Can’t believe I got roped into this, Penny half-thought, half-muttered as she went through the Pokémon she had on hand. I seriously cannot believe I got roped into this.
Juliana had walked to the other side of the stage for a moment to ask some questions of Grusha, and she now waved to Penny as she returned.
“He says I can use Beartic if I want,” she said. “But it can’t use Sheer Cold. Which limits the number of moves it can use, so probably not the best option.”
“Mm-hmm,” Penny replied. Maybe if Juliana saw how very little she responded to any socializing attempts, she would go on with whatever strategy she had in mind and leave Penny to do the same.
Juliana looked through three other Poké Balls. She had a fourth, but it was presumably the Porygon that would be heavily underpowered here. “Y’know,” she said, keeping two and returning the third to her belt. “I don’t think Team Star is all bad.”
“I didn’t–ugh, that came out wrong,” Juliana said. When Penny didn’t respond, she kicked at the stage floor and continued, “I mean, you guys are complicated, and I didn’t want it to be that way. I wanted all Paldea’s problems to be solvable through simple Pokémon battles.” She looked down at the two Poké Balls, one in each hand. “I wish there was an obvious bad guy here, you know? An evil team boss…alien invaders…corporate greed…”
“How would you defeat corporate greed with a Pokémon battle?”
Juliana laughed awkwardly and ignored the question. “My point is, I get things are more nuanced than that. And I’m sorry I jumped to conclusions about you and your team.”
“Apology accepted, I guess,” Penny said with a shrug. Because “please stop talking so we can get this over with ” wouldn’t land well. “So who are you bringing with you?”
“Oh, right. Tinkaton and Farigiraf,” Juliana replied. Rather than looking hurt or put-off by the bluntness, she simply adapted Penny’s no-nonsense tone. “You?”
Penny sighed. “Glaceon’s not ready for a battle like this. And I removed Flareon from my team to make room for her. Umbreon has an obvious advantage, and Leafeon against Grusha would just be stupid, so it’s really between Jolteon and Vaporeon…”
“I see. So do we prioritize speed or bulk?”
She knew the strengths of the two different Eeveelutions, then? Penny wouldn’t call herself impressed, but Juliana did earn herself some goodwill. And she’d apologized, even if it was unwelcome and longwinded. Bonus goodwill, then.
I suppose I’ve built friendships on less. Penny held out Vaporeon’s Poké Ball. “A doubles match could go long, and when one of our Pokémon goes down, we can’t switch to another. I say bulk.”
“Ready to start yet?” Grusha called.
“Y-yeah, we’re coming!” Juliana replied. The two girls took their spots side by side on the edge of the battlefield. MC Sledge gave the signal, and four Poké Balls flew into the air. Four bursts of white light lit up the stage, revealing the first set of opponents.
Grusha and Ryme had sent out Frosmoth and Houndstone.
Penny and Juliana had sent out Umbreon and Tinkaton.
“Not liking the look of a bug-type against Umbreon,” said Juliana.
“Me neither,” said Penny, “But Umbreon’s got a razor claw on hand. I’ll force it to flinch, and you take it out with Tinkaton.”
Juliana nodded her understanding, and all four trainers gave directions to attack at once. To Penny’s pleasant surprise, Umbreon was the fastest and got Frosmoth with a direct-hit Dark Pulse. She smiled, having calculated the odds of a flinch many times. This move was practically as good as a Fake Out, with better damage to boot. She watched for the telltale sign of Frosmoth twitching in place, unable to move.
Except it did move. Its wings fluttered with a dandelion green powder that rose in a protective cloud around its buggy little body.
Its ability is Shield Dust, Penny realized to her dismay. It can’t flinch.
Frosmoth gave a forceful flap of its wings. Clumps formed inside the wall of powder, each one looking like a tiny version of Frosmoth itself. The swarm flew towards Umbreon, surrounding and nipping at her while she growled and snapped. It did no good. This was Infestation, and not only would it continue to distract and disorient Umbreon, it would prevent Penny from calling her back.
To add insult to injury, Houndstone was charging at Umbreon with a pulsing pink light. Penny would never hear the end of it from Ortega if she failed to recognize that attack. Play Rough!
Dodging with a swarm of powder bugs in her face was impossible. But to Umbreon’s credit, she took the hit like a champ. Of course, if the gym leaders continued to gang up on the Dark-type, she wouldn’t last much longer.
Tinkaton might have been slow to wind up her weapon, but the power behind her swing made it worth the wait. Gigaton Hammer swung through Frosmoth’s powder shield and sent the bug tumbling. Its crumpled wings quivered as it righted itself and returned to the battle–hurt but not out.
Everyone called out their next attacks, and the Pokémon tried again.
Unable to use Gigaton Hammer twice in a row, Juliana went for Ice Hammer instead. “I think Play Rough is the bigger threat,” she said, pointing Tinkaton towards her target.
“Agreed,” said Penny. “And they’re not the only team who can focus their attacks, right?”
Umbreon grinned and readied another Dark Pulse. Despite the swarm of Infestation, it ran undeterred with Tinkaton straight for Houndstone.
Right before the attacks landed, Houndstone disappeared. Ice shards and dark energy bounced harmlessly off the stage floor.
Juliana gasped. “What the–?”
“How’s our Phantom Force lookin’ to ya?” Ryme laughed.
Penny felt like a fool. The gym leaders’ setup was perfect, and they weren’t done yet. Frosmoth came at Umbreon from behind with a Bug Buzz attack. Umbreon stood her ground and took the hit. Her legs quivered afterwards, her special defenses compromised. The Pokémon had enough energy for one more move. Maybe.
Better make it count. “Umbreon, ready a Dark Pulse for when Houndstone reappears!” Penny ordered.
Ryme gritted her teeth, but of course, there was little she could do. Houndstone materialized and hit Tinkaton with its ethereal energy. Umbreon’s Dark Pulse blasted it from behind. The ghost Pokémon grunted and fell to its knees, the candle on its head flickering.
“Tinkaton!” called Juliana. “Show off that Gigtaton Hammer again!”
“Pick up the speed, Frosmoth!” said Grusha. “Use Tailwind!”
The order sent Frosmoth moving double time. It frantically flapped its wings, and a chill wind picked up behind the gym leaders’ team right before Tinkaton landed her hit. The bug Pokémon plummeted to the floor and returned to Grusha’s Poké Ball.
“Yes!” Juliana cheered. “One down and three to go!”
Penny wished she could feel as confident, but she had other concerns. “Is Houndstone…” She looked to where the canine Pokémon had fallen, but the light on its candle looked brighter now than it had before. And the more the audience cheered, the more energy Houndstone seemed to have, until it was back on its feet, howling mightily at the sky.
“Does cheering energize it or something?” Penny asked.
“Well, yeah, of course it does,” answered Juliana. “Never underestimate cheer power. In tera raids or gym battles.”
Penny didn’t have the energy to question her.
In place of Frosmoth, Grusha sent out Beartic. Penny winced instinctively, but then again–
Unlikely a gym leader count on a luck-based move like Sheer Cold. She smiled and raised her hand. “Use Psychic on Beartic!”
“Tinkaton, use–” Before Juliana could finish her sentence, Houndstone vanished again. Beartic slammed its paws into the stage. The whole place shook as chunks of rock and earth materialized from the floor, surrounding both Umbreon and Beartic. The Earthquake attack hit where Houndstone had been a moment before. But of course, it wasn’t there to take the hit.
Tinkaton squealed and Umbreon growled, but the power of Beartic’s attack was too much. Both of them fell and returned to their Poké Balls in dual beams of red light.
“Oh, no,” Juliana moaned.
My sentiments exactly, Penny thought. But Team Star’s leader would not give up. Especially in front of one of the team bosses. She called forth Vaporeon, who appeared beside Juliana’s Farigiraf.
Phantom Force failed against the normal type, the first breath of fresh air Penny felt they’d had.
“Full VeeVee power!” she called out. “Use Aqua Jet!” It wasn’t a move she usually kept with Vaporeon, preferring a consistent Quick Attack across all her team members. But against ghost types, Aqua Jet became an excellent Quick Attack substitute. Before Houndstone could disappear again, a blast of water smacked its candle, and it fainted in earnest.
Juliana cheered but then turned to Penny with a smirk. “‘Full VeeVee power,’ huh?”
Penny flushed. “Sorry, but you put me on your team, you get my anime-inspired catchphrases, too.”
“Why are you sorry? Your catchphrase rocks!”
And that, Penny decided, was how Juliana earned herself extra-bonus, possibly friendship-level goodwill.
Banette appeared on the scene next. Its red eyes glowed with a thirst for victory. And yet, its grin didn’t stretch as wide as Penny expected.
It looked to its trainer, who nodded. “Do you whatcha can.”
Banette turned back and stretched open its cloth-like mouth. Cold flowed from the darkness. Juliana rubbed her arms. Farigiraf braced itself. Ice crystals gathered around the Pokémon’s ankles, which would no doubt slow her down. But otherwise she weathered the attack with no issue.
Vaporeon yawned like she hadn’t even noticed an attack.
Penny didn’t get it. They went out of their way for that Tailwind to let them move first every time. So why would they waste it with a weak, speed-reducing move like Icy Wind? Especially when one of their opponents is a water type? She wracked her brain, trying to see the logic. No gym leader would make a rookie mistake like forgetting type match-ups. Every move they made had a reason. But what did Icy Wind do that gave them any sort of advantage later on?
Penny yelped as Beartic let out a roar. Another earthquake attack rattled its way across the stage. Banette couldn’t vanish like Houndstone could, but Ryme didn’t look upset. In fact, her focus was more on Beartic.
They wouldn’t waste moves. Unless…
Farigiraf leapt to avoid the flying rocks, but the iced ankles weighed her down. The Earthquake caught her in the back leg first, then on the side. She whinnied and huffed and stomped at the floor. If Penny could speak Pokémon, she’d translate it as, “Why, the very idea!“
Vaporeon leapt up as well. It still took a hit from a high slab of rock, but like Juliana had said, the water-type was built for bulk.
“Slow them down!” Ryme commanded.
Unless…wait! It was unusually optimistic thinking for Penny, but she couldn’t get the speed of the opponents’ team out of her head. Controlling whose hits landed first turned the whole tide of the battle. Penny had Quick Attack on every team member for a reason. Priority moves were huge. And Banette with its Prankster ability had quite a few them.
Only now that was a bad thing.
The advantage of Icy Wind is that Banette can actually use it! All of Banette’s other moves are status or priority moves, nullified by Farigiraf’s Armor Tail!
Penny allowed herself a sly smile.
“I like that look,” Juliana said. “I happened to teach Farigiraf Rain Dance, you know.”
“Oh, did you?” Penny said casually.
“Mm-hmm. Shall we try it?”
Penny didn’t answer the question. She rather thought the grin on her face–and the tera orb she brought out–spoke for themselves.
Arven watched Juliana and Penny’s match with his jaw slack for most of it. First off, he had no clue how the stage was staying intact. After one team had summoned walls of dirt and rock out of nowhere and the other team called down torrential downpours, one would think even the most robust stage would have cracked by now. And this was all before both teams Terastallize their final Pokémon. Maybe Ryme had an army of Greavard using spamming Protect on their battle surface over and over.
“…changed up Vaporeon’s moveset,” Ortega was saying.
Ortega rolled his eyes. “All of the boss’s Pokémon know Quick Attack, but she changed it out for Aqua Jet at the last second. Probably because of Ryme’s ghost team.” He pulled out his phone and began scrolling through the data in his Pokédex. “Let’s see…Sylveon’s got enough offensive moves, so maybe a status move would be good? Skill Swap can be a real game changer in a Doubles Battle.”
“You’re still using her Pokémon for this?” Arven asked. For as full of himself as he acted, it seemed weird for Ortega to use a borrowed Pokémon when he didn’t have to.
“Same bug that registered your friend’s Sprigatito as the boss’s seems to have registered her Sylveon as mine,” he said. “It’s a legit choice, and besides, I want this over with as quickly as possible.”
You’re not the only one, Arven thought.
The battle ended decisively when Vaporeon’s Surf attack quite literally washed their opponents off the stage. Juliana walked down the steps and showed her new badges to Nemona. The girl squealed and pulled Juliana around the crowd, making sure every last person saw what her bestest best rival had accomplished. Penny shoved her own badges in her pocket and kept her head down. She had a brief talk with Ortega, but all Arven caught of it was, “I will commit murder before I do that again” before she worked her way through the crowd to a quiet corner in the back.
“She seemed upset,” Arven said, looking for a conversation starter.
“Nah. She had a great time,” Ortega replied. “Oh, and she approved my little tweak on Sylveon’s moveset. I think we’ve got this in the bag.”
“Yeah?” Arven said, happy to hear someone finally had some confidence in him.
Ortega readied his Poké Balls and gave his staff a theatrical spin. “Of course. I know you’re weak at battle tactics, but follow my lead, and we’ll be fine.” Then he jumped onto the stage. The crowd cheered, hyped for another epic battle. Arven climbed up and hoped he didn’t embarrass himself.
The two gym leaders shook hands and repeated the rules once again. Then, at MC Sledge’s signal, the second match began.
Ryme opened with Mimikyu, while Grusha sent out–
Altaria? No way! Arven couldn’t believe his good luck. He knew Grusha had a flying-dragon type. It was the whole reason he’d selected Cloyster for his team. But for him to lead with it? Arven might not have been great at type match-ups, but even he knew that oversized Q-tip bird was going down.
“Cloyster!” he cried. “Icicle Spear!”
Cloyster hissed. The air around it grew colder. But before it could release its attack, Grusha flashed something in his hand. Altaria glowed with a soft blue light. Four curved crystal walls sprung into existence, enclosing the Pokémon in a sparkling sapphire sphere.
And when the orb broke open, there stood an ice-type Terastallized Q-tip bird.
Beside Arven, Mimkyu flew forward like a bolt of silver lightning. It smacked Ortega’s Sylveon with a Shadow Sneak the Pokémon had no hope of avoiding.
Grusha’s Altaria didn’t try to avoid anything. It didn’t have to. Cloyster got off five rounds of Icicle Spear. Arven flushed with embarrassment after the first two hits bounced off it. By hit number five, he wanted to go hide in the corner with Penny.
“What did you think would happen?” Ortega scolded. “Of course he would Terastallize with a type disadvantage like that!” He waved his hand, and Sylveon fired off a Moonblast at Ryme’s Mimikyu. Arven was about to object this wasn’t effective, either. Then the beam of pink light made a direct hit. Mimikyu made a spitting noise as its costume snapped and fell lopsided.
Right. The damage didn’t matter this turn, and Ortega wouldn’t want to show off any super effective moves. That was…smart. He hated when the guy was right.
“Word of advice,” Ortega went on. “Don’t bring in Pokémon for their type advantage alone. Battles are more complicated than that.”
Arven’s impulse to smack the smug look off Ortega’s face returned with a vengeance. “You brought Sylveon against Altaria! You did the exact same thing!”
“It’s different! Fairy types are my whole deal!”
“So you only have one typing on your team, but I’m the one who sucks at battle strategy?”
While the two of them bickered, Altaria launched its own Moonblast at Cloyster. The Pokémon looked to Arven. What to do next? Dodge? Close its shell? Endure the hit to show off its defenses? Arven reacted way too late, and Cloyster was forced to take a guess. Its shell began to shut but not before powerful shafts of moonlight flew through the gap. Cloyster screeched from the impact.
“Pay attention!” Ortega snapped.
“You pay attention!” Arven retorted. It sounded stupid and childish, but that didn’t matter. He turned his gaze to Mimikyu. His team wouldn’t be caught off-guard again.
“Ugh, we’re going to lose at this rate,” Ortega muttered. “What’s your Cloyster’s ability? Shell Armor or Skill Link?”
“Uh…” Arven wanted to answer that he had no idea. He didn’t even know what those two abilities did, let alone which one Cloyster had. He was also sick of looking like an idiot. With a fifty-fifty shot of being right, he answered with full confidence, “Shell Armor. But I’m gonna pull Cloyster back.”
He looked back across the stage. Ryme and Grusha were giving their next orders now. They had to move fast.
“What? No!” said Ortega. “You’ll setting up your next Pokémon to take damage without any clear benefit! Don’t switch unless you have to. Sylveon, use Skill Swap on Cloyster.”
What’s that do? Arven thought. Which also would have sounded stupid. Was there anything he could contribute here besides proof he had no clue how to battle? “Cloyster, ready a Rock Blast this time!” Several fist-sized rocks materialized around Cloyster.
Sylveon turned to its ally and both of them pulsed with a soft white aura, like the glow of sunlight after a rainstorm. The pulses had distinct rhythms–a quick tempo on Syleon and a slower one on Cloyster. Then the two shifted, with Cloyster pulsing faster and Sylveon slower before the aura faded.
Altaria was beating its wings, building up a powerful gust of wind. But Mimikyu did not attack. It only sat there. What’s Ryme thinking? Is this a Bide attack or…? Arven narrowed his eyes. Some kind of clear wall sparkled in front of Mimkyu. The thing had set up a Light Screen. If he hadn’t been distracted by a stupid argument, he could have recalled Cloyster without taking damage at all.
Arven gritted his teeth. “Cloyster, attack Altaria now!”
Cloyster grinned. The floating rocks flew at their opponent. The first one struck, then the second. Then–
“That’s it?” Arven cried. “But you always throw five of them! Like with the icicles!”
“What?” Ortega said right as Altaria unleashed a full-strength Hurricane on Sylveon. The Pokémon tried to move away, but the force of the wind threw it off its feet. It landed on the stage floor, where Hurricane blasted it with critical-hit force. Sylveon howled. When the winds died down, it got shakily to its feet. Its energy had nearly been depleted.
Ortega turned on Arven. “What is wrong with you? Skill Link is the ability that gives Cloyster five hits with Rock Blast or Icicle Spear! Shell Armor is the one that protects it from critical hits!”
“I didn’t know that!” Arven shouted. Then he fully processed Ortega’s words and got even more hacked off. “Hang on. Even if I’d been right, why would you have Sylveon steal Cloyster’s critical hit protection?”
“Maybe because I know what I’m doing, and you wouldn’t know a good strategy if it–“
Once again, Mimikyu came flying out of nowhere. Translucent claws appeared beneath its busted costume and plunged into Cloyster. Altaria flapped its cloud-like wings, gathering energy for another Hurricane.
Ortega gritted his teeth and staggered back. It was much more subtle than last time, but Arven didn’t miss the flickering at Ortega’s wrists. Panic shot through him, and his own wrist and hand suffered the same effect. He leaned over and grasped his arm. As if that would do any good. A hush fell over the sidelines.
Ryme raised her arm. “Time out!” The pulsing beat MC Sledge had been feeding the crowd died down. Altaria stopped flapping, and the building Hurricane dissipated. “Everything all right?” the gym leader called to Ortega and Arven.
Ortega leaned closer and smiled weakly. “K-keep your cool, you big moron. You want to disappear in front of an audience?”
“Heh, still the same routine with you,” Arven whispered back. Was it always this hard to catch his breath when the phasing acted up? He’d never noticed it before. “I mean, why admit you’re scared when an insult will do?”
“Not true. I was terrified at your mom’s lab. Worse than I’ve ever been in my life. And I’ll have you know zero insults were thrown that day.” He lowered his head, the fake smile gone. “I just…stopped talking to you. Because I was a coward and a jerk, and…and I’m sorry.”
Mom’s lab? Arven didn’t know which sounded stranger–Ortega insulting himself or offering an apology. If Paldea’s reality didn’t shatter from both those things happening in one sentence, maybe there was hope after all.
“Hey!” Grusha called. “Do we need a medic? What’s going on?”
The crowd had gone silent now, except for a few worried whispers. No one seemed panicked or weirded out. They only thought the competitors might be hurt. Arven focused on his breathing and slowly straightened. His hand returned to normal. Yes, he could sell this.
“We’re, uh, we’re fine!” he called. Ryme and Grusha did not look convinced. Neither did the Pokémon standing on the stage between them.
Or not. Arven looked to Ortega for backup. His old friend straightened as well and waved to the worried onlookers. The flickering at his wrist had stopped, Arven noted. The guy seemed a natural at working crowds, and when he flashed a grin, the audience’s tension vanished.
“Dude, seriously?” MC Sledge called as he pointed an accusing finger at Arven. “You looked like you broke your arm or somethin’!”
Oh. That. Arven mentally scrambled for a cover story. His mind flew to the first time he’d shown Juliana this little problem. Specially, how his face-slapping routine at the start of every battle was anything but subtle.
“It’s, uh…it’s a battle pose!” he said. With a turn towards the audience, he repeated the motion with emphasis. He bared his teeth and grabbed his arm, his hand tilted upward. His fingers quivered in a half-made fist, like he was trying to squeeze the life out of something. Then he released his arm and brought his hand to his forehead. The intent was to shove his bangs out of his face. But it looked pretty cool already, so he rested his raised elbow on his wrist and left the pose at that. “Yeah, you probably don’t know this, but this pose is very popular in, um…other places. Far away. Places like, uh–“
“Alola!” Ortega finished for him. Then he mimicked the same motion. “Yep, super popular pose in Alola. My family travels there all the time. You folks should check it out.”
The crowd’s conversations picked up again. Mostly confirmations from the people who had visited Alola that yes, it was quite a lovely place, and why yes, they did recall seeing someone posing that way once. Weren’t local customs interesting?
Ryme waved for the spectators’ attention. “All right, all right. Now that we know none of ya are dying of stage fright over there, let’s restart the show!”
Arven couldn’t agree more. He stood beside Ortega and held out Cloyster’s Poké Ball. “Still gonna switch, if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all,” Ortega replied. “But what else did you bring?”
Arven lowered his voice so their opponents wouldn’t overhear. “Greedant.”
“Ah.” Ortega thoughtfully tapped his staff against his open palm. “Yes, I can see that working to our advantage. Will it throw anything off if I target Mimikyu?”
“Heh. Gotta prove your superiority with fairy types, huh? Go ahead.”
Ortega took a bow. When he raised his head again, his expression suggested a barely-contained maniacal laugh. “Arven, you know me too well.”