Site hosted by Angelfire.com: Build your free website today!
My Best Friends
by EmperMaxis@aol.com

   Chapter Fourteen
   "Christmas with the family"

   Snow falls lightly over the rural Stone Town, a relatively isolated
   settlement well to to the West of Pallet. Located beneath Evolution Mountain,
   the chief industry of this little burgh is the mining and exporting of
   evolution stones. However, the stores are all today closed for the Christmas
   holiday, as are all other businesses in town. Every road is empty, the
   sidewalks all clear. Everyone is at home with their families. On the
   outskirts of town is a particularly large ranch-style house, with acres and
   acres of land. This is the famous home of the descendants of the town's
   founder, the Stone Brothers, also known as the Eevee Brothers due to their
   trend of training only the Eevee evolution group.
   Inside the living room of the house, five brothers lounge about with no
   cares or worries. Rainer leafs through a surfing magazine. Mikey tries
   unsuccessfully to eat a piece of fruitcake. Sparky and Pyro sit on the couch,
   watching a Christmas special on TV. Rex's Eevee lies on the arm of the couch.
   Rex reads "Pokemon Digest", the number one guide for trainers and their
   pokemon. This month's special interest article is on a new type of pokeball:
   the Silph 3000. Supposedly, it has the highest capture rate of any pokeball
   yet designed. Not to mention it comes in a catchy shade of gold...
   "Hey, guys!" Sparky calls from the couch. The others look up. "Check this
   out!'
   They all huddle around the TV set. It was a commercial... advertising the
   new pokeball!
   "Whoa!" Pyro exclaims, eyeing the shimmering sphere with envy. "How cool
   is that?"
   "I could really use one of those..." Rainer agrees, nodding.
   "Yeah, but they probably cost like a million bucks." Mikey shrugs. "You
   know how Silph is with prices. They go up every year."
   "Yeah..." The others sigh. They all think back to the days when Silph
   offered the best-made, least expensive merchandise for trainers in the world.
   Now, however, they charge a fortune for everything, and only the wealthy are
   able to buy all of their products.
   "Man, I'd give anything for that new pokeball..." Rex says. His brothers
   look at him as if he was nuts.
   "Why?" Pyro asks, arching an eyebrow. "You only have four pokemon, and
   according to you, that's all you want!"
   "-Oh yeah?" Rex asks. "Well, at least I have four. You guys only have one
   each!"
   "What's that supposed to mean?" Sparky growls.
   "Yeah!" The others snarl.
   "Uh... nothing..." Rex sputters, backing up. "I... Uh... bye."
   He takes off like a shot and dashes up the stairs.
   "Get him!" Rainer shouts. The four others follow him.
   "Eevee..." Eevee sighs, rolling its eyes.

   Far away, in distant Lavender Town, Jeff Fuji is about enjoy some time
   with his Uncle. At this moment, the two of them are in Mr. Fuji's private
   garden, home to exotic plantlife as well as Jeff's collection of Bug-type
   pokemon. Jeff has just arrived in Lavender via plane, and comes in through
   the back gate. While Mr. Fuji waters his beautiful plants, Jeff is greeted by
   his enthusiastic pokemon.
   "Okay, Weedle, okay!" He laughs, trying to pry the yellow worm-like
   creature off of his leg. "Hey! Stop it! That tickles!"
   Jeff's Caterpie sits on his shoulder, nuzzling its trainer with its head.
   Paras rubs against his leg, and Venonat hangs onto his back. Metapod and
   Kakuna are the only ones that just sit and smile, although it isn't like they
   really have a choice.
   "You guys!" Jeff laughs. "I missed you too, but you've gotta let go or
   you'll knock me down!"
   Too late. As if on cue, Jeff flails his arms wildly and collapses. His
   pokemon swarm him (literally), licking his face with their buggy tongues.
   "Blech! Uh, thanks, guys..." Jeff sputters, getting to his feet. "It's
   nice to see you again."
   "You are very fortunate, Nephew," Mr. Fuji notices from across the room.
   "To have one's pokemon adore one so much is the sign of a true master."
   "Hey, thanks, Uncle!" Jeff smiles, blushing. Then he composes himself. "I
   didn't see you over there."
   "Just watering my plants," He shrugs, continuing with his work. "I trust
   you had a pleasant flight home?"
   "Oh, yeah, it was okay." Jeff nods. He walks over to where his uncle
   stands. "I'm glad to be home, Uncle."
   "I am glad to have you home, Jeff." The old man smiles, patting his
   shoulder. "Now, I know someone else who can't wait to see you."
   Mr. Fuji gestures toward a small pedestal in the center of the garden.
   The column has a velvet pillow on top, upon which lies a large, round egg,
   the same color as ivory. A sun lamp shines down on it, providing heat to the
   unhatched creature inside.
   "Wow." Jeff says simply. He lifts the egg up in both hands. "It has
   really grown since I left it here!"
   "Indeed." Mr. Fuji agrees. "I hope you are ready for this, Nephew. It is
   quite a responsibility to train a hatchling. Many experienced trainers fail
   to perform their duties, and it is the newborn pokemon that pays the penalty."
   "I promise I'll take care of it." Jeff assures him. "Wow. i... I've just
   waited so long for this. I mean, my friends didn't even know about this egg.
   It's... my greatest treasure."
   "Well, then," Mr. Fuji says, smiling to his nephew. "I am sure you shall
   do just fine training it. Just fine, indeed."
   "Thanks, Uncle." Jeff grins. "I- hey, what is that?"
   He points to two figures partially concealed behind a curtain of foliage.
   "Cluh? Fairy?" A small, impish pokemon squeaks.
   "Jiggully?" A pink powderpuff squeals. "Puff! Puff!"
   "I don't believe it!" Jeff exclaims. "Lizzie's pokemon! Oh, that's right.
   She sent them here when we were in Fuschia."
   "Exactly." Mr. Fuji nods. "They've been with me for almost two weeks now."
   "Heh. It's not every day you see one of these guys." Jeff muses,
   scratching the Clefairy behind the ears.
   "Come, Nephew." Mr. Fuji urges. "I have much to discuss with you."
   "Like what, Uncle?" Jeff asks, hauling his bags into the house.
   "Oh, your travels..." Mr. Fuji shrugs. "New pokemon you've seen, levels
   gained by yours, any matches you've fought lately, Katrina, Seafoam Island,
   sur-"
   "Whoa, back up!" Jeff exclaims. "What do you mean by-?"
   The door shuts behind them. From inside the house, Christmas carols play
   softly over the stereo, and Jeff and his Uncle engage in a frank exchange of
   ideas.

   Over a hundred miles southwest of Lavender Town lies the serene
   settlement of Fuschia City. What had started as an Pokeologist outpost to
   study rare species of pokemon has grown over the years into a full-scale
   city. So isolated from the rest of the world is it that if not for two famous
   tourist attractions it would still be deserted. Those two sites are the
   Safari Zone and the Fuschia Gym, the latter of which is the home to the
   famous Poison-type trainer, Master Koga. In his Japanese-style pagoda he
   receives challengers all day, giving out Soul Badges to those few that earn
   it. He spends his leisure reading literature, fencing, and drinking green
   tea. At this moment, he is sharing quality time with his daughter.
   "En guarde!" Katrina shouts, thrusting her sword toward Koga's chest. The
   ninja master leaps out of the way, narrowly avoiding the sharp tip of the
   sword, and brings his own blade crashing down against hers.
   "Touche!" He laughs, now on the offesive. He forces Katrina back across
   the large room, their blades continuously striking the other. "My Daughter,
   why do you not simply surrender? There is no shame in defeat, and you can
   never match my skill as a swordsman."
   "Dear Father," Katrina smiles, now fencing with one hand behind her back.
   "You are unwise to underestimate me! Yah!"
   She swings the blade low in a feignt. Koga unwittingly looks down. Then,
   without warning, she leaps into the air, executes a perfect somersault over
   his head, lands behind him and presses the sword to his back.
   "Ha! I am triumphant!" She laughs.
   "Bravo, Daughter!" Koga eyes her with approval. "You have defeated me. I
   am impressed."
   "Thank you, Father," Katrina says, placing the sword back into its
   sheath. "You are a most worthy adversary."
   They bow to each other in respect. Abruptly, the door to the fencing room
   slides open. In comes a young woman with emerald green hair and dark eyes.
   She carries a tray with three cups on it.
   "Greetings, Brother," She smiles courteously. "Katrina. I've brought
   green tea as is custom at this hour. I trust you both enjoyed a stimulating
   sparring session?"
   "As usual, you are correct, Sister." Koga says, taking a cup of steaming
   herbal tea from the tray.
   "Thank you, Aunt Iya," Katrina nods, also taking a cup. "Most refreshing."
   "Brother, several trainers have arrived downstairs." Iya says to Koga. "I
   told them that the Gym wasn't open, but..."
   "What? More challengers?" Koga scoffs. "On Christmas Eve? Have they
   nothing better to do than pester me with endless matches?"
   Iya shrugs. Katrina frowns.
   "Father, you are tired." She says. "I am a Gym Leader; I will accept
   their challenges."
   Iya and Koga stare at her in surprise. Then they look to each other.
   "She is... old enough," Iya suggests.
   "... I suppose it would be okay," Koga says after a moment. "Providing
   that you agree to one rule."
   "Certainly." Katrina nods. "Name it."
   "Make sure they think five times before coming here again next
   Christmas." He smiles. Katrina grins slyly.
   "It shall be a pleasure." Katrina agrees, walking out the door and
   shutting it behind her.
   "You have raised her well." Iya says to Koga. "She is well-mannered,
   beautiful, and a marvelous trainer."
   "Indeed... I am fortunate." Koga nods. "Quite fortunate."
   Minutes later, they hear a noise coming from downstairs. They walk to the
   windows and look out. Three pokemon trainers run like the wind down the
   hillside, heading toward the Pokemon Center. They carry fainted Pidgey,
   Rattata, and Nidoran, in their arms.
   "Back so soon, Katrina?" Koga asks without turning around. His daughter
   silently enters the room, now clad in her ceremonial kimono. She also wears a
   pleased expression on her face.
   "They were quite... simple." She explains, with the slightest touch of
   schoolgirl glee.
   "I propose a toast." Koga smiles knowingly. "To the Fuschia City Gym."
   "To the Gym!" Iya and Katrina agree, lifting their glasses.
   "And to my beautiful and talented daughter, who constantly brings great
   honor upon our family."
   "To Katrina!" Iya cheers.
   "And to our family." Katrina blushes. "Long may it prosper!"
   "To the family!" They all agree.

   "Elizabeth." A snotty conceited voice comes from behind the dressing room
   door. "Elizabeth, are you quite ready yet? The recital begins in five
   minutes!"
   "I'm almost finished!" A girl with long, strawberry blond hair calls from
   inside. A pink Chansey gently combs her beautiful hair. "And call me Lizzie!"
   "Well, do make it snappy!" Another young woman's voice comes from
   outside. "We want to make a good impression on the others."
   "Chan-sey..." The pokemon nurse mutters as the two others girls walk down
   the hall, away from the dressing room.
   "I know, I know," Lizzie sighs. "That's Nadine and Cynthia. You'd think
   that with all of that money they could afford some charm."
   "Jynx. Jynx-jynx!" A yellow-haired siren chuckles as she paints Lizzie's
   nails. "Jynx. Jynx-jynx, jynx!"
   "I agree." Lizzie nods. "But, still... it's good to be home for
   Christmas, even if it involves singing at the annual Viridian City Country
   Club recital."
   Meanwhile, the crowd begins to stir outside in the garden. Dozens of
   chairs have been sat up before the bandstand so that the wealthy patrons may
   sit as they listen to the singing. All of the musicians and singers have
   already assembled in their positions, except for one girl: the lead vocal,
   Elizabeth Palacio.
   "Mr. Palacio," A troubled maestro says to the wealthy businessman in the
   front row. "It's time. I'm afraid we're going to have to start without her-"
   "Not on your life!" The tall man with a handlebar mustache exclaims,
   leaping to his feet. "We will not begin until my daughter is on stage!"
   "B-b-but, Mr. Palacio, the guests..." He sputters.
   "Listen," He says in a thick, southern accent. "Now, I can buy this
   country club if I want to, and in that case I guar-an-tee you that you'll be
   out of a job. Do you follow me, son?"
   "Y-y-yes sir, I do, sir!" The conductor nods fearfully.
   "Good." The businessman says, smiling. "Now, why don't you- Ah, there she
   is!"
   A lone figure, accompanied by two pokemon, appears on the terrace.
   Dressed in a white Christmas gown, she makes her way along the path to the
   bandstand. As she walks, every eye in the boys' chorus follows her. Leaving
   her pokemon aides behind, she steps onto the stage and smiles warmly to the
   audience.
   "Ladies and Gentlemen of the Viridian City Country Club," She says wamly.
   "Thank you for coming to this year's Christmas Concert. I hope you all enjoy
   the performance as much as we've enjoyed putting it together."
   She nods to the orchestra, which begins playing 'Joy to the World'. Then
   she smiles mischievously into the crowd.
   "Shall we begin?"

   Deep in Celadon City, in an old and abandoned warhouse, another meeting
   is taking place. A stage has been erected and is now covered with instruments
   and sound equipment. The floor is covered with chairs. A lighting system has
   been rigged up on the roof. In short, the entire complex has been converted
   into a concert hall. And who has assembled to witness this event? Hundreds
   and hundreds of figures of all ages, each wearing a dark jeans and a black
   T-shirt with a crimson red 'R' painted onto the front. In the balcony above
   the crowd, a mysterious figure known only as The Boss watches as people
   continue to file into their seats. As he watches, he pets the head of an
   adult Ninetails.
   Suddenly, the band strikes up and the concert begins. Lasers strobe
   across the floor, while colored smoke billows out of hidden vents. A
   spotlight fixates a young woman in the center of the visual effects, with
   long orange hair.
   "Here is one of my favorites," She shouts to the audience. "You might
   even say it's my theme song!"
   "Feliz Navidad! .... Feliz Navidad!" Felice sings, accompanied by
   trumpets and fanfare. "Prospero ano y felicidad! I wanna wish you a merry
   Christ-mas! I wanna wish you a merry Christ-mas! I wanna wish you a merry
   Christ-mas from the bottom of my he-a-r-t!"
   When she finishes, the entire audience bursts into applause. The entire
   organization cheers and shouts while Felice takes a bow.
   "Thank you, thank you!" She smiles graciously as people throw roses onto
   the stage. "You're too kind!"
   She is about step off stage, when a piano strikes up behind her. She
   turns to see Artemus Fitzgerald playing it. He winks at her. She smiles, and
   turns to the audience.
   "This one isn't a Christmas carol..." She explains. "But it has always
   been close to my heart. I hope you enjoy it."
   "Vacation, need a little sun to get to all the frustration and turn it
   into love," She sings. "There's nobody who can tell us where we oughta be,
   'cause today... today it's you and me!"
   The orchestra bursts into life.
   "Vacation's where I wanna be-" She continues. "Party on the beach, where
   the fun is free!" While he plays, Artemus can't help but wa tch Felice as she
   moves gracefully across the stage. Her voice is flawless, to say the least.
   She finishes the song to the thundrous applause of the audience.
   "Thank you, thank you all!" She laughs. "You're a great audience! How
   about another song?"
   They all cheer.
   "Okay, then!" She agrees. "But first, I'd like to call a very special
   friend of mine up onto the stage right now. She's young, talented, and not a
   bad singer, either. Say hello to my sister in crime, Corderlia Navidad!"
   The audience cheers as a young woman the same age as Felice runs up to
   the stage.
   "Thank you!" Cordelia laughs, seizing the mike away from Felice. "You all
   make me feel so welcome! Well, Felice may be able to sing so-so, but the real
   talent in the family is-"
   "Me!" Felice says, pulling the mike out of her hands. "Ahem, heh-heh.
   Such a kidder. Shall we begin, Cordelia?"
   "Whenever you're ready, Felicia." She agrees. Felice's right eye twitches
   involuntarily.
   "Hit it, Artemus!" Cordelia shouts, pointing to the piano. Instantly, the
   band begins playing a very familiar theme. "This is a little number you may
   remember." She says into the mike, beginning to sing. "I-"
   "I wanna be the very best!" Felice says, snatching the mike. "Like no one
   ever was!"
   "To catch them is my real test!" Cordelia says, elbowing Felice aside and
   grabbing the mike. "To train them is my cause!"
   "I will travel across the land!" Felice snarls, yanking it out of her
   hands. "Searching far and wide!"
   "Each pokemon to understand!" Cordelia wrestles it from her grasp. "The
   power that's inside!"
   "Pokemon! It's you and me!" The chorus sings as Felice chases Cordelia
   around the stage. "I know it's my destiny! Pokemon! You're my best friend in
   a world we must defend!"
   "Pokemon!" Another voice sings. The two sisters look up to see Artemus
   singing into the mike. "A heart so true! Our courage will pull us through!
   You teach me and I'll teach you! Digiiiimonnnn!"
   "What????" The entire audience gasps.
   "Artemus, you knucklehead!" Felice hisses at her partner during the
   musical interlude.
   "What did I do?" He asks innocently.
   "Give me that mike!" Felice snaps at Artemus, ripping it out of his hand.
   "Sorry, Felice," He shrugs. "But while you two were fighting, someone had
   to take charge."
   "Never mind that, now!" She and her sister snarl. They both take mikes
   and walk back into the spotlight. The audience, at this point, is doubled
   over in the aisles with laughter.
   "Every challenge along the way," Felice hisses. "With courage I will
   face- ack!"
   "I will battle everyday," Cordelia laughs. "To claim my rightful- argh!"
   "Come with me, the time is right! There's no better (scream!)"
   "Arm and arm we'll win the fight! It's allways been our dream!"
   Finally, Artemus gets a hold of the mike and pries the two sisters apart.
   The audience bursts into applause. Surprised, the three crooks onstage take a
   bow.
   "Just smile and nod." Artemus whispers to the others. Cordelia smiles,
   then elbows him sharply in the rib cage
   "Thank you!" Felice says, catching the mike in midair. "You're too kind!
   And now, my sister and I would like to sing a duet."
   "Yes." Cordelia says into a mike that the stage manager hands you. "We'd
   like to sing 'Ode to Joy,' the remixed version. We hope you all enjoy."
   "HIT IT!" Felice shouts.
   Instantly the band bursts into an upbeat tempo and blares music into the
   audience. The Team Rocket members gasp. Even The Boss eyes the two women on
   stage with curiousity.
   "Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of Glory, God of Love!" Felice sings.
   "Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above!"
   Cordelia bursts into song beside her.
   "Melt the clouds of sin and sadness, drive the gloom of doubt away!" They
   sing together. "Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!"
   The band plays a pop-style interlude, then comes back with the next verse:
   "All Thyne works in joy surround me, Earth and Heaven reflect Thyne
   rays!" They shout out. "Stars and angels sing around Thee, Center of unbroken
   praise! Field and forest veil and fountain, flowering meadow, crashing sea,
   chanting Spirit, flowing fountain, call us to rejoice in THEE!"
   They finish amidst drums, trumpets, pianos, violins, and one very big
   synthesizer. The audience leaps out of their seats and clap wildly. The
   twosome bow onstage. They are showered with roses and cheers. The Boss
   himself gives them a standing ovation, his Ninetails clapping its tails
   together happily.
   "Bravo! Bravo!" They all call.
   "Hark, the herald angel sings!" Felice and Cordelia sing. "Glory to the
   newborn King!"
   They go on that night to sing many more Carols and other songs. Across
   the entire world of Pokemon that night, people come home to be with family
   and friends on this most special of occasions. And the next day, they are
   still together. Of course, while Lizzie, Rex, Jeff, and Katrina enjoy time
   with their loved ones, their innermost thoughts are still on one another.
   Although they have known each other for such a short time, they have formed a
   bond that can never be broken. They will always be best friends, together and
   forevermore.

Chapter Fifteen

  The water spewing from the fountain in the center of Cinabarr Island
  Square comes crashing down against the marble basin below it. Tourists come
  from all around the world to admire the beauty and masterful architecture of
  this famous monument. Some admire the delicate use of the chisel to make it
  appear as though the statue was old, yet young at the same time. Some regard
  the intricate details on the statue's face with great interest. And some,
  like Rex Stone even now as he stares at it curiously, wonder how anyone can
  take seriously a statue of a Hypno spraying water from its snout.
  "Oh, please." Rex sighs, rolling his eyes. "I could make one of those
  blindfolded."
  "I'd like to see you try." A deep voice comes from behind him.
  Rex turns, surprised, and sees a tall young man with smooth, green hair.
  This odd figure wears a black cape and shimmering silver clothes.
  "That statue is made out of solid marble." The man observes. "Limestone
  is difficult enough to carve, but marble... quite impossible. And the system
  of plumbing which constantly pumps water to its snout: genius, pure genius."
  "I don't see what's so great about it." Rex scoffs.
  "No, of course not." The man sighs. "It's appeal is for the
  intellectuals, not for children."
  "Now just a minute!" Rex exclaims. "You're only a few years older than
  me. What are you? Seventeen?"
  "Nineteen." The man states blandly. "And frankly, I don't have time to
  stand here and quibble with you over semantics. I have things to do, boy, and
  I don't intend to wait around for your brain to suddenly enlarge so you can
  understand what I am saying to you. Good day."
  He turns with a flourish of his cape and swiftly walks away.
  "Vee..." Rex's furry little Eevee snarls at him.
  "Jerk..." Rex mutters as he disappears from sight.
  "Rex!" A familiar voice calls from across the plaza. He turns to see who
  it is, and grins broadly.
  "Hey, Rex!" Jeff Fuji waves, running across the crowded square. "What's
  up? It's great to see you again!"
  "Jeff!" Rex laughs, giving his friend a high-five. "Wow, it feels like
  forever since I last saw you. What have you been doing?"
  "Nothing much." Jeff shrugs. Then he grins. "Well, I did get an late
  Christmas present!"
  He holds up a small, buglike creature in the palm of his hand.
  "Whoa!" Rex exclaims. "Is that...?"
  "Yep." Jeff nods. "My pokemon. One of the newly discovered species of
  Bug-types. The Pokemon League still hasn't given it an official name, but
  I've nicknamed her 'Rediba'. She is a ladybug pokemon."
  "That is so awesome!" Rex laughs. "Can I hold it?"
  "Sure." Jeff agrees. "Just be careful."
  "Hey, little fella." Rex says to the tiny creature on his hands. "Wow.
  It's really small. Hardly bigger than a baseball."
  "Grhss!" Rediba hisses. Suddenly, it spits a fine stream of gooey silk
  onto Rex's face.
  "Blech!" Rex gags, wiping the slime off his face. "Gross!"
  "Eevee! Vee! Vee!" Eevee squeals, rolling on the ground with laughter.
  "She's... a little shy." Jeff snickers. "Right now she only knows String
  Shot."
  "I sort of noticed..." Rex grumbles.
  "Hey, guys!" A shouted voice alerts the two of them. Rex and Jeff look up
  to see Lizzie and Katrina waving to them from across the square. Beside them
  are Lizzie's Chansey nurse and her Jynx. They too wave at their human friends.
  "Over here!" Jeff calls. The girls come running up.
  "Rex, Jeff!" Lizzie exclaims. "It's so good to see you two again!"
  "Lizzie!" Rex smiles, hugging her briefly. "I'm glad to see you."
  "It is a pleasure to be in company with you again, Jeff Fuji," Katrina
  nods in a businesslike manner. "Rex Stone, I am also pleased to see you
  again."
  "I missed you too, Katrina." Rex shrugs.
  "Yeah, me too." Jeff agrees.
  "Jeff! Is that your new pokemon?" Lizzie gasps. They all look at the
  small creature in Rex's hand.
  "That's her." Jeff beams proudly. "Say hello to Rediba!"
  "Ooooh, how cute!" Lizzie squeals. "I've got to hold her!"
  "Don't get too close!" Rex warns. To his surprise, however, Rediba allows
  herself to be stroked and petted by the strawberry blond girl from Viridian.
  "Aw, she's just adorable!" Lizzie cooes. "Isn't that right, Rediba?"
  "Grshh! Gishh!" The bug hums in agreement.
  "I don't get it..." Rex scratches his head.
  "Well, what are we all waiting for?" Jeff asks. "Let's go to the Cinabarr
  Gym!"
  "Wait!" Lizzie exclaims. "I can't go yet."
  "Why not?" Jeff asks, a confused expression on his face.
  "Because we haven't checked into the Pokemon Center yet!" She sighs in
  exhasperation.
  "HUH?" Jeff and Rex gasp.
  "Our flight arrived too late for us to check in before the agreed meeting
  time." Katrina explains.
  "Didn't you two geniuses wonder why we were still carrying our luggage?"
  Lizzie asks.
  Rex and Jeff look down to see the bags in the girls' hands.
  "Oh." They say together.
  "Well, I guess we can make a quick detour." Rex shrugs. "It's only three
  in the afternoon. We have plenty of time to challenge Blaine before seven,
  when the Gym closes."
  "Great!" Lizzie smiles. "And since we've carried them for this long, why
  don't you two carry our bags to the Center?"
  "Uh..." Jeff and Rex sputter as the girls shove their luggage into their
  arms.
  "Great." Lizzie beams. "Now, hurry up. We don't have all day, you know.
  Jynx, Chansey, come on."
  Trailed by her two pokemon, she and Katrina turn and walk back across the
  plaza, leaving the guys gaping after her in shock.
  "How did she..." Jeff sputters. "Oh, forget it."
  They quickly carry the bags after the female trainers.

  "Welcome to the Cinabarr Island Pokemon Center!" A Nurse Joy beams from
  behind the counter in the lobby. "How may I help you?"
  The high, arching ceiling of the lobby comes together in a domed
  skylight, which lets a wide column of sunlight come cascading down into the
  Center. Standing in the middle of that light are four trainers and three
  pokemon. Seeing one in particular, Nurse Joy blinks in surprise.
  "Rex?" Joy asks. "Rex Stone? Is that you?"
  "Hey, Joy!" Rex grins. "What's new?"
  "Oh, same old, same old." She shrugs. "I can't believe it's you! You've
  really come all the way to Cinabarr Island in just twelve months?"
  "Yeah, I know." Rex nods. "I can hardly believe it myself. But, of
  course, when you're as great a trainer as I am, success is never far behin-"
  "We'd like to check in." Lizzie smiles, shoving her babbling friend
  aside. "Hi. I'm Lizzie Palacio from Viridian City. These are our friends,
  Jeff Fuji and Katrina Koga. We've all been traveling together for some time
  now."
  "Ahh, it's a pleasure to meet you." Joy says to the group. "Any friends
  of Rexie's are friends of mine. Staff!"
  Her call brings three Chansey nurses into the room.
  "Won't you be so kind as to show these travelers to their respective
  dorms." She instructs them, gesturing to the trainers in front of her.
  "I only have this backpack." Rex says, regarding the small saddlebag he
  carries over one shoulder.
  "Same here." Jeff nods, pointing to the immense backpack he always wears.
  "Chan-Sey." The nurses say in approval. They then escort Lizzie and
  Katrina to the girls' dorm, and start to lead Jeff and Rex to the boys'.
  "Wait, just a minute, Rex," Joy calls. "I want to have a word with you."
  "Uh, okay." Rex nods. Jeff walks off with the Chansey.
  "Pull up a chair, little guy." Joy points to the stools along the side
  counter.
  "Hey, I'm only younger than you by two years." He reminds her.
  "True, true." She nods. "But I didn't want to talk with you about age,
  Rex."
  She pulls a small leaflet out of a drawer behind the counter and holds it
  up for Rex to see. The sheet is bright and colorful, with pictures of the
  rarest and strongest pokemon on the planet preparing for battle. Rex's mouth
  hangs open.
  "Th-the P-pokemon League Championship!" He gasps. "They're already
  advertising for it?"
  "Yep." Joy nods seriously. "We just got a stack of these yesterday. I'm
  not even supposed to display them until next week, but..."
  "March 6th?" He asks, unaware that she even spoke. "The competition is in
  less than two months?"
  "I guess so..."Joy shrugs. "Look, if you want to keep it, you can, I
  suppose. After all, you're family."
  "Whoa..." Rex sighs in awe as he touches the piece of lamenated paper on
  the desk. "I- I... Thanks, Joy."
  "No problem." She smiles. "It's the least I can do for my favorite
  nephew!"
  "JOY!!" He exclaims, embarassed. "Not so loud! The others think you're my
  cousin..."
  "Hey, I understand." She giggles. "You just don't want them to know I'm
  you're-"
  "EXACTLY!" He nods emphatically. "So, and you've been really great by the
  way, but I think I'll just take this poster, go find my friends, and head
  toward Cinabarr Gym, okay? Okay. Bye now!"
  "Goodbye, Rex!" She waves after him as he runs down the hall toward a
  dorm. "... Wait! That's the girls' dormitory!!!"
  A few moments later, several piercing shrieks fill the Center, followed
  by Rex's voice sputtering appologies, and then a loud shout.
  "Keeee- YAI!!!!" A young woman's voice comes, followed by an "OOF!" and a
  'thud', similar to a large object crashing to the floor.
  "What on Earth?" Nurse Joy exclaims, running down the hall. She finds Rex
  lying on the floor, groaning. A tall, dark-haired girl stands over him.
  "Katrina, you did it again!" Lizzie sighs, exhasperated.
  "I believe that you mean he did it again." Katrina arches an eyebrow
  thoughtfully.
  "Vee? Vee?" Eevee squeaks, licking its fallen master's face. Chansey and
  Jynx snicker in the corner.

  "Are you girls ready yet?" Rex calls. He turns to Jeff, who stands beside
  him. "Sheesh. This is like waiting for Pyro to finish combing."
  "Chill out, Rex." Jeff remarks, shrugging. "Katrina and Lizzie wanted ice
  cream. No big deal."
  Rex and Jeff stand outside the doors of an ice cream parlor, waiting for
  their team mates to grab their cones and go.
  "Yeah..." Rex admits. "But if they keep this up, it'll be midnight before
  we reach the Gym. You know you have to hike halfway around the island to get
  to it!"
  "True." Jeff nods. "Still, it's only a quarter past four. We'll make it
  with plenty of time."
  "Finally!" Rex exclaims, seeing the two girls exit the shop. "It's about
  time! Let's get going."
  "At once, Sire." Lizzie rolls her eyes. "So sorry to keep you waiting."
  "Chan-Sey." Her pokemon nurse hums. "Chans-Chans-Sey."
  "Chansey says you're an impatient jerk." Lizzie smiles.
  "It did not!" Rex scoffs.
  "Oh, all right." She sighs. "Chansey said the most direct route to the
  Gym is out the East Gate. We'll take the Red Trail around the Volcano and
  then the Blue Trail right to the top of the ridge. That's where the Gym is."
  "How will we get back?" Jeff asks.
  "There's an express lane: the Yellow Trail." She explains. "It'll bring
  us right back to the Center."
  "All right, then." Katrina nods. "Let us begin the next step in our
  journey."
  "I couldn't agre with you more!" Rex grins. "Let's go!"
  Together, the four trainers and three... err, four pokemon march toward
  the Eastern Gate on the edge of the city.
  "I'm so psyched!" Lizzie exclaims as they walk through the immense
  archway. "This will be so cool! If all goes well, I'll get my eighth trainer
  badge today!"
  "Eighth?" The Jeff and Rex exclaim. "We thought you only had six!"
  "Oh, didn't I tell you?" She asks sheepishly. "I... um, sort of went to
  the Viridian Gym when I was home for Christmas."
  "And?" Rex prompts her.
  "I... kinda got my badge." She grins mischievously.
  Rex's mouth falls open. Jeff's eyes bug out. Katrina suppresses a laugh.
  "No way!" Rex yells after a moment. "There is no way you have seven
  badges!"
  "Read 'em and weep, Eeveelution boy!" Lizzie giggles, reaching into
  Chansey's pouch. She pulls out a small cloth bag, from which she removes
  seven shimmering Gym Badges."
  "Whoa!" Rex gasps, totally bewildered. "I don't believe it!"
  "Yeah." Jeff agrees, impressed. "I thought I was the only one with seven
  badges."
  "YOU have seven badges too???" Rex shouts in disbelief.
  "Yep." Jeff replies, unzipping his backpack. In one of the side pockets
  rest seven glittering badges.
  "I must be in some sort of alternate reality..." Rex groans, rubbing his
  forehead. "Katrina? How many badges do you have?"
  "Well, Rex..." She tries unsuccessfully to hide a mirthful smile. "I, as
  you know, am a Gym Leader. And as such, I have the equivalent of-"
  She whispers it into his ear.
  "Noooooooooooooooooooooooooo!" Rex's scream echoes throughout the island.
  "Speaking of badges," Lizzie points out. "When are you ever going to get
  you Soul Badge? It's been over a month since we left Fuchsia!"
  "Hey, that's right!" Jeff agrees. "I remember Katrina totally creamed you
  in a match."
  "Oh, you have to bring that up." Rex sighs.
  "I shall be happy to accept another challenge whenever you wish, Rex."
  Katrina says honestly.
  For a moment, Rex is silent. He stares at his Eevee. It hops up and down,
  squeaking its name again and again.
  "Vee? Eevee?" Rex asks. "Vee? Okay. All right. Let's do it."
  "You challenge me to a match for your Soul Badge?" Katrina asks.
  "Yes." Rex nods, standing up straight. "I challenge you to a three on
  three battle."
  "Most satisfactory." Katrina agrees. "I shall be happy to consent."
  "Hey, you guys!" Lizzie calls from nearby. "There's a clearing right over
  here that you can use for the match."
  "I'll be the time keeper!" Jeff volunteers, readying his stopwatch.
  The two trainers move into the center of the clearing.
  "Katrina Koga vs. Rex Stone in an official match for a Soul Badge." Jeff
  announces. "Three pokeballs will be used each. Once a pokemon is withdrawn,
  it cannot re-enter the competition. There will be a limit of twenty minutes
  to the match. Trainers, are you ready?"
  "Ready." Rex nods.
  "Ready." Katrina concurs.
  "Then, let the match begin!" He calls out, clicking the button on his
  stopwatch.

  Minutes later, Katrina and Rex are deep into battle. Both are down to
  their last pokemon. Katrina had started with Mankey, which beat Jolteon but
  lost to Flareon. Flareon then defeated Machamp, but Poliwrath washed it away.
  Now, Rex has the uneasy choice of sending a Vaporeon, a water-type, against
  another water-type, or taking a chance on Eevee. For a moment, he doesn't
  know what to do.
  "Rex, the clock is ticking." Jeff reminds him. "You've got five minutes
  to finish your match, or else it will be a draw."
  "... Okay." He nods finally. "I've got it. Go, Eevee!"
  "Vee!" The little brown furball squeals, leaping into the ring.
  "You are certain?" Katrina arches an eyebrow thoughtfully. "I will allow
  you to recall it if you wish to substiture Vaporeon."
  "Thanks, Katrina," Rex politely refuses. "But this is Eevee's match. I
  know he can do it."
  She smiles.
  "You are a brave trainer, Rex Stone." She compliments him. "However, you
  have made a fatal error. Poliwrath is part fighting; Eevee is a normal type,
  and therefore weak to Fighting moves. Poliwrath, High Jump Kick!"
  "Poli-Wrath!" The froglike hisses, streaking through the air toward its
  opponent.
  "Eevee, Double Team!" Rex orders.
  "Vee!" It squeals. In a flash of light, it appears to dart away in two
  directions.
  "Poli??" The toad asks in confusion. It slams facefirst into the ground.
  "What? No!" Katrina gasps.
  "Good job!" Rex cheers. "Now, use the Quick Attack!"
  "Poliwrath, Counter!" Katrina commands.
  It never had a chance. Eevee shoots across the field at lightning speed
  and rams the immobile frog.
  "Poliiiiiiii!" It grunts, and crashes to the ground once more.
  "Poliwrath, Hypnosis!" Katrina calls.
  "Poli!" The blue creature hisses. The swirl on its stomach begins to
  rotate. In seconds, it is a spinning vortex. Eevee fights the temptation to
  stare into it, but to no avail. The hypnotic motion sends it into a trance,
  and the furry little pokemon curls up to sleep.
  "No!" Rex shouts. "Eevee, wake up!"
  "Poliwrath, Rolling Kick!" Katrina orders.
  "PoliWrath!" It agrees, ramming the unconscious Eevee with its foot.
  "Vee!" Eevee squeals, now wide awake.
  "Double Kick!" Katrina orders. The blue toad creams Eevee with two good
  blows and knocks it across the field.
  "Vee... vee..." Eevee pants, exhausted.
  "Eevee!" Rex gasps. "No!"
  "Good job, Poliwrath." Katrina smiles. "Now, BubbleBeam!"
  Taking a deep breath, Rex orders his pokemon to execute its most powerful
  attack, the one special technique that it had learned and none of his
  brothers' Eevees had.
  "Eevee, SWIFT!"
  "Vee? Vee!" Eevee snaps to attention. As the cascade of bubbles hurtles
  toward it, its ears become rigid and stand straight up. Just before the
  shower reaches his, a blast of tiny stars shoots from it.
  "How... how can this be?" Katrina gasps.
  The bubbles pop instantly in the presence of the razor-sharp stars. Eevee
  leaps forward, and fires another blast right at Poliwrath. Still stunned from
  seeing its attack stopped completely, Poliwrath is unable to dodge.
  "Poliiiiiiiiii!" It shouts in lamentation as it is knocked off its feet.
  The shower of stars drains it of its last HP, and it collapses from
  exhaustion on the grass.
  "Poliwrath!" Katrina exclaims. "No!"
  "YES!" Rex shouts, picking up his Eevee. "We DID it!"
  Watching from the sidelines, Lizzie and Jeff applaud Rex's performance.
  "He made it with three seconds to spare." Jeff whispered to Lizzie.
  "I am... impressed, Rex Stone." Katrina admits. She removes a small pouch
  from within her kimono robe. Opening it, she reveals a shimmering gem. "For
  your skill and ingenuity as a pokemon trainer, I bestow upon you a Soul
  Badge, as recognized by the Pokemon League."
  "A... a Soul Badge!" Rex laughs after a moment. Then he leaps into the
  air. "YES!!!"
  "Congrats, Rex!" Jeff says. "Boy, you had me worried for a minute. I
  thought that Poliwrath had Eevee beaten when it used Double Kick. I didn't
  even know it could LEARN Double Kick!"
  "Well, there are some secrets associated with becoming a Gym Leader."
  Katrina says mysteriously. "I am more impressed with Rex having taught his
  Eevee the skill Swift. Although I have heard of some trainers doing so, I had
  yet to see an Eevee capable of the technique. Until today..."
  "I'm one step closer to my dream." Rex smiles. "And one day, I'll go even
  farther than my brothers EVER could. I'll become the Pokemon League Champion!"
  "... If none of us beat you to it." Lizzie reminds him.
  "Uh, yeah... right." Rex agrees after a moment. "Ahem. So, why don't we
  continue to the Gym, this time without any interruptions?"
  "Sounds good to me." Lizzie nods.
  "I'm in!" Jeff agrees.
  "Of course." Katrina replies.
  "Vee!" Eevee squeaks.
  "Chan-sey!" Chansey chirps.
  "Jyyynx!" Jynx sings.
  "Grshh!" Rediba hisses happily.
  Together, they all march along the trail. After over an hour of hiking
  through the forest, they come to the point at which the Red Trail becomes the
  Blue Trail. A peculiar sign is posted at that location. Jeff leans over to
  inspect it.
  "It says, ' Woe be to those unprepared/ for they shall be made into game/
  and even now I watch them, unaware/ they are now in the Quiz Master's domain!
  ' "
  "That's weird..." Rex remarks.
  "Tell me about it." Lizzie agrees.
  "I wonder what it means by 'and even now I watch them'?" Katrina
  thoughtfully taps her chin. "Hmm?... What's that?'
  "What's what?" Jeff asks.
  "That." Katrina points to an overhanging branch. "Up in the tree."
  "It... it's a camera." Lizzie exclaims. "A video camera! I think whoever
  posted this sign also hooked up that camera up there."
  "Katrina, you've met all the other Gym Leaders, right?" Jeff asks the
  tall, dark haired girl.
  "Yes, at one time or another, all of them." She nods. "Why?"
  "What can you tell us about Blaine?" He asks.
  "Ah, Professor Blaine." She replies. "A most peculiar fellow. He was
  something of a hermit when I met him. He didn't like being around other
  people. As I recall, he said he liked to spend his time on the outskirts of
  Cinabarr Island, away from all of the tourists. Now that I think of it, it
  was most likely he who placed that camera in the tree. He has devised a
  series of test and quizzes to keep unwanted intruders out of the Gym. Only
  the cleverest trainers are admitted."
  "Hmm..." Rex rubs his chin. "So, getting in will be the hard part."
  "Blaine is no amateur, Rex." Katrina responds. "His fire pokemon are very
  powerful. Many trainers leave Cinabarr Gym in defeat."
  "Not me!" He grins. "I've got Vaporeon! It can handle any lame Arcanine
  or Rapidash!"
  "Let us hope so." She arches an eyebrow.
  The group turns and continues along the blue trail, the ever-watchful
  gaze of the Gym Leader following them via camera.
 
 
 

   Chapter 16

   The massive gate of the Cinabarr Island Gym looms before four trainers
   and their pokemon on a little-used trail in the jungle. Built into the side
   of the volcano, it was impossible for any of them to guess exactly how large
   it was. If the gate was any indication, however, then it was huge.
   "How do you suppose we get in?" Rex asks.
   "I haven't a clue." Jeff responds.
   The enormous stone doors have the images of rare fire pokemon carved into
   them. Some of the larger ones are of Arcanine, Ninetails, Charizard, and
   Magmar. There is no sign of a door knocker or doorbell, either. One traveler
   eyes the pictures thoughtfully.
   "What are you doing, Katrina?" Asks Lizzie, seeing her friend walk up to
   the door and begin feeling the carved stone.
   "...." Katrina is silent for a moment. "I am testing a theory."
   They watch for a minute more as she continues to run her hands along the
   rough stone. Suddenly, she stops. A slow smile spreads across her lips.
   "What is it?" Lizzie asks.
   "I believe I have found the point of entry." Katrina announces, pointing
   to a small hole in the wall no larger than an acorn. It is carved as the eye
   of a Rapidash.
   "What? That little hole?" Rex scoffs. "I doubt I could get my finger
   through that gap, let alone my whole person!"
   Katrina presses a button concealed within the 'eye'. There is a click.
   Almost instantly, the gates creak open, turning on ancient hinges.
   "..... Oh." Rex says sheepishly. "Ahem, well, then..."
   "Good job, Katrina!" Jeff nods his head with satisfaction.
   "It was a fairly simple puzzle." She says matter-of-factly. "No praise is
   needed."
   "Welcome, travelers!" A voice snaps them back to their senses.
   "Who said that?" Lizzie asks.
   "Up there!" Jeff points upward. A small speaker hangs from the ceiling of
   the cave.
   "I did." A crackly voice comes through it. "I see you've solved my first
   puzzle. You probably feel rather proud of yourselves. Ha! Think again! That
   was a simple task; the rest will be much harder!"
   "Hold on a minute, Blaine!" Rex calls. "What does this have to do with
   the Pokemon League? We just want our Gym Badges!"
   "Hm." The voice snorts. "Becoming a trainer means more than just battling
   pokemon. One must obtain a deeper understanding of the nature of all pokemon
   to succeed. These puzzles test your deductive skills, rather than your
   ability to win matches. Solve these, and I shall deem you worthy to compete
   for a Volcano Badge!"
   The speaker switches off, and the dark cave is suddenly illuminated by
   electric lights. Together, the group moves into the cave.
   "Wow." Jeff remarks. "I'm surprised Blaine was able to set electric
   lights in this environment. I wonder what he uses for a power source?"
   "Geothermal energy, I imagine." Katrina speculates.
   "What's that up ahead?" Lizzie asks.
   Right in front of them, at the end of the path, sits what appears to be a
   Charizard. Upon closer inspection, however, the trainers realize it is a
   fake; a statue.
   "Strange..." Jeff arches an eyebrow, walking around the statue. "I wonder
   what this is for?"
   "Perhaps it is our next Quiz." Katrina suggests. "If you will notice, the
   path upon which we have been walking ends here."
   "Let me take a closer look..." Lizzie says. She steps forward, and her
   foot lands on a pressure plate.
   The Charizard's eyes suddenly snap open. Operated by mechanical pumps,
   the creature sits up and eyes the trainers.
   "Chan-sey!" Lizzie's nurse pokemon shrieks.
   "Vee!" Eevee squeals, hiding behind Rex's legs.
   "Simmer down, little guy!" Rex assures his pokemon, picking it up in his
   arms. "It's just a robot. It isn't real."
   "Welcome, travelers, to the First Quiz!" A mechanized voice comes from a
   speaker in the statues mouth. "To continue on your journey, answer this
   question correctly. Answer incorrectly and you shall be penalized. To
   conserve your pokemon for Blaine, answer them all correctly."
   "Shouldn't be too hard." Rex says confidently. "I'm pretty good with
   quizzes."
   "Question 1:" The robot continues. "What are the three evolved forms of
   Eevee-"
   "That's easy!" Rex laughs. "Jolteon, Vaporeon, and Flareon!"
   For a moment, the robot is silent. Then it speaks again.
   "I am sorry." It announces. "But I had not yet read the entire question:
   ' What are the three evolved forms of Eevee in order of appearance in the
   Pokedex?' The answer, of course, is Vaporeon first, then Jolteon and Flareon."
   "REX!" The others yell. The spikey-haired trainer from Stone Town stares
   at the statue in shock.
   "For failing to answer the question correctly," The robot says in its
   mechanical voice. "You shall fight... a Charizard."
   "What???" They all gasp.
   "Grroaaaaar~!" A terrifying roar grabs their attention. As they watch in
   shock, a tile mosaic of a pokeball opens wide, revealing a snarling,
   dragon-like creature on the other side.
   "A Charizard!" Jeff exclaims.
   "Oh, this is just perfect!" Lizzie groans.
   "Alert, everyone!" Katrina warns. "Here it comes!"
   The fire pokemon swoops down from its lofty perch and dive bombs the
   trainers. They hit the deck, barely avoiding its sharp fangs.
   "Grsh!" Rediba hisses, leaping from Jeff's hand.
   "Whoa, no you don't!" Jeff cries, snatching it back. "You are way too
   inexperienced to battle that thing!"
   "It's coming for another pass!" Rex yells.
   They all dive out of the way as it flies by again. This time, it spews a
   blast of fire onto the ground where they had been standing, leaving a
   scorched crater.
   "Rex, you got us into this!" Lizzie hisses. "You're going to get us out!"
   "What? How?" He asks.
   "Use Vaporeon!" Jeff yells.
   "Oh! Right!" Rex agrees. He lifts a pokeball from his trainer belt,
   enlarges it, and throws it at the raging dragon. It releases a glowing blue
   creature which waves its finned tail in the air.
   "Vaporeon, HYDRO PUMP!" He shouts.
   "Va-POR-ee-on!" It roars. Rearing back its head, it unleashes a
   tremendous blast of pressurized water at the incoming flyer.
   "GRRRROOOOAR!" Charizard bellows as it is driven into the rocky wall. The
   stream of water drains away its energy, and it collapses onto the stone floor.
   "Phew..." Rex breathes deeply. "I... did it!"
   Lizzie glares at him.
   "Rex, I'm going to-"
   "Impressive, young one." Blaine's voice comes again over the speakers.
   "You surprise me. Though you were hasty in giving your answer, you knew the
   information itself. And, when my Charizard was unleashed upon you, you
   handled it well. Still, you can't battle your way through all of my tests, or
   else your pokemon will be to tired to fight mine."
   Suddenly, the floor begins to shake. A section of the wall lifts up into
   the ceiling, revealing another passageway.
   "I assume this will lead us to our next quiz." Katrina calmly states.
   "Great!" Rex said, jogging down the rocky path. "I can't wait to
   challenge this Blaine guy to a match! Come on, guys!"
   For a minute, the others merely gaze after him. Then they sigh and walk
   after him.
   "Do you get the feeling it's the blind leading the blind?" Lizzie asks
   Jeff.
   "I get the feeling its the nut leading the rest of us." Jeff shrugs.
   "Hey, guys!" Rex's voice comes from the passage below. "Check it out!"
   The three trainers and their pokemon quickly run through the tunnel.
   Coming to its end, a blast of hot air hits them and they see the passageway
   opens up into an immense cavern. This cavern is unlike the first however.
   First of all, it is much, much larger, with a high domed ceiling. Secondly,
   only a fourth of it is solid ground. The rest is a lava pit, with plumes of
   steam rising from the molten mass. The liquid churns like boiling water in a
   cauldron.
   "Oh, my..." Lizzie gasps. Jeff's jaw drops open. Chansey covers its mouth
   with its hand. Jynx fans itself profusely. Eevee's ears droop down, its body
   overwhelmed by the heat. Rediba pants, exhausted. Rex, however, stands atop a
   rocky spire and gazes over the sea of magma.
   "Pretty cool, huh?" Rex asks the others, jumping off the rock.
   "Cool isn't the word I'd use." Jeff mutters sarcastically.
   "I'm so hot..." Lizzie groans. "What is this place?"
   "I would guess it is some sort of training room." Katrina speculates.
   "Blaine may use it to test the abilities of his pokemon, and their endurance
   regarding heat."
   "That would be correct!" A voice calls from across the cavern. The group
   looks around, puzzled.
   "Who said that?" Jeff asks.
   "I did." It is Blaine. He stands on the opposite side of the room on
   another rocky ledge. Behind him is the entrance to yet another tunnel through
   the volcano. There appears to be no way to reach him without crossing the bed
   of fire...
   "What's the deal, Blaine?" Rex yells. "Why have you brought us down here?"
   "All in due time, my impatient young friend." Blaine replies with a
   smile. The old man doesn't even have a drop of sweat on his forehead as he
   addresses the group. "Your friend was correct in assuming this is my training
   room. I bring my pokemon here to test their strength, and to see how long
   they can withstand the incredible temperature of the magma. By the way, it is
   magma, not lava. Lava is only on the surface of the planet. Down here in my
   lair, it remains magma."
   "Thanks for the science lesson, Blaine!" Rex shouts. "Now, what are we
   supposed to do?"
   "My, how you do harp on that!" The Gym Leader shakes his head. "I told
   you that I'd get to that soon enough." Then, ignoring the spikey-haired
   trainer, he continues. "I am impressed with your deductive skills thus far, O
   dark-haired maiden. Might I ask for your name?"
   "Certainly, sir." Katrina bows courtiously. "I am Katrina Nagaki Koga,
   son of the great Gym Leader and ninja master, Master Koga."
   At this, Blaine's eyes grow wide. Then a spark of recognition shows in
   his face.
   "Ahh, yes, of course!" He laughs. "Katrina, your father and I are dear
   friends. I have known him since before you were born. In fact, I remember
   back to when we both attended the same college together. Yes, yes, many is
   the year that we have enjoyed each other's company at the Gym Leaders'
   Convention."
   "I am pleased to hear it, sir." Katrina smiles graciously. "Professor
   Blaine, might I ask a favor of you?"
   "Certainly, child." Blaine nods. "Name it."
   "These three are my friends," She explains, gesturing to each of her
   fellow travelers. "Jeff Fuji, descendant of Mr. Fuji of Lavender Town."
   "He's my uncle." Jeff nods.
   "Elizabeth Palacio, daughter of a wealthy banker in Viridian City." She
   continues.
   "Call me Lizzie." Lizzie giggles.
   "And Rex Stone, the fifth Eevee Brother and heir to the Stone Town
   Evolution Stone Industrial franchise." Katrina nods to her other friend.
   "Pleased to meet you." Rex rubs his neck sheepishly. "And I'm sorry about
   earlier..."
   "Quite all right, young man." Blaine nods. "Think nothing of it."
   "The point, dear Professor," Katrina explains. "Is that my friends and I
   have been... unavoidably detained several times along our journey. We have
   until the League Games begin on March 6th to collect the remaining badges and
   be on our way to Indigo Plateau. It would be greatly appreciated if we
   might... and please do not take offense, skip the remainder of your quizzes
   and challenge you directly. Do understand that time is a luxury we do not
   have, and though your puzzles are masterfully conceived, we dare not attempt
   to solve them as we are in a hurry."
   Blaine arches an eyebrow thoughtfully. Rex and Jeff gawk at Katrina after
   delivering such an elaborate speech. Lizzie cups her hand over her mouth to
   keep from laughing. The pokemon roll their eyes.
   "Dear lady," Blaine smiles. "After so eloquent a speech, how can I
   refuse?"
   "A thousand thanks, dear sir." Katrina beams proudly. "I cannot tell you
   how endebted we are to you for this."
   "Do not thank me yet." Blaine grins mischievously. "I know, Katrina Koga,
   that you do not need a badge for you are a Gym Leader. However, your friends
   do not share the same privilege. It shall be my pleasure to defeat each of
   them in battle!"
   "You underestimate them." Katrina smiles coyly. "But we shall see."
   "Who shall be the first to lose?" Blaine asks dryly. "Impetuous Stone
   Boy, will it be you?"
   "You bet it will!" Rex exclaims. "Now... how do I get to you?"
   "Don't bother." Blaine chuckles. "I shall come to you."
   Withdrawing a remote control from his uniform, Blaine presses an orange
   button. Suddenly, the whole cavern begins to shake.
   "W-w-what's g-g-going o-on??" Jeff sputters.
   "A-an E-e-arth-q-quake??" Lizzie asks.
   The group gasps as an enormous platform is lowered from the ceiling.
   Suspended by four extremely thick cables, it hovers just above the lava- er,
   magma pit. A ramp is electronically extended from either side. Blaine strolls
   nonchalant up the ramp and stands in the middle of the arena.
   "What's wrong?" He asks Rex. "Are you afraid of a simple match field?"
   "Only when it's above lava!" Rex exclaims, cautiously walking along the
   plank.
   "Magma." Jeff corrects.
   "Stay out of this!" Rex snaps.
   "Actually, you can help by keeping time." Blaine says to Jeff.
   "I'd be glad to!" Jeff says cheerfully, readying his stopwatch. "Gym
   Leader Blaine vs. Rex Stone in an official league match for a Volcano Badge.
   Two pokeballs will be used each. Once withdrawn, a pokemon cannot re-enter
   the match. There will be a fifteen minute time limit. Trainers, ready?"
   "Ready." Rex nods, enlarging a pokeball.
   "Ready." Blaine agrees, also holding a pokeball.
   "Then let the match begin!" Jeff shouts.
   "Go, Vaporeon!" Rex yells, throwing a pokeball into the center of the
   ring. It snaps open, revealing his Eeveelution in a flash of light.
   "A water type." Blaine rolls his eyes. "Predictable. Go, Rapidash!"
   In a flash of light, a fiery unicorn appears in the ring.
   "Ra-pi-DASH!" It snorts.
   "Vaporeon, Bubblebeam!" Rex orders. "Ha! This'll be the quickest match in
   history!"
   "I think not." Blaine says. "Rapidash, Fury Attack!"
   Vaporeon spews a burst of bubbles at Rapidash. The unicorn, being much
   faster than Vaporeon, uses its sharp horn to pierce each projectile, stopping
   the attack cold.
   "What?" Rex gawks. "No way!"
   "Rapidash, Stomp!" Blaine commands.
   "Vaporeon, Acid Armor!" Rex yells.
   Rapidash kicks Vaporeon off its feet. It rolls across the floor and melts
   into a puddle of water.
   "Rapidash, get away from it!" Blaine advises. His pokemon gallops across
   the field to the opposite corner of the ring.
   "Vaporeon, reform!" Rex says. "Now, Ice Beam!"
   The water molds back into Vaporeon, which releases a shining blast of
   light that shoots across the field. It crystallizes around Rapidash, encasing
   it in a block of ice.
   "You consider that to be clever?" Blaine scoffs. "Rapidash's flame shall
   melt through that in seconds!"
   "That's what I'm counting on." Rex grins smugly.
   "What? ... Oh, no!" Blaine exclaims. "Rapidash, don't-"
   It was too late. The ice instantly melts, as Blaine said it would.
   Unfortunately for the Gym Leader, however, the entire block of ice converts
   into a liquid prism, soaking Rapidash with a cascade of water!
   "Raaaaaaaaaa-piDASH!" The unicorn neighs, collapsing onto the floor.
   "Vaporeon, Hydro Pump!" Rex orders. His Vaporeon immediately releases a
   blast of pressurized water that knocks Rapidash off the platform.
   "Rapidash, return!" Blaine calls, firing the recall beam at his
   plummeting pokemon. It catches Rapidash in midair and brings it back into
   ring and out of the match. "Clever, quite clever. However, even a water-type
   won't be able to handle this!"
   With a flick of the wrist, Blaine produces another pokeball, which pops
   open to reveal a snarling, growling, adult Arcanine.
   "Ar-ca-NiiiiiiNE!" It howls. Vaporeon tenses its muscles, preparing to
   attack.
   "Arcanine, Take Down!" Blaine orders. His huge pokemon obediently charges
   its opponent.
   "Vaporeon, Water Gun!" Rex commands. Vaporeon begins bombarding the
   fire-type with a volley of water jets. To his amazement, Arcanine doesn't
   even flinch. "Uh-oh..."
   With an incredible impact, Arcanine slams into Vaporeon. The beast's
   tremendous power sends the creature flying across the court.
   "Vapoooooooreon!" It hisses, landing hard on its side.
   "Vaporeon, no!" Rex yells.
   "Ha! Good job, Arcanine!" Blaine laughs. "Now, hit it again! Do another
   Take Down!"
   Growling its approval, Arcanine turns to charge its disabled opponent
   again. Rex winces, seeing his pokemon struggle to get up. It is no use,
   however. Vaporeon cannot move. In a few seconds, Arcanine's powerful bulk
   will crush the water-type while it is unable to defend itself.
   "Vaporeon, Acid Armor!" Rex calls at the last second.
   "What???" Blaine gasps, seeing the fallen creature liquify into a puddle
   of water. "NO! Arcanine, STOP!"
   It is too late. The huge creature's momentum keeps it running forward. It
   hits the slick of water and totally loses control. Spinning wildly, it
   careens across the deck and flies into open air, over the edge of the
   platform.
   "Return!" Blaine shouts. A beam of energy snakes from his pokeball and
   grabs onto the falling Arcanine, withdrawing it from battle.
   "Time: 12 minutes and 14 seconds!" Jeff exclaims. "Wow. That's a new
   record for Rex."
   "YES!" Rex shouts, hugging his Vaporeon. "We DID it! Ha ha ha!"
   "I am doubly impressed, young one." Blaine eyes the trainer with respect.
   "You may go far, Rex Stone, in the Pokemon League. However, I would first
   attempt to temper my ego if I were you." He reaches into his coat and
   produces a shining red emblem. "Ahem. I am pleased to bestow upon you a
   rightfully earned Volcano Badge, as authorized by the Pokemon League."
   "Thanks, Blaine..." Rex says humbly. "I... appreciate it."
   "Okay, next up." Blaine calls to the others. "Who dares to challenge me?"
   "I will!" Lizzie says, walking purposefully up the stairs. The old man
   arches an eyebrow at her.
   "You, madam, are a true visage of loveliness," He says slyly. "And I
   expect that your companions are more the eager to continue their journey with
   you."
   Lizzie giggles, readying a pokeball.
   "For this match, I shall again use two pokeballs." Blaine explains.
   "However, you may use as many as you wish. I perceive that you are a more
   experienced trainer than your friend, so I shall set the time limit to ten
   minutes. Timekeeper, are you ready?"
   "Hey, that's what I'm supposed to ask you!" Jeff jokes. "Ahem. Blaine vs.
   Lizzie Palacio in an official league match for a Volcano Badge. Professor
   Blaine shall use two pokeballs; Lizzie has a maximum of six. There is a ten
   minute time limit. Trainers, ready?"
   "Ready." They both nod.
   "Then, let the match begin~!" Jeff shouts.
   "Go, Ninetails!" Blaine announces.
   "Likitung, I choose you!" Lizzie calls.
   The two pokemon materialize in the center of the ring.
   "Ninetails, make that thing's head spin with your Confuse Ray!" Blaine
   commands.
   "Likitung, Disable!" Lizzie orders.
   Both pokemon's eyes light up as they unleash their devastating stares
   upon each other, Likitung's eyes a deep blue, Ninetails' eyes bright red.
   "Nine... Tails..." The foxlike creature hisses.
   "Lik...ki....tung..." The pinkish lizard growls.
   "Ninetails, Tail Whip!" Blaine shouts. Without warning, the wiley fox
   whirls around and slams all nine of its tails against Likitung. The lizard
   flinches and crashes to the floor.
   "What? Hey!" Lizzie exclaims. "That was a cheap shot!"
   "Ha! My dear, you don't know the meaning of the word!" Blaine chuckles.
   "Now, Confuse Ray!"
   "Niiine Taaails!" The fox growls, its eyes taking on their peculiar shade
   of red.
   "Li...kiiiii!" Likitung groans as the arena begins to spin around him.
   Images distort in front of his eyes. He collapses to the floor, his hands
   over his face.
   "Likitung, hang on!" Lizzie calls. To herself, she adds, "He can't attack
   until the confusion effect wears off. I've got to buy some time..."
   "Ninetails, Fire Spin!" Blaine orders. Obediently, his pokemon spits a
   blazing ring of fire into the air. It encircles the downed lizard, trapping
   him within a wall of flames.
   "Likitung, try and hold on!" Lizzie urges. "You can make it! You can make
   it!"
   Cowering within the ring of flames, Likitung is fairly certain that he
   can't make it. However, hearing his trainer's urgent plea, her confidence in
   him, the trust that he never received from his former trainer, Michael,
   something strikes a cord inside him. Slowly, he stands up. Through the pyro
   tornado, he sees his fiery opponent grinning triumphantly. It is so sure it
   has won, it isn't really paying attention anymore. That was a mistake.
   Likitung licks his lips with his long, pink tongue. Then, gathering all of
   his strength into one burst, he leaps high over the Fire Spin. Everyone in
   the room lets out a gasp as the pink lizard comes flying through the air and
   crashes his feet against Ninetails in a stunning Stomp attack.
   "Impossible!" Blaine screams. "There is no way..."
   "Yes!!" Lizzie cheers, jumping up and down on the court. "Great job,
   Likitung! Now, Lick that Ninetails!"
   "Likiii!" He hisses. The tongue snakes out of his mouth like lightning,
   delivering a crushing blow to the unprepared Ninetails. Then, it lassoes the
   creature and hefts it off the ground.
   "Likitung, nice Bind!" Lizzie calls. "Now, Seismic Toss!"
   With one tremendous motion, Likitung hurls Ninetails across the platform,
   right into the center of the still blazing ring of fire!
   "Niiiiiiiiinetails!" It shrieks as it crashes into the floor.
   "I cannot believe it!" Blaine gawks at the sight. "Utterly inconceivable!"
   Lizzie, meanwhile, is busy congratulating her Likitung on the excellent
   match he performed.
   "Ninetails, return!" Blaine orders. His pokemon is recalled into its
   pokeball, and he shakes his head in a daze. "Ms. Palacio, I don't think we
   need to finish this battle."
   "Huh? Why not?" Lizzie asks, startled. "Do you mean that I can't get my
   Volcano Badge?"
   "Oh, no! It isn't that," Blaine laughs. "I'm awarding you your badge
   immediately."
   "What??" Everyone in the cavern gasps.
   "I have not seen such a skillful display of training in... well, a long
   time." Blaine explains. "Ninetails was my first pokemon, so needless to say
   it had a lot of experience. I truly did not expect you to win, and that is
   why I allowed you to use all of your pokemon. Had I known you would need only
   one...!"
   "I- I don't know what to say." Lizzie says, taking the shining badge from
   his outstretched hand. "Thank you. I am... quite honored."
   "Think nothing of it." Blaine smiles. "Next!"
   "That would be me." Jeff grins, walking up the plank.
   "Ah, my timekeeper." Bliane nods. "This should be a most interesting
   match. Three vs. three, with no time limit?"
   "Sounds good to me." Jeff agrees. "Katrina, will you keep time?"
   "Gladly." She nods, catching his watch as he tosses it to her. "Blaine
   vs. Jeff Fuji in an official league match for a Volcano Badge. Each trainer
   will use three pokeballs. There is no time limit. Trainers, ready?"
   "Ready." Blaine says.
   "Hold on!" Jeff says. He lifts Rediba off of his shoulder, and sets her
   down on the platform. "Go wait for me with the others."
   "Grsh!" She hisses, scurrying down the ramp.
   "A unique specimen." Blaine notes. "I take it you are a Bug trainer."
   "Correct." Jeff nods. "Okay, I'm ready."
   "Then, let the match begin!" Katrina shouts.
   "Go, Charmeleon!" Blaine calls. A reptillian creature resembling a
   Velociraptor dinosaur appears in the ring.
   "Beedrill, go for it!" Jeff says. A large, buzzing bee pokemon hovers
   above the platform, twin drills located on either arm.
   "Charmeleon, Flame Thrower!" Blaine orders.
   "CHAR!" The reptile snarls. "Meleon!"
   It shoots a blast of fire up at the Bug-type, but Beedrill skillfully
   dodges the attack. Charmeleon fires again and again, but Beedrill is far too
   fast for it.
   "Beedrill! Pin Missile!" Jeff commands. Obediently, his insectoid pokemon
   flies low over the ring, strafing the ground with needle-like projectiles.
   "Char! Me! Leon!" Charmeleon growls, jumping around the platform. It
   occassionally takes a swipe at Beedrill with its claws, but the swift bug
   avoids it every time.
   "Okay, give it the Twin Needle!" Jeff orders. Beedrill divebombs the
   platform and strikes Charmeleon twice with its huge drills.
   "Chaaaar!" The reptile groans, collapsing on the floor.
   "Poison Sting!" Jeff yells.
   "Meeeeleon!" Charmeleon roars as it is rammed again by the Beedrill.
   "Enough! Charmeleon, return!" Blaine recalls his pokemon. "Hmph. We shall
   see how well you stand up to this one. Go, Magmar!"
   "Magmar!" A creature that appears to be a living flame snarls.
   "Uh-oh." Jeff mutters to himself. "I've heard of those before. They're
   very powerful, and it doesn't help that all of my pokemon are weak against
   fire..."
   "Magmar, Fire Punch!" Blaine commands. His pokemon charges across the
   platform and rams its fist against Beedrill's hard exoskeleton.
   "Beeeeedrill!" The bug buzzes in agony, spinning desperately to get out
   of the way.
   "Again! Fire Punch!" Blaine yells.
   "Mag!" It snarls, its fist forming a fireball around it. "MAR!"
   It socks Beedrill squarely on the thorax. A small explosion is released
   from the fire on its fist. The poor bug collapses in exhaustion.
   "Beedrill, return!" Jeff calls. "Man, it never had a chance..."
   Jeff quickly thinks about what pokemon to send out. Though Parasect is
   easily his strongest, as a Plant/Bug pokemon it would take quadruple damage
   to fire attacks. His best chance is to use a pokemon that can avoid Magmar's
   attacks while constantly striking at it.
   "Go, Venomoth!" He shouts, releasing a purple flying pokemon.
   "Venno! Moth!" It hisses, flapping its wings delicately.
   "Magmar, Fire Blast!" Blaine orders.
   "Venomoth, go up!" Jeff yells.
   Magmar releases a tremendous blast of heat which chars the platform as it
   rockets across the ring. Venomoth shoots upward toward the ceiling, just
   barely avoiding the attack.
   "Magmar, another!" Blaine says. "This time, aim higher!"
   "Mag-marrrr." It growls. Taking a deep breath, it fires another blast at
   the ceiling. Altough it misses Venomoth, the huge chunks of rock that are set
   loose from the cavern's ceiling by the explosion don't. Flailing its wings
   wildly, the bug pokemon plummets to the floor, trapped under a bed of stone.
   "Venomoth, no!" Jeff gasps. "Return!"
   "You had best choose carefully your next pokemon," Blaine advises. "For
   it will take quite a strategy to defeat my fire-types now."
   Jeff's eyes snap open.
   "Hey! That's it!" He exclaims. "You use only fire types!"
   "You're just noticing that?" Blaine asks, arching an eyebrow thoughtfully.
   "Ha! Now I do know how to beat you!" Jeff says, throwing out his last
   pokemon. A flash of light reveals Butterfree.
   "Another Flying Bug?" Blaine sighs. "I shall defeat this just as I did
   the last. Magmar, Fire Blast!"
   "Butterfree, GUST!" Jeff commands.
   "What???" Blaine gasps.
   "BeeeFreeee!" The graceful winged creature calls as it begins flapping
   its wings at incredible speeds. In no time it is producing gale force winds.
   The mound of rocks and dirt that had fallen from the ceiling are thrown
   through the air by the tremendous winds.
   "Oh, my..." Blaine remarks, seeing Magmar cower in fear as the wave of
   rock and ash crashes into it.
   "Maaaaaar!" It roars, trying to break free of the pile. After a few
   attempts, it gives up.
   "Fire is weak against Ground and Rock!" Jeff laughs. "You unwittingly
   brought the means to defeat Magmar onto the field by defeating my Venomoth!"
   "Clever, quite clever." Blaine acknowledges. "But now you face the wrath
   of my newest acquisiton: a fire pokemon that no other can ever match! Go,
   Charizard!"
   In a flash of light, the huge, fiery dragon appears on the platform.
   "Zaaaard!" It roars, its voice shaking the room.
   "Butterfree, Psybeam!" Jeff orders. His pokemon obediently fires a ray of
   concentrated energy at its opponent. The beam crashes against Charizard, but
   does not even make the pokemon flinch.
   "Huh?" Jeff gasps. "Try Confusion!"
   "BeeeFreee!" Butterfree squeals, firing a disorting wave of energy.
   Charizard yawns.
   "Poison Powder!" Jeff yells. A cloud of pollen wafts toward the lizard.
   Charizard flaps its wings once and disperses the powder.
   "Give up, boy!" Blaine laughs. "My Charizard is too large for a pipsqueak
   like Butterfree to even budge!"
   "I know." Jeff grins slyly.
   Krck! Charizard grunts in alarm as its foot crashes through the wooden
   platform. Krak! Its other foot breaks though as well.
   "Oh, my." Blaine's eyes grow very large.
   For a moment, all is silent.
   KKKKRAACKKK!!!
   "GRROOOOOAR!" Charizard bellows as it plummets beneath the platform.
   "Charizard, FLY!" Blaine orders. The pokemon swoops low over the magma
   and soars straight up... into a cloud of Sleep Powder. Charizard, unprepared
   for the attack, lets its heavy eyelids fall shut.
   "No!!!!" Blaine yells as his last pokemon falls like a very large brick.
   "Charizard.... return."
   "YESSS!" Jeff shouts, jumping up and down on the platform. "Ha! Ha!"

   Some hours later, Jeff, Lizzie, Katrina, and Rex all set up camp at one
   of the rest areas along the Yellow Trail. The trip back to town had been
   longer than they expected, and they had all decided to stop for the night.
   Now, Jynx unfolds Lizzie's sleeping bag for her while Chansey prepares some
   Softboiled eggs for the group. Rex strokes Eevee's fur and Jeff rubs
   Rediba's smooth exoskeleton. Katrina, meanwhile, gazes up at the stars.
   "What are you thinking about?" Lizzie asks, bringing her a plate of eggs.
   "I'm sorry to interrupt your reveling. You just looked... hungry."
   "Thank you, Lizzie." Katrina accepts the plate graciously. "Food is
   desirable right now. I appologize, but my thoughts are elsewhere this
   evening."
   "That's okay." Lizzie says, also looking at the millions of stars in the
   sky. "Sometimes I have to take a minute to examine my life, and somehow
   stargazing helps."
   "I wonder..." Katrina speculates. "I am in a quandary."
   "Pardon?" Lizzie asks.
   "On the one hand, everyone I know tells me I am a great pokemon trainer,"
   Katrina explains. "And my father and the rest of my family want me to take
   over the Fuchsia Gym when I am old enough."
   "Hmm..." Lizzie nods. "That would be an interesting experience. And you
   certainly are a good enough trainer to handle any Gym."
   "But then again," Katrina continues. "I do not know that I want to be a
   Gym Leader. Your life is a constant hassle, with people from all over the
   world coming to challenge you for a badge. You never get any time to oneself,
   as you saw back on Seafoam, and all challenges issued by officially
   recognized trainers must be accepted. I am not sure I want that life..."
   "Well, Katrina," Lizzie shrugs. "That's up to you. If you become a Gym
   Leader, you could go far. Or, if you would rather take the time to train your
   pokemon and become a Fighting-type trainer, then that is perfectly
   respectable choice too. Just don't let anyone pressure you either way. You
   respect your father, so listen to his opinion. Make up your own mind, based
   on what he tells you and what you personally believe. No matter what you
   choose, just have fun!"
   After a moment of pondering her words, Katrina smiles.
   "That is most excellent advice." She bows in a businesslike manner. "I
   thank you, Lizzie Palacio."
   "You're quite welcome, Katrina Koga." Lizzie smiles, imitating her bow.
   Back in the camp, Jeff and Rex watch the two girls with curiousity.
   "What do you think they're talking about?" Jeff asks.
   "Beats me." Rex shrugs. "Girls. Go figure."
   The moon shines brightly in the night sky. The next day, they will hike
   back to town. And then... then they will travel to Viridian City, and beyond
   that, Indigo Plateau.
 
 
 

   Chapter Seventeen

   As the travelers enter Port Cinabarr for the second time in two days, Rex
   immediately spots someone he recognizes.
   "Hey!" He exclaims, pointing to a man with smooth green hair. "It's that
   jerk I met earlier at the fountain!"
   "Huh?" Lizzie asks. "The one who said you were a geek?"
   "That's not what he said!" Rex snaps.
   "You told us he said you were an unintelligent child." Jeff points out.
   "Grsshhhhh!" Rediba squeaks in laughter from its perch on Jeff's shoulder.
   "Well, the point is that he acted like a creep." Rex glares at the little
   bug pokemon. "You know, I think I'm going to give him a piece of my mind!"
   "Wait, Rex!" Lizzie calls as her friend runs across the plaza, pursuing
   the man with the long, black cape. Eevee skips after him. "Don't do anything
   stupid!"
   "That's like asking a cat not to scratch up furniture." Jeff sighs.
   "Jynx..." Lizzie's Jynx shakes its head sadly.
   "I believe that the best we can do now," Katrina says calmly. "Is to
   check back into the Pokemon Center. There we can inquire as to the ferry
   schedule to the mainland."
   "You read my mind, Katrina!" Jeff jokes. "Come on, let's go!"
   "Chan-sey!" Lizzie's pokemon nurse chirps in agreement. Accompanied by
   Lizzie's escorts and Rediba, the three trainers make their way through the
   thick crowd toward the Pokemon Center.

   "Hey! You! Wait up!" Rex yells over the roar of the crowd. "I want to
   talk with you!"
   Finally, he catches up to the man in another plaza. He places his hand on
   the figure's shoulder. The man who turns around, however, appears to be at
   least forty and has a handlebar mustache. Rex's face turns white.
   "Oh. So sorry." He appologizes, quickly hurrying away.
   "Eevee?" Eevee asks questioningly.
   "No, it wasn't him," Rex sighs. He picks up his furry little pokemon,
   which squeals happily as he does. "Sorry I left you behind, little guy.
   You're my best non-human friend in the world!"
   "Vee! Vee!" It squeaks in delight. It licks his face profusely.
   "Hmph." A familiar, arrogant voice comes from behind Rex. "Please
   restrain yourself, boy. That disgusting display can wait until you aren't in
   public."
   "Excuse me?" Rex scoffs, turning around. Sure enough, directly before him
   stands the man he had met the day before. The silver garb and black cape are
   recognizable, as is the green hair, but the snobbish expression of disdain on
   his face are dead giveaways.
   "Your relationship with your pokemon leaves much to be desired." He says
   scornfully. "Honestly, allowing that Eevee to lick you! Egad, how do you
   demand respect from it when you treat it as a... a teddy bear!"
   "How I raise my pokemon is none of your business!" Rex growls. "And who
   are you to judge me? Are you even a pokemon trainer?"
   "I am more than a trainer!" The man laughs. "Allow me to introduce
   myself: I am Dameon the Great, Master Trainer of all elements!"
   "Is that so?" Rex asks. "Let's see how many badges you have, Great One."
   Dameon holds up his cape, revealing eight gleaming badges pinned to it.
   "Feast your eyes on the greatest collection of powerful pokemon in the
   world!" He laughs, revealing six pokeballs in one of the folds of his cape.
   "With them, I shall challenge the Elite Four and become the Champion of the
   Pokemon League! HaHaHa~!"
   "(I'm sure)," Rex mutters under his breath. Then aloud he adds, "Then
   tell me, Dameon, why are you on Cinabarr if you have the Volcano Badge?"
   "It isn't any of your business, boy." Dameon sneers. "But, it just so
   happens that I live here. Yes, from these humble beginnings I shall rise to
   my greatness! I shall be known throughout the world as Dameon: Master Pokemon
   Trainer! Hahahahahahaha~!"
   "Oh, give it a rest!" Rex rolls his eyes. "You aren't great! You're the
   most conceited blowhard I've ever met!"
   The entire square freezes. People stop what they're doing to stare at the
   boy that dared say such a thing to Dameon. Rex looks at them uncomfortably
   for a moment, then turns back to Dameon. The young man stares at him with the
   widest eyes anyone present has ever seen. For a moment, Rex almost believes
   he sees twin fireballs blazing in the man's eyes. His fists clench. His teeth
   are gritted. Dameon's left eye twitches involuntarily. It looks like he is
   about to explode, and then he stops. Composed again, he smiles.
   "Well, I believe that remark deserves to be repaid." He says richly. "Why
   don't we settle this with a match? You do have more than that Eevee, don't
   you?"
   "Don't insult me." Rex snorts. "I have three others."
   Dameon arches an eyebrow.
   "Only three? Dear, dear, and I have six!" He says with mock sorrow. "It
   would be unfair of me to use them all, so I shall limit myself to three as
   well. Do we have a deal?"
   "Deal." Rex nods. "Where can we have the match?"
   "Right here." Dameon gestures to the crowded square. He turns, and claps
   his hands loudly. Instantly, the square clears. People dash madly to get out
   of the way. Regarding Rex's confused expression, Dameon shrugs and says, "As
   I said, I am well-known here."

   "We are almost to the Center." Katrina tells the others. "I remember
   passing these stores before."
   "I see it!" Jeff exclaims. "Over there, on the top of that hill!"
   "Good job, Jeff!" Katrina congratulates him. "You have excellent
   eyesight. Shall we go?"
   Lizzie seems distracted and stays back.
   "You guys go ahead." Lizzie says to the others. "I want to check
   something out."
   "Okay, if you're sure." Jeff nods. "Meet us in the Center."
   Katrina and Jeff walk off along the path up the hill. Chansey and Jynx
   stay behind. However, Lizzie seems unhappy with this.
   "No, you two go with them." Lizzie urges.
   "Chan-sey???" Chansey gasps in surprise.
   "Jynx??" The siren agrees, equally confused.
   "I just need some time to myself right now." She explains. "Please, I'd
   really appreciate it if you'd go back to the Center and wait for me there."
   "Chan-sey!" The egg-shaped nurse shakes its head 'no'.
   "I'll be fine!" Lizzie assures them. "Don't worry; I'm a big girl. I can
   take care of myself."
   She and her nanny look into each other's eyes for a moment. Finally,
   Chansey relents. Although it doesn't like it, it agrees to let her stay
   behind. The pinkish pokemon and Jynx walk along the path to the Pokemon
   Center, leaving their trainer behind.

   "Go, Flareon!" Rex shouts.
   "Magmar, crush it!" Dameon chuckles menacingly.
   The two pokemon appear on the field.
   "Flareon, Fire Blast!" Rex orders.
   "Magmar, Smog!" Dameon arches an eyebrow.
   Flareon spews an immense fireball that hurtles toward its opponent.
   Magmar emits a cloud of purple gas which drifts across the square toward
   Flareon.
   KABOOM!!!
   The fire detonates the gas in a tremendous explosion, ripping a crater
   deep into the stone square.
   "Flare-EON!" Rex's pokemon shrieks as it is knocked through the air. It
   tumbles across the ground and stops, exhausted.
   "No!" Rex cries. "Flareon!"
   "Magmar, Flamethrower!" Dameon commands.
   His fiery pokemon instantly obeys, shooting a wave of flames at its
   downed adversary.
   "Flaaaaaaaaaare!" The furry red pokemon howls as it is bombarded by
   flames.
   "Flareon, return!" Rex yells, recalling it into its pokeball. "That was a
   cheap shot!"
   "Well, all's fair in love, war, and a pokemon battle." Dameon smirks.
   "Where have I heard that before?" Rex mutters, readying his next
   pokeball. "This'll teach you not to pick on helpless pokemon! Go, Vaporeon!"
   In a flash of light, Vaporeon appears in the ring.
   "A water-type. How... predictable." Dameon sighs. "Magmar, Ember Attack!"
   "Marr!" The glowing orange pokemon growls. It then spews out a stream of
   fire.
   "Vaporeon, Water Gun!" Rex shouts.
   "VA-poreon!" The blue, fishlike creature says, sending out a pressurized
   stream of water. It douses Magmar's flames and strikes its fiery foe.
   "Maaaaarrr!" Magmar shrieks.
   "Now, Vaporeon!" Rex yells. "Hydro Pump!"
   Taking a deep breath, Vaporeon fires out an enormous blast of water. The
   surge strikes Magmar like a freight train, knocking the pokemon off its feet
   and out of the ring.
   "Magmar!" Dameon gasps. He narrows his eyes at Rex as he readies his next
   pokeball. "You got lucky with that, Stone. You won't do so well against this!"
   "Aren't you even going to recall Magmar first?" Rex asks in disbelief.
   "Why bother?" Dameon shrugs. "He lost! He can walk home, for all I care.
   Go, Electabuzz!"
   The pokeball strikes the ground, releasing a large,
   yellow-and-black-striped creature with bolts protruding from its head.
   "Electa-BUZZZZZ!" It snarls.
   "Hm!" Dameon snickers. "Your pitiful water-type shall be no match for my
   electric!"
   Rex says nothing, thinking that unfortunately Dameon might be right.
   "Electabuzz, shock that tuna with your Thunderbolt!" Dameon laughs
   maniacally.
   "Elect....." Electabuzz hums, gathering energy in its power coils.
   "Vaporeon, Acid Armor!" Rex calls at the last second. Instantly, Vaporeon
   melts into a puddle on the floor.
   "NO!" Dameon shouts. "STOP! Don't FIRE!"
   It is too late.
   "BUZZZ!" Electabuzz hisses, firing a blast of crackling electricity. The
   bolt passes harmlessly overhead, just as Vaporeon reforms.
   "Ice Beam!" Rex yells. "Now!"
   "Electabuzz... ANYTHING!" Dameon cries.
   "Vapoooo!" Vaporeon calls out as it fires a concentrated beam of freezing
   energy at its opponent.
   "Buzzbuzzbuzzbuzz!" Electabuzz exclaims as it is encased in a block of
   ice.
   "No!" Dameon gasps. Then, a small smile creeps to his lips. Producing a
   canister marked 'Ice Heal', he sprays a cloud of mist onto his disabled
   pokemon. Slowly, the ice begins to melt.
   "Vaporeon, Hydro Pump!" Rex orders.
   "Uh-oh." Dameon gulps.
   "LECTABUZZ!" Electabuzz shrieks as it is knocked out of the ring in a
   similar manner to Magmar's exit. It crashes onto the hillside with the fire
   pokemon, and promptly collapses into the dirt.
   "What???" Dameon snarls. "You stupid pokemon! You couldn't beat a WATER
   pokemon??"
   "Hey, chill out!" Rex exclaims. "What is your problem? Pokemon matches
   are supposed to be for fun!"
   "Matches are only fun if you win!" He growls. Then he grins slyly.
   "However, I don't think you'll be able to beat my next pokemon. I've trained
   it from its first evolutionary stage. I even had to buy a water stone so it
   would become what it is today. For my last pokemon, I choose-"
   "Starmie?" Rex asks.
   "How did you know?!?" Dameon shrieks. "You've ruined my big dramatic
   introduction!"
   "Sorry..." Rex shrugs. "But when you know as much about evolution stones
   as I do, you can't help it. Besides, most people that come to my brothers'
   business want a water stone to evolve their Stary-"
   "Oh, just be quiet!" Dameon snaps. "Go, STARMIE!"
   A brilliant flash of light reveals a ten-pronged starfish with a
   beautiful gem core.
   "Hyooo!" It sings.
   "Get ready, Vaporeon!" Rex grins. "I think we're about to settle this
   match!"

   Meanwhile in a nearby section of Port Cinabarr, a crowd has gathered to
   watch a unique spectacle. People of all ages, trainers and civilians alike,
   form a ring around a small square, witnessing one of the most unusual sights
   on the entire island. Among the people gathered is Lizzie, who licks an ice
   cream cone as she stares on. The object of their interest? A tiny, humanlike
   pokemon with a pink and white body and two blue spikes coming out of either
   side of its head. As the crowd watches, the little figure begins to dance.
   "Mime! Mime! Misss-ter Mime!" The little pokemon sings as it dances
   around the courtyard. An organ-grinder plays polka music and Mr. Mime keeps
   with the beat of it. "Mister, Mister, Mime! Mime!"
   It hops on top of a table and skips around, constantly singing its name.
   Flipping over a stool, it yanks the tablecloth off of another table and
   drapes it around its shoulders like a cape. The music suddenly turns
   dramatic, and the Mr. Mime begins acting like a character from a
   Shakespearean Tragedy. Then, the tempo becomes upbeat and Mr. Mime appears to
   break dance. The crowd laughs heartily at this unusual sight. Suddenly, the
   music stops altogether and Mr. Mime begins to pantomime. First it is in an
   invisible box. Then it is walking against the wind. Next it walks an
   invisible dog. Finally, it plays an invisible piano. At last, the organ
   grinder plays one long note, and the pokemon bows. The audience applaudes and
   the people open their wallets and purses to get a tip for the talented
   pokemon and its trainer. The grinder plays a fast series of notes, prompting
   the Mr. Mime to scurry to each of the people and take their money into a
   small pouch. To her dismay, Lizzie realizes that Chansey has all of her
   money. So, when Mr. Mime comes up to her, she gives him a kiss on the
   forehead and a gentle hug.
   "You're so cute!" She giggles. "I wish I had a Mr. Mime just like you!"
   "Mister Mime!" It sings happily. Bowing gracefully, it skips off to
   collect the rest of the money. When it is all in the little pouch, Mr. Mime
   skips back to the organ grinder and hands the earnings to him. Together, they
   both bow to the audience and walk away. The crowd claps for a minute and
   promptly disperses.

   "Va-POR-Eon!" The blue water pokemon shrieks in agony. It is bombarded by
   energy stars from Starmie's energy core.
   "Ha-Ha!" Dameon laughs. "Keep it up, Starmie! This match will be over in
   no time!"
   "Oh yeah?" Rex jeers. "Vaporeon, Acid Armor!"
   "VAPO!" Vaporeon screeches. It can't break free of Starmie's attack to
   even use a defensive technique.
   "Oh, no..." Rex realizes. "It... it's really in trouble." His pokemon
   grits its teeth against the shower of stars, but it is clear it can't hold up
   much longer. Suddenly, Rex has an idea.
   "Vaporeon, return!" Rex calls, returning his pokemon to its pokeball.
   "Are you ready to give up yet, boy?" Dameon sneers.
   "Not quite," Rex grins slyly. "Go, Jolteon!"
   A flash of light reveals his bristly, electric pokemon in the ring.
   "An electric-type?" Dameon asks with just a touch of panic. Then he
   recovers himelf, and says cockily. "Fool, you should have let your Vaporeon
   faint! Now, the first move is mine, and I shall crush even your electric
   pokemon! Starmie, Hydro Pump!"
   The metallic starfish releases a devastating blast of pressurized water
   at its opponent.
   "Jolteon, Double Team!" Rex orders. At the last instant, Joleton darts
   out of the way.
   "WHAT???" Dameon roars. "How can this be?"
   "You lost your advantage, Dameon!" Rex laughs. "Jolteon, Double Kick!"
   "JOLT-Eon!" Jolteon snarls, delivering two well-placed blows to Starmie's
   faceted skin.
   "Hyooo!" Starmie shrieks.
   "You should have made your pokemon attack as soon I sent out Jolteon!"
   Rex continues as Jolteon uses its Pin Missile attack. "Instead, you wasted
   your preemptive attack on taunting me. That jeering gave Jolteon just enough
   time to use its superior speed to pull itself out of Starmie's range."
   "I am NOT beaten YET!" Dameon shouts. "Starmie... ANYTHING!"
   "Jolteon, Thunder!" Rex yells.
   "Jolllllll" It hisses, charging up its energy. "TEON!"
   A huge lighting bolt shoots from Jolteon's spiny hair and strikes the
   disoriented water-type.
   "HYOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Starmie howls in pain. Drained of all its energy, the
   metal starfish collapses on the ground.
   "NO!!!" Dameon cries in horror.
   "YESS!" Rex cheers.
   "Vee!" Eevee squeaks, jumping up and down with delight. The audience
   claps wildly, some congratulating Rex, others laughing at Dameon. Returning
   Jolteon to its pokeball, Rex walks over to where Dameon sulks.
   "Good match." Rex says, offering his hand to the other trainer. Dameon
   glares at him.
   "You got lucky, Stone." He snarls. "I was just careless, that's all. This
   changes nothing."
   "Whatever..." Rex sighs as Dameon walks away swiftly. He turns to his
   Eevee. "Come on, boy. Time to go check in with the others."

   Hours later, our heroes are all asleep in the Pokemon Center. As they
   doze blissfully, a mysterious event is happening in the skies above Cinabarr.
   High up against the dark clouds, an airship rockets over the island. Shaped
   like a Golbat, a hatch opens wide where the mouth would be on a real pokemon.
   Two shadowy objects drop out of it and plunge toward the ground. These
   figures pull cords on their backs. Instantly, long black wings snap out of
   either side of packs mounted on their shoulders. They're hangliders! The twin
   gliders swoop low over the clouds and dive toward the earth below. They shoot
   through the air like jets... or missiles... or rockets.
   "Hahahahaha!" A woman's laughter pierces the silence of the night.
   "Prepare for trouble, Cinabarr!"
   "Make it double!" Her companion, a man, agrees. "And don't look far!"
   "We're right above you, with devastation!"
   "Capturing pokemon brings us elation!"
   "We deny the lies of love and peace!"
   "We release our wrath on the world beneath!"
   "Artemus!"
   "Felice!"
   "Team Rocket, fly on like a crimson blast!"
   "Resist if you must, but it shall not last!"
   The dark gliders fly low over the forest and disappear below the treetops.

   Next Chapter:
   - Team Rocket's latest scheme unfolds on Cinabarr Island!
   - Will one trainer be able to stop their treachery?