I was the most powerful man in Sinnoh for exactly fourteen months.
I was its king, commander, and ambassador. The world's greatest army waited at my beck and call, my fingers poised to pull the trigger on any nation that offended me. I could pass or veto any bill I was handed, make any law I pleased. I decided who would rule beneath me, kept a close eye on every gym leader and appointed new ones whenever I saw fit. My power was unchecked, my will the ultimate authority. Those that challenged me were few and far between, fearful of the reputation that preceded me.
They called me the Ultimate Trainer, the greatest battler in the world and the most skilled strategist. For years my team and I fought tooth and nail for our position, spending endless days fighting and practicing in the harshest of terrains. We became hardened and tough, but our bonds grew strong and together we conquered all that lay before us. Not only trainers yielded to our abilities but gym leaders as well. We earned badge after badge and met every qualification, gradually dragging ourselves to the greatest test of a Pokémon trainer.
We rode on the back of victory to Lily of the Valley Island, where the most celebrated masters in the country waited to face us. Each battle was an official League Sanctioned Match, broadcast worldwide by a variety of international television networks. They interviewed me over and over again, asking the same questions every time: what was your first Pokémon? When did you decide you wanted to be a trainer? Why do you want to become Champion?
I never grew tired of them. Each reporter fueled my insatiable ego, bringing my self-confidence to new and terrible heights. I quickly became arrogant and cocky, showing the cameras a face of strength and enthusiasm every time so as to convince the people I was as amazing as I envisioned.
Each battle only made us more popular and more self-obsessed. We swept the first two members of the Elite with ease, and had only one knockout against the third. A fan group of mine bought my entire team and me a two-week-long stay at the Resort Area, while another gave us a "lifetime" supply of Full Restores. A group specifically made in honor of my Raichu would send us beautiful, electricity-themed pieces of artwork every month. I never asked to be associated so strongly with electric-types, but I never argued with the distinction and actually came to like it very much.
The Shining, Shocking Star. Every fan letter I received would address me the same way, with a ridiculous nickname and generally some reference to Raichu. I tried to keep them all, but quickly ran out of room and was forced to throw the majority away. More and more arrived with every battle we won, urging us to continue our well-publicized journey.
The final Elite member gave us a small amount of trouble. He easily wrecked my first strategy, but I figured his out fast enough that it didn't matter. Half of my team wound up knocked out, but we won nevertheless.
The fan mail continued to flood my home, praising me for my excellent strategy and incredible split-second decision-making skills. I took it all in happily; fully entranced into thinking my team and I were utterly unstoppable.
For the next year I had no reason to believe we weren't. The Champion battle came down to our last Pokémon, but thankfully Raichu was much faster than his Absol and we managed to pull out a win.
The former Champion sank to the ground with his face in his hands, and for an instant I almost felt sorry for him. All that power gone in just a few short months. He looked incredibly small, nothing at all like the powerful and invincible man I'd been taught to adore. The crowd around us roared in acceptance of this coup, completely dropping even the most translucent pretense of reverence for the old king. The announcer's voice boomed with pride and exhilaration in my ear.
Just like that I went from Challenger to Champion; from mere trainer to Shining, Shocking Star. My team was elevated to the highest level of idolatry, becoming Gods among foolish, savage animals. My face would be used for countless PSAs and magazine covers. The new Champion had risen; the country thrust into a new order defined, planned, and invented by me.
My throne was decorated with the symbols of my journey: lightning, storm clouds, and fire. I would sit in it and do nothing but marvel in my own glory for hours on end, shoveling coals onto the ravenous blaze of arrogance overriding my mind. I knew nothing. My hardships were true, but not like any I would find myself experiencing in later years. Blinded by my own narcissism, I stared up through the skylight of my throne room and into the deep blue beyond. At that moment in time, I felt as though I could conquer the very atmosphere.
But like all stories of pride, mine was to end in misery. I received a letter during the fifth month of my reign, addressed only to an individual named CHAMPION. No title, no salutation. Just CHAMPION, followed by a short message sent via Hearthome:
It has come to the attention of the league that a trainer of AGATE VILLAGE, ORRE, CONFEDERATION OF UNITED STATES by the name of CYNTHIA has requested your audience. It is not necessary to accept this request. If you wish to meet with this trainer, please respond using the attached form.
YOUR HUMBLE OFFICERS,
Sinnoh Regional Pokémon League
I crumpled the letter and tossed it aside without hesitation. The people of Orre were beneath me. Whoever it was, they could surely say whatever they needed to through my army of aides and officers. Surely, a person from a place as lowly and lawless as Orre would have nothing to say to a figure as eminent and powerful as me.
Two more months of celebrity came and went in blackness. As Champion I was above the law, free to do whatever my body told me to. My regrets from those two short months are many, the images and horrible memories still flooding my mind at night and keeping me awake long into the early hours of morning. I managed to completely lose a Pokémon, as well as over two-hundred thirty million poké from the National Treasury. Another letter requesting an audience with Cynthia came during that time, but it vanished swiftly into the darkness of drunken adventures and chaotic escapades.
After the final hangover passed, I found another letter by my door. It was the same request from the same trainer, only now it was an "urgent audience". I still had no interest in her, ordering an aide to hold any and all further requests for an audience with anyone from Orre.
I lived the rest of the year in a far more civilized manner, though alcohol and sex still held tightly on to my life. I signed every bill that came to me heavily intoxicated, allowing multiple, hilariously contradictory laws to be passed. Well, hilarious for me.
The first rumors of a Challenger came to me just before my eighth month on the throne. A young trainer was progressing through the country with incredible ease, her strategy impossible to match by even the most skilled tactician. The propaganda spewed at the time painted her as a villain out to overthrow the glorious king, throwing my heroic reputation even further into the adoring hands of the public.
The updates on her progress kept coming in. She conquered the first seven gyms with unprecedented ability, and made an appointment with the Snowpoint gym leader for her first qualifying match. But she was nearly destroyed by Candice, losing five of her main Pokémon in an incredibly reckless to-death battle. A to-death challenge was only acceptable if both parties agreed to it, and even then a specialized nurse was required to make sure the Pokémon involved were willing to sacrifice their lives for glory they would never share. Trainers who engaged in to-death battles were seen as savage and cruel, though no law was ever passed outlawing the activity.
My team and I took in a collective sigh of relief, thinking any threat was passed. We returned from our very brief hiatus to our life of excitement and lunacy, quickly forgetting about the promising young trainer. We cut ourselves off from the rest of the world, ignoring any message from the outside.
We wandered out of our haze a while later to learn that Cynthia had tried to contact us nine times in the past several months. The latest one did not request an audience; it requested a battle. A challenge had to be accepted if the challenger was qualified, so the letter was really just a formality. She gave us three months' time to prepare for her, and three months for her to restart her team.
A challenge this early into a Champion's reign was incredibly rare. The League was made difficult so that only the most talented trainers could get to the Elite. That way only the best of the best could become Champion. Even the propaganda was confused -some still clinging to the idea that this trainer was a villain and some trying to paint me as corrupt and useless. At the time I couldn't believe such statements were being made about me, that anyone would try to deny what a perfect and selfless leader I was. Now I know that letting me become leader of anything was a mistake.
Three months become three hours. My team and I were prepared as well as any that spent the last year in a fog of indulgence. I knew we couldn't use our old strategies, so I'd hastily made up a new one. I remember thinking that no matter what happened we would still be together.
I hate Cynthia with every fiber of my being for what happened next. I suppose it's more my fault than hers, but it was her choice alone whether or not to subject us to the worst and most painful type of loss. I'd never in my life fought to-death before, and the very idea made me panic. The crowd screamed and cheered for the blood we spilled like this was some God-pleasing sacrifice. One by one I lost everything that mattered to me. I fell apart, struggling to grab hold of the match and instead slipping into defeat.
The last round was a desperate attempt to survive. I had already lost, but the battle had to continue on until all of my Pokémon were down. My Raichu, my oldest friend and greatest ally, stood before me with its head held high and electricity sparking up and down its body. "I'm so sorry…" I said quietly into my microphone, the one only my team mate could hear. He looked back at me with a smile on his face, and my eyes suddenly stung with tears.
We were never meant to survive that battle. The blood of my friends stained the battlefield, all six dead and gone. I fell to my knees, burying my face in my hands. Regret filled me, mingling with my blood and surging through my body. I thought briefly of the old Champion, the one I sent to the ground in shame. I would never, ever have forced anyone into a to-death match; never have made anyone feel the type of pain and failure I felt.
Cynthia stood victorious on the other side, her Lucario looking down at my Raichu's unmoving body. She approached me with long, deliberate strides. I could hear nothing except my own heartbeat, the chaos of the crowd millions of miles away. She reached down and grasped a tuft of my dark blond hair with surprising strength. I looked up at her in empty resolve, wondering briefly if she would kill me too.
"You fascist pig," she said quietly, her dark eyes boring deep into mine. "You did this to yourself. I never wanted to fight you; I never wanted to rule over this Arceus-forsaken place. But you've left me no choice. This is the most powerful nation on earth, the only country with soldiers waiting to strike at every corner of the globe. I asked politely for your men to leave my country. This never would have happened had you listened to me."
I had no idea what she was talking about, too filled with rage and misery to consider anything that she had to say. I blamed myself, I blamed her, I blamed the League. I would never and will never blame my Pokémon. I love them, and no matter what happens to me the hardship of losing them will never be surpassed.
Shame brought me back to Sunyshore. I returned to my home filled with regret and pain. I slept for days and hardly ate anything, only waking up to feed what remained of my friends.
At that time my team consisted of Eevee, Electivire, and Luxio. They played together while their useless trainer tried to starve himself to death; they were completely unaware of any pain or suffering in the world. They knew not to bother me, thinking instead that one day I would rise up and be with them again without the embarrassment of loss to weigh me down.
The city's old, tired Gym Leader came to visit me. He sat on the end of my bed and watched me for a short while before speaking. I wanted nothing more than for him to leave at first, then later wanted nothing more than for him to stay. "So this is what the Shining, Shocking Star has become, is it?" I flinch at his use of my old nickname. "Nothing more than a pathetic man waiting for death. I remember distinctly a battle I once had, with a trainer the world called invincible. He had never before tasted true glory, and it showed. He was grateful for everything, and fought like the greatest of Champions. And his team, oh his team…they were as incredible as him, bravely striking down any opponent that dared challenge them. And you know what? That trainer never lost. Not because he was inherently strong, but because he was filled with a love for Pokémon and a love for battling." He stopped and watched me carefully, awaiting a response. I just looked at him blankly, not sure what to say. "Volkner, you are still powerful. You have lost more than anyone I know, but you must not let that define you. You once showed me how exciting a battle could be, how amazing a fight with a true trainer is.
"I will not be able to keep up the Gym much longer. I've grown old and so has my team. It is time for a new leader to take up the Sunshore Gym." My eyes narrowed, and I sat up a bit. I started to speak, but he interrupted me. "I want that trainer to be you."
"No, I- I can't. I can't fight anyone ever again. I can't put my team through something so terrible-"
"As a to-death match? Then don't Volkner. You make the rules. Do not allow to-death battles in your city. You've screwed up before, but I still believe in you. I still believe you are the trainer you used to be." I shook my head slowly, but I didn't argue with him.
It was many more years before I finally figured out why the government allowed for such insane usurpations of power. The people of Sinnoh were born and bred to be fully in love with their country and their culture. They were told we were the greatest country on Earth, and that they were the greatest people ever to live on it for staying loyal. Each one of them was made to believe the Champion was the greatest among the greatest, that they represented the very foundation of a glorious country.
But that was not always the case. A new Champion arose roughly every ten years, pulling the nation into revolution every time. The old Champion would take on the most negative aspects of the last decade, and be made to seem responsible for every calamity the country suffered. The duty of revolution and reform fell upon the new Champion, who brought with them a team of such powerful and perfect Pokémon that they could never be defeated. They represented the glory of Sinnoh, the strength of rebirth, and the embrace of narcissism. Each one was the same. No new ideas were ever truly brought to the country, instead being recycled in a newer, shinier form.
This was how the League kept the nation in check. They produced overwhelming amounts of propaganda aiming to forge the latest Challenger into the greatest hero ever invented. Naysayers would be drowned out by the all-consuming din of the believers; dissenters would mysteriously disappear late at night. No one was allowed to deny the invincibility of the latest and greatest Champion.
At least until the next one came to power.