Pokemon Fan Fiction ❯ A Blond Ray of Sunshine ❯ Chapter 10

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

As the opening ceremonies neared, the stadium was almost filled to capacity. The noise of the crowd became apparent even from inside the waiting area. Anticipation was growing on all sides. Antoshi had long put away the book, opting to sit and prepare himself.

Soon, a small group of stadium volunteers entered the waiting room. They informed the Trainers that they'd be escorting them out onto the stadium grounds in orderly lines. The process went quickly and smoothly. Each line of Trainers was led down a hallway. They stopped just at the entrance of one of the tunnels leading out to the stadium. Fireball stood beside Antoshi.

The stadium's giant screens showed Cedric as he walked out onto the field with microphone in hand.

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this year's Spring Indigo League Championship Tournament!” he exclaimed. The crowd roared in excitement. “One-hundred and twenty-eight new and returning Trainers from all over the world have proven their mettle in the Kanto League! But, only one will be the victor and move on to face the Elite Four and the Champion himself! Now, without further ado, let's say 'hello' to this year's participants!”

The first group were led out into the sun-drenched stadium grounds. The floor had already been flipped back over to become a single large battlefield instead of four. As the crowd cheered the Trainers on, some of them chose to wave while others kept to themselves. More volunteers walked past the group, directing each Trainer to stand in neatly spaced gaps between each other.

As part of the second group, Antoshi and Fireball headed outside. The noise of almost a hundred thousand people cheering was beyond their comprehension. One of the male volunteers standing by spoke to them as they neared him.

“Stand here, please,” he said, bringing the pair to a halt. He promptly did the same for the next few Trainers behind them.

The awe-struck duo gazed around the stadium. Nothing could've prepared them for how overwhelming it was to be surrounded by so many onlookers. Pride swelled through them as they soaked in the moment. The tournament they'd dreamed of for so long was starting with them as participants.

“We're really here,” Antoshi said. “We're finally here at the Indigo League Tournament. After getting our eight badges, seeing all those amazing cities, and all the people and Pokémon we got to meet along the way. Not to mention the insane amount of training we had to start our journey with to get anywhere. A lot of people doubted us, Fireball, but it finally led up to this.”

"Well, when you sum it up like that, I feel like I'm getting misty-eyed over here."

Antoshi smiled proudly at his friend. “It felt like this was just an impossible dream for the longest time. I remember the times we both wanted to give up and go home.”

"I sure am glad we didn't. This is totally worth it."

Antoshi took great pride in making it this far along with all the other Trainers and their companion Pokémon surrounding him. He felt as though he were part of the upper echelon of Trainers that the Kanto region had to offer. They'd spent countless hours training in all manner of weather, in all different locales, getting dirty and muddy, drenched in sweat and collapsing from exhaustion. Indeed, it made all their grit, determination, and struggle to make it there totally worth it — just as Fireball said.

Once all of the participants were out on the field, Cedric resumed speaking.

“Now, let's say hello to our Elite Four!” he exclaimed, to the elation of the crowd. The stadium's cameras shifted to five people seated behind the glass of the stadium's box seats. “First up, the mistress of Water-types, Sharon!”

The camera zoomed in on a young, blonde woman in a long, elegant, blue dress. She smiled warmly for the camera as it zoomed in on her.

“Second, the Flying-type genius, Nicholas!”

A reserved young man wearing large glasses kept his gaze away from the camera, opting to observe each of the competitors on the field.

“Third, the 'Steel Crusher', Dwayne!”

A large, muscular man with dark, tanned skin, wearing a bodybuilding tank top sat with his arms folded across his chest. He had a stern look on his face. The crowd briefly chanted his name.

“Fourth, the vibrant Grass-type prodigy, Rosie!”

A young girl in a green dress laughed and waved for the cameras with a big grin.

“And finally, our reigning Indigo League Champion — Kristoffer!”

A young man with dark hair covering an eye looked over the field with disinterest. Antoshi looked up at the Champion on screen in astonishment, having never seen him before. He was spellbound by the Champion's gaze.

‘Whoa,’ Antoshi thought. ‘That look in his eyes. He's definitely a Trainer with some serious experience — I can feel it. He's been through way more than what Fireball and I have.’

“Now, ladies and gentlemen,” Cedric continued, “it's time to get this tournament underway!”

The sounds of fireworks went off in the morning sky as flocks of Pidgey and Pidove were released into the air. The duo didn't have much time to enjoy the sight, however, as all the Trainers were escorted back inside the concourse in the same orderly fashion. They were led into a different tunnel than the one they came out from, while adjacent groups headed in the opposite direction.

The new waiting room they were led into was near identical to the first, only with half as many Trainers and their Pokémon.

“Greetings, Trainers,” a different, male volunteer politely said, as he entered the room. “The sixty-four of you here are going to be on the red side of the battlefield. The monitor screens provided here will display the tournament bracket, as well as the current battle in progress. We will be starting the first match very shortly. Good luck to you all!”

The Trainers looked at each of the screens to find their assigned numbers on the tournament bracket. The bracket was also color coded to indicate which matches would be taking place on the first, second and final days of the event.

Antoshi's eyes went wide, gasping in surprise.

"What is it, Antoshi?" Fireball asked.

“We're … the third match up,” he remarked, quietly.

"That's really soon," Fireball replied, just as surprised as Antoshi was.

Antoshi exhaled slowly, closing his eyes to becalm his racing heart. Not long after, the screens shifted to the outside camera, showing a smiling Cedric.

“All right, ladies and gentlemen!” he said. “We're now ready to start the first match!” The crowd erupted into raucous cheers once more. “Trainers 176 and 305 — to the field!”

A large, burly man sitting in the front row with a pointed beard got to his feet with a sigh. He exited the room while stretching his neck.

"Wow," Fireball said. "That guy seems pretty relaxed for being the first one up. Right, Antoshi?" He looked over to see Antoshi staring at the screen, lost in thought. "Antoshi?"

Fireball gently nudged his friend, snapping the boy back to reality.

“Oh. Did you say something?”

Fireball chuckled, trying to reassure his friend.

"Come on, Antoshi, don't worry. We've got this!"

“I'm sorry,” he replied, rubbing his forehead. “It's just that we've never battled in front of a massive crowd before. The competition here is really intense, too. I'll do my best to keep it together.”

"You know," Fireball said, grabbing Antoshi's attention, "I noticed that, despite how nervous or excited you've been, that whole 'glowy red light' thing hasn't appeared around you."

“Yeah,” he replied, looking down at his open hands, “I noticed that, too. I'm not sure what that means. It could be that I've gotten a bit more a handle on it, or maybe … it's just gone.”

Fireball was surprised by the suggestion, though it seemed possible. While he was always concerned for his friend's well-being first, he was a little disappointed by the thought of Antoshi's miraculous powers simply vanishing just as mysteriously as they appeared.

Antoshi, Fireball, and the others in the room watched the first match play out on the screen. Back and forth went the two Trainers' Pokémon while the crowd cheered them on relentlessly. At the same time, Antoshi took note of the expressions on their faces. They were confident, eager — not at all nervous like he was.

“The red side Trainer, Mitch, advances!” Cedric exclaimed.

The camera zoomed in on the large man from before as he looked out at the cheering crowd with a pleased smirk.

"Wow, he did it," Fireball said. "I never would've expected a big, tough guy like that to use a Chansey, but it sure was powerful."

Antoshi observed the next match with intrigue on his face. His hands were clasped against his lips, his gaze almost unblinking. He felt the same sense of wonderment as when he was a child watching the Indigo League Tournament on TV at home.

“Craig's Walrein takes down his opponent's in one hit!” Cedric said.

So many different Trainers,’ Antoshi thought as he stared intensely at the screen. ‘So many strategies. I've got to manage to deal with anything. If we were to face that Walrein … well, it's slow-moving, but hits hard and has a lot of durability. I'd have Fireball move constantly to avoid its attacks, which means his stamina would burn fast, so we'd have to finish quickly. Fire-type moves would work because it's half Ice-type—’

"Antoshi?" Fireball spoke up, interrupting Antoshi's train of thought. "Aren't we up next?"

“Oh, shoot, you're right.”

Antoshi closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths.

“And Golem goes down!” Cedric said. “The blue side's Craig wins!”

Antoshi heaved a sigh before looking up at his friend with a confident smirk.

“Time to make our dream a reality,” the boy said.

Fireball grinned and nodded back.

“Trainers 147 and 476 — to the field!” Cedric said.

Antoshi and Fireball made their way out of the room and down the long tunnel.

The duo inhaled deeply as they were overtaken by the bright sun and the incredible roar of the crowd. Antoshi couldn't decide whether to wave or to just play it cool. He clenched his fists at his side, doing his best to stay focused.

⁂    ⁂    ⁂

“Oh, crap!” Blaire exclaimed in surprise, sitting up on her couch in the Cinnabar Gym. “Is that Antoshi?! Son of a gun, he really made it!”

She grinned as she crunched on some snacks, watching Antoshi from a television attached to its own rolling stand. At the other end of the Gym's battle room, a young man was slumped over, groaning in boredom.

“Are we gonna battle or what?” the Trainer asked.

“Hey, pipe down!” she snapped at him. “I gotta watch this match and see how it goes!”

The Trainer sighed in defeat.

⁂    ⁂    ⁂

The figure of Antoshi's opponent emerged from the far side of the field. He shielded his eyes from the sun to get a clearer view.

“And, his opponent, a 15-year-old hailing from Saffron City — Cory!”

Antoshi gasped, his eyes wide in disbelief.

"That's some coincidence," Fireball remarked, taking the words from Antoshi's mouth.

Cory stood at his side of the battlefield, smiling as he briefly soaked in the attention from the crowd. He was already holding his first Poké Ball in hand.

“I hope you're as excited as I am, Antoshi,” he said from the across the field.

“I sure am!” he replied, smiling back at him.

“Good! Now I can see for myself just how strong Fireball's gotten!”

The giant displays overhead lit up with information and an image of each Trainer. While Cory's side of the screen displayed three shaded Poké Balls, Antoshi's only showed one with an image of a Typhlosion over it.

“As per tournament rules,” Cedric said, “both Trainers may only use three Pokémon from a pool of six in all matches before the semifinals! However, the red side Trainer, Antoshi, is only using one Pokémon!” The crowd burst into shocked murmurs, along with some smatterings of laughter. “Is the young Trainer simply overconfident or does he have prodigal skill!?”

⁂    ⁂    ⁂

“Interesting,” General Logan remarked from inside the military base back in Johto.

He calmly swirled around his wine. Antoshi's face was displayed on one of the screens in his office. The other screens kept watch on the young boy with black hair, curled up in a corner of his cell. The General looked at the two boys in succession and hummed curiously.

⁂    ⁂    ⁂

“Competitors,” Cedric said, “you may begin!”

“I choose you!” Cory said, as he threw out his first Poké Ball. “Lucario!”

From the ball came forth a blue and black bipedal canine. It gave a shout, taking a fighting stance. Lucario held its paw-like hands near its face, eyes locked intensely on Fireball. Fireball responded by lighting the fires on his back.
The displays lit up one of the slots on Cory's side with an image of Lucario.

‘That is one well-trained Lucario,’ Antoshi thought, watching the Lucario stand totally motionless.

“Lucario — Aura Sphere!”

Lucario shouted in acknowledgment, holding its hands at one side. In the space between them, it summoned a bright ball of energy — not unlike how Fireball summoned his Focus Blast technique.

“Oh, that's not good,” Antoshi remarked. “Fireball, that attack is going to home in on you so move as quickly as you can!”

Fireball dropped to all fours and sprinted swiftly around the large field. Lucario kept its eyes on its target before thrusting its arms forward. The energy ball chased Fireball for a few moments before exploding at his heels. He shouted in shock, thrown through the air and landing hard on his back.

“Wow, what an attack!” Cedric exclaimed. “Is this already the end for Antoshi's single Pokémon?”

"Not even close, announcer guy," Fireball muttered as he got to his hind feet.

“You all right?” Antoshi asked. Fireball nodded to him. “Fireball — Flamethrower!”

Fireball inhaled deeply, exhaling a powerful stream of fire directly at his opponent.

“Dodge it, Lucario!” Cory said.

Lucario narrowed its eyes and jumped high into the air. Similar to their match against Mega Venusaur, Fireball attempted to follow it, using up the breath left in his lungs. Just before the scorching flames hit, Lucario suddenly vanished.

Antoshi and Fireball both gasped. Fireball immediately coughed up smoke from gasping in some of his own flames.

“Your Lucario is fast!” Antoshi remarked, awe-struck as Lucario appeared back on the ground.

Cory chuckled. “Let's show them just how fast you really are, Lucario! Extreme Speed!”

Lucario suddenly rushed at Fireball with blinding speed before vanishing once again. The crowd cheered in delight. Fireball and Antoshi had no idea where it went, though its rapid footsteps were audible.

“How incredible!” Cedric remarked. “Lucario is moving so fast that the red side's Antoshi and his Typhlosion can't keep up!”

Antoshi panicked, realizing he needed to detect Lucario's whereabouts in order to counter it. It was moving incredibly fast, impossible for his eyes to follow. Antoshi's irises suddenly shifted glowing red on their own accord with the power of his mysterious energy. He gasped upon his senses becoming massively boosted out of nowhere.

Lucario's supersonic movements around the battlefield clearly became visible to him. His eyes widened as Lucario prepared to strike.


Before Antoshi could finish, Lucario appeared next to Fireball and punched his jaw hard. It blinked almost instantaneously to Fireball's other side, striking him in the face face again. Afterward, it hopped back to its side of the field.

Antoshi groaned and shook his head as his eyes and senses returned to normal.

‘What in the world just happened?’ he thought. ‘Why did that happen? …’

Antoshi quickly shifted his attention back to the battle before them. “Fireball — use Inferno!”

"Oh-ho," Fireball remarked, just after setting his jaw, "this is a cool attack."

The flames on Fireball's back flared wildly as he gave a loud roar. The ground under Lucario rumbled briefly before a towering pillar of ghostly blue flames spiraled upward. Lucario shouted in pain, consumed in fires that Cory shielded his eyes from.

When the flames vanished, Lucario was left wincing and holding its arm. Its body was littered with burn marks.

“An incredible counter by the red side!” Cedric said. “Lucario appears to have suffered a burn! How will this affect the tide of battle?”

Antoshi nodded to himself.
‘With that burn, Lucario's physical strength is greatly diminished.’

“Nice move!” Cory said. “That burn is not going to help make this battle any easier, though. We don't need physical attacks to win! Lucario, Aura Sphere!”

Lucario clenched its teeth, holding its arm at its sides again.

‘I wonder…’ Antoshi thought as he narrowed his eyes.

“Fireball, use Flamethrower!”

Fireball exhaled another stream of fire in the same moment Lucario launched its Aura Sphere. The two attacks collided. Aura Sphere was absorbed by the fires and almost immediately dissipated.

Both of their opponents were shocked.

“Whoa!” Cory exclaimed.

Yet, Fireball's attack continued onward. Lucario was struck by the powerful flames, shouting in agony as it was thrown for several meters. It rolled a few times before landing on its front.

Lucario groaned, trembling as it tried to lift itself up before it collapsed.

“Another great counter!” Cedric exclaimed, amid the cheering of the crowd. “Antoshi's wisely chosen Fire-type attack brings down the half-Steel-type Lucario! The tide of battle may be swinging in the favor of the young Trainer from Saffron!”

Cory recalled Lucario into its Poké Ball. Lucario's image on the giant displays was shaded out. Antoshi sighed in relief.

“That was one gamble that paid off,” Antoshi said to Cory. “Good thing you didn't go with another physical attack, otherwise we wouldn't have been able to do that!”

“That was a great gamble,” Cory replied, reaching for another ball on his belt. “Very clever, too. Don't forget I can use two more Pokémon left, with five to choose from!”

“People always like to remind us of how outnumbered we are,” Antoshi said, laughing. “That's not going to throw us off our game, though. We're always outnumbered.”

Cory smirked. “You make a fair point.” He threw out his next ball — a Great Ball. “I choose you — Crobat!”

From the ball emerged a large, bright purple bat with menacing red and yellow eyes. It screeched loudly, flapping its four wings to keep airborne.

“Crobat, Confuse Ray!” Cory quickly commanded. His Pokémon's eyes shifted to a bright, glowing purple.

“Fireball, cover your eyes!” Antoshi said.

It was already too late for Fireball to look away from the mesmerizing glow of Crobat's eyes. His vision became incredibly blurry, unable to formulate a thought in his head. He began to stumble about randomly with a dazed expression.

“Ohh!” Cedric exclaimed. “It appears the red side's Typhlosion has become confused! What does this mean for Antoshi and his solo Pokémon?!”

“Great …” Antoshi muttered in dismay. “Fireball, use Smokescreen!”

"Smokescreen?" Fireball wondered aloud, trying to remember what move that was.

He momentarily snapped out of his daze. He took a deep breath before exhaling a large plume of black smoke that enshrouded most of their side of the field. Afterward, he groaned and held his head while continuing to stumble.

“Crobat, Cross Poison!” Cory said.

Crobat crossed its wings over its face. It summoned forth two swaths of glowing, purple energy in the shape of an 'X' before launching itself into the smoke to deliver it. Fireball stumbled right into the path of Crobat's attack which burst into poisonous bubbles.

Fireball yelled in agony. The broad, searing attack struck vital points in his torso and abdomen. He was thrown hard enough that he fell out of the smokescreen and rolled to a stop next to Antoshi.

"… Did I just get hit?" Fireball asked, wearily. The smokescreen faded away.

“A direct hit!” Cedric said. “Crobat manages to land a devastating Cross Poison despite the Smokescreen!”

Fireball slowly got back to his feet, stumbling back onto the field. He groaned in pain, holding his chest with one hand.

‘That hit took a serious toll on Fireball,’ Antoshi thought. ‘We have to start playing safer. …’

“Fireball,” he said, “use Defense Curl!”

'Defense Curl…' Fireball thought. 'Defense Curl? I know this one…'

Fireball muttered in confusion before suddenly striking his face with his own paw. The crowd gasped in surprise as Fireball gave a goofy laugh.

"That wasn't it!" Fireball said, laughing.

“The confusion seems to have taken its toll!” Cedric remarked. “Antoshi's Typhlosion has struck itself in its confusion!”

Antoshi ran a shaking hand through his hair. Fireball still appeared fine after the self-inflicted damage, but the confusion took away a valuable attack opportunity from them.

“Aerial Ace, Crobat!”

Crobat screeched in response, soaring high into the air. It did a backflip before diving at Fireball with incredible speed.

“Now, Fireball,” Antoshi said, “give 'em a Thunder Punch!”

'Thunder Punch?' Fireball thought.

His eyes went wide, his forepaw suddenly crackling with electricity. Crobat momentarily vanished, reappearing as it dashed by Fireball to strike his face hard with its wing. At the same time, Fireball swung hard and caught Crobat in the nick of time with a Thunder Punch to its midsection.

The result of the traded blows sent Crobat spiraling upward. It smashed hard into the ground, twitching, unable to get back up.

“What an amazing turn of events!” Cedric said. “Typhlosion snaps out of its confusion just in time! Crobat is down! What an incredible display of skill and strength so far by the red side! What an upset this would be!!”

Crobat's image on the displays became shaded out. Cory was down to one Pokémon.

Wow,Cory thought, recalling his Crobat.Looks like Fireball is still really strong!

He reached for another Poké Ball on his belt. He gazed down at it for a moment, running his thumb over a star messily etched into its red top. He smiled warmly.

‘You haven't lost yet, my friend,’ Cory thought. ‘Not since, well, …’ he trailed off, glancing over at Fireball.

“Now, let's get our long-awaited rematch, buddy!” Cory said. “I choose you, Swampert!”

Antoshi gasped in surprise, staring down the large, cobalt blue biped. Fireball smirked, giving an acknowledging nod to his old rival. Swampert nodded back.

‘Well, shoot,’ Antoshi thought. ‘I certainly expected him to send out his Swampert at some point. It is a great choice on his part, tactically. He has to know by now that Fireball can use Burn Up. But, … should we use it?’ He glanced at Fireball, who appeared to be fully recovering from his confusion. ‘This certainly won't be like the last time we used the move. It's a gamble either way.’

A breeze passed by as the two Trainers grinned to each other, soaking up the moment of their long-awaited rematch. Their staredown brought back memories of that fateful day when they first met. For a moment in their minds, they were back in the Cerulean City Pokémon Center. Mudkip was facing off against Quilava all over again.

“All is quiet on the battlefield as both sides size each other up,” Cedric said, in a hushed tone. “The crowd has also fallen to a hush in this moment of tension. What could these two outstanding Trainers be planning?”

“Fireball,” Antoshi said, making the first move, “Flamethrower!”

Fireball roared as he fired a powerful stream of flames at his opponent.

“Guard!” Cory said.

Swampert shielded its face with both arms just before the flames consumed it. Once the attack petered out, Swampert thrust its arms out at its sides. While its naturally moist skin was mildly singed, it appeared no worse for wear.

Antoshi was shocked.

‘That is definitely not good,’ he thought.

“Swampert, Muddy Water!”

Cory's Pokémon smacked its hands on the ground, causing a rush of dirt and water to bubble up. The water came to life and quickly began spiraling around Swampert's body like a small maelstrom. It swirled around with increasing ferocity while expanding outward. Once it reached Fireball, it lashed hard at him. Fireball struggled to maintain his ground against the powerful waves of thick, dense water. The water thrashed violently and tore at his body. It felt similar to the sandstorms he recently weathered — with the added torture of being underwater as well.

“Hang on, Fireball!” Antoshi said, shielding his eyes just the same as his friend was.

The water abruptly lost all of its energy, splashing harmlessly upon the ground. Fireball was left soaked and covered in dirt. The flames on his back had dwindled severely. He was hunched over, his breathing ragged.

“Fireball, you okay?” Antoshi asked in concern.

The Typhlosion responded by shaking the muddy water out of his fur. With a grunt, the fires on his back came to life once more. He was intensely focused, keeping his eyes affixed to Swampert. Antoshi nodded in understanding.

“Fire Blast!” Antoshi said.

He brought his hands up to his neck, clasped down tightly, and took as deep a breath as he could muster. With a tremendous shout, he exhaled an intensely bright, five-pointed blast of fire. The flames roared as they raced toward its target. Cory shielded his eyes once again just before the impact of the attack. It exploded violently, echoing around the entire stadium. A cloud of smoke and ash concealed Swampert's frame.

‘Whoa,’ Cory thought.

Antoshi, too, was surprised and impressed. He had never seen Fireball summon forth such intensity in that attack before. He knew just how much this battle meant to Fireball. Not just because of the tournament, but because of the pride at stake against the one Pokémon he considered to be his rival.

As the smoke cleared, both Antoshi and Fireball gasped. Swampert was standing, its arms covering its face yet again. It slowly dropped its defensive stance, still looking to be in good shape.

‘That Swampert went through some incredible training,’ Antoshi thought. ‘Maybe … even more than Fireball.’

Fireball gnashed his teeth furiously, the fires on his back flaring up as a visual testament to the fire in his heart at that moment.

“Swampert,” Cory said, “use Waterfall!”

Swampert gave a shout before it rushed forth with incredible speed that a Pokémon of its size seemed incapable of. As it quickly closed the gap, its body suddenly became enveloped in a jet of water.

“Fireball, dodge it!”

Fireball's eyes went wide, unable to get out of the way in time. He was tackled hard, stuck to his opponent's body as Swampert began to soar high into the air. Fireball groaned loudly, trying to free himself from the powerful momentum. He managed to roll away, but it was to no avail as his opponent darted back down. A large stream of water trailed behind Swampert, reminiscent of a waterfall.

Fireball was again struck headlong by Swampert, helpless against the momentum as they plummeted together. Fireball crashed to the ground hard on his back with Swampert's head firmly buried in his chest. Swampert swiftly hopped back to its feet and ducked out of the way. Fireball was consumed by the falling tower of water, crushed further into the ground from the weight as it rained down upon him.

Fireball!” Antoshi shouted.

Swampert returned to its side of the field. Fireball grunted, struggling to lift himself up. Antoshi was awe-struck as Fireball's fires burned even brighter than before. The Typhlosion's resilience was beyond his belief. If Fireball could just hold out for a bit longer, he'd most definitely outlast Swampert's stamina. Fireball slowly turned to the boy, grinning and giving him a weak thumbs up.

Suddenly, Fireball collapsed. The fires on his back completely went out. Antoshi's heart sank into his stomach. Everything went silent in his head for a moment.

“Down!” Cedric exclaimed. “Antoshi's Typhlosion is down! The blue side's Cory is the victor!”

⁂    ⁂    ⁂

At the Cinnabar Gym, Blaire dropped her bag of snack chips in dismay.

“Seriously?” she wondered aloud. “Well, … I guess it couldn't be helped. They got way further than a Trainer with a single Pokémon probably should, and they put up a heck of a fight.”

Blaire offered a round of applause for the two, while her awaiting challenger grumbled.

“Can we battle now?” he asked.

⁂    ⁂    ⁂

Antoshi fell to his knees, the world around him seemed to move in slow-motion. The words of their defeat spoken by the announcer echoed in his head. His jaw quavered, clenching his fists, his eyes filling with tears. Their dream had come to a sudden, abrupt ending. Those eager hopes got a cold dose of reality.

Yet, with tear-stained eyes, he looked to his fainted friend who had fought with everything he had for so long. He couldn't help but smile. He sniffled and closed his eyes, breathing a slow and shaky sigh of relief.

‘It's over,’ he thought. ‘Just like that, our long journey in Kanto is over. It didn't end the way we'd hoped, Fireball, but you and I knew we were taking a huge risk going into this just the two of us. We didn't win every battle we faced, but we always persevered. If there's anything I've learned from you, it's that there is nothing you and I can't eventually overcome. We'll overcome this, just like every other obstacle we've had in our way. We did our absolute best. The journey may be over for now, but it's also the beginning of a brand-new one.’

Antoshi took Fireball's Poké Ball from his pocket and stared at it for a moment.

‘I wonder how long it's been since you were last inside here? Six months? Maybe seven? I hate to put you back in, but it looks like I have to. Just for a few minutes, so I can bring you to the Pokémon Center to get you all healed up.’

He held up the ball, pulling his unconscious friend into it in a crimson beam of light.

“Fireball, … return.”

With one hand, he casually wiped the tears from his eyes and stood up as the crowd began to cheer louder. With a long sigh, he faced them. He smiled as proudly as he could, taking his loss with grace. He held Fireball's Poké Ball tightly as he turned and walked away.

“Antoshi!” Cory called out, recalling his Swampert. He jogged over to his opponent, stopping as Antoshi turned to him. “Thank you for battling me. You and Fireball were one of the best teams I've ever faced. I respect both of you a great deal.”

Antoshi smiled gently and gave him a nod.

“Let's hear it for Cory!” Cedric said, prompting those in attendance to applaud and cheer.

As Cory waved to the crowd, Antoshi disappeared back into the stadium tunnel.

⁂    ⁂    ⁂

As he promised his friend, it only took a few minutes for Antoshi to reach the stadium's Pokémon Center. He handed Fireball's Poké Ball to Nurse Joy before taking a seat in the nearby empty waiting room.

Nurse Joy soon called him back over once the Typhlosion was fully healed. He thanked her and took the ball back. With a smile, he held the ball out and summoned Fireball from its confines in a bright light.

Fireball immediately looked to Antoshi with a guilty expression.

"Antoshi," he quietly said. "I'm so sorry. I wasn't strong enough, I—"

Antoshi silenced him when he hugged his friend as tightly as he could. Fireball was taken by surprise, but smiled and hugged his friend back. Tears rolled down both of their faces.

“You don't have to apologize for anything,” he said, his voice trembling. “You're my best friend. I love you, Fireball.”

"I love you, too," he replied.

The two lamented for their loss, letting out their emotions as they wept together. It was the end of their long journey in Kanto.