Dawn stands across the snowy field from me, kicking up some dust into the air. She holds a bright blue ring in her gloved right hand, occasionally tossing it up and catching it easily. A breeze blows her dark hair back, the strands dancing in the cold air. Her jacket is thick and loose, inflating behind her and shaking with the wind. Her small frame vanishes inside, making her thin legs look unnatural beneath it. Her sword rests in its shaft at her hip, shuddering slightly. She turns to face me, quickly swiping hair out of her eyes. "Ready?" She calls out, her voice drained by the distance between us.
I look down at Lenny -at his shivering, gelatinous body and wide, excited eyes. Ripples pass through him like circles in a puddle. A long streak breaks through the thin layer of snow stretched out before him. "Well? You ready to go again?" He gives a little bounce and I nod swiftly. "It's farther away this time, so you'll have to give a little more strength." He hops again and I give Dawn a thumbs-up.
She nods and hurls the ring high into the air. I order Lenny to shoot, and he lets loose a powerful stream of water that soars easily over the field and slams into the ring. I tilt my head back and forth to see it flying backward, shrinking into the sky. It stops completely mid-flight, hanging in the air for a moment before returning slowly to Dawn's outstretched hand.
She takes several steps back toward her Kadabra, motioning for him to move away and give her some space. She throws the ring upward again and Lenny hits it just as easily as he did before, sending it hurtling into Kadabra's invisible grasp.
We don't know for sure if training like this will make Lenny evolve. Supposedly this is how we're supposed to train, but in my experience raw practice has never really paid off. Any time my teammates have evolved it's been through their own desire or necessity. I know certain stones or actions can force Pokémon, but overall I don't believe there's much a trainer can do if their partner wants to stay the way she is. I need Lenny's help, and if he doesn't evolve we'll be in trouble when we fight Erin. I don't plan to do anything even resembling a true battle with her, but if we can disable her Raichu it'll be easier to take her down.
Dawn is smaller now, much farther away than she was when we started. I can barely see the blue ring in her hand now, and her Kadabra is a blurry golden splotch. "You up for this one?" Lenny looks apprehensive, squinting and staring hard into the distance. Then he gives a satisfied shudder and I take that as a "yes."
The blue dot leaps into the air, a tiny fleck against the great gray sky. Lenny squeals and sends a burst of water shooting out. He comes too short and in the wrong direction. Kadabra catches the ring and gives it back to Dawn. Lenny looks down dejectedly, making a quiet cooing sound.
"We'll try again." He turns back to me, shivering. His eyes are narrowed with tiredness, and I can hear a quiet whining coming from his throat. "What? You want to give up?" He shakes his head back and forth and I nod. "Didn't think so. Ready for another?" He shuffles slightly and I roll my eye. "Well what's the problem, then?"
He squeaks and flattens into the ground, his eyes focusing on something behind us. I turn and follow his gaze to the rest of our party playing around in the snow. Marley is probably being too rough with Dracula, throwing snow at her using psychic powers. She doesn't seem to mind though, and actually seems to enjoy the roughness. Scout watches Elizabeth play with Scarlet's messy mane through narrowed, slightly amused eyes. Dawn's Grotle sits beside the injured Monferno, watching her flickering flame drowsily. The Luxio snarls but doesn't do anything, enduring the giggling Togepi's infantile antics. Dawn's Clefairy keeps to herself, making a small snowman a little ways away from the others.
Lenny leans toward them, flattening even further. "No, Lenny. This isn't playtime." He whines louder and squeals, sliding closer to them. "I need you to train. I don't ask a whole lot of you Lenny, and I really need you to do this for me." He looks at the ground, then back up at me with big watery eyes. I squint at him, holding his gaze. He's seeping out over the ground, turning into a sad little puddle with big wet eyes. "Fine, but only for a little while, okay? We really need to train." He squeals happily and pops back into form, sliding away to play with his teammates.
I hear footsteps behind me and turn slowly to look into Dawn's amused dark eyes. "I see you gave in," She says, tapping the ring against the side of her leg. Kadabra follows closely beside her, his silver spoons glinting.
I rub the back of my neck awkwardly, shivering at the icy coldness of my fingers. "I-well, yeah. He needed a rest. I get the sense he's pretty young."
She chuckles and crosses her arms, the ring hanging from beneath her sleeve. "He might just be really immature. Every Pokémon is different; he could very well be quite old."
Lenny slips and slides around Marley, skimming over the ice and giggling loudly. The Drifblim keeps trying to blast him with snow, but even when he does Lenny isn't bothered by the cold. I find it hard to imagine Lenny being anything more than a child. "I'm not so sure. He just seems…like a baby."
Dawn shrugs and walks over to her Clefairy, kneeling by the Normal-type in the snow. "Hey girl, how are you feeling?" She looks up at Dawn, then turns away quickly, shyly covering her face. Dawn's eyebrows furrow in confusion, but her face softens when Clefairy starts to quiver.
I step close to her, but Dawn holds out her arm to stop me. "What's wrong with her?" Dawn turns to me and puts her finger to her lips.
Her voice is very quiet as she reaches out to Clefairy. "Her old trainer treated her very badly. She chose to join Grotle and I when we first met her. We got into a fight, but managed to escape pretty easily." Clefairy shakes violently in Dawn's arms, but she holds her carefully so that she doesn't fall over or hurt herself. "She doesn't like to be surprised. I think she's just nervous around all these new faces. Is that it?" She's talking to Clefairy now, leaning forward so she can look the Pokémon in the eye. "Are you nervous?"
Clefairy keeps hiding her face and shivering. Dawn sighs and puts her down gently. "I don't really know what to do with her. She doesn't respond when I try to help her. She's just really scared of people and Pokémon." Dawn slowly stands up, brushing herself off. "Do you have any ideas?"
"Not really, no. I think when a Pokémon is hurt we're supposed to give them treats and vitamins and let them rest, but we can't exactly do all of that."
Dawn nods and runs a hand through her greasy hair. "I probably shouldn't have asked you."
I raise my eyebrow and turn to look at her. "How come?"
She laughs with little mirth, shoving one hand in her pocket and resting the other atop her sword. "You're not exactly the most compassionate person. I shouldn't have expected you to know how to take care of an abused Pokémon." A strand of hair flies into her face. She snorts, aggravated, and sweeps it to the side.
At first I'm offended, my heart immediately racing. But the look on her face is so cold, so disaffected …in a strange way I realize she's just being callous for the sake of being callous. On top of that, she's probably right. I don't have the energy or desire to argue with her. "I guess you're right."
She looks at me from beneath narrowed, distant eyes. "You've been through a whole lot of hell, huh?" I shrug, not sure how to respond. She shakes her head, looking down at the ring in her hand. "And look where it's all lead you. This place is a wasteland, and we can never escape it. If Kitty's right, if we're really trapped in a Quarantine… then there's nothing waiting for us outside of here. A few years from now, if we're lucky, we'll be living in a Sinnoh just as screwed up as it was before." She exhales loudly. "So I guess …what made you keep going? With the knowledge that we'll never get past all of this…" Her hands are shaking in the cold, but she makes no attempt to calm them. "How can you just keep moving and not care?"
Clefairy has begun to build her snowman again. She's trying to ignore us, but every few seconds I catch her glance over her shoulder. When our gazes meet she looks away quickly, panicked and nervous. I shuffle my feet in the snow, kicking a small clump to the side. "I guess… I really didn't think about any of that. It never…I never considered giving up, no matter what my goal was. I don't know, maybe that's what I'm supposed to do. I didn't think about what I did on any deeper kind of level. Surviving, pushing on…it just seemed natural. It never occurred to me that there's supposed to be a reason to keep going. It hurt sometimes, but…I guess I just dealt with it." I shrug again. "I don't know why I did what I did; I just sort of did it."
She looks at me intently, humor flashing briefly in her eyes. "You're a real piece of work, aren't you." She doesn't say it like a question; her voice is flat and low, more like she's making an observation than asking about a fact.
Scarlet's yowl snaps the strange tension between us. I turn around quickly, calling out to my team mate. "Hey, what's-?"
Lenny and Marley are circling around her while Scout, Kadabra, and Grotle watch complacently. Dracula holds her wing out slightly as if to step in, but has a hard time looking serious when she's keeping a giggling Togepi under her heavily bandaged wing. Elizabeth is laughing hysterically, making a high-pitched noise that tumbles from her tiny mouth with ease. Scarlet's pelt is prickling, a growl rumbling from deep within her. She snaps her tail back and forth, looking from team mate to team mate with furious yellow eyes.
I'm not surprised with Lenny, but Marley should really know better than to anger a Pokémon with a type advantage over him. "Hey, what is this guys?" They ignore me, continuing to anger the temperamental Spark Pokémon. "Lenny! Marley!" The Drifblim stops, but Lenny won't let up. "Seriously, Lenny. Leave her alone."
Scarlet begins to turn the tide of the chase, following Lenny and circling him. His face falls and he slows down as her expression gets more and more furious. I warn her not to and start to run for her before she does something stupid. Scout has taken an interest now, and despite her injuries is standing with her tail ablaze, ready to fight.
But Scarlet moves faster than any of us expect. A short burst of electricity erupts from her dark fur, sending Lenny flying backward through the air. He lands hard, his gelatinous body spread out in a wide radius over the snow. I run for him and kneel down, adrenaline racing through my veins. "Lenny? Lenny?" The blob doesn't move.
I call his name again, beginning to panic. I can't lose him, I can't lose anyone else. I try to gather his gooey body back together, but when I touch it heat envelopes my hand. I cry out and recoil instantly, pressing my burned palm against my cold chest. The snow around the blob turns to steam, and a brilliant flash of light fills my vision. Wincing, I fall backward and cover my eye with my good hand.
The heat radiating from the blob that was my Pokémon fades, and I slowly uncover my eye. A pair of big dark orbs blocks out the sun, staring deeply into me. Someone grabs me from behind and yanks me upward by my armpits, pulling me to my feet.
Lenny sits before me, a slight smile on his face. He's smaller than I thought Gastrodon were supposed to be, but he's noticeably larger than his previous form. I reach out to him tentatively. He squeals loudly and rubs against my hand, his slime coating my burnt palm. With great care not to step on any part of him, I move closer and bend over slightly to really take in his new body. He wraps slimy appendages around my leg and giggles in his bubbly little way.
Dawn clears her throat behind me, and I crane my neck to look at her. She's holding one arm with the other, the blue ring hanging limply from her right hand. "I guess you're ready to find her now."
Lenny's cooing at me so loudly I have trouble hearing her. "I guess I am."
Her eyes are cold, her face stone-still. "And I guess that means you're ready to kill her." Once again, it's not a question.
I look down at Lenny, smiling proudly and rubbing against my leg. Yes, I think. I've been ready for days now. But I can't say it. Something hard lodges in my throat and my chest is tight. I can finally do what I came here to do. I just hope I still want it when I meet her face to face.