Chapter 5: The Opening Ceremony
The Budew Drop Inn wasn't far from Motostoke Stadium so Ruby didn't have far to walk. She could easily understand why all trainers who signed up for the Gym Challenge were registered to spend the night in one of its rooms, it was a convenient resting place that was nearby the stadium so people could stay and rest up for the opening ceremony the next day. Ruby entered the hotel, noticing the green square logo with a Budew in the centre above the door. She personally would've named the hotel after a more awesome Pokémon than a simple Budew but she knew that some people liked those kinds of Pokémon too.
The lobby was quite large with a pair of steps on each side leading up to the reception desk, long rectangular plant pots with some small bushes growing in them and neatly tiled floors. Upon entering the hotel, Ruby immediately caught sight of the inn's trademark feature. Standing in-between the stairs was a huge golden statue of an armoured warrior wielding a sword and shield. The warrior looked very powerful and his armour looked as if it could fend off even a legendary Pokémon's attacks. The sword and shield he carried had games in them, a blue gem set in the hilt of the sword and a red gem set in the centre of the shield. Naturally, Ruby knew the story of this legendary warrior. It was speculated that this mystery man with the sword and shield was the one that brought an end to the Darkest Day event of ancient history. Looking at the statue, Ruby imagined he wielded great power but she'd always doubted that this one man could've somehow stopped a cataclysmic event like the Darkest Day, even with a supposedly powerful sword and shield.
"I bet there's more to you than meets the eye…" Ruby muttered as she walked past the statue.
She walked up the steps to the reception desk, but upon arriving there, she saw that there were some people already there and they didn't seem like they were in the mood for just signing in. There was a quartet of people at the desk and they were all dressed identically in sleeveless black vests, ripped black trousers, boots with spiked anklets and fingerless gloves with spiked wristbands. Their faces were painted with pink stripes with black X marks and they all had dyed their hair pink. Two of them were male and two of them were female. The boys were overweight and it showed with how their shirts didn't even reach all the way down their stomachs. They looked odd to say the least and Ruby shook her head incredulously.
"What the hell is this? Some weird fan-club?" she sighed.
"No idea." said Hop, who was standing nearby as Ruby arrived, "But they're causing a ruckus. Nobody can sign in because of them."
Ruby watched as the quartet started yelling at the man behind the reception desk, who looked desperate to get on with his work and get the Gym Challengers signed in but the four hooligans wouldn't let him. A bunch of impatient trainers were standing by, wishing they could move already.
"We came out all the way to the big city so that we could properly cheer on the Gym Challengers!" yelled one of the girls, "Team Yell is here to help, after all! You're in for a battle if you want to stop us!"
"Please you four, you're disrupting everything and preventing me from checking in these poor trainers!" the desk manager cried helplessly, "Leave now before I call security!"
"You don't need to do that." Ruby chimed in, "I'll deal with them."
She strode up towards Team Yell, refusing to be intimidated by them as four pairs of eyes all turned on her. One of the boys folded his arms and smirked, clearly seeing the silver-haired girl as easy prey. He'd put this little brat back in her place!
"So what's your problem, girlie?" he sneered.
"Oh I haven't got a problem!" Ruby retorted, "It's clear you four have a problem given you're holding everyone up here! Why don't you just sod off so we can get checked in?"
"Nobody orders Team Yell around except our leader!" bellowed the Yell Grunt, "And we warned everyone already, you get in our way and you're in for a battle!"
"That's fine with me. At least one of us is willing to make a total fool of you all." Ruby said, smirking.
"Oh we ain't gonna look like fools when we're through with you!" the Yell Grunt boasted, "We're all about helping…helping one very special trainer get through the Gym Challenge, that is! We're gonna be cheering her on nice and proper and you're gonna help us make some noise!"
"What kind of noise? Sobs of despair because I made you look bad?" Ruby retorted.
That made all the nearby trainers laugh at her clever remark. The Team Yell Grunt growled in annoyance, refusing to take that stab lying down.
"I'll show you who's gonna look bad!" he snarled, "Zigzagoon, put this brat in her place for me!"
He threw a Pokéball and out of it came the black and white Dark/Normal type Pokémon, Zigzagoon. It was a Pokémon that resembled a raccoon and had very pointy fur. It had black star markings around its magenta eyes and its fur went in a black and white pattern starting with white at its head and ending with black at its tail tip. Its tongue hung out like a panting dog's. What was interesting about this Pokémon was that Zigzagoon did not look like this in other regions. This was the Galarian variant of Zigzagoon, made different from its Hoenn counterpart by being black and white instead of brown and light brown and having the Dark typing added to it instead of being a pure normal type. Also, Galarian Zigzagoon had two evolutions instead of one like Hoenn Zigzagoon, another striking feature that made this version of a pretty common Pokémon stand out all the more. Ruby eyed it with interest, having planned to catch one herself on her journey, and drew out a Pokéball of her own.
"I know just the Pokémon to deal with a Dark/Normal type." she crowed, "Bugs, out you come!"
She threw her Pokéball and out came Bugs the Scorbunny once more. He stretched and yawned, having just been woken up from a nap he'd decided to have whilst in the Pokéball.
"N'yah, what's up doc?" he asked, "Are ya all signed up for da Gym Challenge?"
He then noticed the Zigzagoon staring at him, poised and ready to attack, and quickly realized what was happening.
"Oh…so I've gotta deal with a Zigzagoon eh?" he acknowledged, "What's da trouble Ruby?"
"We've just got to deal with a quartet of hooligans who are holding us up from getting checked into this hotel." Ruby explained, "We're going to show them why they shouldn't mess with us!"
"I'm glad ya called on me den!" Bugs said, rubbing his paws eagerly, "Dis'll be fun!"
"Yeah, for me!" the Yell Grunt sneered.
The other three began blowing horns and cheering for their team mate to win the match. But no amount of cheering could prepare him for how quickly this fight would end. Before the Grunt could even issue a command, Ruby acted first.
"Bugs, use Double Kick!"
Bugs leapt into action by bouncing in the air and aiming both feet towards his opponent as he came sailing down towards it. The Zigzagoon couldn't even dodge, far too slow to get out the way as Bugs hit it first with one foot and then the other. Double Kick was a good move as it allowed Pokémon to hit twice in one attack but it was even more so in this case as Zigzagoon had a quadruple weakness to Fighting attacks thanks to its Dark/Normal typing. That single Double Kick had been enough to knock the Zigzagoon out cold in one hit. The racoon-like Pokémon lay on the floor, dazed and wondering what had just hit it. Bugs smiled conceitedly, not even surprised he'd won the fight so quickly.
"Heh, I wasn't even trying in dat fight!" he crowed.
The Yell Grunt stared incredulously at his knocked out Pokémon. How could this be?! It seemed impossible that he could lose so easily, especially to some kid who dared to stand up to him! He returned his Zigzagoon and growled in annoyance.
"Went looking for a fight and I lost…I'm so pathetic!" he whined.
"You're hopeless!" muttered one of the girls, "Here, I'll show you how it's done!"
She stepped forward and drew out a Pokéball of her own.
"I'll put you in your place!" the female Grunt declared, "Nickit, battle time!"
She threw the Pokéball and out came the Dark type Pokémon, Nickit. Nickit was a Pokémon that resembled a fox, complete with pointy ears and orange fur, but its tail was big and bushy and slightly resembled a bulging sack. Its front paws looked almost like it was wearing gloves and its black eye markings almost looked like a mask of some kind, giving Nickit a somewhat thief-like appearance. Their names were even an indicator that they liked to steal a lot of the time and their big tails would sweep away their tracks to make it hard to track them down. Bugs didn't look impressed.
"N'yah, I've spent most of my time in da wild outwitting Nickits that would try and eat me!" he crowed, "Battlin' one will be a snap!"
"Sure will!" Ruby agreed, "Use Double Kick again!"
"Not so fast squirt! That's my job! Nickit, Quick Attack!" yelled the Yell Girl.
The vulpine Pokémon obeyed, whizzing towards Bugs at blinding speeds and slamming into him as hard as it could. In a Pokémon battle, Quick Attack ALWAYS went first no matter what move the opponent made. Many trainers liked to use a strategy in which they'd whittle their opponent's health down to low and then snipe them at the end with Quick Attack to guarantee they'd get the first shot to finish them off. On its own, Quick Attack wasn't the most powerful move and Bugs was left barely even fazed by the Nickit's move. If anything, it just made his opponent look desperate to the point she wanted to get at least one attack in before losing. Bugs shook off the Quick Attack and retaliated with the Double Kick Ruby had ordered. He repeated what he did against his first opponent and just like the first time, the Nickit was taken down in one hit. The thieving fox-like Pokémon keeled over on one side, unable to battle anymore. The trainers watching cheered, glad to see Ruby making a fool out of these hooligans. The Female Grunt stared in disbelief, wondering how on Earth she'd managed to lose so easily.
"What kind of trainer are you?!" she gasped.
"Simple: a GOOD one, unlike you losers." Ruby sneered.
Then she stared in surprise as Bugs glowed blue briefly for a second, signifying he'd levelled up once more. But that wasn't the end of it. He flexed his muscles, pleased with how easily he'd won his last two battles…and then was suddenly engulfed in a bright flash of white. Ruby and Hop recoiled, amazed at what was transpiring. Team Yell stepped back and everyone else nearby watched, wondering what was happening. Bugs's size increased a little, now becoming half the size of Ruby, and his appearance was changing. Everyone knew exactly what was happening. Bugs was evolving! The light died down and Bugs stood there in surprise, no longer a Scorbunny but now a Raboot. He was taller and his ears were much longer than before. His fur had turned light grey with a streak of yellow across his head to make it look like he was wearing a sweatband. His body was black from the chest down with his toes still red, his stomach now had pouches he could put his hands in as if he had pockets, his chest, shoulders and arms were red with his hands matching the grey fur on his head and he had a red collar that made him look as if he was wearing a red scarf around his mouth. Bugs looked himself all over, impressed at the changes.
"Great balls of fire, I've changed!" he cried, "I'm a little bigger, I feel much stronger and I even have pockets now!" he said, putting his hands in his pouches.
"This is awesome!" Ruby cried excitedly, "My first Pokémon and it evolved before I even start the Gym Challenge! Wow, this is too incredible for words!"
"Blow me down…" Hop said in amazement, "You really must've been training hard if your Scorbunny evolved THAT quickly!"
That statement made Ruby raise an eyebrow in confusion.
"Why you so impressed about that?" she asked, "Surely you've evolved your starter as well?"
"Well…I haven't actually." Hop said sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head.
Ruby's face fell in to an incredulous frown of astonishment.
"You mean you've had all this time to train your Pokémon in the Wild Area and you still haven't evolved your starter?!" she cried, "What have you been DOING in the Wild Area this whole time?!"
"Hey doc, can we discuss this later?" Bugs interjected, "Dose jerks over dere still wanna battle."
He motioned over to Team Yell, the two remaining grunts clearly eager to have a battle to make up for the other two's losses earlier. Ruby and Hop glared back at them.
"Still haven't had enough?" she muttered, "I guess we best finish this off."
"You bet, and I'll join in too so I can sneak in some extra training!" Hop declared, "It's time these guys go a taste on who the next champion is going to be!"
The two Yell Grunts looked unimpressed.
"You don't look much like a champion to me." the male Grunt taunted, "Against you, I'll be making a victory yell and the only sound you'll make is a whimper!"
Hop frowned, annoyed that these silly looking goons weren't taking him seriously. He'd show them what for! He drew out one of his Pokéballs and threw it. Out came his first Pokémon and his closest friend, Wooloo, once more. The sheep-like Pokémon bleated eagerly, glad to have a chance to prove its worth in battle and fight once again after a long rest in its Pokéball. The Yell Grunts laughed mockingly at it.
"Some champion in the making YOU are!" the female Grunt taunted, "What kind of champion would take part in a Pokémon battle with a mere Wooloo?!"
"Laugh now you cheeky little sods, it's ME who'll be laughing when this is over." Hop said, trying not to lose his cool.
Ruby agreed. She knew too well that Wooloo was no laughing matter despite being a rather vanilla Pokémon. It could Tackle like a boss and deliver a hard hit so these gormless looking goons would be in for a surprise. She and Hop stood together, ready to fight as the Yell Grunts summoned their Pokémon, another Nickit and Zigzagoon. Whoever this Team Yell was, they sure had no variety to their Pokémon! It amazed Ruby that she was already getting into a double battle. She'd expected to experience one of those at some point during the Gym Challenge rather than right here in a hotel lobby! The receptionist and the waiting trainers watched on, silently rooting for Ruby and Hop to end this ruckus so things could finally get going. The battle started with the female grunt ordering her Nickit.
"Nickit, Quick Attack on the silver girl's Raboot!" she barked.
The Nickit attacked, slamming into Bugs and blinding speeds just like the first one he'd thought. However, due to him being freshly evolved, it did even less damage than the first Quick Attack and Bugs just stood there, casually rubbing his stomach from where the Nickit had hit him.
"N'yah, I'd say dat ALMOST hurt me." he taunted.
"You guys really should have better Pokémon." Ruby taunted, "Bugs, use Double Kick on Nickit!"
"Wooloo, Tackle that Zigzagoon!" Hop commanded.
Both Pokémon acted at the same time, landing powerful hits on their opponents simultaneously. Bugs was already strong enough to one-shot a Nickit with his Double Kick so now he'd evolved, his attack was even more powerful. The Nickit stood no chance and went down after the one blow. Wooloo tackled the Zigzagoon hard but it wasn't enough to take it down in one hit. The Zigzagoon just shook off Wooloo's hit and tackled it back. Wooloo skidded backwards across the floor but otherwise seemed unhurt. The Zigzagoon wasn't strong enough to land a meaningful hit. Bugs then finished the fight with another Double Kick, knocking the Zigzagoon out in one hit. Even if Wooloo hadn't had the first shot, it wouldn't have withstood it. The black and white racoon Pokémon lay on its side with a dazed expression on its face, completely taken out by the hit. Ruby and Hop high-fived each other, glad to have put Team Yell in their place. Team Yell returned their Pokémon and groaned in defeat while the onlookers cheered for Ruby and Hop.
"Great show you two!" said one trainer.
"You'll both be great in the Gym Challenge!" yelled another.
"This is a sad day for Team Yell…" moaned one of the Grunts, "Schooled by a pair of bratty kids! What could be worse?"
Then as if right on cue, a cold, low voice came out of nowhere and directly spoke to them.
"What are you lot doin' here?"
Ruby and Hop turned to see who'd said that and to Ruby's surprise, she recognized who the voice belonged to. It was the Goth girl she saw back at Motostoke stadium! She didn't look surprised at what was happening and clearly seemed to know who Team Yell were as she asked what they were doing here. Her face added to this possibility for despite looking blunt, Ruby could tell she was quietly annoyed with them. Was this girl their aforementioned leader? Team Yell gasped in alarm upon seeing this girl and were quick to respond, looking apologetic as they did so.
"Marnie?!" yelped one of the Grunts.
"N-n-nothing! We was just…" stammered another.
"I know you're terribly curious about the other Gym Challengers, but you gotta show a bit of restraint." the girl, Marine, explained, "I know you're supporting me and all, but that's no excuse for either of you to be a bunch of hooligans!"
As she spoke, Ruby noticed that Marnie spoke with a Northern accent. This had her wondering if she might be from the town of Spikemuth as people who loved in that town often sounded like they were from Oop North. Marnie turned to Ruby and Hop and shook her head, showing evident disappointment in the team.
"Sorry 'bout them!" she said grimly, "They're just a bunch of my fans. They call themselves Team Yell and follow me around, cheerin' for me. Sadly, the numpties have let it get to their heads a bit…"
It was all starting to make sense now. Team Yell was just some overbearing fan-club that were getting too carried away in supporting one of the Gym Challengers. Ruby was just glad Marnie didn't approve of their behaviour at all.
"It's OK. Me and Hop dealt with them just fine, although it was mostly me I'll admit." Ruby said reassuringly.
"They did inconvenience us a bit, along with any other trainers in the lobby." Hop said, throwing a bitter stare over at Team Yell.
"Oh no, w-we weren't! Honestly, we…" began one of the grunts.
"Shut yer gob!" Marnie spat, a brief flash of anger in her eyes, "You lot, off home! Now!"
Team Yell obeyed and left the lobby dejectedly, not wishing to annoy their supported trainer any longer. Once they'd left, the nearby trainers quickly got down to getting checked into their rooms with the receptionist looking relieved to finally get on with his job. He was already planning to make Team Yell pay for the all the minutes of his time they'd wasted. As that was going on, Marnie spoke more to Ruby and Hop.
"I can't apologize enough." the Goth girl insisted, "They're just so caught up in supporting me and all that they tend to get a bit shirty with other Gym Challengers. At least they didn't cause you too much trouble."
"Nah, if anything they helped out a little as thanks to them, my Scorbunny evolved." Ruby said casually.
Marnie took notice of Bugs, seeing what Ruby meant. At least something good came out of her rambunctious fans acting like fools.
"So you're a Gym Challenger too?" Hop asked, "I must say, it's cool that you have a bunch of fans to call your own cheering you on in this challenge! I wonder if we'll get to fight at some point."
"Well, ya never know. Anything can happen." Marnie said nonchalantly. She didn't sound too bothered over the idea of facing Hop, clearly seeing him as just another trainer she'd have to look out for, "Anyway, sorry again for Team Yell's behaviour and I hope they don't trouble you anymore. I'll see you two around."
She turned on her heels and headed towards one of the lifts to go to her room. She'd checked in earlier so she didn't need to go to the front desk. Ruby watched her until the lift doors closed before turning back to Hop.
"Despite her overbearing fan club, Marnie seems pretty OK to me." she said, "I do wish she'd show an actual emotion instead of acting like some emotionless zombie though, it's kinda creepy."
"Maybe the Gym Challenge will bring something out of her." Hop suggested, "Come on, let's get checked in already!"
The two approached the reception desk to get checked into their rooms…
Later on, Ruby was fully checked into the Budew Drop Inn and was settling down on a comfortable bed in a lovely, clean hotel room to enjoy a nice, peaceful rest before bed.
The rooms at the Budew Drop Inn were inviting and cosy with carpeted floors, red and white coloured walls, a single double bed to sleep in, a drawer to keep any items in, a wardrobe and a desk with a flat screen TV standing on top for customers to watch. All the rooms looked identical so every trainer staying in the hotel would get equal comfort. To Ruby, this was beyond anything she'd seen in her simple home town of Postwick. She'd never seen a room in any place look so tidy and clean. It was clear that the staff working here knew well how to make a place like this look so inviting. She slipped her backpack off and stored it in the wardrobe along with her boots so she could lie on the bed for a while. After a busy day like today, she felt relieved to finally take the weight off her feet. The soft white sheets and comfortable mattress of the bed felt like a godsend to her, her body sinking into the bed. She felt like she could fall asleep in seconds due to how comfortable it was. It made her bed back home feel like an iron board by comparison. It was too early for sleep at the moment so Ruby made sure not to drift off just yet.
After five minutes of resting, she called for room service to have some dinner brought to her. She ordered a large pepperoni pizza with some fries on the side to share with her Pokémon as she imagined they'd want some food as well. The meal arrived minutes later and Ruby tucked in happily with her Pokémon sharing the pizza with her. Not only did this place have comfortable rooms to stay in, but the food was excellent too. The crust of the pizza was freshly baked and the right balance between fluffy and chewy, just like the pizzas her mother made at home, and the sauce and cheese were perfect. Her Pokémon enjoyed it as well.
"No wonder some Pokémon love to get caught and trained by people." Raven said, "You don't get food like this in the wild."
"I never knew that humans had so much great stuff to eat!" Chomps said between mouthfuls.
Once Ruby and her Pokémon had finished eating, the teen trainer decided now would be a great time to call her family and let them know how things were going with her. It was currently half past six so her mother and her sisters would have eaten by now. She got her Rotom Phone out and dialled the house number. After a few seconds, she was put through and the phone's screen lit up with the faces of her mother, Emerald and Sapphire.
"Hi Ruby!" Emerald and Sapphire cooed in unison.
"My darling, how are you this evening?" Mum asked.
"Everything's going great so far." Ruby said brightly, "Me and Hop got all signed up for the Gym Challenge and now I'm currently staying the night at the Budew Drop Inn in Motostoke. The opening ceremony for the Pokémon Gym Challenge starts tomorrow so I'll be at Motostoke first thing tomorrow morning."
"That's wonderful Ruby!" Mum said happily, "How exciting this'll be! My eldest daughter, competing in Galar's biggest competition of all time!"
"We'll be watching the TV to see the ceremony so we might see you then!" Emerald cried, "Which gym leaders will you be facing?"
"According to my entry pass, I've been signed up for the "Shield Circuit"." Ruby explained, "So I'll get to challenge the Ghost and Ice Gyms and not the Fighting and Rock Gyms while everyone else remains the same. A shame really, I always loved the idea of getting to fight against Bea. Her Fighting Pokémon would've made awesome opponents. As is, I'm confident I'll win the challenge and win a place in the semi-finals at Wyndon."
"Did you catch any new Pokémon on your way to Motostoke?" Sapphire asked.
Ruby turned the phone around so her family could see. Bugs, Chomps, Raven and Ariel all looked at the screen and greeted their master's family.
"Hey goils, I evolved as you can see." Bugs said casually.
"It's nice to meet my trainer's mother and siblings!" Chomps said excitedly.
"How do you do?" Ariel asked politely.
"Hey." Raven mumbled bluntly.
"No way, you caught a Chewtle and a Gastly?!" Emerald squealed, "They're some of my favourite Pokémon! Oh Ruby, you're so lucky!"
"I'm rather interested to see you caught a Magikarp." Sapphire acknowledged, "Not many trainers bother with them. I hope I get to see it as a Gyarados."
"And it's great to see that Bugs evolved!" Emerald added, "He may look different but he's still cute to me."
"Thanks girls, glad you think so." Ruby said graciously, "And that's not all. I got a Caterpie, a Pidove and a Hoothoot but I can't use them for now as they're too high a level. I'm saving them for the gym when I get there."
"That's really amazing sweetheart." Mum said proudly, "You're not even at the first gym and you've caught six Pokémon already! You'll be walking into Turffield with quite a team. Speaking of Turffield, remember to drop by your father's flower shop to say hi. He's excited to see you when you arrive."
"Oh don't worry, I will mum!" Ruby insisted, "He's been on my mind ever since I started this journey. There's no way I'd miss a chance to visit him once I get to Turffield!"
She then paused for a moment as she thought about the big question she'd been wondering since the encounter with the Wishing Star. She wanted to ask her mother about her strange glowing hair and why it reacted to Dynamax Energy. But Ruby found herself against that idea. She didn't want her mum and sisters to worry about her. Her mum probably wouldn't even know herself if she asked. Besides, Professor Magnolia was already looking into that, she'd get her answers soon enough.
"Ruby? What's up?" Mum asked concernedly.
Ruby shook her head, annoyed at herself for drifting off like that.
"Oh, sorry! It's nothing, really. I was just thinking about tomorrow." she lied, "I honestly can't wait to get in that stadium and see all the gym leaders."
"It'll be a big day tomorrow so I hope you'll get plenty of sleep, dear." Mum said softly, "I just want to finish off by saying that I really couldn't be more proud of you. Your father and I had always dreamed of seeing you become a Pokémon trainer and enter the Gym Challenge. I know from the bottom of my heart that you'll win that challenge and make it to Wyndon to challenge Leon himself."
"Thank you mum. I'm grateful you're so confident in me." Ruby said, touched by her mother's words.
"Goodnight Ruby. Sleep well and remember, no matter if you win or lose, I'll always love you." Mum said sweetly.
"We'll see on TV when the opening ceremony tomorrow!" Emerald cried eagerly.
"Hope to see you again soon Ruby!" Sapphire piped.
"You too." Ruby replied, "Love you all! Goodnight everyone!"
She ended the call and put her phone away. Despite it still being early, Ruby decided that it would be a good time to go to bed anyway. She'd probably have trouble sleeping with what an exciting day it was going to be tomorrow so getting an early night would be a great idea. She got up from her bed to get herself washed and brush her teeth before shutting off from the night.
The next day dawned, once more, bright and sunny. Ruby had surprisingly managed to get a decent night's sleep despite what was in store the next day. Come the morning, she woke up with Butterfree in her stomach. She was so excited that she ate very little breakfast as it was brought up to her and decided instead to just get ready for the day. Once she was fully dressed, she slipped her bag back on and made her way over to Motostoke Stadium. She hadn't seen Hop at all, no doubt because he'd set off even earlier than her and was likely already at the stadium. Just like Hop to rush about and be first for everything!
Upon arrival, Ruby made her way over to the reception desk. As she walked through, she quickly noticed that the silver haired boy in the dark pink coat was back, looking as smug as ever. She turned away quickly, hoping he hadn't made eye-contact with her. The boy didn't move, suggesting he either hadn't noticed her or had noticed her and didn't care. Ruby made it to the desk and showed her pass to the manager. She was then instructed to put on her Gym uniform as it was a mandatory feature for all Gym Challengers to wear them at official events. The uniform in question consisted of a white sports shirt with red, blue and black stripes down the sides and the Gym Challenge logo emblazoned on the chest area, matching shorts with her official number, 869, on one leg, high socks, sports trainers and a single glove with no covering for her thumb. Her official number was on the back of her shirt as well as on her shorts. It felt weird wearing this outfit as in Ruby's opinion, she looked more like she was dressed to play football than fight in a Pokémon Tournament!
Once she was dressed, she went through to the pitch to partake in the opening ceremony. To start off, there was an introduction by Chairman Derek Rose in which he stood on the pitch with a blunt-faced woman with long brown hair and dressed in a white coat beside him. The woman somehow managed to make Marnie look cheerful by comparison, somehow managing to look eternally bored despite being on a pitch in a huge stadium with a crowd thundering with tumultuous applause as the ceremony began. Anyone on the pitch now could see that the people in the stadium were either well rested or had taken something to wake them up for the energy coming from the audience was incredible. People and Pokémon all sitting together whooped and cheered, making a noise so big that Chairman Rose wondered if the people over in Wyndon would hear it. He held his arms up as he addressed the crowd, utterly confident and feeling like he had everyone in his hands. His face was displayed on a few screens around the stadium as he commenced with his opening speech.
"Ladies and gentlemen!" he greeted, "I am Derek Rose, chairman of the Pokémon League! I know that everyone gathered here and everyone watching from home have all been waiting for this big moment! It is my pleasure to announce that finally, the Galar region Gym Challenge will now begin!"
He paused for a moment to let the audience cheer and voice their excitement.
"Yes, the Gym Challenge!" he continued, "Participants must defeat eight out of our ten Gym Leaders and gather eight Gym Badges to prove their skills as a trainer! Only the most worthy will have the honour of challenging the greatest Champion in history! Now, I would like to invite the Gym Leaders to show themselves!"
He threw an arm out to one side, signifying that it was the Gym Leader's cue to come onto the pitch. Nine people walked together in a straight line onto the pitch, drawing excited applause from the crowd. Curiously enough, there was only nine Gym Leaders with the tenth one completely absent. Of the people here were Milo the Grass Gym Leader, Nessa the Water Gym Leader, Kabu the Fire Gym Leader, Bea the Fighting Gym Leader, Allister the Ghost Gym Leader, Opal the Fairy Gym Leader, Gordie the Rock Gym Leader, Melony the Ice Gym Leader and Raihan the Dragon Gym Leader. It was quite a selection of people, all varying in genders, race, sizes, age and types of Pokémon they covered with every one of them wearing visually striking and eye-catching outfits. The leaders all reached the centre of the pitch and stood in a line together, some of them waving to the crowd and others taking it in casually as this was something they did so often that it wasn't that big a deal to be amongst a crowd of people anymore.
"Unfortunately, we're missing one, but these are the Gym Leaders we're proud to call our own!" Chairman Rose announced as the leaders took their places, "As you all know, what makes us unique from other regions is that not every trainer gets to fight the same eight Gym Leaders. Those who have a Sword Pass will get to challenge Bea and Gordie while those with a Shield Pass will challenge Allister and Melony. Now let's find out which of our challengers has which pass!"
That was the cue for the trainers to come onto the pitch. Rose started off by first announcing that all trainers with a Sword Pass come onto the field. Then he announced that all trainers with a Shield Pass come out next. To Ruby's interest, she saw that not only did she and Hop have a Shield Pass, but Marnie did too. She was all dressed up in a uniform of her own with the number 960 on the back of her shirt. It looked as if Hop might get a chance to face her after all. She also spotted the silver-haired boy again and frowned. He was on the Shield Pass too, meaning she could potentially face him should he make it through the challenge and compete in the semi-finals. With any luck, he'd fail and never make it past the gyms.
Ruby stepped out onto the pitch, blown away by the sheer size of it all and the enormous crowd cheering, chanting and snapping pictures of the trainers competing in this year's Gym Challenge. The cameras were trained on the entrants, catching their images for the millions of people watching on TV at home. Ruby imagined that her mother and sisters were among those people and they could see her face right now. The noise of the crowd was overwhelming, far beyond any noise that Ruby had heard before. Everywhere around her, someone was cheering and she could feel the excitement of the crowd surging through her body. Her heart pounded with excitement. This was the most incredible moment of her life and she doubted she would experience anything quite like this again…
The opening ceremony came to a close just before noon. Now it was over, Ruby and the other trainers participating in the challenge went back into the lobby and took turns using the changing room to change out of their Gym outfits. Once Ruby was back into her original clothes, she and Hop spoke to each other. They were both still buzzing with excitement over what they'd just witnessed.
"Standing there…on the pitch…in front of everyone! There's really no words for it, I can barely contain myself!" Hop exclaimed wildly, talking so fast that there was barely a pause between sentences.
"I honestly thought my stomach was going to burst!" Ruby cried, "Oh my Arceus, was that epic or what?! Being there on the pitch and getting to see all the Gym Leaders standing there…just…WOW!"
They were then given something else to be excited about as two men came up to them. One was Leon and the other was Chairman Rose. Upon seeing the founder of Macro Cosmos and the Galar Pokémon League himself, Ruby was surprised to see that the chairman wasn't quite as big as he seemed on TV. He was head and shoulders shorter than Leon, who himself was a pretty tall man. He was still bigger than the two children and Ruby and Hop found themselves looking up at him, but Ruby had expected he'd be a little taller at least. Chairman Rose looked enthusiastic to meet the two kids, a kind smile on his handsome face.
"So you're the two trainers the Champion has endorsed himself!" he said briskly, "Welcome, and it's a delight to meet you!"
"Thanks Mr. Rose, sir." Ruby said meekly. She wasn't entirely sure how to act in front of such an important figurehead like the Chairman himself.
"And I see you two already possess Dynamax bands." Rose added, taking interest of the devices that Ruby and Hop had around their wrists, "How wonderful! It seems you two have been led here by the guiding light of Wishing Stars."
"I guess we have." Hop said casually, "I mean two just happened to land in front of us the day before when we visited the professor! She gave us the bands after making them with the stars."
"I see." the chairman acknowledged, "I assume you know that my wonderful company invented them?
"Absolutely." Ruby replied, "I still remember seeing the adverts for Dynamax Bands on TV. Seeing them for the first time made me want one for myself."
"And now you have one yourself." Rose acknowledged, "I daresay that this year's Gym Challenge is looking to be an absolute blast!"
He then looked at his watch and shook his head grimly. It was clear he wanted to stay and char some more but time was against him so he couldn't.
"Do excuse me challengers, I have some urgent business to attend to." Rose said quickly, "It's been very nice to talk to you both. Good luck out there you two and I hope to see you again soon."
The grey-suited man turned on his heels and walked away to attend to his business. Ruby had been awestruck at just what a charming, polite man the chairman was. She'd heard from her parents and in news stories online that a lot of figureheads could be corrupt, deplorable people but Derek Rose seemed to be neither of those things. If anything, he gave the impression that he was a man who hadn't forgotten what it was like to be a kid with his enthusiasm for the Pokémon League and getting to meet fellow trainers. Had he been a trainer himself? Did he have Pokémon like many others did? Ruby could scarcely imagine what kind of team the Chairman of Macro Cosmos himself would have. As soon as Rose had left, Leon had his turn to speak.
"Well, the Chairman sure is in high spirits." he acknowledged, "Now then, I don't want to keep you two waiting for too long as you've got your first gym to head towards and plenty more training and Pokémon catching to do so I'm just going to say that you must remember to train your Pokémon well and train yourselves up too. Not all the Gyms will be easy so it'll help to be prepared. And lastly, good luck to the both of you."
"Thanks Lee! I'll get going to Turffield right away!" Hop cried excitedly.
He rushed off to make his way towards the first gym. Ruby stood still for a moment. She looked up at Leon. The Galar Champion looked down at her, instantly figuring out what he was thinking.
"You're curious if the professor has any updates." he said matter-of-factly, "Sorry Ruby, she hasn't found anything out yet. She's got more tests to perform first and the life of a Pokémon professor does get busy so you're not going to get results right away."
"That's OK. I'm sure she'll be able to answer my questions eventually." Ruby said, trying to sound casual, "I'll get on my way now. Hope to see you at Wyndon Stadium when the challenge is over!"
"You too kiddo." Leon said with a comforting smile.
Ruby left the lobby to make her way over to Route 3 and head off to Turffield for the first gym.
Minutes later, Ruby was approaching the edge of Motostoke City, just a few paces away from exiting the city and heading out into Route 3. She quick glanced at her Rotom Phone's map app to see what paths she'd have to take. Route 3 was a curved path that headed straight towards an old mine and she'd have to go straight through the mine to get to Turffield. It didn't seem far so she was sure she'd get there in good time. However, Ruby saw that she'd have something to do first before making her way. Hop was waiting for her and he looked like he was in the mood for another battle. Leon had said she and him would have to train themselves as well so it was understandable. Any chance to battle with her would mean extra training for his Pokémon and Ruby was happy to help with that.
"Let's have a battle, you and me. We'll get in a bit of training!" Hop said eagerly.
"Ready when you are, mate!" Ruby said enthusiastically, "I could do with a warm-up before the first gym myself."
So she and Hop began the battle by summoning their first Pokémon. Hop sent out Wooloo first, naturally, and Ruby chose Bugs. The Raboot looked unimpressed as he eyed up his opponent.
"Geez, I'm always up against dat Wooloo, ain't I?" he sighed, "Can't I get a real challenge fer a change?"
"Would you rather I put you up against the Roselia that nearly clobbered you in the Wild Area?" Ruby retorted, "That was such a challenge we had to retreat, remember?"
"Hey, at least now I've evolved, I might be strong enough to defeat it dis time!" Bugs said defensively.
"Just focus on the current battle Bugs." Ruby said, not in the mood for arguing with her starter.
Bugs rolled his eyes but obeyed his trainer anyway. The battle was very short for all it took was one single Double Kick from Bugs and the Wooloo went down. As a Normal type Pokémon, he couldn't stand up to Fighting attacks like Double Kick. Wooloo tried to get up but it was no good. He had no energy left to fight. Disappointed, Hop returned Wooloo.
"You're getting good at landing super-effective blows!" he acknowledged, "You must study hard to get type-advantages right in your battles!"
"Like you wouldn't believe." Ruby chuckled, "I practically enslaved myself to memorize every single type-advantage there is to match-up in Pokémon. I learned the hard way yesterday that type-advantage doesn't always mean an instant victory as in the Wild Area, I had to flee from a couple of battles as my Pokémon weren't strong enough. It's just as much about power as type-advantage in Pokémon battles."
"Sounds like great advice, mate! I'll try to remember that." Hop said graciously, "Now let's see if Grookey can handle Bugs this time!"
He called forth his Grookey, the Grass-type Pokémon ready for battle again and waving his stick around enthusiastically. He didn't even care that he was fighting Bugs again, he was just glad he could have another battle.
"Grookey will win this time!" he declared.
"Don't get yer hopes up, monkey boy." Bugs taunted.
"Bugs, be nice." Ruby said sternly, "Let's start this match off with an Ember!"
Bugs obeyed and spat a ball of flames at his opponent. Because he'd evolved, the Ember attack was bigger and more powerful than ever before. It hit the Grass-monkey Pokémon and sent him staggering backwards from the impact of the blast but surprisingly enough, he withstood the hit…but only just. He had very little health left after that hit so he wouldn't be in the battle for much longer. Grookey shook off the hot fiery attack and sprang into action. Hop commanded him to use Scratch, so he did. It was the best he could do as his Grass-type move, Branch Poke, would practically do nothing to a Raboot. Grookey slashed Bugs across the face but the attack did very little. Bugs barely even felt any pain from the attack. Bugs retaliated with another Ember. Grookey was finished off instantly, unable to withstand the attack. He collapsed onto his back, defeated once again by the fiery rabbit Pokémon.
Hop returned Grookey, disappointed that he'd had yet another easy loss, and he sent out his last Pokémon, his Rookidee. Ruby decided to let one of her new Pokémon have a turn so she returned Bugs and sent out Raven the Gastly to battle. The ghostly Pokémon took one look at her opponent and made a shrug-like gesture, the best she could do as she had no actual arms or shoulders to shrug with.
"Eh, I guess this is OK." she said casually.
"OK? OK?! I'll have you know, fair maiden, that I am a fellow knight of my Lord Hop's Pokémon Team!" Rookidee said indignantly, "I am a mighty warrior that will win many battles for my lord! I…"
"Raven, use Shadow Ball!" Ruby interrupted.
"Oy, I wasn't finished idolizing myself yet!" Rookidee said in annoyance.
Hop face-palmed himself. What did he h