Chapter 8: Priorities

Hey all, back again! Those of you confused about what CoRRNet is might want tocheck out the previous chapters again, specifically chapter 3, where I addedmention of it for the first time. Simply put, it stands for Coordinated RangerResponse Network, and acts as a region wide task manager to help warn thepublic of threats, and allow trainers and Rangers to coordinate.

New story cover is by the artist Shion, from the website Pixiv. Enjoy thechapter, and as always, any and all feedback is appreciated!

(It seems that there are some reviews I am unable to respond to, which may bedue to the reviewer not being a member of fanfiction. I try to respond toevery question I can, so be sure to sign up if you would like a response toyour reviews, or head over to /r/rational on Reddit for a more publicdiscussion!)

When Red next wakes, he feels much better rested. His phone shows almosteleven, and a text from half an hour ago tells him Blue and Leaf are waitingin the common room.

Red takes his time showering, then heads to the laundry room to pick up hisclothes from last night. The small holes in his shirt are barely noticeablewithout any blood around them, and the smell is completely gone. He packs themback in his bag, then goes downstairs.

The common room isn’t as crowded as it had been the night before, and hequickly spots Leaf and Blue seated across each other in a square of coucheswith a table between them. Bulbasaur sits in a potted plant beside Leaf withhis eyes closed, and Leaf rubs between his ears.

“Jerk,” Red says, taking his hat off Blue’s head and sniffing itexperimentally before putting it over his damp hair. He’d taken it off duringthe break in training the night before, and it hadn’t absorbed the smell ofCharmander’s smoke nearly as much as the rest of his clothes had.

“There you are,” Leaf says with a smile. “Have trouble sleeping last night?”

Red sighs and flops down on a third couch. “You could say that. Is this foodfor me?”

“Yep.” Blue nudges the plastic box across the table with his foot.

“Thanks.” Red opens it and chows down on the cold noodles and strips of beef.“Sorry I couldn’t join you guys.”

“So what kept you up?”

Red swallows his mouthful, picking his words carefully. “In my attempts tomitigate optimism bias, I fell prey to the planning fallacy.”

Leaf raises a brow. “Oh, yeah,” she says. “I hate it when that happens.”

Blue snorts. “I’m pretty sure it’s nerd for ‘I screwed up.’”

So Red summarizes his night as he eats. His friends seem particularlyinterested in how the smoke works, and Red passes his notes to Leaf as Bluetakes out his pokedex and looks up a video of it in action.

“The pokedex really is an amazing tool for training,” Leaf says. “I spent sometime virtually training my pokemon last night to reinforce their targetpriorities, so it’s even easier for them to recognize friendly pokemon likeCharmander or Squirtle if there are other pokemon around.”

Blue scratches his neck. “Are you going to work on training your rattata andpidgey too, or focus on Bulbasaur for now?”

“I want to at least get comfortable with all of them.”

“What about you, Blue?” Red asks.

“YouBlue.” Leaf giggles. “Hey, what’s new, Blue? Say it isn’t true, Blue!What’s your favorite hue, Blue?”

Blue ignores her. “Well, I’ve had a few ideas for what my core team is goingto be…”

“I know you always wanted a pidgeot on it.”

Blue nods. “Which is why I’ve already started working with Zephyr.”

“Zephyr? Oh. When did you name him?”

“This morning.” Blue grins. “Leaf and I did some practice maneuvers on theroof, and he flew circles around Crimson.”

Leaf rolls her eyes. “Circle. Singular. He flew one circle around Crimson, andit wasn’t even during a race.”

“Technically still happened. I’m counting it.”

Red finishes eating as they argue, and spies a trash can to throw the box out.On the way back to his seat, he sees Amy sitting across the lobby on her own.Today she’s wearing jeans, a sleeveless blue vest over a white shirt, and awhite cap. When he waves to her, she waves back, then walks over to theircouches and sits on the one across from him. “Heya Red.”

“Hi Amy.” The other two are looking at her curiously. “These are my friends,Leaf and Blue. I met Amy last night in the training rooms.”

Amy smiles. “Nice to meet you all.”

“You’re a battle trainer!” Blue says, spying the red Volcano Badge on her hat.“Are you here to challenge Leader Giovanni?”

“I actually already have the Earth Badge.” She turns over the left side of herjacket, where a cluster of colorful medals gleam. “It was my third.” Red leansforward and sees the small green badge, along with the Marsh, Rainbow andCascade Badges.

Blue’s eyes light up as he examines them. “Nice. What are you in town forthen?”

“I came up from Cinnibar to meet my brother. He just got his last badge and isabout to head to the Indigo Plateau.”

“That’s awesome! How old is he? What was his last badge? Does he plan to go toJohto? Do you-”

“Breathe, Blue,” Leaf says. “I’m sure she didn’t come over here to answerendless questions.”

Amy smiles. “It’s fine, really. Twenty-seven, Thunder Badge, and not yet. Hewants to try his hand at the League first while he waits for me to catch up.”

“Are you heading up to get the Boulder Badge after, then?” Blue asks.

“The Boulder Gym is in Pewter City, north of Viridian Forest,” Red explains toLeaf.

“I know, I’ve been reading the map.” She smiles at Amy. “I’m from Unova. We’reheading to Pewter City too, if you want some travel company.”

Amy looks between them. “You guys didn’t hear?”

“Hear what?”

Red gets a sinking feeling, and takes his phone out to check CoRRNet as Amysays, “A sudden storm developed in the Pewter Mountains. It’s far to the northas of this morning but the whole city is on high alert. I’m going to hold offuntil we know for sure where it’s headed.”

Leaf looks around in the quiet that follows, studying their tense expressions.“Is it one of them?” she asks, voice low. “What kind of storm is it?” Herfingers lie still on Bulbasaur’s head, and after a moment he shifts a bit,eyes slipping halfway open. He growls quietly, and she resumes rubbing betweenhis ears.

“Lightning,” Red says, reading the report, which warns citizens in the area tocheck back every few hours to keep track of its movements. “Low precipitation,still a single cell… but a single cell that’s been going for two days now.” Itgoes on to call for experienced trainers to gather in Pewter and Cerulean incase of attack. Red’s stomach clenches, and he looks at Blue, who’s watchinghim. So soon… We’re not ready!

“A storm that small lasting that long is definitely not natural,” Amy says.“Which means Zapdos is active again. I’m thinking of taking a detour toVermillion City until he blows himself out. I suggest you guys hang aroundhere for a bit, wait to see where it moves to.”

Blue is leaning back against the couch, arms crossed. He looks at Red andnods, and Red takes a breath before nodding back. “No,” Blue says. “We’regoing.”

Amy blinks. “Going… to Pewter?” She looks from Blue to Red’s determined faces,and her expression hardens. “I take it back Red, you are dewy-eyed. Maybeeven stupid. What do you think you’re going to accomplish, other than gettingyourselves or your pokemon killed?”

Red opens his mouth to respond, but Blue cuts him off. “What do you care? Runoff if you want to; the real trainers will be there with us to defend thecity.”

Leaf’s eyes widen, and Red winces. “What he means is-”

“He said what he meant,” Amy says, voice level as she meets Blue’s gaze. “Whodo you think you are, kid? You’ve had your pokemon, what, a day or two, andyou think that makes you a trainer? Have you ever experienced what the stormgods can do? I have. Watching vids on the net and fantasizing about catchingone doesn’t give you a clue of what it’s like.”

Blue drops his gaze to his splayed legs. “My parents were killed when Moltresflew over Fuchsia. I’m not going so I can try and catch Zapdos. I’m going so Ican help protect the people there.”

Red listens to the other sounds in the lobby in the quiet that follows. One ofthe people working at the front desk is chattering on the phone, and sometrainers across the room are spread out around a flatscreen watching asubtitled movie, its volume on low. There’s a loud flapping to his side, andhe turns to see a spearow with a hood over its eyes perched on a trainer’sgauntleted arm as he walks toward the elevators.

Leaf is watching Blue sadly, and Amy’s expression is a bit softer, though herbrow is still furrowed.

When it’s clear Blue won’t say anything else, Red clears his throat. “We madea promise, when we were younger. Swore that we’d do whatever we could againstthe trio, once we have our own pokemon.” He turns to Leaf. “You don’t have tocome. It’s not your fight, and it’s not your region. We can meet up againafter the danger’s past.”

Leaf bites her lip. “As great a chapter as it would make for my book, I’m notexactly eager to rush into a storm caused by a legendary. We have our own trioin Unova, and I still have nightmares about the time Tornadus swept throughAccumula Town. If mom found out I ran headlong into a Tier 3 threat the firstweek I got here, she’d tear up my trainer license herself.”

Red feels a stab of guilt at that. Be careful, Red… He shies away from thethought of what his death would do to his mother. More visceral than that,fear coils in his belly as he remembers the death and destruction the stormbirds, or “storm gods” as some still call them, can bring.

Fear that he knows his father had probably faced down dozens of times, againstone of the trio or lesser threats. Can he hold himself to a lower standard?

But it’s too soon! We were supposed to have more time to prepare than this._Surely it’s safer, _saner, to steer clear for now, and get more experienceand pokemon…

Red studies the set of Blue’s jaw, the way he glares down, arms crossed. Asthings stand, Blue will go with or without him. And despite what he said abouthis motives, Red knows Blue would try to kill the storm birds if he has thechance. I need to review my options for changing his mind.

He tables the thought for later. Even if they end up going, he can still keephis word to his mom, and take rational precautions. “We’re not going to runheadlong into it,” Red says. “There are things we can do besides try to driveoff Zapdos ourselves. Even if it’s just to help with the evacuation, or thosewho get injured.”

Blue nods. “We’re not stupid. I wouldn’t send Squirtle or Zephyr out in themiddle of a lightning storm, and we don’t have any ground pokemon between us.There are still other things we can do though, especially if we catch some newpokemon on the way.”

Leaf twists her hair around a finger, then lets it go and takes a deep breathand nods. “I’m okay with using CoRRNet to help with any periphery tasks theyneed help with.”

“That’s the idea,” Red says. “My dad was a Ranger, and he always talked aboutthe need for more trainers in the area. Most local pokemon go to ground andwait the storms out, but some can go wild and attack anyone in the area.”

Amy frowns, but says, “Well, that’s a bit more sensible. Just remember thatthe storms move faster than normal weather. You could be dealing with someminor threat one minute, and be at the heart of it all the next. And thenthere’s the Pressure…”

“We’ll be careful,” Red says.

Amy taps her foot a bit, seems about to say something, then nods and settlesback in her seat. “Alright. As long as you’re aware of the risks, which itseems you are. Sorry I called you stupid.”

Red smiles. “No harm done.”

Blue notices Red and Leaf looking at him after a moment, and frowns. “Yeah, noharm done. And… sorry I implied you’re not a real trainer.”

Amy shrugs. “You’ll get it once you’ve experienced it as a trainer yourself.It takes a lot out of you and your pokemon, wears on you psychologically. Goevery time and you’ll get strung out, start jumping at shadows and makingdangerous mistakes.”

“The Leaders show up whenever they can,” Blue says, though not accusingly.

She smiles. “Yeah, well, that’s part of what makes them Leaders.”

“When was your last encounter with one?” Leaf asks, taking out her phonefiddling with it. “And do you mind if I record this?”

“Uh… no I guess not. It was a few months ago. Articuno flew by Lavender nearthe end of winter, nearly buried the town in a blizzard before it was drivenoff. My brother and I got severe hypothermia, and he lost a couple toes tofrostbite where his boot was cut open by some ice.”

“Do the birds come yearly?”

“Yeah, each one is seasonal,” Red says, and Leaf turns the recording end ofthe phone to him. “The exact days vary, but Articuno usually becomes active inthe winter, Zapdos in the summer, and Moltres in the fall. This is reallyearly for Zapdos. They’ve been spotted flying around at other times, but theydon’t bring the storms. Or maybe it’s better to say the storms aren’t aroundto attract them: there’s a lot of controversy over how the two interact.”

Leaf nods. “Same with our Forces of Nature and their elements. So no fourthbird for spring?”

“There may have been, once,” Red says. “There are legends of a fourth god thatflies in spring, with rainbow or golden plumage. It didn’t cause storms in itswake, so if it’s still around, it’s hard to notice. It might even be entirelymythical, people just trying to fill the pattern of the seasons with a made uppokemon. The stories say its feathers had rejuvenating powers, and could evenrestore life to the dead, so mythologically it fits the spring theme prettywell.”

Blue snorts. “Maybe it was real at some point, and someone knocked it out ofthe sky to steal all its feathers.”

“In any case, spring is a nice breather,” Amy says. “Most years it’s not a bigdeal: they fly around the wilderness, and everyone stays on high alert in casethey wander near any towns or populated areas. A bit stressful, but you getused to it. Last year we only had to deal with Moltres getting too close tosome farms: Zapdos just circled the mountains for a few weeks, and Articunoturned some uninhabited island into a glacier all winter.”

As they continue to discuss the last few years of the storm trio’s activity,Red closes the CoRRNet announcement and sees an update on his ticket fromyesterday. A ranger had closed it, with the comment “Rattata nest found andrelocated farther from path. Pallet-Viridian Route secure.” A small bubble ofpride warms him. However minor, it’s good to know that they made a difference,and that their experience helped keep others safe.

He does a search for open tickets in the area and spots a few. Most areflagged for Rangers, others for any experienced trainers in the area. Nothingin the city at the moment that requires the help of newbies.

“We boring you, Red?”

“Hm?” Red looks up to see Leaf smiling at him. She doesn’t have her phone outanymore, and he belatedly realizes that he hasn’t heard any conversation forthe past few seconds.

“Nah, he probably just had a thought and completely forgot we existed,” Bluesays, stretching his arms behind his head. “He does that.”

Red’s cheeks flush, and he closes CoRRNet and puts his phone away. “Sorry, didI miss a question?”

“I asked if you still want to go to the Earth Gym, or if you’d rather head upto Viridian right away.”

“Actually, I want to do some shopping, if that’s alright with you guys.”

“I thought you were trying to conserve your cash?”

“I was. I did my best to pack everything that might be useful, and thought itwas enough. But last night’s training drove home how woefully unprepared I am.I’d rather have the gear I need now, like my own gas mask.”

“If you guys are headed north soon, there’s a supply store on the way-” Amy’sphone chimes, and she takes it out. “Excuse me.”

“See that?” Blue says to Red. “Manners.”

Red frowns at him as Leaf covers her grin. “You’re one to talk.”

“Hello? Hey! Yeah, I’m at the trainer house. Are you… cool, I’ll come out now.See you in a bit!”

She ends the call and stands. “My brother’s here. You guys want to meet him?”

“Sure,” Blue says as they all get to their feet.

“This way,” she says, heading for the elevators. “He doesn’t like landing atstreet level.”

Leaf returns Bulbasaur to his ball in a flash of light, and they go to theroof. The noise of the city washes over them as soon as they step out into thesunlight, a bit muted by their elevation. Other buildings rise up around them,most much higher than the trainer house, though not as wide. Some trainers flyby now and again riding their pokemon, but Amy gazes upward, her eyes shadedagainst the sun as she searches.

Red studies the landing platform that takes up a third of the roof, marked offby divisions for multiple pokemon to land at once. Another third of the roofis divided into dozens of squares the size of a small closet, designated as asafe spot for psychic trainers who have keyed the trainer house as theirpokemon’s “home” to teleport in.

Not for the first time, Red finds himself watching the teleporting zone,hoping to spot someone pop into existence with their pokemon. There was asimilar area in Pallet Town that he used to spend hours watching when he wasyounger, hoping to see someone pop into existence. His dad had come home thatway once, and Red had stayed up as late as he could to greet him, only tosuccumb to sleep a half hour before he arrived.

Even in a major city like this, the teleportations are rare enough that heknows he probably won’t see anyone. Most people train their pokemon to warpdirectly to a pokemon center, which Red finds a bit pointless: one of thegreatest benefits of pokeball technology is that they can freeze their pokemonat any level of injury and get them to a pokemon center without worry. Firstteleport priority would probably be the nearest hospital. Second would be homefor when I want to visit Pallet, third maybe the Celadon City DepartmentStore-

“There he is! Hey Donny!

A distant screech answers her yell, and they turn to follow Amy’s gaze as shewaves her arms. Above the tallest building, sunlight flashes off somethingmetallic. For a moment Red thinks a hang glider is swooping down at them,until he sees the red frills and a thrill goes through him.

The skarmory pulls out of its dive when it’s level with the roof top, andsails over the edge and onto one of the runways. Its legs kick as it touchesdown, bouncing it back up a few times with its wings flared until it finallyslows to a stop.

The trainer on its back unbuckles himself from the leather harness and hopsdown. Amy jogs forward to meet him, and Red and Blue exchange amazed grins asthey run forward to join her. By the time they cross the roof to the end ofhis runway, Amy’s brother has fed his pokemon something from a pouch at hiswaist and is stroking its neck.

“Hey bro!” Amy tackle hugs the other blonde, who’s a head taller and easilyspins her around. He’s dressed in a thick leather aviator jacket and pants,loose buckles hanging from his belt where it had attached to skarmory’sharness.

“Hey sis.” He puts her down and pushes a pair of goggles to his forehead toreveal eyes as light as Professor Oak’s. “You didn’t mention you had a welcomeparty waiting.”

“These are some newbies I met. Red, Blue, Leaf, this is my brother Donovan andhis skarmory, Tita. How’s it going girl?” She runs her nails over the metallicbird’s fin, which causes it to preen, its plate-like feathers lifting andfalling in a ripple that sounds like a quick rain of coins.

They exchange greetings. Leaf admires the skarmory and says “Your pokemon isso beautiful! I didn’t know there were skarmory in this region.”

“There usually aren’t,” Blue says. “Did you trade her from someone in Johto?”Red had expected Blue to bombard the competitive trainer with questions, butso far he’s showing remarkable restraint.

“Nah, I took a trip down to the Sevii Islands a couple years ago and found herthere.”

Red smiles. “Her nickname, Tita. That’s short for titanium, right?”

Amy looks smug. “Yep. Guess whose idea that was?” She sticks two thumbs atherself, and her brother grabs her wrists and tries to point them at himself.

Red sees Blue and Leaf’s bemused looks and says, “The metal that skarmory arecoated in is a titanium alloy. It’s incredibly light for its strength, and theonly type found naturally.”

“Neeeeerd,” Blue mutters until Leaf elbows him.

“Would it be alright if I pet her?” Leaf asks.

“Sure, let’s see if she’s in a good mood first.” He tugs on the thin chainaround his neck and pulls a whistle out the front of his jacket. Watching hisskarmory, he blows a few sharp whistles, then a low warble.

Red doesn’t notice any particular response from Tita, but apparently Donovanreads something from his pokemon, because after a moment he takes the whistleout and says, “Okay, we should be good. Approach slowly from her side and keepyour hands free of the area around her wings: they’re very sharp. Also, besure to stroke from front to back. Ladies first?”

Leaf grins and steps forward, hands carefully held up. Tita notices her whenshe’s a few steps away, and the pokemon’s attention sharpens, whole body goingstill. Leaf pauses while Donovan soothes Tita until the skarmory seems calmagain, then continues forward until she can run her hand tentatively down thebird’s side.

“Oh!” she gasps. “It’s so… not soft, exactly, but… not hard either. Strong,but yielding.”

After another few moments she steps away, and Blue goes next. Tita shufflesfrom foot to foot, but allows herself to be stroked without complaint. Donovanwatches his pokemon carefully, whistle held up near his lips as he instructs,“Just there… right. You can explore a bit, but no sudden movements. A few moreseconds… okay, now slowly step back.”

When it’s Red’s turn to approach, a knot of tension forms in his stomach, andhe hesitates. His eyes dart to the razor sharp edges of skarmory’s wings,talon and beak, imagination painting a far too vivid picture of what it wouldlook like tearing through his body.

Donovan wouldn’t let us approach if he wasn’t sure of his training. He triesto step forward, feet doing an awkward half-shuffle. His instincts ignorerational argument and continue to insist that he get as far away from themetallic death machine as he can.

Only a few seconds have passed, and the others are beginning to glance at himcuriously. The shame propels him another half-step forward, but no further._This is mutiny! _he yells at his jelly legs.

Then the thin iris of the skarmory’s eye meets his, and Red sees an assessmentin its alien gaze. Is he a friend, a foe… or possibly food?

Red takes a deep breath, and focuses on his thought process. What are mypriorities, and how do my actions align with them?

Priority one: Learn as much as possible about pokemon so I can become aProfessor, which also helps-

Priority two: Become an effective trainer, so that I can -

Priority three: Protect the public, benefits of which includes -

Priority four: Gain respect among tribe members and wider community, whichhelps-

Priority five: Get funding and support to discover the origin of pokemonspecies.

This paralysis hinders all of the above priorities. So what is itspurpose?

To protect the self, loss of which also hinders all of the above.

Exaggeration: The life as a trainer requires far more dangerous risks thanthis. How can I expect to help Blue against the storm birds if I can’t even dothis?

Irrelevant: Possibility of future justified risk doesn’t excuse presentrecklessness.

Strawman: Present risk is not reckless, and is justified by mitigating futurerisk through contribution to priorities one and two. What purpose, value, orpriority does this fear serve?

Another couple seconds have passed, and a drop of sweat creeps down the backof Red’s neck as he continues to meet the skarmory’s gaze. Some pokemon fliesnear the building, but doesn’t land on the roof with them.

None. It just is, the simple consequence of acknowledging reality. Ifsomeone as capable as dad could die, so can I, and far more easily.

Red lets out his breath. Dad wasn’t ignorant of reality. He knew the risks.And if he could overcome his fear, so can I, or I might as well go home now.

Red takes a step forward. The next is easier, but on the third the armoredbird shifts at bit. Red stops, sweat breaking out all over his body. Donovanstrokes Tita’s beak, and when she calms down again, Red forces himself to takeanother step, wiping his clammy hands on his pants. He’s acutely aware thatthe others are watching him, but as long as he keeps moving forward, hedoesn’t have to feel ashamed of the fluttering in his belly.

Once he’s close enough to touch the skarmory, he stops and looks at Donvan.The trainer studies his pokemon briefly, then nods at him. Red slowly reachesout a hand and rests it on the skarmory’s thigh… and sudden wonder blows hisfear away.

What looks like a smooth metal body is in fact thousands of small metallicfeathers. Each is incredibly fine, but their combined overlapping strengthgives the pokemon its incredible physical durability.

“Make a stroking motion, so she knows you’re friendly,” Donovan says, and Reddoes so, amazed by the distant feel of the warm body beneath the cool metalcoating. He’s never felt anything like it.

“Is it alright if I look closer?” Red asks.

“Sure, give me a sec.” Donovan snaps his fingers in front of Tita. Theskarmory fixes her attention on her trainer, then the bright blue pokepuff hepulls out of a pocket in his jacket. “Okay, go ahead,” he tells Red, keepinghis gaze on his pokemon.

Red crouches forward and examines the glossy coat from an inch away. Fromhere, he can just barely make out that the ripples of distortion on thepokemon’s metal coat, which he’d originally taken to be lines of impurity, areactually super thin divisions where the scale-like feathers overlap.

“Got a few more seconds,” Donovan says. Red nods, and after a few morestrokes, steps away from the pokemon. Some of his nervousness returns now thathe’s no longer touching it, and he backs away until he’s with Leaf and Blueagain.

He braces himself for some comment by the others, but Blue just claps him onthe back, and Leaf smiles at him. “Pretty awesome, huh?”

“Definitely.” Red turns to Donovan and Amy. “Thank you very much.” That seemsinadequate, so he puts his hands to his sides and bows from the waist, atabout a thirty degree angle. “It was an honor to be able to interact with yourpokemon, Donovan-san.”

Blue bows beside him, and after a surprised look Leaf mimics them.Globalization had faded much of each region’s unique culture in the times ofRed’s grandparents and great grandparents, homogenizing everything from namesto language to currency, but children are still taught the basic historicaletiquette.

The older trainers look amused, but Donovan returns the bow after a moment.“It was my pleasure.” He gives Tita one more scratch along her neck, thensteps back and returns her to her pokeball in a flash of light. “So what’s thestory with you three? From around here?”

They tell him where they’re from as they walk back to the roof access and takethe elevator down. Once in the common room, Red notices a bigger crowd thanthere had been earlier. Most of them seem gathered near the entrance.

“What’s up?” Blue asks one of the trainers nearby.

“Someone said Reza Salur is on his way here.”

“_Reza’s _here?” Blue stands on his toes and cranes his neck to look over thecrowd.

“Ah, shit,” Donovan says with a rueful grin. “I was hoping he’d get boggeddown in Cerulean a while longer.”

Red scratches beneath his cap. “Why is that name familiar?”

Blue gives him a flat look. “Do you ever listen when I talk?”

“Depends. Is he a battle trainer you admire, or did he actually do somethingimportant?” Red looks at Amy and Donovan. “No offense.”

Amy grins. “None taken.”

Blue rolls his eyes. “He’s the dragon trainer that single-handedly stopped akangaskhan herd from flattening Rifu Village last year.”

Red frowns. “Rings a faint bell.”

“You know him?” Leaf asks Donovan.

“Yeah, a bit. We met for the first time a couple years back in the SaffronGym. It was his third badge, my second. Since then we’ve been keeping tabs oneach other’s progress. He-”

The front door opens, and a young man with dark skin and a black jacket walksin. He seems surprised for a moment by the number of people near the entrance,but quickly continues forward to the front desk. His hair is worn long, andswept to hang over the left side of his face.

“Younger than I expected,” Amy says.

Donovan nods. “He’s about your age.”

When he finishes checking in, Reza makes his way through the common room, gazeon the elevators ahead as he ignores the looks and whispers of those aroundhim. Once Reza is past the crowd and fully in sight, Red sees the heavy scarsthat run along his left jaw and cheek, partially obscured by hair.

Donovan gives a casual salute with two fingers. The dragon trainer glances athim, then smiles in wry amusement and nods back. As he passes, Red notices theconspicuous lack of an ear under his hair, and wonders how far the scarringgoes.

“So he’s challenging the League too?” Red asks once he passes.

“Yep. Part of me wants to see how good he is for myself, but I won’t complainif he gets knocked out before that. Fighting dragons is never fun.”

“Nor training them, from the looks of it,” Leaf says, and Red nods. _As I’llfind out for myself,__ someday. _His thumb rubs the roof of Charmander’spokeball.

The crowd is beginning to disperse, and the group makes their way through tothe front desk to check out. When it’s his turn, Red swipes his trainer card,then pays four dollars, plus another two for the use of the training room.

“Thank you for staying,” the receptionist says. “We hope to see you againsoon!” Red thanks him and joins the others outside.

“Well, I’m starving,” Donovan announces once they’re outside. “How doesseafood sound to you, Ames?”

“Right behind you.” She turns to them. “Care to join us?”

“I already ate.” Red looks at the others, “What do you guys think?”

“We should probably get going,” Blue says. “I want to get to Viridian Foresttoday.”

Leaf nods. “It was great to meet the two of you!”

Amy smiles. “It was. I hope you enjoy your time in Kanto, Leaf.”

“Thanks, I’m loving it so far!”

Blue turns to Donovan. “Good luck in the league. I’ll keep an eye out foryou.”

They say their farewells and part. Red’s a bit disappointed that Amy won’t betraveling with them, but his excitement to be back on the move quicklydominates his mood as they walk up the street and head north.

“Okay, so there’s a few stores on the way that have what I need,” he says ashe checks online. “Is there anything you guys want to pick up too?”

“Wouldn’t mind getting a whistle and chain,” Blue says.

Leaf looks up at the summer sun as it beat down on them. “And I’d like to finda nice hat.”

“Hat, whistle, gas mask…” Red types with his thumbs, watching stores fade fromthe map until two are left. “Got one.” He puts his phone away, alreadythinking of what else he’d like to buy. “The closest is on the northern edgeof the city though. Do we want to leave just yet?”

Leaf checks the time. “Well, I’m glad we met Amy and Donovan, but we’re behindschedule.”

“Yeah, I’d like to get to the forest before dark,” Blue says. “ What do yousay, master fallacy planner? Think we can make it?”

Red shrugs. “Sure, as long as no more than three moderately interesting ordisrupting unexpected things happen along the way.”

Blue smiles. “Those odds aren’t so bad.”

Just then, an exeggutor runs out from a restaurant ahead of them, a food heldin each of its numerous mouths. Cars honk as it dashes across the street, andsomeone in a suit runs after it, pokeball in hand as he tries to get a lock onhis pokemon. The two are followed by a pair of angry restaurant staff, and thetrainers watch them all run by, then look at each other.

Blue steps to the edge of the sidewalk and holds up a hand at one of thestopped cabs. “Taxi!”

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