I’ll admit it. I was nervous about facing the gym leader. Falkner, they called him, the flying-type leader.
Was I capable of defeating him? Or was Quartza’s now-scarred face an omen of things to come?
I stood out in front of the gym for longer than I should have. The quaint, comforting city, with its ponds and trees and somber paint scheme–you’d think it would make me feel better, calm me down and help me face the challenge. But, alas, I was a victim to my own anxiety. I skipped town, heading west.
I don’t know what I planned to find, how it would help me on my journey, or why I thought skipping the gym would get me closer to proving myself to Mom’s boyfriend.
So I spent a few hours traveling west, only to be blocked by a weird tree in the middle of the road. The trees on either side were too thick and dark to consider going around, and the weird thing before me seemed intent on knocking my head off my shoulders if I got to close.
In fact, there was blood on its branches. What the hell? Was it a Pokemon? I didn’t stick around.
So I went south of town to look at the little tourist trap–the Ruins of Alph.
Inside, the office building was non-descript. Plain walls, aluminum floors–dusty from the boots of archaeologists–and there sat two display boxes where various fossils were on display. It seemed to be geared toward school kids on field trips.
I went back outside and followed the stone path to one of the buildings. Apparently, some ancient culture built the structures. Now, the insides had been renovated with electricity and proper lighting. I busied myself with a mosaic display: one of those “solve the puzzle to see the hidden picture!” things for kids.
But when I put the pieces in place, the floor underneath me collapsed.
I fell into the darkness.
“Ugh,” I winced, checking myself over for injuries. I was lucky that Quartza didn’t fall on me–that would have been the end of my story.
“Wow!” came a voice.
“Huh? Who’s there?”
“You solved the puzzle!” The voice grew louder.
A glow creeped around the corner; a lantern popped into view.
“You just might have the gift!” the man said.
When the light was close enough, I could see him. He was grossly unkempt, his eyes bloodshot, pupils dilated. I smelled his breath from ten feet away.
“Yes, yes you do!” he squealed. “I can sense it.”
“What?” I mumbled, picking myself up and dusting off.
“Here! Take this Unown Report! Catch Unown and fill it in! You’ll be brilliant.”
He thrust a clipboard into my hands. A grimy one at that.
“Yes!” he muttered. “Yes, he is the chosen. He will do the work.”
The crazy archaeologist shambled off into the void.
“Once again,” I said to Quartza, “An adult has outsourced his work to an unpaid minor. At least he offered to tend to my wounds after falling through the damned ceiling.”
I looked up; the hole was too high to climb back out.
“Who cleared this place for tourism?” I sighed. “Sorry, Quartza. I need to see.”
When Quartza was back in her Pokeball, I released Tiko. Her fiery mohawk would light the way.
“Yeah, we’re in a dark cave with crazy people,” I said in response to Tiko’s quizzical look. “Don’t hesitate to set things on fire.”
Tiko snorted as if to say, “Aye aye, boss.”
The underground ruins were uniform and unimaginative. The walls were lined with ancient writing and every few feet there stood a statue of a… was it a Rhydon? I couldn’t quite tell, but I thought I remembered seeing something on the news once about the Team Rocket boss using a Rhydon to quote/unquote “negotiate” with people.
Man, that was years ago. How old was I? 5? 6? That guy in the Pokemon center said it was ten years ago when they disbanded, so I must have been seven when it was over.
A whistling sound interrupted my thoughts. Tiko flared up, illuminating all of the walls.
In front of us floated a Pokemon. It was shaped like a circle, with one huge eye in the center of its glossy black body. Screeching, it released a weak jolt of electricity. Tiko shrugged it off.
“Kill it with fire,” I said, feeling that strange mix of fatigue and adrenaline.
Tiko had no trouble turning the thing into ash. It fell to the ground and we moved on. I realized that I was still carrying the grimy clipboard. It was labeled, “Unown Report” and had a few shapes drawn on the pages.
“Ugh, screw this.” I tossed the clipboard onto the smoldering ash.
After an hour of following the linear path, we encountered a ladder leading to light. It lead to a stone building near the Tourism Office that I visited earlier.
“Maybe this is karma,” I wondered aloud to Tiko. “Maybe if I just went to the gym like I intended I wouldn’t have had to deal with the creepy tree or the creepy dude down there.”
We headed back to Violet City, stopped for a minute at the Pokemon Center, then marched straight into the Pokemon Gym.