Lurking in the Shadows

Chapter 31: Battling in Glass Houses

“YES! I’ve found the perfect place to stay!” Lisa Northwood loudly proclaimed as she and her younger sister Lindsay looked up at the Quality Inn that stood before them.

They arrived at the four story facility shortly after Police Inspector Morgan dropped Lisa off on the outskirts of town. He had arranged for the local gym leader to bring Lindsay to the Pokémon Center so the two sisters could reunite. After a quick stop to the local Pokémon Center, which was actually part of a Hess travel center, the girls had noticed the dark green sign with its stylized gold “Q” and “QUALITY INN” in white block letters.

The building itself was trimmed in white stucco with the exception of the first floor exterior, which featured a brown brick façade. The hotel was topped off with a peach-colored metal roof. Out front, a sharply angled canopy and small cascading fountains welcomed guests.

Unbeknownst to either sister was a rusted-out red Ford Pinto hatchback parked in front of the hotel. The figure inside the car appeared to watch both girls closely. As soon as they entered the hotel, the old clunker drove off before pulling into the parking lot of a rival motel, the crumbling “Moonlight Inn.”

Inside the well appointed lobby of the Quality Inn there was already a Christmas tree set up with multicolor chaser lights. The breakfast area was located on a slightly lower elevation than the main check-in area, with a half-flight of carpeted stairs leading to it. A computer was set up in the lobby for guest use, but with her internet-enabled PDA and the property’s free Wi-fi access, the older girl would not need it.

Lisa handled the check-in, presenting her Choice Privileges member card. To help alleviate the noise from the heavily-traveled thoroughfare in front, she requested a back room on the fourth floor, overlooking the pool. The similarities between this hotel and one very close to their home in South Carolina were striking.

The girls’ room, number 440, was confirmed by Lisa to be “as spotless as can be.” The 32” flat-screen television sat atop a walnut-veneered dresser, with an executive style desk with swivel chair next to it. A free-standing micro-fridge unit rested next to a plush easy chair, both situated between the window and the beds. The room’s two queen beds were topped with comforters that looked very similar in design and print to Lisa’s favorite dress. After spending time in the equivalent of a prison cell for the past few days, the beds here would be a most welcome change for Lisa.

The teen decided to treat her Pokémon to a special meal, laying out dishes filled with premium Pokémon food. This of course meant that even Metang would eat this meal.

“Aww, you ain’t gon’ let me eat this time?” Sealeo whined.

“I shall consume this food…”

Jolteon had taken about ten bites of his food when he noticed Sealeo begging for food. Being charitable, he told the Ice-type, “You can have the rest of my food if you want.”

“Yay! Thanks, Jolty!” the hefty Pokémon said as he slid over toward the Electric-type’s food dish.

Meanwhile, the spiky yellow Pokémon made his way over to where the three female Pokémon were conversing.

Persian was explaining her last battle to her partners. “I had to battle against a man with a truly terrifying aura. Jolteon and Sealeo also battled against him. This man seems to be Lisa’s main enemy, and just from our battle, he appears to be a formidable foe.”

Jolteon nodded in agreement. “It wasn’t just the fact that he was powerful. There was definitely a sense of evil and menace in his voice as he issued commands. Certainly if we have to deal with again, it will not be easy.”

Weezing added, “But the guy who we battled alongside with… He’s definitely a strong trainer, and intelligent to boot. I was really impressed.”

“It was really weird… For several days we saw no action, then suddenly we’re thrust into two really tough battles with an unknown ally in a really creepy place. Well, at least we got a chance to put ourselves to the test,” Flygon said as she buzzed about.

“Yes, but I am hoping for a bit of a break. Hopefully we can relax for a bit,” replied the beige feline.

Lisa showered, at the insistence of her sister (“Lisa, you smell like you live in a garbage can! Clean up or we’re getting separate rooms, and you’re paying for both!”), then changed into her pink floral dress. Afterward, she decided to run her clothes through the coin laundry machines on the hotel’s second floor. It was decided that the girls would stay put in their fourth floor sanctuary for the day. As far as meals were concerned, Lisa and Lindsay decided that Papa John’s delivery would be their best option.
********

As the sun began to rise over the horizon, two sisters left their Quality Inn located in downtown Arkwood City. The area surrounding the hotel was a collection of shopping plazas, big-box stores, and major brand-name restaurants. A few taller buildings could be seen against the horizon, but this city appeared to have an emphasis on commercial businesses rather than large office complexes or industrial parks. Residential developments were mostly located between the hotel and the “truckstop city” at the edge of town.

It was barely dawn, yet the streets and walkways were already packed with commuters. Making their way down Civic Center Boulevard, the pair passed by a Target discount store, an Applebee’s Grill and Bar, and (naturally), a large white stucco building bearing the words, “Arkwood City Civic Center” in vivid blue letters. All the while, pedestrian and vehicle traffic made the busy street difficult to navigate.

Finally, the siblings reached their destination- a towering and expansive greenhouse labeled, “Arkwood City Pokémon Gym.” Entering the glass structure, the girls walked past rows and rows of beautiful flowers and exotic plants – and lots of green. The older girl’s dress, with its purple, orange, and green flower pattern set against a blue background, fit in perfectly here. The other girl’s outfit, with her white sweater, red plaid skirt, and beat-up red tights, clashed with the surroundings.

In the clearing, the Gym Leader and a young girl were waiting for the girls. Reed, wearing a dark green suit matched to a black collared shirt and black tie, spoke up. The short, blond-haired teenager wore a green floral dress with a simple white floral pattern, similar to another dress that Lisa had.

“I’ve been waiting for the day when you would finally arrive to challenge me. My assistant and sister, Rose, will oversee our match. Perhaps I should have said ‘matches.’ You see, your challenge will consist of three single-Pokémon, one-on-one battles. Each round will end when one Pokémon is unable to battle or when one side concedes. Both trainers must substitute Pokémon at the end of a round; they may not use the same Pokémon for more than one round. The first trainer to win two matches is the winner. If the challenger is victorious, she will receive the Flower Badge. Ready, Lisa?”

“All right, it’s go time!”

Rose announced, “The gym battle between Arkwood Gym Leader Reed and challenger Lisa Northwood from Anderson, South Carolina shall begin! Start round one! Gym Leader Reed, show your Pokémon!”

“I will lead with Exeggutor! Come forth!”

A huge brown Pokémon made its appearance, looking for all the world like a palm tree with an unusually wide trunk- and with big legs, to boot. Three coconut-like yellow heads seemingly hung from the mass of green palm leaves that grew out in all directions. While each of the faces wore a different expression, it seemed as if all three were having a good time.

The teen took out her PDA and activated its Pokédex function to size up this foe. “Exeggutor, the Coconut Pokémon. Its three heads have independent brains and will form an Exeggcute cluster if one should fall off.”

“Now, Lisa, reveal your partner!”

“Weezing, let us commence our calculations. Time to begin!”

The poisonous purple Pokémon prepared for the battle by elevating her lightweight, low-density body. A “skull and crossbones” marking on her lower body was barely visible as smoke was billowing out of numerous ventilation openings scattered throughout her body. One head was decidedly larger than the other, and the larger one’s face had a look of boredom and indifference, with its eyes half shut. But her facial expression belied Weezing’s preparedness for this Gym battle.

“Weezing versus Exeggutor. Begin!”

“Okay, Weezing, we’ll start off with a Sludge Bomb!”

“Quickly, throw up a Light Screen!”

As the dual-headed Pokémon shrunk one of her twin orbs to release a clump of dripping purple goop, her leafy opponent began shaking its three heads, creating a transparent barrier in front of it. The smelly poison hit the wall and splattered against it, caking the blockade with slimy violet ooze. Exeggutor seemed unimpressed, as it continued to dance about with a blissfully oblivious look on its three faces.

“We need to break that wall! Try a Tackle on it!”

“That won’t work,” warned the blonde-headed man. “Use Stun Spore!”

The round Pokémon attempted to smash headlong into the wall, but to no avail. Meanwhile, her adversary began shaking the broad palm leaves on top of its heads, loosing a fine powder. Thinking quickly, the purple Poison-type floated to the right, causing the spores to land harmlessly on the grassy floor of the greenhouse. As Weezing tried to find a way around the wall to deal damage, she was met with a powerful kick right to the face, sending her hurtling backward while a worried Lisa fingered her dress’s hem nervously. Recovering from the shot, the smelly sphere of gas launched out a thick black Smokescreen, temporarily clouding the palm tree Pokémon’s vision.

“Good work, Weezing! But we still need to get past that wall! Meanwhile, try a Poison Gas to slow Exeggutor down!

“Lisa, it was a mistake to use a Poison-type against me! Now use Psychic!”

Crud, this is gonna hurt!

Focusing its mental energies by closing its eyes, the walking coconut tree was able to track its foe’s movements despite the latter’s repeated attempts to dart about randomly. Sure enough, the invisible mind waves found their mark, and hit up the unsuspecting Poison-type for big damage. Still ready to battle, the sturdy purple Pokémon unleashed a thin purple fog from her ventilation holes, blanketing the Grass-type opponent. One of the Grass-type’s heads began to develop a sick appearance, as if it were about to vomit. The other two, strangely enough, retained their happy, carefree expressions.

Okay, interesting behavior…” Aloud, Lisa instructed, “We just need to outlast the poison effect, so try to avoid incoming attacks and maybe send a Smog toward it!”

“Sorry, but it’ll take more than that to win! Exeggutor, use Synthesis, then follow up with Psychic!”

Weezing made the first move, spewing out more toxic purple gases from the vents scattered throughout her rubbery round form. However, her coconut-headed adversary saw this cloud coming from a mile away, and used its two hefty legs to maneuver its massive body out of the way. The gaseous Smog ended up floating wide left. Stopping for a brief moment, Exeggutor encased its body in a brilliant green glow. Once the shimmering light faded, it definitely appeared that the Pokémon had regained much of its strength and vitality. Its one head, however, still looked ill. Just then, the young teen noticed the Light Screen barrier was no longer there.

It recovered its energy, but it’s still poisoned and its protection is gone… I may yet stand a chance!” The girl shouted, “Sludge Bomb!”

“Nice try, but it’s too little, too late! Now, ensnare it with Leech Seed then blast it with Psychic!”

The spherical Poison-type struck first, spitting out a foul-smelling ball of concentrated slime that exploded upon contact with the top of the foe’s green palm leaves. Not to be outdone, the huge tree-like creature began shaking its leaves before firing out a single green seed. Like a bullet, the projectile found its mark, wedging itself right in the center of the ‘skull and crossbones’ marking on Weezing’s lower body. Germinating from that seed were a complex network of vines that surrounded and put the squeeze on the hapless purple Pokémon. Taking full advantage of its restrained opponent, the oversized plant knocked Weezing around with more concentrated mental energy. The floating Pokémon was airborne no more, as she crashed down to the ground, with the Leech Seed still draining her energy.

“Weezing is unable to battle! First round goes to the Gym Leader, Reed!”

“Sorry, Weezing…” Lisa whispered as she removed her fallen Poison-type.

“Excellent work, Exeggutor! You’ve earned a nice victory rest!” The hefty walking tree was engulfed in a flash of crimson light and was returned to its containment device.

Rose announced, “The Gym Leader is up, one to zero. Round Two will begin now! Reed, show your Pokémon.”

“For my next Pokémon, it’s Tropius!”

This creature easily eclipsed Exeggutor in size. Resembling an ancient dinosaur, the creature’s brown body was flanked by a set of massive leaves. More green foliage adorned the top of its head. Dangling from the top of its long, thick neck were small yellow bananas. When it began flapping its leaves like a set of wings, the Pokémon’s four feet actually left the ground.

Once again, the girl activated her Pokédex. “Tropius, the Fruit Pokémon. This large Pokémon dwells in tropical jungles where its fruit serves as nourishment for both itself and others living in the jungles.”

“Challenger Lisa, please reveal your Pokémon.”

“Persian, you are my next variable substitution! Let’s integrate this function!”

Lisa’s feline of grace and elegance let out a loud, “Mrrrroow!” before stretching out her body. Her smooth, creamy fur let off a soft glow, but the prized gem atop her forehead was almost blinding as bright sunlight permeated the glass roof and reflected off the crimson crystal.

“Tropius against Persian! Begin round two!”

“Bring out the sunlight! Sunny Day!”

“Quickly, jump up and use Aerial Ace on it!”

The cat used her natural pouncing skills to gain some altitude. Extending her claws, she began to descend at a forty-five degree angle, slashing the lower neck of her much larger opponent before landing perfectly on all fours. Like it had not even noticed the attack, the plant creature pointed its head in the air and let out a shrill cry. As if the sunlight wasn’t already intense enough, Tropius decided to turn the heat up just a little more. As the leafy Pokémon finished up its sun summoning, the sharp-clawed Persian took another swipe, this one aimed at the torso.

“Those are futile efforts, Lisa! This one’s all wrapped up for you! Now, fly up and prepare for the next attack!”

Wait… that big thing can fly?! Oh, well, better go with the flow…” Lisa responded, “Don’t count me out yet! Jump on top of Tropius as it begins to go airborne!”

As the agile feline jumped on top of her adversary, Reed let out a surprised, “Huh? What’s it doing?”

“Now, give it a few good Slashes, and try to aim for the wings!”

Furiously going at Tropius with her claws, Persian didn’t realize that her ride was beginning to invert itself. Before either cat or her trainer could react, the winged Grass-type dinosaur was flying upside down with Persian quickly falling back to earth.

“Oh, no! Persian!” the girl shrieked as she began gripping and pulling on her dress, all the while with a look of fear on her face.

In typical feline fashion, Persian did land on her feet, though the impact clearly did some damage. Still, she didn’t indicate that any bones were broken, so, for now, she would be able to continue. However, almost immediately after the beige Normal-type recovered her wits, her high-flying adversary did a nosedive, ramming headlong into the cat’s side and knocking her down. Quickly springing to her feet, Persian looked like she was ready to get back at her opponent.

“All right, we’ll try a Shadow Ball at long range, then go in for an Aerial Ace!”

“You and your Pokémon certainly have determination, but willpower alone will not be enough! Solarbeam!”

The green and brown Pokémon stood motionless as its opponent opened her mouth wide and shot out a sinister black orb of dark matter. At the last minute, though, Tropius released a long-range attack of its own – a huge ray of lime-green solar energy that completely obliterated the Shadow Ball, reducing it to numerous tiny chunks of black. The beam came in at Persian so quickly that her attempts to evade the strike were futile.

This time, Lisa’s delicate white hosiery was the victim of the girl’s nervous fidgeting, as she ripped out a sizeable piece of nylon. When the energy from the Solarbeam and the resultant smoke finally cleared, the cat was somehow still standing. Not waiting around for another hit, Persian fired off another Shadow Ball, then immediately leaped into the air. Both the ghostly long-range strike and the more direct Aerial Ace found their mark at almost the same moment. The big Grass-type recoiled from the hit, but its hefty size and low center of gravity kept it upright.

“Your Persian is certainly more durable than it looks. Most times I use Solarbeam, it’s enough to finish off the opponent. But no Pokémon can last forever! Leech Seed followed by Magical Leaf!”

“Persian, you know what to do! Dodge Diplomat Medallion that attack and use Slash!”

The cat gave her trainer a very annoyed stare, and that was just the opening Tropius needed. Like what had happened with Weezing, a mysterious bullet-shaped seed lodged itself in the tan fur of the distracted Normal-type. Thin brown vines began to wrap around the cat, and even as Persian began slashing the roots apart, more sprouted to take the place of the ones that were cut. Now rendered immobile, the once-nimble feline found herself being struck with a flurry of multicolored leaves. The entire scene resembled a windy autumn day where intense breezes blew fallen leaves all over the place.

“Looks like a minute of inattention cost your Persian big-time! Can’t dodge this! Solarbeam!”

There was nothing Lisa could do but scream out, “Oh, no!” and tug at her clothes as she watched the brilliant green energy beam slam directly into her Pokémon’s head. After a hit that intense, it surprised both Lisa and Reed that Persian still struggled to get back up after that last Solarbeam. But Lisa knew these efforts were futile. Seeing no way for her Pokémon to escape the vines that had it trapped, it was time for the girl to make a tough call. “That’s it! Stop the match!” Lindsay looked on in stunned surprise as her big sister made her decision.

Rose asked the challenger, “Are you sure you wish to forfeit?”

“Y…yes…”

“Fine, then. I declare Tropius to be the winner of this round! As he has already won two rounds, the battle goes to the Gym Leader! Lisa, you must wait three days before attempting to earn this badge again.”

Hanging her head low, Lisa replied, “I… I understand…”

Reed advised her, “I would highly recommend you take some time to rest. Some trainers train their Pokémon non-stop after losing to me. Most of the time, any benefits are offset by the fact that both trainer and Pokémon are completely exhausted. Especially after battling Thrash, you and your Pokémon need a break to recharge. I will see you in three days, then?”

“Yes, and hopefully I won’t be such an embarrassment next time… I’m sorry for wasting your time…” The girl bowed before her opponent before shuffling out of the glass-paneled facility.

First, Lisa dropped her sister off at the Quality Inn. The elder sister needed some alone time after her latest loss. The next stop for the Lisa was the Pokémon Center/Hess Travel Center. Found on the outskirts of town, it was located in a convenient spot for truckers and trainers who were just coming into town. It was not so convenient for those coming from the gym, as the greenhouse was a good half hour’s walk from the complex. The only other Pokémon Center in Arkwood was in a sketchy neighborhood that often hosted biker gang wars and other illicit activity. With boarded-up windows, graffiti all over the exterior, and a crumbling red façade, that Pokémon Center looked like a good place to stay away from.

Back at the Hess station, the older sister readied her two defeated Pokémon for examination. The travel center boasted multiple gasoline and diesel pumps for serving many customers. The listed price for regular unleaded, $1.05 a gallon, was a bit high for this time of year. Then again, Lisa’s parents had told her that gas prices were upwards of three dollars in some locations in the US, so compared to that, this was a steal.

As the teen sat in the Pokémon Center part of the truckstop, she replayed the gym battle in her head. The image of her Pokémon collapsing in battle seemed to repeat itself in her mind, to the point where the girl finally lost her composure. “NO! I’m so stupid!” she finally yelled in frustration as she ripped apart her pantyhose. After she realized that she had lost control of her emotions, Lisa put her hands over her face and began sobbing uncontrollably.

I… I thought I was more mature… I thought I could handle a loss… But after all, I haven’t changed a bit! I’m still the same crybaby I’ve been since I started training Pokémon. Maybe I am a failure, after all…

Lisa’s breakdown had not gone unnoticed, and a pair of trainers walked over to the crying girl. “Hey, what’s wrong?” asked a female voice.

Lisa looked up to see two trainers sitting beside her. One was a former acquaintance- a rather tall young man with neatly trimmed brown hair who she knew as Marvin Excellus. He was dressed rather neatly in a brown polo shirt and khaki pants. His friend was a girl about three or four years older than Lisa, with her long black hair held back by a scrunchy. She also had a semi-professional appearance, with a red button-up blouse and knee-length black skirt.

“Lisa Northwood, right?” asked Marvin. After receiving a nod from the depressed teen, he continued, “What’s wrong? Did you end up losing at the gym or something?” Once again, Lisa did not speak, but merely nodded in response.

The other girl continued, “Please, don’t feel too bad about it. I mean, even the greats have lost matches before. It’s really not anything to get worked up about. Oh, I’m sorry. My name’s Kim. Kim Harris. Nice to meet you.”

Finally speaking up, Lisa answered, “Good to meet you as well.” Still fighting tears, she explained, “I know. I’ve lost before. I should be used to it by now. But still, I can’t help but feel I’m letting my Pokémon down. I mean, they’re working so hard for the win, and for them to lose because I make some stupid mistake… I still feel like it’s my fault.”

Kim told the younger Lisa, “You don’t really come across as the type of person who is abusive to Pokémon. As long as you treat them with care and respect, they’ll forgive you, even if you do cause them to lose a battle. Trust me. It’s hard sometimes, but you just have to trust that your Pokémon will always be there, as long as you’re always there for them. Now, I’ve heard some pretty nice things about you from some of the other trainers I’ve met, including two of my hometown friends, as well as Marvin here. I’ve also heard on the news about how you’re making incredible progress against Team Thrash, dealing major blows to their operations. You’re obviously a good trainer; please don’t let the small things get to you.”

I never expected a trainer like her to say such nice things… after all, I’m hardly the best at guiding my Pokémon in battle…” Wiping a tear from her face, Lisa responded, “You’re right. But, I’ve always been a perfectionist, you know? When I was in school and college, I was always at the head of my class, so it was never a problem. But this whole Pokémon training thing is a whole different ball game. I’m no longer on the top tier, and I guess it’s a rude awakening for me. But don’t worry! I’m trying my hardest to get used to it, and I’m getting better at it. At least, I thought I was, before this loss.”

The center’s attendant called out, “Trainer Lisa Northwood, your Pokémon are ready!”

As the girl, still sniffling a little, made her way to the counter, she passed by a couple of roughnecks. One was bald, the other had a bright red Mohawk. Both had arms covered in skull tattoos, and both were openly laughing at Lisa and calling out names like “crybaby” and “loser.” Ignoring the punks as best she could, she retrieved her spherical containers, then made her way back to where Kim and Marvin were seated. Calling out all of her Pokémon, Lisa kneeled on the floor and began talking to them, her brown eyes filling up with tears again. “I hope they understand. I don’t want them to abandon me… not after all we’ve been through…

“Listen, guys… about our loss at the gym, I can’t even begin to tell you how sorry I am. You’re giving your all and are depending on me as your trainer to help guide and direct you to victory. But… I let y’all down, didn’t I? Despite all the hard work you put in for the battle, we still couldn’t pull it off… No… I’m the one to blame… you tried your very hardest, and I’m grateful for that… All I can ask is that you forgive me… Please…”

Each of her Pokémon let out cries, attempting to reassure their trainer and partner. Persian and Jolteon even began rubbing the sobbing girl’s back gently as Sealeo nuzzled against her. Despite its metal arms, the chrome Metang patted the girl on the head as softly as it could, making sure not to scratch her head with its claws.

Sniffling and wiping away a tear, Lisa answered, “Thanks, everybody. I really couldn’t ask for better partners… or friends. Tell you what,” she continued with a bit more confidence, “we’ll take the next few days off, mixing training and relaxing. Then we’ll challenge the gym again and we’ll win! For all of us!”

This time, the Pokémon’s cries echoed the newfound confidence that their trainer had. Lisa then called them back into their Pokéballs, as certainly the floor at the center was not all that comfortable. Besides that, she was about to bring up a subject she’d rather her team not hear. Turning to her human companions, the girl said, “You know, though, I’m not really sure if training’s really my calling in life. I mean, it’s exciting and all, and I’m enjoying my time with my Pokémon, but I do long to return to college. You know, get a graduate degree and live on campus for a couple more years. What do you guys think?”

Marvin answered, “Well, we can’t really make that decision for you. It’s something you have to ask yourself. Your mind and heart will let you know what to do.”

Kim told Lisa, “Keep your head up. If you’re ever in doubt, remember these song lyrics:

“When you're down and you're discouraged
When the darkness clouds your view
You've got to gather up your courage
You know the Lord is gonna see you through
Let me tell you now
Tell you now

When you're walking in the dead of night
And your soul is churning
When your hope seems out of sight
Keep the candle burning
All it takes is one steady heart in a world that's turning
Shine a light and pierce the dark
Keep the candle burning
Keep the candle burning”

“Wow, thanks a lot, you two. You’ve really given me something to think about, and I do feel a bit better now. Well, I probably should get back; my little sister’s probably worried sick about me.”

“Yeah, you probably should. Well, Lisa, I guess we’ll see you later! Bye!”

“Good luck on your journey, too! See you around!”

As Lisa made her way back to the Quality Inn, she began singing softly to herself.

Nearing the business district, Lisa got a quick meal at the Wendy’s that was located within a few blocks of the hotel. Upon arriving back in the room with food for the both of them, Lindsay asked her big sister, “Why did you just give in like that?”

With a serious, solemn look on her face, the older sister answered, “Listen closely, as this is very important for when you become a trainer. Sometimes, when a battle is clearly not in your favor, when you know you don’t have a chance of winning, it’s better to give in early rather than making your Pokémon suffer more than they need to. I’ve learned that giving up doesn’t always make you seem weak. Sometimes, conceding a match actually shows you’re intelligent enough to know when you’re beat, and shows you’re caring enough to sacrifice a win for the sake of your Pokémon. And in the long run, doing that just might earn you more respect as a trainer, even if you do lose. But…”

“But what?”

Lisa slowly formed a smile. “That only applies to Pokémon battles. When it comes to calculus or chemistry battles, you tough it out and stick with it to the very end! Show no mercy!”

Rolling her eyes, the young girl responded, “Oh, brother… At least you’re back to your old , nerdy self!”

Later, while four of the six Pokémon were eating (Jolteon and Metang elected to sit this meal out), Lisa had the front desk deliver a portable DVD player to the room. The teenager had rented some anime DVDs to watch the day before, and now was the ideal time to watch. For Lisa, heartwarming slice-of-life anime was the perfect way to get her spirits up after a loss.

After the Pokémon had been fed, she and her younger sister were headed to a restaurant to get dinner. Upon arriving at Applebee’s, they sulked when they saw a huge line of folks waiting for a table. “It’s gonna take forever!” whined Lindsay.

“Well, we passed by Outback, Cracker Barrel, and TGI Friday’s, and their lines were at least as long, if not longer! And I’m not in the mood for McDonald’s or KFC again!”

“Fine, we’ll wait…” conceded the younger sibling as both of them took their place in line.

Chapter 32: Secrets of the Safari Zone

On a lonely country road, two young girls approached a rustic log cabin. One was a bit taller than the other. Both had the hoods on their green sweatshirts pulled over their heads, as the cold December air combined with gusty winds made for some very chilly conditions. Thanks to the wonder of eighties fashion called black leggings, both girls could afford to wear blue-jean skirts even in this type of weather, though the bitter cold did necessitate the use of white socks and sneakers instead of the sandals they would usually wear.

The taller girl turned to the other. “You know, Shannon, it has been awhile since we’ve heard from Lisa. Think she’s okay?”

“Alexis, I wouldn’t be too worried. Knowing her, I bet she’s fine. I’m more worried about whoever she goes up against getting totally confused by her math.”

Both of the girls shared a laugh. “Speaking of which, I think that old man at the gym knows her. You know, the Thrash guy who was plotting to Molotov the gym.”

“Yeah, it was a good thing we were there to help Reed get rid of the geezer. It’s weird though, he didn’t seem to remember us from the last battle we had with him. Must be the guy’s old age setting in.”

“Oh, here it is,” pointed out Shannon, “the entrance to the Safari Zone. Let’s see what they have to offer here.”

The pair entered the cabin to a quaint, homey atmosphere, complete with walnut-trimmed furniture and a brick fireplace. At a desk stood two people. One was a short woman with her black hair tied into a ponytail. The other one was a muscular, bald-headed man. The woman introduced herself. “My name is Ellen, and this is my partner, Francisco. Although the Safari Zone is a Pokémon preserve, we do allow trainers to catch Pokémon here, as long as they pay a seventy-five dollar admission fee and abide by a couple of ground rules, which Francisco will explain.”

“First of all, you are not allowed to use your own Pokémon or Pokéballs to capture Pokémon. We will issue you special Pokéballs to be used only in the park, and some Pokémon food to attempt to lure them into the open. If you violate either of these policies, you will be fined an additional five hundred dollars. Also, you have one hour before your time is up. Please enjoy yourselves!”

Both girls paid their admission and proceeded through a doorway into a lush, semi-tropical nature preserve with rich forests and expansive grasslands. Closing the door behind them, Ellen turned to Francisco. “Hector Rodriguez and his men will be here in less than a half an hour. Are you sure it was wise to let those two girls through?”

“Don’t worry about it. This place is over three hundred acres. What are the odds of those two finding our present for Senor Rodriguez anyway?”
*******

“Alexis, they claimed there would be rare Pokémon within this park, but all we’ve seen so far are Rattata and Pikachu, and I lost count of how many of those rodents we ran into on the way here.”

“Well, I honestly don’t know for sure, but I’ve heard that rare Pokémon roost here. Hey! There’s a Heracross!” The tall teenager pointed toward a somewhat beefy blue Pokémon that was standing on its hind legs. It had a huge horn sticking out from its face, its base directly between the creature’s two large yellow eyes. The prominent appendage culminated in three distinct points at its very top. Two tiny transparent wings on its back struggled to keep the creature a few inches above the ground.

“Throw some food at it, then I’ll try these Pokéballs!” Shannon shouted as her friend reached into the park-issued burlap sack and threw some kibble at the horned insect. As the Pokémon started to chow down, Shannon threw the green sphere at it. Upon hitting its body, the ball would open and generate red light, but the target was not sucked into the device. The sphere simply clicked shut. The girl tried another Safari Ball with the same effect. After about a dozen more attempts, she was growing frustrated, shaking her fist and stomping her feet.

“Come on, catch, you stupid balls! These blasted things couldn’t catch a cold!” Heracross finally finished its snack, lumbering off as if nothing had happened. In its wake it left the girls, both of their mouths agape in complete shock and anger.

“Arrgh! That one got away! Something’s fishy about this place!” fumed Alexis. She suddenly felt something tugging on her leggings. Looking down, a tiny yellow mouse with pointed ears and rosy red cheeks looked up at her, smiled, and squealed, “Pika!”

“Ugh! Not ANOTHER Pikachu! Scram, will ya?”

“Chuuuuu…” Dejected, the tiny electric rodent slowly walked away, its head hung low in disappointment. Three of its brethren ran toward the girls to take its place.

“There is no end to this, is there?”
**********

“Ah, Senor Rodriguez, always a pleasure to see you.” Ellen and Francisco were now faced with three men of obviously Mexican descent, the one in the middle being the largest of them. All three were dressed in black suits with gray pinstripes.

“Si, I trust business is still going strong. Now, as per our agreement, this briefcase contains $125,000 in unmarked bills.” The large man heaved a sizable black suitcase onto the front desk.

The bald man took the case and gave the buyer a set of car keys and a piece of paper in exchange. “Yes, sir, here is a map directing you to where your product is, and these are the keys to a van so you may easily leave the premises with your quarry. There are two girls also in the park; make sure they don’t see you.”

“Do not worry, they shall not interfere with our business proposition. Gracias, amigos.”

The two staffers led the three mysterious clients to a concealed doorway with a white Ford cargo van parked outside.
***********

“Not another Rattata! Shoo!” Shannon yelled, making a waving motion with her hand.

Just then, the girls spotted the brown rear end and three distinctive tails of their second rare Pokémon, the bull, Tauros.

“Weird, its tails aren’t even moving. Oh, whatever, maybe we can catch it by surprise.”

But it would be the teens who would be surprised. Like before with Heracross, the ball bounced off the bull’s behind while emitting only a scarlet flash of light. This time, however, the device made an oddly metallic clanging sound upon impact.

“Double weird, I don’t recall Tauros being a Steel-type,” observed Shannon.

“And look at this! These balls are hollowed out with only a red light inside!” exclaimed Alexis, taking a look at the sphere that had not clicked shut after the failed capture attempt. “These aren’t authentic Pokéballs! No wonder they couldn’t catch anything!”

“Well, I want to check out that ‘Tauros’ as I have a feeling things are not what they seem here.”

The figure in front of them certainly looked like the triple-tailed bull Pokémon, with its tan body, dark brown collar, and two horns atop its head. But it was motionless. Surely a real Tauros would have charged the girls with its four hoofed feet by now.

Just then, Alexis noticed what appeared to be a perfectly symmetrical rectangle outlined on the right side of the fake Pokémon. “Electabuzz, go! Thunderpunch that rectangle!” she commanded, sending out her yellow Pokémon with twin antennas and black lightning bolt markings. The creature raised a fist crackling with electric sparks and aimed it directly at the side of the “Tauros.” After Electabuzz had succeeded in punching a hole through the steely exterior, its trainer thanked it before quickly returning it to its Pokéball. The girls could hardly believe what was inside.

They had made a monumental discovery. Inside the steel Tauros were probably close to fifty clear plastic bags neatly filled with a fine white powder. The name, “H. Rodriguez” was scrawled in black ink on each bag.

“Looks like we found a drug smuggling ring, Lexy.”

“And here come the clients!” Alexis shouted, drawing her friend’s attention toward a white Ford van charging toward them. The passenger could be seen reaching under his seat.

“Torkoal, use Flamethrower on the tires of that van!” Shannon sent out the sluggish orange tortoise. With its eyes shut and gray shell emitting smoke and an eerie red glow, the armored creature opened its mouth to let loose a stream of fire that instantly melted the van’s tires. Swerving wildly, the vehicle crashed into the remains of the Tauros-shaped storage unit. Calling back her Pokémon, Shannon next whipped out her cell phone to alert the authorities as both girls ran toward the entrance to the park.
********

Back in the log cabin office, an alarm began to sound. ‘Dammit!” Ellen shrieked. “They’ve found us out! Put the place on lockdown, then we’ve got to switch into our battle gear!”

Francisco stuck his head into a back room. “I need two of you to go into the park and intercept two teenagers! The rest of you, load all the dope into our trucks and move it out! We’re shipping all of it outta here before the cops seize it!”

A mysterious man in the back office replied, “Make sure they do not get to the exit! If they do, my future position will be jeopardized!”
********

Ignoring any and all wild Pokémon that were in the park, Alexis and Shannon knew they had to leave this facility before the drug-smuggling operators got hold of them. Of course, they were not going to make it back without running into resistance. A pair of men in bright red T-shirts and cargo pants intercepted the girls.

“Where do you think you’re going? You should’ve just stuck to trying to catch Pokémon, but it’s too late for you now! Golbat! Pikachu! End their little espionage game!”

As if the two girls had not seen enough of the little yellow electric rodent, the employee happened to send out another one of the deceptively cute pests. This one began sparking near the red dots on its face, as well as twitching its pointed ears in a failed attempt to come off as intimidating.

“Well, here’s Pikachu number 436, not that I’m keeping count,” remarked Alexis.

The other Safari Zone employee called forth a large but lightweight blue bat with shades of purple on the inside surfaces of its wings. Its face looked oddly disproportional with tiny eyes resting above a huge gaping mouth. Occasionally it would stick its pink tongue out from the black abyss inside that mouth as it flitted about.

“Sandslash, let’s get the party started!” yelled Alexis, sending the Pokéball out.

“Back her up, Torkoal!” shouted her best friend as her Pokémon also took to the field.
A hard bodied yellow rodent emerged, glaring at the two enemies with its angular black eyes. The mass of pointed brown scales on its back appeared to function as both protection and for attacking purposes. Standing on its hind legs, it pointed one of its forelegs at Pikachu, the long sharp claws clearly visible.

Backing up the spiny creature was the lumbering orange turtle named Torkoal. Its dark gray shell emitted a mysterious red glow as smoke billowed from both its nose and holes on its armored back. As it slowly walked forward, its eyes remained shut, yet it still had a decent sense of direction.

“Let’s begin with a Mud Slap, then Sand Tomb on Pikachu!”

“Pikachu, dodge it! Blast them with Thunderbolt!”

Digging its claws into the soft earth, the spiny yellow mouse hurled large clumps of caked dirt and mud onto the face of the smaller, weaker yellow mouse. Trying to release an electric strike with mud blinding it, Pikachu’s attack was poorly aimed and ended up striking a tree and shearing off the bark. As the tiny rat tried to clean its face off, the dry-skinned creature simultaneously spun around and dug its claws into the earth, generating a swirling cloud of sand. It was no longer the mud that was blinding the electric annoyance; now it was the fine particles that stung Pikachu’s eyes and made it impossible for the critter to see. Adding to the mix, the sluggish tortoise shot out an intense stream of fire, enveloping the Sand Tomb and turning up the heat on the hapless little Pokémon trapped inside the impressive twister of fire. The wide-mouthed blue bat ended the fiery assault with a glob of poison directed at the armor-shelled reptile.

“Golbat, Wing Attack on that Torkoal!” ordered one of the grunts.

The shorter of the two girls shouted out, “Blind the opposition with Smokescreen then fire off a Flamethrower while they’re down!”

The hulking orange Pokémon released a thick cloud of black smoke that completely blanketed the area and made it impossible to see. After several moments of mass confusion, Golbat emerged from the thick veil, followed closely by an orange trail of flame that singed the toxic flyer’s big wings. The blue creature used its appendages to whip up an intense gust of wind, clearing the smoke – and Sandslash’s Sand Tomb. Finally free, Pikachu began charging electricity using its red cheek marks, but its larger mouse-like adversary shorted it out with a well aimed slice from its razor-like claws. As the tiny rat examined the scratch mark left behind on its stomach, it was on the receiving end of even more mud in its face.

The blonde-haired teen directed, “Trap Pikachu in Sand Tomb again! The sooner we finish it off, the sooner we can get out of here!

“Pikachu! Avoid that attack at all costs!”

With its vision still severely hindered, the tiny rat ran around the field with no sense of logic- inadvertently running right into the swirling mass of sand and dirt. The lumbering turtle took full advantage of this, and let loose another Flamethrower aimed at the intense whirlwind. Soon enough, the flames were caught up in the spiral, circling a defenseless Pikachu while increasing the temperature on the particles that prevented the rodent’s escape. The victim could not be seen; only a dazzling whirlwind of bright orange flame that rotated like a tornado.

“No way! My Pikachu!”

“It’s always up to me! Golbat, use Poison Fang!”

“Go ahead, bring it!” taunted the girls. Perhaps the thug had forgotten that both of their Pokémon boasted protection against such physical tactics.

As the teens’ Pokémon kept the heat on a constricted Pikachu, the high-flying bat swooped down on the hefty turtle, fangs at the ready. At least the blue creature had the sense to aim for Torkoal’s neck instead of its hard gray shell.

“Torkoal! Try to use an Overheat to blast it off of you!” Shannon frantically yelled.

Ending its attack on the encased yellow rat, the huge orange creature’s shell began to give off a dull red glow. With Golbat’s fangs still planted in its neck, Torkoal began firing off huge shots of searing flame from the holes on its shell. With concentrated chunks of fire and lava raining down on it, the toxic parasite was forced to relinquish its hold. As it retreated, however, it got its wings torched and scorched by huge falling orange embers.

The whirlwind of sand then dissipated, leaving a dizzy Pikachu stumbling like it had downed more than its share of alcohol. Sandslash saw that it was still conscious, so it took it upon itself to shut down the woozy opponent by slashing at it several times as it squealed loudly. The disoriented (and possibly inebriated) Electric-type finally called it quits, toppling over and letting out one final, deafening squeak.

Alexis cheered, “Good work, Sandslash! Only one left now!”

“Idiot! Your Pikachu was useless!” screamed the Golbat trainer. “Golbat, don’t fail us! Get them!”

As Pikachu was withdrawn from battle, Golbat was hungry for vengeance. It furiously flapped its broad wings, whipping up strong gusts that slammed into both of the opposing Pokémon. Still, the pair stood their ground. The scaly Sandslash dug into the ground slightly and came up with a fairly large gray rock. As its partner blasted the aerial Pokémon with more fire, the Ground-type dealt the finishing blow, tossing its newly unearthed projectile upward, striking the bat on the wings and grounding the winged blood-sucker for good.

“Crap! We lost somehow! We’ll get an earful from the boss!”

“You might have beaten us,” remarked the other ‘ranger’, “but the next pair of guards you’ll meet are much tougher. Too bad for you.”

The two teens continued their sprint toward the exit to the twisted nature preserve. “Look, there’s the entrance!” Shannon called out after catching a glimpse of the roof of the check-in building.

Blocking the way to the entrance to the log cabin were two individuals in the silver armor of Cipher. One was a smaller woman; the other a husky man. Though both were wearing helmets that hid their faces, it was clear that these two were Ellen and Francisco.

“Grrr… We should’ve known that you two would be trouble. Fine. I see no need to conceal our true identities any longer. I am Fudler, and this is my partner, Exinn. You saw something you should not have, and you will pay dearly for that! Masquerain! Attack them!”

“You’re up, Wigglytuff! Deflate their egos!”

At first, it appeared as if Fudler had sent out a pair of angry looking eyes. Upon closer inspection, however, the two eyes were actually the wings of a moth-like Pokémon. Its white main body featured a single pointed antenna atop its head and four feelers on its underside. As it flew about, the wing-eyes appeared to glare menacingly at the girls. Exinn released a pink jellybean-shaped Pokémon with huge blue eyes. As it hopped about on its huge feet both its rabbit-like ears and rubbery body both jiggled quite a bit.

“Okay, you ready? Go, Duskull!”

“You got it, girl! Doduo, it’s your time to shine!”

An enigmatic, spooky sight formed from the red energy beam. Its amorphous gray body boasted a skull-like white “face.” Within its body, a creepy red light moved from left to right between the two eye openings. Its partner was a two-headed bird, its body resting on a pair of tall, lanky legs. Both its heads as well as its main body were comprised of balls of brown feathers, and its twin beaks were quite long. With no wings to speak of, its powerful legs nonetheless allowed the bird to gain surprising altitude.

“Duskull, hit ‘em with Confuse Ray!”

“No way!” countered Fudler. “Bubblebeam!”

The deceiving bug released a flurry of clear bubbles that smashed into the white face of the floating ghost. While the insect was performing its attack, the two-headed wingless bird struck it from behind, driving a long, slender beak into its underside. Undeterred by the watery hit, the enigmatic gray creature’s eye began to glow with an even greater intensity. Duskull then unleashed an odd energy wave, with dark matter swirling around the flexible pink opponent’s head. The bloated bunny made a move to hit Doduo upside both heads, but instead ended up slapping itself in the face.

“Crap! Shake off that confusion then go in for the kill!”

“Doduo, nail the bug with Drill Peck!” commanded Shannon as she carefully eyed the pair of angry-looking “eyes” that were attached to the tiny white bug.

Though Masquerain attempted to stop the avian aggressor by whipping up a Gust, the bird ran right through the midst of the swirling breeze. Using both of its beaks, Doduo repeatedly jabbed the winged insect, with the beaks more or less making a circular pattern. Still dazed and disoriented, Wigglytuff continued to lay the smackdown on itself. Its condition was in no way aided by Duskull, who fired off a tiny, white-hot flame. Grazing the pink rubbery skin, the attack left its mark – a charred, black burn mark.

“Masquerain, use Hydro Pump!” ordered the burly Fudler as he punched the air for some unknown reason.

“Back it up with a Body Slam! And stop hitting yourself!” bellowed Exinn as she shook her chrome-armored fist in fury.

Somehow, that tiny flying bug was able to unleash a massive ray of concentrated liquid pain as the pale blue strike met brown feathers. Soon enough, the bird found itself eating dirt as a panicked expression formed on the short black-haired teen’s face. As Doduo was still attempting to rise to its feet, Duskull provided some much-needed backup, sending a sphere of dark matter colliding with Masquerain’s real face.

The twin-headed bird was finally rising to its feet when a pink rabbit/balloon Pokémon ran toward it and whacked both heads with one swipe. The big eared cream puff wasn’t ready for the consequences of what it had triggered. Doduo began to give off a blinding white light, the same light that usually heralds an evolution. The creature that emerged now had three heads. Also sporting pink plumage on the rear of its body and a pair of black feathers sticking up from each head, it still hadn’t developed wings. However, each of its three heads now wore its own distinctive expression.

“Oh, sweet! You’ve got a newly evolved Dodrio!”

“All right! Good work, Dodrio! You worked hard for this! Now, let’s get these chumps!”

Even as the triple-headed Pokémon glared at them, the two Cipher agents remained defiant. “More heads mean nothing! You two! Pluck that thing’s feathers!”

Both the opposing Pokémon charged in toward Dodrio. The gray Ghost-type, ignored by the opposing creatures, launched a surprise Shadow Ball attack from behind, catching the winged insect off guard. Angrily, Fudler had no choice but to remove his fallen Pokémon from battle. In the meantime, the bouncy pink balloon creature had managed to kick the bird with its oversized feet, only to receive the business end of three beaks right in the gut.

“Hitmonlee! Your turn to fight!” The brown Pokémon that was sent out by the musclehead was brown in color. It was impossible to distinguish between the Pokémon’s head and its body, as both were contained within one large rounded torso. Only a pair of glaring eyes gave any semblance of it even having a face. Its thin arms appeared not to be its main method of attack; rather its muscular legs served that purpose. The damage caused by Hitmonlee’s kicking attacks would most certainly be compounded by the sharp nails that protruded from its sizable feet.

Keeping watch over both opponents, Alexis shouted, “Duskull! Let’s nail Hitmonlee with Shadow Ball!”

“Not a chance! Go after that birdbrain with Rolling Kick!”

The wily fighter’s first move was to the wingless bird’s underbelly, performing an upward-sweeping kick that propelled Dodrio upwards, similar to what an uppercut would have done. While in midair, the crafty three-headed creature managed to turn things around, descending toward its squishy pink adversary with all three beaks ready to poke and puncture its airy body. At the same time, Hitmonlee used its powerful leg muscles to jump clear of the ghostly projectile fired off by Duskull.

“That’s okay,” reassured Alexis, “try another Shadow Ball!”

“Make sure Wigglytuff doesn’t interfere! Use Tri Attack!” added Shannon.

The long-legged and long-necked feathered creature was the first to get its shot off. It positioned each of its three heads to form the outline of a triangle. All three opened their beaks simultaneously, loosing weak shots of electricity, fire, and ice that converged to form a triple-sided energy beam. Slamming right into the squishy pink gut of Wigglytuff, the oversized Easter Bunny fell down out of total exhaustion. Enraged, the brown Fighting-type used its fancy footwork to stretch out its leg and stick its clawed foot right into one of Dodrio’s heads. But Hitmonlee was in for a surprise itself, as a shadowy black sphere smacked right into its back, sending it crashing to the ground.

“Houndoom, dinnertime!” The thin and lanky canine emerged, getting pumped for battle by letting out a loud howl. Small embers of flame developed near the black Pokémon’s orange snout. With its pointed tail swaying in the wind, the sinister creature crouched on all fours, ready for attack. The curved white horns on its head and white “ribs” running across its back completed its demonic appearance. “Now, Flamethrower followed by Crunch!”

Attempting to stop the dog in its tracks, the large bird let loose its familiar tri-colored beam. Despite taking a direct hit, Houndoom was able to spit out a long trail of flame, knocking its Ghost-type foe for a loop. Before its prey could react, the black beast ran in toward the gray Pokémon, sinking its teeth into Duskull and taking it down.

“Oh, no! Duskull, come back!” The tall blond-haired girl then fished out another Pokéball from her bag. “Electabuzz, go!” A large yellow creature with two rounded antennae atop its head materialized, pounding its chest with its muscular arms and roaring quite loudly. The fur on its body featured black markings that more or less resembled lightning bolts. Charging one of its fists with electricity energy, it slammed its curled hand into the face of the red-hot canine.

Furiously gritting her teeth, Exinn shrieked, “Houndoom, don’t take that! Torch the both of them with a wide-range Fire Blast!”

Whispering to themselves, the girls had devised a plan. “Okay, Dodrio, charge in at Houndoom! Electabuzz, follow through with Thunderpunch!”

Using its long, thin legs to pick up speed, the large bird rushed right at the black creature of despair, all three beaks aimed directly at it. The hothead prepared fire within its mouth for an attack, but a mere second before impact, Dodrio performed an extra high jump, avoiding the huge ball of flame. Bewildered, the dog jerked its head in several directions looking for the brown Pokémon. It then received a painful blow to the rear as Electabuzz had slammed the creature’s behind with a well-aimed punch. Almost instantly after impact, the static current was sent flowing through Houndoom’s body.

To add insult and even more injury to the Thunderpunch, its avian adversary landed right on top of the hapless firebrand, one foot planted on top of the head and the other weighing down the torso. Houndoom’s thin legs could not support the added weight, and it ended up crashing to the ground. The bird began pecking at its victim, ceasing only after the dog’s Fighting-type partner rammed headlong into Dodrio.

“We’ve definitely weakened Houndoom! Let’s go in for the finishing blow!” suggested Shannon.

“Sounds like a plan! Get ready for this!” agreed Alexis.

“Dammit! Houndoom needs protection! Hitmonlee, keep them away from it!”

Since Dodrio was the faster of the teens’ Pokémon, it ran in for the kill first. It was also the one to meet Hitmonlee’s interference. Too bad for Fudler that it was a very poorly planned tactic. The furious pecking that was intended for the Fire-type was then directed at the brown kicking specialist, with all three of the bird’s heads getting in on some beak action. The only thing that saved the brawler from certain defeat was Houndoom’s Flamethrower. The heated stream of flame engulfed Dodrio as its trainer began to sweat and twitch. This attack was interrupted as the bug-looking Electric-type blasted the devilish mutt. After the shocking strike had run its course, all of the combatants save Electabuzz showed signs of serious wear. They wore the nicks and scratches of a heated conflict, and were no longer as fast as they were earlier in the conflict.

“Finish it! Tri Attack now!”

“Follow that up with Thunderbolt!”

“Hitmonlee! Don’t you dare let that hit you!”

Fudler didn’t have to worry about any attacks hitting his Pokémon, but Exinn did. The female Cipher peon watched in stunned surprise as her normally agile canine was unable to dodge a one-two punch of long-range attacks from the girls’ teammates. As Houndoom went down, however, so did Dodrio. The wily Fighting-type dealt a final, devastating kick to the bird’s main body. Both Pokémon were called back simultaneously. The black-haired girl had another Pokéball at the ready. “Bellossom, let’s dish out the final attack!” she called out as the teen pitched the sphere into the fray.

The small green Pokémon that emerged wore a cute smile on its face and two flowers on either side of its head. It wore a “skirt” consisting of flower petals of bright shades of red and yellow. With those petals swaying back and forth, it appeared as if the flowery creature was doing a ballroom-type dance.

As Electabuzz pounded its chest and yelled out loudly, a steady bolt of electricity began flowing between its two antenna tips. Soon enough, the gathered electricity was condensed into a concentrated shot that was fired off at the Fighting-type. As the electricity found its target, the short plant-like Pokémon began spinning around. With its petal-skirt billowing, the green flower Pokémon began to fire off razor-sharp green leaves. Hitmonlee extended its right foot and got off a surprise kick to Electabuzz’s face, but the flurry of leaves from Bellossom did their work as well, slicing at the brown brawler’s body and causing it to topple over. As the bruised Hitmonlee slowly rose to its feet, it saw its opponents prepping another round of assaults. Reacting quickly, it crouched and extended its leg again, performing a sweeping attack that tripped up both opposing Pokémon and interrupted their attacks.

“Ha! Now you brats are mine!”

“Don’t think so! Bellossom, charge up the Solarbeam!”

“Back her up, Electabuzz! Keep Hitmonlee busy with Thunderpunch!”

The Grass-type could be seen gathering light energy in preparation for its attack. Hitmonlee made a move to intercept the Pokémon, but was interrupted with an electrified punch right between the eyes. The brown Fighting-type knew it had to stop the Solarbeam that was on standby, so it quickly delivered a roundhouse kick to Electabuzz, knocking it out of the way. But it was too little, too late. A huge, all-consuming ray of bright green energy and light came flying right at the stunned foe, smashing into the Pokémon and sending the fighter hurtling backward into a tree. Roaring loudly in a fit of rage and jumping about wildly, the pouting musclehead finally called back his last Pokémon. With the girls’ two Pokémon glaring at them, the owned Cipher agents had little choice but to back down.

“Damn! You two are good… But, let’s see you take on the bosses!”

Chapter 33: Shutting Down Thrash's Shop

Once inside the cabin’s lobby, the girls saw that it was completely empty. But then a steel door behind the reception desk caught their attention. Both girls made their way through the door and were presented with a massive chemistry laboratory. Various chemicals were in beakers and on evaporation dishes, with centrifuges in place to separate the necessary ingredients and Bunsen burners set up to synthesize the chemicals into high-value contraband. But as the pair examined the equipment, no end products were in sight. Suddenly, an eerie, low-pitched voice startled them.

“Mwofuofuofofofo! I never expected you to make it past my two toughest guards! But your hero act ends here!”

A tall, thin man, wearing a tight-fitting gray jumpsuit emerged. His long gray robe was decorated with purple accents. Atop his head was a huge purple and silver headdress that arched rearward from his scalp. Purple lipstick and thin tinted glasses of the same color completed his bizarre appearance. He pointed both his index fingers in the air as he tilted his head backward. Accompanying him was a woman who looked very similar. She wore a floor-length gown of the same purple and gray pattern as the man’s robe, and her extremely long hair was dyed to match his headdress.

The man continued, “I am Snattle, and the great leader of the Thrash Brotherhood has assured me the position of this region’s Grand Chancellor! And my wife, Abyssa, is also guaranteed a high-ranking government position in another region! The whole Safari Zone is my contribution to this great organization! It makes money in so many ways!”

“My little Snattle-poo is so smart too!” his wife added as she tickled the odd man’s chin. “We trick trainers with promises of rare Pokémon to catch, only to give them fake Pokéballs and fields loaded with ridiculously common rodents! We have a few rare ones to tempt trainers, but it don’t matter since the Pokéballs are duds!”

Snattle boasted, “But my favorite part is the drug operation, which we’ve been heading up for a good while now! We make our own high grade crack cocaine and meth in our labs, hide them in Pokémon-like storage units, and sell the dope to dealers! Only a genius like me could have thought up such an ingenious plan! Mwofuofofofo!”

“It’s too late,” Shannon responded. “We’ve already alerted the police!”

“Bah!” sneered Abyssa. “It is impossible for you to get a cell phone signal here!”

“Funny, we were getting five bars out there in the park,” said Alexis.

“You bluff! But never mind that, it is time for the final showdown: a battle with Snattle!”

“Jeez, how many times have you used THAT line?”

Not impressed, Snattle pitched his Pokéball in a sweeping underhand fashion. “You mock us, but now you shall see our power in battle! Solrock, go!”

His wife then threw her containment sphere into battle. “Charizard, it’s time!”

Both Pokémon were orange in color and had the ability to hover above the ground. One had eight jagged yellow points surrounding its round body, giving it the look of a sun. Two eyes, almost completely shut, looked out onto the field. Some sort of invisible power kept it afloat as it lacked wings. The other creature, however, had obvious wings- big blue ones. Easily eclipsing its smaller partner, the orange dragon-like Pokémon viciously swung its flaming tail around as its wings created some pretty intense winds. It clenched its fists as a loud roar came from its gaping mouth.

The taller girl shouted, “You two don’t stand a chance! Wartortle, let’s stop these guys!”

Shannon added, “It’s time to play, Ampharos!”

Emerging from Alexis’ Pokéball was a blue turtle of medium size. Blue in color, it had stationary white ears that resembled wings. A huge curly white tail stuck out from the bottom of its hard brown shell. Standing on its hind legs, it eyed both enemies closely. Its battling companion was a tall yellow Pokémon with black stripes on its ears, neck, and tail. Red orbs on the tail and forehead gave off flashes of light at regular intervals; in fact its entire tail seemed to light up. Its stubby arms had no discernible hands or fingers, and its mouth was concealed under its elongated nose. As it walked toward the opponents, its left arm began to crackle with electricity before delivering a sucker punch to Charizard’s light-colored underbelly.

“Solrock, use Sunny Day!”

“Of course… Sunny Day…” muttered Alexis as her shelled blue reptile was withdrawn before it saw any action. “Kadabra, I’m substituting you!” The teen unleashed her thin yellow Psychic-type. With its thick tail waving completely in rhythm with the head of its spoon, the mustached Pokémon’s eyes began to narrow. The air around its head began to become distorted as the creature sent a blast of invisible energy right at the fire dragon’s head. The winged reptile began clutching its head in pain, and it was easy fodder for an intense bolt of electricity that descended from the ceiling. As a counterattack, the rocky sun-shaped Pokémon elevated its heavy body before it came crashing to the floor, shaking up both yellow opponents.

“These guys are gonna be tough, Lexy. Let’s hammer ‘em one at a time. Ampharos, use Thunderpunch!”

“You got it, girl! Kadabra, give it a piece of your mind! Psychic!”

Ignoring the hovering sun for the time being, the intelligent Psychic-type closed its eyes and held its chrome eating utensil in front of its face. As the spoon’s head bent, the air around the fiery beast’s head became blurred and distorted. Within that distortion, a wave of energy could be faintly made out as it converged on Charizard’s skull. The big Pokémon cried out in pain as the mental assault was doing a number on its brain.

The yellow Electric-type took advantage of the situation, delivering a statically-charged punch to the orange reptile’s pale-colored gut. Seeing its partner in trouble, Solrock quickly let loose a beam of lime-green solar energy, blasting the bony Kadabra with a powerful burst of pain. This gave the winged one time to shake off the previous attacks. Now angry, smoke billowed out of its snout as the dragon spit out a gigantic ball of red flame, torching a surprised Electric-type. Its trainer was equally stunned.

Nervously twirling her long black hair, Shannon shouted, “Ampharos, no! Can you keep battling?” Getting a nod from her still-standing Pokémon, she continued, “All right, let’s teach Charizard a lesson! Thunderbolt!”

“Not a chance! Use Fire Blast!” ordered the bizarre man’s equally odd wife as she pointed both index fingers in the air, imitating what her husband had done before the battle.

As the winged dragon loosed the five-pointed flame formation, Kadabra teleported itself between the powerful fire attack and the targeted Electric-type. The quick-moving Pokémon threw up a protective green bubble, causing the Fire Blast to further spread out and dissipate, saving both Pokémon from severe damage. With an opening, Ampharos’ tail began to light up and crackle with sparks as the Pokémon gathered the energy into one concentrated bolt. It then shot off the electrical burst of power, striking Charizard directly and causing the big beast to collapse as Abyssa began to jump about and yell incoherent gibberish. As the hotheaded reptile got back to its feet, the sun-shaped Rock-type slammed its hard pointed body into Kadabra’s much more frail body.

“Thanks for the backup, Lexy. But I think we have to start to take down that Solrock.”

“Leave that to me. You try to cool off Charizard.”

“Solrock! Let us shake things up! Earthquake!”

Ice crystals began to form on the surface of Kadabra’s fist. The wily yellow creature used its tail as leverage to gain altitude, with its chilled fist aimed right at the rocky orange body of Solrock. Sending the pointed Pokémon spiraling out of control, the Psychic spoon-wielder landed and immediately teleported itself out of the way of an incoming fireball. Kadabra continued to try to draw Charizard’s attention away from the Electric-type, who was prepping an attack. Though the fire-breathing reptile finally succeeded in nailing its brainy adversary, it soon felt the effects of Ampharos’ perfectly aimed Thunderbolt. The shock was too much for the creature to endure. But before it was recalled by its tantrum-throwing trainer, Solrock smashed its hard body on the ground, shaking up the entire lab. Both of the girls’ Pokémon lost their balance and fell to the floor, and the teens themselves struggled to keep on their feet. The tremor had also knocked some of the lab equipment and glassware to the floor.

“Charizard, get back here! Jynx, get them!” Abyssa’s next Pokémon resembled a very short young woman – albeit a young woman with prune-colored skin, as both its face and broad hands were awash in purple. On its face were a pair of two wide eyes and an even wider mouth dressed up with pink lipstick. As it moved, its floor-length gown billowed almost as if the Pokémon was dancing. Its long, blond hair resembled a mullet more than anything else. The ladylike creature closed its eyes and began to make kissy faces at its opponents.

“Ohhh… kay… Anyways, let’s give Solrock a nice slicing Iron Tail!”

“Follow that up with Ice Punch!”

Being the fastest of the bunch, the agile Kadabra prepared its clenched fist by encasing it in ice, then proceeded to jump up at Solrock from below. As soon as it landed, though, the clever yellow one found itself in the embrace of the icy Psychic-type. Before it could Teleport to safety, Jynx smacked lips with it. Soon enough, Kadabra began to whack itself upside the head with its own spoon.

After using its tail to jump up, Ampharos aimed the lighted appendage right at the stony sun. With the tail glowing a blinding white, the Electric-type nailed a perfectly executed tail smash to the thick-skinned Pokémon, sending it crashing to the ground momentarily. Dodging an incoming ray of crystallized ice, the only non-Psychic-type on the field let loose a sizzling shot of electricity at its pointy-bodied adversary.

“Solrock, don’t tolerate that! Use Flamethrower and Solarbeam while the sunlight’s still out!”

“And help Solrock out with your Ice Beam!”

With the quickest Pokémon still pounding itself in the noggin, the floating rock creature unleashed a massive trail of flames from between its eyes, directed at Ampharos. The Electric-type somehow withstood the powerful blow, before jumping in the air and executing another razor-sharp Iron Tail strike on its sun-shaped foe. As the yellow creature landed, an Ice Beam from the blond-haired Pokémon was already on the way. But Kadabra interjected itself, putting up a wall of protection and enabling its electric partner to blast Solrock with a bolt of sparking energy. The embattled Rock-type still had the strength to fire off a powerful lime-green beam of energy, which was more than enough to do Ampharos in.

“Uh-oh, I think it’s time for Ampharos to rest! Nidoqueen, I’m calling you in to battle!”

The blue creature that emerged stood on its two muscular feet. The beige areas covering its lower jaw, breasts, and lower torso appeared to be softer than the Pokémon’s armored blue skin. The horn that sat between its eyes was short and stubby, but sharp nonetheless. Its wide tail swayed back and forth as it used its powerful legs to move its hefty body with surprising speed. Using both tail and feet, Nidoqueen jumped upward with its tail glowing a bright white color. Slamming it against Solrock, the tail left a sizeable gash in the Pokémon’s hard orange body.

“Mwofuofuofofofo! Big mistake, girly! Solrock, unleash the Solarbeam!”

“Don’t think so,” countered the black-haired girl. “Maybe your glasses are too purple to notice your sunlight has faded. And it’s also lights out for you! Iron Tail, now!”

Sure enough, the sun-shaped floating rock found itself having to take a considerable amount of time to charge up its attack, giving Nidoqueen ample time to execute a high jump and deliver a high-powered tail smash to bring down Solrock once and for all. As the Pokémon crashed to the floor, Kadabra’s fist began to light on fire as it delivered a fiery strike directly to the face of the long-haired Ice-type.

“Solrock, I expect better from you next time! Castform, show ‘em how it’s done! Mwofuofuofofofo!”

The next Pokémon sent out was a small round creature. Floating above the ground, its circular gray form featured two small spherical “nubs” below its main body. Gazing forward with its beady black eyes, it didn’t look like too much of a threat. Suddenly, small chunks of ice began to fall from the ceiling, and Castform underwent a transformation. Now colored a gray-green color, a flat halo-like appendage formed above its head. Underneath, it formed even more ball-like nubs that now made a ring around its entire body. Nidoqueen and Kadabra both winced as the ice pellets struck and bounced off their bodies.

“A weather strategy, huh? Well, let’s take care of business. Fire Punch Jynx, now!” yelled the taller of the two teens.

“Stop them with Weather Ball!” Snattle ordered.

Quick on its feet, the wily Psychic-type jumped right at the other, colder Psychic-type with its fist ablaze. But Jynx was able to take the heat and then forced the thin yellow Pokémon back with a chilling ray of crystallized ice. Kadabra was then blasted with a mysterious ball of energy that seemingly came from the underside of the hovering weather manipulator. As Alexis withdrew Kadabra and readied her next Pokémon, the bulky Poison-type nailed Castform with a downward punch. Only problem was, the ladylike Pokémon then hammered Nidoqueen with a blast of mysterious mental energy. The thick-skinned blue Pokémon was in for more pain as a chilled ball descended on it, further compounding the damage. Shannon gasped as this carnage unfolded, her eyes as wide open as possible.

“Ha! Eat that, losers! Mwofuofuofofofo!” Snattle cackled.

“No, Nidoqueen!” But, once she saw that her tough Pokémon had survived the double whammy, her worry turned to anger. “All right, let’s teach that Castform a lesson! Brick Break attack!”

“Wartortle, help out by keeping Jynx busy with your Bite! Go!” The blond-haired girl reintroduced her hard-shelled blue reptile into the battle. Immediately, the watery Pokémon opened its mouth wide and sank its teeth into the top of the enemy’s mullet. To get Wartortle to release its toothy grip, Jynx began to slap its underbelly repeatedly with its wide purple hands. The turtle then released its hold and tucked its head and limbs into its thick brown shell in an attempt to rebuff some of the damage. Meanwhile, Nidoqueen had performed another jumping move, culminating in a punch from above that sent Castform crashing to the floor.

“No! Castform, shut that stupid thing down with Weather Ball!”

Abyssa continued, “Make that lousy turtle thing come out of hiding by hitting it with a Psychic, then move in for the kill!”

As the burly blue Pokémon ran toward the weather changing Pokémon, the latter attempted to stop the charge with its Weather Ball. Though the frozen sphere struck Nidoqueen right in the gut, the big Poison-type remained determined and continued its rushing tackle. Though Castform originally dodged to the right to avoid being sacked like a quarterback, it was in for another surprise. With its back toward its opponent, Nidoqueen suddenly unleashed a roundhouse Mega Kick, catching the hapless foe completely off guard.

“All right! Way to go, Nidoqueen!”

Meanwhile, a direct Psychic blast had drawn the blue reptilian Pokémon out of hiding. Jynx followed up by throwing its entire body weight on the stunned Water-type. While on top of its victim, the icy Pokémon took the opportunity to slap the foe in the face a few times before using its mind to send another barely visible attack to rattle Wartortle. But the turtle soon went on the offensive, punching the creature right in its red gown and forcing Jynx off of it. The purple-faced Pokémon was staggering and swaying quite a bit, which the girls took as being a sign of exhaustion.

“Good move, Wartortle! We’ve got ‘em on the run!”

The weird Abyssa sulked. “Bah, not even close! Jynx, use an Ice Beam!”

By performing some bizarre, intricate hand motions, the icy woman-like Pokémon generated frozen energy in front of its face before shooting it off in the form of a crystallized beam. But this time, the charging Poison-type was able to jump clear of the incoming frozen ray. Continuing its run toward the opponent, Nidoqueen drove its tail into its opponent while the appendage was glowing white. Though Castform was able to knock the attacker aside with one of its Weather Balls, the watery turtle was ready to pick up where its partner had left off. The blue reptilian Pokémon drove its white teeth into Jynx’s blond hair before releasing its grip. For the finishing blow, it landed a swift kick right to the lips, knocking out the icy opponent for good.

“Damn! Get back here, Jynx! Azumarill, it’s time! Attack!”

Adding to Abyssa’s collection of oddball Pokémon was this bloated blue rabbit thing. A white bubble pattern adorned its big egg-shaped body. A zigzag-shaped tail ended in a small blue sphere. Its clueless, vacant smile and floppy rabbit ears did nothing to make this Pokémon look threatening in the least. Immediately, the Water-type’s ally began to shape shift as the falling ice pellets were replaced by a steady rainfall. Now colored blue with its head encased in a transparent raindrop-shaped covering, Castform blasted Nidoqueen with a blue energy sphere, knocking the thick-skinned Pokémon over.

Once again doing the weird pose where she tilted her head back and pointed at the ceiling, Abyssa announced, “You shall not smite our glorious family name! Azumarill, use Hydro Pump!”

Her hubby Snattle was also pointing skyward like a man possessed. “It’s time, Castform! Use Thunder on Wartortle!”

“Quickly, throw up a shield with Protect!”

“Nidoqueen, let’s shake things up with Earthquake!”

A yellow bolt of lightning shot upward from the upper tip of the droplet-shaped Pokémon. The shelled Water-type surrounded itself in a green spherical barrier as its hefty partner jumped into the air. The electric strike came crashing down on the green shield but failed to affect the Pokémon inside. Just then, something else came crashing down as well – Nidoqueen. Its landing resulted in a massive tremor that shook up both enemies and made them eat ceramic tile and grout – but it left the protected Wartortle unharmed. Azumarill eventually made its way back into contention and unleashed a massive beam of water, smacking right into the big Ground-type. In brilliant flashes of red light, both Nidoqueen and Castform were called back from the conflict.

Shannon already had her next Pokémon ready to enter the fray. “Nidoqueen, good work! But Starmie can take it from here! Go!”

“Mwofuofuofofofo! Now meet my pride and joy! Lunatone, avenge my honor! Destroy them!”

A purple star-shaped Pokémon was summoned on the lab’s floor, standing on two of its points. The octagonal jewel at its center was surrounded by a yellow base. The five-pointed Water-type’s central core glimmered in differing colors depending on what angle it was viewed at. To combat it, Snattle unleashed another floating Rock Pokémon. This beige creature was shaped like a crescent moon. Located near the inner curvature of its body, on either side of the Pokemon, a huge, glaring red eye was set into a circular cavity. Directly in front of the eye cavities rested a pointed nose that protruded into the space that was mostly surrounded by the crescent shape.

“Lunatone, use Psychic attack!”

“Okay, Starmie, let’s try your Thunder!”

With heavy rain still dousing the drug lab, the purple star fired off an electric shot that was aimed skyward. Within moments, that energy came back down in the form of a sizzling yellow bolt that sent large amounts of current flowing right through the fat body of the blue rabbit. Seeing an opening, Wartortle delivered several hard punches and kicks to the Azumarill’s spongy stomach. The moon-like Pokémon was able to end the hard-shelled one’s assault by blasting its head with invisible psychic energy.

“Alright, we’re gonna get back at that Lunatone! Flood it out with Water Pulse!”

“You’re not getting anywhere near my hubby’s Pokémon! Azumarill, start Rollout!”

The egg-shaped Water-type laid down on its side. With a little help from Lunatone’s Tackle, it got the ball rolling on its attack, plowing right into its Water-typed adversary and bowling it over. The turtle did manage to get a shot of water off before it got sidelined again. But before Azumarill could get hit number three, Wartortle threw up a defensive Protect sphere, forcing the floppy-eared foe to end its rolling assault. Not happy with the rotund blue Pokémon, Starmie sent it a gift from above – a devastating lightning strike that effectively crippled the unfortunate water rabbit. Lunatone and Wartortle exchanged one more round of attacks, with the blue shelled Pokémon hitting the crescent Pokémon with another shot of water before the hovering rock ended it with a devastating shot of mental power. Alexis had one final Pokémon to use; Abyssa was down and out.

“Good work, Wartortle. Get some rest while I… send in Tropius for reinforcements!”

“Snattle, my love, it’s all yours now! Take them down!”

The funny-looking purple-lipped man did a strange little dance. “Mwofuofuofofofo! Not a bad suggestion! Lunatone, Take Down the both of them, now! Mwofuofuofofofo!”

A towering Pokémon took the field as the moon Pokémon threw itself toward its star-shaped adversary. The newcomer, a brown, long-necked dinosaur, had a green leafy covering on its head and upper torso. A set of massive green leaves sprouted from its back, waving rapidly and kicking up wind and dust, and possibly some of the drug residue as well. Mysterious yellow fruit, almost banana-like in appearance, hung from the upper part of the creature’s neck, just behind the facial area. Those big leaves seemed to function as wings, as they were able to lift the plant Pokémon’s four large feet off the ground.

Immediately, Lunatone finished knocking Starmie around and came toward the other target. Though it was hit directly by the rocky moon, Tropius brushed off the attack rather easily. Both teens knew they had the decisive type advantage, as well as a two on one edge over the lone opponent.

“Nice try, Snattle, but it’s our turn to throw down! Razor Leaf!”

‘Time to hit the showers, Snattle! Hydro Pump!”

Tropius began waving its broad, wing-like green leaves, stirring up a frenzy of small green foliage. The cutting edge of the emerald-colored projectiles sliced through the thick rock that made up Lunatone’s body. Before the moon could react, its star-shaped opponent sent a massive trail of light blue liquid fury hurtling toward it. The furious rush of water took the floating Rock-type down, but not for the count. Slowly, the big beige crescent-shaped Pokémon struggled back into contention. But the recent onslaught of effective attacks left its normally hard body severely weakened.

“Arrgh! How dare you two do that to my magnificent Lunatone! Now we shall make you pay!” Snattle bellowed, his bespectacled face turning red.

Shannon looked at her fuming opponent, giving the man a sly smirk. “All right, weirdo, the final curtain’s about to come calling. Ready, Lexy? Starmie, hit ‘em with a Bubblebeam!”

“I was born ready. Tropius, use Magical Leaf!” Alexis answered.

The crescent-shaped rock rammed its hard, tough body into its opponents, one after another, but the hits weren’t going to deter them. As the leafy dinosaur began flapping its huge green leaves, a flurry of small multicolored leaves were created in its wake. At the same time, the star-shaped creature began gathering large amounts of water, ready to release liquid fury at any moment. At the same time, Starmie and Tropius let loose their attacks, overwhelming Lunatone with a battery of razor-sharp leaves and pressurized water bubbles. The combined assault was sufficient to bring the spent Lunatone crashing down on the lab’s floor one last time.

“Duh! No!” Snattle spun 270 degrees and covered his face with both hands. After remaining in his funny pose for a few seconds, he finally called his fainted Lunatone from the floor. Just then, Exinn and Fudler burst into the room. They opened their mouths to say something, but were tackled by two burly police officers who took them by complete surprise. Additional officers then ran into the building, with the muscular Inspector Morgan among them.

“You two, on the ground now!” ordered Morgan, pointing to the odd couple.

“On what charges?” sneered Snattle, as he and his wife were restrained and handcuffed by officers.

“The possession, manufacture, and distribution of illegal substances.”

“And what proof do you have? Some fairy tale concocted by two little girls. I assure you, this is nothing but a chemistry camp for high schoolers!”

“Well, we shall see what Brutus and Falco have to say about that,” said Morgan, unleashing a pair of huge orange Arcanine. “These are our two senior drug-sniffing Pokémon. If even traces of drugs were present here anytime in the past twenty-four hours, they’ll pick it up.”

Almost immediately, both dogs began barking loudly and pointing their snouts toward various beakers and other equipment within the lab.

“And that’s it,” the head police inspector calmly said as both drug-sniffers returned to their Pokéballs. “Okay, it looks like they’ve cleaned house pretty well, but I’m sure some trace amounts are still present on this equipment. We need to carefully catalogue and collect all of the evidence. Let’s get started; I’ll talk with the girls.”

“No, now we’ll never govern the region! But you haven’t seen the last of Snattle and Abyssa! We shall return!” shouted the funny-looking man as he and his wife were ushered out of the lab.

Shannon called Morgan’s attention. “Look at this computer. Looks like they’re using GPS trackers to monitor their trucks’ locations.”

“Beautiful. I’ll relay this information to headquarters so they can intercept these shipments and arrest the drivers. Alexis, Shannon, I want to thank you again for alerting us to this scheme. We’ve dealt a major blow to the drug trade in Fourtix. Now, you are friends with Lisa Northwood, am I correct?”

“Yes, sir,” answered Alexis.

Morgan continued, “She is making her way toward Plum City, a resort city on the ocean. You might want to meet her there, though it’ll probably take her a while to get out to that area. I don’t think we need you for anything else related to the investigation, so you’re free to head out.”

“Thank you Inspector,” the girls replied as they finally left the Safari Zone. As they left, they passed by a group of four dark-skinned men heading into the complex. One of the men was holding a briefcase, presumably filled with drug money.

“They’re gonna be in for a big surprise.”

“I think Lisa’s going to be surprised when she hears about our little adventure here.”

As the girls shared a laugh, a Pikachu ran out to greet them.

“Here we go again,” they said in unison.

Chapter 34: Two Epic Rematches: Will Lisa Prevail?

As Reed had suggested, Lisa Northwood had taken a couple days off for both her Pokémon and herself to relax and rejuvenate. She had taken the Pokémon for a spa treatment, and treated herself to one as well. She had strolled through the local Prime Outlets mall at the edge of town, as well as stocked up on travel supplies at the local Target store. In fact, she had cleaned out their entire supply of white pantyhose, as she seemed to go through at least four pairs a week. Lisa had also finally taken the plunge, buying a TI-89 Titanium graphing calculator to replace “Lizzie,” her standard TI-89 that had been her partner since 1998, long before her Pokémon training days. But after getting all teary-eyed at the thought of replacing her first “friend,” she decided to keep both calculators and promptly named her new one, “Lizzie 2.0.”

But. in addition to her shopping spree, she had also taken time to train her Pokémon. In particular, she worked with one of them so it could perfect a tactic she had seen a foe use in an earlier battle. Today, the determined challenger wore a variation of her usual outfit. Her beloved blue floral dress and green button-up cardigan were making a repeat appearance. Also, her white hat with its purple ribbon and bow was still situated on top of her head, with her brown hair falling behind her head except for two locks which were draped over her shoulders. Instead of a pair of white pantyhose, she had on a pair of cute black leggings with lace trim adorning the hem on both legs. Besides looking adorably retro, her new legwear would be more resistant to her bad habit of pulling and fidgeting with her clothes when nervous.

But Lisa’s sister looked no different from last time, wearing the same schoolgirl outfit she had always worn. The white sweater and red plaid skirt was one of many identical outfits she had on her. Unfortunately, the brown-haired Lindsay’s red tights were ripped and soiled and pretty much on their last legs.

In the clearing, the Gym Leader and his sibling were waiting for the girls. Reed, wearing his familiar dark green suit, seemed to be awaiting the teen’s return. His sister, Rose, the short, blond-haired teenager, once again wore a green floral dress.

“I hope you’ve gotten enough training and rest in so you will be able to make this battle different than the last one. Show me what you’re capable of! Ready, Lisa?”

“Yes, sir, let’s get to it!”

Rose announced, “The gym battle between Arkwood Gym Leader Reed and challenger Lisa Northwood from Anderson, South Carolina shall begin! Start round one! Gym Leader Reed, show your Pokémon!”

“Ivysaur, let’s get started!”

Reed called out a green dinosaur-like creature that walked on all fours. On its back was a closed-up pink flower flanked by broad green leaves. The creature slowly made its way to the center of the battlefield, with its flower bud occasionally releasing powder. Its huge red eyes imparted a look of determination.

“Now, Lisa, reveal your partner!”

“Persian, let us commence our calculations. Come on out!”

The lithe, athletic form of Lisa’s graceful beige feline took the field. With claws at the ready, this cat was ready to pounce. The jewel on her forehead glowed a brilliant red as Persian stretched her long tail to gain leverage.

“Ivysaur versus Persian, begin!”

“Let’s see what you’ve learned since last time! Okay, Ivysaur, let’s lead with Bullet Seed!”

As Lisa observed the round brown seeds as they emerged from the center of the plant Pokémon’s pink flower, she devised a plan to counter the high-velocity projectiles. “Persian, move two inches left, then back right four inches! After that, dart left seven inches, then jump to avoid the remaining projectiles!”

Executing the series of evasive maneuvers, the agile feline was able to avoid each and every seedling that Ivysaur shot at her, and was able to do it in a very graceful manner, timing each sidestep perfectly before using her hind legs to launch herself into the air.

While in midair, Lisa commanded, “And now use Aerial Ace!”

“Ivysaur, stop it with Vine Whip!”

A pair of slender green vines came flying from deep within the plant’s foliage on its back. As the two elongated projectiles homed in on the airborne Persian, the wily kitty successfully batted down both of them with her claws before descending on the Pokémon itself. With a perfectly executed swipe, the descending cat caused her leafy foe to recoil in pain.

“Impressive speed, Lisa. I see now what I need to do to turn the tables. Ivysaur, Sleep Powder!”

If he puts Persian to sleep, it really will be lights out for us. Can’t let him pull it off!” Aloud, the teen advised her starter, “It’s coming in fast! You’ll need to jump again to avoid it!”

Eyeing the cloud of spores intently, Persian crouched down, ready to spring up at the precise moment. But as the smooth-furred Pokémon pulled off her move to dodge the incoming particles, Reed unveiled his real plan.

“Now, Ivysaur, Vine Whip!”

“No, it was a bluff! Persian, deflect it!”

Unfortunately, this time the vines were coming in too fast for the Normal-type to swat out of its way. Ivysaur successfully tied up Persian, making escape impossible. The green reptilian Pokémon then took full advantage of the situation, using the vines to slam its hapless opponent on the ground several times, all the while with Lisa nervously shaking and grabbing at her dress and leggings. Making one final move, the plant Pokémon threw Persian, sending her smacking into a rather large tree, which made the girl only quiver and fidget with more intensity. “No! Persian! Please, are you hurt? I’ll call the match if I have to!”

The embattled Persian slowly and shakily rose to her feet and scowled at her flowery adversary, baring her teeth fiercely at the Pokémon that had just manhandled her.

“Are you sure you’re fine to battle? Okay, I guess we’ll try something long-range… okay, use Shadow Ball!”

“Attack it with Vine Whip!” Reed countered.

Opening her mouth wide, the cat unleashed a sphere of dark matter upon its opponent. The attack was swift and sure, smacking directly into the face of Ivysaur and interrupting its attempt to entrap Persian.

Wow, great job! We might pull through this after all!

“You’re a crafty young lady, I’ll give you that, but I can be equally as cunning! Now, charge up the Solarbeam!”

“Good work with your last attack, Persian! Let’s end this! Okay, let’s rush him while he’s still gathering power. Then give it one last Aerial Ace!”

Particles of yellow energy were emerging from the ceiling and clustering on the tip of the green Pokémon’s flower. As the lanky feline rushed in toward the stationary Grass-type, Reed suddenly called out, “Now switch into Leech Seed!”

Wait, what?!

In a heartbeat, Ivysaur was able to momentarily stop siphoning energy long enough to fire off a thin brown seedling. The projectile got itself embedded in the beige fur of the rushing Persian, and the resulting vines stopped the Pokémon in its tracks.

“Stop! I call the match!” Lisa screamed in horror, barely keeping herself from running out to intercept the beam. But it was too little, too late. She could only look on as the massive ray of green energy engulfed her struggling starter Pokémon, leaving it bruised and battered in the aftermath.

“Oh, no! Persian, come back and rest! I’m sorry for letting you down…”

“Oh, no! Don’t worry, sis, it’s only the first round, you can recover!”

“Round one goes to the Gym Leader, Reed! Round two will begin now! Reed, send out your Pokémon!” Rose shouted.

“All right, we’ll try Exeggutor for round two!”

Letting out a strange, low pitched battle cry, a familiar three-headed Pokémon took the field, still wearing happy-go-lucky expressions on all three of its coconut-shaped faces. Its torso was very much like a thick brown tree trunk, though it did have two legs to enable it to walk, however clumsy it appeared when doing so. The triple heads were blanketed by a mass of green palm leaves that grew out from the center of the cluster of yellow coconuts. The leaves and head shook a bit as the Pokémon lumbered about.

Focusing on the challenger, Rose instructed, “Now, Lisa, it’s time to show us your Pokémon!”

“Okay, this equation’s tough, but we’ve still got a few tricks up our sleeves! Metang, we’ll try substituting you!”

Resembling a flying saucer with arms, the hovering Metang emitted some mechanical whirring and clanking noises as its bright red eyes examined its opponent, clearly doing its pre-battle analysis of its opponent. Its silver form similar in color to a chrome car bumper, the mechanical Steel-type pointed one of its arms at its plant-like foe claws seemingly aimed right at the heads.

“I hope this battle shows more of your skills than the previous one did, Lisa! Start this with Sleep Powder!”

With a sly smile, Lisa replied, “I think it will. Now, use Confusion to turn the tables on it!”

Reed scoffed at this tactic, unimpressed. “Oh, really? You should know that your attack will do little damage to Exeggutor!”

The teenaged challenger merely retained her smile as the action unfolded. “Oh, I KNOW what I’m doing this time, Reed!” The metallic creature patiently waited for its heavyweight opponent to unleash its cloud of slumber-inducing powder, then focused its mind on them, instead of the opposing Pokémon itself. An odd purple aura began surrounding the hypnotic particles as a mysterious force sent the entire cluster right back at the Pokémon that had released them. The walking coconut tree soon stopped in its path as all six eyes on its three heads began to close. Soon enough, the big brown Pokémon fell to the ground with a rather loud thud. Snoring contently, Exeggutor looked quite peaceful. But to Lisa, it also looked quite vulnerable.

“It did more damage than you expected, didn’t it?” the girl replied smugly, observing the usually mild-mannered Gym Leader gritting his teeth and clenching both fists. “Now, Metal Claw at Exeggutor until the cows come home!”

A brilliant white glow formed on the ends of Metang’s claws as it prepared to have some fun, machine-style. Hovering above its hapless target, the chrome Pokémon began to do a number on the Grass-type’s thick brown trunk – or was it its stomach? Slashing, swiping, jabbing – the Steel-type’s assault was relentless for a good two minutes – until the pain from its attack finally jolted Exeggutor from its peaceful slumber. Still lying on the ground, it kicked the aggressor out of the way before rising to its two feet again. Though it had managed to get back up, the Pokémon with the big green palm leaves nonetheless showed clear signs of injury and fatigue. The girl figured it couldn’t take much more, but she remained on her toes.

I remember from last time that it’s pretty sturdy… it could still take a few good hits to go down…

“Exeggutor! Don’t take that from some machine! You are one with nature and therefore we can still win! Leech Seed!”

The iron-bodied Pokémon focused its attention toward Reed, staring at the green-clad man with its mysterious red eyes. Though it visibly showed no emotion, its trainer figured that her metallic battler was insulted by that last remark. But then she noticed some familiar seedlings preparing to take Metang by surprise. “Elevate, now!” she hollered.

Taking drastic action, the shiny mechanical being flew straight up, causing the Leech Seed to fly under it and land harmlessly on the ground near Lisa’s gold ballet flats. Seemingly taking great offense to Reed’s comments, Metang rammed headlong into one of the yellow coconut-heads of its opponent, actually causing the latter to stagger backward before landing on the ground. As Exeggutor tried to right itself, its levitating foe once again gained altitude before hurtling back down to earth. Its steely claw was basked in white light as it was aimed directly at the underbelly of the still struggling Grass-type. The angered machine finally made contact, driving its extended claw deep into its foe’s gut with the impact made worse by Metang’s accumulated downward velocity. Somehow, even after a hit that hard, the walking jungle managed to struggle back into contention.

“Grrr… Your Metang definitely has determination, but so do my Pokémon! Now use Leech Seed!”

“Let’s end this! Metang, do whatever you feel is necessary, but be sure to avoid that Leech Seed!” The girl then mused, “Looks like you said the wrong thing, pal!

Not quite following orders, the metallic Pokémon decided instead to pulverize the Leech Seed, timing itself so that it slammed its steel arm down directly on the projectile, knocking it to the ground and causing it to splatter on the grass upon impact. Metang then decided to give the same treatment to the opponent Pokémon itself, though the plant creature gave it its all to try to avoid the punishment. Unfortunately for Exeggutor, its clumsy running was no match for Metang’s methodical hovering. One clobbering on the head stopped the pursuit, and four more bonks to the head shut down the coconut-headed creature for good.

“Exeggutor is unable to continue! Therefore the battle goes to the challenger, Lisa!”

“Yes! You were great out there, Metang! Return and unwind for a bit.” With that, the big floating machine disappeared into its tiny ball-shaped home.

“Exeggutor, you’ve done well, but this time, we’ve been outmatched. Return…”

Lindsay cheered her sister on after seeing her win the second round. “All right! Go, Lisa! Only one more to go!”

“The score is tied, one to one. Round three will determine the victor! Reed, reveal your final Pokémon!”

“Okay, I think Tropius will do the trick! Come on out!”

A second grassy dinosaur screeched loudly as it came out to battle, but this one was significantly larger than its predecessor. With its body bathed in dark shades of brown and green, this large Pokémon would fit in perfectly in the jungle. Stretching its long neck upward, the big creature nonetheless still had plenty of clearance under the huge greenhouse roof. It was able to gain altitude by using the flat leaves on its back, flapping them like wings. As it lifted, one of the slender yellow fruits fell from the bottom of its head, but it still had plenty of them to spare.

“Lisa, now send out your final Pokémon!”

“You got it! We’re halfway to the solution! If I use Weezing as my next formula, we should be able to finish up our calculations! Go!”

A much smaller Pokémon than her foe, Weezing could at least float high enough to meet her opponent at eye level. The gaseous creature’s bored, half-closed eyes made it difficult to determine her true emotions, but by the way she was rapidly expanding and shrinking her dual heads, she appeared to be pumping herself up for this duel. The “skull and crossbones” warning on her lower body seemed redundant with the toxic smoke billowing from her body, however.

“Tropius versus Weezing! Begin!” Rose announced the final battle in this series.

“Start ‘em off with a Smokescreen to black out its vision, then use Poison Gas!”

This didn’t go as planned, as the huge plant creature could easily see over the black cloud of smoke. Then again, it did have the effect of obscuring the two Pokémon from the other’s vision. Tropius tried in vain to crush its opponent under the weight of its huge feet while Weezing shot blasts of thin purple gas upwards in hopes of hitting its foe’s head. Neither tactic was very successful. Seeing that this wasn’t getting anyone anywhere, Reed commanded, “Tropius! Use Gust to clear the smoke away!”

A violent whirlwind soon engulfed and dissipated the black fog, leaving both Pokémon visible – without a scratch on either.

“Tropius! Our Grass attacks won’t do us any good! So hit it with Wing Attack!”

Running through options in her mind, Lisa concluded, “If Weezing can just take a bit of damage, that Wing Attack can propel her upwards where she can get a clear shot at the face…” Aloud, the crafty teenager yelled, “Weezing, let the attack hit you from below!”

“Hah! What, are you giving in? Fine then, if it’s a Wing Attack you want, it’s a Wing Attack you’ll get! Do it now!”

As the leafy dinosaur prepared a pair of outstretched leaves to smack its opponent silly, the lightweight toxic orb positioned herself so that the enemy would have to hit her from below. Tropius happily obliged, but then realized its blunder, perhaps even before its trainer did. But the damage was done.

“Now, Weezing, Poison Gas right to the face, and follow up with Sludge Bomb!”

The noxious violet cloud blanketed the head of the large Grass-type, and the beast began coughing in response. This left an easy opening for another putrid strike, as Weezing was able to hit up Tropius for more damage by hurling a ball of heavily concentrated sludge at the face. After a small explosion, the jungle-dwelling reptile found itself in even more trouble, as now its face was splattered with goop and it was blinded for the moment.

“Grrr… Tropius! Use your wings to clean that off, then go up for an Aerial Ace strike! Fly so high that Weezing can’t catch you!”

“Weezing, that’ll hit you no matter what, so don’t even waste energy trying to dodge it… just wait for the hit and then strike back before it gets out of its downward dive!”

As the winged plant Pokémon took to the air, its putrid foe did not even try to pursue it. Once it had gained sufficient altitude, Tropius made several circles in midair before going into a high-speed dive right toward Weezing. The latter only rotated her body so that she would be facing the same direction as her opponent after the hit. When the Aerial Ace, the dual orb did become a bit disoriented, but quickly regained her composure and shot off another Sludge Bomb. When the pile of slime smacked into the back of the Grass-type, it affected its landing and the dinosaur ended up crashing to the ground. Weezing took advantage of the situation and sent another ball of toxins toward her foe. Tropius struggled a bit, but ended up getting back on its four feet.

“Tropius, we’re out of options! We’ll have to cast Sunny Day then hit her with a supercharged Solarbeam! Do it now!”

The girl tried to disguise her sly smirk. “He’s playing right into my hands now! Wait until he gets a taste of the fruits of my training!

The Grass-type let out a shrill shriek, causing the already bright sunlight to gain even greater intensity, becoming almost blinding. But neither challenger nor her Pokémon were unnerved. “Now, Weezing, like we practiced! Fire Blast!”

“Aw, crap!”

Lisa had gotten the idea from Tony’s Muk, and she and her Weezing had worked hard (and braved multiple explosions) to perfect the technique. By carefully combining the toxic chemicals within, the purple-bodied Weezing could generate fire. And now Tropius was going to get a nice taste of it. The star-shaped formation of fire closed in quickly on a stunned plant creature, unleashing the full fury of its intense heat on the hapless dinosaur. Once the smoke had cleared and the sunlight had faded, Weezing was hovering over the charred body of Tropius, now lying on its side.

“Tropius is unable to continue. The winner is Lisa Northwood! As the winner of two of three rounds, she has won the gym battle!”

“Yay! Lisa won! Good job, sis! You beat him!” the younger sister congratulated.

The tall, blond-haired Gym Leader approached Lisa, his outstretched hand holding a badge that looked like a daisy. “For your impressive win at the Arkwood Gym, I present to you the official league Flower Badge. It has been a pleasure to get to know and battle you. You and your Pokémon are among the better teams that I have battled. I hope that our paths cross again.”

“Thank you, sir. I do look forward to the next time we can get together. And don’t worry; my Pokémon and I will improve even more. Farewell for now!”

Lisa and her sister waved to the Grass-type trainer and his sister as they departed the greenhouse. But outside, a familiar foe was waiting for Lisa.

“I figured I could ambush you here, Lisa!” announced a disheveled and bespectacled brown-haired young man. “Perhaps you have forgotten who I am, but you creamed me at ‘Prime Or Not!’ But now I, Reginald Fernsworth III, have a new game to play! Prepare yourself to match wits with me in the most intense battle known to man – ‘The Highways of the Charlotte, North Carolina Metro Area!’ Get ready to lose!”

“Well, although I would have preferred the Anderson-Greenville-Spartanburg version of this game, I’m up for a battle! Lindsay, remember that ‘Charlotte’s Web’ book you told me about last summer? Now it’s time to show you what ‘Charlotte’s Web’ SHOULD have been about! All right, now, I am assuming communities like Rock Hill, Concord, and Mooresville are fair game?”

“Yes, they are acceptable, Lisa. First question: Which I-85 exit is closest to the Concord Mills Mall?” started the young man in the collared white shirt and black pants.

Smiling, the girl answered, “Easy. Exit 49, which is Speedway Boulevard. Also the closest exit to Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Now then, in Rock Hill, Dave Lyle Boulevard is also what South Carolina state highway?”

“SC 122, noob. Which I-85 exit serves Charlotte-Douglas International Airport?”

“Exit Thirty-Two, easy enough. But, let’s see if you know this one. What US Highway used to run through downtown Charlotte, but was recently truncated north of I-485?”

Chuckling softly, the nerd replied, “US 521, of course. What is unique about the I-485/I-77 interchange?”

Showing off her knowledge of the Queen City’s freeway infrastructure, Lisa answered, “It’s the only four-level ‘stack’ interchange in the state of North Carolina. Too easy! Shall we try this? NC state route 73 is named what at its I-77 interchange at Exit 25?”

“Are you for real? Sam Furr Road. Now it’s time for a real challenge. In Rock Hill, this road stretches from Cel-River Road to Oakland Avenue, where it turns into the main entrance road to the Winthrop campus. What’s it called, rookie?”

“Eden Terrace. My turn now!” Pointing a finger at the geek, Lisa queried, “W.T. Harris Boulevard in the northern part of Charlotte is named for the co-founder of which regional supermarket chain?”

“The answer is Harris-Teeter. But now, try this one. What is the name of the road directly leading into the Carowinds theme park?”

Unhinged, the girl calmly answered, “Avenue of the Carolinas. All right, tough guy, what two I-77 exits serve Mooresville?

Cracking a smile full of crooked teeth, Reggie gave his correct response and next challenge. “Exits 33 and 36. What name does North Carolina State Route 49 assume as it nears the UNC-Charlotte campus?”

“University City Boulevard. Yeah, nice try tripping me up there, but it didn’t work. Try this one on for size. Heading southeast from I-85, exit 6A on Woodlawn Road, what does its name change into after its intersection with Selwyn Avenue?

With his knees wobbling and his forehead drenched in sweat, Reggie stuttered, “Um… I know this one… Sharon Amity Road, right?”

“Wrong answer, fool! The correct response would have been Runnymede Lane. Check your Charlotte metro map if you don’t believe me!”

After folding out his map, and much to his dismay, the stunned nerd found that his teenage adversary was indeed correct.

“I told you so,” Lisa smugly replied.

“Blast it! How the hell am I going to outsmart you?! But, if you think you’ve seen the last of me, you’re sorely mistaken!” Defeated again, Reggie trudged off toward his bright red Ford Pinto hatchback. After backfiring a few times, the ancient relic of a subcompact headed off for places unknown.

“Well, it wasn’t a math battle, but an enjoyable break nonetheless. Man, that last battle was intense, wasn’t it, Linds?”

“To be completely honest, sis… NO! Your Gym battle was intense. What you were just doing- that’s what we normal people call boring! And don’t tell me – I’d rather not know where your useless knowledge comes from!”

“Fine, but you’ll never understand the finer points in life – like integral calculus or the United States System of Interstate and Defense Highways. Anyway, I think in the next town I’m going to relax a little bit by taking the GRE exam. If I do well enough, I should be able to get into a good graduate school. Wait, what am I saying, ‘if?’ This exam is in the bag!”

“Lisa, you’re the only person I know who actually finds exams relaxing! I mean, you actually celebrated your eleventh birthday by taking the SAT!”

“Yeah, I know. A lot better than my stupid ninth birthday where we went to that skate park. I actually snuck off and went to a city council meeting that day! If I recall, they voted on some zoning ordinance for that plot of land near the I-85/US 176 interchange. But, back on the topic of the SAT, you know, it really is too bad.”

“What is?” asked her baffled sister.

“Once you get a perfect SAT score, they won’t let you take it again! That test rocked the hizzouse!”

Letting out an exasperated sigh, Lindsay replied, “Only you would say stuff like that, sis. Only you…”
*********

Back in room 440 of the Quality Inn, it was feeding time for Lisa’s Pokémon. The girl poured out some high-end gourmet Pokémon food and watched alongside her Persian as the chaos of feeding time unfolded. Before even digging into his own food, Sealeo made an attempt to take Metang’s meal, thinking the Steel-type would just ignore the food as it always did. But this was gourmet Pokémon food, which was acceptable for a meal in Metang’s mind. It shoved the ravenous sea lion away from its food before making its move to dig in. The chromed machine-like creature lowered its body on top of its food. After a few moments of mechanical whirring noises, the steely Pokémon lifted its body airborne, with its food completely gone.

Not deterred, Sealeo would instead get some of Jolteon’s share. The icy Pokémon’s modus operandi was to slide over to the Electric-type’s dish, grab some food, then retreat back to its own feeding station. The lazy spiked Pokémon seemed not to care. Fast as he was in battle, his dinnertime M.O. was to grab a bite of food and spend several minutes chewing it down before slovenly making his way back to his dish, all the while nearly nodding off to sleep several times. In fact, hefty as he was, Sealeo could usually get three bites of Jolteon’s food in the time it took the yellow creature to finish one mouthful. Even so, Jolteon gave up on eating after only half his food was gone. As the Electric-type took a nap, Sealeo happily finished off the meal.

Back at his own dish, the big Ice-type stuck his snout right into the food, making a huge mess and getting crumbs everywhere. In comparison, Weezing and Vibrava’s eating styles were more normal, but still somewhat messy. Vibrava in particular was finding that she couldn’t eat as much at a time since evolving. Though Persian took her time eating, this was because the cat thoroughly and painstakingly licked her paws clean after every bite. The prim Pokémon also took the time to make disapproving scowls at her rude and uncivilized eating partners. Both cat Pokémon and her teenaged trainer let out collective sighs as the feeding frenzy continued.

The girl took out her PDA, and, after checking her email, proceeded to check up on one of her favorite websites, occasionally muttering out bits of information from it. “Okay, so the Quality Inn Merry Acres got Inn of the Year honors again. Good for them! Okay, checking this… looks like I have 8,940 points on my account… I still need about three thousand more for a free night when I get back… since Anderson now requires twelve thousand points now… okay, I guess I’m set for now.”

Afterward, Lisa left her Pokémon save for the napping Jolteon to remain out of their Pokéballs to let off some steam.

After a well-deserved dinner at the local TGI Friday’s, both sisters returned to the comfort of their fourth-floor hotel room. Once inside, and after Lisa had called most of the Pokémon back to rest (Persian had already fallen asleep on the foot of one of the beds, so she decided to leave her out), the older sister reached into one of the dressers and pulled out a bright red shopping bag. Handing it to her younger sibling, Lisa said, “It’s a gift from me to you for sticking with me all this way. Come on, open it!”

“Sis, if this is a textbook, I swear I’m gonna…” Lindsay then pulled her surprise out of the bag, revealing a very cute knee-length dress. Light purple in color, the outfit was decorated with a blue and green floral print, along with a pastel pink ribbon that served as a decorative sash, tied into a bow in the back. “Aww, Lisa, it’s so cute! I love it! Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

Giggling, her sister answered, “I thought you’d like it! I saw it while I was in Target, and I thought it would look perfect on you! Almost as pretty as my dress!

“Wait, what do you mean, ‘almost?’ Anyway, Lisa, I do think it looks adorable! You may have weird interests, but you’re still my sister! Let me try it on real quick, okay?!”

Lisa then climbed into her bed, being careful not to disturb the sleeping cat Pokémon. Stretching out on the bed, she relaxed and waited for her sister.

Chapter 35: Partners in (Stopping) Crime!

Their journey already having been delayed a couple days, the Northwood sisters finally were ready to leave. Grabbing one last quick continental breakfast from the Quality Inn that had been their home for the past few days, they proceeded in a southeastern direction along Route 512. Lisa was clad in her frilly pink floral dress, matched to a pair of white pantyhose and black heels. Her big white hat rested comfortably on her head. Lindsay, meanwhile, was wearing the purple floral-print dress that her sister had bought her during their week’s hiatus. Forests lined the path off in the distance, but for the most part, the route was one expansive grassy field. It was not as cold as it had been in previous weeks; in fact the girls did not need their jackets for this part of the journey.

A couple hours and about a dozen defeated wild Poochyena and Pikachu later, the sisters caught their first glimpse of a human since the friendly Quality Inn clerk that had checked them out. She was a woman in her early twenties with a black top and short purple skirt. The tall lady wore a pair of glasses on her face and had short red hair done up in a bun. The teen recognized her immediately. It was Lorelei, who was now walking toward the Northwood siblings.

”Hello, Lisa. Fancy we should meet up again here. But I don’t recall meeting this young lady who’s with you.”

“Hey, Lorelei. This is my little sister, Lindsay. But what brings you here?”

The former Elite Four member said, “I’ve gotten word that a Thrash facility might be around here, but so far I’ve been unable to find it. I’m about ready to head back…”

“Wait!” called out Lisa, holding up her right hand. Something had caught her eye. A badly beat up AMC Gremlin, with its ancient hatchback body consisting of equal parts avocado green paint, brown rust patches, and gray primer, had turned off of the main path and down a dirt driveway leading into the forest. Somehow, the driver looked… familiar, even though the teen had only caught a glimpse of the figure behind the wheel.

“Change of plans. I’m going to investigate where that car was headed.”

“I’ll come with you. It could be the break I’m looking for.”

“Okay then! Lindsay, I’m not quite sure where around here you can hang out until we get done…”

“There’s a Pokémon Center over there.” Lorelei pointed to the horizon where a Pokémon Center could just be seen.

After making sure her sister safely made it inside the building, Lisa was ready to begin her investigation, with her old ally Lorelei in on the case. The two females began hiking down the narrow dirt path that the old hatchback had traversed only minutes earlier.

Stepping gingerly over mud puddles and twigs, Lisa muttered, “Just when I think I can get away with wearing heels…”

“It probably wasn’t a good idea to wear them.”

“Yeah, I know I shouldn’t wear them, but sometimes I just can’t keep myself from wanting to look cute!”

“Sometimes business must take precedence over fashion,” Lorelei muttered with a sigh as she rolled her eyes.

Upon reaching a clearing in the thick undergrowth, the pair were presented with something that seemed completely out of place. Here, before their eyes, stood an old, timeworn factory. Its old red brick façade was crumbling, with ivy growing at least halfway up the walls. Parked off to the side was the same ugly ‘70’s hatchback that had first alerted Lisa to this place. They quickly ducked back into the woods upon seeing a sentry in the red Thrash colors making his rounds. As soon as the patroller turned the corner and disappeared from sight, the girls proceeded with the infiltration plan.

Lisa commented, “Those guys are definitely Team Thrash. Looks like we finally found the facility you were looking for.”

“Ah, thank you. This trip wasn’t in vain after all.”

Both of them headed to the front door, only to find it locked. Lisa took out her phone and began to make a 911 call to alert the authorities to the location. Unlike at the lab before, the cell phone signals had no trouble reaching this location.

“Yes, I would like to report a location of Thrash activity. It’s this old factory on Route 512. It’s at the end of a dirt path that cuts through the woods and branches off from the main route. The path’s not far north of the Pokémon Center. Okay, thank you.”

Lorelei was quick to notice the electronic keypad next to the door lever. Lisa examined the device’s mechanism. “Well, it doesn’t look like we’ll be able to lock-pick our way in. Let’s try to find a vent.” With that suggestion, the hunt began for a way inside the facility.

Lorelei looked around before noticing an opening on the right side of the building. “There’s one.”

“All right, let’s get ourselves inside!”

As this was an old facility, the ventilation shaft was especially dusty and dirty. After following a straightforward, linear path, this shaft led the girls to an exit near the heart of the facility. They had to jump down from the ceiling. Lorelei landed perfectly; Lisa ended up slamming right on her rear.

“That was rather less than graceful,” the Ice-type master said, trying hard not to smile.

“Yeah, don’t remind me… OW!”

They had landed in an area of the laboratory facing a large pool of water. But the water was flowing like rapids, quickly gushing from one wall of the factory to a huge machine positioned on the opposite end of the large chamber.

“Looks like this place is powered by water, much like a hydroelectric dam. Which means that we are in the perfect position to shut down their operation. Get out your Water Pokémon, we’re sending them in!”

“Okay. Go, Dewgong!” Lorelei took the Pokčball containing her Dewgong and hurled it toward the pool.

Emerging from her Pokéball was a white creature. It was a sea lion, but looked drastically different from Lisa’s own Ice-type. Its body was slim and slender, with its rear tailfin billowing like a mermaid’s. A short horn was positioned on its forehead, directly above its eyes.

“Okay, Sealeo, time for some underwater espionage!” The hefty, mustached blue sea lion made his appearance, beating his front flippers on the beige tiled floor. His smooth blue body was accented by patches of white skin, including a large one underneath his snout.

“I see you’ve trained my Pokémon well,” Lorelei said, observing Sealeo. “But let us get down to business.”

“Alright guys, we need you to dive into that water and find a way to destroy their power generator or plug up the water supply. Whatever they’re doing here needs to be put to a stop!”

Both Pokémon took the plunge into the rapidly flowing pool, swimming toward the infrastructure that was apparently harnessing its energy. The girls ran along the edge of the pool, but Thrash agents soon spotted them.

“Hey! This area is off limits!” yelled two grunts as they ran across a foot bridge to try to intercept Lisa and Lorelei.

“Water Gun!” commanded both female trainers simultaneously. Both aquatic Pokémon poked their heads above the water’s surface before spitting out volleys of shimmering blue liquid, striking both guards directly and causing them to fall into the pool. The men were victims of the current as they were swept off further into the facility.

Meanwhile, the two Pokémon had spotted something that got their attention. Though their trainers were too far away to see what it was, the aquatic creatures figured they had found some sort of switch. Sure enough, as soon as Dewgong had batted the lever with its rear tail, the groan of old machinery powering up could be heard as a rusted steel wall descended from the ceiling, slowly easing itself into place in front of the huge structure that was collecting the water.

At the same time, a door on the wall opposite the girls opened, and the water began flowing out of that opening into a canal that had been dug in order to collect excessive runoff. As soon as the flowing rapids were diverted to the alternate route, the factory went pitch black for a few seconds before the low hum of the emergency generators restored some of the lights. Having cut the power, the trainers were done in this room.

“Thanks, Dewgong. You may return.”

“Great work, Sealeo! Time to rest up for a bit!” Lisa told her icy Pokémon before calling him back.

The pair then headed through the door, but did not get much farther. A hulking, muscular figure blocked their path. Wearing black workout shorts and a red tank top, he looked none too happy, with a nasty frown on his bearded face. The emergency lighting gave off a nice glow off of his shaved head. “Remember me, Lisa?” he growled, tightly clutching a large red duffel bag.

“Yeah, you’re that guy Fred from way back at your training camp. Dude, you look so much better with your helmet on!” snickered the teen, remembering that last time, Fred was wearing a black helmet that hid his entire face. Still, his buff physique and booming voice were unmistakable.

“Never mind my looks! You shut down our factory’s production, didn’t you? I can’t have you do that! My position as a Team Thrash admin was already in jeopardy! I’ll battle you and your friend here, defeat the lot of you, and switch the water power back on! I’ve been unlucky lately when it comes to battling teenage girls, but I intend to redeem myself right here!”

“Sorry, pal, but this is the wrong pair of ladies to try to redeem yourself with!”

“If you think you can defeat us, think again, buster!”

“Enough! I, Fred, the Dog Master, shall have none of this! Granbull and Manectric, come forth and fetch your dinner!”

Uttering out some weird grunting and barking noises, Fred heaved two of the classic red and white Pokéballs into battle. It did not go unnoticed by Lisa that he was not equipped with the Pokéball bazookas. Perhaps he really was in danger of being demoted to grunt. Not that she cared.

The wolf-like Manectric had fur in hues of blue and yellow. Its most noticeable feature was the yellow fur on the top of its head, which rose straight up and ended in a distinctive point. It let out a loud howl before snapping its jaws viciously.

Fred then proceeded to pull a small, battery operated CD boombox from his bag and began to play the song, “Who Let the Dogs Out?” at high volume. “I figured I lost last time ‘cause my dogs didn’t have their motivational fight song playing! I’m not messing that up this time!” he yelled over the blaring music.

Both Lisa and Lorelei rolled their eyes. “Yeah, that’s really gonna make a difference…” the teen thought.

“Who is this weirdo? Ah, it matters little. Glalie, let us proceed.”

A large crystalline Pokémon took the field. It was essentially one large face, as it looked at its opponents with clenched teeth and mesmerizing light blue eyes. The creature hovered above the ground, with two thick black pointed appendages coming out of the top of its head like a pair of ears.

“Then I’ll call out Weezing! Let’s send this clown packing!”

Also floating several feet above the ground, Weezing proceeded to shrink one of her dual heads and inflate the other into a spherical shape. Smoke began pouring out of the holes that dotted her purple, expandable body. She looked on with half-closed eyes.

“Bite them! Chew them up and spit them out! Arf! Grr! Ruff!” Fred commanded to his two Pokémon while making odd barking sounds.

“Smokescreen and then Smog!”

“Glalie, dodge the attacks, and then use Ice Beam!”

As the admin’s two Pokémon came rushing in at their opponents with their drooling jaws wide open, they were met with thick black smoke that served to completely befuddle them. In the wake of their opponent’s blindness, Weezing first unleashed a thick purple fog that lingered above the cloud of black smoke before eventually descending on the two Pokémon within that smokescreen. Glalie followed up with an impressive beam of crystallized ice, followed up by another. The twin Ice Beams were each aimed at a different opponent and sent both of Fred’s Pokémon hurtling in different directions. As the two of them struggled to rise to their feet, the girls saw an opportunity to put them away.

“Give them no quarter! Sludge Bomb on Manectric!” Lisa directed.

Pointing at the struggling purple opponent, Lorelei commanded, “Another Ice Beam on Granbull, Glalie!”

Fred looked on as both of his Pokémon were engulfed in hard-hitting attacks – from Pokémon owned by teenage girls, who had become the bane of his existence.

“This can’t be happening again! No more stupid games! Granbull, Mega Punch! Manectric, Thunderbolt! Get them!”

This time, the meathead’s two partners managed to land their blows. The electric wolf lit up its toxic opponent with a sizzling blast of electric sparks, while Granbull delivered a devastating punch right to Glalie’s face.

“You two all right? Okay then, let’s get these punks!”

“Hahaha! Feel the pain! Thunder and Hyper Beam, now!”

Opening its huge jaw wide, the purple fanged Pokémon unleashed a massive ray of yellow energy. Meanwhile, its electrically charged partner sent a single bolt of electricity upwards from the top of its head. Soon, a massive yellow lightning strike descended from the ceiling, aimed at the girl’s Pokémon. But both of them managed to take evasive maneuvers before launching their counterstrikes. The resultant combination of chilling ice and combustible toxins rendered Manectric helpless, although apparently Granbull was ready for more. The purple creature barked loudly as it shivered from the cold.

Pitching out his next Pokéball, he screamed, “Smeargle, use Hyper Beam! You too, Granbull!”

A short white Pokémon appeared, looking like a beagle that stood on its hind legs. On its head was a mysterious appendage that looked for all the world like a classic painter’s hat. Matching the artist theme, its long tail, which it held in its right paw, culminated in a paintbrush, complete with a thick green liquid dripping from it. With a somewhat vacant look on its face, it aimed its tail at Glalie and Weezing and launched a powerful energy beam from it, with Granbull matching with an identical beam from its gaping mouth.

“Weezing, Glalie! Are they okay?”

“Let’s take them down! Sludge Bomb!”

Raising a finger at the bizarre little painter Pokémon, Lorelei commanded, “Glalie, use Sheer Cold!”

The thug’s Pokémon were still catching their breath from unleashing their prior attack, and were easy pickings for this latest assault. This proved to be the final curtain call for Granbull, as the purple bulldog staggered around like a suspect at a field sobriety test before finally falling over. But instead of sending out his next Pokémon, he pulled a cheap shot. “Smeargle, Explosion!”

The artistic creature began basking itself in a bright white light before triggering a massive explosion of light and smoke, the deafening sound and force of the explosion engulfing the entire room. When the smoke and debris cleared, no Pokémon was left standing. All that could be heard was the CD player, still belting out, “Who Let the Dogs Out?”

“Return, Glalie! Go, Crawdaunt!”

“Come back and rest, Weezing! Go, Persian!”

Lisa’s beige cat took the field as she stretched out her lithe body, her smooth fur shimmering despite the low lighting conditions.

Fred laughed. “What, you think a mangy cat and a lobster dinner are gonna take down my glorious dogs! What are you, stupid or something? Houndoom, Mightyena, attack them! Awooooo! Arf! Arf! Arf!”

Both of these black canine Pokémon were familiar foes. Seemingly staples of Thrash teams, Houndoom’s demonic appearance was accentuated by curved horns on its head, a pointed tail, and the skull-like medallion on its neck. Snapping its orange snout viciously, it readied its lithe, agile body for attack. Mightyena’s bushy gray tail wagged behind it, as it howled and looked at its two opponents with its bright red eyes, drool dripping from its mouth as it anticipated a tasty meal.

Man, I hope not all dog trainers are this thick-headed…” Aloud, Lisa gave the instruction, “Ready to strike? Let’s give Mightyena a Body Slam!”

“Crawdaunt, Water Pulse.”

The large red crustacean fired off a rippling blast of blue water while the agile feline jumped in at Mightyena, landing directly on top of it and knocking the wind out of it. Houndoom was also taken by surprise when the watery attack bowled it over. As Mightyena got back to its feet, Lorelei’s Crawdaunt released a shimmering blue Ice Beam from its right pincer, knocking it back down once again and leaving ice particles on its gray fur.

“This can’t be happening! Dogs always beat cats! Plus, I’ve got our fight song playing! How are we getting beaten?”

“Lay off the cartoons, pal; I think they’ve warped your mind! Thunderbolt and Slash, now!”

Pointing directly at Mightyena, Lorelei did not even need to say a word. Her Pokémon knew what to do. It dodged an onslaught of Embers fired by the demonic black canine and rammed right into the other opponent with pincer extended, sending the wolf-like creature flying backward. The crayfish sidestepped to the left just as its partner sent a brilliant yellow spark toward the downed Pokémon. With Mightyena reeling, Lisa’s Persian then ran toward the opponent and jumped on top of the black Pokémon as it struggled to get back up. All the while, the other Pokémon was distracting Houndoom by dodging its fire-based attacks.

“Okay, we’ll split the duties. Lorelei, you finish off Mightyena while I hit Houndoom with some nice watery fury.”

“Right! Ice Beam, followed up with Vicegrip!”

“All right, give it a nice sizzling, electrified Water Pulse!”

“No way!” barked Fred. “Hyper Beam, the both of you!”

As Crawdaunt began charging up its Ice Beam, the cat began charging up electricity as she released a rippling wave of blue liquid. She followed up with a Thunderbolt directly to the water, causing it to sizzle and crack with yellow energy as it made its way toward the fiery canine, who was still charging up its attack. It never got the chance to send it off, as the combination of electricity and water sent it airborne and disrupted its attack.

The dark gray wolf did manage to fire off a huge ray of concentrated yellow energy, but it went wide right as the crustacean quickly stepped aside before launching its Ice Beam. This time the chilly move completely encased its target in an icy prison. The red Water-type walked over to its immobilized foe and smacked it with its claw. The ice shattered, allowing Crawdaunt to grab Mightyena by the tail and swing it around a few times before releasing its grip. This sent the hapless wolf flying directly into a wall, leaving a dent in its wake.

Mightyena had taken enough damage and made no attempt to get up. Fred let out more grunting and barking noises as he called back his fallen creature. The meatheaded thug was now down to his last Pokémon.

“Arcanine, it’s your turn to fetch a stupid cat! Go! Arf! Arf! Arf! Awooooo!”

The fearsome orange dog took the field, fire forming at its mouth. The beige hair on its face and tail stood up on end, and its tail swayed back and forth in a rhythmic manner. Snarling and barking, it matched its owner’s demeanor perfectly.

“Frustration, the both of you! Kill!” ordered the admin.

The lanky Houndoom was lighter on its feet and rushed at the opposition first.

Pointing at the black dog with its curved white horns, Lorelei ordered, “Stop its run with Water Pulse then give it a nice Vicegrip toss!”

Crawdaunt’s rippling stream of water left Houndoom soaked and vulnerable. Like it had done with Mightyena, the lobster-like creature grabbed the tail of its foe and threw it aside, sending it flying into its heavier firebrand partner, knocking both dogs to the floor. Lorelei’s Pokémon stepped aside as Lisa prepared for attack.

“Water Pulse, then Thunderbolt!”

The Persian doused both of Fred’s Pokémon in a torrent of water before lighting up the two of them with a sizzling blast of electricity. To compound the damage, Lorelei’s Crawdaunt fired a long-range Water Pulse that further drenched both dogs. The Arcanine was able to slowly pick itself back up, but its partner was done for. Houndoom disappeared in a flash of red light.

“Arcanine’s still soaked. Persian, give it a Thunderbolt followed by Shadow Ball!”

The wet fur conducted the electricity especially well. With the current flowing through its body, the brute was unable to avoid the black sphere of dark matter hurtling toward it.

Again aiming her finger at her foe, Lorelei yelled, “Vicegrip one more time!”

“Overheat!”

Arcanine began to form intense flames at its mouth, then released an incredible amount of fire condensed in one massive fireball. Lorelei’s Crawdaunt threw up a protective green barrier to disperse the attack, while Lisa and her cat darted to the right to avoid the assault. Then, Persian landed directly on top of the fiery antagonist, knocking it down. Though the dog did not attempt to get up, it did spit out more flames at the opposing Pokémon, who each took a glancing blow.

“Alright! Let’s finish this!”

Both Pokémon rushed at the crippled mutt, claws and pincers bared, before digging into its thick furry hide. This was the deciding blow, as the Arcanine’s head slumped down out of complete exhaustion.

With a stunned look on his face, Fred recalled his downed Pokémon. “This is impossible! I can’t believe my dogs lost! Fine! Go! Get out of my face! But, I warn you, as soon as you leave, I will go ahead and switch back on the main power!”

“I don’t think you’ll be doing that,” replied a male voice. It belonged to the brawny, mustached police investigator, Leslie Morgan. He was accompanied by a team of five officers. “Restrain that man.”

“NO! The legend of Frederick Tomlin, the Master of Dog Pokémon can’t end like this! It’s not fair! It’s not!” the man whined as officers put him in handcuffs.

“Thank you for alerting us to this factory, Lisa. And Lorelei. We are glad to have your assistance.”

“No problem at all. Just carrying out League duties.”

“I am Leslie Morgan, a police inspector charged with investigating Thrash. My officers and I have done a full sweep of this facility, and we’ve taken eleven agents into custody. The only room we haven’t checked yet is the old manager’s office at the end of that hall. I’m guessing the heads of this operation are in there. We need you two to battle it out with whoever is in charge here, and we will make arrests once you have subdued their Pokémon. Our own Pokémon are rather exhausted from having to battle all of the underlings.”

“You can count on us. Come on, let’s bust the bad guys!”

“Agreed. It is time to take them down.”

The two trainers ran down the dark corridor to its very end. On a rotted old wooden door was a tarnished brass nameplate that read, “Factory Manager Office.”

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