The smell of cooking meat hit Ruby the moment she and Hop walked into Bob's Yer Uncle. Upon walking into the restaurant, she immediately took sight of the brightly coloured bar counter, yellow with red stripes that had various sauces on offer for customers to have with their food and a couple of chefs taking orders and coming out of the kitchens to deliver food. A Centiskorch stood by the counter, watching Ruby and Hop come in. Presumably, it was there to help with the cooking, though most trainers would recommend it keep out of the kitchen as it'd be more like to burn the food. Maybe this one was well-trained to control its heat.
There were also posters of a blonde man with a moustache, a tweed suit and a yellow and red tie that seemed to match the counter on the walls. Ruby presumed that was the so-called "Bob" that founded the place. From his rather weighty appearance, Ruby imagined that he must've been a man that enjoyed his food. She looked to the other diners at their tables eating various meaty dishes such as steaks grilled to their liking, burgers stacked up as high as they wanted, racks of ribs and slabs of grilled chicken drenched in BBQ sauce. Her stomach growled desperately, eager to break out and snatch some of the food for itself. Ruby was already finding herself glad to be here as everything looked delicious and grilled to perfection. Pity the restaurant had to have such a silly sounding name though. Why call it after a popular saying instead of something more sensible like "Bob's Flaming Grill" or "the Circhester Steak House"? On the other hand, it was a name for a restaurant that stood out and you'd certainly not forget it so as silly as it sounded, it clearly worked.
As ravenous as Ruby was, she ignored her protesting stomach as she saw Sonia standing by the counter, clearly delighted to see her again after their last meeting in Motostoke. Her cheerful face always made Ruby feel glad to see the lab assistant. How lucky was she to have lived near a Pokémon professor who had such a friendly granddaughter?
"Hi Ruby! How did your latest Gym battle go?" Sonia inquired with a bright smile on her face.
Ruby informed her, explaining everything from her meeting with Sydney the Galvantula to the Gym battle that had won her another badge but cost her another Pokémon. Sonia shook her head sympathetically.
"Aww, that's sad. You only just caught that Galvantula and you have to leave it to recover at the Pokémon Centre." Sonia said sadly, "And it saved your life in Route 7 too…that must've been hard for you to say goodbye."
"I wish I could keep him with me as it would've been great to have him on the team." Ruby agreed, "But at least he'll be well looked after and I'll get him back once his cold's gone. He won't be gone forever." she added brightly.
"Absolutely." Sonia said cheerfully, "I imagine when Chomps, Houdini and Sydney can all come back to you, it'll be a lovely treat to come home to. I like to think they'll recover in time to see you become the next champion." she added, winking.
"If I ever do become the next champion." Ruby noted, "I still have two more badges to get before I can challenge Leon. But first, I'm up for some dinner. I'm so hungry I could eat my own legs!" she laughed.
"Well we best get our orders placed then!" Sonia giggled, "While we eat, I can tell you what happened back at Motostoke with me and Leon and update you both on my current research."
Ruby liked the sound of that. She had been curious to hear how Sonia and Leon dealt with the tremor back in Motostoke and wanted to hear more about her current project in researching the history of Galar and the mysterious sword and shield Pokémon. Sonia turned to the counter to ask the chef for menus but just before she could say anything, the ginger woman noticed something in the corner of her eye. She looked over and saw something that she was surprised she didn't see earlier. Then again, she hadn't exactly been looking at the back wall during her time in the restaurant as she'd been waiting for Hop to return with Ruby. There was what appeared to be some kind of picture hanging on the back wall next to a poser of Bob the founder of the restaurant. But it was very clear to Sonia that this was no ordinary picture or poster.
"Wait, hold on!" Sonia cried, darting towards the picture in a hurry.
Ruby and Hop ran after her, curious to see what had caught her attention. They two spotted the picture as Sonia ran up to it and studied it closely. The picture looked old and seemed to be burnt around the edges, showing its condition hadn't exactly been well-preserved. What struck Ruby as odd was the art-style. It clearly looked like a medieval picture, something very out of place in a restaurant like Bob's Yer Uncle as the art-style didn't match the other posters. It looked more like it belonged in a fancy castle or in the Hammerlocke Vault than in a restaurant, which coincidentally enough, Sonia had recently visited so she especially recognized the art-style. It matched the four tapestries she'd seen in Hammerlocke Vault so this picture was very surprising for her to see.
"No way! What's this?!" Sonia exclaimed.
"An absolutely fantastic poster!" Hop cried.
Ruby frowned at him. Was that seriously his first impression of the picture on the wall?
"Exactly! Bob, with his brilliant smile, must be part of the legend!" Sonia cried excitedly.
It then suddenly dawned on her that when Hop had said "poster", he had been referring to the picture and not the poster of Bob next to it. She screwed her face up in annoyance. Ruby giggled, though she didn't mean to. Sonia looked very funny to her with that face she was making.
"Wait, what are you on about?! Don't confuse me!" she complained.
"Sorry, when I said what I said, I meant the picture you were looking at!" Hop protested.
"I don't think that's a poster, Hop." Ruby said thoughtfully, "It looks like it came out of a museum to me. You said you saw four tapestries in Hammerlocke Vault, Sonia." she murmured, turning to the lab assistant, "Do you think this is a fifth one?"
One of the chefs overhead the three chatting together and he seemed interested that they were talking about the picture on the wall so he decided to chip in on the conversation.
"That is a tapestry, young lady." he said, speaking in a voice that suggested he smoked more often than he should, "Nice, innit? I got it from the antique market a few years ago. My customers really like looking at it when they eat."
"You sure got yourself quite a purchase for I think this thing could add something new to my research." Sonia said with interest, "I'm looking into the history of Galar and I think this tapestry might have something new I can add to it."
"Oh really?" the chef said inquisitively, "Well you just speculate away, luv. I've got some dishes to prepare. Enjoy looking at the tapestry like the rest of my diners!"
He then disappeared through a door that lead into the kitchen so he could cook some more dinners for the other diners. As soon as he'd gone, Sonia took another look at this surprise new tapestry she'd just happened to stumble across. This chef clearly had no idea how valuable it really was for it was adding a whole new chapter to the story she'd seen in Hammerlock Vault. Perhaps it was coincidence, or maybe it was destiny that she of all people should come across it here. Looking at the tapestry, Sonia noticed the two heroes from the other tapestries were here once again, still clad in their robes and wearing their crowns. This definitely showed that this event took place after the Darkest Day had ended and their kingdoms had formed afterwards. They were facing each other, both holding a lit candle each and standing on either side of a stone arch with a couple of stones marked with a sword and a shield respectively. That was interesting. What was being depicted here?
"The heroes look sad…" the ginger woman observed, "And where are the sword and shield? Those stones are marked with a sword and shield symbol each…it's like they've been laid to rest or something…"
"Do you think this is an end to the legend?" Ruby suggested, "The very legend that started all this?"
"Good thinking Ruby. It could be." Sonia agreed, "Maybe when the sword and shield Pokémon's duty was done, they went into some kind of sleep…"
"I hope those stones aren't meant to be their graves and that they're dead." Hop said, "That'd be pretty depressing."
"I doubt they're dead Hop. Remember, we saw one of them in Slumbering Weald." Ruby reminded, "Seeing that statue in Stow-on-Side, it's clear that we at least saw the shield Pokémon. If we saw it, then the Pokémon are clearly very much alive."
"But if you remember, we tried to attack it and our attacks just went through it!" Hop exclaimed, "So it could've been its ghost for all we know!"
"I dunno Hop, I doubt a ghost could whip up a fog that just engulfed us all and made us pass out like that." the red-eyed girl murmured, "And besides, when Pokémon die, they come back as Ghost Pokémon like Gastly, Haunter, Gengar and all the rest. They wouldn't come back as themselves, but that one did, so I reckon the shield Pokémon at least still lives."
Sonia took this in with interest. She agreed with Ruby on all points she'd made and had to conclude that the picture was on about the two Pokémon going into a deep slumber rather than being laid to rest. It still fascinated her to hear that Ruby and Hop had actually seen the shield Pokémon. What about the sword Pokémon? Was that one still around too? The jade-eyed woman beamed excitedly as her brain whirled restlessly for answers.
"Oh gosh, I only started this journey because my gran told me to, but this is turning out to be too much fun!" Sonia said eagerly, "Who knew speculation and digging for answers could be so enjoyable?"
"It's always fun to learn new things!" Ruby piped, "I know I feel that way whenever I learn anything new about Pokémon."
"Same here." Hop concurred, "I probably get it from Lee as he's the kind of guy who loves to learn as well."
"And all that learning helped him become champion." Sonia nodded, knowing exactly what Hop meant. As his former rival during the Gym Challenge, she'd seen for herself that he was someone who liked to learn and found it enjoyable.
"Let's get our orders in now. We can talk some more over dinner." Sonia added quickly, "You can have whatever you want. It's all on me!"
"Oh you don't have to, I can pay for my own meal." Ruby insisted, "Don't waste your money on me."
"Or me, I've earned plenty of money from my Pokémon battles too." Hop put in.
"It's OK, I can afford it. I insist." Sonia said politely, "So come on, what would you like to eat?"
The next hour or so was spent talking and eating between the three friends. Ruby practically devoured her way through a double-stacker cheese and bacon burger with a side of fries, making her way through it as if she hadn't eaten for a week. Hop had a rack of ribs and Sonia had a steak served medium rare with a side of chips. All three drank a glass of coke with their meals. As they ate, they all took turns in sharing the conversation as they discussed their recent successes in the Gym Challenge, Sonia's research and what was next for all three of them. Then after they'd chatted, they decided to share a desert between the three of them rather than order one each as neither one had room to have a full desert each. They chose to share a slice of chocolate fudge cake with some ice-cream melting on top of it. Then they paid for their meals and headed on out of the warmth of the restaurant back into the cold, frosty air of Circhester City. It wasn't surprising whatsoever that it was still snowing.
Ruby and Hop wanted to move on but first, they decided to follow Sonia as she wanted to look somewhere. They followed the ginger woman as she headed towards the Hero's Bath house, her heels rapping on the stone path. The trio found the warm aroma of the hot spring water very welcoming and as tempting as it was to step in and have a good soak, they knew better than to do so as nobody was dressed for it. They at least sat down by the water to feel some of its warmth drifting up towards them. Circhester City itself had been built on top of an ancient hot spring and the Hero's Bath was an example of how it was still around to this day for anyone to enjoy the lovely, warm water. Even the local fountain had some of the spring in it. It was incredible how something so old still existed to this day despite a city being built on top of it. There was a scene at one end of the spring with details about its history and what it meant to the people of Circhester. Sonia of course knew some of that history.
"Ruby, Hop, do you two know how this place got its name?" she asked curiously.
"I assume because the heroes of Galar bathed in it or something given they call it "The Hero's Bath." Ruby said, shrugging.
"Oh you're so observant Ruby! You'd be a great assistant for a Pokémon professor like my Gran if you weren't a trainer." Sonia complimented, "Yes, you're absolutely right on that. The two heroes were said to bathe here to soothe their wounds after the battle to bring down that evil presence all those years ago. Nowadays, only Pokémon really use the Hero's Bath though." she added, taking note of a nearby trainer who had brought out his Pikachu to have a good soak in the hot spring.
"I bet the sword and shield Pokémon were among the Pokémon to have bathed here if they're the heroes of Galar." Hop put in, "If they're the ones that stopped the Darkest Day, they must've REALLY needed that bath here!"
"Possibly." Sonia agreed, "And given you two met the shield Pokémon in the Slumbering Weald that day…" she paused as she fingered a lock of her hair again, "…perhaps maybe you two can become new heroes." she added, looking to Ruby and Hop.
Both teens looked incredulous as if Sonia had suggested that a Slowpoke could win a race between them both.
"What, you mean like some hero waving around a sword and a shield? Pull the other one!" Hop cried, "Though I imagine I'd pick a sword if I had to take my pick." he added thoughtfully.
"It's funny you should suggest that as the other night, I actually had a dream suggesting something like that." Ruby added, thinking back to the night she'd woken up to press her mum for answers on her mysterious glowing hair.
"Oh really? Do tell. I'm interested to hear it." Sonia inquired politely.
"Well it was before my mum revealed what gave me my glowing hair so I pretty much had this nightmare in which it turned out I was just a living beam of energy and not a real person." Ruby explained, "However, the shield Pokémon came to me and cryptically warned me that the Darkest Day might return to Galar and that I had to be prepared for it. With you suggesting me and Hop could be heroes…maybe the dream was about that. Maybe me and Hop could stop the Darkest Day if it does come back again, not that I suspect it ever will of course."
"I remember you telling me that yesterday morning before I had that battle with Bede that I lost." Hop said, "It was quite a crazy dream but who knows, maybe it WAS trying to tell you something at the time…at least the part where you became pure energy won't ever come true." he added, "But imagine, me and you as heroes of Galar…"
The two teens thought it over for the moment. They already had a big goal in mind with their Pokémon journeys, but to become a hero of the region on top of that…yes, that would be very exciting indeed! But it was highly unlikely that'd ever happen. After all, what reason could there be for the Darkest Day to happen again? It was an event in ancient history and had never come back so what would make now any different? Maybe they'd be heroes for a different reason, like tackling a whole other threat in Galar instead of that. What would that be like and how would the population feel about two teens from Postwick town being their new saviours?
"Hey Ruby, why don't me and you have another battle together, maybe show each other and Sonia a real heroic battle!" Hop declared.
"Like one that the heroes of Galar might've had? I doubt we'll ever top that but I'm always happy to have a battle with you, buddy!" Ruby chuckled, "Sure, let's go for it!"
"I'm not sure I understand your reasoning but I'm up for it anyway." she said cheerfully, "I treated you both to dinner so you can treat me to a real "heroic" Pokémon battle! Truth be told, I've kinda wanted to see you two battle anyway so let's go! I'm excited to see you both in action!"
So with that said, the three walked away from the Hero's Bath and headed out into the outskirts of the city to find a quiet spot for their new Pokémon battle. They found a spot just at the foot of Route 9, the route that led from Circhester to Spikemuth, and the two took up their positions, ready to battle. Sonia stood by to act as referee, her stomach tingling with excitement. Getting to research Galar's history and watch two friends of hers have a Pokémon battle! What more could be added to this day to make it any more fun! Ruby and Hop drew out their first Pokéballs, preparing to summon their first Pokémon. They eyed each other up as if anticipating what move they would make.
"Hope you're prepared Ruby, cause I caused a surprise last time. I might beat ya this time!" Hop declared.
"Maybe you will, but I won't hold back! I'll give you everything I've got, just like I always do!" Ruby shot back.
"Just as I expect you to." Hop said gleefully.
Even though it was possible Ruby would just curbstomp him again, Hop was looking forward to this regardless. There was something about battling with his neighbour that just made him feel energized somehow, like he could wrestle a Bewear and somehow come out on top. Battles with Ruby were fun, even when he lost, and he loved to have them. That and just spending time with his best friend was always worthwhile, even if he may feel she could be more than just a friend to him…
"OK Dubwool, you're gonna start us off!" Hop cried, throwing his Pokéball.
"Bugs, you're up first!" Ruby yelled, throwing hers at the same time.
The two Pokémon materialized opposite each other and took up their positions, awaiting their first command. Bugs looked as energized as ever, the fiery Cinderace hopping from one foot to the other as he could feel himself literally burning up with anticipation. Both he and Ruby were surprised to see that Hop had evolved his Wooloo at last. When he did so, they had no idea but it showed that Hop hadn't abandoned his first Pokémon after all. His Wooloo had become a Dubwool, a Normal type Pokémon that looked like a much bigger sheep with a bigger coat of wool, four horns and a grey woolly ring around its head. Due to its large, round body and small legs, Dubwool really did look like a walking ball of cotton but Ruby imagined that it could hit very hard with its four-horned head.
"Sweet, you evolved your Wooloo!" Ruby cried, "I was wondering if you still had him as the last two times we fought, you never used him."
"I was experimenting with different teams at the time." Hop explained, "After my loss to Bede in the Wild Area, I decided to change my approach. Thankfully Wooloo understood and didn't think I was abandoning him or anything. As you can see, he's back on team now and he evolved! Doesn't Dubwool like great?!" he cried excitedly.
Dubwool bleated with pleasure, feeling as proud of himself as Hop did.
"He looks like he can give a good battle." Ruby agreed, "But so can Bugs. He's really powerful now. Show Hop just how powerful you are with Double Kick!" she commanded.
"Comin' right up, doc!" Bugs replied.
He sprinted towards Dubwool and kicked it twice in the face, both blows landing heavily and knocking the walking cotton ball off his tiny feet. Dubwool bleated in pain and rolled over backwards like a ball of tumbleweed blowing in the wind. Despite the powerful Double Kick, Dubwool wasn't quite down yet. As a Dubwool, it could take hits a little better than its previous incarnation, even when faced with a super-effective move like Double Kick. Dubwool rolled himself back onto his feet and shook his head. He pawed the ground, ready for a charge.
"Good on ya, buddy! You know how to take a hit!" Hop complimented, "Now use Growl to lower Bugs's attack!"
Dubwool opened his mouth and emitted a loud growling sound that made Bugs wince as the sound seemed to cut through him. A blue flash swept down his body, signifying that one of his stats had been lowered. Growl was an attack that lowered the opponent's attack. Ruby could see her friend's strategy. He was hoping to lower Bugs's attack so he wouldn't hit as hard. It was certainly a better strategy than just having Dubwool Tackle him over and over like it used to do as a Wooloo. But she knew that Bugs still had the strength to finish the fight. She commanded him to use another Double Kick. Despite the lowered attack, Double Kick let Bugs attack twice in a row so he'd still have the power to knock Dubwool down. Bugs proved her right as he kicked Dubwool twice in the face again and this time, the sheep Pokémon didn't get up again. He rolled over onto his back and bleated in defeat. Sonia watched this with excitement. She'd already seen Ruby in action when she beat Bede back in Stow-on-Side but it was still great to see the undefeated Gym Challenger in action again.
"You're starting off great Ruby!" Sonia praised, "Even when that Dubwool lowered your Cinderace's attack, he still hit back hard and won the match!"
"Thanks Sonia." Ruby said modestly.
"Dat's us Cinderaces fer you, we pack a lot of power, doll." Bugs said conceitedly.
Hop returned Dubwool to his ball and smiled affectionately at it.
"You did the best you could buddy. Thank you." he said kindly, putting the ball away and drawing out his second Pokéball.
"Here's one you've not seen from me before. Hope he leaves a good first impression." Hop said to Ruby, throwing the ball to summon his second Pokémon.
"Take it away, Pincurchin!" Hop cried.
Hop was certainly right on that as Ruby had never seen him use this Pokémon before. The teen girl was glad to see her bestie still had plenty of surprises and new Pokémon to show her. She watched as the Pokéball released its occupant and it formed into the shape of Pincurchin. Ruby hadn't seen this one anywhere on her journey but she still knew what it was. Pincurchin was an electric type Pokémon resembling some kind of sea-urchin, hence its name. It was black in colour with a round body and lots of sharp spines on its back. The tips of the spines were grey but they glowed yellow whenever it used its electric attacks. It was said that the spines could still emit electricity for approximately three hours after they'd been broken off. Pincurchin ruffled its spines and electricity crackled around them. It was clear this Pokémon liked to battle and was ready for one. Hop had recently used it in his Gym battle with Melony and it had helped him defeat her famous Lapras so he was keen to show it off to Ruby and Sonia now. Ruby returned Bugs to his ball and drew out her next Pokéball.
"Interesting catch, that." Ruby complimented, "Pincurchin aren't exactly common. I bet you feel lucky to have found one."
"You bet!" Hop confirmed, grinning with delight, "I always get excited when I come across a rare or uncommon Pokémon!"
"No wonder. It's always quite exciting to find a Pokémon you don't usually come across." Ruby agreed, "Now let's see if Pincurchin can stand up to Vesuvius!"
She threw the ball and out came the mighty Coalossal that had saved her from Bede's revenge scheme back in Glimwood Tangle. Vesuvius roared with anticipation, glad to be having a battle once more. Vesuvius and Pincurchin eyed each other up, both wondering that either one would be able to do. It was quite a comical sight to see a huge rock monster and a tiny sea-urchin staring each other down but that was usually expected in a Pokémon battle. There was often a case of David vs. Goliath between opponents with some Pokémon being huge and some being small. And in this case, Goliath took the victory as Ruby gave the first order.
"Use High Horsepower!" Ruby cried.
Hop cursed under his breath. He'd almost forgotten that Vesuvius could use a Ground attack like that! She'd used it against his Snorlax back during their VERY drawn out battle back on the bridge outside Hammerlocke. Snorlax had been able to take it due to being a very bulky Pokémon but Pincurchin wouldn't stand a chance, not when it had a weakness to Ground attacks. And just as he suspected, Vesuvius took his new Pokémon down in a single hit. The huge rocky Pokémon slammed into Pincurchin and it was thrown over onto its back, landing right at Hop's feet and making him jump back to avoid the possibility of being spiked by its spines. Pincurchin lay still, wiped out by that one High Horsepower. Maybe next time it'd get to show Ruby its true power, but not this time. He returned Pincurchin to its Pokéball as Sonia gasped in amazement.
"Whoa, down in a single hit! Your Pokémon know how to win fights quickly, don't they?" Sonia exclaimed.
"It's as my dad likes to say, all it takes to be a good trainer is strong Pokémon, good training and type-matchups." Ruby said brightly, "It's advice I've dedicated myself to following since I first got into this sport."
"And very good advice too." Hop agreed, "You've remained undefeated throughout this Gym Challenge and it's all down to you taking great advice from others."
He then drew out his third Pokéball and tossed it into the air.
"Now Rillaboom, give us all your best beats!" the golden eyed boy cried.
Ruby beamed with delight as she was face-to-face with Hop's fully evolved Grookey once more. She'd enjoyed seeing Rillaboom the last time they'd fought and it was great to see him again, looking ready to kick some butt again. He twirled his drumsticks in his hands and roared excitedly.
"Rillaboom ready to have big battle again! Then Rillaboom will play an epic drum solo to celebrate victory like he did in the Gym!" he bellowed.
Ruby remembered Hop talking about his performance in the Ice Gym over dinner. He'd managed to teach his grass gorilla Pokémon a Fighting type move called "Brick Break", a powerful move like a karate-chop that did damage and could shatter barrier moves like Reflect and Light Screen. Hop had described how his Rillaboom had managed to mitigate his weakness to Ice types by using this move, taking out Melony's Darmanitan and Eiscue by using it. Ice types were weak to Fighting moves so it'd been very useful for the champion's brother to have a Pokémon that knew one of these moves for an Ice Gym. Vesuvius wasn't an Ice type of course, but she still would be vulnerable to a Brick Break from Rillaboom. Rock types also had a weakness to Fighting type attacks and although Vesuvius was half Fire type, Ruby doubted that her Heat Crash attack would be enough to stop him. Vesuvius wouldn't outweigh Rillaboom by much and the attack did more damage depending on how much the user outweighed the opponent. While Vesuvius might be able to win, Ruby decided it would be better to use a Pokémon that could give her a guaranteed win.
She returned the Coalossal to her ball and switched out for Bugs, bringing her starter back onto the field. As soon as Bugs materialized into view, he eyed up his opponent and gasped in amazement.
"Holy galoshes, is dat da same Grookey I set alight on at least three different occasions earlier in our journey?!" he exclaimed, "Look at him, he's huge! And he has a killer drum set too. Dat's pretty neat." he added, eyeing Rillaboom's trademark wooden drum set.
"Rillaboom is very grateful you like his drum set! Rillaboom loves it too!" the huge Grass Pokémon said appreciatively.
"Heh, it had to happen eventually." Hop acknowledged, "Our fully evolved starters finally getting the chance to duke it out together. These two really do visualize perfectly how far we've come on our journeys, don't you think?"
"It's like they've grown up with us." Ruby agreed, "Now to see who's become the strongest upon evolving! Bugs, use Pyro Ball!"
"Ya maybe huge, doc, but I bet dis will knock ya down in one!" Bugs crowed, kicking his pebble that he once again seemed to bring from nowhere from one foot to the next.
Rillaboom imagined that his days were numbered so for no real reason, he started to play a dramatic drumroll, essentially building up his own defeat. He gulped as Bugs's fireball began to grow bigger and bigger the more he kicked the pebble. Once it became the size of a football, the Cinderace then kicked it towards Rillaboom, looking very much like a professional striker on the football pitch scoring an epic goal. The Pyro Ball hit Rillaboom, knocking him backwards and sending his drum set flying. He cried out as he was burnt by the attack and he landed flat on his back, grunting from the impact. His drum landed beside him with a heavy crashing sound. It was a good thing it was made from thick wood or else it could've smashed to pieces. Rillaboom lay on the ground, dazed and wiped out from Bugs's single hit. He punched the air triumphantly.
"As I said, down in one!" he cheered.
"Rillaboom will never beat Bugs…" Rillaboom muttered sadly as he drifted into unconsciousness.
"Sadly no, but you're still a great Pokémon to me, buddy." Hop said kindly, kneeling down to pat Rillaboom on the head.
Ruby and Bugs smiled with awe at the tender scene before them. Not only was it nice to see Hop being supportive of his beloved Pokémon despite him always losing to Ruby's Pokémon, but the bond between the two reminded them so much of their own friendship. There was truly no bond greater than that of the bond between trainer and Pokémon. Hop returned the singed Rillaboom to his Pokéball and whipped out his fourth Pokéball.
"This one gave you a close call last time so get ready for him again!" he cried confidently, "Go Snorlax!"
He threw the ball and an enormous ball of light exploded out and formed the massive shape of the gluttonous Snorlax. He yawned loudly as if he'd just been rudely woken up and didn't want to get out of bed. He scratched his tummy contently and smacked his lips. He was getting ready for food again but Snorlax could see that now wasn't the time to eat. It was time to battle once more and he knew he would be rewarded with food later. Bugs recoiled, a little intimidated at the idea of having to fight this giant Pokémon. He knew Snorlax were strong and doubted he'd be able to handle it.
"Uh, Ruby, do you tink that I should switch out with someone else?" he asked timidly.
"No Bugs, because you have a Fighting move. Snorlax is weak against those." Ruby noted, "You can handle him."
That made Bugs feel more confident. Yes, his trainer was right. He had the type-coverage necessary to take Snorlax down. At least this match wouldn't be a drawn out one that relied on each other's endurance like the last time Hop had brought his Snorlax into battle.
"Let's make it quick! Use Double Kick!" Ruby ordered.
Bugs sprinted towards his opponent at blazing speed and landed two heavy kicks to the giant Pokémon's flabby gut. Snorlax staggered backwards and let out a deep below of pain. The Double Kick had done the damage, but his incredible defences had allowed him to cushion the blows enough to remain in the battle. Even with a super-effective attack, Snorlax still never went down easily. He let out a deep battle cry, ready to retaliate. Hop wasted no time in doing so, ordering him to use Body Slam. Snorlax jumped into the air, once again taking Ruby by surprise that such a large, heavyweight Pokémon could actually perform such an action, and he landed straight on top of Bugs, who gave a comical scream as this colossal sack of fat flattened him into the ground. The ground shuddered from the slam of Snorlax's body crashing down heavily. Sonia winced and looked away, hardly daring to watch Bugs get squashed like a bug. Ruby gasped, hoping her starter Pokémon was OK. Having a Pokémon as heavy and big as a Snorlax flattening you into the ground could NOT be fun to go through! Snorlax picked himself up, showing a flattened Bugs lying on the ground with his tongue sticking out. He very much looked like the cartoon character whose name he'd been given whenever he got flattened by something in his cartoon shorts. But amazingly enough…he was still in the game! As Bugs inflated back to normal, he strained as he picked himself back up and coughed. His health was low after that crippling Body Slam but it wasn't depleted. He had enough left in him to carry on fighting.
"Ungh…dat really hurt!" Bugs spluttered, "It's been a while since any Pokémon's managed ta actually hurt me like dat!"
"It was a close call! I thought the Snorlax had taken you out!" Ruby gasped, "Hold on a sec Bugs, I'll get you healed up!"
The leather-clad girl ran up to her Cinderace and whipped out a Hyper Potion to heal the damage from Snorlax's Body Slam. A couple of sprays was all it took to reenergize Bugs and he flexed his muscles, the pain from his earlier attack already going.
"Ah yeah, dat's more like it!" Bugs said gratefully, "Tanks Ruby!"
"You're welcome. Now use Double Kick again! That should win the battle!" Ruby cried.
Bugs obeyed, sprinting towards Snorlax and Double Kicking him a second time. Each kick felt like he was going to make Snorlax's enormous stomach burst and shower everyone with several hundred semi-digested berries. Snorlax stumbled from the blows, winded by the onslaught of Bugs's kicks. His health went down to nothing, the kicks enough to finish him off. He toppled over backwards, making the ground shake and causing Ruby, Hop, Bugs and Sonia to all tumble over onto their backs. Any time Snorlax fell over, it was like being near a car that had been dropped from the sky. Hop was the first to stand back up, leaning over Snorlax to see if he was OK. He didn't move, signifying that he was yet another opponent KO'd by his friend. He had hoped Snorlax would be the Pokémon to turn this fight around but unlike last time, Ruby had been better prepared for him so Snorlax didn't make a difference. He returned the sleepy Pokémon to his ball and drew out his last Pokéball.
"OK, down to my last one, and you'll love to see this Pokémon. You see, Rillaboom's not the only one who evolved lately." Hop said with a wink, "Go Corviknight!"
He threw the ball and Ruby was met with one of the coolest looking Pokémon that ever lived in the Galar region. She remembered how Hop had a Rookidee that he'd gone onto evolve into a Corvisquire. Now it had evolved once again into its final form, Corviknight. It was a Steel/Flying type Pokémon, the only other of its kind aside from Johto's very own Skarmory species. It resembled an armoured raven with a knight-theme going on with a black body, red eyes, armoured wings and talons, steel feathers and a crest above its head resembling a crown. Corviknight were very popular amongst Galarians for their awesome appearances and for being efficient modes of transport. It was the reason they were the Pokémon that were always used as Flying Taxis to transport people from one location to the next. A Corviknight could carry heavy loads with ease so transporting people was never a problem. Ruby's eyes lit up with delight.
"Wow, your Corvisquire's fully evolved too! He looks so awesome!" Ruby squealed, "Oh my Arceus, I've always loved Corviknight! I wish I'd caught one of my own!"
"I'm glad you recognize my greatness, Dame Ruby!" Corviknight said haughtily, his voice so grand and arrogant that he sounded more like a king of his own castle than a knight serving said king, "I know you have bested me in previous bouts, but the mighty sword of Excalibur shall carve my way to victory this time!"
"I see he's still as "modest" as ever." Ruby chuckled.
"If anything, I think evolving just made his ego grow bigger…" Hop said grimly.
Ruby returned Bugs to his Pokéball and took out her last one. She knew just the Pokémon to finish the battle and she summoned it now. She threw the ball and out came Freddy the Toxtricity, fresh off of his win against Melony's Lapras earlier and ready for another song. He strummed his chest knobs and started rocking away, too caught up in the moment to realize that he was meant to be in a battle. Ruby and Hop didn't mind for they decided to join in, doing two stomps and a clap in time with the music. Even Sonia swayed her hips from side-to-side, enjoying the rocking music coming from Freddy.
Buddy you're a boy, make a big noise
Playin' in the street, gonna take on the world some day!
You got mud on your face!
You big disgrace!
Kicking your can all over the place, singin'
WE WILL, WE WILL ROCK YOU!
WE WILL, WE WILL ROCK YOU!
Yeah, sing it again!
WE WILL, WE WILL ROCK YOU!
WE WILL, WE WILL ROCK YOU!
He then finished off with a short rock solo and threw his arms up, expecting applause from someone. Ruby, Hop and Sonia all clapped whereas Corviknight touched down and clapped his wings together.
"Bravo, that was great as always!" Ruby cried.
"I know we're meant to be battling, but that was most entertaining!" Corviknight agreed.
"I should bring my Toxtricity out for a duet with Freddy one day." Hop acknowledged.
"Thank you everyone. You're all wonderful, darlings, thank you." Freddy purred graciously.
"That was fun Freddy, but it's time for a battle now." Ruby said, "You can perform more later if you want. Now use Overdrive on Corviknight!"
Freddy obeyed, strumming his chest knobs once more and unleashing a giant jolt of electricity from his tall, slender body towards his opponent. Corviknight's half-Steel typing did nothing to defend him from the electric attack as it struck him. He was still weak against Electric types like other Flying type Pokémon were. He squawked comically with pain as he was electrocuted. His armoured body hardly cushioned the blow for him. He was zapped so much that his health went straight down to zero in a single stroke. He never stood a chance. The steel raven crashed down onto the ground, groaning from the Overdrive that had taken him out.
"Mighty Excalibur fails me again…" he muttered.
Hop had no reaction to the fact he'd lost against his best friend and neighbour for the sixth time in a row. If anything, he'd come to accept that he never seemed to stand much of a chance against her and just took his defeats in stride now. It wasn't like he minded for he just enjoyed getting to battle Ruby at all. Fights with her were too much fun to care about losing. He returned Corviknight and squared his shoulders.
"And that's the end of that one. Man, what do I have to do to beat you, eh mate?" Hop chuckled, no hint of annoyance to his voice to show he'd meant that humorously.
"I'm glad you're taking it so well and that losing to me all the time isn't winding you up at all." Ruby said brightly, returning Freddy to his ball, "I started to worry that beating you all the time would make you resent me or something but you're continuing to be a good sport about it."
"As Lee likes to say, every defeat just strengthens one's drive to be stronger." Hop said casually, "I do hope that I can be as strong as you one day Ruby, and the more times me and you can fight, the more you can help with that."
"And I'm glad I can inspire you like that." Ruby said gratefully, "It's better than just being a sore loser about your losses, I say. Thank you for being such a great mate and for being such a good sport about our battles."
"Think nothing of it!" Hop said cheerfully, "And thank you for being my best friend and a real rival for me!"
He hugged Ruby gratefully and the silver-haired girl returned the hug. Sonia smiled with awe, glad to see that the two were such close friends and that the Pokémon battles they had seemed to just strengthen their bond more than anything. It was strange how Pokémon battles sometimes brought people together, but wonderful to see regardless. With the battle now over, Hop turned on his heels to get his Pokémon healed at the Pokémon Centre. He'd make his way over to Spikemuth once they were all better. As soon as he left, Sonia walked over to Ruby and patted her shoulder.
"Well you two certainly showed me a heroic battle!" she said excitedly, "At the rate both of you are going, even the unbeatable Leon may be in trouble!"
"I'm glad you enjoyed it Sonia." Ruby said graciously, "I do enjoy battles with Hop as he takes his losses so well and appreciates the battle itself. I always worry I'm just gonna dampen his spirits and make him hate me for beating him all the time but he's so gracious in defeat, I guess I have nothing to worry about."
"You sure don't." Sonia said softly, "And a good thing too. I'd hate to see you two fall out and become enemies."
"Me too." Ruby agreed, "Leon asked me to be a "proper rival" to Hop, but obviously he never meant for me to go that far. I seem to be going just far enough to inspire him to improve himself but not so much to create animosity between us. I honestly doubt that anything I do could make him hate me at this point, especially as I think he likes me…as in REALLY likes me." she added, stressing the point to make it clear what she meant.
Sonia nodded with interest.
"So you think he sees you as more than just his friend." she murmured, "What makes you think that he might fancy you?"
"It's been subtle, but I think the hints are there." Ruby explained, "He likes to hug me, as I like to hug him too, and he seemed very determined to kick Bede's arse all the way to Sinnoh when I told him what he'd done to me. And then there's last time we met in which after our fifth battle together, he held my hands and stared into my eyes for a moment, like he was admiring them. I know it may seem silly of me to assume and I might be jumping to conclusions but…I really do think that could be way he takes his losses to me so well. He probably loves me and because of it, he doesn't care if he loses to me." she pondered thoughtfully.
"It might be a little presumptuous, but I suppose there might be some credence to that." Sonia murmured, "Sometimes, it's easy to pick up the hints and work this stuff out. So do you feel the same way?"
Ruby's cheeks went red as she pondered the question presented to her.
"Well…I dunno…I love him as a friend but whether I love him beyond that, I'm not sure." she murmured, "I mean, he's such a lovely boy! He's funny, he can make me feel better when I'm down, his enthusiasm for Pokémon is something I can relate to…and he's kinda cute too." she finished, blushing even harder.
"I think it's clear you fancy Hop in return." Sonia teased, taking note of how red Ruby's face had turned, "I think you two would make a cute couple myself. In fact, I'll admit that I kinda felt that way about Leon when we were rivals during our time in the Gym Challenge." she added, thinking back to her childhood, "Even now, I still think he's pretty handsome and has a lot of admirable qualities…but it never worked between us. I'm more than happy to have him as a friend though. Whether you want Hop as a friend or a boyfriend, I'm sure you'll make the right decision, and he will too." she added optimistically.
Ruby nodded in agreement. She was willing to test the waters to see if her friendship with Hop could potentially blossom into something more. But she would take her time of course, it would be foolish to rush this and it could potentially ruin their friendship. She was sure the right decision would present itself to her. For now, she would focus on finishing the Gym Challenge. Maybe after she complete the Challenge and either became Champion or not, she and Hop could see where they went from there…
Ruby was on her way to Spikemuth at last, leaving the ancient city of Circhester behind as she braved the cold wind and snow to get to the town in which she would earn her seventh Gym Badge. After her talk with Sonia, the two had parted ways again with the lab assistant deciding to go to Slumbering Weald to look more into the sword and shield Pokémon. Ruby then texted Hop to let him know she was heading to Route 9 to make her way over to Spikemuth and that she hoped he'd be able to get there when his Pokémon had recovered.
Route 9 was somehow worse than Circhester City with more snow falling and the winds being much colder. Circhester at least had the benefit of being built on an ancient hot spring so there was some warmth to get from it. Route 9 was like walking through a winter wonderland created by a group of Froslass. Ruby imagined Melony would probably enjoy it here. She zipped her jacket up and shoved her hands in her pockets but it did her no good. It was still too cold so she was forced to bring Bugs out of his Pokéball to walk beside her. The Cinderace was so warm that just standing next to him could chase away the cold. Bugs put an arm around his trainer as he walked beside her.
"Is dat better fer ya?" he asked.
"Much better." Ruby said appreciatively, "Bloody hell, how do some trainers put up with this Route when they're on their Gym Challenges? It's so damn cold that I bet a pod of Lapras could set up camp here!"
"Maybe dey're just better prepared fer da weather and get warmer clothes." Bugs suggested, "Ya could've stopped by da clothes shop in Circhester fer somethin' warmer, ya know."
"Who needs warm clothes when I have you?" Ruby retorted, "You're all the warmth I need."
The two walked side-by-side for a while until they suddenly came across a very unwelcome sight. They came to the end of a frozen path that just stopped with no other way forward. There was a huge body of water that seemed to stretch for miles and there was no way across it. At the edge of the path stood a couple of Team Yell Grunts, one male and one female, with a Drednaw beside them and they appeared to be harassing a grey-haired man with spectacles. Ruby recognized him at once. It was the same man that had given her the Rotom bike on her way over to Hulbury! It was surprising to see him again but it wasn't nice to see Team Yell once more. She'd hoped she'd seen the last of them back in Stow-on-Side. But no, they just had to show up again and cause trouble! Maybe she should've expected it as she was heading towards Spikemuth. They'd be more determined than ever to cause trouble now Gym Challengers would be making their way over to their home town. Ruby and Bugs approached the Yell Grunts.
"Oy! What are you two clowns doing here?" Ruby yelled.
The Yell Grunts yelped in alarm. The Drednaw they had was just as surprised, letting out a cry of surprise. The three of them turned around and they immediately began quaking in their boots at the sight of Ruby. Of course they had no trouble recognizing the rising star of the Gym Challenge. Ruby was practically the most recognizable face in Galar outside of Leon and the Chairman at this point, even without her silver hair.
"Oh heck it's the silver haired girl again!" the male Grunt shrieked.
"Aw hell no, I ain't messing with her again, not after she made chumps out of us and the rest of our team numerous times before!" the female Grunt cried, "Let's scarper!"