Chapter 13: Mysteries in the Vault
The huge dragon-head protruding from the entrance to Hammerlocke Stadium was both an awesome and intimidating structure for Ruby to be greeted by as she made her way towards it. It was appropriate that the entrance to the city that housed the Dragon-Type Gym should look like this but it still ended up making the entrance look as if the city was guarded by some big stone dragon that would eat anyone that dared to open the door in the back of its throat. It reminded Ruby a little of the Cave of Wonders from the Aladdin stories, only she knew that when entering this cave, there would be no treasures inside that she could collect, nor a lamp containing a magical genie to grant three wishes. At least it was just a creative piece of architecture and not an actual living creature; otherwise no Gym Challenger would dare come to Hammerlocke in fear of being swallowed up on their way to gain more Gym badges. Ruby decided to use her Rotom phone to take a quick selfie before making her way into the city. The photograph she took showed her smiling outside the Hammerlocke City gates with the sun beating down on her and she attached it to a text she typed up for her parents and sisters.
She typed in: "Just made it thru Wild Area and caught some new Pokémon. I've arrived at Hammerlocke to make my way on to the next 5 Gyms! Wish me luck! Lots of love, Ruby. Xxx."
After sending the text, she approached the man in the Macro Cosmos uniform that had been standing there waiting for new Gym Challengers to make their way into the city. Ruby got the feeling she was the first new arrival of today for the man looked strangely glad to see her. She imagined that he was so bored of standing around waiting for Gym Challengers to let into the city that the sight of anyone would make his day as it meant doing something other than standing around all day. The man smiled broadly.
"Ah, a Gym Challenger! You're the first new arrival of today I must say." he said briskly.
"Guess I'm a really lucky lady today." Ruby said casually, "I got some awesome catches on my way over and I'm literally the first new arrival to Hammerlocke! I honestly thought some Gym Challengers would get here way before me."
"I imagine they're probably still busy in the Wild Area." the man suggested, "Anyway, allow me to check your Gym Badges."
Ruby showed him the Fire, Water and Grass badges that she'd won from her first three Gym Battles. The gleaming gold badges seemed to shine brightly in the light of the morning sun. The man adjusted his sunglasses and nodded.
"That's all three of them." the man said brightly, "You may enter Hammerlocke City. I wish you the best of luck in your future battles!"
"Thank you very much." Ruby said appreciatively
She was about to make her way up the stairs that would, in a sense, lead her into the back of the dragon's throat. But as she planted her foot on the first step, she heard a voice that made her skin crawl and her whole body jolted as if she'd been electrocuted.
"Oh…just my luck. I arrive in time to enter Hammerlocke City and YOU have to be there too!"
It was Bede, looking as cold and cruel as ever. Ruby spun around, her eyes blazing with fury and she had to mentally restrain herself from punching the arrogant boy in the face. She did however smirk a little at the sight of the boy's face. She noticed almost straight away that Bede's nose seemed a little crooked, as if somebody had ripped it off and he stuck it back on in the wrong angle. One would expect that he'd walked into a lamppost or something, but Ruby knew otherwise.
"Hey Bede. I was hoping you'd failed to get this far." Ruby said, not even trying to disguise the hatred in her voice, "Say, is it my imagination or does your nose look a little wonky?" she taunted, "Marnie told me all about how she sorted you out for being a douche to her. Maybe THAT will teach you to stop being a douche all the time!"
Bede stiffened and his fists shook. Ruby glared at him coldly, silently warning him "Don't you dare you arsehole!" as she had a horrible feeling that he was going to try and punch her for that. Of course, Bede wasn't stupid and as much as he wanted to do just that, he couldn't. What idiot would go and assault a Gym Challenger when there was a witness standing right in front of him? He'd only give Ruby the perfect excuse to tell Chairman Rose to get him disqualified from the challenge if he did. Instead, he sighed loudly and unclenched his fists.
"That girl should count herself lucky that I didn't punch her back for that." Bede growled, "With you and her, I'm growing concerned that this year's Gym Challenge has got some very violent people participating in it. The chairman really should reconsider who gets to take part in this challenge if people like you and Marnie can get in."
"First of all, you provoked us and second of all, I only reacted in self-defence so you can't pull that over me!" Ruby snapped, "And it's very hypocritical of you to complain that we're violent when you refuse to let me go about my business and force me to battle you despite me giving you the chance to avoid unnecessary conflict! And you also pinned me to the wall back in the Galar mine for no reason so who are you to call ME violent?"
The Macro Cosmos man frowned at Bede.
"This challenger does have a point young man." he acknowledged, "While we don't approve of how she and that other challenger have treated you, don't think that you're in the clear either. You're already in trouble with the Chairman for lying about this girl in an attempt to demonize her, don't cause anymore trouble while you're here."
Ruby smirked triumphantly, glad to see the man was on her side and was aware of what she'd told the chairman back in Hulbury. She imagined he'd told all his men about Bede's lies so that they knew not to take him seriously if he tried again. Bede sighed in annoyance, clearly irritated with how everyone seemed to be against him lately. Would it kill the world to give him at least ONE person who wasn't against him for once?! He just huffed and rubbed his nose as if he was trying to smooth it back into place.
"Whatever, you'll have to get used to doing the rest of this challenge without your stupid friend around as I doubt he'll be coming." Bede muttered.
Ruby raised an eyebrow in confusion.
"My friend? You mean Hop, right?" she asked. Then suddenly, she gasped as a horrid thought crossed her mind. She stormed up to Bede, fixing her eyes into his own as if she could somehow freeze him on the spot with a single stare.
"What did you do to him?!" Ruby snarled accusingly.
Bede just smiled smugly at his rival.
"Simple. I just did what I was obviously gonna do when our paths crossed: beat him in a battle." he sneered, "Before I came over, he came across me and gave him some boring lecture on what a douche I am for the way I've treated you. I decided to shut him up with a Pokémon match. It was no contest. Poor little sod. I bet after a humiliating defeat like that, there's no way he can look the Champion in the eye. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the Champion ends up disowning him after that."
He then proceeded to laugh cruelly in Ruby's face, deliberately taunting her over the fact he'd humiliated her friend and the Champion's brother, showing no sympathy towards Hop for doing so. Ruby felt as if she'd been punched in the stomach. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. How on Earth could Hop lose to this sorry excuse for a trainer? True he'd never posed much of a challenge for her, but Bede had been even less of one by comparison! How did he defeat him? She could already imagine Hop looking disappointed over his defeat. Did he cry about it? Was he still crying about it now? Ruby felt a pang of hurt in her chest for her best friend and neighbour. How could Bede be so content with humiliating him and belittling him like this?! If there wasn't a witness literally standing on the steps next to her, she would pick Bede up and throw him into the first lake she came across in the Wild Area!
"Don't you get all smug and confident you arrogant sod!" Ruby growled venomously, "Just because you bet Hop, doesn't mean you'd stand a ghost of a chance against Leon! He'd wipe you out with just his Aegislash! I mean you have primarily Psychic types! What chance would YOU have against him with such an unbalanced team while Leon has ways of countering your Psychic types? Hell, I bet just his Charizard could blow you away!"
"We'll just have to see about that, won't we?" Bede sneered, "I only have to defeat the rest of the Gyms and then I'll be able to defeat him."
"Bede, you can't even beat ME in a fight! What makes you think you'll get anywhere near Leon?" Ruby retorted.
The way she'd said it was matter-of-fact, not a hint of arrogance in her voice. It was a completely logical assumption to make. If Bede couldn't even beat Ruby in a fight despite her being new to the challenge, what made him think he was anywhere near Leon's level? It also didn't help Bede that the next Gym battle over in Stow-on-Side was the Ghost Gym. How was he going to get past THAT Gym when every single Pokémon on his team had a weakness to Ghost types? She imagined that Allister would cream him in a single blow! Bede refused to be knocked off his pedestal, still looking full of himself.
"I'll beat you the next time we fight, and that's a promise." he gloated, "I've been going easy on you the past two battles. Next time, I'll go all out on you."
"Are you just saying that to make yourself sound less pathetic or are you REALLY that delusional?" Ruby sneered, folding her arms, "I mean you SERIOUSLY expect me to believe that Tauros-crap? If anything, I bet Hop was going easy on you just so he could trick you into thinking you were any good. After all, I can't imagine him losing to you naturally."
That did it. Bede was so offended by what Ruby had said that he lashed out, trying to punch her in the face. Luckily for Ruby, the Macro Cosmos man had reacted incredibly fast, grabbing hold of him and hauling him back. The quick action had been enough to make Ruby flinch and stagger backwards, horrified at the fact he'd just tried to attack her. And he had the nerve to moan about her and Marnie attacking him! Bede flailed around savagely but the man was too strong for him. He then proceeded to throw Bede down on the ground, winding him as he landed flat on his back. He readjusted his sunglasses for they'd shaken loose after the brief struggle.
"Now you listen to me young man! I will NOT tolerate this kind of behaviour during the Gym Challenge!" he said threateningly, "Assaulting a trainer in any manner other than self-defence will NOT be accepted on my watch! If you dare attack that girl again, I will have you disqualified faster than you can say "Giratina!" Do you understand?!"
Bede wanted to try again to flatten Ruby's face into mush but he knew it wouldn't do him any good. He didn't want to be disqualified so he had no choice but to comply. He picked himself up and dusted himself off, still seething with rage.
"Yes…I understand completely." he growled.
"Good." the man said grimly, "As punishment for your actions, you will be suspended from partaking in any Pokémon battles until the next day, and woe betide you if I or any of my colleagues catch you even so much as looking at the Stow-on-Side Gym for your suspended from that too. That'll give you plenty of time to think about what you've done. I'll also be informing the Chairman of your behaviour. You better hope he's as merciful as I am."
Bede didn't have the energy left in him to protest. All he could do was nod to signify that he understood and show his badges to the man to show that he'd won the first three badges that would grant him entry into Hammerlocke. It was just a pity for him that he wouldn't be allowed to do any battles, nor would he be allowed to take on the next Gym when he got to Stow-on-Side. He shot a glare at Ruby that could've been his attempt at sending her a message of death, only Ruby wasn't even fazed by it. She just gave him a smug smile that said to him "Serves you right!" in return. The man stepped aside and Bede made his way into Hammerlocke City. Once he'd gone, the man approached Ruby and put his hands gently on her shoulders.
"Are you alright, ma'am?" he asked.
"I'm fine. Just shaken that's all." Ruby said, her heart still pounding from what had happened, "I can't believe that jerk just tried to punch me! Who does he think he is, thinking he can do that just because I'm refusing to take his crap seriously? I know I assaulted him back in the Galar Mine, but at least I had a good reason for it! I was only protecting myself! He had no right to do that! If I were you, I would've disqualified him anyway as he's clearly dangerous."
"Sorry ma'am, the Gym Challenge works on a three-strike rule." the man said bluntly, "He's got two strikes against him now, one for lying about you and one for threatening you. Believe me, he'll be gone from this contest if he strikes out a third time. All I can say for now is that you avoid Bede from here on out. You'll be safer that way."
"I can take care of myself!" Ruby said indignantly.
"Yes, I'm sure, but if you avoid him then you won't need to be in a situation where you'll have to." the man said uneasily, "Anyway, you can make your way into Hammerlocke now. If Bede troubles you again, let anyone in a Macro Cosmos uniform know. We all answer to the Chairman so we'll inform him if he continues to be a bother."
"Thank you very much, sir." Ruby said appreciatively, "I'm also sorry you had to see that. I doubt that's what you were expecting for a day like today."
"I've seen trainer fights plenty of times. I'm used to it." the man said casually, "Now please, make your way in. You don't want to be lagging behind for your next Gym Battle, do you?"
Ruby shook her head. She just wanted to be on her way so she didn't have to dwell on the events that had just happened. She brushed her hair aside and made her way up the steps towards the gates that would welcome her into Hammerlocke. She hoped more than ever that this meeting with Bede would be their last. It had to be! No way was he going to get past Allister's Gym with his Ghost types being the perfect counter to his shallow team of Psychics!
As Ruby went inside, the man smiled to himself, glad that he'd stopped a fight breaking out. He knew perfectly well that the girl he'd been talking to was Ruby Silverlock, the mysterious trainer with the magical glowing hair that could detect Dynamax Energy. Chairman Rose had made sure every man and woman working for him knew who she was and how important she was to Project: Eternatus. He had given them special instructions to keep her safe from anyone who might threaten her, especially Bede. After all, how could they exploit Ruby's gift if Bede put her in the hospital? He hadn't just done it for his own gain, or so he tried to tell himself, he'd done it because it was the right thing to do. Nobody liked it when Gym Challengers fought each other after all so it was good to enforce the rules some more. He took up his position and straightened himself up, waiting for the next arrival…
If Motostoke City had taken Ruby's breath away than Hammerlocke City would've stopped her breathing altogether. If she could describe the city in anyway, she would've said it looked as if somebody had picked up a random city and dropped it in the middle of a medieval castle. There were castle walls and turrets all over the city and a huge, impressive tower protruded from the centre of Hammerlocke, stretching high up into the sky as if trying to touch it. The very tip of the tower was shaped like a crown, creating in essence a king that was overseeing his kingdom from the very top of his castle. There was also a pair of stone structures on either side of the tower that vaguely resembled wings of some kind, an appropriate design choice as it added to the fact this was the home of the Dragon Gym. It was after all, Hammerlocke Stadium itself so it seemed appropriate for it to advertise itself as the Dragon Gym. There was a couple of towers with dragon heads on top of them and to add even further to the medieval theme that seemed to be going on, there were even drawbridges that actually seemed to work. The few features that brought this example of a bygone era into the modern times were some of the houses and shops that Ruby could see all around here. There was the usual Pokémon centre of course and some shops to buy clothes, food or to go and get a haircut. There was even a train station nearby. It was a gobsmacking sight for Ruby and she had to wonder how such a crazy looking metropolis could even exist. She would have expected a place like this to exist in a film or a book she'd read, not actually be a real place she could go to!
"Wow…" Ruby gasped, "I wish my sisters could see this. They'd be so impressed!"
She quickly reminded herself that they would in due time. Both of them would turn thirteen next year and then they could go on their Pokémon journeys just as she did. She also thought of Hop and how he'd enjoy seeing this place…if he was still going to come. Ruby's face fell as she thought back to what Bede had said to her earlier. He was confident that Hop would drop out of the Gym Challenge after dealing the kind of blow he'd dealt him. It made Ruby's blood boil just thinking about it. On the one hand, if Hop dropped out, she'd never have to worry about their friendship being strained by their rivalry again as there'd be no rivalry anymore. On the other hand, it would feel a little empty carrying on this journey without Hop. She enjoyed having him around whenever they met up and she liked to think she was encouraging him to get stronger with every battle they've had. She also couldn't stand the thought of Hop quitting the challenge because of Bede. That would be a blow she couldn't take. Ruby whipped out her Rotom phone and dialled Hop's number. She waited for him to pick up but nothing happened. That made Ruby worry. Had his self-esteem been crippled that badly that he wouldn't even speak to anyone? But then shortly after her failed call, a text suddenly flashed on the screen and she read it. It was from Hop. It read:
Don't think I'm ignoring u. Sorry Ruby, I just need a moment to myself. I'll talk later, K? Hope u made it to Hammerlocke!
Ruby smiled a little smile after reading that. At least Hop wasn't shutting her out entirely. He'd come to in his own time and she'd respect his wishes. The fact he said he'd talk later would hopefully mean he was still making his way over after all. Ruby was about to make her way through Hammerlocke so she could head off to Stow-on-Side for her next Gym but something caught her eye up ahead. She looked up and her heart sank a second time as she saw that Bede was there once again. She'd hoped he'd gone off ahead and would be miles ahead by now so she wouldn't have to see him but instead, it appeared he was talking to a man and a woman just outside Hammerlocke Stadium. She could see that the two were Oleana and Chairman Rose once again, the latter still in his terrible disguise. It looked as if she'd come to the end of the conversation for Oleana was gesturing at Bede to come with her for some reason. Even the Chairman looked interested but he didn't seem to be in the mood to press his secretary for answers, just allowing her and Bede to walk on ahead into the stadium to talk privately. That had Ruby feeling very curious. What on Earth did that robot pretending to be a human want with him? Hopefully she was going to give him a proper bollocking for his despicable behaviour towards her, Marnie and Hop throughout the challenge! She didn't want to hang around any longer as the conversation was over and was about to leave until the Chairman saw her. He called her over.
"Miss Silverlock! How nice to see you again. Do come over, I only wish to spare a minute of your time." he said pleasantly.
Ruby winced. She remembered how last time she met the Chairman, he'd warned her to avoid any confrontations with Bede and she'd gone against his wishes by confronting him at least twice since then. Was he going to give her an earful over that? He didn't seem to be mad at least, he looked more like he wanted to catch up and have a pleasant chat between friends. Ruby approached him, trying not to look nervous. She still wished he'd go back to his suit and tie as the ridiculous disguise didn't suit him at all. Seeing him in it made her want to laugh, but who dared to laugh at a man like Chairman Rose?
"Hello sir." Ruby said politely, "You want to see me?"
"I just thought I'd say hello while I spotted you, my dear." Rose said brightly, "How are you this fine day?"
"I'm very good, thanks!" Ruby said, though she only half-meant it as seeing Bede had soured her good mood a little, "I had a great start to the day by catching some awesome new Pokémon and now I'm here at Hammerlocke to make my way to the next Gym! To think this is where the Gym Challenge ends for us all should we get to it…" she added, staring at the stadium as if it was the finish line to a huge race track that she'd stumbled on.
"Quite so, Ruby. And that's not all." the Chairman continued, "Did you know that Hammerlocke Stadium also doubles as an energy plant? It's quite a marvellous structure if I must say myself. The tower absorbs energy and then it's converted into electricity in the underground power plant and delivered to homes all around Galar! Can you imagine it Ruby? Anytime someone plugs in a device or switches on a light, its journey all starts here!"
Ruby's eyes widened in astonishment. She stared back at Hammerlocke Stadium, now truly seeing it for the first time. She could imagine it now: the huge tower absorbing energy, possibly from Wishing Stars, and the energy travelling all the way down the massive structure to the underground energy plant below. She had no idea that this stadium, the Dragon Gym itself, was also responsible for much of the energy the Galar region used! Who'd have thought that while Pokémon battles were taking place, energy was being converted right under their feet?
"Wow…I never knew that, Mr. Rose." Ruby said in wonder, "I suppose it understands why the battles here are always so energized."
Chairman Rose laughed.
"Would you believe me if I said you're the first person to make that pun?" he said.
"Not really, I bet someone else beat me to it." Ruby said thoughtfully, "Anyway, what was Bede talking to you and Oleana about and what does she want him for?" she added, deciding now would be a good time to bring it up.
"He just came to drop off some more Wishing Stars he got for me." the Chairman said, "What Oleana wants him for, I don't know. Speaking of him, you better believe I was horrified when my man outside the gates told me he attempted to assault you. I understand that you may have provoked him, but that doesn't excuse his behaviour in anyway. I'm so sorry that he reacted that way to you." he said, sounding very concerned as if Ruby was somehow precious to him and that the idea of her being hurt was a worry for him.
"It's alright, sir. Your man stopped him before he could punch me." Ruby said casually, "Personally sir, I think you should disqualify him instead of letting him off with a warning. That kind of behaviour is dangerous to the other trainers in the challenge. What if he tries to punch someone else?"
"You needn't worry Ruby. He's on his last warning. I've already given him one chance after he lied about you and I hated having to give him another. As is, we must set an example of him so no other trainer maybe tempted to copy his behaviour. At the same time though, Miss Silverlock, I did warn you to avoid any confrontations with him again to avoid this sort of thing. I thought you took my words to heart, young lady."
"I did!" Ruby protested, "It wasn't my fault, honest! I arrived before he did and he came across me and it was him who started the whole thing! He was all "Oh great, you had to be here!" and getting on at me instead of minding his own Beedrill's wax and moving on with his day! He chose not to avoid me and start at me for no reason!"
"Ruby, Ruby, please don't get agitated, I'm not mad at you or trying to make it out that you're in the wrong." Chairman Rose said hastily, "I was just concerned that you may have forgotten what we discussed."
"Well if it helps, I didn't kick him in the balls again." Ruby muttered sarcastically.
"Well…that's good." the Macro Cosmos founder said uneasily, "Anyway, I hope that you and Bede won't get into another spat like that again. I'd hate to hear that you got into a fight that wasn't Pokémon related."
"I get you sir. If he starts at me again, I'll just carry on walking and pay him no attention." the silver-haired girl said, "Believe me, I want nothing more to do with that arsehole. He's been the one bad thing about my journey aside from losing Ariel. I want to enjoy myself as a Pokémon trainer, not worry about having to deal with him again and again."
"Good show, Miss Silverlock." the Chairman said approvingly, "I also wish for my trainers to enjoy themselves on their journeys too. If you do what you've said you will, you'll make it more fun for yourself. In the meantime, why don't you head off to the Stow-on-Side Gym? I've held you up long enough already, I'd hate for you to miss your chance to challenge Allister because I held you up. You must get on your way."
"I will sir. Thank you." Ruby said appreciatively, "Oh, and I hope Project: Eternatus is still going well." she added kindly.
"It's going very well my dear." Chairman Rose said brightly.
And all thanks to you being a big help with that magical hair of yours! he added in his mind.
With nothing more to say, Ruby waved goodbye to the Chairman and made her way through the city to go to Stow-on-Side. There was another route to cross through before getting there but she would manage it. She just hoped that Hop would be coming as well…
At the same time that this was happening, another girl was in Hammerlocke and going about her day. But this girl wasn't here for the same reasons as Ruby. Lab Assistant Sonia had come here to further her research into the mystery behind the Pokémon in the woods and the Dynamax phenomenon. Just the day before yesterday, Chairman Rose had agreed to arrange a visit in the Hammerlocke Vault to see if anything in there could further her studies in some way. The local Gym Leader, Raihan, had been happy to allow her inside and now Sonia had found herself standing in a place that very few people were ever given access to. It was quite exciting for her, feeling as if she was in a place that was forbidden and yet she'd been given access to it.
Sonia wasn't surprised that she hadn't been let into the more valuable part of the vault, the part where all the actual treasures and ancient relics were kept. It would be foolish to let anyone in there, even if Sonia was no criminal. It was common sense to keep anyone away from that side of the vault as the stuff that was contained there would be worth a fortune to any criminal who wanted to steal them. Instead, Sonia was standing in a room with dark brick walls, arched windows and a quartet of tapestries proudly on display for anyone to see. The whole scene made her feel as if she was in a king's castle and getting a chance to admire his art collection. The ginger-haired woman was especially interested in the tapestries to see what story they told.
The tapestries had been preserved very well, showing very little signs of fatigue or wear and tear despite clearly being centuries old. The art style harkened back to the medieval era of Galar, a time of knights on horseback, sword fights and huge crusades with one another. She could imagine that lots of Pokémon had served alongside these knights back in the day.
Sonia looked at the first tapestry. It showed two figures, one in a blue vest and the other in a pink tunic, observing what appeared to be a red and white cloud of energy hovering over them. She could easily imagine that they were watching a Wishing Star. What must that have been like for those two back then? They must've assumed it was witchcraft or something.
The second tapestry was considerably more striking, showing a black and red storm cloud throwing bolts of lightning down onto the ground with the same two youths watching on in horror. There were flames and silhouetted soldiers in the background, suggesting that some kind of war was happening. Sonia was very intrigued by that tapestry. Was it depicting the Darkest Day? The black and red cloud was quite a telling sign of what this was about and it matched all other depictions of the Darkest Day, a big storm cloud turning everything dark.
The third tapestry showed the same two youths again, but they were standing up and reaching out to a mysterious sword and shield that was hovering above them. The sword was depicted as blue with a gold outline and the shield was depicted as red with a gold outline. The black and red clouds weren't as prominent here, a clear sign that this was about the end of the Darkest Day and how the supposed hero of Galar that wielded the legendary sword and shield had been the one to stop it. It was curious to Sonia that the youths weren't actually holding the weapons. They just seemed to be holding their hands up as if to receive them. Did the weapons summon something or was it a gift from Arceus himself? If so, it would be fascinating to know why the Pokémon god himself bestowed legendary weapons to two mere humans.
And the final tapestry showed those same two youths once more, facing each other and shaking hands under a huge sun and standing before a magnificent castle that likely signified their kingdom. They were wearing capes and crowns and the land looked peaceful and prosperous once more, a true sign that the Darkest Day was over.
Upon seeing these tapestries, Sonia immediately noticed one contradiction to the stories that many generations of Galarians had been telling one another from childhood to adulthood: there wasn't just one hero like the statue at the Budew Drop Inn depicted. There were actually TWO heroes as depicted in the ancient artwork. In all four tapestries, there were two youths that were there from the Wishing Star's appearance to the forging of their kingdom. So why did the legends only speak of one hero in Galar that stopped the Darkest Day? It's clear that there was more to this ancient tale than one might expect. History had a nasty habit of obscuring many details that left an incomplete story for generations to hear. Maybe with her on the case, she was going to uncover the full truth and bring the real story back into public consciousness.
"As Milo might say, this is definitely one mystery wrapped in an enigma." Sonia said thoughtfully, "I never would've expected that looking into this was going to be so interesting. Sure beats being at Gran's lab doing nothing."
She drummed her fingers against her arm as she observed the tapestries one last time. The lab assistant intended to study them some more before moving on with her research. She now found herself asking one more question on top of the others she had in her mind.
"So what happened to the sword and shield that drove off the Darkest Day…?" Sonia mused.
It was late afternoon by the time Ruby made it to Stow-on-Side. She knew it was late afternoon due to the position of the sun in the sky and how it looked as if it was on its way to setting as the evening was slowly approaching. After leaving Hammerlocke, she'd travelled through Route 6 and made her way towards the town with little difficulty. She'd had a brief encounter with the bothersome Team Yell once again after they were trying to stop her from coming through for the incredibly odd reason of…wanting to prevent a sleeping Silicobra from being disturbed. The irony was that they had been the ones to wake it up with their constant yelling, not Ruby herself! Ruby had effortlessly defeated the Yell goons and they'd quickly been sent packing, running away as fast as they could go. After that, Ruby had had a pleasant travel through the rest of Route 6, even catching a new Pokémon along the way.
She'd caught a Helioptile, an Electric/Normal-type Pokémon resembling a frill-necked lizard but without the frill. It was yellow and black in appearance and was one of few Pokémon that evolved via an evolution stone, specifically needing a Sun Stone to do so. The species was native to the Kalos region and Ruby liked the look of Helioptiles. She couldn't imagine using it much for the rest of the Gym Challenge but if she needed a back-up electric type, this one would do nicely. She nicknamed it Megavolt, thinking the name suited the species, and made her way through Route 6 to finally arrive at Stow-on-Side.
The town was something else entirely, looking more like a town you'd find in a desert than anywhere else. The ground was sandy, the architectural style of the houses was closer to a place like Mexico than anywhere in the UK, there were market-stalls selling all sorts of items for Pokémon trainers to use should they purchase the items, colourful flags draped between houses and of course, the usual Pokémon Centre that every town and city had. What was doubly amusing to Ruby was that the street lamps bore a heavy resemblance to the Ghost-type Pokémon, Chandelure. It seemed appropriate considering this was where the Ghost gym was based. She could see the huge stadium in the distance, looming at the top of a flight of stairs as if trying to make itself noticed above everything else. The stadium had a light system that allowed it to change its colour based on who was currently running the Gym at the time. When it was Bea's turn to run the Gym, the stadium was orange and when Allister was in charge, the stadium turned purple. Stow-on-Side Stadium had a daily rota in which Bea and Allister changed positions every other day. Today it was Allister's turn and all trainers with a Shield pass would be able to challenge his Gym before the day was out. Anyone who missed it today would have to wait until the day after tomorrow as Bea would be there for the Sword pass trainers to challenge. Ruby had wanted to challenge Bea as she was one of her favourite Gym Leaders, but she knew that Allister would give her a good challenge. She also thought the stadium looked much better in purple as the orange colours made it blend too much into the mountains behind it.
Ruby's eyes swept over the rustic town, her face broadening into a grin of wonder. This place was quite simply the most beautiful town she'd visited so far. As impressive as Hammerlocke City looked, this place just looked more inviting and laid-back with an atmosphere that suggested anyone visiting was in for a pleasant time. She was going to enjoy her visit here.
"This is a really pretty town." Ruby said happily, "I know I've got my Gym battle to do before the day's done, but I think I might enjoy the atmosphere a little while I'm here. I've got time at least."
And so she spent at least half an hour just walking around the town and passing by the stalls to see what they had to offer. She even chatted to some of the locals, thrilled to see that many of them were very friendly and sociable. Nobody cared that she wasn't local, they were just happy to see a new Pokémon trainer passing by. Of course, some of the citizens knew she was a Gym Challenger and were excited to see that she was here, in their town, to challenge the local Gym. As usual, Ruby took their compliments with a modest smile and gently asked them not to make such a fuss over her. After she was done, she made a quick trip to the Pokémon centre to make sure her Pokémon were in perfect order and then set off to begin her Gym battle.
But as she headed to the stadium, she heard a voice that made her heart leap with a mixture of relief and excitement.
"Ruby! Ruby! Wait up! At least give me a moment to say hi before you go in to challenge Allister!"
She spun around immediately found herself being pounced on and wrapped into a tight embrace by the very boy she'd been hoping to see again. It was Hop! Despite his supposedly getting beaten by Bede earlier, he looked as happy and cheerful as he did the last time she'd seen him. It was like nothing had happened and she began to wonder if Bede had been lying the whole time. She didn't care, the silver-haired girl was just happy to see Hop again and that it seemed he was still going about the Challenge after all. She hugged him back, feeling as if it had been ages since she'd seen him.
"Hop! Thank Arceus it's you!" Ruby said happily, "After what Bede said, I was worried you'd be dropping out of the Gym Challenge!"
Hop's face fell upon the mention of the silver-haired boy's name.
"So you ran into him again and he told you all about it." he muttered, "Yeah, it really sucked when I lost to that jerk. I gave it all I got and he still beat me like it was nothing!"
The two teens released each other from their hug.
"So what happened? Why did you and him have a battle?" Ruby asked.
"I ran into him while I was catching new Pokémon in the Wild Area." Hop explained, "He got all up in my face and was like "Oh, you're the Champion's brother and one of the trainers he endorsed! Big deal, I bet you're utterly pathetic", and for no reason too! I didn't even do anything to him and was just like that to me! I decided to sort him out, especially as I owed him one for how he's been treating you lately! But as he told you, it all went wrong…"
He kicked at the sand bitterly as if it offended him to admit he lost to a boy like Bede. Ruby could see he was taking the loss pretty hard and that it was gnawing away at his self-esteem.
"The things he said too…saying that I'm dragging Lee's good name through the dirt with how rubbish I was…I can't get those words out my head!" he groaned, "If I'm weak, what if people think Lee's weak, too?"
Ruby put her hands firmly on Hop's shoulders and looked him straight in the eye. It wasn't often that she ever got serious with her best friend, but she didn't want him feeling sorry for himself and allowing Bede to get to him. He needed a confidence boost and she was going to try and give him one.
"Listen to me, Hop. You are NOT weak! Don't you dare think that about yourself!" Ruby said sternly, "I won't have my best friend saying that about himself! You're strong, much stronger than Bede ever will be and you know it! You've got this far already, haven't you? You even told me that you won all your Gym battles first time. I doubt Bede can boast about that. Also, Bede feels the need to belittle people and big himself up. Why? Because HE'S the one who's weak! My dad always said that people who feel the need to be arrogant and bully others are the true weak people in the world and that they do this because they feel worthless and thus, feel the need to make others feel worthless to make their miserable lives feel better.
If you let yourself be convinced you're weak, you're letting Bede win. Don't let him think he's better than you. Yes, I know, it's easy for me to say as I've kicked his ass twice already, but look at it this way: if I can beat him, you can too! So please Hop, don't be like this. I don't want you to be downhearted because a jerk like him beat you. Show me that you still have that confidence and drive that you've had since our journey started. What do you say?"
Hop was impressed at what his friend and neighbour had to say about the situation. She was clearly the sort of girl who knew what to say to give her friends a confidence boost. He also couldn't help but agree on her points she'd made about people like Bede. If Bede was so high and mighty, why did he feel the need to put others down to big himself up? No, he wasn't going to let him get to him! He wouldn't let Bede have the satisfaction of seeing him defeated! He smiled appreciatively and gave Ruby another hug to show how much that meant to him.
"Ruby…I couldn't ask for a better friend." he said graciously, "Thank you. That was quite meaningful, what you had to say."
"Anything for my best mate." Ruby said kindly, "You're very welcome."
"Still, I have been thinking about how my battle with Bede went and that maybe it's time I started changing up my battle style a little." Hop went on, "I've even got myself a team of new Pokémon I plan to use. So before you go in to the Stow-on-Side Stadium…would you be up for another friendly battle so I can see how it works?"
Ruby wasn't sure she liked that idea. She looked down at her feet uneasily as she'd just tried boosting Hop's confidence and yet he was wanting another battle with her, the same girl who'd beaten him four times already. Wouldn't that just make him feel worse?
"I dunno Hop, I don't want to break your confidence even more." Ruby said hastily, "I really don't think this is…"
"Oh don't worry about that!" Hop interrupted, "Why would you break my confidence? At least when you beat me, you don't insult me for losing so I know I'll have a better time battling you! Besides, it'll give me a chance to try my new strategies!"
Ruby understood what Hop meant. As she wouldn't belittle Hop for losing, she wouldn't shake his self-esteem at all. Plus, she was meant to be driving him on and pushing him to better himself anyway so it wouldn't hurt to see how well that was going. Ruby smiled.
"OK then Hop, let's battle." she said.
So Hop and Ruby took up positions just by the steps leading up to the Stow-on-Side Gym and prepared themselves for a battle. Some of the locals decided to watch to see how this fight was going to go. Many of them recognized Hop as he was the Champion's brother and another Gym Challenger so they were excited to see how a battle between the Champion's brother and the rising star of the Gym Challenge was going to go. They were certainly going to get a great battle, that's for sure! Ruby and Hop had both agreed to a four-on-four match, Hop choosing this method as he didn't want to reveal all his new Pokémon so quickly. He wanted to keep some surprises up his sleeves for later. Ruby could understand this. Like a poker player in a card game, Hop wouldn't want to play his aces too soon. The purple-haired boy had the first move, picking out a Pokéball and throwing it.
"You're up first, Cramorant!" he cried.
The ball opened up and out came the Water/Flying type Pokémon, Cramorant. Ruby recognized it immediately, having seen many of those on forest walks with her family as they liked to hang out by the rivers and lakes they'd come across. Cramorant were blue-feathered, bird-like Pokémon with green eyes and a voracious appetite. They had a habit of swallowing their prey whole, literally "cramming" it down their throats as their name suggested, and they were also known for being rather stupid Pokémon. They'd try and swallow prey, even if it wasn't what they were after and would take too long to register that fact. This one looked dopey, not even seeming to be aware of where it was at this time. Ruby knew that Cramorant had the advantage due to being a water-type, but she was sure Vesuvius could win. It was part Flying type, which meant it was weak against Rock. If Vesuvius could use a Rock Blast attack, she might win the fight.
"Let's go Vesuvius! Use Rock Blast!" Ruby cried.
"One Rock Blast, coming up Ruby!" Vesuvius cried excitedly.
But unfortunately, she was much too slow. Hop reacted instantly, ordering Cramorant to use Dive on her. Cramorant squawked dopily and then buried itself in the ground, disappearing from view as Vesuvius launched rocks at the spot where it had just been seconds ago. Ruby gasped while Hop smiled with satisfaction.
"Can't hit what you can't see, can you?" he crowed.
Ruby thought quickly, wondering what to do. If she waited until Cramorant emerged, Vesuvius would be stricken and might be taken out in one blow. Dive was a powerful attack and Vesuvius had a quadruple weakness to Water due to both her types being weak to Water. She might cushion the blow and be able to carry on but Ruby couldn't risk it. It was a shame to have to recall her new Pokémon so quickly, but it was necessary.
"Vesuvius, come back!" she ordered, returning the Coalossal to her ball.
Hop grimaced. He couldn't have expected Ruby to pull that off. It was the first time she'd ever recalled a Pokémon during their battles together! Ruby drew out her next Pokéball and threw it, deciding to substitute Vesuvius with Freddy. At least now SHE was the one with the type-advantage as Cramorant had a quadruple weakness to Electric attacks! Hop stared at Freddy in amazement, impressed with the sight of the Poison/Electric Pokémon. So that's what Toxtricity looked like! He could see why Ruby was so happy to have it. Freddy emerged on the battlefield and looked around curiously.
"I don't get it, darling. Where's my opponent?" he asked.
"Coming at ya!" Hop cried, "Now Cramorant!"
The gormless gulping Pokémon obeyed, erupting from underneath Freddy and flying straight up into him, throwing water over the singing Pokémon and knocking him back. Dive was a powerful move, but Freddy wasn't too badly hurt as it wasn't a super-effective one. Cramorant retook its position while Freddy brushed himself off and prepared to fight. Hop had never seen a Toxtricity before so he had no idea how powerful Freddy was going to be. He had to see if he could end this fight fast before it could go wrong for him.
"Cramorant! Use Pluck!" he ordered.
Cramorant swooped towards Freddy and pecked him hard with its long, sharp beak. Freddy wasn't holding anything so Cramorant had nothing it could pluck from him, just doing damage with that single attack. Freddy wasn't hurt much, simply rubbing his shoulder as if he had a minor itch on him. Ruby retaliated.
"Use Spark!" she cried.
Freddy obeyed, throwing his arms up as he fired a jolt of electricity at his opponent, once again bursting into song as he did so:
What the hell we fighting foooor?
Just surrender and it won't hurt at aaaall!
Just got time to say your prayers!
The electric attack hit the Cramorant and knocked it out in a single blow. As the defeated Pokémon collapsed onto the ground, Freddy picked the perfect cue to conclude his song, strumming the knobs on his chest to play a tune to go with it.
Then it's time for the hammer to, hammer to faaaall!
That made some of the onlookers laugh, enjoying the little song moment from this electrifying Pokémon. Even Hop looked more amused than disappointed at that quick defeat, returning Cramorant to his ball with a smile on his face.
"Wow, you weren't kidding when you said he's a bit of a showman, or showMON in his case!" he laughed.
"That's Freddy for you, turning every Pokémon battle he has into a performance to enjoy." Ruby giggled.
"I wonder if my own will sing like that when it evolves into that Pokémon." Hop murmured as he reached for another Pokéball, "For now, here's one that will have Freddy singing a different tune!"
He threw the ball and summoned forth his second Pokémon. To Ruby's surprise, it was a Silicobra, just like the one Team Yell had been trying not to wake up back in Route 6! She couldn't help laughing at the sheer coincidence of it all. Silicobra was a sandy-white and brown Pokémon resembling a cobra and it had big green eyes and a curled up tail. They often lived in sands and deserts and were known to kick up a sandstorm every time a Pokémon attacked them. Ruby silently applauded Hop for his next choice. Yes, this was the perfect counter to Freddy. As a Ground-type, Silicobra was immune to Electric attacks and Freddy had a quadruple weakness to Ground-types. He wouldn't stand a chance against Silicobra, even if it was a Stage 1 Pokémon and Freddy was fully evolved. But she wasn't going to use him for this battle. She instead returned the talented Toxtricity to his ball and summoned the perfect counter to Silicobra. Spearhead the Barraskewda was her next choice and he flapped about happily, clearly overjoyed to have another chance to do-battle.
"Whoopee, it's time for me-me to have some fun-fun!" he chirruped, "Spirits in the sky, if you're seeing this, I hope you enjoy the show!"
Hop snorted, unable to contain his laughter.
"I'm sorry, what?" he asked.
"Don't mind him. He's a bit kooky." Ruby said gently, "He's honestly quite endearing to me because of it."
"No wonder. I like a Pokémon that can make me laugh too." Hop said brightly.
"That's great! But Spearhead can do more than be funny." Ruby said with a confident smile on her face, "Spearhead, use Liquidation!"
"Get ready for the biggest drink of water you'll ever receive, sand snake, serpent, reptile, thing, whatever I'm fighting!" Spearhead hollered, surrounding himself with water that he'd conjured up out of thin air and launching himself like a missile at his opponent.
He slammed straight into the Silicobra, somehow not in any pain despite Silicobra being rock solid Pokémon that surely had to feel like slamming into a wall whenever they were hit. If it did hurt then Spearhead clearly hadn't registered it for he was still laughing merrily as Silicobra was thrown onto its back after the single blow. It tried to get up again and continue the battle, but it was hopeless. The single attack had wiped out its health and it couldn't fight on anymore. Hop frowned, disappointed again that he'd lost a new Pokémon in a single hit. He was really hoping to test Silicobra's strength too! He returned the sandy-snake Pokémon and got out his third Pokéball. This time, he gave Ruby a familiar opponent as he threw the Pokéball and out came his starter Pokémon, Thwackey. The Grass monkey twirled his sticks around in his hands eagerly, glad he had the chance to fight. He was also happy his opponent was a friendly face and not Bede like last time.
"Thwackey happy to see Ruby again! Thwackey like Ruby!" he said cheerfully.
"Aww, thank you! I like you too!" Ruby said graciously, "And you'll also like that for once, I won't be using Bugs against you. I've got a new opponent to try his luck against you."
She returned Spearhead and threw her next Pokéball. Hope was expecting her to bring out Vesuvius again. Why not? This time, Vesuvius would have the advantage over him. But instead, Ruby summoned a completely different Pokémon. Instead of Vesuvius, as he thought she'd pick, Thwackey was up against the Dragon-type Pokémon, Noibat. Soundwave had been chosen next and he was ready to test his mettle against this new opponent. Hop whistled in amazement.
"You're incredible Ruby, you know that? You managed to get a flipping Dragon type this early on?!" he exclaimed, "I bet that Noibat's gonna be a powerful Pokémon for your team!"
"You better believe I was excited to catch this one." Ruby said brightly, "I knew having a Dragon type would be awesome, especially as they can be quite powerful. Soundwave may not seem like much for now, but he can still pull his weight."
"Let's see just how well he does so." Hop said eagerly, "Thwackey, use Razor Leaf!"
Thwackey obeyed, summoning up a cluster of razor sharp leaves from out of nowhere and hurling them towards Soundwave. It was always funny to see something like this as despite not being a Psychic type, Grass type Pokémon seemed to have their own form of telekinesis as they seemed to be able to just make the leaves go wherever they wished and just attack the opponent. Soundwave held up his wings to shield himself from the attack. The leaves cut into him but his scaly skin shielded him from the worst of the attack. Grass attacks wouldn't do much to a Dragon like himself. After the last leaf had struck, Soundwave retaliated with an Air Cutter attack. He flew towards Thwackey and sliced through the air, slashing across his face with his wings. Thwackey grimaced in reaction to the super-effective move, but he hadn't been hurt too badly. Soundwave was only a Stage 1 Pokémon so his attack wouldn't be enough to deal heavy damage to him. He had plenty of health left to go.
Thwackey used another Razor Leaf, hitting Soundwave square on with his sharp leaves but once again, Soundwave wasn't too badly hurt. He shook off the attack and flew towards the Grass Pokémon with his fangs bared. He bit Thwackey on the arm and green energy seeped out from his arm and into Soundwave's body. This was a Bug-type attack called Leech Life, a move that allowed the attacker to drain a bit of their opponent's health whenever they hit. Any damage done to Soundwave was now rendered moot because he'd regained a bit of it by stealing some of Thwackey's health. It was another super-effective move, but it still didn't do much to him. Thwackey was far from down yet. Hop commanded him to use Screech, hoping to lower Soundwave's defences so he'd go down easier. Thwackey made a horrible Screeching sound that made Soundwave wince in pain. His over-sensitive ears couldn't handle the noise and he had to fight hard to keep the noise from driving him insane. Once the Screech was over, Soundwave hit back with a Dragon Pulse attack. This was a shockwave attack fired from a Pokémon's mouth that hit the opponent and, on some occasions, paralyzed them.
This one didn't paralyze Thwackey but it did deal some damage and he was nearly down to his last health. Thwackey shook his head and was about to attack again but Hop decided that instead, he'd heal him up first so he could last a little longer. He sprayed Thwackey with a Super Potion, restoring some of his health but not quite all of it. Thwackey grinned, feeling energized and more confident that he could win this battle after a little boost from a potion. Unfortunately, Hop healing him up had left Soundwave the opportunity to take a free shot at him, biting him again and draining some of his restored health with Leech Life. It seemed like a way of mocking the poor plant/monkey creature, that he'd regained some health from a potion and now Soundwave had taken some of it to heal himself. In response, he used another Screech attack to lower his defences some more. After that, Soundwave used another Air Cutter on Thwackey, reducing his health down to low. Hop thought about going in for another attack, but instead he settled on Thwackey using one last Screech to lower Soundwave's defences some more. With three Screeches, his defences wouldn't protect him from much if he got to attack again! He didn't get to attack again. He'd miscalculated how well Thwackey would survive another hit and he watched in dismay as Soundwave sapped away what was left of his starter Pokémon's health with one last Leech Life. Thwackey grimaced and fell down onto his back, unable to battle anymore. Soundwave ran his tongue over his fangs, grinning devilishly with pleasure of his victory.
"Soundwave: Superior. Thwackey: Inferior!" he crooned.
"Be nice Soundwave, he gave us a really good battle." Ruby said sternly, "I honestly doubted if you was gonna win that one. Thwackey's pretty durable!"