"Are you kidding? She's practically an addict; takes one with every meal. Fiona spent all weekend at that Battle Arcade marathon game the Frontier set up at Coumarin Gym, trying to rack up enough points to win more pills."
Jackie was chewing on her straw, and did not let it go just to speak. "Did she get one?"
Vincent downed a French fry. "Three bottles, actually. Not because she won much--she was getting battered--but as soon as she could get back on her feet she was entering another match. I guess, knowing the brutality she's taken in her lifetime, that's probably nothing. I've never really believed that vitamin stuff worked but Vera didn't say that they wouldn't make her grow taller, and she's still hung up on thinking she's short, and recently, slow, too."
Jacqueline stabbed her straw through the ice in her cup to get one last slurp before rising for a refill. "I thought she was pretty tall."
"She is; according to the pokedex you gave me, one of the tallest. But, she's shorter than the rest of my team, except for Phil, and she said she was the smallest in her pack before she was trapped, so I guess it's just a pet peeve sticking around."
Jackie smiled, "girls always worry about their appearance, even tough-on-the-outside ones, when they're around the boys, and the less important something is, the worse we'll worry about it. That's part of what makes us fun." She left her seat and traveled to the soda fountain to re-fill both of their drinks. She returned to find Vincent poking at his pokedex, looking frustrated.
"Do you think those pills actually do anything? I always thought of them as a really profitable placebo to cash in on kids desperate for an imperceptible edge."
Jacqueline's straw was once again under dental siege. "Yeah, they work. Daddy once supervised an R&D group that was working on making them stay effective. Used-to-be, after a while vitamins stopped helping and you had to spend days in a gym or in the field fighting the same boring battles over and over to focus on enhancing a stat. Today, if you can afford to, you can buy the right berries, a crate of vitamins, and tweak your pokemon's--how did Daddy put it--'combat-relevant attributes of interest' with a few days of square meals and extra bed rest. Caz does that all the time; doesn't care that it makes half of his team sick to their stomachs before and after their matches."
"I know he's your brother, so don't take this the wrong way, but sometimes I wonder what he cares about. I mean, he has done well, but you've got a better league record than he has, don't you?"
She blushed faintly and nodded in affirmation. "Caz cares about showing off. Usually, more than he cares about doing something that's worth showing off. And it's not like I did anything special to win National; I'm just better at keeping his team's morale up when facing tougher match-ups and they pulled through that year."
"You won with some of the same pokemon he bombed out with; I think that's something special."
Jacqueline smiled brightly, then beckoned Vincent to lend back her old pokedex. "I think I might be able to help you out with raising Fiona, if you like."
Both drinks were empty again when Jackie stopped pecking away at the pokedex touchscreen.
"Okay, don't tell anyone that I let you see this stuff. According to her battle record, mostly from that Frontier tent promo, and the vitals recorded by her ball and visits to pokecenters, it seems she was born for special attacks, and the calcium will bring that up even more, so you should probably focus on that. Weaviles are naturally suited for physical combat, so she'll never be a powerhouse, but trainers will have to change strategy in a hurry since she can use unexpected techniques. Do you think she's modest?"
Vincent was barely keeping up with all the information that Jackie was pouring over his head. "Well, compared to what I have heard about weavile behavior, I guess she's pretty modest, except when she gets excited."
Jacqueline laughed. "No, silly; modest nature. If she is, her special attacks will be almost as good as her physical ones, so you should have her try all the moves she can learn. I see you already got 'surf' on her..."
Vincent felt more like Jackie's lead-slot pokemon at this point, being trained in matters beyond his comprehension.
"I'll save a note in here for you. Ice-beam you've gotta' have, and shadow-ball should be good. If you can't find anyone who will trade you some T.M.'s, let me know, and we'll figure something out." Jackie returned their device and slung her purse over her shoulder, breaking stride just before leaving the fast food joint to call out, "don't forget, you owe me lunch, ciao!"
Vincent and Jackie had been in a perpetual state of owing each other lunch since third grade.
Another sign-up sheet meant another argument.
"For the thousandth time, Tio, It has to actually be 'toxic'. That's the only poisonous move you can use."
Theodore grumbled, "officially," while looking around the gym. A wide table indicated that the judges were going to be seated together; Theodore knew that he could sneak in a poison-fang attack without any of them noticing. "Toxic sucks because toxic misses. Name one time I've fanged an opponent and not had them on the ground and twitching within twenty seconds."
Vincent pulled Tio closer to whisper, forcefully, into his ear. "Fang's side-effect is supposed to fail more often than not, and it's not that powerful. Whatever you do, it isn't natural. Can we get back to business? Do you think these guys are slow enough for you to sweep with eruptions, or should we stick with the generic sunny-day set-up?"
"Pikachu gets to cheat."
"Pikachu gets to cheat. Remember two years ago, Palmitoy Creek? I got my ass surfed off and the judges said it was okay because, supposedly, one in thirty 'chus from that made-up forest county learn how to use that technique naturally?"
"I remember you whining about for the following week."
"It's a double-standard; this league letting those little rodents run around soaking honorable and fair fighters to the bone, but I get disqualified if I poison someone my own way."
Vincent tapped Tio's registration card with his pencil.
Theodore looked around the gym and judged his competition as best he could from the appearance of present trainers and the pokemon they let walk alongside themselves. "Yes, sunny-day, same-old same-old. I smell lots of water here."
The filling of the forms was interrupted when Carl burst through the front doors and yelled out, "en-garde, twerp! You can't escape fighting me today."
Vincent hoped otherwise and tried to find an excuse. "The gym floor is closed you know; preparing for tonight's contest--"
An elderly veteran wearing a fine robe approached unseen and put his hands on both trainers' shoulders. "My ring is empty and I would enjoy a little matinée, if you wouldn't mind humoring an old man." Both boys noticed a badge on his gi; this was the gym leader that tonight's combatants were vying for a chance to meet.
The sensei sat legs-folded on a cushion near the vacant judges' table and began picking at a cup of instant noodles. He noticed that Vincent had only five balls on his belt. "Three against three, if you please. I see one of us is short-handed at the moment." Vincent and Carl selected their leads in secret, and released them into the ring at the sensei's signal.
Phil whistled mockingly at Lucas. Lucas was the first pokemon to learn the hard way that Phil's hidden power was electrical. Despite his mass, the gator was fast on his feet. However, his balance was poor, his reach was short, and his preferred attacks were merely refreshing to a vaporeon. Phil cast an aqua ring to bide time while withstanding glancing blows until he found an opportunity and electrocuted Lucas repeatedly.
As Lucas fell to his knees, then his elbows, and tapped out, Carl voiced a grunt of disgusted disappointment and quickly cycled two balls into his hands, using the first to remove his feraligatr from the ring without giving him a chance to carry himself and his dignity away under his own power.
Vincent knew who would be coming out next and took the opportunity to recall Phil, who was quite exhausted and sore even though he was not letting a hint of it show.
Fiona was surprised to be in the ring well before match time. "Huh? Oh, hey, cool. Whose ass am I gonna kick?" She turned around to see Jean materialize on the other side of the ring. "Hey, Vinny, is that some sort of grass shark?"
Vincent stood up straight and proud to give her a boost in confidence. "Nope, psychic and fighting. I need to see if you're ready for a real fight. Do what damage you can manage, and absolutely never let him get his hands on you."
Jean strode toward the center of the ring, staring at Fiona with a steady gaze. He immediately recognized that she was a dark type, and chose to play a defensive strategy, even though he could feel Carl's desire to see her being slammed repeatedly against the mat.
Fiona did better than Vincent expected, capitalizing on Jean's inability to get a read on her mind to successfully feint-attack and squeeze in a few ice-punches. She was fighting well, but she needed more training and experience to become effective.
The battle ended abruptly when she failed to withdraw quickly enough after another marginally-effective attack. The gallade reached outward with blind speed rivaling a trap-door spider. Jean gripped her head from behind, slammed her face into his approaching fist, and in a rather merciful gesture, slung her unconscious body out of the ring like a rag doll.
Theodore strode into the ring, wiggling his shoulders as though he needed to limber up and engaged Jean in combat while Vincent gathered his fainted weavile and said, "you did good," before recalling her into her luxury ball.
Battles between Jean and Tio usually came down to whether or not Theodore could successfully not-think about how he would attack. Jean could read any strategy that the typhlosion might develop, so Tio relied on spontaneous decisions. The gallade had gotten used to sensing only "it's coming" from Theodore, until it came.
Jean attempted an aggressive strategy but succeeded only in getting too close to Theodore, who hopped over an ankle sweep and unleashed enough fire in one burst to almost suffocate his foe, causing Jean to black out within seconds.
The sensei finished his noodles and held out the empty cup to be immediately taken by an aide. Carl was slightly disappointed that Jean let Vincent's weavile play around, and wear him down, for so long, but at least Jean roughed up the typhlosion a little; finishing him off should be no problem for Carl's third team member, a new addition that Carl had been working on as a side-project during this summer. The poliwrath that appeared drew a reflexive sunny-day out of Tio. Amongst the other trainers in the gym, a nearby castform quickly took the opportunity to undergo metamorphosis.
After forty seconds, the frog was still frosty, and Theodore was running out of both stamina and patience. The typhlosion almost stepped out of the ring after receiving a staggering waterfall-laced uppercut. Theodore crouched low, panting heavily and deeply. Seymour blew a gentle bubble beam over Tio's head to taunt him. The typhlosion spat out a bloody wad of fluid, as much olive green as it was crimson red.
"Ow! Screw this. Boss, call me a cab." Vincent expected that he was about to be disqualified.
Theodore exaggerated his fatigue and when the poliwrath overextended, Tio pounced and was all over him, delivering a powerful bite as they rolled across the ring. Vincent started counting to twenty, but after twelve seconds of Theodore evading the frog's increasingly sloppy attacks, Seymour collapsed to the floor of the arena, gurgling softly and twitching with an irregular rhythm.
Sensei applauded slowly and loudly, watching the typhlosion closely as it limped toward Vincent, mouth agape, its tongue, lips and gums tinted green. With nothing to say to each other, Vincent recalled Theodore and re-attached the friend ball to his belt.
Carl approached his trainee fighter and kicked him with moderate force. Seymour emitted a few bubbles with his eyes half-open before they rolled back and the toad became unconscious.
The veteran approached both trainers a moment after Carl recalled Seymour and turned to pout his way to the exit. "Thank you for your performances, children, but now I am afraid that the rest of this evening may be unable to best what I have just seen. Short-handed one, whatever the outcome of tonight's competition, we will share a discussion afterward." The old man returned to the back halls of Coumarin Gym, his cushion being carried by another aide. Onlookers congratulated Vincent on impressing the leader, but he could only dread what their discussion would be about.
Vincent gathered his paperwork and made his way to the center to rejuvenate his team. His telephone rang; it was Jackie, calling to warn him that Carl might show up early to pick a fight.
The pokecenter was swamped, so Vincent took a number and finished his registration forms while waiting. His number was soon called, his half-team was restored, and he glanced down the status report. It was typical for the action they had seen. Phil was fine, Fiona would have an almost-literally splitting headache, and Theodore's scan showed an inconclusive medical abnormality, as it had every time Tio passed through a pokecenter restoration device.
Vincent released Phil at the center's door. Phil materialized with a smile and whistled as he often did after winning a fight that was stacked in his favor. Noticing Theodore's absence, the vaporeon hopped up to lean against Vincent's body, pawing at Tio's ball and making a quizzical sound with his head tilted at an angle.
"Tio broke the rules so he gets a time-out. We've got a few hours before the first round, so let's get these forms dropped-off and relax for a bit."
Once back at the motel room, Vincent decided that Theodore's sentence was served. As soon as he was liberated, the typhlosion gave his best buddy a big, and literally warm, hug. It was a defensive mechanism that protected Tio when he did something he knew he really should not do, but that needed to be done anyway. Fiona was next out of her ball. Some jostling was required to bring her around.
"Duuu-why so, hurting, awweiii."
Vincent propped her into a seated pose on the bed while Theodore offered pills for her headache. After a short moment, her perceptions cleared enough to recognize faces. "Vin-n-nie, did you just teach me all the moves?"
Vincent caught her chin with his right hand. "No, you just learned why I said to not let Jean get a hold of you."
Fiona's memory was starting to come back, and she now remembered everything up to the big green guy entering the battle.
Theodore decided to look on the bright side. "Be glad he was in a good mood. You seemed pretty happy to have your teeth grow back when you evolved; get on Jean's bad side and half of them will be scattered around the arena."
As Vincent reached for his phone to order Chinese, it began to ring, indicating an anonymous caller. "Uh, who is this?"
A familiar chirp was indication enough. "I will attend supper." Vera hung up immediately; her suction cup's grip on the phone's handset was poor and quickly slipping away. She thanked the restaurant owner in his native tongue and passed the time of waiting for her order to be prepared by offering personalized readings to diners who mocked their fortune cookies' prophetic value.
Vincent entered the bathroom. "Tio, Vera's got the food covered; you can let Hungry Hungry Hal out." He was not speaking any more than forcefully enough to carry across his small rented room, but every syllable pounded its way through Fiona's head.
"I'm a three-time semifinalist, I have a match in two hours, do something!"
The old nurse was not intimidated by the self-absorbed punk who was holding up her line. She slammed a pokeball against her counter as she returned it. "Go to the market and buy antidotes if you want to keep trying; whatever it was poisoned with, none of our machines can clear it."
Carl took his poliwrath's ball and stormed away. He would buy a palette-load if that would get his frog back into fighting form. What puzzled him was how it became so badly poisoned that even the rejuvenation machine could not filter out the toxins. Vincent and his typhlosion were the only ones who could answer that question, and Carl was tempted to call them, but he had not called for an explanation from Vincent since the last time he was outmaneuvered years before at the game room exchange, and he was not about to humble himself yet. Soon, a case of antidotes would prove to be largely ineffective.
Coumarin Gym was filling with audience members from everywhere that the news had reached. Chances to see Iwamoto Sensei were uncommon, since he only accepted challenges a couple times per season, only toward the end, and always as a surprise substitute for the scheduled leader.
A green bird tucked her beak between her boys' heads and embraced them as they approached the gym. "Just let him rant, he can't do anything as long as you don't; he won't risk getting tossed out and missing his chance at this badge."
Vincent was not six steps inside before Carl grabbed him and tried to push him against the wall, though he lacked the necessary leverage. Theodore halted the altercation and was fully prepared to put Carl through the wall instead if he so much as twitched, but the semifinalist merely scowled and spat his rage as Vera walked by. She ignored their confrontation completely and maneuvered toward an alcove beyond the public seating.
"I don't know what you two did to my fighter, but whatever it was, it wasn't legal, and I'm going to get both of you kicked out of the league for it. Let go of me, gorilla, before I have you put down for violence against a human." Theodore released Carl with a shove.
While Carl's temper tantrum was in progress, Vera continued inside to visit a familiar face. A scruffy, late middle-aged man with a noticeable mole on his chin was loading up on junk food at a vending machine. She watched him struggle with the cash slot that was rejecting his currency in a cliché manner. History's repeating itself made her smile; she remembered a boy who once visited the ruins and suffered that very same curse.
"If you purchased your sustenance at a real store, you would get more for your money."
The hiker was too busy trying to avoid accidentally pressing two buttons at once with his fat, stubby fingers to turn and face his conversation partner. He had never heard the voice before, but something in its undertones seemed strangely familiar and soothing. "I didn't reckon I'd get hungry until I got here, and I don't want to leave and let other folk get all the good seats."
Vera leaned her back against a tall rubbish bin. "Are you expecting a good show?"
The hiker's chocolate bar had become wedged, transforming the vending machine into a foe to combat using strategically-placed blows.
"I don't know. Some of the guys at work said that an old famous guy was the featured gym trainer for tonight, so I fig--got ya!" The hiker tucked his candy inside a small bag strapped to his ninetales before turning about. "Figured I'd come down and see what all the fuss--" The hiker immediately recognized the xatu before him as the one he met in a small and rather hostile village, and lost his voice.
The green bird tilted her head, "should we close our eyes and pretend I'm not here so you can continue?"
After a slight nudge from his companion, the hiker's tongue sprang to life. "Uh, no, just, what are you doing here?"
Vera straightened up, "ostensibly competing. The battle is not going to go too well for me, but I am not the reason why I'm here right now."
A little small talk exchanged before they were interrupted by one of the sensei's aides. "Crying-Tree, I've been looking all over for you, I--" The aide bowed in apology when he realized his mistake. "Excuse me, madame xatu, the one I seek is another of your kind."
Vera closed her eyes for a moment. "I sense him on the rooftop, he's watching the sunset, he will meet with you in four minutes." The aide thanked her for the information and retired.
Vera's prediction of her team's performance seemed almost a lie as Vincent's team won their early rounds rather easily. However, the penultimate match-up was against a rock-heavy strategy, which had always been Vincent's team's weakness. Replacing Zap with Fiona exacerbated that problem. Phil held out for as long as he could, bringing down two before facing a cradily that could withstand a couple hits. Vera stalled by instilling confusion, but once she caught a rock-slide, it was all down-hill. Hal got one knock-out before tapping out and Theodore was fast enough to at least get some damage on a tyranitar before being clobbered, leaving Fiona with two more foes to face if she could finish off the dime-store dinosaur. She could not, and Vincent's chance at the gym badge became forfeit.
The hiker felt strangely mesmerized while watching a weavile named Fiona in the ring, deftly dodging a tyranitar's attacks as though she had seen them all before. Hearing her cry out in pain when she finally went down, he realized that this little shit had years of experience.
Vincent was preparing to return to the pokecenter so his team could be restored when one of the sensei's aides appeared and offered to take care of them for him, as though he were still competing. Vincent agreed and took a seat in the gallery, watching the battles continue as he waited. Madeline's rock party came to an end when she faced Carl, as his water and fighting focus bowled her team over. Even Seymour the poisoned poliwrath had an easy time of it. With that, Carl was set to battle the gym leader.
An announcer informed the audience that there would be a fifty-minute intermission. Vincent's team was returned to him, and he immediately released them all. Phil indicated that he just wanted to rest and was recalled again. Hal was still hungry, accepted some money, and wandered off on his own to find something to nosh.
Vera's first action was to prepare Fiona. "He is not going to be able to hurt you tonight, I promise."
Fiona had no clue what the green bird meant until a flourish of wing feathers beckoned a distant hiker to come and visit.
The weavile began to panic. "Vinny. V--Vinny! That's him; put me back in the ball before he sees me!"
Vincent was ready to grant her request, but Vera interceded, "I think this might be a good meeting."
The trainer rested his hands on Fiona's shoulders to reassure her before replying to to his seer's comment. "'Think,' 'might be,' Vera? I don't like it when you use uncertain words."
Shade was prepared to tear Fiona apart, but he would need permission. The ninetales estimated that the odds of receiving that command were even.
The xatu opened their conversation. "We have not been properly introduced, although you've heard our names announced during the contest. I am Vera, and these are three of my friends, Vincent, Theodore, and Fiona."
The hiker quoted the aide, "Madame Xatu," took up Vera's wing, and kissed what would have been the top of her hand if she had hands, his respectful human gesture drawing a blush beneath her feathers.
He then shook Vincent's hand with a crushing grip, and said, "my friends call me Mac." He offered his hand to the typhlosion, who returned the squeeze and then some. Finally, Mac slowly looked down his nose at the weavile. She stared up at him for a few seconds and he felt slightly intimidated; those red eyes of hers were still burning, and more brightly than ever. They were also a lot closer to his face than he was accustomed to. In a swift motion, she swung her hand upwards.
Mac was startled; Shade was ready to let her gesture be his excuse to attack.
Fiona wiggled her fingers and drew a toothy grin. "Well, aren't you going to shake my hand, too? I promise I won't bite."
Mac timidly shook her hand. Both he and Fiona were surprised that the others hands were warm; each had expected to feel a soulless coldness when touching the flesh of the enemy. Shade was completely disappointed that his interests had lost the coin-flip.
Mac, Shade, Vincent, and company returned to the gallery early so they could secure the good seats. Hal plodded through the gym's front doors and trod over with a huge load of fast food. Turning the gallery into a cafeteria was against policy, but few would willingly approach an obviously-hungry dragon to argue about that. Despite his capability to be a glutton, he happily shared his haul with his teammates and their new friends.
As the dragonite settled in beside him, Shade leaned against the legs of his trainer; a defensive behavior that he had not exhibited often since evolving from his vulpix form. The ninetales had seen Hal in the ring, and knew that one waterfall punch from the orange titan would put him out of commission, even though Hal had no motivation to attack and in fact seemed rather interested in making a friend of the fox, offering it a bite of a plain hamburger.
The audience fell silent of its own volition as a nonagenarian emerged from the back rooms, his aides carrying his cushion, six ornate hand-carved apricorn pokeballs in a wooden tray with gold inlays, and two cups of instant noodles behind him. Carl approached and bowed respectfully before the sensei, who returned Carl's bow with only a slight nod. Iwamoto-sensei took his seat and began assaulting his first cup of noodles while the announcer declared the format for the final round and rattled off the standard combat rules.
When a judge rang a bell to begin the fight, Carl led with his still-intoxicated poliwrath, hoping to ante low and see the sensei's strategy. Iwamoto put on his glasses to verify that the creature was indeed still poisoned, before taking them off again, covering his eyes with his right arm, selecting a ball with his left, and releasing its occupant, a pichu.
The only voice heard was Carl's, chuckling, "pichu? You've gotta' be kidding me," followed by Jackie in the rear shouting, "don't be a jerk, Caz!"
The yellow mouse stood still as Seymour approached to attack. Iwamoto's pichu successfully endured the blow, paralyzed Seymour with a static discharge, and put the toad down with two charge beams. Carl felt insulted and wanted to see the mouse suffer, withdrawing Seymour and releasing Jean.
Iwamoto clapped his hands twice. His pichu came running back to receive a quick hug and a couple noodles before the sensei released his next fighter. After tolerating a series of futile blows, Crying-Tree did not need to use his powers to induce confusion and keep Jean off-balance, as the gallade's anger was overtaking his combat skill. The xatu needed only to cast a couple wishes to keep his stamina up, and when Jean stumbled, Crying-Tree pecked him senseless and, following a desperate double-team from Jean, finished him off with an aerial-ace just to be showy.
Mac twisted his head around, making his spine crackle loudly. "That kid ain't having too easy of a time of it, is he?"
Vincent was paying too much attention to Carl's frustrated body language to notice the hiker's question.
Vera leaned forward from the row behind Vincent and Mac. "He is accustomed to battling against novices and elevated gym leaders called "elite" for lack of a better term. He will never earn a badge from a true master like Iwamoto-sama."
That statement got Vincent's attention. "Never? That's a long-term prediction. Can't he make a choice somewhere along the line to change that? You told me that having choices makes people impossible to predict perfec--"
"Never." Vera's interjection was almost a croak, as her emotion interfered with her effort to modulate her voice into a word. She stood and left the gallery seating.
When Lucas was struck by one energy-ball too many, the audience shouted "¡olé!" and Carl lost his temper.
"I did not just lose to a ludicolo... you cheating old fart, you picked your team after you saw my guys winning all night long, just so you could embarrass me with silly counters!"
Iwamoto gave the last noodle of his second cup to Cookie the Pichu before responding. "Sou da. You failed to overcome my challenge. You will not be receiving a badge from me, tonight." The sensei rose slowly and exited with Crying-Tree walking at his side and Cookie on his shoulder while his aides gathered the cushion, pokeballs, and empty noodle cups. Most of the audience fell into low discussion as they filtered out through the front doors, with their consensus being that Carl should lose a badge for his immature display.
Mac groaned as he stood, spine popping once again. "Ouch, these chairs do me nothing but bad. I gotta get into my lazy-ass recliner and hear something soft before bed. Got work to do tomorrow. Vincent, I'll catch up with you later." His eyes narrowed as he looked toward Fiona. "No doubt about that." The hiker squeezed around Hal, who was sucking dry the last of the ketchup packets that came with his meal, and departed with Shade following closely behind.
Vincent and his team were intending to leave when a xatu approached and handed the trainer a note written in a very fine hand, "Iwamoto-sama expects your presence." Crying-Tree halted Theodore, and took Vincent alone into the rear chambers.
The room was claustrophobic, and contained little but a fine rug, a futon, an elderly man sitting on a cushion next to a lit incense burner, a dozing pichu, a folder containing six sheets of paper, and another open cup of instant noodles. Crying-Tree shut the door behind Vincent, who quickly sat at the near end of the rug and waited in silence.
Iwamoto withdrew his spectacles from a case tucked inside his obi and placed them upon his nose. "Did you enjoy the games, tonight?" Cookie looked up and chirped, receiving a nod from her master. She quickly picked up a pair of hashi that were almost as long as she was tall and started to finish off the last cup of noodles.
Vincent nodded, "yes, Sir, although I was disappointed that I did not earn a badge this time. I have always ignored my team's weakness to rock because I do not want to upset them, or myself, by sending one away to make room for someone new just because so-and-so does not mind getting gravel in his shoes."
Iwamoto almost interrupted, "you only registered five pokemon tonight, you would not need to send anyone away and you would be completing your team."
"I always told myself I would never have too many pokemon. I wanted to make sure I could pay attention to all of them. I don't have many but the way they act makes me feel neglectful. Phil, my vaporeon, is a bit of an outsider because he doesn't talk like the others, and refused when I offered to buy the T.M. for him. I feel like I never truly connected with him outside of battling or playing at a pond."
"Since he evolved, Hal seems to only want to be out of his ball so he can eat. Tio used to get jealous because Hal would ride on my shoulders as a chubby dratini, but that ended when he evolved to dragonair. He started asking to stay in his ball more because he was clumsier than ever, being so much longer and stronger. When he evolved completely, he wanted to be out at first, but after a while he was back to being in more than out."
Iwamoto's silence pressured Vincent to continue.
"I used to have an ampharos, but he left me. I think Tio was right, that he felt betrayed because I wasn't dedicating my life to the league. I don't think I should be adding another pokemon just to be able to fill out a sixth entry card when I already have three, well, two pokemon who aren't very happy."
Sensei leaned forward slightly. "Young man, do you feel that you neglected your ampharos friend?" Cookie had finished her noodles and was now ready to curl up in her master's lap beneath his weathered hand. Vincent reflected for a moment.
"No, I didn't neglect him, but I think I neglected his dreams. He wanted to be a champion, while the rest of us saw Pokemon League as a hobby." Cookie began to stretch, squirm, and settle in as the young man spoke. "I did everything I could for him, though. He loves music, and I bought him every album he ever asked me for. I got him into singing contests whenever I could, and he did very well. I was hoping that he would be satisfied by being a winner using his real talents, because I didn't need my psychic to tell me that being a successful fighter was not in his future. He just wasn't willing to change his course."
Iwamoto petted his pichu gently. "I hope that you have a chance in the future to restore your friendship, or to come to terms with its end. I sense that you would choose to keep your sixth slot open for him, despite the suggestions of better judgment. I decided to meet with you tonight because today I saw something that I have never seen before, and at my age, that is quite an accomplishment. You've trained your typhlosion to use the poison-fang technique, and with completely astonishing efficacy. May I ask how and why?"
Vincent shifted uneasily. "You may, Sir, but I don't have a very good answer. Tio seemed to learn it for himself. I had to barter for the T.M. to teach him 'toxic' because he wanted to use poison in tournaments and I knew that we would be disqualified if the judges saw him using poison-fang."
Moving carefully to ensure that he did not disturb Cookie, Iwamoto reached for the folder and withdrew a sheet of paper. "You would be disqualified, but the judges would be wrong. Pokemon can know many unusual moves, including ones they cannot be made to learn. Usually this happens through cross-breeding, but not always. A natural move is always legitimate in competition, even if it is rare or unique. This is the summary produced by my personal rejuvenation machine when my aide restored your team. Do you notice anything unusual about this information?"
Sensei passed one sheet to Vincent, who perused it immediately. Aside from being a far nicer and more-complete report than the pokecenter public received, nothing seemed unusual until he checked the diagnostic information that followed a familiar warning about an abnormality that always appeared on Theodore's reports. Beneath that, this report added that the pokemon seems to be recovering or had recently recovered from an infection with properties similar to, but distinct from, pokerus. It also admitted a hypothetical explanation despite it being an impossibility; Theodore was a fire/poison-typed typhlosion. Elemental resistance data backed up that hypothesis, showing unusual susceptibility to psychic forces, resistance to fighting moves, and almost impervious defense against bug- and grass-type effects.
Iwamoto waited until Vincent returned the page to him. "Whatever the cause of his unique talents, you have created a skilled fighter, and judging by what I have seen of his behavior and what Crying-Tree tells me, a wholly dedicated friendship. One with a strength that I have seen before, but only a few times. Cherish it."
Vincent held his breath for a moment, and in that second, remembered all the time he and Tio had spent together. "I do, Sensei."
Iwamoto looked up toward the door. Vincent thought that was a cue to leave at first, before realizing that the old man was listening to a telepathic message from Crying-Tree, still standing vigil outside. Iwamoto carefully reached toward his incense burner and pressed a hidden trigger that unlocked a small drawer inside. Iwamoto withdrew an unfamiliar badge from the drawer and presented it to Vincent.
"I believe that you have earned this, and will continue to live up to its standard. Please, wear it now. Your girlfriend will be happy to see it. You also may find it carries a few other benefits."
Vincent started to say many things at once, but Iwamoto raised a palm while Crying-Tree opened the door. "It is late in the evening, please humor an old man and let him digest his noodles with his pets bird and mouse in tranquility."
Crying-Tree returned Vincent to the lobby, where he saw his team waiting for him. Vera and Jackie were exchanging girl-talk, while Hal was loafing on a bench and both Tio and Fiona seemed to be sharing ultimate boredom.
"Alright guys, I'm ready to crash and I bet you all are, too."
"Listen, Buster, I--" Jackie was prepared to lay into him for apparently ignoring her visit, but the topic changed instantly when she noticed his new badge. "Oh--my--God! He actually gave that to you; you didn't just beat up an old man and steal it, right?" Vincent did not have a chance to deny the assault charge before Jackie leapt at him and gave him a hug. "I'm so proud of you; and this is great because when Caz sees it he's going to explode. I mean it, bloody chunks all over the place!"
As Theodore prepared to take his usual position walking next to Vincent while they exited the facility, Jackie stole his space and proceeded to explain that Iwamoto's secret badge was something that he only gave out once every few years, and that it would carry a lot of respect amongst those who were knowledgeable enough to recognize what it was.