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All color of scales flashed through the air over the Draconid village as every person within, human or pokegirl, sought to get a closer look at the seated figure below. Zinnia sat with her wings and tail tucked in, listening and answering questions from the crowd.
Her eyes flicked ever so slightly past the excited Salamence talking to her. To an old, old gaze. Zinnia’s grandmother gazed back until she bowed slightly.
Zinnia didn’t bow back. But after she had gone, two full days later, the old woman found a neatly folded pile of clothing waiting for her outside her bedroom door. Topped with a glistening emerald scale.
On the other side of the league Nicholas watched the latest cruise ship dock at the Battle Frontier. He’d been waiting for this one.
Before long he smiled and began to wave at a disembarking group. After a few minutes he moved to greet them, laughing along with Sabrina as they embraced before he turned to the other three that had accompanied her. “Gary! Vira! And, Ash. I’m so glad all of you came.”
Nicholas, Sabrina, Gary, and Vira were alone, but there was one pokegirl among the group. And she was the one who spoke, not her tamer. “We’re happy to see you again, Nicholas,” the Pikachu said in a light and happy voice that betrayed none of the explosive strength within her. “Are we early?”
Nicholas chuckled and stepped aside to wave the others forwards. “The opening ceremony is about to begin.”
The group was moving forwards together. But as Ash passed Nicholas, his lips moved. And the smile Nicholas had been holding faded away.
It was while most of the island was distracted by the grand ceremonies Scott was putting on that the two found each other again. On a small rise overlooking the sea.
Nicholas watched Ash and his Pikachu take the last few steps to join him before he turned away. “I’m here.”
“But she is not.”
Nicholas didn’t react to the low, rasping voice. “I don’t control her. Just as you do not control… Jean, was it?”
The Pikachu curtsied. “That’s right.”
“I would like to meet her again.”
Nicholas kept his eyes on the water for a few seconds before speaking again. “I’ve let her know. Whether she chooses to come is her own decision.”
“An obvious one, my Master.” Kali had appeared in the air at Nicholas’ shoulder and she gazed down at Ash and Jean. “Is it time?”
Nicholas placed a hand on Kali’s arm. “No. This is not the time or place to finish what we started.” He finally turned back to Ash. “We’re here.”
Jean was holding back a grin as she stared at Kali. Sparks zipped across her skin, a few arcing and disintegrating the blades of grass around her. So it was Ash who spoke again. “What do you want, Nicholas Topolski?”
Nicholas felt the sea breeze blowing past. It caught Kali’s hair, bringing strands forwards to twist and float beside him. He could feel her clearly, her interest in Jean, in Ash, in him.
“I want to be defeated.”
Ash smiled slightly. “Humans can’t do that, you know. No matter how hard you search, you will never find one who can.”
“I found you.”
“By the time you found me, you were no longer simply human,” Ash replied. “I was not at all. I feel… a bit more human now. But I still remember. I remember what I saw. I remember what I felt. When she appeared.”
“Is that why you wanted to see Kali again?” Nicholas asked. “To see her with human eyes?”
Ash looked over at Kali. “Maybe. But I also wanted to see you together. To see if I could still tell you apart.” His eyes moved back to Nicholas. “It’s harder now. Will you lose yourself, Nicholas? Just as I once did?” His eyes were boring into Nicholas now. “Or will you prove your superiority, while maintaining your humanity?”
Nicholas had no answer for him. He still didn’t, as the festivities dragged on, as all manner of tamer challenged the battle facilities on that island. He watched dozens, hundreds of explosive battles, but he never felt the urge to join in.
Even when, days later, Steven Stone himself came to tour the island, Nicholas had nothing to say.
“Good to see you’re doing well,” Steven said. His harem was mingling with all of Nicholas’, including Bea and Tetsu, the two Metagross meeting here for the first time as equals. “Where are you headed next?”
“Home, I think,” Nicholas replied quietly. “I came to Hoenn looking for a vacation. It’s taken me months, but I’ve finally found it. I’d like to enjoy this break.” He let out his breath in a long sigh. “It gives me time to think.”
Steven nodded slightly. “I thought you seemed quiet.”
Nicholas cracked a smile. “I apologize. You came here to have a good time and I’m here dampening the mood.”
“It would be horribly rude of me to force my friend to smile just for me,” Steven replied with a smile of his own. “Actually, I came here for another reason. Do you remember what I talked about back at the Weather Institute?”
Nicholas frowned to himself. “Not especially, no.”
“I was hoping to pursue my own interests for once, not worry about the cults,” Steven explained, “and now the cults are no longer a problem. After Bea and Tetsu had their battle I wasn’t sure what to do.” He laughed. “That is until I was contacted by an old friend of mine. You might have met him. Pyramid King Brandon.”
Nicholas blinked. “Oh, one of the tamers that took the frontier brain title here?”
“Yep. He’s an explorer, and apparently, he’s found some information on those ancient synthetic pokegirl titans I was looking into. We’re going to head out on a dig tomorrow.” Steven grinned. “I couldn’t just swing by without saying hello, though.”
Nicholas finally smiled for real and reached over to clasp Steven’s hand. “I appreciate it. Really.”
“Is whatever you’re thinking about something I can help you with?” Steven asked.
Nicholas looked past Steven to their mingling harems. “I don’t want to sound like an asshole, so, no.”
Steven chuckled. “Nobody can deny there’s something different about you, Nicholas. What you’ve told me, what I’ve witnessed, you’re not wrong to think that you’re better than the rest of us pitiful humans.” He turned away as Nicholas remained silent. “I appreciate the thought, but Lucy told me all about your speech back then. I know what you’re struggling with.” He watched the pokegirls for a bit before shaking his head and stepping away. “There’s nothing wrong with being powerful. It’s what you choose to do with that power that defines you. I’m glad you’re the man who was given yours.”
Midna growled as she fidgeted with her suit. “Is this really necessary, Master? It’s crushing my fur.”
Nicholas smiled at her. He was at the Lilycove Contest Hall for one of the final activities of this so, so long overdue vacation. Sabrina was waiting for him inside and he was having to hold himself back from chasing her. The elegant dress she’d donned was really something else.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t just here as a spectator. A handful of paparazzi were watching him, their cameras clicking while he waited. The side effect of what he had done. He was truly on the way to becoming the World Champion, now. People had taken notice.
Finally he saw Wanda in the crowd. “Wanda!” The cameras perked up, lights flashing as the nervous woman made her way to him, her fiancé Riley at her side. “What do you think?”
Wanda was dressed up to match the event but even though she was undoubtedly used to this kind of attention she still looked a bit overwhelmed. “I… can’t believe I’m really here,” she said. “Thank you. Thank you, Nicholas. Thank you so much.”
Nicholas chuckled. “Don’t thank me yet.” He made sure he still knew where his target was before turning and beckoning Wanda and Riley towards one of the doors. “I just about put you on the ticket, you know.”
Wanda paled. “H-H-Here? I could… I wouldn’t have…”
Nicholas laughed and held the door open for the pair, stepping through as Wanda went completely still. The woman waiting inside glanced over when she heard Nicholas clear his throat and her face brightened. “Sir Topolski! Our generous patron for tonight, how wonderful to see you!”
“The pleasure is, of course, all mine, Miss Lisia,” Nicholas replied, bowing slightly and nudging the stunned Wanda with his shoulder. “This is the extraordinary young coordinator I told you I met.”
“The Verdanturf Star! Wanda, was it?” Lisia asked with a happy giggle. “Oh, I’m so disappointed that I never held an event in Verdanturf. To miss out on such a talent for so long…”
Nicholas nudged Wanda again, a bit harder, to shake her out of her stupor before straightening up. “My lady is waiting for me, I’m afraid, so I will have to leave you two alone. I look forward to witnessing an excellent performance tonight as always, Miss Lisia.”
Nicholas finally couldn’t hold his grin any longer and he broke down just moments after the flustered Wanda was out of sight. Being a celebrity was kind of fun, actually.
His eyes moved to the other pair of reserved seats he had given out. Another hair of green sat next to one of brown. He’d leave those two alone. After all, he’d given Wally both tickets without telling May. He wasn’t going to ruin the young man’s courage.
The smiling woman waiting for him, however, was going to get all of his attention. Sabrina gave him a kiss as Nicholas sat, Midna dutifully taking the outer seat to let the two humans sit next to one another.
“It must be fun, galivanting across the continent like this,” Sabrina teased. “While I’m stuck in that stuffy old gym.”
“You could always quit,” Nicholas chuckled back.
“Unlike you, mister world-wide, I don’t have people trying to just give me money,” Sabrina huffed. “I need the stipend.”
“I know.” Nicholas settled back. “There’s just… more out there, you know. More than your gym. I want you to be happy.”
Sabrina gazed at him for a few long seconds. “I know,” she finally murmured. As the lights began to dim she leaned over and rested her head on his shoulder.
As the night progressed, and the coordinators performed, her eyes were lost in the show.
Bea, Metagross (Alpha) – Level 60
Marin, Sharpedo (Beta) – Level 57
Elaine, Blaziken – Level 56
Morgana, Gardevoir – Level 56
Aria, Altaria – Level 56
Midna, Absol – Level 57
Zinnia, ‘Salamence’ – Level 70
Aster, Salamence – Level 62
Kalmiya, Porygon-Z – Level 5
END BOOK 3