Walking up the forest road of Route 30 was great this early in the morning. The air was clear, the sun was popping in and out from behind clouds, and a slight breeze carried the cherry tree scent from my home town of Cherrygrove, which now stood at our backs. Aside from a few birds and flying Pokemon chirping and buzzing about, the morning was pretty still.
That is, until Dragonair made me laugh and my baritone voice boomed around the road.
"Dragonair, seriously???" I winced and laughed at her actions; my Pokemon pal had just, with a flick of her tail, traced down my spine from neck to tailbone! Even with my hoodie on, I still felt the tingly-ticklish sensation that warranted an awkwardly deep laugh from me.
"What? You seemed tense, that's all!" Dragonair smiled puzzled at my freakout. "Excuse me for doing you a favor!"
"I'm not tense, i'm trying to stay focused! Geeze!" I shook myself out a little to rid the tingly feeling, then kept walking as Dragonair slithered by. She decided to slide along the grass I guess because of the dew feeling nice on her scales. Her and I really do love the water a lot.
I was still tossing Cyndaquil's Heal Ball back and forth between my hands, thinking about the challenges ahead. "It's gonna take us a little while to walk to Violet City, mostly since I don't feel like running over there."
"Well, we could have always asked your mom for a ride over...she drives or carpools to the city usually, doesn't she? Or she has Noctowl fly her there."
"Eh heh heh, no thanks. I'm eighteen years old, which is way older than most kids are when they take the Gym Challenge in Johto. I really don't think rides from Mom are necessary. Especially when we'll have to fight her when we get there anyways!"
For everybody who doesn't know, Mary, my mom, is an ornithologist who moonlights as one of the Gym trainers at the Violet City gym. "Yeah, it's possible we won't have to battle her at all, you know. They work in weird shifts, so maybe I won't have to fight Pokemon that i'll see just a few hours later at home."
Dragonair sighed. "I wish I was strong enough to fly you around at this point, it'd certainly make our upcoming adventure easier."
I couldn't help but giggle at that. "Aw hey, i'm alright just walking with you, you know? I mean, you've got the ground and the air because you're a dragoness and all." I shrugged and rubbed the back of her neck as she slithered closer to me. "To each their own, I say. And besides, Lord knows you carry me enough anyways, both as a friend and--" I chuckled at the thought, and at the risk of anyone hearing me I leaned in and whispered into her ear--"and in the other ways you end up carrying me."
That made her perk up, which is always a good thing. I knew she'd get my meaning anyways.
"Mmmmh...and thank YOU for that thought, Andrew!" Dragonair licked her jaws playfully. "Now i'll be thinking about that all day, thanks a lot!"
"Pwahaha, well don't let it distract you in the end! I need ya to stay focused in the battles...it's the first time we've formally competed, so let's bring our A-game!" Dragonair was still giggling, covering her mouth with her tail to stifle her laughs. "What?"
"Your face! It lit up like a Staryu at midnight, Andrew! Hehe, it's funny to see you get so excited about this."
"Well why shouldn't I be? It's an experience...an adventure, and one a bunch of other kids and adults have tried out before. It's my turn, dangit!"
That was intended for comedy, and it made Dragonair laugh so much that even little Cyndaquil popped out of his Pokeball to investigate the noise! I juggled the little fire mouse in my arms; he was still so shy and unresponsive, but sound usually got his attention. He got along with Dragonair well enough, as she'd played around with his Ember attacks with him on during the Autumn when we'd burn leaves together. But for the most part, my starter Pokemon Cyndaquil still hadn't grown up much.
"Whoa! Hey now, lil' buddy, you need to stay in there a little while longer!" I tried to remain calm as the little warm mammal clung to my sweatshirt sleeve, but I was really hoping I hadn't startled him. Cyndaquil's spines light up and shoot fire from his back when he's feeling threatend, and since his back was currently pointed at my face...
"Ummmmm...Dragonair? A little help here, please?" Carefully I scooted over towards her, and she lifted Cyndaquil in her jaws out of my arms. "Little one, relax, relax..." I heard her say, and she made other noises too; the groans and little sounds of an animal, a Pokemon, communicating with a little one who couldn't use human speech like me and her. Cyndaquil responded with his own little squeals, and a wink from Dragonair let me know it was safe.
"Phew!" I raised the Heal Ball and activated it, retrieving Cyndaquil to his ball. "That could've been messy. He's burned me before, but I've never had my face in the way. Yeesh." It wasn't any hotter outside, but I already had sweat beading up on my brow.
"Great, first match of the day was against one of my own Pokemon. That's a great start!" I loved the little guy, but Cyndaquil was getting a little hard to handle. I'd had him since I was 9 years old, but he was still pretty afraid and timid of the world around him.
"Hey now, don't let that discourage you. He's always been special to care for," Dragonair chided me. "You knew that, but you accepted that responsibility from Professor Elm."
"Yeah I know, Dragonair, you don't need to remind me. I've got Mom for that!" I didn't want her to feel bad, so I squeezed the tip of her tail in a handshake-like gesture. "Speaking of mom, we should probably keep going. "
We purposefully avoided battling other kids on the way to Violet City. It's not that I was afraid or anything at all; Dragonair could easily take anything they could throw at her, and I knew that from years of having little tussles with my friends and their teams. I just didn't want to wear her out, especially before the gym. Besides, it was more fun to just walk and enjoy the scenery; the trees, the hilly pathways now broken up by the sights and sounds of Pokemon battling in trainers' care. A few times Dragonair and I even spotted some Butterfree and Ledyba who would stop and watch the battles between young trainers. Even nature was interested in the bonds between human and Pokemon.
Eventually Dragonair convinced me to let Cyndaquil out, and though I was a little worried he'd freak out at being in such a new, unknown forest, he actually handled it pretty well! The summer air was good for him after all, even though I had to avoid a few rocks he'd charred in fright when a Sentret bounded by.
Finally we ducked passed the entrance to the winding Dark Cave, and found our way to Violet City.
*Sniff, sniff* I heard Dragonair inhale at the smell of the city and the woods surrounding it. "My word...It's lavender and violets mixed together. Is this city one giant garden?"
"Not entirely, Dragonair," I exhaled as the wonderful smell filled my nostrils. Ah, fresh flowers are just the right scent for me; most grasses and trees i'm allergic to, but flowers usually pass the "sniff survey."
"This town's a mix of old and new, really." I'd been here before so I knew a little more about it. "There are a bunch of monks over at the Sprout Tower, a little bit northeast of here, just outside of town. They do the gardening and upkeep, as they have for hundreds of years. It keeps the city clean of pollution but inviting to population, too."
"Hmm, quite a clever idea...for all the horror stories i've heard about deforestation, this little town seems to say something different." Looking northward, Dragonair and I saw the tower jutting out from the trees a bit, but small compared to the great Mt. Silver silhouetted behind it.
"Oh, and just where are you hearing horror stories 'bout humans cutting down forests, huh? The internet? Because there are some people who exaggerate those details online."
"Oh I think my source is a bit more connected to the 'web' than the Internet, Andrew." Dragonair's sly smile meant one thing--she'd just made an awful pun.
"And since WHEN do you talk to Spinarak?" I asked. Those spidery Pokemon hang out in the trees outside of Cherrygrove late at night.
"Since forever, silly. They're not quite as creepy or crawly as their evolved relatives, Ariados. Anyways, i've heard for years that the woods were being actively destroyed by human settling, but this is a rather calm city. "
"Yeah, most of Johto doesn't bustle nearly as much as Goldenrod to the West. That city's probably what your spidery friend was talking about." As cool as Goldenrod was, the Pokemon were right--that town had torn up a lot of old architecture and garden area that housed Pokemon in the city's heyday.
"Quia, Quia," Cyndaquil murmured in my arms. The little guy'd been quiet for awhile, but his slanted eyes seemed drawn to something bright down the street.
"Ahh, here we go! That sign, the one the sunlight's reflecting off of--that's the Gym, Dragonair! Good eye, Cyndaquil!" I gave the little guy a pat on the head, to which he responded with a smile==and a hiccup that shot fire just past my head. Good God i'm lucky, I thought.
The Violet City Gym was undergoing renovations when Dragonair and I walked in. The old architecture was being remodeled to reflect the theme of the gym--the aerial aces, the Flying type Pokemon of the region. What really surprised me were how few battles were taking place. With much of the gym floor taped off and under construction, only two or three of the little battle courts were in use. The rest had lumber and paint cans, along with electrical wiring, all stacked together. A few workers were even over in the far left corner, lifting a board of drywall with (I kid you not) a hardhat-wearing Geodude helping too.
"Well, everyone's occupied." Dragonair said, confused. "What do we do now?"
"Meh, I have no idea! I've never done this before...um, let's check the front desk." One reading of a little pamphlet of information later, we saw that if no trainers were available to battle, we could go right up and challenge the Gym Leader.
"Well, everybody's busy...let's head on over, Dragonair." We walked past the battles, and honestly I felt sorry for a few of the kids battling. Order-wise, the Violet Gym is recommended for newcomers to start on (I only started here because it was closest to my home town). A ton of these kids were using Bug-types, which were weak to the Flying-type birds of this gym. It was actually kind of brutal.
Sighing, I walked past the last of the arenas with Cyndaquil following at my feet as Dragonair tried her best to block him from seeing the battling on the other side. We had just approached a lift to the second floor when I heard a voice behind me:
"And where do you think you're going, young man?"
I spun around in surprise to see my mom, Mary, standing there with her arms crossed and her little Pidgey perched on them. "Heh, and you thought you could just walk up and face the Gym leader first thing, hmm?"
"Hah!" Mary's smile was still kind, but a bit more spiteful and challenging than I'd ever seen it before. "If there's one thing I thought i'd taught you, Andrew, it's that no victory worth achieving ever comes easily. Testing of faith develops perseverance, right?"
I rolled my eyes at the Bible verse reference Mom was pulling. "Mom, I'm kinda new to this whole gym challenge thing, remember? I'm just trying to follow rules."
"And besides," Dragonair added, "this isn't a Sunday school sermon, miss Mary."
"You're right, you two...it isn't." Mary's smirk returned as she slipped a Pokeball out of her purse. "This is an official Gym of the Pokemon League, and as a gym trainer I have the right to detain you and challenge you to a battle in preparation for the Gym Leader. And so...Trainer, let's begin!"
"Fine with me!" I pulled out the Heal Ball and recalled Cyndaquil. "Dragonair, will you take this match for me?"
"Oh, with pleasure, Andrew." Dragonair bared her teeth in a show of her strength. "Miss Mary, you'd best bring your all to this!"
"Well..." Mom pondered this for a second. "I suppose I do want to see you succeed...But how interesting would it be, I wonder?" She regained her composure, walking to the opposite side of the arena. "You know, if your first real gym battle was your last for a long while--because a mom beat her son in a battle? Go, Noctowl!"
"What?" I was surprised at this one. Mary's Noctowl was easily much stronger than any of the Pidgey or Hoothoot i'd seen in the gym so far. She really meant business with this fight.
"Alright, you wanna make this rough, huh?"
"Of course, Andrew! It'd be no fun for anyone if it was over too fast!"
"It's alright, Andrew!" Dragonair called back to me. "I can do this, I promise."
"Noctowl, sweep down and use Gust!" Mary called out. The owl Pokemon flapped into the sky, its beating wings generating a gust of wind that swept towards Dragonair. She braced herself for the windy hit, but that alone wasn't enough. "Dragonair," I called out, "Use Twister to counter the move, go!" Dragonair used the wind from Noctowl's own attack to support her own, sweeping her body around in a circle as she released a blast of warm, swirling breath.
Noctowl hooted out in defiance, flying up higher. They've rehearsed this, I thought. Mom's not calling out the order, but Noctowl's using Fly after each normal attack to help avoid the previous one. "Dragonair, new plan--get ready to dodge Noctowl's attack, then respond with Wrap!"
Dragonair huffed out a last breath of air, catching her breath as she herself skirted in to the sky. Noctowl dove towards her, his wings clipping her head in the attack so that it didn't hit full force. Dragonair succeeded in wrapping up Noctowl for about two seconds--not much of an attack. "Again, Noctowl! Use Scratch!" Noctowl's talons clipped at Dragonair's scaly body, which despite its strong nature still hurt her a little. She sent back another Twister, but by the time she'd attacked Noctowl'd flown away from the warm blast.
"Hmmm, you did expect to end this early, didn't you Andrew?" Mary seemed a little upset with Noctowl getting wrapped up, but didn't let up at all. "I've trained that Pokemon since before I adopted you, you know. This isn't going to be so easy for you!" Mary signaled her Noctowl again. "Now, let's see what Cyndaquil can do...Noctowl, use Hypnosis to put Dragonair to sleep!"
I gritted my teeth. If Dragonair got hypnotized, I'd have to pull her out to recover; though her Marvel Scale ability would let her take hits easier, I didn't want my best friend to faint in our first real battle. But Cyndaquil...he'd never fought at all, really. Mom really was making this difficult, but there wasn't much I could do. But I didn't expect what would come next.
"You...keep talking like...I can't understand you, miss Mary." Dragonair recovered from her hit, shaking off the surprise and damage. "Talk all you want, about how he expected a faster or easier victory, but never forget..." Dragonair coiled up again, a motion i'd seen before: she wanted to spring forward through the air in a pounce. "Andrew's not the one fighting, now is he?"
Dragonair surged up, growling a feminine but still fierce roar as she zipped past Noctowl's hypnotic psychic waves. The azure bolt that blasted past was so fast I didn't know what she was planning until it'd happened. Dragonair had a special move, that much I already knew: ExtremeSpeed. I'd of course witnessed that speed plenty of times when she's ambushed me at mealtimes, but I didn't think Mom ever had!
"Wh-what?" Mary gasped. "ExtremeSpeed, I thought only Arcanine like Mariah's could learn that..." Mary was recalling a race that my girlfriend Mariah's Arcanine had won with the move just a few weeks earlier (another story for another time!) "Noctowl, try to shake it off!"
The bird Pokemon was too startled itself to respond in time. The full-speed attack knocked it off balance, and while it flapped its wings fast enough to stay airborne,it was trapped by this next move. "Dragonair, use Wrap again!"
Dragonair coiled around Noctowl, squeezing as lightly as she could. "I'm really sorry about this, Noctowl--no hard feelings!" Once the bird was fully in her grip, she spun her tail around and slammed Noctowl to the gym floor!
Dizzied by the strength of the hit, Noctowl fluttered back up but flew back to Mary's side, obviously beaten. "Well now...that was not what I expected," She muttered.
"Oh? Then it seems both mother and child's expectations weren't met," Dragonair panted out. "That's why I won; my only expectation was to do my best."
"Well don't be too confident, either of you," Mary replied. Recalling Noctowl, she waved to the rafters of the building, where her Pidgey flew back down to Mary's arm. "The battle's not over. I still have one Pokemon left to test you."
"Oh c'mon Mom, you don't have to use Pidgey too. I don't wanna hurt any of the Pokemon who live at our house." Dragonair was starting to look tired, too. That early series of hits had worn her down already. "Dragonair, can you handle another round?" I asked.
She nodded, but she was still flicking her tail around anxiously...she wanted the fight to be over; I knew she wanted to hurt my family's Pokemon even less than I did.
"...No," I finally decided. "Dragonair, you deserve a rest. C'mere." I offered her Premier Ball with a wave of my hand, and when she nodded, I activated it and recalled her to spend some time recuperating in the holographic haven. Clutching the Heal Ball to my chest, I whispered, "You can do this" to Cyndaquil. Then, I threw out the ball. "Cyndaquil, I choose you!"
"Cynda?" The little fire mouse leaped from the Pokeball, still looking confused but slightly reassured to be around the Pidgey it knew from home.
"Cyndaquil's never even been in a battle before, Mom," I gritted my teeth again. "I'd rather not do this, but--"
"I understand," She cut me off. "Yet, at the same time I'm overlooking that. Experience or not, he'd have to learn sooner or later how to protect himself. It's better that this fight happens with me than anyone else, Andrew." Mary's Pidgey hopped along the ground towards Cyndaquil, who looked happy to see it but confused as well.
"Cyndaquil, watch out! It's time to show me what you can do...try using your Ember on Pidgey!"
To my dismay, Cyndaquil looked back at me surprised. He didn't understand the use of his abilities to battle yet, I think. "Quia?" he muttered, then turned towards the chirping Pidgey just in time to receive a face full of Gust! Frightened, Cyndaqul scampered away from Pidgey, as Mary's tiny bird Pokemon squawked again and sent more gusts of wind towards it.
"C'mon Cyndaquil, you've gotta pull it together!" He wasn't listening to my voice anymore, just running away from his flying foe. But every time that he neared the boundaries of the arena, Pidgey sent up a gust that blocked his way from exiting--leaving Cyndaquil stranded and open in the middle of the court each time.
"Well Andrew, perhaps I was wrong," Mary frowned. "He's really having a hard time with this. I recall Professor Elm saying this Cyndaquil didn't respond to most people too easily, and maybe it's still trying to breech that gap with you. Regardless, I need to wrap up this battle quickly, so you'd best ready Dragonair to come back out again."
"Pidgey, use Mud Slap on Cyndaquil!"
CRAP. A Ground-type move on Pidgey? That attack was super effective on Cyndaquil...it'd destroy him in one hit. "Cyndaquil, no! You've got to dodge it and evade with a Smokescreen!" I knew the little guy could emit smoke to distract me when I got too close to him on some days, if he could just do it now to make Pidgey miss.
But he didn't. Pidgey's wing slapped down on the ground, sending out a wave of mud that knocked Cyndaquil back. By now the other battles in the gym had ended, and many trainers were watching and gasping at the sight of the hit.
"No...not already!" I groaned. My first gym battle, not even against the Leader, and my Pokemon had fainted. I reached down to recall Cyndaquil, sighing as I saw Pidgey hop closer to his curled up body. Wait... That hopping motion, the same hops a Sentret makes when frightened. One had startled Cyndaquil before, that morning. Maybe...
"Cyndaquil, there's a Sentret on the road, watch out! It's gonna crash right next to you!" I yelled out without thinking. The audience must have thought i'd lost my mind to say that, because of all the weird looks I was given!
Pidgey cooed, then hopped up in to fly down and deliver one last Gust. But Cyndaquil saw the move and got scared!
"Qui--QUIA!" He squeaked, curling into a ball and letting Embers fly from his back. Pidgey was startled and singed by the sudden wave of fire hitting it! It flew back towards Mary, shaking its rustled feathers--but the burned stayed. "Cyndaquil, you burned Pidgey! Now its attack is weakened, and it'll keep taking hits. Go on, you can do this!"
Still stunned and frightened, but now desperate, Cyndaquil briskly sprinted towards Pidgey.
"Pidgey, another Mud Slap!" Mary called out, but Cyndaquil was expecting the wave of mud this time and skipped aside! "Cyndaquil, use Smokescreen to block Pidgey's view!" I called out. The sooty smoke billowed out as my little Pokemon leaped up towards Pidgey. Unable to see, Mary's Pokemon couldn't evade the attack! Cyndaquil naturally rammed Pidgey with Tackle and took it down!
"That's the match!" a regulator from the sidelines called out. "Interim Gym Leader Mary has no more Pokemon able to battle, and Andrew is the winner!"
"WHAAAAAT?!?" I called out. My mom was the acting Gym leader during the renovations??? I stared at her jaw-dropped as she sheepishly blushed. "Alright, I was going to tell you eventually." Mary recalled her fainted Pidgey while I walked over to pick up my still very confused Cyndaquil.
"Falkner, the usual Gym leader, is off training with his cousin Winona for a little while. In his absence, the Pokemon League asked me to fill in as an interim. I thought it'd make a good surprise for you!"
"I'll say it did!" I was dazed; my mom was a Gym leader, and I just beat her? I rubbed Cyndaquil on the back (his fiery spines now retracted) then pulled him back into his Pokeball to rest. Dragonair's ball shook as she released herself from it. "Are you serious???" she exclaimed. "I heard everything--miss Mary, you're a Gym leader and you never told us?"
"Sorry! I just thought it'd be best for both of you to do it this way. And look at what it did give you: experience, practice in judgement calls, dependence on your Pokemon, and a sweet surprise at the end!" She beamed with pride, talking about her teaching skills. "Andrew, Cyndaquil's a lot stronger than you'd given it credit for. It just needs more time to grow; nurture it in that time, and he'll grow stronger and stronger. And you, Dragonair--where do I begin? Um...I can't think of anything clever, i'm sorry. You're so fast, dear! I should be using you to send my mail to the post office or run grocery trips!"
Dragonair giggled "Well i'm always glad to help out, you never asked!"
"So wait," I said. "Since I beat you...does that mean...?"
"Oh right, yes." My mom regained her composure and stood up on a small stage, beckoning me and Dragonair to come up there with her. "Andrew, as a Gym Leader for Violet City, I present you the Zephyr Badge of the Pokemon League!" Mary handed me a pin in the shape of a circular, silver wing.
"Alright! Dragonair, our first Gym badge!" I shouted and did a little fist pump as she lifted her tail to pat my back, giving me her own version of a "high five" a second later. Our first big step towards the championship was over.
That night, back out on the hill of the little island in Cherrygrove Bay, Dragonair and I laid back celebrating the day with ice cream and (of course) cherries from the island's lone tree. Cyndaquil, after getting healed at the Pokemon Center (which Dragonair insisted she didn't need) went back home with Mary and her Pokemon for a nice lone snooze.
So just me and my Dragonair laid there on the hill, looking at the starry night and sighing contentedly.
"Y'know, if the rest of my summer is gonna be anything like today, I don't think i'll ever want it to end," I said.
"Mmmmmh, agreed," Dragonair cooed. "What a thrill, really! Though...it did leave me a little tired out the rest of the day." She coiled her long body beneath me like a cushion, then rested her head next to mine.
"Oh, well we can head back home and go to bed now if you wanna. The ice cream's all gone, y'know."
"Hmmm, we could do that, orrrrrrr..." Dragonair licked the back of my neck, her warm, sticky saliva a perfect contrast to the last cool, creamy bite of ice cream. "You could help me feel all rested and refreshed, my prey."
I felt my cheeks blush at that last word, and I rubbed her scales and felt her heartbeat beneath them, deep beneath...in that warmer, cozier place I knew so well.
Well that one won me over pretty quickly! "I suppose if we were gonna sleep outside, I could use a sleeping bag." I chuckled and then rubbed under her chin, looking into her deep green eyes and smiling. "Sure, go ahead, big girl. Great work today deserves a reward better than dessert."
"In my opinion, Andrew?" She said, opening her mouth wide and exhaling. Before completing her thought, I was already slipping inside her maw, her reddish throat warm and wet inviting me inside my "sleeping bag."
"In my opinion, you're sweeter than any snack I know."