Chapter 23: On The Road To Wyndon City
"Oh wow, oh wow, OH WOW! You won all eight Gym Badges and you're going to be in the semi-finals at Wyndon City! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE, this is so exciting!" shrieked Emerald.
"They look so shiny and beautiful. I like the look of the Dragon and Ghost badges. Which Gym Leader was your favourite to battle?" Sapphire asked.
"Your father and I knew you would achieve amazing things as a Pokémon trainer, Ruby. We're so proud of you and we can't wait to see you in the semi-finals when they're hosted. We'll be all gathered around the television to watch you, dear." said Annie.
"I've even made sure to book some days off work so I can watch you, kiddo. No way am I going to miss seeing my girl make her way to the top! I bet we'll be watching you fight Leon himself very, very soon." Michael declared.
"Thank you, everyone! Your support means the world to me! I'm glad you're all proud of me and will be watching me when the semi-finals begin." Ruby said appreciatively, "I never thought I'd get this far, yet here I am! This journey has taken me to incredible heights and I hope I can only keep going up from here."
Naturally, Ruby had wasted no time at all telling her family the wonderful news. Of all the people in Galar she wanted to inform about her winning all eight badges and completing the Gym circuit, they were the first. After leaving the Pokémon Centre, Ruby had gotten her Rotom phone out and used it to FaceTime her mother and sisters back in Postwick and her father over at his flower shop in Turffield. Upon giving them the good news, they had been overjoyed. Nobody looked prouder than her father, his smile broader than she'd ever seen it before.
"I remember how excited I felt when I completed the Gym Challenge." Michael reminisced, "I felt like I'd achieved the greatest achievement I'd ever set out to accomplish. It is a pity that some of the Pokémon I'd lost soured that victory, but I still felt great about myself and I'd hoped you would get to experience that same feeling I did."
"It is an amazing feeling dad." Ruby agreed, "Just the feeling that you've beat eight of the best Pokémon trainers in the region and won their badges…there's no other way of describing it! It's incredible! I hope when Emerald and Sapphire get their turn next year, they'll get to experience this for themselves."
"I sure hope so too!" Emerald piped excitedly, "I'd love to win all them badges too! They're really pretty and would look great displayed in my bedroom!"
"I'd be more interested in just winning the battles as a whole than just getting the badges." Sapphire said casually, "I hope we get to beat the Gym Challenge as you did, Ruby. I really wish me and Emerald could've joined you in your journey."
"At least you'll be together for your own next year." Ruby said kindly, "And no matter what happens next, be it me winning the Galar League as a whole or if I crash out now, I'd be all too happy to pass on my knowledge to help you both on your way."
"Aww, thank you Ruby!" Emerald squealed gleefully.
"Who better to mentor us than our big sister?" Sapphire agreed.
"Yes, Ruby will be a great teacher to you both." Annie said warmly, "Well Ruby, I think we should all leave you to make your way to Wyndon. All we can say is good luck to you and no matter what happens, you'll always be a Pokémon Master to us."
"Thank you mum. That means so much to me." Ruby said appreciatively, "I'll see you all later. I'll ring the minute I arrive in Wyndon City. Bye for now!"
She hung up and pocketed her phone. The teenager took a moment to collect her thoughts as the thought of the semi-finals loomed over her. She was now entering the big leagues, a much higher state than any Gym Leader she'd faced. Ruby would have at least two battles with any Gym Challenger that also made it to the semi-finals and if she won them both, she'd have to face three Gym Leaders a second time to win the right to challenge Leon for the Champion title. What would be in store for her in those battles? The Gym Leaders would likely have stronger teams than they did in their Gym Battles and would give her a much more challenging fight than the first time. Would she be strong enough to win the semi-finals and then beat the finals? Ruby had to admit that such a thought suddenly became rather daunting and she decided not to think too much about it and get herself anxious. It was better to wait until the battles themselves happened.
Ruby set on forward to head on out of Hammerlocke City and back into the Wild Area. She fancied spending the rest of the day relaxing there to settle down after her tough battle with Raihan and come tomorrow, she'd catch the first train she could to Wyndon. After that intense battle, she was ready for a good rest from battling until tomorrow.
But Ruby ended up getting a surprise visit as she went towards the city gates. She was just walking towards Hammerlocke Stadium when someone waved over to her and called out cheerily.
"Hey Ruby! Congrats on defeating Raihan and completing the Gym Challenge! Congratulations from the bottom of my heart!"
It was Sonia, looking as perky as ever. Ruby was always happy to see the lab assistant again and she would happily spare a minute to talk with her about her latest victory. However, Sonia wasn't alone this time. Ruby noticed straight away that she was here with Professor Magnolia. Ruby hadn't seen her since the day she and Hop had gone to her to inform her of their acquiring a Pokédex each, as well as getting their Dynamax Bands. She remembered the last time she'd spoken to the professor, she'd let her know that her mum had revealed the secret behind her glowing hair. So what were the professor and her assistant doing here?
"Hi Sonia!" Ruby said brightly, "I didn't expect to see you here. And you too, Professor Magnolia."
"We were wondering if you'd already gone to Wyndon by the time we arrived." Magnolia admitted, "Its jolly good to see you again, little Ruby. And like my granddaughter says, congratulations on completing the Gym Challenge. I'm glad to see that both you and Hop have been making great use of my Dynamax Bands." she added, smiling.
"Yes, it's been great fun Dynamaxing my Pokémon to battle the Gym Leaders." Ruby said happily, "So what brings you two here?"
"Well, it's about the tremor that occurred here before you and Hop left for Circhester." Sonia explained, "I was still concerned about it so I decided to invite Gran over to give her thoughts on the situation. After I left Circhester to leave you and Hop to go to Spikemuth, me and Gran met up here to investigate and then suddenly, completely out of nowhere, a huge red light shone over Hammerlocke and Pokémon started Dynamaxing around the area!"
"What?!" Ruby shrieked incredulously, "When did that happen? I didn't hear anything going on and nobody mentioned it when I arrived here yesterday!"
"You must've been in Spikemuth challenging Piers at the time." Sonia suggested, "Given how he always plays loud music in his Gym battles, it'd be a miracle if anyone could hear anything outside of Spikemuth."
Ruby nodded. It had indeed been very loud in Spikemuth Gym, both from Piers's music and the cheering Yell Grunts, and the city gates had been closed at the time. It would've been impossible for her to hear anything happening outside the city. She also imagined the reason she didn't hear any gossip about it was because she had arrived in Hammerlocke very late that night, too late to hear anyone chatting so she'd in every sense missed the conversation. It boggled the mind to think that somehow, Ruby had missed out on Pokémon Dynamaxing outside of Hammerlocke!
"So what happened while I was away?" Ruby asked, "Where did the Dynamaxed Pokémon go?"
"Leon came in to stop them with his mighty team." Magnolia explained, "His Charizard, Dragapult and Aegislash made short work of the Pokémon and they were soon restored to normal. The poor dears had no idea what had happened to them afterwards. The light also disappeared too."
Ruby took this in with a growing sense of unease. This was the second time something strange had happened in Hammerlocke. First there was the tremor, and now this had happened! What was going on underneath the city? Was it all connected to Project: Eternatus? It was all very worrying and Ruby only hoped that the Chairman knew about this and was going to do something about it. Sonia turned to Magnolia.
"The light that covered Hammerlocke…it was just like the Darkest Day, where it's said that giant Pokémon went on a rampage and almost destroyed the entire Galar region." Sonia theorized.
"It certainly seems to be that way, my dear." the Professor murmured, "As you know, we Dynamax our Pokémon today using energy from the Wishing Stars that have fallen to us. But we still don't know how to fully control the energy behind Dynamaxing or how the two heroes managed to do so."
She paused as she readjusted her spectacles.
"I am fascinated to hear your beliefs that the legendary heroes were actually Pokémon." she added, looking to Sonia, "I suppose if they were Pokémon, it would explain how they were able to control the Dynamax energy. Some Pokémon have insane abilities that are beyond our realm of understanding…"
Ruby nodded agreeably. She'd lost count how many times she'd read the terrifying stories of legendary Pokémon such as the man-made Mewtwo from the Kanto region or the masters of space, time and antimatter, Dialga, Palkia and Giratina from the Sinnoh region. Legendary Pokémon had powers that pretty much made them gods among humans, maybe on par with the God of Pokémon himself, Arceus. It stood to reason that the heroes of Galar were Legendary Pokémon too, hence how they were able to control such power. Sonia seemed to share her agreement.
"The legendary sword and shield... may actually be legendary Pokémon…" she said thoughtfully, her brain whirling.
"Quite possibly." Magnolia concurred, "Sonia, my lab coat is yours now." she added.
Sonia's eyes widened so much that they nearly popped out of their sockets. Ruby shook her head in astonishment, wondering if she'd heard correctly. She hoped she had for she believed that Sonia definitely deserved a promotion.
"G-gran! A-are you sure?" Sonia stammered in surprise, "I appreciate it, don't get me wrong, but I still haven't finished the work you've assigned me." she said quickly.
"Think of this as something to help you finish that work." Magnolia said, winking.
She then took off her lab coat and handed it over to Sonia. The ginger woman took it, astonished to be finding herself in a position where she would now be the one wearing it. The message was clear now. Sonia would no longer be a lab assistant. She was now the new professor. Sonia had dedicated much hard work and research into learning the truth about Galar's past and it had rewarded her with a well-earned promotion! Ruby was so happy for her friend that she cheered for her.
"Yay! Well done Sonia! You deserve it!" she cried.
"I couldn't agree more, dearie." Magnolia said kindly, "Your dedication to the task I've given you has shown you are worthy of succeeding me as Pokémon professor. As the new professor, my granddaughter, I know you'll achieve many great things as I have, maybe even more."
"Oh Gran…I…thank you so much!" Sonia said graciously, looking as if she was about to cry, "I promise you, I won't let you down! I'll prove myself worthy of wearing this coat of yours! I'll be a great professor just as you have been!"
She hugged her grandmother in thanks for the promotion and for seeing all the hard work she'd put into her investigation. Ruby smiled, touched by the warm scene before her. What could be sweeter than watching a parent or grandparent showing how proud of their children or grandchildren they were? Sonia released her grandmother and turned to Ruby.
"And thank you for supporting me along the way, Ruby." Sonia said appreciatively, "You and Hop have been a pair of bright spots on this adventure of mine. I hope to see either of you face off against Leon. I wouldn't miss that for the world!"
"I'm sure if either me or Hop get to him, we'll give the entire region the best battle they've ever seen!" Ruby declared, "I'll see you whenever I can Sonia. I'm off to relax in the Wild Area for the rest of the day and then tomorrow, I'll be making my way over to Wyndon."
"You enjoy yourself and have a nice rest." Sonia said kindly, "I'll see you whenever too. I hope next time we meet, I'll have something new to tell you about."
And with that, the teen trainer and newly-promoted professor parted ways with Ruby heading off to the city entrance to go back into the Wild Area. Sonia waved goodbye as Ruby walked away. She was going to stick around the city a while longer. She wanted to know what had caused the mysterious red light earlier and if it had anything to do with the city's power plant. What was going on in there? And did the Chairman know anything about it…?
The Wild Area greeted Ruby like an old friend as she stepped back into it.
It felt good to get away from the city landscape of Hammerlocke and just step back into nature and breathe in the fresh air. Growing up in Postwick had made Ruby much more of a country girl than most girls her age so she naturally had a preference for nature. The afternoon was warm and bright with few clouds in the sky so the sun was able to shine down on everything. It was a wonderful sight to see the sparkling lakes and lush, green landscape with many species of Pokémon running around living their lives in peace with no threat of a trainer in sight. Ruby would enjoy getting some rest and relaxation for the rest of the day in this place. As much as she loved Pokémon battling, it felt good to wind down and enjoy nature for the time being.
She decided that thanks to the upgrade on her bike that allowed her to travel over water, she would visit a part of the Wild Area that she hadn't been to yet as it was over the water and thus, had been out of bounds for her until now. This particular area was called the "Lake of Outrage". It was an unoriginal name and Ruby knew it. Clearly whoever had named it had been thinking of Johto's famous Lake of Rage and somehow thought changing it to "outrage" would make a difference. The Lake of Outrage was located just beside Giant's Cap and once a trainer crossed the lake, there was land with patches of grass to find more Pokémon in and a ring of giant rocks circling a Dynamax Den. There was another Dynamax Den at the edge of a clifftop. Ruby crossed the lake and walked onto the land, already impressed by some of the Pokémon that she could see there. Some rare species liked to set up their habitat in this area from the Johto-based Larvitar to the Unova-based Zweilous. She even noticed the Ghost/Dragon type Dreepy lurking through the grass too, keeping an eye out for intruders. She knew that a lot of these Pokémon would make worthy catches, but in the end she'd settled on something more common.
As her eyes scanned the tall grass for a new Pokémon to catch, something big and orange appeared in the corner of her eye. Ruby turned and gasped in surprise. Then her face lit up with delight as she saw what it was that had come up to her. It was an Arcanine, one of the very Pokémon she'd fought during the Gym Challenge. She remembered how Kabu had used one and it had made her think of her father's story of his old Arcanine that he'd lost to a Milotic. He would likely be happy to see his daughter have an Arcanine of her own. The fiery canine sniffed the air curiously and looked at Ruby. The teenager kept still, waiting to see what would happen. Would this Pokémon flee, join peacefully or fight? She knew Arcanines were sometimes very territorial but some could be quite friendly. Luckily for her, it was one of the friendly ones.
"Oh, it's a trainer." the Arcanine said in a deep, pleasant voice, "We don't get many of those around here. Not all trainers can get over the lake."
"I was lucky and got an upgrade to my Rotom bike so I could do so." Ruby explained, "My name's Ruby Silverlock. I was just coming here to set up camp and have a quiet rest of the day. I do hope I'm not disturbing you or anything."
"Don't worry about that, young lady." the Arcanine said kindly, "We're used to trainers camping here. Go right ahead. I won't intrude on your business."
"Thank you." Ruby said gratefully, "Actually, I was hoping that you might like to join my team. I quite like Arcanines and my dad used to have one when he was a trainer. I think he'd like it if I had one myself."
The Arcanine thought for a moment. He hadn't really considered being a trainer's Pokémon before. He preferred his life in the wild. But maybe it would be nice to be a trainer's Pokémon. He knew that a lot of Pokémon liked to be caught in order to get stronger and some Pokémon found battling fun. Some Pokémon also joined trainers in order to make friends. He definitely liked the idea of having some companionship as he'd been alone for much of his life. This girl seemed very nice and friendly so he couldn't see why he shouldn't join. It might be fun and enjoyable to join this girl's Pokémon team. The Arcanine nodded.
"If there's room for me, I'd be happy to join." he said.
"That's great!" Ruby said brightly, "I'm glad to hear it. And don't worry, there's always room for Pokémon in my team. I rotate my roster all the time so everyone gets a chance to be used."
She walked up to the Arcanine and patted him on the head.
"You'll be a very welcome addition to the team, Tiger." the silver-haired girl said happily.
"I beg your pardon. What's a "Tiger"?" Arcanine asked curiously.
"It's what I'm going to call you." Ruby explained, "You see, your orange fur and black stripes looks like a tiger's fur, so I thought it'd be fitting. If you want, I can give you a different nickname if you don't like it."
"No, Tiger sounds fine. I'll admit, it's a name that suggests I'm quite powerful and tough in battle." Tiger murmured, "I'll take it."
"Then it's settle." Ruby said sweetly, "Welcome to the team, Tiger. The others will warm up to you greatly."
And she was right. As Ruby set up camp for the rest of the day, she'd decided to let some of her Pokémon out of their balls to meet Tiger. She'd chosen Bugs, Raven and Gene as she felt they'd enjoy the new company and it would make them feel better about having to miss out on any upcoming battles due to their injuries, and also let out Soundwave and Coalossal. They had been the only Pokémon she currently had on her at the moment so they were the first to meet Tiger. As Ruby set up the tent, the Pokémon all chatted together. It was no surprise that Bugs and Coalossal quickly got on with Tiger as he was yet another Fire-type Pokémon. He listened intently as they told him stories of their time with Ruby and all the battles they'd had together.
"It really stinks dat me, Gene and Raven have been with her since before she started da Gym Challenge and now we're gonna miss her reach da top and face Leon." Bugs sighed, "It's so unfair…it would've felt right fer me ta be with her til da end."
"We will be. She's been allowed to keep us with her, remember?" Raven reminded.
"I get what you mean, Raven, but I have to agree with Bugs." Gene sighed, "It's not the same when you can't fight in battles like before."
"I'm sorry to hear that." Tiger said sympathetically, "I imagine that it must feel like a dreadful blow to you all. You're all clearly very close to Ruby and must enjoy battling for her."
"She's more den just our trainer doc." Bugs said with a loving smile over at Ruby as she worked on setting the tent up, "She's our friend. We all feel lucky ta be her Pokémon. She trains us well, but she's also very kind and loving ta us all. You'll see fer yerself as you travel with us."
"I'm sure I will." Tiger said with a smile of his own, "She does indeed seem like a kind-hearted human."
Once the camp had been set up, the rest of the day was spent with Ruby and her Pokémon having fun together. Like the other time she'd had some downtime, she spent a couple of hours with six different Pokémon each time and played a variety of different games with them. For Bugs, Gene and Raven, she of course made sure to be more gentle when playing some of the games so they wouldn't hurt themselves. Ruby and her Pokémon played a bit of football and catch with some of the balls she had with her and then some of her Pokémon decided to have a race together. Bugs, Gene and Raven weren't fit for racing so they sat out of it and chatted with Ruby while the others raced. Then Soundwave decided to take Ruby for a fly just as Houdini the Noctowl had done with her before. The Noivern was big and strong enough to carry her with ease. Ruby held on tight as Soundwave flapped his mighty wings and rocketed into the sky. Ruby screamed with excitement. Soundwave flew much faster than Houdini did and it was all the better for her as she could actually ride on him instead of needing to be carried as she did with Houdini. This was what Pokémon were all about to her, exciting battles, close bonds, unbreakable friendships and endless fun! She whooped with joy as Soundwave dive-bombed towards the ground and pulled up just inches above it, the wind whipping over her face and playing with her hair. It was like being on the most amazing rollercoaster ride in the world. The other Pokémon watched, wowed at Soundwave's incredible speed. Ever since he'd evolved, he'd become a strong, fast Pokémon and he was showing just how great Noivern really were.
At one point during playtime, Gene had taken up his old habit of picking things up, just like he did back when he was a Zigzagoon. He had taken a wander around the area and come across something that caught his interest. He picked it up and looked at it. It was a red and yellow sash of some kind that someone seemed to have discarded. It was unusual to find something like this lying around in the middle of the Wild Area and Gene thought Ruby would be interested in it. He presented the sash to Ruby. The semi-finalist looked at it and broke into a wide grin of excitement.
"Gene, do you have any idea what you just found?!" she exclaimed, "This thing is a Focus Sash! How lucky were you to find something like this!"
"Uh, what's a Focus Sash?" Gene asked curiously.
"A very helpful item in battle." Ruby explained, "Any Pokémon that wears this will prevent themselves being KO'd in one hit. I've seen many trainers use these in many battle I watched with my sisters. I never thought I'd be the lucky trainer that would get a Focus Sash of my own to use! Thank you so much Gene, this will come in great handy!"
Gene just smiled appreciatively as his trainer stuffed the sash in her bag. It was nice to know that he could still be helpful, even if he wasn't allowed to battle for the time being. If any of Ruby's Pokémon survived a one-hit KO thanks to the Focus Sash, it would be all because of him.
After an afternoon of fun and games with her Pokémon, Ruby once again made one of her famous curry dishes for dinner. She decided to try a recipe she hadn't made before, using a wheel of Moomoo Cheese as the main ingredient. Moomoo Cheese was the most popular brand of cheese in Galar and was quite beloved for its rich and creamy taste. It was very common for Galarians to eat it on toast, in burgers or in this case, with a curry. As it melted over the curry she prepared, Ruby sniffed the air hungrily. The cheese made an amazing smell when it cooked and it made her just as eager to eat it as her Pokémon once it was finished. She even noticed some of the wild Pokémon nearby were interested in the delicious smell that drifted from her camp. It was tempting to share it with some of them but she only had enough curry for herself and every Pokémon either on her person or in her boxes. She wondered what Chomps, Houdini and Sydney would've thought if they could join her and eat this now. Thinking about them made Ruby wonder how they were doing over in the Pokémon Centres she'd left them at to recover from their injuries at the hands of a wild Stunfisk, Opal's Weezing and Melony's Lapras respectively. Hopefully they were doing well and would recover in time to be returned to her so they too could watch her in the semi-finals. It was a lovely thought to think they'd be back in time to see her reach the top.
Once dinner was done and eaten, Ruby decided to have an early night tonight. It was going to be a big day tomorrow with her trip to Wyndon City and getting settled in in time for the semi-finals. She settled down in her tent and tried to go to sleep. But sleep wouldn't come. It wasn't because the Pokémon living outside were keeping her awake, they were as quiet as anything, any and all species outside sound asleep with not a sound from them. No, it was what was upcoming that was making it hard for Ruby to sleep. She tossed and turned in her sleeping bag, trying to get comfortable and drift off to sleep. It was useless, she just couldn't relax. How could she sleep with so many thoughts on her mind? She'd qualified for the semi-finals, the next big stage of her journey! She wasn't just some trainer taking on Gym Leaders anymore, she'd be legitimately fighting for the right to challenge the Champion of Galar! All she had to do was defeat two Gym Challengers that were also fighting for the top, then take on three Gym Leaders all over again as all ten of them were also competing for the right to replace Leon as Champion and then finally, she would face Leon himself. Would she even get to him? Ruby knew she was a good trainer, she had known ever since her journey had started. But yet, she was beginning to doubt herself. From Opal onwards, the battles had just been harder and harder and she'd had to bench a few Pokémon of hers because of it. Just this morning, three of her Pokémon had been take out by Raihan and although they were well enough to stay with her, they couldn't fight for the time being. What if she wasn't strong enough to make it through to the Grand Final? What if she wasn't the great trainer she believed she was? She had wanted to win her matches through skill and not luck, but there was no denying it. Luck had definitely played a part in her winning the Gym Challenge. Maybe it had run out on her and she wasn't going to win the Galar League.
And then there was Hop. What if she had to fight him in order to get to Leon? Hop was her best friend and had been somewhat of a rival during their journey, though mostly her friend. Ruby didn't want to make him feel bad by defeating him and stopping him from winning the right to challenge his brother. If anyone was more deserving of challenging Leon, it was him! She was also still worried on how he'd react if she defeated him in battle. Just the thought of Hop turning on her and calling off their friendship made Ruby cringe uncomfortably. She couldn't bear the thought of him hating her, not when she was beginning to suspect that he possibly loved her and she was developing feelings of her own for him too.
Sighing in frustration, Ruby got up out of her sleeping bag and left her tent. She thought a bit of fresh air might help. It was a warm night so despite being outside only in her pyjamas, Ruby wasn't cold. She sat at the edge of the cliff that overlooked Giant's Cap and she stared ahead at the night time view of the Wild Area and Hammerlocke City. The "eyes" of the dragon's head that provided entry into the city were lit up, presumably with flames, so now it looked like some beast lurking in the darkness in search of prey. The moon was full and providing a bit of light so Ruby could see some of the Wild Area. She could see the moonlight reflecting off of the Lake of Outrage below. Some Dynamax Dens were glowing with energy, making it easy to see them despite the darkness. She had to admit, the Wild Area was still quite beautiful at night, even if you didn't see as much as in the day.
"Feelin' edgy, are ya?" came the familiar Brooklyn accent of Bugs the Cinderace from behind her.
Ruby turned, surprised to see the recovering Pokémon out of his Pokéball. She gave a soft smile, glad to see Bugs had come to join her. He sat down beside his trainer, wincing as he still ached from his battle with Duraludon earlier.
"You Pokémon don't miss a thing, do you?" Ruby joked.
"When ya bond very closely with yer Pokémon, dey can notice anything about ya, doll." Bugs confirmed, "Ya can't hide nuttin' from us. So come on Ruby, let's hear what's troublin' ya."
Ruby ran a hand over her hair and sighed sadly.
"I'm just worried about the Galar League." she said, "You know me Bugs, I wasn't even sure I'd clear the Gym Challenge, let alone become a semi-finalist! This is very exciting for me, but also nerve-racking! I'm not just a Gym Challenger anymore, I'm a semi-finalist! That means bigger battles and bigger challenges. Challenges…I'm not so sure I'm strong enough for."
"Oh don't talk Trubbish, Ruby!" Bugs retorted, "Yer da strongest human I've ever known! Of course yer strong enough ta handle da finals!"
"Am I, though?" Ruby said cryptically, "Ever since Opal's Gym, I've had to bench Pokémon because they're too injured to battle anymore, or in Scorponok's case he decided to retire as he was put off from the whole thing. It's like I can no longer just win battles without losing someone! Today, I had to bench three Pokémon at once because you, Gene and Raven aren't well enough to fight anymore! What if I'm not strong enough to make it through the semi-finals? What if I'm not strong enough…for them? My Pokémon will all be counting on me in those battles…what if I let them down?"
She hugged herself tightly, feeling the pressure on her shoulders starting to weigh down on her. Bugs could see that Ruby was in a lot of self-doubt and wanted to comfort her. He gently put a paw on her shoulder.
"I see where yer comin' from." the Cinderace said softly, "Because of how well you've done and how you've gone undefeated fer so long, ya feel as if you've put yerself on a really high pedestal and probably worry about getting knocked off of it. I say ya should be very proud of yerself that you've managed to win every battle you've been in so far and have managed to complete the Gym Challenge.
But one fact of life I guess is that no matter how good ya are, not everyone can win all da time. I doubt even Leon got ta where he is now without losing a few battles. He may even have had to bench Pokémon himself too. Ya maybe worried about losin' Ruby, I get dat. But don't worry about lettin' da team down. Da way I see it, dey'll stand by ya no matter if ya win or lose. Dey know you will be da best trainer dey can ask for and will fight till da end. If ya lose, I wouldn't get too upset about it. I remember someone once saying dat "Failure is not da end of da journey". If ya lose the finals, den who's ta say yer journey's over? Instead, ya can see it as a new beginning. If ya don't become Champion, ya could always achieve something else in da future. I know some kid named Ash Ketchum lives by dat philosophy. He's lost so many tournaments and yet he kept on going. I believe he won the Alola League fer all his troubles, and all because he didn't give up after he lost.
So I guess my best advice ta give Ruby is ta not act like yer life's over if ya lose. Maybe instead of seeing it as a defeat, ya could see it as a chance to succeed in da future. I know it may sound like terrible advice and probably not all dat helpful to ya, I am just a Pokémon after all so, what do I know? But at da most, dat's how I see it."
Ruby was impressed at the wisdom her Pokémon was displaying. She knew Bugs was a powerful Pokémon, but she had no idea he was so smart. He spoke like someone who had a clear understanding of life. She felt more grateful than ever to have picked him as her starter. His speech had eased the tension by a lot. Yes, he was right! Failure was not the end of the journey. She remembered the stories of Ash Ketchum and how he'd travelled to many regions, winning the Orange Islands and Alola Leagues after many attempts at battling other Leagues. If he could keep on going despite losing, so could she! She would strive to win of course, but she wouldn't let her defeat be too crushing if she was to lose. She turned to Bugs and gave him a hug for his kind advice.
"Bugs…you're the best Pokémon a girl could ask for." Ruby said appreciatively, "Thank you so much for the talk. I think that's helped me immensely."
"Just returning da favour, Ruby." Bugs said happily, "I'm glad I could help ya out. I may not be able ta battle in da finals with ya, but at least I can still help in other ways." he added, winking.
"You sure can." Ruby agreed, "I'll keep your advice in mind if I do end up losing the Galar League. No matter what happens, I won't let you or any of my other Pokémon down!" she swore.
"Dat's da Ruby I know!" Bugs said enthusiastically, "Now den, I think ya should get back in yer tent and get rested up fer tomorrow. Ya won't wanna miss da train ta Wyndon City."
"Of course." Ruby giggled, "Goodnight Bugs, and thank you again."
She returned Bugs to his Pokéball and walked back into her tent, feeling much better about herself after the heart-to-heart she'd had with her starter. Sleep came much easier to her after that and very soon, she was out like a light…
The next day dawned and Ruby was ready for it.
As soon as she'd got dressed and had breakfast, she took her tent down and hurried off back to Hammerlocke City so she could go to the train station and catch a train over to Wyndon City. In order to get there as quickly as possible, she had called Tiger out of his Pokéball so she could ride on him and get to the station much quicker. Arcanine were fast runners and Tiger was no exception. Ruby even found riding on him more fun than riding on her Rotom bike. As soon as she arrived at the station, she returned Tiger to his Pokéball and quickly paid for a ticket to get the next train to Wyndon. She had arrived with half an hour to spare so she wouldn't miss it. Ruby quickly saw that she wasn't the only one who had arrived at Hammerlocke Station. To her delight, she saw Hop had made it too. The Champion's brother was looking quite pleased with himself, clearly happy that he too was going to be making his way over to Wyndon City. Ruby was glad to see him here. It wouldn't have felt right if she'd made it to the semi-finals without Hop. She ran over to her neighbour and called out to him. Hop turned and his face brightened at the sight of her.
"Hey Ruby! Glad you could make it!" Hop said jovially, "Many congrats on defeating Raihan yesterday!"
"Thanks Hop!" Ruby said graciously, "And given you're here, I guess you beat him too. How did that go?"
"It was a tough one!" Hop exclaimed, "Raihan nearly knocked my whole team out before I turned the tables on him and won! It was the toughest match I've ever had!"
"You and me both…" Ruby muttered, "He took half my team out when I fought him. Bugs, Gene and Raven all have to stay on the side-lines for now because of their injuries."
"What? Aww, mate, that really sucks!" Hop said sadly, "Those Pokémon were awesome, especially Bugs! I bet it won't feel the same without your starter."
"At least he can stay with me at all and can cheer for me." Ruby said optimistically, "He actually helped me out with my worries last night. Even when he's barred from fighting, Bugs is still a great Pokémon for me."
"That's great." Hop said brightly, "That's Pokémon for you, always making awesome companions, in or out of battle."
"Too true." Ruby said.
She then put a hand on Hop's shoulder and gave him a soft smile.
"You know Hop? I'm glad we're both going to Wyndon together." the Postwick girl said kindly, "We started this journey together, so it just feels right that we carry on to the final stage together. The semi-finals would've felt a little lonely without you."
"Aww, thanks Ruby." the Postwick boy said appreciatively, "I know I wouldn't have enjoyed making it to Wyndon as much if you weren't there too. And Ruby, if we have to face each other in the semi-finals, promise me one thing, will you?"
Ruby nodded, wondering what Hop's promise he wanted from her was going to be.
"Promise me that we'll give each other the best battle ever." Hop continued, "Lee would want that from both of us, the very trainers he endorsed. I know we're friends and all, but I don't want either of us holding back! We'll give Lee a battle he'll never forget!"
"I wouldn't want it any other way." Ruby agreed, "I just hope you won't hate me if I win…" she said anxiously.
Hop stared at Ruby as if she'd somehow transformed into a Shuckle.
"Ruby…where did you get a silly idea like that?" the golden-eyed boy said, perplexed, "Why would I hate you if you beat me? I thought you of all people would know I'm not so shallow as to determine my friendships with people on the battles I win or lose! You could beat me a thousand times and I'd still consider you my mate!"
"You…you really mean that?" Ruby asked in astonishment.
"Of course." Hop insisted, "If you was to beat me in the semi-finals, I would simply wish you luck against my brother. If anyone's gonna beat him, it'll be me or you and I don't mind which way it is. I'd like it if it was me, of course, but I'll be rooting for you if you get to the final and face him."
Ruby was so touched by Hop's kind words that she threw her arms around him and embraced him tightly. Hop embraced her back. If anyone happened to be glancing at the two, they'd probably assume they were a couple, and a very close one at that.
"Hop…I'm so glad to call you my friend." Ruby said softly, "Thank you so much."
"Anytime, mate." Hop said kindly.
Soon enough, the train pulled into the station and Ruby and Hop boarded it to be on their way to Wyndon. The train ride took a couple of hours to get from Hammerlocke Station to Route 10. Route 10 was the route that trainers travelled through to get to Wyndon City itself. It was a winter wonderland, nothing but snow and ice throughout the whole route and much like in Circhester, it was pretty cold. Naturally, many Ice-type Pokémon set up their habitats here from the Galarian variants of the Psychic type Mr. Mime to the fearsome Beartic, a huge polar-bear like Pokémon from the Unova region. Upon arriving at Route 10, Ruby had decided to bring Tiger out again so she could ride on him throughout the Route instead of using her bike. Riding an Arcanine through a snowy area would be much warmer than riding a bike after all. She set off ahead while Hop decided to look at the gift shop to see if he could get any new Potions to use for his Pokémon in the upcoming battles for the semi-finals.
Ruby held tight to Tiger's mane as he sprinted up a steep hill and passed through an area with some wild grasses that, of course, had Pokémon hiding in them. It astounded Ruby to think that grass could even grow here. With how much snow there was, how was it possible for any plant-life to grow in a place like this? But Ruby had to admit that Route 10 was quite beautiful with all the snow around. Some of it sparkled in the faint sunlight and seeing some of the Pokémon that lived there wondering around was always pleasant to see. It was hard to believe that a polar habitat like this could exist just outside of Galar's biggest city. The Galar region sure had a weird way of nature and Man's world mixing in together the way it did.
"I'm not the biggest fan of snow, but it's quite pretty here." Ruby said in wonder.
"It is, especially if you're an Ice Pokémon." Tiger agreed, "I've never been able to enjoy snow all that much what with being a Fire-type Pokémon. I usually melt it."
Ruby could see what he meant as every step he took left paw prints of melted snow behind. At least they'd cover over whenever it next snowed in this Route. Tiger carried Ruby further on through the Route but as he was nearing the end, he suddenly stopped and sniffed the air curiously. Like he would in the wild, he was always cautious if an unfamiliar scent pricked his nostrils. Ruby jumped off his back and stroked his mane as he sniffed. Then he lowered his head and began to growl.
"What is it? What is it, Tiger?" Ruby asked worriedly.
She looked in Tiger's direction and saw something metallic moving up ahead. Ruby narrowed her eyes and tried to get a good look. What was it? She could see a tall neck with a small head peering over a rock nearby. The head turned in their direction and spotted them. Then it emerged from behind the rock so Ruby and Tiger could see the rest of the body. Ruby's face lit up with excitement as she saw what it was. The head and neck belonged to a metallic body with small arms, huge clumpy feet and a large, thick tail. She'd only seen this particular Pokémon just yesterday in her battle with Raihan! Of all the serendipitous things to happen to her, who would've guessed she'd come across a wild Duraludon!
"By Arceus…it's a Duraludon!" Ruby exclaimed, "Holy crap, an actual Duraludon! I must be one of the few trainers in the entire region that's ever found one of these in the wild! I never thought I'd be THIS lucky!"
"So you're happy to see this Pokémon, I gather?" Tiger asked, relaxing his gaze.
"Of course I am!" Ruby exclaimed wildly, "Duraludon are one of the strongest Pokémon in Galar! The strongest Gym Leader, Raihan, has one as his personal ace! It managed to defeat two of my Pokémon in battle. If I had a Duraludon of my own, I'd be as powerful as him! I bet I could even give Leon a run for his money as Raihan's Duraludon always gives him a tough match!"
"If you wish to capture it, I'll happily help." Tiger volunteered.
"Oh no, don't do anything." Ruby said hastily, "Duraludon are half-Dragon type. Fire attacks aren't every effective against Dragons so despite him being half-Steel type, your attacks won't work much. Besides, maybe I can convince it to join us like I did with most of my other Pokémon."
Tiger nodded and stood back as Ruby approached the Duraludon, who had been standing and watching them inquisitively. This one hadn't seen many humans come by as it was usually hiding when they came around so it wasn't sure what to do. It watched Ruby, hoping this human wasn't going to try and hurt it. Ruby held up her hands to show she meant no harm. The cold air was starting to bite at her now she was away from the warmth of Tiger but she tried her best to ignore it.
"Hello. I'm Ruby Silverlock." Ruby said gently, "I'm a Pokémon trainer and I'm on my way to Wyndon City. If it's OK with you, I'd like for you to join my team. If you don't want to join, then I'll let you go about your day and you can forget you ever saw me."
The Duraludon came closer to Ruby. It just occurred to Ruby just how large they looked when standing close to them. The Duraludon leaned in and sniffed at Ruby's hands. Then it spoke.
"So you're a Pokémon trainer. I haven't seen one of those in a while. I appreciate you asking me nicely to join you rather than fighting me at least."
The Duraludon was clearly male and its voice had a robotic ring to it, making it sound more machine-like than other Pokémon.
"I usually prefer recruiting my Pokémon this way." Ruby explained, "So, do you want to join me or stay in the wild?"
The Duraludon considered. Tiger remained where he was, poised to attack in case Ruby needed him to defend her. The Duraludon could easily just decide to attack her he wanted. Thankfully, no battling was necessary for the Duraludon gave his answer.
"I've always loved the idea of taking part in Pokémon battles and fighting against some of the ones that are trained to be the strongest Pokémon there are." the Dragon/Steel Pokémon explained, "It all sounds rather epic to me. In the Wild, I don't get much challenges so with you, I might get a chance to show my true strength. Ruby, I will join your team."
Ruby was so happy that she leapt about a foot in the air and squealed excitedly.
"Oh thank you, thank you, thank you!" she hollered, "This is so awesome, I get a Duraludon of my own! Yippee!"
She then realized she was making a complete fool of herself in front of her new Pokémon and stopped what she was doing, coughing nervously.
"Sorry about that…" Ruby mumbled, "What I mean is: I'm glad you accepted. Welcome to the team, Shard."
The Duraludon smiled with interest.
"So that's the name you're giving me…" he mused, "I like it. Shard is a pretty cool word and a name like that suggests I'm a Pokémon that is not to be messed with."
"Glad you like it." said Ruby, "Now that's settled, we can get going to Wyndon City. You'll be joining the rest of my Pokémon as we battle against other Gym Challengers who've qualified for the semi-finals and, if I win them, you'll get to join us as we fight our way to the Champion!"
"I'd love a chance to take on the Champion." Shard said eagerly, "He'd be a true test of my power, as would the Duraludon that Gym Leader owns."
"Maybe you'll get your chance." Ruby said brightly.
She took out a spare Ultra Ball and held it out for Shard to take. Shard pressed his nose against it, allowing himself to be transformed into energy and absorbed inside the spherical device. Ruby put the ball away and climbed back onto Tiger. The Arcanine was glad to see things had gone well and his trainer had received a new Pokémon for her team.
"OK Tiger, next stop, Wyndon!" Ruby declared.
"As you wish, my trainer." Tiger said politely.
He took off and sprinted through the snow and up a hill towards Wyndon City. It was just over the hill so there wasn't far to go. Ruby could hardly wait to arrive and set foot in Galar's capital city for the first time ever…
Pokemon obtained: Tiger the Arcanine: Gender: Male. Nature: Rash. Ability: Intimidate
Shard the Duraludon: Gender: Male. Nature: Naive. Ability: Light Metal (It halves the Pokemon's weight)