The Trainer Exam
Gilroy Redwood was in another after-hour session with his grand-nephew, Alex. The boy was twelve now, and his brother Eric was ten. He'd also just gotten a Squirtle, while Alex remained Pokéless.
But, his Gruncle was telling him, there was a chance to earn one, perhaps, and convince his parents to let him keep it. Legally, they were the only ones who kept him from owning a Pokéball.
Every trainer, around the ages of five to ten, was tested for their aptitude in battles, and based on that, they would either be advised to become a trainer as soon as possible, in some cases sixteen, or be directed to find another path, one that didn't involve professional training. Given the culture of their world, almost everyone wanted to become a Trainer. There was an entire industry around professional battling, and if you were good, no job payed better.
If they passed, they, at the very least, received a Trainer ID, allowing them to travel to all the countries connected by the Pokémon League. Which was most of them. Even for non-trainers, knowing how to properly handle a Pokémon was a skill that governments the world over had agreed was necessary, to keep from falling back into chaos. Thus, the League had received funding to teach and train the world over.
Alex's mother and father had already left discreetly with his younger brother, who was already close with his Squirtle. Once again, they'd left their eldest son to his own path.
If the Professor did nothing, he knew the raw potential this kid had would be wasted forever, and that, would be truly shameful. Redwoods usually made seriously skilled Pokémon Rangers, but the Professor had a feeling Alex had a different path.
The only Ranger in this new generation of Redwoods that really had a chance to be a legend was Geralt, and he and his Dawn Form Lycanroc were already training for that, hard, at University. Those classes were even more intense than the Trainer ones.
The Dawn Form of Lycanroc was the Redwood's most recent claim to fame, as nobody had made one evolve at dawn before. The scientific world was buzzing, and already, trainers were trying to evolve their Rockruff at hours that nobody had yet tried.
Geralt's Lycanroc was referred to simply as 'the White Wolf'. It shared the Day Form's body type, but was pure white, and much, much larger. Geralt had gotten the Rockruff two years prior, when Gilroy had taught them how to catch Pokémon in the Redwood style. Thankfully, he'd had a ball on hand. Alex of course, had not.
Over the years, Pokémon Rangers had blended with the local police of any region with a League, and were often regarded as much, much stronger officers of the law. Typically, they had one to three partners in Pokéballs, and used their Capture Devices for gaining the aid of wild Pokémon. The most skilled Rangers didn't need such devices, and the Redwood line had a knack for producing incredibly skilled Rangers.
The Professor's own sister, Haley, had been one such Redwood, but she'd gone missing years ago in the Stoney Mountains, and by now, was presumed dead. Geralt had the same look in his eye that she had, and thus, the Professor had made every effort to ensure that he'd get the best training. Another familial loss to the life of a Ranger, and he doubted there would ever be another Redwood Ranger. Not from this branch, anyways.
Now, the old man was driving his young, conflicted relative down to the League's Headquarters in Unova proper, the as yet unfinished building that would someday, if the rumors were true, hold the World Tournament. They never saw Eric, or his parents, as they had left early.
The exams sometimes took weeks, months even, depending on when they were given. It was summer now, so the exam would be a longer one. Alex had seemed almost apprehensive about spending so long on his own, but his Gruncle assured him that doing so would prove he could easily handle this challenge.
Alex didn't want to disobey his parents still, but the Professor had no issues. He tried explaining to the lad that he would never have a better chance to demonstrate his potential, but the child still seemed to think this was breaking the rules. The Professor simply smirked. Once this kid had a Pokémon, and real battles, he'd be even more enamored.
True to his word, his Gruncle left him on his own, clad in too-large red and blue clothes. His red jacket made him stand out, his oversized red and blue Unova hat didn't fit right over his dark curls, and his blue shirt clashed too much, but onward he marched, alone, to the reception desk.
It was the first time he was 'processed', and eventually, an older gentleman with reddish oak brown hair gave him a choice. "Fire, Water, or Grass." The old man looked the kid over, and made a bet with himself that he'd pick fire.
Of the three Pokémon available, all this particular examiner had were 'the Kanto starters'. Alex stared at the Charmander for a long time, and the little fire lizard grinned, giving a thumbs up. He examined the other two then, and after several minutes, chose Bulbasaur, to the shock of the Professor, and the Charmander.
"Very well." The Professor said, locking his fingers. "For this challenge, you may use that Bulbasaur. Always remember however, he is the League's Pokémon. Try not to get too attached. He was chosen because he bonds well with multiple trainers. Don't make him dependent on one."
Alex grinned at the Bulbasaur. "Alright then, I'll call you Saur." The little green Pokémon extended a vine, and they shook. For his part, he liked what he sensed in this potential trainer. They would be a good team. He could feel it.
The Professor rolled his eyes. Another genius for nicknames in the making, this kid. The older man thumbed a button, opening a door at the back of the room that was acting as his lab for the moment.
"Your challenge is to follow the signs, battle the other trainers, and get as far along as you can in a two-week period. Good luck."
With that, Alex was shoved out the door as another child came in to choose their partner. Thankfully, there were always more Bulbasaur.
Alex looked down at his, and grinned. He'd chosen this one for two reasons. That Charmander, while intense, would never be his, and this Bulbasaur was clearly close to evolving. His brother had no doubt gone with his own Squirtle, as trainers were wont to do. Very few actually showed up with no Pokémon, or parents, but they all got the aid of another starting Pokémon.
"First, let's get you to evolve…" Alex said, grinning and looking around for Rattata. Five battles later, and the little Bulbasaur glowed, catching the interest of nearby trainers. Saur roared a loud challenge as he finished, smacking the ground with his new stronger vines, and the trainers around Alex decided to battle this newly evolved Pokémon. It would count as an easy victory, or so they thought. He didn't look all that intimidating.
Alex lost thrice to type advantage, but scored ten victories from water, electric, and normal type users. If you gained a record of negative five and held it until time was up, you failed the exam. The battling would continue until time ran out.
Thankfully, victories removed losses, and thus he now had a respectable record of seven. The higher his win count, the better off he'd be. Or so his Gruncle had said. Now, he'd need to follow the more serious trainers further into the wilderness to beat them.
In that first day, many trainers with entire teams of one Pokémon, and one starter, quickly realized how badly outmatched they were by people who knew their type advantages. Several had, supposedly, given up.
Alex was always a target for fire types, that is, until he found a wild Sandshrew, who desperately wanted to be a Sandslash, but had no trainer. Alex understood about 70% of what Pokémon said, and convinced the little ground type to come with them for a while.
The sand mouse grew exponentially once it learned Magnitude, and was able to drive off fire type threats to Saur. Together, the combination of grass and ground was quite powerful, and Alex found it extremely handy for this particular challenge. He often wished they were one Pokémon though.
After finally evolving and learning Sand Tomb, Sandslash stuck around, agreeing to help his new friends until their journey was over. Battling throughout the hills behind Iccirus Town was some of the most fun Alex had ever had.
He met tons of new trainers, saw new Pokémon, and learned very suddenly that he was indeed attracted to women. Given that many of the trainers here were alone, and usually on the cusp of puberty, the 'relationship drama' was everywhere.
By the end of a long seven days, Alex had a Venusaur, and a Sandslash. He was proud of both of them. Most of the trainers he met had managed to evolve their chosen starting partner once, not twice, and thus he soon realized his full-grown Venusaur often had an unfair advantage due to the sheer power of his Power Whip. In his younger forms, it had been formidable, but fully evolved there were few who could stand against the flurry of massive vines.
He didn't let that stop him from battling however, nor did he find an alternative and 'fair' grass type. If these trainers couldn't handle him, they didn't belong here. Besides, losing a battle was always a good learning experience. He'd had his own share of losses, even before this challenge, but that was usually because his partners would flee after taking too much damage.
Over time, trainers who'd picked similar starters and had similar attitudes formed groups, and naturally, the one Redwood found himself with was already experimenting with something called 'Leaf'. It was wonderful, and apparently, legal now.
Grass trainers were typically nothing if not responsible. Sure, their eyes were usually red, and they were a bit too laid back, but they always kept an eye on their friends, and respected nature. They made excellent Trainers. It was no different with Alex. For the first time in his life, he had a group of people looking out for him, not just his Gruncle. Being mostly older, these kids looked at him like a little brother, who towered over most of them, even at twelve.
During one of the many Leaf sessions they had, Alex began to piece together what he wanted, eventually, for his own team. He was addicted to battling now, and regarded as a proper trainer by everyone he went up against. It was a complete 180 from how he was usually treated, and he loved every second of it. The battles, the traveling, the new opponents, styles, moves, he could do this every day for the rest of his existence, and never tire of it.
Several of his classmates from the local school had also come to get their IDs. He took more pleasure than he should have when Saur thrashed them, but it was nice to get looks of respect, rather than pity or disdain for once. In a Pokémon world, not having your own made you an outcast, and a target.
Eventually, as the group of grass trainers began to head back after three more days of hard battle, Alex learned that his brother had been having a hard time of it, and was desperately battling weaker trainers to improve his record. It was expected though. His Squirtle was a baby, and its shell was still too weak for a test like this.
It was only Eric's borrowed Oshawott that kept him in the running for an ID, after evolving into a Dewott. Eventually however, his little Squirt grew as well. His shell hardened, he learned more attacks, and eventually, had become a Wartortle.
Smart trainers usually refused battling past their limit, but Eric hadn't kept an eye on his record, and had gone after the more skilled trainers far too early. Eventually, he managed to climb back in the positives. His losses would still be recorded, however, when the final tally came.
Alex's parents had, naturally, been furious when they returned home to find his chores unfinished, and their son gone. His Gruncle had told him to avoid the main entrance areas as often as possible, and he had.
It was as he was journeying around with his new group of chillaxed friends that destiny saw fit to make a fool of him. He'd been tracking a Poliwag for three hours, and had convinced it to come with his little group of friends, in return for making it stronger. He'd seen it was bullied, and after some hesitation, the little Pokémon agreed.
They stumbled upon their first fiery challenger, literally, as Alex finished his latest Leaf session with a borrowed bong, and not-so-subtly hid it in his oversized and filthy jacket. His friends had insisted he not return until he found a water type of his own to wash his clothes, and himself. He was becoming a man, they'd said, and odor was something he needed to learn to control. Surviving in the woods solo was also an important skill, but he'd had no problems finding berries.
Thus he was, naturally, filthy when he came upon arguably the most beautiful girl he'd ever seen. The words 'terminally pretty' came to mind, though he had no idea what they really meant. His Gruncle used them to describe his wife, and Alex had thought she was quite pretty, judging by the pictures he'd seen. Nothing compared to this girl though, but then, age was likely a factor.
She suppressed a giggle as she saw him, and for the first time since the challenge began, he eyed himself. Torn clothes, a filthy jacket, pants that were now shorts because heat is bad, and splotches of dirt on his face and hat from battling, crawling, and sitting around in the woods enjoying some Leaf.
He hated being a mooch, but the others in his group insisted they didn't mind. It didn't take much to get the kid high, and he was amusing to watch. Grass type trainers always had spare Leaf.
"So, are we going to battle?" Alex had to blink his eyes away from her budding attributes as she spoke. She had to have been younger than he was, but her figure was already filling out. Being as-yet unfinished himself, it didn't really bother him. What she did have was appealing to senses he was not yet aware of. Her eyes snared him more than anything else. He couldn't look away.
Finally, he answered the smartly dressed redhead. "Y-yes. Yea. Battle. Right. Saaaauuuuur!" He shouted for his Venusaur, but as usual, the giant frog-like dinosaur was doing his own thing. A mound of dirt rose beside him, and his Sandslash appeared with a burst of dirt, raising its arms as it saw its friend.
The girl giggled again. "Well, at least that explains some of the dirt. But did you see a Stunky around here? Something smells…awful, really."
Alex waved her words away. "Never mind that. We have a battle to…start."
She raised a brow at the Sandslash. "With that? That's no starter…and you only have one ball…"
He shrugged, scratching his head, which he then realized desperately needed a haircut. "He's my partner for this challenge. We made a promise. I help him evolve, he helps me deal with fire types." His newest addition came waddling out of the bushes then, eyes red and bloodshot, a happy grin on its face. Alex pinched his brow. Poliwag's skin membrane was thin. She probably had a contact high from all the smoke.
The girl just giggled again. "Did…did you smoke up that Poliwag?"
He eyed her again, and as he met her gaze, he began to appreciate how they almost looked like a Snivy's eyes. They had that same cleverly superior look that fit her perfectly. He nodded, as he chuckled, and leaned down to pat the Poliwag. "She just agreed to join me, too. She was being bullied, so she wants to be stronger."
The girl raised a finely groomed brow at him. "You're going to battle her now? Like that?"
Alex grinned. "Don't worry, I know how to handle a Poliwag."
His brother had caught one of those, too. Alex had been responsible for taking care of it though. 'Helping his brother' his mother had called it. 'Proving he could handle his own Pokémon'. Lies, as usual, for the sole purpose of motivating him into doing what nobody else in their crowded house wanted to do. All that food had to go somewhere, and Poliwag droppings were notoriously loose and foul. Arceus forbid his precious brother ever actually clean up after his own bloody Pokemon.
The girl shrugged, and then called out a Snivy. She had two balls, but this didn't look like a League Pokémon. Having a new appreciation for grass types, Alex and his Poliwag walked up to it.
He looked up at the girl again, "This one's yours, isn't she."
She blinked once, and if she was impressed, it didn't show. "Yes. She is. How could you tell?"
Alex shrugged again, moving several feet away. His Poliwag pecked aimlessly at the ground. The Snivy didn't look impressed, but then, they never did. "She said so when Poli asked. And, she doesn't look like any of the Snivy I've battled out here."
"Oh, you've been out here for a while? I just arrived myself. Figured four days to battle was better than waiting for the next exam." She was eyeing him again, and he felt a chill up his spine. He stood a little straighter, for reasons he could not yet understand.
"Yea, it's a shame it's almost over. I could stay out here for months, but I'll have to go back eventually." He looked around for his Venusaur again, muttering. "Though I'd rather not…"
She continued staring at him, and only when his eyes returned to hers did she blink, and curtsy. It was a proper curtsy, though, formal. Practiced. Perfect. And just low enough to spy training bra straps. "I'm Jess. It's an honor to battle you…strange forest boy."
"Alex." He said, sliding his thumb sideways across his nose the way he'd seen others try it. "The names Alex." She burst into laughter again, and he blinked in confusion.
"Your face…oh wow, now it's so much worse!" She kept giggling.
Like the amateur he was, he'd emptied his borrowed slide with his thumb, and naturally, his hand now had a telling stink and charcoal smudges, that were now across his nose. He whistled at his Poliwag, and she jumped, looking at him.
"Get ready to battle, Poli. But first, Water Gun. Right here." He said, pointing to his face.
The little Pokémon blinked and hesitated, and he chuckled, leaning close to pat her. "It's alright, I can take it." Reassured, the little Pokémon inhaled, and Alex suddenly realized just how close he was now. He just sighed, and dug into the ground as the hard pressure of the attack pushed against his face. At least the dirt would be gone.
He was soaked now, and he knew he'd be miserable in the heat anyways, so he said, "Might as well get the rest of the dirt." The little Poliwag obliged him, and he grimaced as he was thoroughly soaked through. Thankfully, his small stash in his shoe remained unharmed by the water.
Once he was through, and dripping, he nodded at the girl. There was no recovering from that blunder with his thumb, and he made a note to get his own pre-battle…thing. "Alright then. Ladies first."
She beat him in that first battle, as Snivy's Vine Whip was quite strong, and super effective. His Sandslash was similarly beaten, though he'd done a lot more with dig. By the time the frustrated Snivy finally hit him, his Venusaur had lumbered back, eyeing the small grass snake and then roaring a challenge, as it saw its friend.
"Holy Heracross…that thing's enormous!" It took Alex more willpower than it should have for him to not immediately say, by pure reflex, 'that's what she said'. His new friends might've been responsible, but they were still very much children. And he was very much impressionable.
Alex just shrugged. "We can stop, if you want. Most people can't handle Saur. We'll call it a win for you. My record can take one loss."
She responded by ordering a Slam attack with her Snivy, which Saur smacked away with a Power Whip. Both trainers winced as the little Snivy went flying backwards towards her trainer.
"Sorry…" Alex said, grimacing. "He's…a lot stronger apparently. Saur gave an affirmative roar, looking proud. His trainer sighed, and gave him a pat. "A bit gentler, bud." The large beast grumbled, but acquiesced with a nod.
Her next partner was a Fennekin which, by his estimation, was about to evolve. Evolve she did, after dodging several Razor Leaves, and the new Braixen launched annoyingly powerful Ember attacks until Saur finally brought it down with a combination of Sleep Powder and Solar Beam. It was how Alex won most of his battles, if he was honest.
He was helping Jess find Oran berries for the lot of them once the battle ended, when another trainer stumbled upon them. "Making friends are we, sister?"
Alex looked up, and saw a boy around his age, clad in blue, with reddish brown hair and a build similar to his own. His arms were crossed and he eyed the two with disapproval. He knew how most guys viewed girls like his sister who had classic good looks, even as young as they were, it was never too early for some people.
"Why yes, brother. Alex here was helping me revive everyone. We just battled." She spoke, but Alex raised a brow as he noticed she was speaking to the ground, not him.
"And?" He said, expectantly.
"I lost." She said, finally looking up. "But his Venusaur is incred-" That was all her brother needed, apparently. He walked over to Alex, ignoring her, and grabbed the hood of his too-large jacket, lifting him onto his feet.
Or rather, he tried to. Alex yanked his damp hood free, and rose several inches over him as he stood slowly, and met the stranger's gaze. They both knew then, it was on.
"Alex, was it?" They boy said, eyeing him over again, "Only one ball hmm? Fine, one on two should suffice."
"Fine." Alex had seen many rivalries in the long weeks he'd spent out here, but he'd never quite understood them. They made people act stupid, mean, even. He understood a little better, now. This kid was a fellow trainer, a good one. He had the talent. That too, he had learned to see in his opponents.
Some people had it, and some people didn't. There was more to it though. He had a sudden and inexplicable urge to beat this trainer that his other opponents simply hadn't brought out. The fact that there was a gorgeous redhead watching had no bearing on the situation. None at all.
"Samuro!" His opponent shouted once, and a Dewott appeared from one of the balls on his belt. Saur came out then in response, needing no summons. Sandslash and Poli were still eating. Saur was fully recharged, however. He'd found his own stash of Sitrus berries, and had eaten his fill.
"Hmph. I guess your Venusaur is kind of impressive…but it won't be enough." The Dewott pulled out its scalchops, and they blazed to life with blades of water.
"You'll need more than Razor Shell for us." Alex said, as Saur thumped the ground with his own pair of thick vines. They'd overpowered Razor Shell before. Oshawott, Snivy, and Tepig were, of course, some of their most common opponents. This was Unova after all.
While it was true that no Dewott had the same fighting style, Alex had never seen one like this. His opponent snapped his fingers, and the otter Pokémon had used Ice Beam on his swords, turning them into ice swords. The advantage was suddenly his. "I think we can handle your vines."
Alex grimaced. "That can't be legal…"
His opponent grinned. "Oh, but it is. Creative move combinations are encouraged in the Pokémon League."
Alex thought for a moment, eyeing his Venusaur, and then nodded. "Fine. Use your ice swords. It won't matter. Razor Leaf!" Saur wasted no time in unleashing a hail of sharp leaves towards the water type, but its movements were perfect, graceful, and with each slash of its swords, any leaf that had a chance of hitting was cut in two.
"Razor Shell." The boy had his arms crossed now, as if victory was assured, and his grin only drove Alex to want to win that much more.
"Sleep Powder! Spread it all around you!" Saur's large tree launched the spores, and they filled the air immediately around him. Since they were his, Saur was, of course, immune to them. The charging Dewott paused, and leapt back. His swords were useless if they couldn't reach.
"Ice Beam." His trainer said, and the otter nodded, still holding his Scalchops, as he shot the beam from his mouth.
"Razor Leaf!" Saur obeyed, and the beam cut a thin swathe through the flurry of sharp leaves. Both of them took hits, and Saur struggled to stay conscious. The Dewott, however, fell asleep. Alex smirked. The flurry of leaves had flown through the dust, and guided it towards his opponent. Two could play the combination game. "It worked…alright bud, Solar Beam!"
Swearing, the boy recalled his Dewott, and brought out a Monferno with crimson fur, rather than orange. "Flame Wheel!"
Saur launched his charged attack as the fire monkey enveloped itself in flames. Being a primarily grass attack, albeit a powerful one, the damage was minimized. "Return." Alex said, pointing Saur's ball at him.
The Venusaur eyed him as he was recalled, and his opponent raised a brow. "What, are you going to fight my Pokémon bare-handed?" Jess interrupted this time, saying, "I tried to tell you, Connor. He has three. The other two aren't in balls though."
The boy glared at his sister, and then noticed Poli had waddled onto the field. She'd eaten her fill of berries, and was once more ready to battle. His Monferno laughed, and his trainer met his opponent's gaze. "Seriously? That Poliwag is weak. Tell it not to fight. I don't want to hurt it."
Poli responded by shooting a Water Gun directly into the face of the Monferno. Alex smirked. "Seems she understood you. Do I need to translate what she said with the water gun, or can you and your monkey figure it out?"
Connor's Monferno was looking down now, dripping with water, and Connor sighed. "Fine. Battle if you want, but I won't be held responsible when it gets hurt. Ardor. Attack."
The Monferno launched forward with sudden and startling speed. A Mach Punch sent Poli flying, but it seemed the fire monkey wasn't done. The punches kept coming, and Alex realized that the Pokémon was enraged. Its tail flame had swelled considerably.
"Double Slap the ground!" Before the next punch landed, Poli leapt into the air. The furious Monferno looked up then, and its fists became encased in flames. Mach Punch was about as strong as Scratch or Ember, but Fire Punch was a whole other story.
What was more worrying to Alex was the fighting style the monkey had used. It looked all too similar to the Iron Fist style, used by the Sinnoh Champion's own Infernape. "Now, Bubble Beam!"
A flurry of bubbles shot towards the monkey, and instead of reverting to its Mach Punch, it hit them with Fire Punch. It was certainly fast, but fire did little to stop the damaging water attack. Poli kept the bubbles coming as she descended, and the Monferno was rapidly overwhelmed.
"Blaze Kick!" Connor had uncrossed his arms now, and once more attempted to help his partner. Usually, Ardor would rage, and only recalling him to his ball could stop him. He hadn't expected the Poliwag to be so strong.
As Ardor's feet were encased in flames this time, Poli was glowing with an entirely different kind of energy, and her form twisted and shifted as she evolved. Facing down a newly evolved Poliwhirl didn't cause Ardor to pause however.
"Mud Shot!" Alex gave the command as the Blaze Kick brought the Monferno close, and then point blank, the two moves collided. Ardor went down, fainting, but the newly revitalized Poliwhirl came through with some damage, but looked more than ready to keep fighting. Evolving mid-battle always brought a Pokemon's health back up. It was what made it so useful, but it could only be done once or twice.
Keep fighting she did, against the sleeping Samuro. In the spirit of fairness, Alex had her use Double Slap until he'd awoken, but his icy scalchops gave him the win. Which only left Saur.
With an order of Power Whip, Saur claimed victory. It was stronger than Vine Whip, and was impossible to block, even with two ice blades. Saur had plenty of vines, and they regrew as fast as he needed them to.
Connor had left once the battle ended, dragging his sister with him. She managed a wave as they disappeared into the trees, and Alex had returned it, still somewhat impressed he'd managed to win. If the top trainers were all that strong, he'd need to re-think combining moves. It opened up a whole new dimension to battling he hadn't even been aware of.
Eventually, the PA system throughout the examination area announced the challenge was almost over. It was the middle of summer though, and Alex was half tempted not to return, to run into the wilderness with his new partners, and never go back. He could survive out here, with their help.
Saur had convinced him otherwise however, as had the other Pokémon they'd gathered into their little team. He bid Poli and his Sandslash a fond farewell, and while the Poliwhirl had left, after sharing a hug, his Sandslash stuck around. He said he wanted to make sure his friends were safe before he went home. Alex had never wanted a Pokéball so badly. The loyalty was inspiring.
When Alex finally split from his group and arrived at the station of the man who'd lent him Saur, he smirked as he saw the man gape at the massive Pokémon the child had managed to train up. "This kid…" he said softly, eyeing him over as he reluctantly shook the Venusaur's vine in a final farewell.
He came over to the Professor's desk then, and the man examined the V.S. Recorder each trainer-hopeful had been given. He had to blink at the numbers. "I take it you battled several people more than once…"
Alex shrugged. "Sometimes. I moved around a lot though, and stayed by the edge of the forest near here. Secluded enough for privacy, close enough to find trainers looking to battle." He was less dirty now, and smelled like air freshener, rather than a Stunky.
The Professor had enough sense to guess which group the grass type user had fallen in with, but he kept his opinions to himself. "I have to admit, I'm impressed. Well done, lad. I'll print up your I.D."
Alex kept glancing at Saur's ball as the Professor readied his Trainer Card, but unlike 90% of the young'uns who came through, the boy did not ask to keep him.
Most of the time, the Professors acquiesced, as after two weeks of hard battle, and usually evolution, the bonds were too strong to break. He'd seen the Venusaur too, but it seemed their bond, while strong, had remained somewhat distant.
Despite himself, the Professor said, "Do you want to keep him?" He glanced at the boy, hiding a smirk, which quickly faded as he saw tears dripping from under the down-turned hat.
"I c-cant. I can't. I'd like to…but I…I'm not allowed." Parting was hard enough, as Alex was realizing that the most fun he'd had in his short life was now ending. Being asked to keep Saur had pushed him past his considerable threshold for tears.
He looked up, and saw the Professor offering the ball to him. It shook in his palm, and Alex knew all he had to do was reach out and take it. His hand paused before it however. "If I did take him…I don't know what my parents would do with him. I know I wouldn't be able to keep him. Please…make sure he's happy."
He gave the ball a lingering glance after he had his I.D. with his recorded wins and losses on the back. Thirty-eight losses, a hundred and twelve wins. It wasn't the best record that year, but it was enough to be in the top percentile. Usually, it was the trainers who managed to evolve their partners completely that had records like that. There were only a few of those, but they promised to be talented Trainers. He left then, hurriedly, and wiped his eyes.
Outside, he saw his parents, and his Gruncle, waiting for him. His father was furious, though he hid it well, and his mother gained an obvious and severe look as she saw the state of his clothes. As planned, he slipped the I.D. to his Gruncle, who moved behind him as he faced his parents, head down.
He told them his record, but said that the I.D. would come in the mail. His father promised to destroy it when it did. This 'act of defiance' only proved, in his mind, that his son was not Trainer material.
They waited for Eric then, in awkward silence. More than a few parents nearby had overheard them, and once more, the looks of pained sympathy came his way. Once more, he was the Pokéless outcast everyone pitied, or mocked. Nothing had changed.
Eric got the reception most of the other children had. Praise, hugs, and congratulations on his I.D. His record had been almost split. Sixty-five losses, eighty-five wins. By the rankings, his record was barely average. Only twenty countable victories was less than impressive, but more than enough for an I.D.
If his parents found it strange that Eric had an I.D. while Alex did not, they didn't say so. If they noticed how much better his record was, they didn't admit to it. All he got on the ride home was stony silence, and reassuring pats from his Gruncle.
Four Years Later…
Alexander Redwood never forgot about that summer, or Saur, but he knew that as long as he lived with his parents, he could never try to claim his Venusaur again. He'd gotten a letter from the League a few weeks later, from the Professor who had given him Saur, but as promised, his father had torn it apart. Thanks to science however, his Gruncle had managed to reconstruct the pieces, and the message itself, but not the name of the Professor who'd written it.
It didn't contain his I.D. but instead detailed what Saur was doing. Evidently, he'd become one of the League's breeders. Bulbasaur was among the most popular of the available grass types for new trainers, thanks to the popularity of Kanto's Indigo League, and the number of challengers who'd entered with a Venusaur.
Alex had decided to try to emulate his Pokémon, but first he needed to know what 'breeding' was. His granduncle had then revealed where children, and Pokémon eggs, actually came from. It was a monotonous explanation, complete with charts, diagrams, and a severe emphasis on how to copulate safely. He decided to wait a bit until trying any of what had been described. It all seemed far too complicated.
That didn't stop him from eventually finding a girl, though. Not having a Pokémon made the sympathy card very powerful. Unfortunately, it also meant he couldn't compete against rivals who did have Pokémon, and could battle quite well.
He'd found out from one of her friends that the number of times she'd cheated on him had grown to the double digits, and at that point, he decided to stop being her charity case, and swore off women altogether until he was wiser, older, and knew what he was doing.
It was only once he was sixteen that his life finally shifted, for the better. This was, in a large way, thanks to their family's newest neighbors, who'd rebuilt and renovated the old manor roughly a mile from their house.
His father had said it had once belonged to them, but they'd had to sell it, and much of their ranching land, during several years of turbulent economic trouble. It was just as well. It was more opulent, but had smaller rooms than their current abode, which was still crowded, even after they'd added a new basement.
Once more, fate decided to test him, but for once, he was actually able to handle it. It was yet another sweltering summer afternoon, and he was enjoying a bowl of Leaf upon a massive stump that had been on their land for ages, but had been too strong to move. He hadn't taken up smoking again until recently, and he was enjoying the effects at that moment. He was also putting off shoveling Tauros dung from the barn, when he noticed a flash of red coming across the land between their ranch, and the old estate roughly a mile away.
It almost seemed familiar, and had he not been reminiscing about his favorite summer, he might not have realized who it was. Or what she was walking into. It was still early summer, and they were barely out of spring, but this season promised to be a hot one, judging by the temperature.
What that meant, of course, was that mating season was still going on. The last few days were always the toughest, as the males were desperate if they hadn't found a mate by now, and desperation made even the calmest Tauros a frenzied hair-trigger mess.
He was tempted to wait until the fiery redhead approached, as he still didn't entirely believe it was the same girl. The odds were simply astronomical, and he was nowhere near that lucky. It was as he avoided looking at her, that he noticed the Tauros idling behind his granduncle's lab, along the edge of the fence.
Most people didn't know how to recognize an angry Tauros, as on this continent, they were usually rather calm. Except during mating season. More than a few Professors had even mistaken their love of running for 'rampaging'. They were strong, and tended to knock over whatever was in their didn't mean it was purposeful.
Most people didn't see the difference, but that very difference was the entire reason the Redwood's own manor, and barn, still stood undamaged. The Tauros were well aware there were children and young Pokémon within. The fence was, however, another story. This very season was the reason it always looked new.
He saw the three tails, whipping away as the young bull by the lab eyed a Miltank across the way. She was a bit small, and had been sick in the barn for a few days. Alex didn't need to see what was in the bull's way to know it was about to trample anything, if only to get to that female first. There were plenty of rival males in the herd.
He also knew that the gate was in its path. As would be anyone walking through it, and opening it. He had just enough time to set the bong down safely, before he heard the gate open. He was already moving by then though, and the sound had set the overeager bull off. They creaked terribly. It was why anyone who passed through it usually climbed, rather than opened it.
He glanced at the redheaded woman coming through, some sort of basket in hand, but didn't have time to register the shock of seeing her again. He took the stance his granduncle had shown him, one hand above, and one hand low, and dug into the ground, which was already shaking. "Leave the gate open…" was all he had time to say.
There was a trick to stopping a rampaging Tauros or Bouffalant. For the Bouffalant, you had to spin them down, into the dirt. Their balance was terrible, and their legs, while strong, tended to flail. Stopping them was a pain, as you had to immediately leap back, or risk being kicked.
Tauros were entirely different. As long as their hooves had ground to pound, they'd keep running, until they either reached whatever their goal was, or ran out of stamina. Thus, the key to stopping them was a bit different, and required precise timing.
What was more, was every Tauros had their own style of charging. He hadn't memorized them all, to do so would be impossible, given the size of the herd. This is why he'd befriended the older bulls, who mostly kept everyone else in line. They knew their schedule as well as their handlers.
While it was usually only necessary for one Redwood to play farmer, which meant mucking out the barn, the role was split between Alex, and his cousin, George. Out of all of their generation, George had the most farming potential. He loved it. It was as obvious as his own desire to become a Trainer. He knew by now, this ruckus had likely gotten his fellow farmhand's attention, but he'd be too far away to help. Their cousin Rose had been milking and cleaning on the far end of the ranch. He was on his own.
He waited, watching as the bull came closer. Sometimes, bulls this young would stop, or turn, if one of their handlers got in their way. But this was mating season, and the pheromones were strong. His eyes were pure rage. All that energy had to go somewhere.
Instead of waving his horns about, the bull lowered them, and Alex's hands moved by instinct, ready to catch them. This was actually the easiest way to catch a charging Tauros. It was still going to hurt, regardless.
He didn't have his gloves either, as they were too bulky to smoke with, and too far away to grab. His bare hands met the unblemished horns, and he let the bull push him as he dropped to one knee.
Suddenly finding this obstacle hard to move, the bull's feet kicked out uselessly behind him, which was when Alex pushed up with everything he had. There was a brief moment when the sharp hooves flashed by his face as the front pair left the ground, but it passed as he forced their momentum to his left, and slammed the bull down onto the ground.
Furious, the bull struggled for several moments as Alex held him down, but eventually, the haze left his eyes. Once it did, he got up, and Alex directed the still-eager beast around himself, and their guest. He didn't seem to even care that he'd just been bested by a human. His mind was on a single track.
Alex looked at his hands, panting, and sighed in relief. They hadn't torn open, thankfully. He'd been lucky for once on all counts. Had that bull been a full adult, he would never have been able to hold it down, and its rage would've focused on him. He ignored the sounds of furious cow-copulation as he turned to Jess, chuckling.
"One day, I'm going to run into you when I'm not covered in dirt." He shook his head, still chuckling, and trembling slightly as the adrenaline faded. Then, he noticed. She was pale as a ghost. He snapped his fingers in front of her face a few times, and she blinked back to reality.
"I-I don't…I'm so sorry…I didn't…are you okay!? How did…oh my gosh, are they…wow. I guess it's mating season." Her gaze had slowly shifted from him, to the bull that had almost trampled them, and then back to him. She'd gone from white to crimson rather easily.
"It is, actually. We should really have a sign up…but we've never had visitors during. Nobody comes around here usually. Not from the back, anyways. Do you need something?" He eyed her over, and like any sixteen-year-old in the spring, his thoughts shifted. The still very loud, very eager pair a few yards away didn't exactly help either.
She blinked for a moment, then nodded. Her own adrenaline from the sudden fear had been much more potent, and the smirking, dirt covered farm boy wasn't exactly hard to look at. And, he'd likely just saved her life. She was a whirlwind of emotion right then. She held out the case of snacks she'd brought, a plastic box that had a handle for carrying, and averted her gaze. "Right, yes, I came to say hi to our new…neighbors…wait a minute…do I know you?"
Whatever confidence he'd had that might've helped him in a no doubt sad attempt at flirtation faded in the face of a total lack of recognition. Though, granted, she probably met plenty of men with curly dark brown hair and blue eyes. It wasn't exactly uncommon in Unova.
"Yes, actually. Alex. From the Trainer I.D. exam. We battled. Then I battled your brother, who seemed to think I was hitting on you for some reason." She nodded slowly, and the silence grew into awkward territory as the sounds of copulation continued with the vigor of youth and springtime, so his mouth started moving again. "Not that I wouldn't, I mean, yea, but I wasn't then. Or now. Not that I don't want to. I mean. I'm rambling. Thank you for the gift." He turned facing his reddening face towards the house. "I'm sure we have something as well. I'll go check. Wait by the lab. The Tauros won't bug you there."
He walked quickly then, ran into the house, set the box down, and then went straight to the large pantry that stored their leftovers. Sure enough, there was one foodstuff marked for the new neighbors. It was his aunt Lisa's handwriting that marked it. No surprise, as she usually cooked.
He was about to go back out, when he realized he was still dirty. By the time he'd cleaned up and gotten his hat, he returned outside to find the lovely redhead on his stump, with a full bowl, sitting next to his brother. He hadn't even known he was around today. He usually trained at the local pool with his Blastoise and other water trainers.
The fact that she seemingly knew her way around Leaf smoking only confirmed his suspicions that she was, indeed, ideal girlfriend material. He also knew that without a Pokémon, he had no chance in Helheim of keeping her. Based on his prior experience, he assumed all women were so easily enticed into cheating. Based on her looks, he knew he wouldn't have a ghost of a chance without a team of his own. She might as well have been a princess, and one couldn't get more peasant-like than Tauros ranching.
That, was when the first parts of a plan began forming in his mind. A plan to finally stop shoveling dung for no pay. A plan to have a team of Pokémon for battling, not ranching. A plan that would, ideally, attract her, or a woman like her he actually had a chance with.
He enjoyed the rest of the Leaf that day, and then soon ran into her brother the next day, when they both stopped by in the middle of his repairing the fence. He'd already chopped everything in preparation, and all that was left was using Mjolnir, his nicknamed carpenter's hammer, to slam everything into place.
Slowly, he became more Connor's friend than hers, only because she had, naturally, become popular in their school after a few days, and gained her own friends of her own gender. The degrees of social separation only increased. Connor had taken pity on him, like so many others, but instead of keeping his distance, he'd openly befriended the outcast. Having a unique Monferno had helped his own reputation, as had his obvious wealth, but that never stopped him from hanging with Alex next door.
Nobody doubted his skill either, as his trainer card still had his victories marked. He'd suggested Alex show his own off, but that presented a slight problem. Roughly two years after getting his I.D. the League had sent an official to reclaim it.
The reason given had been an anonymous 'tip' that Alex had boosted his Venusaur's level with Rare Candies during the test. His granduncle had, like any scientist, demanded evidence, proof, but all he was told was that his younger relative had been seen sneaking about suspiciously into bushes for much of the test.
In reality, it had been to hide his enjoyment of the Leaf. On camera, it gave the 'tip' credence that the League couldn't ignore. A full-scale investigation would be needed to verify the claim, but in the meantime, his I.D. was to be removed.
Eventually, the League had acquiesced when the aging Professor Redwood had claimed they could pry his card from his 'cold, stiff corpse' before he gave it over willingly. As a compromise, his record had been stricken from the card, and the investigation, they learned, would take several years to be completed. Such was the joy of having a bureaucracy in charge of such matters.
They hadn't accounted for the paperwork either. Much of it had, because he was underage, still required a parent's signature. As usual, Frederick Redwood had stood in his son's way, claiming that he'd 'known' the record had been tainted, and that this was yet more 'proof' he couldn't handle his own Pokémon. It had taken two straight hours of calming down, and several bowls of Leaf, before Alex agreed to not running off with a stolen Pokéball, and the first Pokémon he could find. He had been fully ready to wander off into the woods and never return, but that too, his Gruncle knew, would be a waste.
Losing his record and his first relationship in such a deceitful manner almost at the same time had made him come uncomfortably close to ending it all, rather than persevering through the shit he endured from his parents day after day. He'd gone to the only source of comfort he had, and his granduncle had handed him a vial of pills capable of doing the deed quickly and painlessly.
He was of the opinion that if someone no longer wanted to live, they shouldn't have to. But, he'd continued, Alex would have to make that choice right there, right then. He'd chosen to continue on. His Gruncle had promised that things would eventually improve, and that was mostly what had gotten him by thus far.
Connor and Jess had helped him get to eighteen, at which point, he finally was able to step onto the path he'd been itching to tread since he was four. It all began by trading farm labor for University studies, and the rest, as they say, is history.