Chapter 21: The Seventh Gym
"This is complete rubbish! How can I get my Dark Badge now?!"
"Who's the idiot who closed the town off? I don't get what's happening here!"
"Is Spikemuth MEANT to be closed off? Why weren't any of us informed?"
"I wouldn't be surprised if some wanker's trying to sabotage the Gym Challenge by stopping us from getting in!"
"Somebody has to look into this mess!"
"I suggest getting my Onix out to bash the gate down!"
"You can't do that, that's vandalism! The town's clearly been closed off for a reason."
The Gym Challengers and the single police officer were in a heated debate on what to do about the confusing situation they were in. Even Ruby herself wasn't sure what to do. Spikemuth had been closed off for some reason and nobody had any idea why because nobody had even been informed that it was going to be closed off. Was there some kind of emergency and the town had to be quarantined? No, that was ludicrous! Everyone would've been warned about it in advance and told not to come to the town! It had to have been done deliberately. There was no other reason that this could be happening. Ruby even suspected that Team Yell were responsible. Who else but them would have a reason for closing the town off from other Gym Challengers? Maybe they were trying to give Marnie an advantage by making it so only she would be able to carry on from here. After all, nobody could challenge the final Gym over in Hammerlock if nobody had won all seven badges needed to enter. That was something else to consider. Did Marnie know anything about this? If so, was she unwillingly a part of Team Yell's scheme? Ruby couldn't see her being OK with this.
"Hopefully if Marnie's in there, she'll realize what's happening and get Team Yell to cut out their crap." Ruby muttered, "No way would she be OK with them stopping the others from challenging her town's Gym. I wonder if her brother's also aware of what's happening…"
She remembered Marnie mentioning she had a brother during their interactions back in Motostoke. She couldn't imagine he'd be too keen on what was happening either, not if it mean his sister was getting an unfair advantage in the Gym Challenge. Then, by sheer coincidence, a voice called over to Ruby. What made it a coincidence was that it was the voice of the very person Ruby had just been thinking of.
"Hey, Ruby! Over here!" Marnie called to her.
Ruby turned to see her peeking out from the side of a couple of shipping crates standing unused nearby. So she was right, Marnie was already here. It must've felt good for her to be home, but preferably not like this. Ruby sprinted over to where Marnie had called her from. She felt a little guilty leaving the other Gym Challengers to stand around waiting while she was probably going to get in but it wouldn't matter once this situation was dealt with anyway. Once someone finally opened the gate, they'd get in as well. Ruby found herself standing in front of a couple of houses with some shipping crates, used barrels of oil and discarded sacks scattered everywhere. There was a gap between the houses, which would be her way in. No doubt Marnie knew about it already, hence how she'd been able to get in and out of the place and bring her over here.
"I was born 'ere, so I know another way in." the Goth girl explained, reading Ruby's thoughts.
"It's certainly convenient." Ruby commented, "Do you have any idea what's with the gate?"
"I'm as in the dark, no pun intended, as you are." Marnie admitted, "I arrived here an hour ago and the town was still open but then suddenly, the gate closed. My bro's confused about that as nobody ordered Spikemuth to be closed off. He and I hope to get the place opened up again so the rest of the Gym Challengers can get in. As our town's a little run down and all, we really do need all the challengers we can get for our Gym…" she added grimly.
That surprised Ruby. Spikemuth was run down? She wouldn't have guessed that a town that held one of the eight Gyms that was part of the Gym Challenge would be run down at all. Was this place in financial troubles or something?
"Well, thanks for showing me the way in." Ruby said gratefully, "I'll just make my way in and get my Dark Badge."
"Oh no Ruby, you ain't goin' in THAT easily." Marnie said firmly, folding her arms, "I may have shown you the way in…but you've got to face me first. I owe you a rematch for the last time we fought each other. That and I'd like to see if you're ready to face my bruv."
Ruby didn't mind the fact Marnie was challenging her. That was fine enough. It would be nice to have another battle with her anyway. But she was surprised at the very last thing that Marnie had said.
"Wait a minute…your brother? As in…the GYM LEADER?" Ruby asked, making sure she hadn't misinterpreted her friend's comment.
"The one and only." Marnie confirmed, her voice neutral as ever.
"No way, YOU'RE Piers's sister?!" Ruby cried in amazement, "Wow! I never knew that the Dark-type Gym Leader had a sister! Then again, nobody knows much about him as he's pretty private anyway. Oh my gosh, all this time I've been friends with a Gym Leader's sister!"
"You sure have, and he hopes that I'll become the next Dark-type Gym Leader one day." Marnie said casually, "I made a deal with him in which I would accept the position depending on if I became the Champion or not. But that's another story. Do you accept my challenge?" she asked, sounding a little daring.
"Course." Ruby scoffed, "I can't challenge your brother if I say no."
So with that said, Ruby and Marnie took up their positions and drew out their first Pokéballs. Marnie still had her Pokémon kept in Dusk Balls just like the last time they'd fought. A couple of seconds passed before both trainers summoned their first Pokémon.
"Bugs, you're up first!" Ruby cried.
"Liepard, start us off!" Marnie yelled.
Two beams of light simultaneously lit up the area as they formed into the familiar shapes of Bugs the Cinderace and Liepard respectively. Ruby remembered seeing some Liepards in the Wild Area and in Route 7. She liked their purple fur and long tails. Marnie's Liepard purred coolly as if it was just a playful pussycat rather than a Pokémon ready to battle. Its trainer was glad to see that there'd be some variety to this battle as Ruby wasn't going to sweep her team with a single Haunter like last time. She'd get to see what her other Pokémon could do, starting with her Cinderace she'd brought out.
"We've got this Bugs. Use Double Kick!" Ruby ordered.
"Use Sucker Punch!" Marnie commanded in return.
Liepard smirked confidently as it shot towards Bugs and uses its nose to effectively "punch" him in the stomach. As always, Sucker Punch allowed the Pokémon using it to move first but only if the opponent was also attacking. Marnie had used it on Raven the Haunter in their battle back in Motostoke. Bugs took the hit, barely even fazed by it and retaliated with the Double Kick that Ruby had ordered him to use. Liepard was a Dark type, making it weak against his Fighting type attack and Liepard was also infamous for having poor defences so the single Double Kick was enough to take it down in one fell-swoop. Liepard keeled over and fell into unconsciousness. Bugs rubbed his nose, proud of himself for once again bringing an end to a fight so quickly.
"Gosh, ain't I a stinker?" he crowed.
Marnie returned Liepard to its ball and whipped out her next Dusk Ball.
"Your Cinderace is certainly very strong." she complimented, "Now let's see how strong he is against my Toxicroak."
She threw the ball and out came Toxicroak, the evolved form of Croagunk. Ruby remembered her using it in their first battle and was glad to see it had evolved since their last meeting. Toxicroak was much bigger than its predecessor and had a single horn on its head, a large red vocal sac, red claws on its hands and yellow eyes. It took up a karate stance and shifted from one foot to the other, giving the appearance of a Pokémon that was light on its feet and very agile. It croaked loudly, hoping to intimidate its opponent. Bugs didn't even flinch.
"Cool, your Croagunk's evolved!" Ruby complimented, "It certainly looks like it's ready to battle."
"That's my Toxicroak for you, mate. He LOVES a good scrap here and there." Marnie said casually.
"And it's getting one this time. Bugs, use Zen Headbutt!" Ruby ordered.
Marnie gasped. She could never have anticipated that this fiery rabbit-like Pokémon just happened to know a Psychic-type attack! Ruby had given Bugs a Zen Headbutt TR to use to learn the attack during training sessions and although he hadn't had much of an opportunity to use it, it was there when he needed it. Bugs lowered his head and sprinted towards Toxicroak. His head glowed purple and was sending off psychic waves that disoriented his opponent for the moment. Then he slammed into the poison dart frog, making it croak in pain and knocking it back. The beauty of Zen Headbutt was that Bugs could land powerful head-butts like this on his opponent without getting any headaches in return. It was speculated that the psychic energy that created the attack cushioned the blow for the user. Toxicroak was a Poison/Fighting type Pokémon so the single Zen Headbutt had been enough to knock it out as both types were weak to Psychic types. It lay at Marnie's feet and let out a deep croak of defeat. Marnie returned it to its ball, disappointed it had lost so easily.
"Aww, I was hoping he could show what he was truly made of." she said, disappointed, "Aw well, there's still other Pokémon to use."
She whipped out her third Dusk Ball and summoned her next Pokémon into battle. This was another Pokémon Ruby had seen her use before, only now it had evolved since their last battle. She'd seen it as a Scraggy, now it had become a Scrafty. Scrafty looked like a bigger version of its predecessor with orange scales instead of yellow and the single red crest on its head had become a bigger crest resembling a Mohawk. It maintained Scraggy's trademark baggy skin around its legs, once again making it look like it had a pair of trousers on that were too big and it had an extra bit of skin around his shoulders and back. Ruby eyed her opponent up with interest.
"Your Scraggy evolved too?" she mused, "I've not seen many Scraftys in my life. It should be interesting to see how a fight with this one goes. Use Pyro Ball!" she commanded.
"I doubt dis will be super-effective on ya, doc, but it's still gonna hurt!" Bugs crowed, kicking a pebble about furiously.
Once it grew into a big fireball about the size of his head, he kicked it towards Scrafty. The blazing ball hit it hard and made it stagger, but it didn't knock him out in one hit. As Bugs had accurately guessed, the attack wasn't super-effective as Scrafty wasn't weak to Fire types. The sheer power of the move was the only reason it had done so much damage. Scrafty was nearly down and out after the single blow. As it was still standing, Scrafty retaliated as Marnie commanded it to use Scary Face. It was a move that lowered the opponent' speed. Scrafty pulled a face that made Bugs feel unnerved and he shuddered in response. It didn't take much to scare him but a Scary Face was enough to do the trick. Despite his speed being lowered, he didn't feel any different. He felt like he could still run rings around his opponent. He waited for Ruby to give her next command, but then Marnie took a moment to use a Hyper Potion on Scrafty to heal it up, undoing the damage it had received from his earlier Pyro Ball.
Once that was done, Ruby ordered Bugs to use Flame Charge. Using this move would do damage and also raise Bugs's Speed back up, mitigating the effects of her opponent's Scary Face move. Bugs rushed into Scrafty and slammed into it, the flames from his body causing damage to it. It didn't do as much damage as Pyro Ball as Flame Charge was a weaker move, but it had the desired effect. Bugs's Speed increased back to normal thanks to the move so he was fast enough to land the next attack. Ruby ordered him to use one last Pyro Ball to bring the battle to a close. It had the desired effect, taking Scrafty out in a single blow. Marnie healing it up again hadn't done a bit of good as it still ended up losing. Scrafty fainted on the ground, scorched and wiped out by Bugs's Pyro Ball. Delighted with their winning streak, Bugs and Ruby high-fived one another while Marnie returned Scrafty to its Dusk Ball. She took out her last ball.
"I'd say yer definitely ready to challenge my bro." she commented, "With how strong that Cinderace is, he's gonna have a rocking time. As is, I want to cap this fight off with my first Pokémon. Go Morpeko!"
She threw the ball and Ruby beamed with delight as she was met with the sight of the adorable Morpeko once again. The Dark/Electric type Pokémon squeaked with delight, clearly happy to see her again. Ruby returned Bugs to his ball and drew out a different one.
"I'm sure Bugs can win this, but I think it's time for a change." the Postwick girl said, "I picked this one especially for the Dark Gym. Scorponok, you're up next!"
She summoned to the battlefield Scorponok the Drapion, the scorpion-like Pokémon flexing his bendy body and tapping his claws together. Marnie's eyes widened with surprise at the sight of the Poison/Dark Pokémon.
"Blimey, you got one of those too? I think one of our Gym Challengers has a Drapion…" she murmured, "No matter, Morpeko won't go down easily. Use Spark!"
Morpeko obeyed, letting loose a terrific spark of electricity that struck Scorponok and made him wince. The tiny Pokémon packed a surprisingly powerful charge and Scorponok had to imagine if he'd been zapped by a Pichu, it probably wouldn't feel any different.
"Use X-Scissor on Morpeko!" Ruby cried.
Scorponok attempted to do so…but then his body tensed up and electricity flickered across him. Ruby understood what had happened. He'd been paralyzed by Morpeko's attack. Paralysis didn't always stop a Pokémon from moving but at times, it would activate and stop them dead in their tracks. The Drapion couldn't move. Marnie smiled dryly. It seemed things were looking up for her in this battle.
"Good shot Morpeko. Spark it again while it can't move!" Marnie ordered.
Morpeko used Spark again, making Scorponok flinch from the painful electric attack. He shook his head furiously and gritted his teeth.
"Paralysis or no paralysis, I won't go down so easily…" he muttered.
Ruby ordered him to use X-Scissor again in the hopes that he'd be able to move this time. Luckily for her, paralysis didn't take effect and he was able to launch the attack. X-Scissor was a powerful Bug type move that involved the Pokémon holding its limbs in an X shape and slicing at the opponent. Scorponok did just that, slicing at Morpeko with his claws in an X shape. Morpeko cried out in pain as the attack cut through its health and dropped it down to nothing. Scorponok had scored a critical hit, making the attack even more powerful. Morpeko fell down at Marnie's feet, looking up at her sadly as if sorry it had lost before closing its eyes and drifting into unconsciousness. Marnie had hoped that Morpeko paralyzing Scorponok would turn things around but nope, she still ended up losing in the end. She picked Morpeko up and patted its head softly.
"You did your best, mate." she said gently, "Thank you Morpeko."
She then looked up at Ruby, giving her a small smile. Ruby imagined that the real thing didn't come naturally to her.
"And well done to you Ruby. It sucks that I lost, again, but you've proven you're more than ready to face my bro." Marnie said casually, "I hope you didn't think the battle was a waste of time or nothin'…"
"Not at all, it was actually fun getting to battle you again." Ruby said brightly, "Thanks for the battle. It was enjoyable. Now I'll just get my Pokémon healed up at the local centre and make my way over to Piers."
She and Marnie headed into the closed off town together to get the silver-haired girl ready for her next Gym Battle.
Ruby found herself walking into a world that she'd never experienced before, and one she would never forget.
She always imagined that every town in Galar that held a Gym was a sight to behold. Spikemuth certainly was…but not for the right reasons. As Marnie had hinted at earlier, Spikemuth looked as if it had long since been in a state of decay with lots of closed off buildings, peeling paint and chipped walls, ragged posters that were falling apart, discarded barrels and boxes everywhere and dim lights from any neon signs that were miraculously still working or the street lights that didn't offer much light to break up the darkness. The town had a roof covering the whole place and there were cracks that were allowing the moonlight outside to peek through. There was a rank smell in the air that made Ruby's face curdle. The only building that looked to be in good condition in the entire town was the local Pokémon Centre. It made Ruby feel sad to see that this was where Marnie lived. This grungy, dilapidated and rotten town could barely even pass as a place to live.
"Yeah, welcome to Spikemuth." Marnie said grimly, "I imagine it's not what you expected. Don't worry, we get that a lot."
"It's…pretty run down I have to say." Ruby said uneasily, "What happened here? Why are all the other towns and cities bustling and teeming with life but this place looks like it's on the verge of closing down forever?"
"Lack of interest, that's what." Marnie said coldly, "We're the ONLY town in Galar with a Gym that's not built on a power spot so we can't Dynamax our Pokémon like all the others can. You know what the bloody public are like, they care more about spectacle and flashy battles like whenever Dynamaxing occurs. They don't give a damn about an ordinary town such as this one. Lack of interest means we don't get many people coming here so the town struggles to cope and…well, we lack the proper funding to really get this place running." she finished.
"But that's not fair!" Ruby protested, "Why should you people suffer just because your Gym can't Dynamax Pokémon?"
"You know what, mate? I feel exactly the same way." the Goth girl muttered, "My bro certainly feels that way too. He even took up being a rock star in his spare time to try and raise extra money to keep this place on its feet. It's not much but it helps. All of us blame the Chairman for Spikemuth's condition as he's the one running the Pokémon League and not doing diddly squat about our condition. Here he is being all self-righteous and full of himself when he has no idea how us "normal folk" are living…if that fat cat truly cares for the Galar region, he'd do something about it!"
Marnie kicked at the ground in annoyance. It was the first time that Ruby had seen her express a genuine emotion since they'd met. The anger came so suddenly that Ruby could swear that Marnie had briefly transformed into a completely different person. It was clear that the conditions of Spikemuth town had been affecting her badly and she viewed Chairman Rose as the one responsible for it. Ruby didn't want to believe that as the Chairman seemed like such a nice man who loved his country. But the fact Spikemuth had been allowed to get into this state showed that even he clearly managed to overlook things. She would bring this up to him next time they met. All this talk about Spikemuth's decayed state and the Pokémon League suddenly gave Ruby a realization about her friend.
"You want to win the Pokémon League to try and draw attention to Spikemuth, don't you?" the Postwick girl asked, "If you win, you think that'll create new interest in tourism for the town for it'll be home to Galar's new Champion."
Marnie was surprised she'd figured it out for she hadn't exactly given her much hints. She nodded to confirm her theory.
"Got it in one, Ruby." Marnie said, "Both me and my bro agreed that if I became the new champion, it could save us all. Imagine how much interest we'd create if we became known as "Spikemuth: Home of the Champion of Galar"! People won't care if we don't have a power spot and can't Dynamax our Pokémon, they'll just care that this is where the Champion lives and maybe someone will help us out of our financial woes! I hope now you can understand why Team Yell has been so keen to make sure that I win at any cost…" she added.
Marnie was clearly aware of Team Yell's previous outings and that they were still causing trouble for people. Ruby now saw their actions in a whole new light. It was wrong for them to try sabotaging the League and preventing other challengers from winning, but at least she now knew there had been no malice behind their actions whatsoever. They only wanted Marnie to win because they were desperate for her to do so. Ruby would've preferred it if the idiots had just been more honest with the Challengers instead of acting like clowns the whole time as it would've made her and the others more sympathetic at least, not to mention that their actions were likely giving Spikemuth a bad image which they really couldn't afford right now. But seeing Spikemuth and its poor condition, it was easy to imagine why they or anyone in this town would be driven to such actions.
"I'll leave you to get yer Pokémon healed up and get changed into yer Gym Uniform. I'll see you at the arena to challenge my brother for the Dark Badge." Marnie said.
She headed on up the road to the Gym at the end of the street, her heels rapping on the tarmac. Ruby turned and headed into the Pokémon Centre to get her team in 100% prime condition for the Gym battle. As nobody had taken serious damage and Scorponok only had a paralysis condition to cure, it didn't take long and her Pokémon were completely fighting fit. Then Ruby went into a private room in the centre to change into her Gym Uniform. As Spikemuth didn't even have a proper stadium, all challengers had to get changed here in the centre.
As Ruby got dressed, she now found herself seriously doubting if she should even go on in this circuit. Seeing Spikemuth town for herself and hearing Marnie's goal to become the Champion to try and save it, she began to feel guilty over her own desire to win the league. How could she possibly carry on and become the Champion when Marnie had a far more noble goal than her? She was only doing this out of a love for Pokémon and Pokémon battles, the Goth girl was doing it to try and prevent her home town from going bankrupt! Would Marnie see her as selfish and heartless if she went on to beat her in the League? Would that end their friendship? Ruby was torn up by that very image. She couldn't bear the thought of being seen as no better than all the others that abandoned Spikemuth to its fate. But maybe there was a way to solve the Spikemuth problem, even if Marnie didn't win the League. Ruby considered. Maybe she could use her position as Champion to try and save Spikemuth. There were plenty of ideas on what she could do as a Champion: Donate all her winnings to the town, create a press conference to draw more attention to it, create a charity appeal, all sorts! Marnie wouldn't see her as selfish and heartless if she did any of that. Ruby smiled to herself. She knew just what she would do for the good of the town if she became Champion. Spikemuth would recover and she would play a part in it.
Feeling much better about herself, Ruby left the Pokémon Centre and made her way towards the arena. But as she made her way through the streets, she was surprised to see that Marnie wasn't at the arena yet. In fact, she had stopped on the way and was angrily gesticulating and yelling at a pair of Yell Grunts. Something was wrong and Ruby wanted to see what it was. As she got closer, she heard the conversation taking place.
"…DID YOU IDIOTS EVEN CONSIDER FOR ONE MINUTE WHAT A BAD IDEA THIS IS?! MY BRO'S DEPRESSED ENOUGH ALREADY THAT WE BARELY GET ANY CHALLENGERS, YOU'RE JUST MAKING IT WORSE BY DENYING HIM ANY AT ALL!" Marnie roared, her voice full of fury.
It stunned Ruby to hear that a girl so quiet could somehow be so loud. She was screaming so much that she was sure the whole town could hear her!
"Well when you put it that way, it sounds like the stupidest thing anyone has ever done…" one of the Grunts said feebly.
"Shut yer gob!" Marnie snapped, "You two get that gate open right now before I get Morpeko to fry the living crap out of you!"
The Yell Grunts nodded and ran off to do just that. Marnie puffed and panted, all the yelling having drained a lot out of her. Ruby approached her and put a hand on her shoulder.
"What was that all about?" she asked.
"It was Team Yell the whole time." Marnie muttered, her voice hoarse from scolding her fan-club so much, "They're the ones who closed the town off. They wanted to make it so only I could challenge Piers and win the Gym badge. Pity those morons didn't consider what a bad idea it was, especially as we're a town on the verge of collapse already!" she spat, "Ugh why did we have to be cursed to have such stupid Gym Challengers to warm up trainers before the main event itself…"
Ruby gasped, her eyes wide with astonishment.
"Wait a minute…Gym Challengers? Team Yell are actually GYM CHALLENGERS?!" she exclaimed, "I thought they were your fan-club!"
"They are, but said fan-club is made up of Gym Challengers." Marnie explained, "I bet it explains why they're so supportive of me, doesn't it?"
Ruby nodded. She was learning SO much about these Spikemuth residents today! What was next, the Gym Leader himself had some secret he wasn't telling anyone?
"As punishment for their actions, I'm just gonna let you go straight through to Piers and challenge him right on without you having to deal with them." Marnie offered, "Team Yell have caused enough trouble as it is so banning them from Pokémon battles for now should teach them a lesson. That and making them pick up every last piece of litter will make them think twice about being dumbasses. Come on, I'll take you to him now." she concluded.
"Thank you." Ruby said appreciatively.
She allowed Marnie to lead the rest of the way to the arena where Piers was waiting for her. The two girls walked together until they reached the end of the street in which the Spikemuth Gym was located. The arena wasn't like any other arena that Ruby had been in during this Gym Challenge. There was a rectangle with the Galar League logo and markings on the floor, signifying this was where the battles would take place. There were chain link fences around the arena and a stage with bright neon lights and speakers. To Ruby, it looked more like she'd walked into some underground rock concert than a Pokémon Gym. She noticed a single figure standing on the stage singing some rock tune that she'd never heard before to a bunch of Yell Grunts. They all whooped and cheered for the singer as he rocked away, holding his skull-theme microphone and stand as he danced away. The music was loud with aggressive rock guitar riffs and pounding drumming. It was coming from the speakers for there were no musicians on stage with the singer. Ruby at first wondered if the singer was actually lip-synching but it occurred to her that the music had no actual lyrics or singing coming from it, it was just music. The rocker on stage was the only one providing a voice to the song. He then suddenly stopped what he was doing and held up a hand, signalling for the music to stop.
He stepped down off the stage and walked over to the arena to meet with his next Challenger. Ruby didn't need an introduction. She could see clearly who she was facing now. This was obviously the Dark-type Gym Leader, Piers. He was the only one of his kind in the entire world. No other region had a Dark-type Pokémon Gym, making Piers a one-of-a-kind Gym Leader. Piers looked like a corpse with his grey skin and sunken in eyes that gave him a look of perpetual tiredness. He was very thin with a skinny body and lanky arms and legs. He looked unwell. Marnie had mentioned he was pretty depressed so Ruby imagined it was so bad that it was taking a toll on his health, despite how energetic he looked on that stage earlier. If his zombie-like appearance wasn't striking enough, his hair certainly was. It was black and white with one long fringe curled down one side of his head and three large ponytails all tied up together. Ruby imagined it must be a nightmare to wash and comb. He wore the Dark-type Gym uniform which for him was a white jacket, a black shirt and pinkish-red shorts. His shorts had the number 061 on them. He wore knee-high boots with skulls on the heels. Ruby of course noticed the lack of a Dynamax band on his wrist. Why would he need one if his Gym had no power spot to make Dynamaxing possible? She remembered that at the opening ceremony, Piers was the only Gym Leader not to show up. She'd never even seen him fight on TV so this was her first time ever seeing this man. His appearance had thrown her but Ruby tried not to show it.
"Hello, bruv. I've got yer next Gym Challenger here." Marnie said, "This is Ruby Silverlock from Postwick Town."
"Nice to meet you." Ruby said politely, "I've come to challenge you for the Dark Badge, Piers."
Piers took one look at Ruby, his face blank as if he barely regarded her as anything more than just a new challenger. He shrugged.
"So, the mystery girl with the glowing hair comes to my humble home at last." he mumbled, his voice showing his depressed state for he sounded sad and tired, "I was thinking I'd never get the chance to challenge you, Ruby. You see, I'm not a very good Gym Leader. I figured that's why no one was coming. Then I heard about the whole city bein' shut up. I'm so gonna sack whoever's idea to close it off was…" he added bitterly.
Ruby felt sad hearing Piers beat himself up like that. Marnie wasn't kidding about him being depressed. It was to the point he seemed to think his skills as a Gym Leader where the problem rather than anything else.
"But you're here anyway, and I accept your challenge." Piers went on, "I hope you enjoy the battle, even if this is a stadium where we can't Dynamax Pokémon."
"I enjoy battles, even without Dynamax." Ruby insisted, "If anything, your Gym will give me a unique experience."
"Oh you better believe it'll be unique, luv." Piers said, a small smile on his face, "You ain't never seen a Gym like this before…"
He then picked up his microphone and started yelling into it, making Ruby jump in alarm. This half-dead looking man suddenly seemed more alive than ever before. It was clear that rock songs and Pokémon battles were the things in life that kept him energized, even in his darkest hours.
"Alright Spikemuth, it's time to rock! Gym Leader Piers is here to face Ruby Silverlock of Postwick Town! Get ready for a rockin' battle everyone!" Piers bellowed, his voice amplified by the microphone.
The Yell Grunts all left the arena and went through the gates in the chain link fences to watch from the other side. Marnie stood by the entrance, her stomach tingling as she prepared to watch Ruby fight her brother.
"Good luck." she said. It was all she bothered to say.
The speakers started off again, playing a new tune that Ruby had never heard before. It sounded appropriately rocky and was accompanied by a few chants here and there, but it sounded really good. Piers clearly liked to add a bit of atmosphere to his battles what with the rock music blaring all around the arena. Ruby believed Piers that this was a Gym like none she'd seen before. What a unique experience this was shaping up to be! Ruby made the first move, drawing out a Pokéball and throwing.
"OK Gene, you're up first!" she cried.
"Scrafty's gonna be starting off this concert!" Piers yelled, throwing a Dusk Ball.
The first two Pokémon from each trainer materialized onto the battlefield with Gene the Obstagoon roaring loudly and Scrafty standing its ground, both eager to battle. Ruby almost wanted to laugh. She'd literally just thought a Scrafty earlier when fighting Marnie and now she was fighting another one! But this Scrafty was different. It had the Intimidate ability, something that Marnie's Scrafty lacked. Ruby saw Gene glow blue briefly and the blue flash swept down his body, signifying a lowered stat. Intimidate caused the opponent's attack to go down, which wasn't good for Gene as he may not take the opponent down in a single blow. Scrafty was half-fighting type, which was bad news for the newly evolved Obstagoon as he was a Normal/Dark type, which made him doubly weak to fighting moves. Ruby had started off badly already and had to act fast!
"Now Scrafty, bring the pain with your famous Brick Break attack!" Piers commanded, speaking into his microphone.
But at the same time he'd given the order, Ruby returned Gene to his Pokéball and quickly substituted him for a Pokémon that she knew would take the Scrafty out. Scrafty couldn't stop itself as it launched into the air with its arm raised in a karate chop motion. It cried out, worried it wasn't going to hit anything but the floor as there was no opponent. Then Ruby threw her next Pokéball and summoned Raven the Haunter to the field. It was risky to bring a Ghost Pokémon to a Dark Gym, but Raven had type coverage thanks to her killer Dazzling Gleam attacks. It ended up proving to be a wise decision on Ruby's part for Scrafty's Brick Break came into contact with Raven…and nothing happened. Its hand just swiped through Raven's ghostly body without causing any damage. Ghost types were immune to Fighting types so Scrafty's Brick Break was useless against Raven. Raven just stared at her opponent, looking unimpressed.
"Was that supposed to hurt? Cause I didn't feel anything at all." Raven muttered.
The Yell Grunts all voiced their disapproval at Ruby's last minute switch, seeing it as cheating. Piers ignored them, for he knew otherwise.
"That was clever of you to negate my Pokémon's attack by switching out." he acknowledged, "I know in the rules that substitutions are allowed, but so few trainers ever make use of it. You're the first trainer I've challenged in a while to do so."
"I am?" Ruby said, surprised, "Well I'm glad I could give you a unique battle. Now Raven, use Dazzling Gleam!"
Piers's tired eyes widened in amazement. So the challenger had brought a Ghost-type with Dazzling Gleam to mitigate its Dark-type weakness? This was certainly a very clever trainer he was facing right now. Raven fired the beam of pink, sparkling lights at Scrafty and took it down in a single blow. A Dark/Fighting type was no match for a Fairy attack. Piers's face didn't change, suggesting that he wasn't someone who took losing hard and just quietly accepted what happened in a battle. He held up his Dusk Ball and returned Scrafty. Marnie just smiled softly as she watched the battle. She wasn't at all surprised that Ruby's Haunter had defeated Scrafty so easily. After all, she had taken all of Marnie's Pokémon out in a single blow when she'd first thought Ruby.
"And so I'm down one Pokémon already." Piers acknowledged, "Mark my words, Miss Silverlock, this match is just getting started! Get ready for my next opponent for its gonna get this battle really going!"
He threw his next Dusk Ball and summoned his second Pokémon. Ruby found herself looking at one of the most unique and strange looking Pokémon in the world. This was the Dark/Psychic type Pokémon known as Malamar. Malamar were native to the Kalos region and were said to resemble a squid, albeit one that was upside down. It had a pair of tentacles for arms, yellow eyes, a dark pink beak and long, wavy purple "hair". It had a squid's mantle in place of legs that was transparent and had two fins that it used to stand up. Ruby could see that Piers was a man who liked his dual-types for he'd gone from a Dark/Fighting to a Dark/Psychic. What else did he have in his arsenal? Ruby returned Raven and brought out her next Pokémon.
"You've got this Scorponok! Out you come!" she cried.
Marnie could see what Ruby's plan was. She knew already that Scorponok the Drapion knew a Bug-type move so Piers's Malamar was going to get a nasty cut from him. Scorponok materialized onto the battlefield and he clinked his claws.
"I wasn't expecting to be used again so soon after the last battle I had." he murmured, "I hope this one won't be too violent."
"It won't because we'll finish it in one blow!" Ruby declared, "Use X-Scissor!"
Scorponok obeyed, skittering towards Malamar on his tiny legs and swiping at him with his claws held in an X-shape. As Marnie predicted, the single attack took Malamar out instantly. Dark and Psychic types were both weak against Bug types so it never stood a chance against Scorponok's X-Scissor. Scorponok watched as Malamar collapsed onto the floor, glad he'd finished the fight quickly so his opponent didn't have to suffer too much. He liked it when he could end fights really quickly. The Yell Grunts vented their frustration that their leader was being beaten so easily but Piers continued to ignore them. He returned Malamar to its ball and drew out a third Dusk Ball.
"Gotta say, yer making it look too easy." Piers remarked, "I see why yer the undefeated challenger we have to look out for."
"It wasn't always plain sailing I'll admit. I've lost a Pokémon to both Opal and Melony at least." Ruby admitted, "But yeah, I've clearly made a name for myself as the girl who never loses as I've beaten the previous six Gym Leaders on my first try."
"I hope I get to be the one to break yer winning streak." Piers said dryly, "Now Obstagoon, rock on!"
He threw the ball and out came his personal ace and strongest Pokémon. Ruby of course had already seen an Obstagoon as Gene had recently evolved so she already knew what to expect. She was just taken aback at the sheer coincidence that was her recently getting an Obstagoon and her next Gym Leader just happened to have one as well! Piers's Obstagoon looked ready to battle, its tongue hanging out and flapping wildly. Of course, as Ruby had an Obstagoon of her own, she knew the weaknesses it had and was confident Scorponok could handle it.
"Let's make this another quick one!" Ruby cried, "Scorponok, another X-Scissor!"
"Use Obstruct!" Piers ordered at the same time.
Scorponok scuttled to his opponent and swiped at Obstagoon with his X-Scissor attack. But as he it, an invisible barrier appeared in front of Obstagoon and stopped the attack from doing any damage. Obstruct was a move exclusive to Obstagoon and worked very much the same as the move, Protect. Obstruct had the side-effect of lowering a Pokémon's Defence if it was hit by a move that made contact with it. Scorponok's Defences dropped by two stages as a result of this while Obstagoon was completely unharmed. Ruby frowned. This wasn't going to be as easy as she thought. She wasn't going to give up though.
"Use another X-Scissor!" Ruby ordered.
Scorponok repeated his last attack, this time managing to land a blow on Obstagoon because it didn't use Obstruct again. Obstagoon winced from the attack and staggered back. It shook its head and grinned deviously, almost as if the move hadn't been much to it. It had done the damage, but not much for Obstagoon were notorious for having surprisingly good defences despite their typing. They could take hits, even super-effective ones. Piers retaliated by ordering Obstagoon to use Throat Chop on Scorponok. Obstagoon lashed out and hit Scorponok with a karate-like move, its hand scything through the air and hitting the Drapion. It was a pointless move to use for Scorponok's half Dark typing meant it didn't do much. Scorponok struck back with another X-Scissor attack but unfortunately, Obstagoon used Obstruct to block the attack once more. Scorponok's Defences lowered again as a result of the move. Ruby was beginning to feel tense. The more this match drew out, the more it became risky that it would turn in Piers's favour. She wanted to finish the battle and fast.
"We've got to wrap this up. I worry that Obstagoon may turn the match on its head." Ruby declared, "Use X-Scissor again and hope it'll finish the fight!"
"I shall make this move count Ruby!" Scorponok declared.
He scuttled towards Obstagoon, his arms in an X-shape again as he prepared to attack. But then came the moment where everything turned for Scorponok. Piers smirked as he gave his Obstagoon the single command that spelled doom for him.
"Counter." he said.
Ruby gasped in horror. No, not that move! She knew what was coming and tried to save it from happening.
"Scorponok, stop!" she shrieked.
But it was too late. Scorponok hit Obstagoon with X-Scissor and while he did the damage…it wasn't enough to knock Obstagoon down. And thus, it was able to carry out its Counter attack, smirking as an invisible force seemed to erupt from its body and hit Scorponok full on in the face. His body snapped backwards from the blow and he yelled the most terrible yell of pain. He felt as if he'd been punched by a Machamp using all four of its arms at once. Ruby's heart turned to ice as Scorponok was brought down onto his stomach, wiped out by the Counter attack. She was back in Route 5 again, watching Ariel the Gyarados die from a Wobbuffet's Counter attack. It couldn't be happening again to poor Scorponok!
"NO! No, no, no, no, not again! Not again!" Ruby wailed, rushing out into the centre and throwing herself on her knees by Scorponok's side.
The Yell Grunts had been cheering for Piers upon finally winning a match against Ruby but they now looked worried and felt guilty that they'd been jeering Ruby a minute ago. Even Piers looked concerned, worried that the battle was getting too much for his new challenger.
"Stop the fight!" he commanded.
The music stopped playing and his Obstagoon retreated away from the arena and stood by for further instructions. Piers ran over to Ruby, who had her arms around Scorponok as if worried he'd never wake up again. Marnie already knew why Ruby was acting this way as she'd been told about her Gyarados but Piers didn't know so he was very concerned.
"Scorponok, please don't die like Ariel did! Please be alright!" Ruby begged.
"Ruby, chill. Breathe." Piers said hastily, "Why are you getting so worked up? You're acting like my Obstagoon's just killed your Drapion or summet. You should know by now that that's illegal in a Pokémon battle. By law, all Pokémon belonging to trainers have to tone their attacks down so they'll never be fatal. Your Drapion will be fine." he said reassuringly.
Ruby stopped panicking and sighed heavily. Yes, of course that was the case! She knew full well that was the number one rule of Pokémon battling! She now felt extremely stupid for having a nervous breakdown in front of a Gym Leader for something that was never going to happen. She ran a hand through her hair and looked up at Piers.
"I'm so sorry about that." Ruby mumbled, "It's just…I lost my Gyarados when a Wobbuffet used Counter on her. She was killed instantly by the attack so seeing your Obstagoon use Counter on my Drapion…I guess it just triggered me and I panicked. It was like I was back watching Ariel die again so I couldn't help myself."
"It's true. She told me herself, bruv." Marnie said, vouching for Ruby, "She was really gutted by the loss."
Piers understood immediately. So it was merely just an accidental reminder of a Pokémon the challenger had lost. At least it wasn't something he did wrong or the battle being too much for Ruby. Spikemuth's publicity would've been even worse if it was said to be the town that traumatized trainers.
"That's really rough and I'm sorry to hear what happened to your Gyarados." Piers said softly, "If I'd known about that, I would've told Obstagoon to use a different attack. It's not my intention to trigger people in battles. Are you OK to continue or do you want to quit and take a moment to collect yourself?"
Ruby took out her Pokéball and returned Scorponok so he could rest from his defeat. She then got back to her feet, her face back to her usual determined, confident self.
"A real trainer never quits. I'm ready to continue when you are!" Ruby declared.
Piers gave a small smile, glad to see that this trainer had a lot of fight in her.
"Then let's get back to the battle!" he cried into his microphone, "Resume the fight!"
He and Ruby took their positions again and the music resumed playing. Obstagoon returned to the arena, waiting for his next opponent. Ruby whipped out her next Pokéball. She knew exactly who to bring out to finish this fight.
"May as well fight Obstagoon to Obstagoon." she declared, "Go Gene!"
She threw the ball and Gene was returned to the battlefield, looking ready to have a real fight. He took one look at his opponent and snickered.
"Hey look, it's like I'm fighting my identical twin!" he laughed, "Or maybe I'm looking into a mirror, who knows?"
"Heh, two Obstagoons fighting together. This should be fun." Piers chuckled.
"More for me because mine's gonna win!" Ruby boasted, "Use Brick Break!"
Gene obeyed, lunging towards his opponent and karate chopping it in the face with his Brick Break attack. As Ruby predicted, Gene won the fight in literally one fell swoop as Obstagoon had been weakened considerably from the earlier battle with Scorponok and she'd just used a Fighting attack on it. Obstagoon's defences weren't able to stand up to much more punishment and it collapsed onto the floor. It lay there dopily, its tongue hanging out for a very different reason than before. Gene bumped his hands on his hips and smirked triumphantly.
"And that is that! Down in one!" he crowed.
"Don't oversell yourself Gene. You basically just defeated an already weakened Obstagoon." Ruby noted, "It was down to its last health."
"Maybe, but I still would've beaten it anyway, low health or full health!" Gene declared, "Oooh I love this new body! I feel so powerful as an Obstagoon!"
Piers returned his Obstagoon and took out his last Dusk Ball. He was down to his last Pokémon but he hoped to make it count.
"And now we come to my last Pokémon." Piers announced, "But I ain't asking for any encores at the end of this bout! This one will turn the match in my favour. Skuntank, rock on!" he cried, throwing the ball.
The ball opened up and a flash light of escaped from inside and onto the battlefield, forming into the shape of the Poison/Dark type Pokémon, Skuntank. Native to the Sinnoh region, Skuntank were Pokémon resembling skunks and were known to be just as smelly. Skuntank had purple and tan fur, a catlike face and its large tail seemed to be a part of its back and the top of its head rather than a separate body part as the tail lay flat against its back with the tip sitting on its cranium. The tail tip was were Skuntank would spray and emit its horrible smell. Skuntank were not easy Pokémon to have matchups for as they only had one weakness, Ground types. Lucky for Ruby, she had a Pokémon that had a Ground attack. She returned Obstagoon and summoned her last Pokémon for the battle.
"This one's for you Vesuvius! Let's wrap it up!" Ruby cried.
Vesuvius the Coalossal materialized into the arena and roared, making all the Yell Grunts recoil. Vesuvius eyed up her opponent and braced herself to battle. She'd never fought a Skuntank before so she was interested to see how this fight would go. Piers started the fight by ordering Skuntank to use Screech. Ruby could see what he was planning. He thought by lowering Vesuvius's Defences, Skuntank might be able to win the fight. She would show him that lowered defences wouldn't make Skuntank's fight any easier. She ordered Vesuvius to use High Horsepower. That move would definitely do the trick and win the fight. Vesuvius charged towards Skuntank, aiming to slam into it and take it down in one. But unfortunately, Skuntank dodged aside and the Coalossal ended up missing her opponent was a result. Glad to see the dodge was successful, Piers ordered Skuntank to use Toxic on its opponent.
Skuntank's tail-tip opened up and it sprayed some toxic sludge all over Vesuvius. Vesuvius winced and shook herself to get rid of as much of the sludge as possible. Toxic was a poison-type move that instantly poisoned the opponent. Vesuvius glowed purple briefly and winced as the poison took effect. Ruby was now reminded of how Houdini the Noctowl had lost because he'd been poisoned but she wasn't going to let Vesuvius go down the same way. She was going to win this fight no matter what! Ruby ordered Vesuvius to use High Horsepower again. This time, she didn't miss. The Rock/Fire type Pokémon slammed into Skuntank with the force of a crashing meteor and sent it flying across the room. Piers was taken aback by the sheer power that the Coalossal displayed. He stared at his Skuntank as it lay at the foot of his stage, struggling to get up again. But it gave up and lay on the floor, completely defeated. So that was that, Ruby had won another Gym and on her first try for the seventh time! Ruby jumped up with glee, thrilled to have won another Gym. The Yell Grunts moaned at the loss of their leader whereas Marnie just applauded, glad that her friend had given her brother a great battle. Piers returned Skuntank to its ball and both he and Ruby approached each other at the centre of the arena. The Dark Gym Leader looked blank as if the fact he'd lost barely registered in his mind.
"And so it's happened, another victory for the Postwick girl." he said matter-of-factly, "I actually quite enjoyed that fight. That was the most fun I'd had in a while, minus the moment I got you panicking of course. Dunno what else to say other than here's your Dark Badge."
He handed the badge to Ruby. It was gold like the others with the image in the centre being that of a black, twin-horned demon with a wide grin. It felt good to add this one to her collection and the fact she now only had one badge left and then she would've won them all was a feeling she never thought she'd experience. How was she already one badge away from completing the Gym circuit?! At times, Ruby had to wonder if she was experiencing an amazing dream that she seemed determined never to wake up from.