What but design of darkness to appall?--
If design govern in a thing so small.
Robert Frost, "Design"
A bright flash of light fades from the scene, and I am left standing with Professor Juniper in the midst of her laboratory, scattered papers of data strewn around the room. "Hello!" she exclaims, as if my return from the virtual world created by her Simulator is something out of the ordinary. "That was your last go in the Simulator, wasn't it? Tomorrow you turn sixteen, and gain your own Pokemon for protection."
I don't really have much of an opinion on the matter, so I just shrug. This concerns her, apparently, because she frowns.
"Okay. Let's just check the Simulator left you with all your memories intact. What's your name?"
"Professor," I groaned, "the Simulator works fine. You should know that, you designed it. I'm just not overly thrilled to be leaving home."
"Answer the question please," she said, looking down at a clipboard.
I sighed. "My name is Rory. Tomorrow is my birthday, I'm turning sixteen. It's nearing the end of Spring right now. My two best friends are Cheren, the workaholic with big dreams, and Bianca, the klutz who always tries her best. You satisfied?"
"I am," she smiled. "I just had to check, Rory! Your mother would bawl for days if she thought she would ever have permanently lost you. She'll quite readily accept that you have to go on this Pokemon journey, just like all other kids, but the thought of losing you would strike her down instantly."
"I know what my mother's like, Professor."
"That's enough sass out of you, mister. Go on home, I'll see you tomorrow."
'Pokemon come in all different shapes and are found across all of Unova!'
'Battling with Pokemon deepens the bonds between the Pokemon and its trainer.'
Some of Professor Juniper's words shot through my mind the next morning. The box -- the box of destiny -- was already sitting on my table when I woke up. Mom would've put it there immediately when the Professor dropped it off. Now all I had to do was wait for Cheren and Bianca to come over so we could march forwards and meet our fates. Delightful. Honestly. Truly. I couldn't wait, I suppose.
I sat on the bed, dressed for the day and everything that would come beyond it, my satchel sitting at the foot of the bed, when a knock on the front door downstairs proclaimed my friends' arrivals. Or, at least from what I could see from my window, Cheren's arrival. Bianca was late, as usual, but I didn't mind. The postponing of this event did not force every nerve in my body to squirm. This was a deciding factor for the rest of our lives, I could hardly see why Cheren was so pushy about it.
He made some nasty comments about Bianca being late because she had to milk her cows or something. He was always so rude to her because she wasn't as smart as him. It made me wonder what he thought of me, truthfully. I would normally stick up for Bianca but the comment was fleeting and I chalked both his acerbic words and my apathy to the tension of the room.
And then she was there, in my doorway, like a sudden storm. "I'm so sorry that I'm late!"
Before Cheren could degrade her, I assured her it was fine, and I opened the box so as to avoid conflict. It was my birthday, so I got to pick first. That just went without saying. Being the youngest of my friends was easily an advantage.
"Please settle your choice politely. I really hope you find what is important to you in all of these travels." I read from Professor Juniper's note, then looked behind me at the glow that had encompassed Cheren's eyes and almost felt like tossing the box out the window. I felt this would be more trouble than it was worth, so I just grabbed the middle Poke Ball, the piglet, I think, and step aside.
Bianca tosses the Poke Ball that contains the otter to Cheren and grabs that snake-like creature for herself, and then has the guts to demand that we battle. Well, you know what? I don't want to! But she'll never listen, I should know that by now. So; "Okay, sure. I guess."
"Don't sound like such a lamer," Cheren mocked, which annoys me because I definitely coined the use of the term 'lamer' amongst the three of us. I didn't even think Cheren had ever played a Final Fantasy game, let alone FF8.
I summon forth my little pig, who shall hopefully have the last laugh in this situation, and decide that I should probably refer to him by a name and not just continue to make references to fairytales with pigs in them. So, mentally, I name him Cinders and that is the end of that moral dilemma.
Bianca seems really intent on winning this, and her grass-snake, Snivy or whatever, is curled on her arm like a leech. It looks kind of cute, and I don't really want to hurt it, so I just tell Cinders to use Tail Whip and maybe that'll make it cry or something. Passive was always kind of my deal. Being aggressive? Well, that belonged to Bianca, actually. And Cheren was more in charge of the preppy way of being passive-aggressive to get what he wanted. What a trio we made.
Anyway, her Snivy wasn't going to stand for any of that shit battling that I was having Cinders do, and it struck fast and hard at my poor little pig, no harm done to itself besides a slightly weaker Defense. Her snake was getting cocky, just like Cheren, actually, and I could definitely take advantage of that.
Maybe Cinders wasn't ready for me to start yelling out actual attacking commands, for it hesitated before unleashing a strong Tackle, but if that was the case then neither was Snivy ready, for the attack sent it sprawling on its back with a cry.
"Don't make it carry on, Bianca," Cheren muttered, "that was a critical hit on your already weakened defenses. Snivy can't take another hit." At first I thought for sure he was actually going to be impressed, but then his nose scrunched up and he faced me, "Rory got pretty lucky. But battles are supposed to be a test of true skill, not luck. So now I'm going to fight you too!"
And his stupid otter took the place of Bianca's snake, which had once more curled up around her arm with her petting it. I regretted, actually, not greeting Cinders with such affection. Cheren would never do such a thing, but I was not Cheren, and I cared a surprising amount, already, for this silly little pig. It had strength in it, but not a lot of guts. That was okay though, we would work on that together.
Cheren's otter looks a bit ruthless and that kind of worries me on the inside. But, hey, the more he's pumped up to win the more satisfying it'll be to knock him down, considering the type disadvantage. I go for the same plan as last time; feigning weakness will open up his--uh, Oshawott--for a strong strike, and Cheren will be much too enveloped in lauding his brilliance over me to call the bluff.
Tail Whip goes off without a hitch, and Cinders tanks the returned strike like the buff little monster that he is. Out of interest, I was going to call for another Tail Whip to see if I could critically damage Oshawott as I did Bianca's Snivy, but I see the strange otter Pokemon is also trying to bluff weakness with his own Tail Whip. It's a pivotal move for me, and Cinders' strike needs to land.
Tackle doesn't hit as hard as I'd like it to, but thankfully Cheren seems to be unaware of the fact that Cinders appears much faster than his Oshawott, just as Snivy was faster than Cinders. This means I get in two incredible strikes against Oshawott before he can retaliate, and the otter falls.
Cheren, stricken with grief for his discovered ineptitude, growls in exasperation, recalls his Oshawott, and runs out of my room, down the stairs, and out the door with nary a goodbye nor a thank you to my mother. We'll find him at Professor Juniper's lab, I can tell that much. He'll devote the time between now and our departure, however small that span of time may be, to discovering what went wrong and how to activate Oshawott's maximum potential. I felt, somewhere deep inside of me, kind of sad for the otter.
Bianca hugged me, but I just shrugged upon her release. "You know how he gets," I murmured. I felt, somewhere deep inside of me, similarly sad for Cheren. He's dedicated his entire life to the pursuit of knowledge on this subject and now he gets beaten by someone who's never shown interest in the journey before? I guess Pokemon battles are probably 95% practice and 5% talent, and because neither of us had gotten a chance to practice outside of observing Pokemon in the Professor's Simulator, my talent outranked his brains.
It was a rotten feeling, but I knew it would pass. I had Cinders to look after now, and my general apathy towards the prospect of leaving home had mitigated itself and lay mostly behind me, with my eyes set on the road ahead.
We stood, the three of us, with Bianca in the middle, on the verge of Route 1. Professor Juniper stood in the tall grass several feet beyond us. Cheren and I looked in at Bianca, though truth be told our eyes definitely caught each other for a moment and a knowing glare passed from him to me. She grabbed our hands, the link of unity, and we stepped onto the Route, Professor Juniper beaming wildly at us.
Cheren's right hand was hooked, fingers interlaced, with Bianca's, but he held his new Pokedex and folded up Town Map neatly in his left hand, as if itching to get to use them. The Professor talked for a while, explaining the mechanics of catching Pokemon, but all three of us had spent enough time in the Simulator to know all this (it was standard babble) so I watched the flowers sway in the breeze momentarily.
A small brown leather pouch suddenly struck me on the head, and I looked, shocked, back at the Professor, Bianca's giggling in the background. "You should really pay more attention, Rory," Juniper reprimanded, "or a Pokemon will be what catches you off-guard next time. Pick up the bag of Poke Balls and follow me, we're going to Accumula Town."
The grass kind of tickled my ankles as we trekked through it on the way to Accumula. Cheren was so into his "zone" that it was hard to tell whether it was he or Professor Juniper who was leading and guiding us down the rather straightforward path. Bianca, on the other hand, had her Snivy curled around her arm and stopped to lace some flowers through her hair. I just strolled beside her, kind of paranoid about wild Pokemon after the Professor's rude lesson.
Pokemon Centers, I discovered as we crossed from Route 1 into the town, were much larger in person than they appeared on the television. It would be kind of intimidating, actually, if they weren't obviously designed to heal the creatures you had grown to love. The recent merge of the Centers and Marts had, additionally, made them larger than life. Cheren split from the group here to pursue some sort of strange activity that was going on near the border of the town and Route 2, where a crowd was forming and some official-looking people were. Maybe there was a parade?
Regardless, Bianca and I followed Professor Juniper into the lounge of the Pokemon Center.
I escaped, somehow, from the incessant babbling that ended up being Professor Juniper and Bianca when it came to the Poke Mart. Apparently even simple items for your journey counted as something that you could really optimize your shopping potential for. Me? I just blew all the money I had on Potions and bought a few extra Poke Balls.
Outside, I discovered that the official-looking group was not actually a parade but a sort of public speech. Some man, dressed in garish clothes and with what seemed to be a permanent scowl on his face, was talking just as incessantly about something that I could only catch bits of, but it sounded drastic by the crowd's reactions. I looked around for Cheren, curious to see if he was still around or if he'd ran off to Route 2 already, only to find him at the very front of the crowd, probably taking pictures of admiration of this man whose face twisted into a scowl more regularly than his.
Okay, so I was a little bitter about him being bitter to me and Bianca, but he was totally out of line! We were friends, not enemies, and he had no right to act like such a bitch. It was unnecessary.
I was shaken out of this personal reverie by an accosting hand on my satchel. Fearing robbery, though to be honest the only things I had to steal were empty Poke Balls and Potions, I reached out my hand and clamped it upon the stranger's wrist, only to discover that it was the strange green-haired boy who had been standing next to me the whole time.
"Your Pokemon," he whispered, as the crowd around us burst into an uproar over what the garishly dressed man was saying, "it spoke to me. Did you hear it?"
"No," I said slowly, somewhat concerned for my well-being, "I didn't. What'd it say?"
He ignored the question, but removed his hand from my satchel. "That's a shame." He stared straight forward for a minute, and the crowd around us started to dissipate, leaving only the two of us standing next to each other and Cheren, back to us, a few feet in front. "I want to hear it talk again. Battle me!"
His cry obviously alerted Cheren to our presence, for he whipped his head around and looked rather furious, though our eyes met and I could tell that he understood my plight. I hadn't asked for this, but it looked like I hadn't needed to. A small purple cat, who was probably very vicious on the inside, had appeared in front of me. I wanted one for sure, but that would have to wait.
Cinders was out before I was even sure if I'd called him. Cheren stood by my side, but appeared to have no intention of releasing his Oshawott. This, it seemed, would be my fight, and only if I begged for his assistance would I be given any mercy from my friend. That was fine though. Whatever. I didn't need him. Cinders had already proven stronger than his silly otter anyway.
The cat lunged, claws stretched out, at my little piglet whom I had come to adore. Obviously I wouldn't stand for any of this madness, so I commanded Cinders to dodge and try the same tactic that had kept us going so far. The cat--Purrloin, Cheren's Pokedex informed me--seemed less fooled than either of my friend's Pokemon had, but the defense drop was still evident. It skulked around less cautiously, and now was the time to strike.
As it prepared to hit Cinders with a Scratch, I had him launch a Tackle straight into the airborne cat's stomach, sending it sprawling, yelping, and hissing. Pokemon battles were certainly more dangerous than they seemed. This stranger also didn't seem to care much for the cat, only looking at it with a sadness that I interpreted as his disdain for weakness. Surely, I thought, we had another Cheren on our hands. From the kid's green hair he was probably related to Mr. Public Speech In Ugly Clothes too.
Whatever. He recalled the cat and that was enough for me. "My name is N," he whispered to where I barely heard him, "and I need to become stronger so that I can free mistreated Pokemon from the likes of you!"
I was insulted, sure, but Cheren thought it was funny and started laughing so I could hardly take the kid seriously. He ran off towards the Route 2 border, where the other strange people had gone with the man in his garish robe. They were freaky, definitely. And probably a cult. That, however, was a subject for another time.
"We should consider the Gym Challenge, you know," Cheren said to me, his tone less harsh than it had been all day. "The first one is in Striaton City, just passed Route 2. It's what I'm going to do anyway. The only way to get stronger is to train, and that'll help the Professor too. Are you in?"
I shrugged, unwilling to give Cheren anything but the cold shoulder. He did it enough to me to be unaffected by it, though. So he left without another word and I looked back at the Pokemon Center before looking again to where Cheren had disappeared to--the Route 2 border, just like everyone else I'd seen today.
Maybe I could find one of those cute cats there?
Cinders, the Male Tepig.
Level 9. Bashful (neutral) Nature.
Tackle, Tail Whip, Ember, Odor Sleuth.