1:39 P.M. June 23, Wednesday, 106 PH (Post Hoopa Event)
Events: The Preliminaries for the Joint Kanto and Johto Indigo Summer League have concluded; 105 Trainers and their Pokemon have advanced from Bronze to Silver. A week of celebration is to follow, marked with events put on by the Indigo League, after which the Summer Round Robin Cup will begin, to crown the best of each Tier among those that advanced. The battles begin on the 27th. Rhea started her journey on the 9th of June—she’s been a Trainer for 15 Days.
Rhea passed through the dark stadium to the contender locker rooms with Amira and Mallory in tow; their exit caused the other boys’ and girls’ eyes to follow them.
Mya was still unconscious, which was unusual for the amount of damage her secondary matrix took. The Onix had been fairly powerful, but it was only a tackle that ended the fight, which Forrest likely had calculated, and a Gym Leader wasn’t going to make the mistake of over-damaging a Trainer’s Pokemon on a public stage—she was going through an internal crisis.
Once they made it to the public hallways, Rhea slowed to a stop, arms tightening under her chest as Ariel, a fellow Oak Starter, turned to smile at her. The orange-haired girl seemed to have been waiting for them to exit with her teammates.
“Ariel?” Rhea whispered.
“Eh … hey!” she mumbled, walking forward to hug her. “It’s been a bit … fifteen days? Yeah, forever!”
Pulling away with a small frown, Rhea questioningly glanced between her teammates, hanging back a bit with Amira and Mallory doing the same. “So … how’s your mom … I mean, what’s going on?”
Ariel seemed to notice her slightly red cheeks because her orange irises reflected her concerned expression. “Heh, my mom? Still bouncing off the trees in Eterna City. Umm … Catherine, Iva, and I were watching the matches, wondering if she would take on the Encrusted Challenge ourselves—yikes! Am I right?”
Rhea’s focus went to her companions.
Catherine O'Keenan was from Galar but didn’t have the same thick accent Ellie had. She wasn’t too familiar with her background like many other regions but knew the girl came from a long line of Galar Gym Leaders. Her hometown was in Circhester City, and its Gym specialized in Rock-Type, which meant she was probably right at home in Pewter.
She’d heard her dad was kind of weird, but her grandmother was awesome; she took after her grandmother with the ridiculously thick white locks and bright blue eyes.
Iva Deutschmann came from Hoenn and was Wattson’s granddaughter. She’d heard the girl was good with technology and had been brought up as an apprentice mechanic. What she knew about the Hoenn girl was only what she’d seen in a Gossip interview once, which was an odd detail; Iva had unruly wavy hair that required straightening every morning and that she usually had it done up to keep out of her face.
Ariel’s long orange hair was a bit messy with minimal effort on a pulled-back braid; she wore a cute outfit that couldn’t have been Trainer Gear, though, and knowing her, Rhea figured she didn’t travel that light, which was why they were taking it slow.
Rhea hummed, trying to gather her wits and compose herself. “... It was pretty hard.”
“Yeah, insane! We were cheering you on, and Catherine couldn’t believe he used Sandstorm … That was like … totally not fair!”
“I’ve never seen my dad do that at Bronze-Tier, and he runs a Rock-Type Gym back home.” Catherine’s sing-songy voice followed. “Still, it got me a bit hyped.”
Rhea tried to put on a smile. “Thanks for cheering me on, ahem,” she motioned for them to follow her through the mostly empty hallways to get to the Gym’s In-House Center. “It was harder than I thought. What are you doing here, though? No, wait … how are you doing?” she chuckled, “I saw Olivia and Amy have their Boulder Badge and are working on their Cascade Badge.”
“Ugh!” Ariel brushed back the locks on her left side with a grimace, “Don’t remind me; it’s exhausting just keeping up with their posts! They’re trying to do the whole speedrun thing, but we’re looking at the Encrusted Challenge like you guys, although…”
She turned to Catherine, who gave a short nod. “With our Pokemon, we don’t have the means to really handle the Gym at this time, so we’ll probably head to the next or hang around and find our next team addition.”
“Probably stay and find a Grass or Water-Type in the forest,” Iva jumped in with a grin. “I mean, they’ll really need help, but I’m totally ready to take on this Gym with the help of Rocket. Thanks, by the way,” she said while leaning forward to smile at Amira.
She lifted a red eyebrow. “For?”
“Oh, check it!” Ariel said, pulling up her phone and playing a video.
Iva was jumping up and down beside a massive green stone in what appeared to be a huge public park, squealing for joy with crowds of happy tourists watching her cute little Eevee transform into a Leafeon.
Nova was still trying to snuggle up to her heart, but because she was so close, Rhea could feel the spark of awe from her little Eevee while watching.
The blonde-haired girl took out her Ultra Ball and tossed it forward as they descended the stairs, catching it as it returned; her little 3-foot-tall Leafeon popped out with a small yawn and adorable chirp.
Nova was squealing with excitement, so Rhea released her to run ahead of them and talk; they wouldn’t be staying that long, and Mya hadn’t even regained consciousness yet. Plus, her little Eevee was so sensitive that any distraction would help her once the real emotions hit—Mya’s trial was only on pause at the moment.
“Rocket has a Moss Stone in the big park! I was worried about looking for one in Viridian Forest since Cinnamon really wanted to be a Leafeon, but thanks to your family, everyone can have one. We definitely should be looking for Pokemon on our way through Mt. Moon, though.”
Amira shrugged, but there was a smile on her full lips. “Importing a public Moss Stone and creating an environment where it can flourish is worth improving public opinion. My grandmother oversaw the exhibit; the issue was making it safe for those that didn’t want their Pokemon to evolve, but that’s what the energy-charged glass is for around the showcase.”
Ariel leaned over and nudged her side, her smile falling a little while her eyes followed Cinnamon and Nova. “... Are you really doing okay?”
Giving her a low, thankful laugh, Rhea nodded. “Me? Yeah, I’m fine, but Mya … not at all. I’m a little worried about her, and she’s starting to wake up.” Nova paused, looking back with big eyes, and Rhea returned her to be there for Mya. “I’m not sure how this loss will affect my little Mawile.”
Iva pulled out Cinnamon’s pokeball, red light pulling her inside as they walked across the main hall; the Center was only several meters away when Sam called out from behind them.
They paused, turning to see Sam, Hannah, Jade, and Jay jogging down the stairs of the upper balcony area; the girls were doing their best to manage their jumping dresses.
Ariel chuckled while watching them rush toward them. “Looks … like you’ve found some friends already. I can’t say I’m that surprised,” she winked, motioning to the others, “but we’ll take off. We gotta get more data on Forrest since we need to prepare for next week’s battle.”
Rhea waved them off with Amira and Mallory; the purple-haired girl had kept her silence the whole time, following the conversation with a gentle smile. “Later…”
“Can’t say I’m surprised, either,” Lori snickered, nudging her. “You could be dropped in a desert and make friends with a cactus.”
“I’m … not sure how I should take that,” Rhea chuckled, opening the doors to the Gym Center as Sam and the others huffed and puffed from their quick flight. “Hey … heh, the world’s not ending.”
“I … I know,” Sam wheezed, fanning her face, “but … it’s so hard to get out of a place when…”
She trailed off as loud noise sounded down the halls, doors opening to show people.
“A short break?” Amira asked.
Jay sighed. “Yeah … we got ahead of the crowd, but it was—it was rough … Oh, but not as rough as your match!”
Rhea waved her hand for them to follow her inside as Mya finally woke up, somewhat disoriented. Mya … it’s not the end of the world that we lost. You’re super strong…
Nova tried talking to her, but the Mawile didn’t answer. A numbness was spreading out from Mya, sending rippling effects through Rhea’s body.
Take as much time as you need, Mya, but Nova and I are here for you.
The rising outside noise was severely cut as the door closed behind them, and the girls slowly spread out in the vast area. Rhea was glad Mya couldn’t see their apprehensive expressions before realizing Mya could just look through her eyes; however, the little baby Pokemon had moved as far away as she could with the spiritual bond they shared.
Her gaze shifted to Jade as the blue-haired girl rubbed her own arm, clearing her throat. “... Rhea … How’s Mya doing—she’s not hurt, right?”
Sam nodded. “Yeah, it’s just, umm—those attacks looked so powerful, and Sandstorm … everyone jumped to their feet when that happened.”
“That’s what I thought,” Jay groaned, moving to the left a little while scratching the back of her leg with her foot. “Those matches were just—just crazy for beginners … There’s no way Poppy and I could have handled something like that.”
Mallory stepped forward with a chuckle, guiding Rhea to the front desk. “Let’s chill it, girls.”
Rhea gave her a thankful smile, realizing Mya’s stupor was probably affecting her a bit. Taking out the Mawile’s pokeball, she handed it to the attendant. “She’s just a little shocked right now.”
“Not a problem,” the woman calmly replied. “The restoration process should help ease her out of that.”
She watched the woman move to the side, placing Mya in one of the many pokeball slots while adjusting the settings that popped up on a nearby screen; honestly, Rhea wasn’t sure if pulling her out of the stupor was a good or bad thing.
What should I do, Mya? Please, let me know….
Mya didn’t answer, making Nova a bit frustrated, but she simply retreated to snuggle her spirit for support.
Walking back to the group, Rhea leaned up against the side of the glass wall, unable to really sit yet. “Heh … The Encrusted Challenge is no joke.”
Amira shook her head. “The Encrusted Matches are supposed to be like this … I’ve grown up watching my grandfather dismantle Trainers in similar ways … He just doesn’t give…”
She trailed off, but Rhea finished her thought. “... He doesn’t give Trainers so many opportunities to win … I know. You only need four Encrusted Badges to enter the League, skipping four, which saves time but is supposed to showcase your skills and why you are allowed to skip four Badges.”
Hannah’s red hair shifted at her shoulders while glancing between them. “Mhm … Still, all three of your Battles were so breathtaking … I couldn’t believe how awesome Holly was … Star was punching the air and shouting the entire time, saying, ‘that’s my bestie.’ Heh … he’s so cute, and he was the same for both of you, too,” she added, turning to Rhea and Mallory.
Sam scooted over to her to lean against the glass, playing with the hem of her shirt. “So … how’s Mya doing … She’s awake, right?” she whispered, studying the Center medical staff at work behind the desk; there were other Pokemon being treated beside Mya.
Rhea scratched the side of her neck, studying her Mawile to find any shift in behavior, but she was still stuck on the fact she’d lost—trying to cope with the knowledge that didn’t even register to her brain.
“She ... won’t talk to me.”
Amira changed positions with Mallory to tentatively rub her back. “Give it some time.”
“Yeah, I know,” Rhea whispered, gesturing for them to take some seats around the sizable waiting room. “Please, sit … it shouldn’t take long.”
“Not until you do first,” Mallory replied, hopping forward to take her hand and guide her to a seat; Nova jumped out of her pokeball after Mya’s continual silence and jumped up on her lap, smoothing out her pale yellow dress before giving her a pink, big-eyed stare that said she was upset.
Petting her head, Rhea sighed. I’m fine, Nova … I love you, Mya. Nova said it, too, but Mya continued to ghost them.
Breathing a sad puff of air, Rhea turned to Jay with a forced smile. “Hey, Jay?”
“Huh? Uh … what’s up?” Jay asked, plucking at her flowery dress.
“Would you like to connect with my PikaBook profile? It’s kind of private … We’re just going to go meet with my brother, and … well, yeah.”
Jay’s brown eyes creased. “Umm, sure, but … Are you sure? You just met me, and I know we aren’t really all that close … I don’t want to intrude.”
Jade leaned over and nudged her shoulder with a big grin. “Best give it up, Jay; Rhea’s pretty ruthless on the friend-game!”
“Totally!” Mallory agreed, rolling her eyes. “Rhea’s picked up more friends in two weeks than I’ve done in three years!”
“Eh…” Amira smirked. “Are you trying to brag, Lori, because that sounds a little sad … wait…”
An impish smirk lifted Lori’s lips. “Oh, are we comparing friend counters now, Amira? I don’t know if you can talk. He-he-he—kind of walked into that one! C’mon, how many friends?”
Amira’s mouth tightened, leaning back with a grunt while looking away.
“Heh, thought so! Hey, at least you’ve got two now!”
“Six!” Hannah instantly corrected, causing Rhea and Nova to giggle.
Rhea took out her phone and pulled up PikaBook. “I’m happy to add you, Jay—but only if you’re comfortable with it.”
“Mmh … I just don’t want to be a bother,” Jay mumbled. “I mean, I’m totally new to Kanto, and I’ve burdened you guys enough—look how many credits you’ve already spent on me.”
“Willingly,” Sam chortled.
Hannah nodded. “Mhm! Mhm! And we’ve insisted!”
She ran her fingers through her brown hair, giving Rhea a forced smile. “Geez, you guys are so awesome—although you should really be more careful if you ever come to Alola—Skull takes advantage of tourists a lot.”
Lori winked, pointing at Amira. “We’ve got our own little scam detector!”
The redhead gave her a dubious look. “... I’m not sure about your compliments, Lori.”
“Aren’t they the best!” Lori laughed. “The absolute greatest! Oh, hold up…” she looked down at her phone as Rhea and Jay connected. “Huh … Forrest is clearing up the field and having a chat with Len … heh, he hates the intermission jitters and wants it to be over.”
Amira glanced down at her own device, looking through some messages from her family—Lyra seemed to have sent dozens of messages with images and personal captions that made Amira smile. “Humph, he should have been first, then.”
“That’s what I’m sayin’!” Mallory returned.
Rhea lost track of their conversation as she got a notification … her granny had initiated a message thread, pulling in a few people she likely didn’t mean to.
Great Grandma Carolina: (✪‿✪)ノ Hello, Rhea’s new friend! It is such a pleasure to meet you!
Jay: Umm, hello! Uh … Your profile says … Professor Carolina? The famous professor from Sinnoh?
Great Grandma Carolina: Aww, thank you, but no need to go by any of that. Just call me Carole, or Granny Carole, or anything you like!
Rhea’s head drooped as family and friends swooped in like Sharpedo that had just caught the scent of fish guts, visibly shocking the Alolan girl as world-famous big names began going back and forth.
Grandpa Drake: Mom, you’ve been on so often lately! Hey, my little Swablu! How’s your day?
Katelin: She had a hard fight against Forrest! Almost took the Encrusted Badge, though!
Rhea: You can stop hyping me up, Katelin. We lost, and we should have won, but we’ll get it next time.
Katelin: You were facing a Mukin’ Sandstorm, Heavy Slam, Frighten Onix, girl! You were rockin’!
Great Grandma Carolina: ヽ(ಠ_ಠ)ノ Language, dearie, and what’s with that combination? Boo! Why so hard against my little Swablu! Bronze-Tier shouldn’t be that difficult; it wasn’t in my day … I’m gonna call the League.
Rhea: No, Granny!!! I’m fine! Don’t do that.
Great Grandma Carolina: ޏ₍ ὸ.ό₎ރ Sandstorm is not a Bronze-Tier Move!
Aunt Cynthia: Sorry, Grandma, but it is approved for specific instances in Kanto.
Mom: Yes, and it is understandable why it would be used against Mya.
Great Grandma Carolina: No! Change the rules, Cindy! Too hard!
Aunt Cynthia: While I would love to change, mmh … many things about the Kanto and Johto Leagues, it is not my region, Grandma. Sorry, Rhea. I hope you are not taking the loss too personally.
Great Grandma Carolina: ಠ╭╮ಠ I’m writing a formal complaint.
Mom: … Grandma, this is actually a good thing for Mya’s temperament. I was the one that recommended Brock to tell his brother to not pull punches. Mya’s Adamant Nature is extremely pronounced, which does grant her great physical traits and requires a bit of a brutal loss to pop the initial bubble that it causes when young.
Great Grandma Carolina: (ง'̀-'́)ง Apologize to your daughter! You don’t do that to your daughter! Drake raised you better than that! To conspire against your own daughter … Cristie, what is the meaning of this!
Grandpa Drake: … I get lost when you start talking ‘breeder,’ darling. I love you, Rhea! Woah! Mom! It’s not how you took it.
Mom: Grandma, it’s for Mya’s growth. I’m not conspiring against my daughter????
Aunt Cynthia: It’s really fine, Grandma.
Great Grandma Carolina: Hmm … I’m still ب_ب … Why did you tell this Forrest person to go hard on Rhea?
Mom: I’ll clarify it to you later, Grandma. I love you, Rhea.
Rhea: Mom’s fine, Granny. Actually, Forrest gave us several chances to win … We just need to get better.
Great Grandma Carolina: Aww … I’m sorry, dearie. I’ll send you some chocolates; the good stuff, and not the junk Drake always gets me.
Grandpa Drake: Whaa … Mom, that’s good stuff!
Great Grandma Carolina: It smells like two-year-old feet … How is that good?
Grandpa Drake: No, it doesn’t smell … gah … We’re in a group chat, Mom.
Great Grandma Carolina: What?! No, when you click on someone’s name, they are in private. Cindy showed me!
Aunt Cynthia: You have to press the box and not keep typing, Grandma.
Great Grandma Carolina: Oh … goodness … so embarrassing. I’m sorry, dearie.
Grandpa Drake: Anyway, we’re looking forward to watching the recordings, my little Swablu … Oof, your grandmother’s giving me that look … Mom, you added her?!
Aunt Cynthia: … Public, dad…
Grandma Glacia: Indeed. Rhea … I hear you had an Encrusted Gym Battle today?
The dots told Rhea everything the elderly Legend wanted to say.
Rhea: Sorry for not letting anyone know, Grandma.
Rhea: Sabin watched me, though!
She hissed the moment she sent the message.
Grandma Glacia: Oh … Your brother was able to watch. He must have enjoyed seeing your first Gym Battle live.
Katelin: Yeah, hehe, umm, we had fun.
Bianca: Oh, your first battle? Nice!
Rhea wanted to facepalm and strangle her brother’s girlfriend; Katelin was obviously trying to throw some heat off of Sabin, but in doing so, had dumped gas on her. Bianca was also probably a bit sad she wasn’t put in the loop, too.
Grandma Glacia: I see … Katelin was invited, too. Hmm. I look forward to seeing your next Gym Challenge. Please send a link, date, and time.
Rhea: Will do, Grandma.
Bianca: Looking forward to it, cutie!
Mom: So, Mom … How’s Dad doing?
Grandma Glacia: … The same as always.
Grandpa Drake: Oof. Yes! We’re great, honey! Gotta go; big storm coming in; gonna be fun!
Grandma Glacia: He caused the storm.
Grandpa Drake: Gonna lose service soon! Bye!
Rhea breathed a sigh of relief. Thanks, Grandpa.
Mom: I’ll call later, honey. I love you and know you did your best! I hope Mya understands that it may hurt now, but this can only help your bond grow.
Aunt Cynthia: Everyone loses, darling. I know it hurts. Be there for Mya, and let your friends be there for you.
Katelin: ^^^^^ We love you, too!
Great Grandma Carolina: Ditto … Is that what the kids say?
Katelin: Eh … bit of a hot-button word today with the whole genetic thing and them dying off, but yeah.
Bianca: What? No, really?
Aunt Cynthia: … We used to say it all the time … generations get soft.
Katelin: I’m just letting you know! I mean, I still use it; it’s cute, but it can sometimes get people screaming.
“... Wild,” Jay mumbled, following the chat with wide eyes, and she wasn’t the only one.
Amira nodded. “Your family is … unique, Rhea.”
“That’s one way to put it,” Rhea groaned, turning her phone off.
Sam, Hannah, and Jade’s expressions were a mixture of forced smiles and pure amusement. “Yeah, it can be... ” Sam chuckled, “uh ... a little chaotic sometimes?”
Rhea put her phone in her hidden pocket and sat Nova down as the woman came back with Mya’s pokeball. Getting up, she went to the desk and accepted the device.
“She’s all taken care of,” the woman smiled. “I hope the rest of your stay in Pewter meets your expectations.”
Rhea nodded, waving her off as everyone got to their feet, focus on the capsule.
Mya? She didn’t answer. Mya, everyone’s worried about you. Let me make sure you’re doing alright.
She pressed the activator on the ball and released Mya but jumped a little as it immediately reopened and sucked her depressed Mawile back in.
“... She’s refusing to come out?” Jade whispered.
She paused as her Pokemon gave her first response, and it was for her to leave her alone, sulking as far away from her spirit as possible.
“... Okay…” Rhea sighed before adding a fake smile. “Mya says she just needs a bit of time. Umm … you want to go get that ice cream? I think … Oh, my brother’s going to be another fifteen minutes,” she mumbled, checking her phone as it vibrated in her hidden dress pocket.
Sabin was being hounded by a few fanatical fans that weren’t allowing him to get out of the stadium, asking for pictures and blocking his way.
She took a moment to formulate a text back, but in the end, went with the generic, ‘That’s fine, need some time, too,’ response.
Scratching her eyebrow, Amira took the lead, guiding them to the ice cream place.
* * *
Mya’s heart didn’t feel heavy … it was empty … everything drained out of her when she saw her defensive matrix about to break. Her entire life had been a solid rock, steady as the tide, yet in an instant, her whole life became undefined.
I’m the greatest … everyone agrees, I’m the greatest … I’m undefeated … unstoppable … I was stopped … but I’m unstoppable.
Her eyes scanned the infinite darkness as she pulled as far away from Rhea and Nova as she possibly could. Rhea was currently walking to the ice cream shop to pick out various flavors of delicious ice with Mya’s friends … friends she couldn’t face.
Mya’s appetite had dried up, and when she’d exited the pokeball, everything was gray and had lost its color … she was being pressed in by everything … Rhea and Nova’s comforting waves hurt … squeezing the life out of her … she’d never felt a more terrifying binding force than this constricting pressure that gripped her heart … it was better to not feel anything at all.
“… Mya … we love you. We’ll get through this.”
Shut up … Shut up!
“Mya, we’re so scared and worried about you!”
Shut up … I don’t want to … go away…
Every word was a new cut, so she tried to pull inward as much as possible, distancing herself from Nova and Rhea.
How can I be there for you, Rhea … How can I be a good partner when all of me isn’t enough to win? How could anyone love me? I … I don’t love me … I’m not a winner … If I’m not a winner, then … then who am I? I … I’m the … I’m invincible…
She was the unbreakable fangs that stood in front of her Trainer when an unbeatable Nidorino tried to kill her … she’d taken every blow, never budged, thrown him back … something impossible, but she defied everything … That’s who she was … she was a winner, but if she lost … what was she now?
Time passed in flashes of Rhea and Nova’s smothering, compassionate influxes that choked the air from her lungs and twisted her mind.
… My entire existence is tarnished … My purpose soiled … If I can’t protect Rhea from … If I can’t win … What am I worth?
Rhea walked into the store, Nova exiting her pokeball on their Trainer’s gentle voice as she started crying again that Mya wouldn’t talk to her. Immediately, Trainers were fawning over her unique colors … Nova was known for her cuteness and Mya her strength—another fang dug into Mya’s chest.
Poppy, Star, Holly, Gables, Nova, Hector, Orin, Mimi, and Tera exited their pokeballs, joining Nova in sampling the various flavors to get their own cone. Through Nova, Mya tensed upon hearing Tera looking for her.
“Hey, where’s Mya? I wanted to challenge her to see who could eat all of their ice cream cones first! I can do it in one bite!”
Nova hummed. “... Not all four cones in one bite, though. Right?”
“No, but I’m fast! Where’s Mya? I wanted to tell her she’s so brave and powerful! That one big shot that sent that huge Rock Pokemon flying was so cool!”
It’s a lie … It’s a lie…
“Mya’s kind of being … I don’t know, it’s confusing,” Nova mumbled. “She’s mad and sad, and super mad … I don’t know.”
“Oh…” Tera puffed up her chest. “Well, I wanna be just like Mya, and I can’t beat her yet, but one day, I’ll be strong like her! I’m gonna try to fight the Gym tomorrow and want Mya to see me be strong, too!”
Sam was talking to Rhea at the same time, telling her how much Tera admired her.
Every word was a gash in Mya’s heart. It’s a lie … I’m a lie…
Wanting to get away, Mya exited her pokeball; the world was a blur as tears fell down her cheeks, and she ran in front of the store, breaking left as the glass door automatically opened for her.
Rhea’s heart rate spiked as she watched her leave, bending down to pick up her pokeball; Nova ran to the door, looking after her with the others.
“R-Rhea! Mya’s running away … She’s crying … W-What do we do?!”
She didn’t know where she was going, and the humans around them parted to allow her through, giving her questioning looks, but the world was a haze to her. The noises in her ears were deafening, crashing together to create a cacophony in her shambled brain.
Rhea ran after her with the others, having a harder time getting through the crowds, but Nova kept close.
“Follow her, Nova … Make sure she doesn’t get hit by a car or something…”
“I … I’m trying.”
Go … Go away … You don’t need a defective failure…
Running blindly, she ended up in an alley and huddled near the back behind some dumpsters the humans used to throw away their trash. I’m not strong … I lost … Why did you say that, Tera … Why does everything hurt so much?!
Nova was nearby but was keeping her distance. It took a few minutes for Rhea to catch up to them, following her connection to Nova and her.
“Is she here, Nova?”
“Yeah … she’s just crying in the back … s-should we go see if she’s okay? She’s hurting so much.”
“I know … Yeah, let’s go … slowly.”
Maya sniffed, her large mouth covering her body to protect her from the world; it felt like she was underground—she couldn’t breathe or see.
“Mya,” Rhea whispered, kneeling down a few feet in front of her with Nova by her side. “Mya, we’re here for you.”
Maya trembled, finally responding to her Trainer, that she’d failed. Why?! I’m garbage … trash … a loser. You should leave me here … I’m not worth anything if I can’t win. I’m … I’m only holding you back.
“No … No, Mya, I’m not better without you. Nova and I don’t feel that way at all!”
“I love you so much … W-We’re bestest friends … like Star and Holly … I … I told them we’re besties, too.”
W-Who would be friends with a failure…
Rhea slowly inched forward, using her hands to shift her dress a little; Nova’s ears were pulled back as she followed.
J-Just leave me alone … I’m worthless.
Nova leveled a frustrated glare at her through their bond. “No, you’re not! You’re not worthless … You’re my partner! Superfriends … Forever.”
“Mya,” Rhea softly whispered, holding her knees as she sat against the wall next to her, “everyone’s here for you.” She leaned closer to wrap her arms around her trembling jaws. “To be honest, losing really hurt me, too … I knew we would.”
Maya flinched. I … I told you … I’m a failure.
“I was frustrated with you … sad and frustrated … Arceus, you’re so headstrong, so stubborn, but nothing I tried worked … You had this unbreakable wall that was separating us, and I couldn’t break past it.”
Maya’s arms started to tremble against her chest. I … I’m flawed … I’m the worst Pokemon partner there is.
Rhea continued to rub her quaking mouth, voice somehow soothing. “I didn’t know what to do, but I knew you’d never accept lowering those crazy high standards … a lot of that blame is on me … just like Nova, and how hurt she was when we lost the Contest.”
Her chest shuddered. W-We’re all defective?
“No … you’re both my precious, bonded Pokemon that no one can replace. I know it hurts … You can feel how hurt I am, too, but now that we’ve gone through this, we can really start getting closer to one another … We get closer by going through tough things, and isn’t this tough? Will you walk with me, Mya … even if it hurts?”
“I will!” Nova huffed. “I’m gonna win the next Contest, no problem!”
Rhea giggled. “Well, your next big battle will be in Cerulean City. The question is … does Mya want to give up? I believe in you but everything is up to you. If you want to leave the Battle Scene, then that’s fine, Mya … I understand.”
The air fighting to fill Maya’s lungs froze; Rhea’s words were like a punch to her gut. Quit … You’d still fight, though … Right?
“I will!” Nova growled. “I’m gonna get stronger and beat those Contest Hussies!”
… Hussies… She shook her head, moving her head a little to look at Rhea’s blurry face. Does it matter, though, Rhea? If … If I can’t beat the easy Gym, then how can I take us through the others?
“It’s not just you,” Rhea whispered, reaching over to clear away her cheeks. “Nova and I are here … Everyone else, too.”
“Yeah, we’ll win easy!” Nova roared. “I’m gonna get super, super, super strong like all of Lyra’s Pokemon and show how adorable and cute and strong Rhea and I are! You, too!”
Rhea bit her lower lip, putting on a clearly fake smile. “I don’t want to hold you back, Mya … If you really want to be free, then … it would hurt, but … but I want you to know that I’m willing to do whatever is best for you.”
The shock that hit Maya’s chest was enough to dry her tears and she swung her head out of the way to tackle Rhea, taking her to the ground and burying her head in her breast. N-No! I don’t want to leave you, Rhea … We … We got through the … the stuff I did to you, and … and I want to be strong, too … Why am I not strong?
Rhea shifted her weight across her, a rumble transferring between their frames as her Trainer giggled, tears in her own eyes as she stroked her fine hair. “Hey, hey … We’ll work on it together. How about we save Forrest for the final Encrusted Badge. We’ll be back, and when we do, we’ll win.”
“Easily!” Nova huffed, nuzzling them both.
“Without a doubt! Besides, Amira, Mallory, and us will have to face different Gyms for our Encrusted Badge that best works with our teams. Don’t you worry; we’re going all the way!”
Maya’s arms tightened around Rhea, causing her to choke a little. “Softer … softer … delicate Trainer, here.”
Thank you, Rhea … Thank you for not abandoning me for being weak … it hurts so much being weak…
Tera tentatively entered the alley. “M-Mya? Mya, are you okay?”
Taking a shuddering breath, Maya got off Rhea’s chest and cleared her face. “Y-Yeah, I’m here … I just … I never knew how weak I am…”
She took a step back as Tera’s cheeks puffed up. “You’re not weak! You’re the strongest Pokemon I know! No one’s better than you! No one!”
Rhea pulled herself against the wall, holding one of her knees while watching them with a smile.
“B-But I lost,” Mya mumbled, rubbing her arm.
“Yeah! He was so lucky! Next time, he better hope you don’t pound him into the mud like that Nidorino!”
Nova jumped forward with a cheer. “Yeah! Next time you’ll pound mud all over him!”
Rhea reached forward and rubbed her head. “... Okay. Mya, are you ready to go back and get some ice cream?”
“Oh, wait!” Tera’s grinning eyes narrowed. “I challenge you to an ice cream eating contest! Fastest to eat the cones!”
“Eh … that’s not really a Contest,” Nova mumbled, but Mya’s loud acceptance drowned her out.
“You’re on! I’m gonna win, though!”
“I’m not gonna make it easy for ya!”
“You better not!” Mya laughed, opening her wide jaws. “I’ve got a pretty big tongue!”
“I’m not afraid!”
* * *
Rhea got up, dusting her dress off; she’d probably have to put it through the washer, but nothing beat Mya’s smiling face again as she walked with Tera and Nova out of the alley, and they were soon joined by the other Pokemon.
Nova was explaining to Mya about ice cream, which she loved and hated because of the stickiness and flavor.
Rhea’s focus moved to Mallory as she frowned down at her phone, showing the Pewter Gym website. “Something up?”
“Really?” Rhea leaned in with the others, looking at the video as Lori expanded the holographic screen. “Oh, Jason’s up next … What kind of Zigzagoon is that?”
“Galarian,” Lori replied with a minor squeal. “I LOVE the Dark-Type Zigzagoon!”
“Dark-Types in general, you mean,” Amira snickered.
They went to their hotel room to meet up with Sabin; he was dressed in a pretty shady way—covered up in black jeans now and an orange shirt with glasses, hat, and bandana—it didn’t match, but no one would recognize him.
Jay was very flustered and a lot more awkward than she’d normally been, which might have been because she was attracted to her brother, but seeing Katelin in the picture shut that down quick; she came back strong after Jade and Mallory’s light teasing that Rhea was rubbing off on her, and was drawn in as one of the girls.
Jason won his match, using a cheeky tactic of Sand Attack, Leer, Lick Paralysis, double-Salac berries from his Gluttony Ability, allowing him to consume two barries right after each other, and utterly outclassing the Geodude by spam Tackling him. It helped that the Pokemon had no Egg Moves and wasn’t the most genetic god, which put him in Rank-2 Bronze.
Sabin was more than a little interested in the new eggs their mother gave her team, but his focus was almost entirely on her from the moment he showed up.
Lori and Amira went back to the Gym a bit later to pick up Katelin and Jason before snatching their Encrusted Bronze Boulder Badges. Len disappeared somewhere to find Lucian while they spent the remainder of the day relaxing.
At 6 P.M., Sabin bought her some inconspicuous clothes via Katelin and Amira before taking her on an evening flight across the Pewter mountains on his Aerodactyl, catching up on her journey and giving her some time to talk about her difficulties—he was such a good listener, and just hugging his tight stomach helped ease the stress of the day.
Mya and Nova were thrilled at the sights, and after a while, Sabin stopped off to get them their own seats on the rented saddle, only increasing their enjoyment.
Once night fell, everyone separated to their own hotels, and Sabin promised to stick around with Katelin to spend the morning together.
Even though the morning was a rocky start with Lucian and the Gym Challenge, the ending was as sweet as Rhea could have asked for—spending personal time with her big brother again and with her own bonded Pokemon.