The other trainer's face was covered with sweat as his hand went to his belt for the one and only Pokeball he carried there. I wondered why-- surely he couldn't be that outmatched. It couldn't be that he had only one Pokemon-- few of the young trainers at the Silverspring Gym had more than one or two to their name, and my own trainer was no exception. What was it that created this unease in him, an unease he tried not to show?

"Hurry up, coward," called Josh from where he stood behind me. "I haven't got all day."

Josh. That's my trainer.

The boy-- I did not know his name-- finally gritted his teeth, snatched the ball from his belt, and hurled it into the arena with a haste born of desperation. "Go, Bellsprout!" He yelled the Pokemon's name more loudly than usual, as if trying to show the world that he was unafraid of my trainer and me. The display was, of course, wholly unconvincing.

Ah. Bellsprout. So that's why he was afraid, I mused to myself. He was expecting me to mop the floor with his Grass-type Pokemon, and apparently with good reason. By the sudden collective intake of breath among the students who were gathered around to watch, I could tell the same expectation had occurred to each of them. If only they knew the truth, they might not worry so much.

"Begin!" the instructor called in his deep-throated voice, retreating to the edge of the arena to observe the battle.

Here it comes, I thought. Had it been anything but a Grass-type, I might have been able to avoid the inevitable for at least a little while longer. As it was, I was probably doomed.

"Bellsprout! Wrap attack!" The other trainer punctuated his command by pointing a finger straight at me, as if there were any other Pokemon in the area that his Bellsprout might conceivably have gone after instead. It was a perfectly reasonable course of action-- against a much faster Pokemon with a significant type advantage, the best he could hope for was to strike quickly with a disabling attack and hope to gain some sort of advantage.

"Ponyta! Ember attack!" Josh was yelling from behind me, and I knew he too was probably pointing his finger at the enemy Bellsprout as though painting a target for a guided missile attack. Most Pokemon trainers seem to have a gesture or something similar that they use while announcing an attack. Maybe it makes them feel better or something, I don't know. Humans are one thing I shall never understand.

In any event, it didn't much matter, as there was no way I could obey his command. All I could do was stand there, paralyzed with fear and incapability, wanting desperately to do something but unable to. As the Bellsprout's vines snaked towards me, I decided I'd better at least try to get out of the way. Unfortunately, I had hesitated a fatal second too long, and my attempt at escape turned into a stumble that left me sprawled in the dirt with the Bellsprout's leafy tendrils coiled around my legs. My ears filled with the sound of the crowd gasping, the Bellsprout trainer cheering, and above it all, Josh yelling some very impolite things.

"Way to go, Bellsprout. Vine Whip now!"

I tensed and tried to brace myself, but nothing could have prepared me for the merciless lash of those vines along my flank and hindquarters. I thrashed my legs as hard as I could and struggled mightily to free myself, but the Bellsprout held me fast. Grass attacks are less than fully effective against most Fire-type Pokemon, naturally, but I seem to be the exception and the vines stung as much as anything. Where was Josh? Why didn't he concede the battle when it was obvious I wasn't going to win? I stopped struggling and let myself go limp. I refused to fight any longer.

"The battle is over," interrupted the instructor. "Kevin is the winner. Good job, Kevin. Josh, you should have had a significant advantage in that battle. It looks like your Ponyta could use some more training. You need to work on that together. The slightest hesitation in battle could be critical."

Just great, I thought, letting the smallest sigh escape my lips. Not only had I lost the battle, I had earned Josh a rebuke in front of the entire school. He'd be even angrier with me now. I also felt just the tiniest bit of guilt. After all, it wasn't Josh's fault that I had lost the battle. Was it my fault? I didn't know. It didn't seem like there was anything I could have done, but perhaps there was something I was missing.

The hated vines slowly slipped from around my legs and slid away. I felt Josh standing over me, and I tensed slightly, half expecting him to strike me or kick me. Doing that would have gotten him expelled from the school in a flash, of course, but I knew how short-tempered he could get at times and I wouldn't have put anything past him.

"Stupid Ponyta," he muttered, in a voice so low that hardly anybody could have heard him. I could hear him activating the Pokeball, then the warm energies took me, converting my physical body to energy and drawing me upwards. I've known Pokemon who hated Pokeballs and reacted to the process with sheer terror, but I've always found it to be very pleasant. To me, the feeling of being inside a Pokeball is very pleasant, a feeling of being sheltered and insulated from the outside world. When your experience with that outside world is similar to mine, you learn to appreciate time spent alone.

I floated in limbo for a long time, alone with my thoughts. Again I mused over who I was. I was a Ponyta-- a Ponyta that for some reason could not use Fire attacks. I had never been able to. I had always been this way, and none of the Pokemon specialists I was been taken to had been able to diagnose my condition. Josh knew of my problems, but he seemed to believe that they were somehow my fault. I wanted to tell him that it was not, but I had no way of doing so.

All I knew was that it couldn't go on much longer. One way or another, I had to find a solution to my strange troubles.