“Tinkaton, use Play Rough!”
Juliana and Ortega’s Pokémon charged full-swing into the second raid battle. Tinkaton in the rather literal sense of the hprase. Sylveon, eager to regain everyone’s approval, leapt up and propelled herself off Tinkaton’s raised hammer. It did not pay out. The hammer went sideways and Sylveon lost her footing. Moonblast and Play Rough both went wildly off course. Considering the size of their target and the way Appletun lumbered around at a sluggish pace, it was embarrassing to watch.
Once again, Atticus took a defensive approach to the situation. In lieu of Shedinja, he sent out Toxapex instead.
“Ready thyself for a Toxic strike at the first opportunity,” he said. “Until then, let us rely on your Baneful Bunker for our protection!”
Toxapex gurgled and pulled its wide, spiky appendages close like a defensive tent. It allowed only the smallest opening so it could keep an eye on its opponent.
More than a little humbled from the previous battle, Atticus resigned himself to cheering on the others while Toxapex remained alert. Penny didn’t understand half of what he said, but it seemed to energize their Pokémon all the same. The eyes on Penny’s Umbreon and the yellow markings on his fur lit up as he forced Appletun back with a powered-up Psychic attack. Appletun returned with Giga Drain, pulling waves of glittering green energy from Umbreon’s body. Thankfully, Tinkaton was just as energized from the cheering as her ally was. She broke the stream with one swift swing of her Ice Hammer. Shards of ice flew up, glittering like gems as they caught the light from Umbreon’s body and Appletun’s attack. Beams of light scattered around the already-twinkling cave.
“Ugh, this is too much!” Ortega moaned and reached into his pocket. Penny’s Sylveon stood beside him, her ears a bit droopy. No doubt she could read his frustration with her from both battles. And now what? Was Ortega going to try to switch her out for one of his original team members? Could you even do that in a raid battle?
Instead, Ortega pulled out a pair of aviator shades and placed him on his face. “Ah, much better,” he sighed. “I could barely see with all that sparkle. Now, Sylveon, let’s try Moonblast again! And no jumping on things this time!”
“You too, Tinkaton!” Juliana called. “Go for Play Rough again!”
Sylveon perked up and ran forward.
Penny ordered her Umbreon to perform another Psychic attack, but she kept a thoughtful eye on Ortega. He’d been giving her Sylveon a lot of attention lately. Was it to help strengthen the rest of his team. Or because they couldn’t afford to lose? Maybe to make her feel better by having her precious VeeVee nearby?
Then Penny realized that something was off about Ortega’s shades. She didn’t see herself reflected quite right in them. Or rather, she couldn’t see herself at all.
“Uh, is there a problem, boss?” Ortega asked.
Penny shook her head. “S-sorry. It’s just…the reflection in your glasses looks weird. It doesn’t even look like the tera cave. More like…” She squinted harder. The image was clearly familiar–a wide open area accented by a quartet of towers in the background. And all four towers were clustered around an unreasonably large Poké Ball sculpture. “Wait! Is that the school courtyard?” She tapped her forehead with her knuckle, trying to dislodge some reasonable explanation from her brain. She didn’t succeed. “Where did you get these shades anyway?”
“Eh, don’t remember.” Ortega shrugged and turned his attention back to the battle. “Honestly? This sounds more like a you problem.”
Crash! Tinkaton’s hammer connected with Appletun’s side in a blaze of pink light. Their opponent had been trying to buff itself with Growth and gave a loud, painful grunt when Tinkaton interrupted. The tera raid Pokémon staggered backwards, swaying on uneasy legs as if almost knocked out.
“Toxic, now!” Atticus cried. Toxapex lunged forward and hosed down the weakened Appletun with its caustic purple liquid.
Penny couldn’t resist. She pulled out her phone and ran a quick scan. Her eyes widened at the results. Based on Appletun’s movements and attacks, it had been at over half health before Tinkaton’s attack. Now it was barely clinging to consciousness. The scan said as much. That must have been a grade-a critical hit to do so much damage.
Juliana leapt up and down and cheered for her Pokémon’s success. Unfortunately, not everyone in the raid was celebrating. Much to Ortega’s dismay, Sylveon’s second Moonblast also missed. Penny could see his fists shaking with rage as he fought to control his temper. Even using a Pokémon stronger than his usual, Juliana–a newbie–was crushing him in the fairy-type department.
Thankfully, Atticus picked up on the situation, too. He refrained from further cheering for the Pokémon’s attack power and switched to cheering for Ortega to find his calm and happy place. Toxapex huddled back in its Baneful Bunker while it waited for Toxic to do its work.
Realizing it only had two active opponents, Appleton stomped forward and spewed a sweet-smelling gunk at its opponents. Then it let out a roar. A glistening, translucent shield appeared in front of it like a floating glass dome. Penny soon realized this battle wasn’t nearly as close to finished as she thought.
“Okay, VeeVee, use Psy–” she began. Her Umbreon looked at her when she called his name but turned away before she could finish. She called again and again for her Pokémon’s attention, but he only looked her way after everyone else had gotten another attack in. Including the Appletun.
Penny channeled Atticus’s calm-and-happy-place pep talk and took a deep breath. “All right. For real this time. Use–” Once again, her VeeVee glanced away. It wasn’t as if he was being defiant. More like he simply wasn’t getting her message if she couldn’t say it fast enough.
Something was strange here. Penny pulled out her phone and ran another scan. “Th-that’s impossible!” she said when she saw the results.
“What is?” Juliana asked.
Penny re-read them once more to be sure of herself. The numbers didn’t lie. “That Appletun is more healthy after our last round of attacks than it was before. And it’s only been using Dragon Pulse and Apple Acid!”
“That’s stupid!” Ortega said as Sylveon finally fired off an accurate Moonblast. With the shield up, however, Appletun barely budged.
Penny did not disagree with the “stupid” label, but she didn’t have any explanation, either. Or a counter plan. It wasn’t her usual style, but in the face of parameters that seemed to change at random, perhaps blunt force was their best option here. She stood back and began blurting out a stream of orders. Not because she expected her poor Umbreon to follow them all but hopefully if she spammed them fast enough, at least a few could get through.
It was Juliana who got ultimately got enough hits in to Terastallize first. And she took immediate advantage of it. Her orb pulsed with energy, blowing pieces of her hair out of her otherwise neat updo. Thank goodness they hadn’t used up their tera orb charges on the Raichu. With a shout, Juliana threw the ball into the air and a silvery gem shell encased Tinkaton. Sparkles burst around it like fireworks. The little Pokémon now had a winged heart on its head and a hammer in its hands, and it couldn’t be happier.
Watching Sylveon Terastallize was Penny’s favorite part of a Pokémon battle. The way she went from ordinary to extraordinary–spinning and sparkling like the heroines in Penny’s favorite magical girl anime…for the briefest moment, she made Penny feel like they could take on anything together.
She glanced to her left, hopeful to get that feeling again once Ortega got another hit in…only to find the space in front of him empty.
The sight made Penny do a solid impression of a Flareon in mid-Flame-Burst. “Ortie?” she said in her calmest possible voice. “Where. Is. My. VeeVee?”
“I swear, I didn’t do anything!” Ortega cried. “I didn’t even mean to bring her out to begin with! I was going to use my Wigglyfuff for this one, but I tapped her Poké Ball first by mistake!”
“If I may interject–” Atticus began, only to be cut off by Juliana’s command for Tinkaton to use Play Rough. Her Pokémon rushed forward, its hammer held high. Something flickered in the spot where Sylveon had been standing. Like Ortega reappearing when all their Pokémon fully emerged, Tinkaton’s attack triggered Sylveon’s reappearance.
“VeeVee!” Penny cried.
Sylveon cooed and shook itself out.
Penny wasn’t sure she could take any more emotional roller coasters today. She tried to lean on the one thing that always centered her–checking data on her phone or computer–but even that proved a struggle.
“Will you quit looking at your screen all the time?” Juliana said, half watching her and half watching Tinkaton.
“I’m trying to get a reading on its remaining health,” Penny said. “But all my scanner says is ‘Appletun!'”
Play Rough connected and once again, it seemed to deal a massive amount of damage. The dome-like shield shattered, breaking up into tiny shards that glittered briefly, then vanished. Appletun grunted. Its legs gave out from under it. The creature slumped down, its chin resting on the ground.
Penny resisted the urge to smack her phone into obeying. She shouldn’t need any more data now anyway, right? The Appletun had clearly fainted. But when Juliana grabbed a Poké Ball and tried to throw it, the ball flew sideways as if propelled away from its target.
A perfectly normal event…for a raid that hadn’t ended yet.
If the raid didn’t end when Appletun got knocked out, what else can we do? At last, Penny’s scanner decided to give her some info beyond their opponent’s species. At first, the bar read as empty–Appletun had no health left.
“I-it said it’s fainted!” Penny told everyone.
Appletun gave a deep-throated belch. Another round of sticky, sweet-smelling Apple Acid showered down on them. Tinkaton howled as it landed on her head. The two VeeVees got splashed on their paws and shook their legs wildly to try to shake it off.
“Why is it attacking if it’s fainted?” Ortega demanded.
“I don’t know!” Penny said as she desperately tried to get the screen to make sense. She checked Appletun’s status icon. Still at supposedly zero health, but right where the fainted icon should have shown up was a cluster of tiny Zs. Now Penny was seriously confused. “Wait. It…says it’s asleep?”
“It shouldn’t attack while it’s asleep, either!” Juliana said. “It’s not a Snorlax!”
Penny threw up her arms. “Maybe it is! Maybe it’s a Mew that learned Transform for all I know! Nothing in this stupid raid makes sense anymo–” She brought her hand down just as the screen refreshed. Appletun was not asleep, nor was it fainted. A small bit of health that definitely had been there a moment ago still remained.
“Enough of this,” she said and pointed her VeeVee forward. She wanted to Terastallize for good measure, but given how that had gone before? Better to play it safe. “Dark Pulse, now!”
Her Pokémon heard her loud and clear and rushed forward. It gave a loud bark, which sent out a wave of dark energy. Appletun took its sure and final hit before fainting in earnest.
Penny’s legs felt ready to give out. She didn’t even want to catch the stupid thing at this point. All she wanted was to get out of here.
The others readily agreed.
Thankfully exiting the raid crystal this time did not involve any weird walks through physics-defying tunnels. The group stepped out of the normal cave mouth to find Mela, Eri, Giacomo, and Arven waiting patiently for them. They were high on a hill with a steep cliff at their backs. No other trainers lingered nearby, although the Pokémon League building loomed in the distance. Given all their recent legal trouble, Penny suggested they hang back here for a while. They had a good enough view to see when Nemona showed up. Plus, the rest would do them some good. No one argued.
“I’m sorry,” Ortega told Penny as everybody settled in to wait. “For what I said inside the raid crystal, I mean. I don’t want to sound like I hate using Sylveon. She’s a wonderful Pokémon, but…” He swallowed. “But I’ve had to rely on her for almost every battle lately. Because she’s so strong. And I miss using my regular team, you know?”
“It’s okay,” Penny said, kneeling in the grass. Her leggings kept any blades from tickling her skin, but she could still feel its softness. It reminded her of Buddy the Sprigatito’s fur. “Really, you should use your regular team,” she told Ortega. “You’re a top boss in Team Star for a reason.”
“Yeah? Thanks.” Ortega blushed and sat down beside her. He pulled out VeeVee’s Poké Ball. “If the Elite Four doesn’t call the International Police on us, maybe we can use their equipment for a trade back.”
“And even if they do, I can stealthily knock them out for thee,” Atticus said with a bow just as Juliana walked up behind them. Her arms were full of an array of strange items–feathers, candies, nuggets of gold, and shimmering pearls.
“Look at all this loot I found when we finished the raid,” she said. Then she knelt down and held the pile out to Penny. Her glasses slipped a bit and several feathers floated to the ground when she moved to adjust them. “I could totally sell this and make more money than you were paying me as Cassiopeia.”
“Y-yep, sure seems so,” Penny agreed, not caring to dwell on how all these items had come to appear in the cave. She turned to Arven. “So, you…caught yourself some new Pokémon in there?” It wasn’t a great segue. But if they were going to be on the same team together saving the world, making polite conversation seemed helpful.
“Yep, sure did,” Arven said proudly, holding up a Premiere Ball. “It’s that Appletun we faced second. Named it Apple.” He returned the ball to his belt, where its crisp white sheen stood out among his other Poké Balls. “I’ve sent Garganacl back for now to make room for this new guy on my team. A shame it’s tera type doesn’t match it’s regular typing, though.”
“Huh?” Penny asked.
“Y’know? It’s basically a hot apple pie. So it’s a fire-and-grass type. Like Scovillain.”
Ortega held up a finger to interrupt. “Uh, Arven?”
“But no worries. After we’ve stabilized reality, I’m gonna take a trip out the Treasure Eatery. See if I can get them to whip up a dish that’ll change Apple’s tera type from dragon to fire.” He beamed at his own cleverness.
Ortega put his hand down and shook his head. “Sure. You go right ahead and do that. Heck, I’ll come with you to watch.”
“Really?” Arven said with a happy uptick in his tone. Apparently his sarcasm detector needed some work.
But seeing his genuine enthusiasm, Ortega face softened. “Yeah,” he said with not even a hit of snark this time. “Really.”
“I’m surprised you nicknamed your Appletun,” Juliana said, who had now piled her various treasures into her backpack. She brought Buddy out to rest on her shoulder and tickled his paw with one of the feathers she’d found. “You haven’t nicknamed any of your other Pokémon. Not even Mabosstiff.”
Arven blushed a bit and rubbed the back of his head. “I, uh…did, actually. I nicknamed him Mabosstiff back when he was a Maschiff.” He glanced over at Ortega, who did an impressive job of keeping a straight face. “I was, like four, at the time. So, yeah, in retrospect, it wasn’t a great nickname. But he got so used to it, I’ve never had the heart to change it.”
Juliana nodded and turned to Penny. “And I guess the only Pokémon you’ve nicknamed is your Sylveon VeeVee?”
Excuse me? It was quite the insult, suggesting Penny would play favorites with her team members. She crossed her arms to show as much. “Of course not. They’re all named VeeVee.” Then, hoping to educate Juliana, she brought out her full team and pointed first to Jolteon. “This is VeeVee,” she said quickly. Next, she motioned to Flareon. “This is VeeVee.” She slowed the name but emphasized the power in the first syllable.
Juliana and Arven eyed each other but didn’t say anything.
“Then there’s VeeVee…” This time Penny’s finger went to Leafeon. “And VeeVee…” she nearly whispered as she indicated Umbreon.
“Um…” Juliana said.
“And of course, Ortega is carrying VeeVeeee,” Penny finished, stretching the last syllable so it added a dreamy feel.
“And…Vaporeon?” Juliana asked.
Penny rolled her eyes. “Obviously that’s ‘V’ Vee-Vee.” Everyone nodded in agreement with her obviously perfect naming scheme. Why wouldn’t they? It was quite simple and straightforward once she explained it. The group didn’t get any time to shower her with compliments for her cleverness, however. Down at the bottom of the hill, someone was exiting the Elite Four building.
Penny was glad when she recognized it was Nemona.
She was decidedly less glad when she saw Nemona wasn’t alone. In fact, the door swung open and closed several more times. The student council president had the entire Elite Four and Director Clavell with her.