Knights of Galar: A Pokemon Shield Nuzlocke Chapter 9

Chapter 9: The Second Gym


Training went much smoother after Ariel's unfortunate death.


Ruby spent the next couple of hours training her Pokémon, still rotating her roster to give everyone a chance to level up, though she chose her opponents very carefully so as not to have any of them end up like Ariel. She also took a much calmer approach to her battles, dropping her cockiness from earlier and being careful not to pick opponents her Pokémon couldn't handle. Losing Ariel had changed her mindset on Pokémon battling, no longer taking any opponent she faced for granted and prioritizing keeping everyone alive above anything else. She had plenty of potions to keep them healthy if they needed it or would take a break to nip back to Turffield to use the Pokémon Centre. It was incredible how just one death on her watch had caused her to re-evaluate her approach to everything and treat every Pokémon on her person as if their lives depended on her, which in a way they did. Although Ariel's death still stung, Ruby was starting to feel a little better after the successful training had concluded with no further deaths and she was now ready to move onto Hulbury. She'd even been rewarded with a whopping four new evolutions on her plate as Raven, Hawk Moth, Chomps and Matilda had all evolved during this extra training.


Raven had changed from a Gastly to a Haunter, a floating purple Ghost with floating hands, no legs, a more fearsome expression on its face and three spiked protrusions on either side of its head. Raven admired herself all over, especially liking the fact she had hands now.


"So this is what evolution feels like…I like it." she said approvingly, "I feel so powerful. I wonder how many battles I'll be able to win as a Haunter."


Matilda had changed from a Roggenrola to a Boldore. Boldore was a powerful Rock-type Pokémon that had two ears instead of one like its previous form, had a much bigger body with an array of orange crystals all over it and three spider-limbs instead of the two feet it originally had. Matilda felt very proud of herself.


"I never would've evolved if I'd stayed in that drab mine! This is awesome!" she cried, "I bet I'll take on many opponents in this form!"


Hawk Moth had changed from a Caterpie to a Metapod and then finally a Butterfree. Caterpie were notoriously quick at evolving so it hadn't taken much to get him to his final stage. Butterfree was a Pokémon resembling, what else, a butterfly. It sported a purple body and head, large red eyes, blue hands and legs and giant white wings for flying. Hawk Moth was thrilled with his new evolved form, though for different reasons than his teammates.


"Ah yes, I have finally achieved my final form! Now I'll hopefully have the power to subjugate any Pokémon to my control and get those Miraculous at last!" he cried, twirling his makeshift cane in his newly gained hands.


And finally, Chomps had become the powerful Drednaw. Drednaw was a dual Rock/Water type Pokémon that resembled a giant turtle. It had a large, rock-solid shell that looked unbreakable, giant jaws, a large horn on its head and four thick legs for walking and swimming. Ruby put her hand on her bottom at the sight of Chomps's new teeth, glad that she'd been bitten by her as a Chewtle and not as a Drednaw as that would've hurt! Chomps was impressed with her new form.


"I bet this shell of mine will protect me from a lot of hits!" she cried, "And with my new, more powerful jaws, I'll give my opponents a bite to remember!"


Ruby had been thrilled with the new evolutions and congratulated her Pokémon on evolving during the training. Just seeing them like this was enough for her to feel rejuvenated in her journey and to get that spark of excitement back again. She was glad she'd chosen to continue and not quit as she'd have missed out on wonderful moments like this.


"I'm so proud of all of you!" Ruby said excitedly, "You all look great! I wish Ariel could've been here to see it but I know she'd have been proud of you all too."


"And she would be proud of you too." Raven said kindly, "You didn't give up and you're continuing your journey while training us and making sure to prevent what happened to her to happen to us too. I'd say that's the perfect way to honour her passing."


"Aww, thank you Raven." Ruby said appreciatively, "It's nice to know you have a heart deep inside."


She meant it metaphorically of course as Raven didn't really have one due to being a Ghost, but Raven understood.


"Let's make Ariel even prouder of us by winning that next Gym!" Chomps cried eagerly, "Are we ready to go yet?"


"Yes we are." Ruby said, "It's off to Hulbury Gym for us now. I hope this battle will go as smoothly as my battle with Milo did."


She returned her Pokémon and had a careful think over which Pokémon to bring to the Gym. She knew that Nessa was a Water type so it was paramount that she brought some type advantages with her. Water types were weak to Grass and Electricity so naturally, she'd bring those. She chose Freddy, Sparkles and Gene. Freddy and Sparkles were Electric types while Gene had been given a TR to teach him the Grass type move, Seed-Bomb. It was a powerful Grass attack that consisted of the attacker throwing explosive seeds at the opponent. It would especially be useful for Ruby as some Water type Pokémon had a secondary Ground typing to mitigate their weakness to electricity, leaving them with only a Grass weakness. With these three, the Gym would be a piece of cake.


Ruby climbed onto her newly acquired bicycle and peddled off to Hulbury Town. She passed through a tunnel linking the town to Route 5 and thanks to the Rotom bike, she was out on the other side in seconds. Hulbury Town was a pretty little seaport with a population of 54 that rather appropriately enough was built on the edge of the sea. How fitting that the Water Gym should be located here! There were plenty of houses, some market stalls, the local train station, a seafood restaurant named "Captain's Table" and a lighthouse with a statue of two Toxtricity standing nearby, over watching the ocean for incoming ships. There were many yachts and boats by the pier waiting for people to go sailing in them. Ruby had to admit that a town built by the sea had its own air of beauty with the vast, endless blue horizon stretched out all around. Seeing this place just made her feel a little down again as she knew Ariel would've enjoyed seeing this place, especially with so much water to swim in. She shook her head. No, don't keep feeling sad about Ariel, that won't do her any favours!


Ruby was about to head off to the docks to do a quick spot of fishing. She liked the idea of fishing up another Water Pokémon to use for Kabu's Gym when she was finished here. But as she set off, she caught sight of a trio of people talking together and ducked behind the local Pokémon Centre. She peeked around the side and watched the conversation that was taking place. To her astonishment and disdain, she saw that one of them was Bede and he appeared to be talking to a woman in heels that looked too high to be comfortable and a badly dressed man wearing a white sports jacket, a cap, sunglasses and garish blue shorts with smiley faces on them. Ruby recognized the woman from the opening ceremony. It was Oleana, Chairman Rose's right-hand woman, but who was she with? Was this gaudy looking man the Chairman himself in a really dodgy disguise? She soon got her answer as she heard Bede address him.


"I'll be on my way to the second mine now I've earned my Water Badge, Chairman." he explained, "I'll find as many Wishing Stars as I can in that mine and deliver them to you as promised."


"I know you will, my boy." Chairman Rose said encouragingly, "You've become quite the trainer ever since I took you in all those years ago. Project: Eternatus owes much of its progress to you."


"Thank you Chairman." Bede said, bowing.


"Have you had any more encounters with Miss Silverlock at all?" Rose asked.


"Thankfully no, and I hope I don't lest she violently attack me for no reason again." Bede muttered.


Ruby felt a twinge of rage surging through her veins. How dare he?! This little snob was outright LYING to the Chairman about what had happened between them, painting her as a violent thug who attacked him unprovoked?! She was tempted to walk up to him and punch him in the face but all that would do was make him look like he was telling the truth and paint her in an even worse light. The teen trainer was relieved to see that the Chairman looked like he doubted his story though, maybe he didn't believe him. She waited until Bede had left, walking away and heading off to the second Galar Mine. Now he was gone, she decided to make her presence known. Ruby came from her hiding place and cleared her throat.


"Um, excuse me Mr. Chairman? I'm very sorry for eavesdropping but I couldn't help but notice you and Bede talking together." she said meekly.


Rose and Oleana turned to see Ruby coming towards her, looking guilty for spying on them. She couldn't see past the sunglasses but there was a brief flash of worry in the Chairman's eyes, like he was nervous that Ruby might've caught him out at something.


"My, my, if it isn't Ruby!" he said jovially, "We was just talking about you. How has your journey been? Have you come to challenge Nessa's Gym?"


"Yes, in fact I literally just arrived here." Ruby answered, "Sadly, my Gyarados got killed on my way over so I didn't have a smooth journey here. I really wish she could've joined me, she'd have loved this place…"


Chairman Rose shook his head sympathetically.


"I'm so sorry to hear about your Gyarados." he said kindly, "I'm sure it wasn't your fault."


That hurt. Ruby still blamed herself for Ariel's death as it was she who had forgotten that Wobbuffets could Counter Attack and that had led to her death. But she didn't want to make the Chairman feel like he wasn't helping so she nodded.


"Yeah, thanks." she said tightly, "Anyway, what were you and Bede talking about? What's Project: Eternatus?"


"Why young lady, you really are a nosy parker." Oleana said coldly, "Didn't your mother ever tell you it's rude to eavesdrop on people?"


"Oleana, please, she isn't doing anything wrong." the disguised man said firmly, "You just stumbled on our conversation, didn't you? You didn't mean to eavesdrop, I'm sure."


"That's right, honest!" Ruby exclaimed, "I was on my way to the dock and I just happened to find you three talking together!"


"There, you see? Nothing to worry about." Rose said casually, although Oleana still had a suspicious look on her as if she didn't believe Ruby's story, "Anyway, Project: Eternatus is something my company has been working on for a while. The details are strictly confidential but rest assured, it's for a good cause. We plan to achieve some great things with it."


That fascinated Ruby. She knew the Chairman was a good man so she believed that this project would be for a good cause. What kind of good cause? She hoped to find out soon. She did have to wonder what "Eternatus" was though. Just a fancy project name? Something about it sounded big, like it was hinting at something eternal. Eternal life? Eternal power? Whatever it was, it had to be important if the details were classified for now.


"But enough on that. It's funny you should show up for Bede has been telling me you attacked him unprovoked." Rose went on, his tone unchanged to show he wasn't accusing Ruby in anyway, "That you kicked him in his…um…tender spot shall we say? I'm a man who believes in hearing both sides of the story before passing judgement so I'm glad you came to give your side. What actually happened between you two?"


Ruby recapped the whole scenario with their first encounter in the Galar Mine and how she'd only kicked him in self-defence because he'd pinned her to the wall and got up in her face. She even got Gene the Linoone out to back up her story as he'd witnessed everything. To her relief, the Chairman seemed to believe her.


"I didn't think you were the violent type." he said softly, "Considering how polite and pleasant you were back at Motostoke, it didn't add up. I'll give Bede a warning for this. If he dares to lie about you again, Miss Silverlock, I'll have him removed from the Gym Challenge. I believe in this being a clean, fun sport and lying about other trainers is NEVER acceptable on my watch!"


"I'm glad you believe me, sir." Ruby said thankfully, "I was worried you'd take his side just because you endorsed him. Thank you for hearing me out."


"You're most welcome. Though if he threatens you like that again, I'd advise other methods of dealing with it than what you did." Chairman Rose said sternly, "I know you reacted in self-defence, but it's still very painful to kick someone between the legs. I just don't want that to set an example to other trainers, if you get my meaning."


"Understood sir. I'll try to avoid any more confrontations with Bede in the future." Ruby explained.


"Good girl. That's what I like to hear!" Rose said jovially, "Now don't let me hold you up any further. You've got a Gym to battle, yes? If you win your Water Badge, join me over at the Captain's Table for a celebration dinner. I'd like to have a moment where we can get to know each other better. It'd be my pleasure to have a chat with a trainer endorsed by the Champion after all."


Ruby was aghast. The Chairman was inviting her to dinner at Hulbury's famous seafood restaurant?! She hadn't expected to get such a high honour in her travels! Who knew what her family would think to hearing something as incredible as this! She found herself a little lost for words. What does one even SAY to such a request after all?


"Um…oh…uh…th-thank you sir." Ruby stammered, "S-sorry, I j-just don't know what else t-to say…"


"That's quite alright, my dear." Rose said simply, "A lot of people are often speechless when getting big invitations like this. I'll let you go on your way now. See you when you've finished in the Gym!"


Ruby just walked away, completely in a daze over the Chairman's invitation. How was it that so many big things were happening to her over the course of this Pokémon journey? She had simply started off as a budding trainer with a huge passion for Pokémon and a desire to be like other trainers and yet over the course of this adventure, she'd gotten to meet the Champion, get an official endorsement from him, meet a mystery Pokémon in the woods, discover a surprising ability she mysteriously had with her glowing hair, gotten to meet the Chairman himself, won her first Gym on her first try and was now going to have dinner with him if she beat Nessa's gym! Any normal person would've started getting a swelled head or start breaking down from the pressure of so much stuff happening at once! Ruby was amazed she hadn't gone mad yet, though she hoped that it wouldn't go much bigger from here as if anymore crazy stuff happened to her, she might go round the bend a bit.


Ruby made her way over to the docks and drew out her fishing rod from her backpack. She sighed, letting the cool sea breeze wash over her to ease her nerves. At this very moment, she was back to her childhood with fun days at the beach with her family, building sandcastles with her sisters, eating ice creams and swimming in the ocean with her parents while also seeing what Pokémon they recognized. It made her feel at peace to look back on fun times like that and Hulbury Town being near the ocean was enough to get her all nostalgic. She threw the line into the water and waited for a Pokémon to bite. How far away it suddenly felt that she'd been in this position, fishing for a Pokémon in front of Professor Magnolia's house. It was how she and Ariel had first met. Maybe she'd catch another Magikarp and evolve it into a Gyarados again? Ruby shook her head. No, she couldn't do that. That would be disrespectful to Ariel to replace her with another Gyarados. Instead, she wondered what other water Pokémon she could fish up. With the ocean being as endless as it was, all sorts of species could be found in it.


She was dragged out of her thoughts as something pulled on the line and nearly pulled her over. Ruby yelped and quickly reeled it in before she could lose the Pokémon. What had she got this time? The silver-haired girl fully reeled in the line and saw that, thankfully, it hadn't been another Magikarp she'd caught this time. Instead, it was an Arrokuda, a fairly common Water Pokémon native to Galar and resembling a barracuda. It had brown and tan scales, small fins and a long jaw with sharp teeth. It also looked rather dopey, having a big smile on its face as if something amused it despite there being nothing to be amused at.


"I got it! Whee, I got it! The magical line is finally mine and it has brought me to the next level of life! Whoo-hoo!" the Arrokuda cried excitedly.


Ruby raised an eyebrow in confusion at the weird thing the Arrokuda had said.


"Um…excuse me?" she asked.


"What, you never heard before?" the Arrokuda asked dopily, "The magical line is a phenomenon that picks and chooses which Pokémon shall ascend from the ocean depths to the next level of life! I have now been chosen by the magical line to ascend to the surface world! I knew I'd get chosen one day and I have been chosen at last! Whee!"


Ruby snorted, putting a hand over her mouth as she nearly broke into laughter. It was clear this Pokémon had been swimming in something dodgy, but it didn't matter to her. She was already feeling glad to have caught the Arrokuda as she could do with a good laugh at this point. Laughter, as they say, is the best medicine for those who are dealing with loss or stress.


"You're a funny little fellow, aren't you?" Ruby giggled.


"Funny? FUNNY?! Is that what I am to you?!" the Arrokuda asked exasperatedly, only to quickly change his tone to one that seemed to accept what he'd been told, "Yeah, I get that a lot. All Pokémon I meet seem to view me as a bizarre little guy. I don't think I'm bizarre, just that I think differently to others. Though I do seem to ignite laughter in people so I must be funny to some extent…"


He shook his head as he realized that he was babbling.


"Anyway, are you the one who cast down the magical line to deliver me to the surface world?" he asked.


"I am." Ruby replied, "My name's Ruby. I'm a Pokémon trainer and I'd like to add you to the team."


"Wheeeeeeeeeeee, a Pokémon trainer! My luck's holding out for the better!" the Arrokuda said, leaping up and down for joy, "I hear so many stories about Pokémon trainers who train Pokémon and have titanic contests with them! I've always wanted to participate in those! They sound like fun!"


"Yes…fun…" Ruby said uneasily, once again reminded on how her careless attitude had cost Ariel's life because she saw Pokémon battling as fun instead of taking it more seriously. She coughed, "Anyway, if that's how you feel then I'll happily take you in. Welcome to the team, Spearhead."


"Actually, my name's Dave, although I've been called all sorts of other names like "Looney Tunes", "Moron", "Numbskull", "Crazy-Head" and others but all of them sound more like insults than actual names so I didn't take them onboard." the Arrokuda mused aloud, "But I'll take Spearhead! That's a nice name!"


Ruby felt a little sorry for the poor Arrokuda after hearing him rattle off names he'd been called before. It was clear he was a victim of bullying from other Pokémon due to his rather oddball nature and despite seeming carefree and joyful, it was clear he was effected by the bullying in some way. Was his ditzy nature a mask to hide such insecurities? Ruby had heard of people who often put up acts to hide a darker side to their lives. Well he wouldn't have to anymore for she would treat him nicely and not call him nasty names.


"You're going to have lots of fun with me Spearhead. I have plenty of other Pokémon for you to play with and I'm on the Gym Challenge so you'll have lots of battles to take part in." Ruby said.


Of course she wasn't going to bring up what had happened on her way over as she didn't want to dampen the mood and make Spearhead feel uncomfortable. It would be nicer to focus on the fun side of things as it would also improve her self-esteem to do so. Spearhead wiggled his fins excitedly.


"I can't wait! This'll be so fun-fun-fun! Thank you for bestowing the magical line onto me!" Spearhead said brightly.


Ruby just patted his head softly and smiled. Yes, Spearhead was going to keep her spirits up nicely with what a fruit loop he was. She may have lost a valuable Pokémon and a good friend, but at least she'd gained a new one that would shed some light on her journey. Now she'd finished in the docks, she put Spearhead away in an empty Pokéball she had and headed off towards the Gym. It was time for her to win that second badge…

__________________________________________________________________________________


The Water Gym was true to its theme, just like the Grass Gym was. Upon getting changed into her Gym outfit and entering the stadium, Ruby found herself walking into a room with multiple platforms standing above a body of water that flooded the entire floor of the room and reached about halfway up. If there were no platforms to stand on, Ruby would've had to swim her way across. There were multiple pipes spraying water everywhere, suggesting the water was recycled and just continuously went back and forth through them. It was almost like being in at the local swimming pool again with the constant sound of running water everywhere and a slight echo in the room. Ruby wondered if Nessa practiced swimming in this area when nobody was Pokémon battling. The platform she was standing on upon entering had the Gym's logo, a single dark-blue water drop with a circle in the centre. She took a moment to inhale and exhale to relax herself then then set forward.


Her first of the three Gym trainers standing between her and Nessa was a black-haired girl named Julia. She was dressed in the standard Water Gym outfit of a white and orange bikini and trunks with the Gym Logo on the chest area. Dressed like that, Julia looked more like she should be lounging on a beach than participating in a Gym battle, though Ruby suggested it fit with the water theme going on. Julia took out a single Pokéball and prepared to do battle.


"So you're the next Gym Challenger hoping to fight Nessa?" she said, a mean sneer on her face, "Ha! You're lightyears away from being ready for that!"


"Geez, who died and made you a complete arsehole?" Ruby retorted.


"Nobody, I just think it's fun to taunt people sometimes." Julia said dismissively, "Now prepare to be washed away!"


She threw her Pokéball and out came her single Pokémon to battle challengers with, a Tympole. As its name suggested, Tympole resembled a tadpole, mostly black and blue in colour with a tan face and a single blue tail for swimming. Its face always made it look as if it was nervously smiling for some reason. Maybe it was always nervous about something and nobody knew what it was. Ruby knew just the opponent to fight the Tympole.


"Sparkles, it's your shining time!" she called, throwing a Pokéball ahead of her.


The ball opened and unleashed Sparkles the Electrike, the puppy-like Pokémon itching for a battle after training had been completed earlier. Julia's face fell in dismay at the sight of her opponent.


"An Electric type…they ALWAYS bring an Electric type!" she moaned, "Where's a bloody Swampert when you need one?!"


"Maybe in future you'll learn not to have your head up your arse." Ruby sneered, "Sparkles, use Thunderbolt!"


"I wish I could have a better battle but hey, at least I get to show how powerful I am!" Sparkles said eagerly.


She fired a single jolt of thunder and the Tympole was stricken dead-on by the bolt. The Tympole cried out in pain as it was electrocuted, its health sapped away by the powerful attack. In a single blow, the Tympole collapsed onto the floor. Julia fumed, more annoyed than disappointed by the quick win. She returned her Pokémon.


"I bet you wouldn't feel so confident if you didn't have an electric type!" she crowed, "Face me again without one and see how strong you really are!"


"Oh shove off already." Ruby said, having had enough of Julia's taunting as she headed onto her next opponent.


As if to emphasize her point, she even shoved Julia in the water as she walked by, making her cry out as she splashed into it. As she approached the next Gym Challenger, she noticed that this one was laughing out loud at what she'd just done. This Gym Challenger was blonde and wore the same outfit as Julia did. Her name was Heather and it was clear she didn't like Julia for she was laughing hysterically at what Ruby had done.


"Thank you SOOOOO much for that, duck! I've been waiting for someone to give Julia what for!" Heather laughed, "We at the gym can't stand her so it's funny to watch her fall in the water like that!"


"At least you're not a jerk." Ruby said approvingly, "What's her problem exactly?"


"We dunno, she's always been like this despite Nessa warning her to behave." Heather said, shrugging, "Hopefully she'll get the message one day. Anyway, you're a Gym Challenger so it's my job to challenge you. Are you ready?"


"Ready to rock!" Ruby confirmed, clenching her fists eagerly.


The battle went no differently than the first one. Heather's first Pokémon had been a Krabby, a very common breed found all over the world and always packing a painful pinch. Krabby were red-coloured crab-like Pokémon with four legs, large eyes and large pincers. It did nothing for Heather as Ruby just used Sparkles again and won in a single Thunderbolt attack. She had another Pokémon, a Corphish from the Hoenn region, after Krabby was down. Corphish resembled lobsters rather than crabs like Krabby did but Corphish were still not to be taken lightly with their large pincers. Once again, Sparkles won with a single Thunderbolt.


The final Gym Challenger, a brunette girl named Lynn, fared no better against Sparkles's mighty Thunderbolts. She had used a Remoraid, a small fish-like Pokémon from the Hoenn region, and a Chewtle. Ruby had felt uncomfortable telling Sparkles to fight the Chewtle as to her, it almost felt like she was telling Sparkles to attack Chomps but she reminded herself that that wasn't the case as Chomps wasn't a Chewtle anymore and Chomps was safely in a box until she was needed again. With a total clean sweep, Sparkles was feeling very proud of herself.


"I won five times in a row without taking a single hit! I rock!" she boasted, "No Water type is a match for me!"


"Yes, yes, no need to be so full of yourself." Ruby said tightly, "You only won so easily because you have a type advantage and I gave you a really powerful move. Don't let all that get to your head as we wouldn't want to get in trouble later down the line."


"Don't sweat it Ruby. You're using me in a Water type Gym! What could happen?" Sparkles crowed.


"Try asking Ariel that when I underestimated that bloody Wobbuffet and it cost her, her life!" Ruby snapped angrily.


Sparkles recoiled, surprised to see that reaction from Ruby. Ruby had never shouted at her or any of her Pokémon in an angry way before. Realizing what she'd done, Ruby quickly retracted and picked Sparkles up, patting her head gently.


"Oh gosh, I'm sorry Sparkles." she said quickly, "I didn't mean to shout at you like that. I'm still gutted over Ariel and…I just don't want any of you to end up like her. So please forgive me if I seem a bit on edge."


"It's OK Ruby." Sparkles said sympathetically, "I didn't know Ariel for long but she seemed like a really friendly Pokémon from what I saw and you were clearly close to her. You're looking out for us and I appreciate it. I'm sure the rest do. But you can still have fun and just feel confident in yourself too. We can win this Gym and you know it! You don't have to be on edge. We'll be fine."


Ruby sighed, smiling appreciatively at Sparkles as she stroked her head.


"You're right. This isn't like fighting Wild Pokémon, it's a Gym Battle so there's nothing to worry about." Ruby said softly, "Thank you Sparkles. You're surprisingly smart for a hothead."


"I'm not just good at zapping things." Sparkles said with a wink.


Ruby just smiled wider in response. This was what made Pokémon so valuable to her: great battle companions and inseparable friendships to forge with. It was no wonder her life had revolved around this wonderful creatures. What would the world be without them? A very dull one, that was for sure.


She returned Sparkles and made her way through the second door to get to Nessa.

__________________________________________________________________________________


It was only yesterday where Ruby found herself in this position: standing in the centre of a local stadium about to face a Gym Leader with a crowd of people all sitting in their seats and watching with excitement. The big difference was that it was not a Grass type Gym Leader she was up against and the battlefield wasn't a neatly mown pitch, but tiled floors with varying shades of blue. It all fit in with the water theme of the Water Gym and how its interior had some swimming pool-inspired looks. Having experienced what it felt like to be in a Pokémon Gym, Ruby felt more relaxed this time round and was excited to get started. She stood face-to-face with the Gym Leader herself, Nessa, in the centre of the arena.


Nessa was a strikingly beautiful woman, dark-skinned with long flowing dark blue hair with light blue highlights. Her body was perfect in every way from her natural curves to her flat stomach to her long, slender, shapely legs. Even her face was a beauty to behold with dazzling turquoise eyes and light purple eyeshadow. This was the body of a woman who knew how to look after herself and she was clearly proud to show it off with the fact she was as scantily clad as her Gym Challengers, dressed only in the Water Gym uniform of a bikini and swim shorts so she left very little to the imagination. Her trunks had her Gym number, 049, just above her right thigh. The most curious part of her costume were her flip-flops, which had inflatable rings on either side of her heels. That struck Ruby as odd and why anyone would wear something like this. Heck, she wondered why Nessa would consciously choose to dress like this outside of her Gym as she'd seen her wearing this outfit at the opening ceremony, jokingly wondering if she was cold at all. In this Gym, it looked far more appropriate.


Nessa's beauty tied in with her other career outside of being a Gym Leader, which Ruby already knew about. Nessa was also a model and she'd seen her face and figure on many magazines her mother liked to read. Little did she know that she'd ever meet the famous model in person and get to have a Pokémon battle with her! Ruby thought that Nessa looked like a much more pleasant person in real life than in her photos as there was nothing fake about her here, just her in her natural beauty and able to express naturally with no fake smiles or anything. She could imagine that this Gym was very popular with male trainers especially with how beautiful Nessa was. The Water Gym Leader smiled in greeting at her newest challenger.


"Welcome honoured Gym Challenger!" she said politely, "I'd recognize that head of silver hair anywhere. You must be Ruby Silverlock, right? One of the ones endorsed by the Champion?"


She had a voice like velvet, smooth and pleasant to listen to and it sounded right coming out of her.


"That's me, but please don't advertise that." Ruby said hastily, "I'd rather not be put on such a pedestal as some people might think I'm a bighead."


"Understandable." Nessa said, "I know some people put me on a big pedestal because I'm not just Nessa the famous Gym Leader, but I'm Nessa the famous model too. I'd rather people just focus on Nessa the Gym Leader while I'm here."


She placed her hands on her hips.


"You got through my Gym Challengers with ease, and you even put Julia in her place." the model acknowledged, "I'll be sure to kick her out for her rudeness. I've warned her enough times! As is, you must be a skilled trainer. No matter your skill though, my Pokémon and I will work hard to sink you. In battle, I'm quite the raging ocean."


"There wasn't a doubt in my mind as you're a Gym Leader." Ruby said respectfully, "Whenever you're ready, let's battle!"


Ruby and Nessa took their places as the announcer introduced the crowd to Ruby once again.


"From Postwick Town: Ruby Silverlock. Her opponent: Gym Leader Nessa."


The crowd cheered, many of them recognizing her from the fight with Milo yesterday. They were clearly expecting Ruby to wow them again here. Ruby shyly waved back to them. She knew that the crowd was eager to see a great battle, but there was always a chance of disappointing them so she'd be sure to give them a good show.


"Pokémon Trainers: Standby." the announcer declared.


Ruby and Nessa fixed eyes on each other, waiting patiently for the signal to go. The crowd fell silent, sharing their anticipation. Then it came.


"Three…two…one…BEGIN!" the announcer boomed.


"Let's start off small and work our way up." Nessa declared, drawing out one of several Dive Balls she had. Dive Balls were blue coloured Pokéballs that were popular among Water Pokémon enthusiasts to catch Water Pokémon with, especially as Dive Balls worked easier on Water types.


Nessa threw her first ball, lifting her leg as high up as she could go and taking aim as she did so, and out came her first Pokémon, the beautiful Goldeen. Goldeen was a white goldfish Pokémon with red markings on the fins and back and it sported a singular sharp horn on its head. Goldeen were very common Pokémon to find in both the ocean and in lakes or ponds around any region and were even associated heavily with fellow Kanto Gym Leader, Misty. Ruby liked Goldeen, finding them to be pretty Pokémon and had enjoyed seeing them swimming by in lakes on family walks. Maybe if she went back in the Wild Area, she could find one to send home to her mother as she would like having a Goldeen around the house. For now, she had to fight this one and she already knew which Pokémon to use first.


"I'll show you what "small" looks like." she said confidently, "Go Sparkles!"


She summoned Sparkles and the Electrike bounced up and down eagerly, glad to have yet another fight to participate in. The Goldeen gulped nervously, knowing how screwed it was at having to face yet another Electric type. Why did so many trainers have to come here with those?! Nessa had no reaction, just standing there with her arms folded. Why bother making a fuss considering she'd seen this so many times before? Ruby made the first move.


"Sparkles, Thunderbolt attack!" she yelled.


"Hope you like grilled fish everyone!" Sparkles cried, charging up electricity in her body.


She fired a dazzling bolt of lightning at the poor Goldeen, electrocuting it and knocking it out instantly. The poor Goldeen had no chance of standing up to such a powerful electric attack. The crowd cheered, impressed at how quickly Sparkles had managed to win the fight.


"Goldeen is unable to battle! Electrike is the winner!" the announcer boomed.


Nessa just nodded, acknowledging the fact she'd lost without needing to say anything. She returned Goldeen to her ball.


"The Gym Challengers weren't exaggerating how strong that Electrike is." she said, impressed, "One strike and my Goldeen's out. You've trained it well."


"Aww, thank you." Ruby said modestly.


She bent down to pick Sparkles up and the happy Electrike licked her face, making her giggle. Nessa drew her next Dive Ball out.


"Don't get too cocky Ruby. Goldeen is just a warm-up. The real challenge is on its way!" Nessa declared, "Arrokuda, wash her away!"


She threw the ball and out came an Arrokuda, making Ruby gasp and then laugh at the sheer coincidence of it all.


"Oh my gosh, you have an Arrokuda too?" Ruby giggled, "I literally just caught one before I came here!"


"What a coincidence." Nessa said with a humorous smile, "I hope you caught yourself a good one like I did."


"I haven't used it in battle yet so there's plenty of time for mine to show its true colours." Ruby said, "But that's for Kabu later. Sparkles, return." she added, taking out Sparkles's Pokéball.


"What? Why? I can handle that thing!" Sparkles protested.


"I know, I just want someone else to have a turn as I've used you a lot already." Ruby said as Sparkles went back into her ball, "Plus, I think I can give everyone a bit of a show with this one."


She took out her next Pokéball and threw it.


"Freddy, it's show time!" she cried as the ball opened up and released Freddy the Toxel from inside.


Freddy sat on the floor like a typical infant would and he looked around, the purple Pokémon intrigued by the large audience that was watching him. This brought a smile to his face. At last, he had an audience to perform for! He cleared his throat and burst into song.


Is this the real liiiiiiiiiiife?


Is this just fantasyyyyyyy?


Caught in a landslide,


No escape from realityyyyyyyyyy!


Open your eeeeeeeeeeeyes.


Look up to the skies, and seeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…


Nessa was astonished at the sheer talent of this little Toxel sitting opposite her on Ruby's side of the arena. Even the audience was spellbound by how well it could sing, and sounding so much like Freddy Mercury too. Freddy took in the applause he received from both Nessa and the audience, feeling very pleased with himself.


"Where on Earth did you pick up THAT thing? It's really good!" Nessa cried, "That Pokémon belongs in a talent show rather than a Pokémon battle!"


"Oh believe me, he's got more to him than just a fantastic impression of Freddy." Ruby said matter-of-factly, "Freddy, show Nessa how well you can battle by Nuzzling that Arrokuda!"


"Arrokuda, use Aqua Jet!" Nessa ordered.


Aqua Jet was an attack that always hit first and was often considered the Water type's equivalent to Quick Attack. It wasn't heavy hitting, but sometimes having the first hit often helped. Arrokuda moved at a blinding speed and struck Freddy square on, knocking him onto his back. For a moment, Freddy was like an actual baby struggling to pick himself up. But he got to his feet in the end and ran over to the Arrokuda. He grabbed hold of it and literally rubbed his face against the Arrokuda, nuzzling it like Ruby had commanded, while also singing:


Thunderbolt and lightening, very, very frightening, me!


Galileo! Galileo! Galileo, Figarooooooooo!


MAGNIFICOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!


As soon as he let go of the Arrokuda, who looked more bewildered than anything by the attack, the Arrokuda winced as electricity crackled through him. Nuzzle was an Electric-type attack that did damage while simultaneously paralyzing the opponent. Nessa's Arrokuda would be much slower than before, even if it used Aqua Jet, so Ruby would have the advantage by getting to hit first from now on. Nessa commanded Arrokuda to use Aqua Jet a second time but the paralysis slowed it down so Freddy hit it again with Nuzzle before Arrokuda could land its attack. It hit Freddy a second time and Ruby could see on her Rotom phone that his health with getting low. If he got hit again, he would be out of the match and she'd have to use another Pokémon. At least she wasn't in any danger of her Pokémon dying as this was a Gym Battle and killing other's Pokémon in Gym Battles was illegal but she preferred to have all her Pokémon in good health to have a likelier chance of winning. The more Pokémon available to use, the better. Acting fast, Ruby used a Super Potion to heal Freddy. One quick spray was enough to reenergize the imp-like Pokémon and he flexed his muscles, looking strangely adorable as he did so.


"Thanks very much, darling. That feels so good." he said gratefully.


Now Freddy was healed up, Ruby ordered him to use Nuzzle again. Arrokuda wasn't down yet but he couldn't stand up to much more. One more Nuzzle would finish the job. Nessa decided to go for broke and ordered another Aqua Jet out of Arrokuda. At least she could hopefully whittle Freddy's health down enough for the next Pokémon to take it out. Arrokuda rushed in and slammed into Freddy once more but the singing Pokémon took the hit and stood back up again. Ruby ordered him to use one last Nuzzle and that was all he needed in order to sap away the last bit of Arrokuda's health. The Arrokuda collapsed onto the floor as Freddy concluded his song to whip up the audience into a frenzy.


Nothing really matteeeeeeeeeeers


Anyone can seeeeeeeeeeeee


Nothing really matteeeeeeeeeers


Nothing really matteeeeeeeeeers…to meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee


Anyway the wind blooooows…


He threw up his arms and bowed to the crowd as they cheered, both for his victory and his great singing. He was frankly having the time of his life and he wanted to savour it.


"I always knew a round of applause would be so rewarding." Freddy said jovially.


"You sure gave us a battle and a show buddy! Well done!" Ruby congratulated.


"Arrokuda is unable to battle! Toxel is the winner!" boomed the announcer.


Nessa returned Arrokuda and took out her last Dive Ball.


"You're a very good trainer Ruby." she complimented, "And you have some good Pokémon on you, especially the singing one. I think you've given us all a Gym Battle to remember. But your victory won't come with this last one. I've saved my best for last. Drednaw, wash her away!"


Ruby gasped. Of all the coincidences in the world, this was not one she expected! Here she was with a Drednaw in her possession and Nessa was using one right now! Her Dive Ball opened up and a ball of energy materialized into the powerful form of Drednaw. The huge turtle-like Pokémon opened his jaws wide and roared with anticipation. It was clear he was eager for a fight and enjoyed battling.


"It's been a while Nessa! So who's my unlucky opponent today?" the Drednaw asked in a gravelly voice that made it sound very monstrous and barbaric compared to Ruby's.


"Not Freddy." Ruby said as she returned him, "As I have a Drednaw myself, I know exactly how to counter it. It's a Water and a Rock type so it'll have a huge Grass weakness…"


That caught Nessa's interest. She hadn't expected Ruby to be so well-prepared. She had both Water weaknesses with her in this battle. She was clearly not a Gym Challenger to take lightly. Nessa watched as Ruby took out a different ball and threw it, summoning the newly evolved Gene to the scene. The Linoone stood up on his hind legs and threw his arms aside.


"Alright, it's time for Gene to par-TAY! Finally, I get to show off my new evolved form in a Gym Battle! This is gonna be great!" he cried excitedly.


Nessa stared in confusion at Ruby's choice of Pokémon. She was acknowledging that her Drednaw had a quadruple weakness to Grass, so why had she picked a mere Linoone to fight her? Linoone weren't Grass types! Unless this Linoone knew a Grass attack…she would see for herself what Gene could do.


Both opponents made the same move as each other, deciding now was the time to Dynamax. Energy built around their Dynamax Bands and they held their Pokéballs out. Like last time, Ruby's hair started to glow again as Dynamax Energy swirled around her Pokéball to enlarge it. Nessa's eyes widened with curiosity as she saw Ruby's glowing locks.


"I thought Milo was pulling my leg when he told me her hair did that…" she murmured in wonder.


She ignored Ruby's hair for now as the Dive Ball in her hand finished growing and she tossed it in the air in a graceful motion while Ruby threw her enlarged Pokéball. Both Gene and Drednaw grew to immense size made the stadium shudder as they touched down onto the floor. The audience took some photos and videos of the scene before them. Gene admired himself all over, impressed with his gigantic state.


"Wow, I never thought Dynamaxing would be THIS epic! Whoo-hoo, I love it!" he cried in his deepened voice.


"No time to get excited Gene. This battle's just beginning!" Ruby reminded him, "Use Max Overgrowth now!"


Now Nessa understood Ruby's weird choice. She had indeed taught Gene a Grass move. She was a trainer that made good use of a Pokémon's move pool, a sign of a well-educated trainer who knew what she was doing. She felt honoured to have been given a worthy challenger like Ruby. Gene opened up his mouth and fired some giant seeds at the Drednaw. They grew into large mushrooms and blades of grass that surrounded Drednaw and they slammed into him from all sides. It was ironic for Ruby to be using this move against Nessa as Milo had used it against her yesterday. She thought it was incredible to watch Max Overgrowth in action, especially as she was the one using. Despite the incredible onslaught, the Drednaw hadn't gone down in one hit as she'd expected. It was still standing, though not with a lot of health left. It clearly had tough defences. Ruby braced herself as Nessa made her move.


"Max Geyser, now!" the model screeched.


"Prepare to be washed away in a tsunami!" the Drednaw cried, his guttural voice making the ground shudder as he spoke.


He opened his mouth and fired a colossal stream of water that rushed towards Gene and swept him off his feet. It felt to him like he'd just been hit by a bus rather than a torrent of water. Gene crashed into the wall on the other side of the stadium, making the building shudder and the audience clutch the sides of their seats in worry. Ruby and Nessa fought to keep their balance as the stadium shook. Despite the heavy hit and being swept across the room, Gene wasn't down yet. He picked himself up and shook himself dry, drenching the nearby audience with water. It was like it had suddenly decided to rain on them inside the building.


"Nice try, shelly. A little water ain't no problem for me!" he boasted.


"Then maybe this'll hurt more." Nessa declared, "Try a Max Strike instead!"


Max Strike was the Dynamaxed version of any Normal type move a Pokémon might use. For Drednaw, it consisted of him charging into Gene with a giant Headbutt attack. But this gave Ruby an idea. She turned to Gene.


"Grab hold of him once he charges into you!" she cried.


Gene wasn't sure what Ruby had in mind but he trusted his trainer so he did as he was told. He held his paws out and grabbed onto Drednaw as he slammed into him. Gene dug his heels in, ripping up the tiles behind him as Drednaw pushed against him. Despite the impressive size and muscle mass of the turtle Pokémon, Gene was able to hold his own enough to keep him in place and push back. He knew he didn't have the strength to keep him there for long though, his arms already straining from the effort. Sweat lined his forehead as he grunted, the Drednaw pushing back as hard as he could. The audience oohed with amazement, enjoying how intense this battle was getting. Ruby seized her chance.


"Now use Max Overgrowth again while it's up close!" she yelled.


Nessa gasped. She couldn't have foreseen Ruby going for a move like that!


"Drednaw, break away!" she yelled frantically.


But Drednaw was much too slow and too close to Gene to even make an attempt to dodge. It was hopeless. He was pelted full on in the face by giant seeds from Gene's mouth and he wailed in pain as they grew into plants that constricted his body and sapped away what little strength he had left. Then one of the mushrooms walloped him in the face and knocked him down onto the floor, causing Ruby and Nessa to fall over as the stadium shook again. Drednaw's Dynamax energy disappeared now he was unconscious and he was restored to his normal size. He lay on his stomach, dazed and unable to battle anymore. Gene returned to his normal size too as the battle was now over. He sighed sadly.


"Aww, I was enjoying being huge." he said sadly.


"Don't worry, there's always next time." Ruby said brightly.


"Drednaw is unable to battle! Linoone is the winner!" the electronic announcer's voice boomed, "The winner of the Water Gym Challenge is Ruby Silverlock of Postwick Town and she progresses to the next Gym!"


The audience exploded into applause, full of joy and admiration for this up and rising new Gym Challenger. Ruby and Gene just waved back in thanks, appreciating the audience's applause. Ruby smiled contently to herself, excited with her victory and at peace for she'd done what she'd promised Ariel she'd do. She'd remained strong and it had earned her another Gym Badge. The Gyarados would've been so happy with her to see this.


Over to Nessa, she returned her Drednaw and put her hands to her head in exasperation. Despite being a Gym Leader, she wasn't the best at losing and could get annoyed when it happened.


"I may proudly be the strongest member of this Gym, but I was totally washed away!" she exclaimed, "Milo had said you were good but I wouldn't have expected you to be THIS good!"


She cleared her throat and sighed, trying her best to calm herself down so that she could present Ruby with her badge. The two met in front of the centre of the arena again and they shook hands.


"Continue to seize victories with your Pokémon." Nessa encouraged, "You have an incredible spirit that may even be strong enough to challenge the Champion."


"I'll admit I have fantasized what it'd be like to face him." Ruby said thoughtfully, "Thanks for a great battle Nessa. I had a great time here!"


"Oh no Ruby. Thank YOU." Nessa said cheerfully, "You gave us all quite a show here in the Water Gym today and I think we'll remember this for years to come. You've more than earned your Water Badge here today."


She handed Ruby a golden badge with three blue water drops forming a circle together in the centre. Ruby looked at the badge with admiration, thrilled to see that she had earned her second badge already. Despite the tragedy that had befallen her, she had continued to be strong and had achieved another victory in the Gym Challenge! Just six more badges to go and she would be on her way to Wyndon City for a hopeful chance to challenge Leon! She could hardly wait to earn her next badge…


Ruby had been treated to one of the best dinners of her life. Upon leaving the Water Gym, she had gone over to the Captain's Table just as Chairman Rose had requested. It still made her stomach tingle to think that she was actually going to share a meal with such an important figurehead in the Galar Region. Many people dreamed of hanging out with famous people but so few ever got to achieve that dream. Ruby hadn't been one of those people herself, Leon being the exception as the Pokémon fan in her had longed to have a chance to battle him, so it was surprising that something like this should happen to her of all people.


The Captain's Table was a smart looking restaurant with neatly tiled floors, luxurious blue tablecloths and curtains, blue chairs with seashell shaped backrests, a boat-shaped reception desk to add to the marine theme of the restaurant and a bar to order drinks from. Ruby could see why this place was a popular eating place with the locals as it was quite nice looking. She especially liked how the restaurant had a huge window offering a fantastic view of Hulbury Stadium outside and a view of the ocean just behind it. The biggest surprise of her dinner with Rose was that she wasn't the only guest here this evening. The Chairman had invited Sonia as well. The ginger-haired woman was surprised, but also delighted, to see her.


"Hey Ruby! You got invited too?" Sonia asked.


"The Chairman asked I come here after I beat Nessa." Ruby explained, "I just earned my Water Badge after beating her."


She presented the badge to Sonia and the Chairman, both impressed to see her holding it in her hand.


"Very well done, Miss Silverlock!" Rose congratulated, "Let us celebrate your victory. You can order anything you want while we're here, it's all on me so money won't be of concern to you."

__________________________________________________________________________________


As soon as everyone had seated themselves, Ruby picked up the menu and ordered one of the restaurant's special offers, the Hulbury Battered Cod and Chips. Sonia ordered a fish and leek soup while the Chairman ordered a prawn paella. Curiously, Oleana wasn't eating with them, just standing beside the Chairman's chair and remaining as blank-faced and official as ever. It crept Ruby out to see her looming beside him like a half-dead zombie. Would it at least kill that woman to show SOME kind of emotion for once?! The food arrived soon after they'd ordered and the Pokémon trainer, lab assistant and Chairman tucked in. The batter of the fish was crispy and fried to perfection with the fish itself practically dissolving in Ruby's mouth. The chips were thick and chunky with a delicious taste that went well with the salt she'd sprinkled on them. Ruby savoured every mouthful as if she wanted this delicious meal to last as long as possible. After all, it might be a long time, if at all, before she'd eat in this place again.


"Mmm! Best fish and chips EVER!" Ruby said between mouthfuls.


"I'm glad you like it here." Rose said jovially, "The local cuisine is one of the best things about this town. You won't get better seafood anywhere else."


Ruby believed him. She doubted she'd eat a fish and chip dinner this good again. As they ate, Chairman Rose and Ruby talked a little about what had made Ruby decide to be a Pokémon trainer and what it was she loved about Pokémon so much. He even asked if it ran in the family with Ruby sadly lamenting her father's dark past and what had led to him quitting to be a florist.


"It isn't going to stop me from following in his footsteps and achieving the goal he never reached." Ruby had concluded, "I want to go the extra mile and make him proud."


"That's a noble goal indeed, my dear." Rose approved, "It's not often that we get a child as mature as you, I must say."


"I have my moments…" Ruby said sheepishly, not sure how to take the compliment, "Anyway, my sisters hope to be Pokémon trainers too." she added, "They both have to wait another year sadly as they're a year younger than me. They're twins, you see, though it's easy to tell them apart as Emerald takes from mum's side of the family while Sapphire takes from my dad's side. I wholeheartedly long for them to start their journeys so they can be trainers like me. It'd be fun for the three of us to all be trainers together."


"Making it all a nice, family affair I see." Rose said brightly, "Very nice."


He then turned to Sonia, who had been patiently waiting her turn while sipping her soup as he'd talked with Ruby.


"How has the professor been lately?" he inquired.


"She's doing well." Sonia said casually, "Though Gran feels there's still so much we don't about Dynamaxing despite everything we've researched over the years. She likes to keep herself busy, and she inspired me to do the same for myself as I've been looking into a little something of my own. If it's OK with you, would it be possible for me to visit the Hammerlocke Vault later this week? I have a feeling that place could hold some answers to some questions I seek."


"You'll find all sorts of things in the vault." Chairman Rose agreed, "I don't think Raihan would object to your wishes, Sonia. We'll ask him to arrange a visit for you."