Nothing Special

There was a time when I was nothing spectacular, just a nondescript fish swimming in a lake. Nothing about me gave any indication of what I might one day become; I was one of the plainest Pokemon in existence. Picture a brown Magikarp with grey fins and no whiskers and you'll have some idea what I looked like. I was a Feebas, just a simple Feebas.

I spent my days swimming around in the lake that was my "world", the lake where I had been hatched and where I expected to spend the rest of my life. Feebas, as a rule, live out their entire lives in the same body of water - unless a human manages to catch them, but I'll come back to that later. Anyway, the lake was my home and I never expected to leave it. Other Water Pokemon sometimes came into the lake via the stream which fed into it, bringing news from the outside world; some even spoke of "Up There", the world beyond the water's surface. But I never felt the urge to leave the lake and see these things for myself.

And that's how things would have stayed, but for what happened one day.

I was swimming round as usual when I spotted something floating in the water, something I thought looked like a tasty snack. So, without stopping to think about whether it was a good idea or not, I swam up to it, opened my mouth and swallowed it. The next thing I felt was a sharp tugging, followed by a sensation that I was being pulled upwards. I struggled, trying to get away, but it was no use and, before I knew it, I broke the surface of the water.

It took me a few moments to register that I was "Up There", that I had been pulled out of the underwater world where I had lived all my life. A creature was standing nearby, a creature of a kind I had never seen before. Its skin (what little of it was not concealed by the coverings it had draped over much of its body) was a pinkish-white colour, the top of its head covered with wavy black hair which came down to its shoulders. It was a biped and, though I could not see its hind fins, it was holding a long pole in its front fins. The pole had a thin line dangling from it - and I was on the end of that line.

I scarcely had time to register this, however, before the creature let me off the line and I landed in the water with a plop. I thought I would be able to get away, but, before I could do so, the creature threw a red-and-white object, which burst open with a flash of light. Seconds later, a plump blue mouse with a balloon on the end of its tail appeared in the water. A Marill, I realised, recalling having seen one in the lake once. But what was this one doing in the . . . object the creature had thrown? And how had it managed to fit inside?

Then the creature shouted something which I didn't understand at the time, though I've since become familiar with its language; I've had cause to. Anyway, the creature shouted something and, the next thing I knew, the Marill opened her mouth and a stream of bubbles shot out, heading straight towards me. It was a Bubblebeam and I soon felt the bubbles popping against my side, pushing me back. Instinctively, I tried to fight back, starting with a Splash. But I was forgetting that Splash doesn't cause any damage; it's pretty much useless in battle, though Pokemon can use it out of battle if they want to cool down. In any case, Splash was getting me nowhere fast, so I tried a Tackle, the only other option open to me since I had not yet learned Flail and Feebas can't learn any other Attacks naturally. I swam straight towards the Marill, just as she swam towards me in a Tackle Attack of her own.

We collided and I was knocked out of the water and onto the bank, where I lay flopping around. The next thing I knew, the creature pulled out another of those red-and-white objects and threw it towards me; it hit me and opened up with a flash of light . . . Suddenly, I felt myself shrinking, as if the object was drawing me inside it. And, then, I was inside it; I instinctively fought to get out, but it seemed that the force which had drawn me inside was stronger. From somewhere, I heard a pinging sound, the last thing I would hear for a while.

A sudden flash of light brought me back to consciousness as I was released from my strange prison. I was in water; I knew this immediately, just as I also knew this was not the lake. For one thing, there were no other Pokemon swimming in the water, apart from a Seaking and a heart-shaped Pokemon I'd never seen before; I later found out it was a Luvdisc. For another, I soon found that I could only swim a short distance before I collided with something that was both hard and invisible. No matter which direction I swam, the result was the same. Was I surrounded by a Light Screen?

Well, a good Tackle should break through it. I made to swim at the invisible barrier, but, before I could do so, a voice called out to me to stop. I turned and found that it was the Seaking who had spoken. "You can't break out of here," he told me. "Believe me, I've tried."

I swam closer to him, noticing as I did so the strange formations on the other side of the barrier separating us from the rest of this strange place. I could see three objects, one wider than the other two, which I took to be rocks of some sort. Another "rock", different from the others, stood roughly in the middle. Don't forget I hadn't seen the world outside the lake before, so I knew nothing about furniture; "rocks" was the closest I could come to describing the objects I saw.

Anyway, I swam closer to the Seaking. "I don't even know where "here" is," I told him.

"You're in the aquarium." Then, seeing that I didn't know what he was talking about, he elaborated a little. "It's a place where humans keep fish Pokemon - when they aren't carrying them around in Poke Balls."

"What are humans?" I asked next. I had never heard of such creatures before, except in half-remembered stories I'd heard back in the lake. "And what are Poke Balls?"

"Humans are . . ." Seaking paused, but was unable to come up with a reasonable explanation. " . . . humans."

"You can't mistake them," the Luvdisc said, speaking for the first time. "They're creatures without scales, so they have to protect themselves with coverings they call "clothing". And their tails are split in two . . ." I gave a start when I heard what she said; it was a very good description of the creature which had pulled me out of the lake and had caught me in that red-and-white object. Except, that "object" must have been a Poke Ball . . .

Just then, something I later learned was called a "door" opened and the creature - the human - entered, followed by the Marill from earlier and another (unfamiliar) Pokemon. This Pokemon was a small brown creature, with pointed ears and a bushy tail: an Eevee, though I didn't know that at the time. He (I later learned this Eevee was a male, like Seaking, while Marill and Luvdisc were female, like me) skipped around the human as it made its way over to this aquarium that now seemed to be my home.

The human said something in its strange language, then tossed a strange pink object into the water, where it landed directly in front of Luvdisc. This object - I had no idea what it was then - resembled a small pink rock, flat and slightly elongated. Except, as soon as Luvdisc had given the object a sniff, she started eating it, so it couldn't be a rock. I hardly had time to think about this, however, before the human tossed in two more of the things-that-were-not-rocks; these were the exact same size and shape as the one that had been given to Luvdisc, but they were blue. I noticed Seaking eating one of them and swam over closer to him.

"What does that taste like?" I asked him. I'd never eaten such strange things in my life.

"Why don't you try it?" he asked in reply. He nodded to where the other thing lay on the bottom of the tank.

I swam over to it and gave it a quick sniff. An unfamiliar scent, I noted, but not unpleasant. And Seaking seemed to be enjoying his, so I decided to follow his lead and try a mouthful. It had a sharp, dry flavour, one I was surprised to find quite pleasant; it's hard to describe a taste in words, but I can tell you that it was like nothing I'd ever eaten before. In any case, I soon finished the whole thing, noting as I did so that Marill and Eevee had each been given one of the things to eat as well. But what was it all about?

I decided I would have to ask Seaking and Luvdisc. "Those things the human gave us?" I asked later that day. "What are they?"

"Poffins," replied Luvdisc. Then, since I clearly did not know what she was talking about, she went on. "Poffins are a special food which humans feed Pokemon to improve the Pokemon's condition."

"But what for?" I asked next.

It was Seaking who replied this time. "Because some humans like to enter their Pokemon in things called Pokemon Contests. Humans like Amanda - that's the young female who looks after us. And, if they feed their Pokemon lots of Poffins, it makes the Pokemon more likely to win. Different coloured Poffins improve different aspects of the Pokemon - Red for Coolness, Green for Smartness, Yellow for Toughness, Blue for Beauty and Pink for Cuteness."

"And she gave us blue Poffins," I added, as the words "blue for Beauty" echoed in my mind. But I was just a plain Feebas, nothing special at all, a nondescript fish. So why would Amanda feed me blue Poffins? I put this question to Luvdisc, who looked at me thoughtfully.

"I don't know," she told me. "But I've heard it has something to do with a Feebas's evolution." But she couldn't elaborate any further and I was left to stare through the invisible barrier separating us from the outside world, wondering what she meant. I knew Pokemon sometimes evolved, changing into larger and more powerful forms, having once seen a Barboach evolve into Whiscash. But I'd never given any thought to the possibility it might happen to me; in fact, I hadn't even known Feebas could evolve.

The next day, Amanda came and put us all in our Poke Balls. I doubted I would ever get used to the sensation of being sucked into my Ball, but Seaking said I would have to, as it was the means by which humans carried Pokemon from one place to another. Most of the time, at least; he had heard of Pokemon who walked with their humans. But, since Seaking, Luvdisc and I were fish, we couldn't move easily on land, so we had to travel in our Poke Balls.

Anyway, when Amanda let us out, I found myself in another new place. It was a lake, but it wasn't the lake. But, before I had time to wonder just where I was, I heard her saying something to Marill and Luvdisc. Seconds later, Luvdisc's lips glowed and she was suddenly surrounded by glowing pink hearts, showering down on her like rain. At the same instant, Amanda gave another command to Marill, who launched into a Bubble Attack, spraying a jet of bubbles at the hearts surrounding Luvdisc. Surprisingly, the bubbles didn't pop when they touched the hearts; instead, the hearts became trapped inside. The effect was truly amazing, as if dozens of glowing pink lanterns were floating around the two Pokemon. Of course, I didn't know what lanterns were then, but I learned about them later.

I spent most of that first session watching the other Pokemon practising their moves. In the process, I learned that Amanda had taught Marill to spray her Water Gun in the shape of a heart, while Luvdisc used Attract (the move she had earlier combined with Marill's Bubble Attack) to send a stream of hearts into the heart-shaped jet of water. Meanwhile, Seaking knew spectacular Water and Ice Attacks such as Water Pulse and Ice Beam. Finally, there was Eevee. He didn't take part in the practice session, but, as I watched Marill, Luvdisc and Seaking practising their moves, he came over to talk to me.

"Amanda's next Contest is soon," he said conversationally, sitting down and tucking his fins . . . sorry, paws under him.

I remembered what Seaking had said about Pokemon Contests. "Will you be there?" I asked, looking at the small brown creature.

"Perhaps. But I think Amanda plans to use Marill and Luvdisc this time. By the way," Eevee added, "have you noticed how nearly all of us are Water Pokemon?" Not that it was hard for me to miss something like that. "I think she's going to evolve me into a Vaporeon; she's been dropping hints for days."

"You mean you can evolve into different things?" I asked.

"Yes, depending on different factors. For example, to become a Vaporeon, I'll need to be touched with something called a Water Stone . . ."

Eevee carried on talking about all the forms he could potentially evolve into for a while longer, but I wasn't really paying attention. I was thinking about what Luvdisc had said about my own evolution and how blue Poffins were connected to it in some way. But how? I had been told that eating blue Poffins boosted a Pokemon's Beauty stat, but I hardly considered myself beautiful. A plain, shabby fish - that's all I was.

I did not take part in that first Contest; I was nowhere near ready and I doubted I ever would be. But Luvdisc gave me a pretty vivid description of what happened. She told me that Amanda had put her Poke Ball in a special decorated capsule so that, when she was released, she emerged in a shower of hearts. Next, she had to show off some of her moves, before Amanda had to battle her against another female human's Smoochum. But, Luvdisc told me, it wasn't like regular Pokemon battles; the appearance of each Attack counted and, if an outright winner wasn't decided within a set time limit, a winner was chosen based on points.

Luvdisc had a lot more to say about Pokemon Contests, but I doubted I would ever experience the excitement she described. I was just a Feebas, a plain fish - and I had a distinctly limited move repetoire. Or so I thought . . .

On the night after the Contest, Amanda took me aside and told me (with Marill translating since I still didn't understand human speech very well) that she was going to teach me some moves besides Splash, Tackle and Flail. You see, unlike Magikarp, Feebas can be taught new moves, though I didn't know this until then. In any case, Amanda taught me some new moves, including Blizzard, Rain Dance and Waterfall. But I couldn't help wondering if, even with these new moves, I would ever be anything other than the plain Feebas I was.

The next day, we moved on. Seaking and Luvdisc told me that the place where I had first met them was simply where Amanda lived during something called the "off-season". When it was the season for Pokemon Contests, she travelled from town to town, competing in Contests along the way. All the while, she worked with us on improving our moves; for example, I learned how to control the snowflakes that appeared when I used Blizzard so that, rather than swirling randomly, they moved in organised patterns. And we all got our daily rations of Poffins, those strange things I had initially taken to be rocks and which somehow improved a Pokemon's Cuteness, Beauty or whatever.

There were regular Pokemon battles as well. Through these, I learned of two types of people who travelled with Pokemon: co-ordinators like Amanda and trainers. The latter didn't compete in Pokemon Contests as a rule, but travelled around, battling their Pokemon in things called "Pokemon Gyms". Their Pokemon's moves tended to be less showy, since they didn't need to impress judges and, therefore, did not focus so much on visual appeal. But, whether against a fellow co-ordinator or a trainer, Amanda never backed down from a Pokemon battle, saying - I had picked up enough human speech to understand her by now - the experience would keep us in peak condition.

Eventually, Amanda decided the time had come for me to compete in a Contest. I wasn't sure if I was ready, but Luvdisc told me to just do my best. "That's all any Pokemon can do," she told me.

"But will it be enough?" I asked, as Luvdisc and I looked at each other in the fountain where we, along with Seaking, were swimming. Even now, after all the time I had been with Amanda, I still felt like I was nothing special. I'd heard a little about how highly sought after Feebas were among humans, especially co-ordinators, but I couldn't think why a shabby fish should attract so much interest, even if they were hard to find. I had been working on the visual appeal of my moves, but what good was that when you had a plain old Pokemon performing them?

However, just before we reached the place where the Contest was being held, another human challenged Amanda to a Pokemon battle. I did not see what happened in the first few rounds, of course, but I later learned that Marill beat the other human's Buizel and Charmander, but was defeated by a Pidgeotto, which in turn lost to Seaking. Then, all of a sudden . . .

. . . I found myself bursting out of my Poke Ball in a flash of light, materialising on the bank of a river. Directly opposite me, I could see a male human standing with a powerful looking Absol. Neither of them made any attempt to disguise the look of contempt on their faces, but Amanda told me to ignore it and use Rain Dance. So I spun round, flapping my front fins until a small rain cloud appeared directly over the battle, even though it was currently a fine and sunny day. Raindrops began to fall; they slid straight off my scales, but soaked into the Absol's fur.

The Absol came at me in a Tackle Attack, but Amanda countered by having me take to the water. I stayed under the surface for a while, dimly away of the Absol pacing up and down the riverbank, wanting to attack me but unable to do so. Then, in response to a shout from Amanda, I broke the surface and used Waterfall, leaping into the air and sending a cascade of water down on the Dark Type Pokemon.

For the next few turns, the battle continued. I took a few blows from the Absol, but, in the main, Amanda managed to keep me safe by having me use Double Team or telling me to take to the water. In the end, I got the Absol with a Water Pulse and Confused him so that his next Attack (Razor Wind) backfired on him. He staggered and fell to the ground.

Suddenly, I felt myself glowing and, before I realised what was happening, my body starting to change shape. I increased in length, my squat Feebas body becoming long and serpentine, a triangular crest emerging on my head, the tip of my tail fanning out into four feather-shaped fins. Antennae sprouted above my eyes and curved gracefully inwards, while two long, hair-like fins appeared on my head, reaching halfway down my now long and slender body. In only a few moments, I changed from a shabby fish to one of the most elegant Pokemon in existence.

I had evolved into Milotic. And, far from feeling like I was nothing special, that I wouldn't stand a chance in the forthcoming Contest, I suddenly felt as though I was ready for anything.