot trilled.

"So you say your name is Zephyrus. Interesting name." Pidgeot cooed and cocked its head at Grey inquiringly. "His name is Grey and you don't have to worry; he won't capture you." Grey visibly deflated and put away the Poké Ball he'd snuck out of his pocket.

"I couldn't hear her ask my name," he said somewhat glumly. "But either way, what kind of power is that? You psychic or something?"

Lucas chuckled again, sending an unnoticed chill up Soul's spine. "No, but my ability is often confused for that." He stood up and dismissed the wild Pidgeot with a wave before extending his hand at Soul. His eyes adopted a soft blue glow and Soul felt a foreign presence in the back of his mind that set him on edge. He hissed and snapped at Lucas for intruding into his thoughts and stood protectively in front of his partner with his fangs bared.

Sensing trouble, the hulking Oberon dropped on all fours and gave Soul a warning growl. The demi-dragon refused to back down and spat a few embers at the offending grizzly.

"Soul!" the boy admonished his Charmeleon. "I'm really sorry. I dunno why but he just doesn't seem to like you. But what is that? Your eyes glowed…" The lean dark-haired trainer took no offense and continued as if there weren't a small dragon ready to tear his throat out.

"I possess a rare ability called Aura. You may possess it as well, but I feel it's a bit too early to tell. No matter, though, as it's nothing a bit of training can't fix." Grey's eyes lit up.

"So I'll be able to do that?" he asked excitedly. Lucas grinned back at him.

"All that and more, my friend! Much more!"


"But… Before that, I need to check something." Lucas cut in. Conversation between them stopped and Oberon and Soul's mutual animosity died down, leaving the area in a faintly eerie quiet. Lucas studied Grey with a critical eye before demanding the boy release his Pokémon and hand his Pokédex over. Grey obliged, though not without suspicion.

"Hmm…" the young man hummed thoughtfully. He took an inordinate amount of time examining the Pokémon, Grey thought. He studied a wary Soul before nodding and moving on to the newly evolved Strabi and doing the same. With Donte and Maverick, however, he tutted under his breath and straightened up shaking his head with obvious disapproval.

"What?" Grey asked, nervous. "Is there something wrong with them?" All of his Pokémon immediately threw him insulted glares and vocalized their displeasure.

"You're not going to beat Thatcher," Lucas stated as if it were fact. "Your Pokémon are too weak." Offended, Grey leapt to his feet and shouted,

"Hey, don't call 'em weak!"

"Phaa-aan!" Donte added angrily.

"I'm only giving my honest opinion," said Lucas. He raised a hand to calm his wary Pokémon and narrowed his eyes at Grey. "You haven't been training like you should, have you?"

"W-Well…" Grey faltered. It was true that he hadn't trained since arriving in Springbloom City but that was because of his need to get a Trainer Card or face consequences from the League. He explained all of that to Lucas but that only served to annoy the man further.

"Why did you not apply for one when you registered in Seabreeze?" he pressed. "Didn't you think it was important?"

"I guess I was just so excited, I didn't think about it," the boy answered defensively. "I dunno, I mean… What would you have done?"

"Thought everything through, that's what," Lucas countered harshly. Grey opened his mouth but closed it when he found he had no argument. "And another thing; you aren't thinking very smartly. For instance, your Onix."

"What about Maverick?" the boy challenged.

"How do you feed him?" the older trainer asked swiftly. He carried on regardless of the boy's stuttering. "You let him eat soil that he finds on his own, correct? No vitamins or specialized food or anything like that?"

"No, I don't –"

"Have the money to pay for it, correct? Not with three other Pokémon to think of. Your budget won't allow it."

"No… It's kinda hard just buying food and medicine for the four of them as it is."

"EXACTLY!" Lucas boomed, causing Grey to flinch. "Maverick is a behemoth of a Pokémon and requires more food and larger doses of medicine in order to achieve the desired effect. Ergo, he costs more money to maintain! You're just starting out and don't have that money and you have three other Pokémon to care for. You should know your limitations and plan accordingly. Four Pokémon, I think, is too much for you to handle. Or, rather, two adolescent Pokémon, one youngling, and a behemoth are too much for you to handle. At the very least, you should be training a smaller Pokémon."

Grey and his team grew silent – Grey due to shame and his team due to quiet growing indignation – and Lucas went on to hammer his point in harder.

"You told me that before you challenged Kory, you taught Soul and Strabi one new move each. All well and good but did you even try battle training based off what you saw Jameson do during his fight? Moreover, you knew Soul was close to evolving but didn't capitalize on that and help him along before your battle. It would have given you the edge and you got lucky that he evolved at such a crucial point during the match. Your defeat would have been certain otherwise."

"I…" Grey stuttered. "I… I mean, I thought my training was going fine. James was a little father ahead, sure, but he wasn't all that powerful; I –"

"Need to step out of the Little Cup League and start training like a big boy?" Lucas interjected. "Yes. Yes, you do. Otherwise, you'll forever be in James' shadow and you'll never advance as a trainer. You need to look at your Pokémon's abilities, both as a species and as individuals and play to their strengths!" he emphasized.

"Devise new move combinations and cover their weaknesses by teaching them new moves or having their teammates compensate. You need to think of ways to use moves in unorthodox ways. They're a team for a reason and you're their leader and if you prove to be an incompetent one, they will," he said strictly, "resent you for it. An army is nothing without their general and a general is nothing without his army. That lesson seems to have evaded you until now."

Grey hung his head low, his hair obscuring his eyes, and stood stock still. He took a minute to take in and understand all of Lucas's criticisms and concluded that Lucas was right, no matter how much he wanted to disagree, and felt like kicking himself. Hadn't he been serious about becoming a trainer? Hadn't he fled to the archipelago for that exact purpose? Hadn't he dreamed about living his dream since before he could even begin to remember? He clenched his fists tight and began to tremble.

"Damn it!" he screamed in his mind. "Damn it, damn it! He's completely right. I've been slacking off this entire time and got way too caught in the moment! I didn't take this seriously enough; I didn't prepare enough at all… I thought I was golden! And if this keeps up, Rachel's gonna be right and I'll never hear the end of it!" Grey wrested control of himself from his emotions and took a steadying breath. He felt that all eyes were on him now. It was his time to make a decision. Either cruise by and get left in the dust or man up and start learning.

"This was my decision," he said softly so that they had to strain to listen to him. "This is what I wanted. I thought I was taking it seriously and doing everything I was supposed to but there's more to it than just catching Pokémon and moving from town to town. Fine, I know that now. Or I guess I was reminded of it. I know things need to change."

Lucas smirked, and a moment later, recoiled in shock when Grey's head snapped up and an inferno roared to life in his eyes.

"But one thing is for damn sure!" he shouted at Lucas. "I am NOT playing in the Little Cup League! If you say that one more time during our training, you can bet I'm gonna kick your ass!" Renewed and behind their trainer one-hundred percent, Grey's Pokémon rallied behind him with a collective shout of approval.

"Our training?" Lucas echoed.

"That's right," Grey confirmed, "you're gonna be training me. Since you had the nerve to call me out on that just now, you're gonna make it up to me by teaching me everything you know about being a trainer and I'm not taking 'no' for an answer, ya go it?"

Lucas grinned. "Well, alright, then!" Behind his smile lay a wide triumphant grin.

"Just as planned," he said to his Pokémon. "If all goes well, Grey will be up to par in no time." Solace mewled her approval, ever the loyal follower, while Oberon gave a derisive snort.

"We'll see," the bear grumbled skeptically.

To say that the Gym Battle had escalated was an understatement. It had risen to fever pitch at the height of round two. Luna went down after a frenzied bout with Marshtomp that ended with the Mud Fish being heavily wounded and with Luna getting KO'd. Round three began with a battle between Shishi and an Illumise. The Illumise energy attacks proved a match for Shishi's maneuvering and crafty thinking but ultimately ended in a loss for Shishi when Illumise's Toxic attack took its toll. The next round saw Illumise fall at the hands of Sniper and the fight transitioned into a Scyther vs. Scyther match. Thatcher's oddly-colored Scyther and Sniper dueled it out like two master samurai while zipping around the battlefield and through the treetops with unbelievable speed. Both trainers were having significant trouble keeping their eyes on their Scyther and issuing orders quick enough to catch the other off guard. Nurse Joy had long since abandoned the chase and shouted something about waiting in the lobby if Thatcher needed her.

The clang of blades meeting each other backed by furious power rang out at irregular intervals as the two Mantis Pokémon warred overhead. Scyther landed on a thick branch overhead for a fraction of a second before Sniper came screaming in and lopped it off like it was nothing. Sniper kicked off the tree and rushed Thatcher's Sniper leading with his arms; Scyther blocked expertly and went for Sniper's exposed flank but the lighter green bug detached himself from his adversary and kicked the incoming blade away, then threw his other foot forward and caught Scyther in the thorax. The two bugs landed away from each other to catch their breath but their gazes never broke.

"Unbelievable," James said between labored gasps for air. All the running had tired him out more than he cared to admit and he made a mental note to do some endurance training in the future.

"They're completely equal. Neither is giving an inch!" Thatcher exclaimed from beside his Scyther, obviously enjoying himself. "Scyther, girl, am I ever proud of you!" The glittering forest green warrior threw its head back and gave a proud piercing war cry.

"She's good, Sniper, but we're just as powerful!" James hollered encouragingly. "Do not give her any openings and strike with all you have!"


"Sword and sheath style, Sniper! Let's end this!" Sniper dropped his stance and held his left arm parallel to the ground at his side with the blade facing downward. His right was across his chest, hovering over his wound from Beedrill with the blade facing forward and ready to fight. Thatcher's Scyther responded by bending her arms and turning her blades upwards. She egged her adversary on and the battle began anew.

"Sniper, Fury Cutter!"

"Block and use Double Hit!"

The two Bug-types kicked up dirt clouds as they winged their way across the field on a collision course. Scyther's arms adopted a purple shine and she spun like a top, her attack meant for Sniper's head and torso. The other bug ducked under her assault and hopped back a few steps before jumping right back into the fray and striking his opponent with successive hit and run attacks. Growing annoyed, Scyther parried Sniper's incoming hit and winded him with a blow to the chest with the back of her blade-arm.

"Bug Bite!" Thatcher commanded. Scyther wrenched open her reptilian mouth to reveal rows of small dagger-like teeth and chomped on Sniper's left shoulder with as much force as she could muster. Sniper recoiled and let loose a howl of pain but pushed through and threw Scyther off him.

"Wing Attack!" Sniper threw his shoulder and left wings into Scyther's midsection, a blow that lifted her off her feet, and pushed again to send her careening into the air. She masterfully righted herself and came rocketing back down to earth bringing her blade down in a vicious Slash attack. Their blades met with yet another clang. The two trainers roared for simultaneous Slash attacks above the din and waited for an opening while their two Pokémon fought it out. Sniper found himself backed into a tree as a screaming Scyther charged for him and slashed horizontally. Sniper ducked and rolled out of the way and Scyther's blade felled the tree with a mighty thud. Feeling humorous, Thatcher shouted "Timber!" and James couldn't help but laugh.

Sniper adopted his sword-and-sheath style once more, blocking with his left and attacking with his right while Scyther favored an all-out offensive with dual swords. Parry, slash, clang, kick, slash, clang, kick, kick, backhand, duck, CLANG! Two Scyther met midway between their trainers struggling against the other and trying to gain ground. Sniper gained the upper hand and threw Scyther off, transitioning into a backhand with the blunt side of his blade and going in for the kill. James saw victory just within reach but Scyther took it right from under him and Sniper by using her head to take Sniper's second backhand and cut him across the chest with X-Scissor.

James groaned loudly in frustration and rushed to his partner's side as his body went limp and fell, defeated. Bleeding above the eye and from multiple gashes from Fury Cutter, Scyther ignored her injuries and bowed in deep respect for her unconscious adversary.

You are truly a worthy opponent, she said in a calm composed tone. It would be an honor to do battle with you once more, Sniper.

James recalled his partner after a few murmured words of thanks and replaced his Poké Ball with the Fast Ball on his hip. "That was truly amazing," he said sincerely. "I really hope you were taping that somehow because I want to watch it again."

Thatcher rubbed his head sheepishly. "Well, I think we got some of it on the security footage but I don't know how good it is," he admitted. "We'll see what we can do after this. Bring on your last Pokémon." Nodding James gripped the Fast Ball tight and put on his best poker face. No need to spoil the surprise, he though slyly.

He tossed the Fast Ball into the air with a sharp cry of "Game set!" and beamed when across Thatcher's face flashed the slightest hint of worry.

The flash of light took the form of a Pokémon standing four feet tall covered in feathers, golden brown on its chest, arms and face and red on its legs and thighs. Three wickedly sharp claws stuck out from the tips of its arms and its ruby red eyes shone brightly in the afternoon light as it hopped on the spot and clawed the ground with dangerous-looking talons.

"Combusken, let's finish this quick," said James confidently.

"Busken!" the fighting bird clucked brimming with spirit.

"Aww, man, you just had to go and make this hard for me, didn't you?" sighed Thatcher. "Aww, well," he said with a shrug. "Scyther, use - !"

He never got to finish the order, as Combusken had streaked forward with Quick Attack and buried his foot in Scyther's abdomen before the speedy bug had time to react. Scyther went unconscious before even flying back and rolling into the tree she had felled moments earlier.

"Shit!" the Gym Leader swore eyes wide. "What the hell, man? How long have you had that Combusken?"

"About a week!" James declared proudly. "Not bad, huh?" Thatcher said nothing and replaced his fallen Scyther with his tired Marshtomp, determined not to let this battle end in defeat.

"Last round," he yelled. He looked to Marshtomp and sent it a silent message only they understood. Wary of what was coming next, James leapt into action and called for Combusken to jump in and use Peck. Marshtomp, for all its bulk, was quicker and succeeded in giving a little hop and sending the entirety of his weight slamming into the ground and tearing it up on impact. The Earthquake attack sent a wave of raw power radiating outwards from Marshtomp and shook the ground like a snow globe. The violent vibrations made Combusken trip and he skidded across the ground uncontrollably towards Marshtomp while the Water/Ground-type raised its arm to attack.

"Combusken, trip it back!" James bellowed, frantic. "Dig in!" Combusken dug his feet into the ground to slow himself. Now right under Marshtomp, he clenched his fist and utilized its stored momentum to snap forward like a reflex bag and slug Marshtomp mid-attack. He stopped just behind the punch-drunk mud fish and when he saw Marshtomp was still standing, delivered a debilitating Double Kick to the offending Pokémon's back to knock it out. James let loose with a cry of victory and raced over to hug his newest team member and shower him with praise and thanks.

Thatcher recalled Marshtomp and gave the Poké Ball a fond smile and a quiet thank-you. "You did good, partner. But we might as well accept this loss with dignity and grace." He walked over to James and Combusken and put a hand on each of their shoulders.

"Good game out there. I can honestly say I've never faced a trainer at your level that showed me such a good match. You've got talent, kid, and skill." James and Combusken beamed.

"Well, hey, it was mostly my Pokémon," the boy said sheepishly.

"Don't sell yourself short, either," Thatcher insisted. "You were the one that trained 'em." The boy said nothing, opting to hug his Combusken tighter and revel in their victory. "Let's go get our Pokémon healed up and get you that badge, Jameson. You earned it."

"We earned it," James corrected the Gym Leader. "A general's nothing without his army and an army's nothing without their general. Right, Combusken?"


Phew, twenty pages… Gotta break this 1-chapter-every few months shitty habit I've got. It's not good; not good at all. Hope you guys enjoy! R&R!

Special thanks to everyone that put this story on their favorites list or reviewed! Extra-special thanks to The Finesseful X and Shadow Minamino for staying so consistent. You guys make me want to keep on keeping on with this thing! Also, to those who have this on favorites, drop a review. I'd love to know where the story stands with you guys.

Until next time (which'll be soon, I promise! :D)