B1 — 6. The Contenders Pt. 2

The Unova station down the street played popular beats created by Elesa, showing their relative’s highlights and pictures of each contender.  Rhea found it a little sad when Jason and her own pictures came up, displaying a question mark before throwing on past regional Starter Award winners that had hidden their information.

Kanto

Johto

Hoenn

Sinnoh

Unova

Kalos

Alola

Galar

It was an intimidating line-up with a few of the regions instituting the age-lock later than others; it only made sense to Rhea that when the countries finally came together on the restriction, the first International Bronze League would add even more pressure.  These were the beginning Trainers that the Masters of each region most recommended to look out for, and Rhea knew her own pedigree would spark a lot of chatter, much like Lucian was getting.

The one thing that drew her lips together upon reading all the names was that a little more than half of those boys and girls knew about her, at least by name, and it didn’t take a genius to put two and two together by her region.  Masters were a part of a tight community, and word got around.

Her eyes settled on Lucian and Ludovic’s names; her dad wasn’t on good terms with Diantha, but hopefully, that hadn’t made it home.  From everything she heard, the Active Champion was far too busy to spend much time with her son, much like her own mother.

However, word down the grapevine said he was very adamant and active about proving his worth to his mother.  Rhea doubted his mother thought he wasn’t worthy of being her son but could understand why he’d feel inadequate with his parents’ accomplishments at such a young age, and he wasn’t able to start as early.

Rhea took one last breath before walking the rest of the way to the research center, passing packed restaurants; however, she slowed to stare at a few large buildings designated for fish farms.

Over the past two decades, animal wildlife conservationists, such as Flare, had begun making waves again after their previous leadership’s glorious debacle.  Since the Pokévirus and Gigavirus rapidly spread through the world from the Ultra War, Pokémon had become far more aggressive, and resource hungry, which meant the already in danger animal kingdom had diminished substantially.

Pokémon were now feeding on each other’s energies in the wild, where before they’d gain much of their nutrients from the almost defenseless wildlife.  Tens of dozens of fish species had vanished from the oceans, and many more were nearing extinction.  Therefore, wildlife activists and Pokémon activists clashed on the proper way to handle such a crisis.

Humans were mostly concerned because their precious meat and ingredient supply was diminishing swiftly, causing several large companies to band together to respond to providing predator-free zones for farming wildlife, which Rhea guessed was better than letting Pokémon ravage the world of animal life.

“Hmm…”

She watched several large breeds of fish in the building display front play with one another before moving on; Flare had made great strides in humane wildlife conditions within the community, which most people saw in a positive light.

On the other hand, the companies hated the organization with a passion since they usually had crazy, unreasonable demands while, on occasion, providing manipulated framing to get the public up in arms to force them to settle in court.

It was a complicated mess that Rhea didn’t want any part in, but she did love the products the saved animal species provided them.

She turned her attention to the closed-off street ahead, roadblocks put in place to stop vehicle traffic, but the crowds were pushing slightly behind even those with the volume of people from every region.

Rhea glanced up at a nearby News board while finding a path through the throng; packs of people were taking photos and looking for the twenty-four Trainers scheduled to enter within the next thirty-five minutes.

The closer she got, the harder it was to push forward until she saw a path that had been opened for vehicles carrying the trainers from the city’s airfield to get through; Pallet Officers were keeping the line.

Making her way to the break, Rhea managed to get to an officer; she gave a charming smile to the impatient man with a 6-foot-tall Machoke by his side.  “Excuse me!”  She said, trying to be heard with the loud chatter surrounding them.  “Excuse me!”

He frowned, glancing down at her with a furrowed brow as she held up her phone, showing the email message from the Oak Research Foundation that she was a recipient.  The projected holographic display caught not only his attention but the others around her; the phone was only a rumor among tech junkies.

“Rhea … the mystery Trainer on the list?”  The officer asked with a furrowed brow, glancing down at his own phone to be sure.

She chuckled at the whispers branching out around her.  “Not a mystery anymore, I suppose.”

As could be expected, the crowd was pushed back as individuals tried to make room to take her photo, launching so many questions at her that she wasn’t sure who asked what.

“Is there a reason for the secrecy?”

“Which Masters are you related to?”

“Do you have any comments about Amira Rocket making the line-up?”

“What’s your last name?”

The officer quickly ushered her through with the throng closing in to continue their barrage, but the Machoke’s large frame moved to block them from breaking the barrier with a low grunt, and several officers nearby moved to help support him with warnings by law enforcement to stay within the designated area.

Rhea did her best to ignore the excited rush of noise that followed her as she walked the final block to the Oak Research Center’s main entrance, but she couldn’t help but blush upon hearing the loud overhead News commentary as they followed her lone march in the middle of the paved road.

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“… We’ve just got confirmation that one of Kanto’s mystery participants has just made an appearance on Pallet’s Main and 200th street!  We’re getting live footage now … as you can see, she already has two … quite unique pokéballs, and by the close-up … yes, the activation indicator shows they are in use; Rhea already has two Pokémon bonded to her.”

A male voice followed the female.  “Rhea must have a prominent lineage from that fact alone, Brenda!  Bonding to two Pokémon on the first day of the League without visible side effects, and … does that mean she won’t be receiving a partner from the Oak Starter Award?  Has that ever happened before?”

Brenda hesitated for a moment.  “… Our research team is going through the data entries now … no, Michael.  We’re talking about Pokémon that are among the top of their breeding tiers, and there seems to be a clause in the Award that the participant can bring their own Starter, but they may not choose from the cast selection online.”

“Isn’t that insane?”  Michael mused with interest.  “Rhea forewent the traditional, very thoroughly bred Starters for a third party, and two of them?  What could they be; do you think it’s a strategy she’s using to gain the upper hand against the others since she knows the possible Types the other competitors have to choose from?”

“Mmh, yeah, that’s my bet,” Brenda replied with a questioning tone.  “Although … oh, we’re getting reports that bets are already flying in on various aspects of our mystery girl!  Tens of thousands of credits are being put forward on Rhea’s Pokémon Type-selection alone that might be able to counter Water, Fire, and Grass-types.

“However, there’s a lot of confusion sweeping the betting field as experts are trying to determine what Pokémon Type combination would offer the best offensive and defensive line-up.  It’s already being posed that she’ll ask for a double battle, fighting two of the young Trainers herself, using two specially selected Pokémon.”

Rhea was more than a little floored at the speculations.

Seriously … people are going crazy over the smallest things … wait, what was that?

Michael hummed thoughtfully through the display speakers.  “Do you think it could be a Numel, Fire and Ground, with some prepped TM Moves?  No, I’m seeing someone say it has to be a Wooper with maybe a Rotom?  Lists are already flying in with projected team line-ups!”

TMs … no, we can’t have any of that on the first Starter Battle; it’s against the rules.  Well … great, I’m going to make a ton of people lose their money, and I’ve only been seen for what … a minute or two?  Yup … people are gonna hate me.

She made it halfway up the stairs to the center when the crowd went silent.  Turning around, Rhea watched an expensive-looking limo with pitch-black windows rolling through the street.  A large, elegant R was painted on the hood and doors, waving the Viridian City symbolic crest of a fierce Nidoking and Nidoqueen with the chocolate diamond-encrusted Gym Badge between them on the material’s dark green background.

It pulled to the front entrance for a large bodyguard, complete with the entire black suit and glasses getup, to get out and open the back door while saying something while pressing the device in his ear.

Amira exited the vehicle, looking somewhat annoyed while muttering a few things to someone inside before shutting the door a bit harder than was necessary.  Still, she kept a reasonably restrained demeanor as the guard moved to the back, opening the trunk to get a rather cute red and black tote backpack with pink trim, just as packed as Rhea’s.

Unlike Rhea, though, the Rocket girl was wearing a three-floor tiered rogue dress that ended just above her knees, completing the outfit with short matching heels, a red heart crochet beaded bracelet, a velvet choker, and gold-framed rose-tinted teashades.

She was a lot prettier than what Rhea remembered.  Her thick crimson hair was silky and straight, pulled back into a feather braid with a waterfall twist to keep her hair out of the way.

Amira was slightly more curved than the images she’d seen of her mother and appeared to be taller, taking after her father and grandmother’s line, but still an inch shorter than Rhea.  From the few images of Amira online, she knew that it wasn’t her rose-tinted glasses that gave Amira her big red irises either, and the girl was definitely a bit more fit than Rhea.

Rhea was a little taken aback by how quiet the throng had gotten, and Amira didn’t pay them the time of day, walking over to take her pack from the bodyguard before he could take it up himself.

Both Rhea and Amira’s attention moved back to the car as her door opened again, revealing her mother.  Former Champion Lyra was noticeably smaller than her daughter by at least three inches and had a much more casual outfit with a brown long sleeve shirt on with matching shorts as she rushed over to hug Amira, whispering something to her.

Amira’s features softened, hugging her mother back.

Not wanting to gawk, Rhea went inside the building.

She seems close to her mother … that’s nice.

Lyra was well within her rights to claim the title of Active Champion, but like many of the Kanto past contenders, she wasn’t interested in the job’s duties and instead acted as a back-up.  Active Champion Chase was the current chief of the Johto and Kanto Pokémon League.

It was well-known that he was among the weakest of any regional Active Champion; however, the number of Kanto Legendary Champions lying in the shadows was more than intimidating by the normal regional standard.  Kanto was basically universally known to have the greatest military power out of the major regions because of the Legendary-tier figures it was home to, making it an excellent start to an International Tournament.  Rhea wasn’t personally that fond of all her region’s legends, though.

Rhea glanced around the front office area where dozens of scientists moved between floors, apparently far more interested in their research than the multi-regional collaboration happening around them.

A rather famous individual instantly caught her attention as he spotted her; Professor Elm hurriedly walked over to greet her.  “Ah, Rhea!”  He exclaimed, glancing down at a sheet of paper to tick her name off.

“That’s me,” she greeted with a forced chuckle, rubbing her left ear as it itched, still feeling the stress from the noise outside; Elm had met her a few times.  “Umm … Professor Elm?  Isn’t your lab on the Johto side?”

“Ah, yes, yes, but I make stops to see Professor Oak from time to time; there’s so much happening recently with new Pokémon breakthroughs coming through that it’s often hard to keep up!”

“Yeah, my Mom seems to think the same way, hehe.”  Rhea nervously rubbed the back of her neck.  “So, uh … where should I go?”

“Ah, ah, right!  You can follow me … wait, is there another arrival outside?”  He questioned, glancing at the expensive vehicle below.

Rhea followed his gaze, readjusting her backpack.  “Umm, yeah.  Amira Rocket just arrived; she’s just saying goodbye to her mom.”

“Rocket, huh?  Well, I suppose we’ll wait for her, then!  Most of the other participants arrived quite early to skip the crowd, and several chose to sleep here to avoid the clamor entirely,” he laughed.

She nodded, eyeing the throng surrounding the building through the glass.  “… Probably something I should have thought of…”

He hummed with interest.  “Yes, the mystery approach was taken by your brother two years back.  It’s more of a sure-fire way to get more attention on you than less, I’m afraid, but you do have a rather large number of well-known family members,” he noted with a strained chuckle.  “I suppose it might be seen as more fair to the others.  Oh, wait!”

“Hmm?”  Rhea’s focus shot back to him as he ruffled through a few papers in his big lab coat pockets.

“… Where was it … ah, here it is!  I read your mother’s recent work on the fusion of evolutionary stones with Pokémon anatomy and was floored by the immaculate work!  Uh … let’s see … yes, the instability of temporary PokéEvolutionary synthesis in Mega, Syncro-Burst, and Z-Moves causes a junction between Trainer and Pokémon through a unification of genosyncrisis energies that creates a combustion of focused elements to break past the evolutionary wall for a limited time.

“By studying the elemental stones, there was evidence that a more stable means of similar delivery systems could be artificially created to replace the synchro-fusion devices Masters commonly use, integrating the energy found within into a Pokémon, and potentially, even the Trainer.”

He gave her an expectant stare, but all she returned was vacant eyes.

“… Uh, Professor … I don’t know what all of that means, but umm … wait, maybe I do, but … you’ll have to talk to her about that.”

“Ah, right, right, but for someone as renowned and brilliant as your mother … is she inferring human evolution here?  It’s just so wild of a theory, but she’s already found a means to accomplish the former process with what I heard from a few Silph colleges I know.  It’s just … it’s so exciting!”

“Yeah…”  Rhea chuckled.  “I’m sure it is, Professor.”

His grey irises shot to her crochet belt.  “… Ah, I saw that you weren’t going to be selecting one of the Pokémon each of the Professors gathered for the Award!  Did your mother breed them?  Oh, I’m sure there are so many other things she’s done,” he mumbled, sparkling eyes glowing as he ogled her pokéballs.  “Master Balls, too?!  Interesting … how are you feeling?”

Rhea did her best to not look uncomfortable; she’d often been told Professor Elm was kind of an eccentric guy, but she heard the same thing about every major regional professor, and to a degree, it was true with every one she’d met.

“… Umm, a little sore, to be honest, but I’m told that’ll be normal for a bit,” Rhea mumbled, watching Amira climb the stairs with her mother’s teary-eyed wave in the background.

“Is that right?”  He whispered.  “You know, considering your pedigree … I mean, most of the other selected Trainers for the Award shouldn’t feel a thing from even the specially bred Pokémon.  It makes me really wonder what your mother did to your Pokemon that caused such a strain on you … considering they’re Master Balls, though.  Hmm…”

They both turned to welcome Amira as she entered the building; she adjusted her backpack, placid expression settling on them before folding her rose-tinted glasses, securing them on the front of her dress.

The three of them stared at each other in silence for a few seconds before Amira asked, “… So … is there a place I’m supposed to be?”  Her voice was pretty, and Rhea could see her being a good singer just by her tone.

Elm jumped.  “Ah, yes, yes, follow me!”  He motioned, leading them toward the left-branching hallway.

Rhea did her best not to stare at Amira, but the girl didn’t seem to have the same reservation, eyeing her with an appraising expression, which wasn’t that unnatural; they might be spending several months with each other.

“… You’re Rhea, right; the girl that didn’t reveal her parents?”  Amira asked, heels tapping lightly against the tile floor; it was a bit distracting to Rhea, making her mind wander.

How are you going to go hiking in the forest with those?  Did she even bring hiking shoes or sandals … her bag seems about as full as mine…

“Umm … yeah, that’s me … the girl that no one knows…”

“Rhea!”

She winced, glancing up to see Ariel, Amy, and Olivia waving at her.

“… The girl no one knows?”  Amira mumbled with a lifted red eyebrow.

Great timing, guys…

Ariel had the same orange hair and slim build as her mother, but unlike her, she refrained from using her trademark headband, instead crafting her long locks into a flower bun.

Amy didn’t resemble her aunt at all, towering over the other women at 6’1 with a very fit physique that showed her daily martial arts training with Maylene.  Her shoulder-length white hair and striking pink eyes were filled with glee upon seeing her.

Olivia, on the other hand, took after her mother in many ways, including her curves and bubbly attitude.  However, unlike her mother, Olivia was very much a dress-girl and hated the way she looked with Candice’s style of braids from a young age.

Rhea did her best not to glare at the girls as they ran over to greet them.

Ariel was in the lead.  “I haven’t seen you for like two years, girl; you’re so cute with that skirt!”

“Oh?”  Olivia winked, eyeing her legs.  “I thought you’d be too embarrassed to show that much skin.”

Rhea’s cheeks burned as Elm stepped to the side with Amira, giving them space to chat.  “I have yoga shorts underneath!”  She huffed.

“I’m sure you do,” Olivia snickered.  “Booty shorts, hmm?  Oh, what do you think about my new blue dress?  Like the pink ribbon?  A boy back home gave it to me as a parting gift,” she giggled.

Amy gave her friend a testing grin.  “Yeah, she won’t shut up about it.  It’s like a boy’s never given her a thing in her life.”

“Hey!”  Olivia growled, giving Amy a scowl.  “I’ve gotten plenty of gifts from…”

“That’s the point!”  Ariel giggled.  “Oh, so, Rhea, your aunt said you already got your Pokémon!  Can we see?”

Amira’s eyes fell to her belt, lips pressing to the side.

“Oh, purple pokéballs … with pink dots?”  Olivia squealed.  “You always get the nice stuff; wait … I swear I’ve seen some of those before!  Huh … I want to be fashionable, too…”

Professor Elm cleared his throat, drawing their attention.  “I’m afraid we’re running out of time, girls,” he said with an apologetic smile.  “It’s almost time for Professor Oak to give his opening speech before handing out each of your Pokémon that you selected through the email link, and then there’s the ceremonial battles.”

“Ah, okay, okay,” Ariel replied, giving Rhea a grin.  “I’m gonna win, Rhea, so make sure to get on my team!”

“You know it’s random,” Amy mumbled while rolling her eyes.

“Amy,” Olivia sighed, “it’s an expression!”

Rhea giggled, following after the three as they entered the hall.  Sure enough, almost every seat was filled, all watching them.

Several boys and girls called their names with a friendly wave, and Olivia leaned in with an amused grin.  “Smile and wave, girls.  Smile and wave.”

Unsurprisingly, Rhea saw the Johto and Unova group on the same row, Casey, Lori, and Len together, while Barry, Angel, and Mark took the other side.

Casey was wearing a sports bra and tight-fitting blue jeans that showed off her body far more than Rhea was comfortable with.  Lori wore black tights, gloves, and a purple dress that was similar to the one she’d seen her sister wear once, and figured it was probably a gift; the theme matched her purple irises and long silky hair that fell to her lower back.

Angel was very noticeable with his fair, feminine features, slim build, and thick, long blue hair tied back into a ponytail.  He wore a few accessories that highlighted his feminine appeal even more, but they were probably gifts from his mother.

The Hoenn gang knew of her because of her grandparents, but she’d personally only met their relatives while she had almost no information on the Alola gang, but their colorful attire and darker skin attracted her attention; it was rare to see that kind of tan in the far south of the Orange Archipelago or Sevii Islands, much less Kanto.

Rhea frowned, realizing the Kalos boys and Jason were the only people missing.  The Galar girls’ strange accent stole her focus as they spoke to the boy with them, and strangely, he didn’t seem to have the same odd words or phrases they used, but she had to remind herself that the accent changed from north to south Galar.

Casey leaned forward to whisper, “Hey, girl!  How’s it been in nowhere land?”

She took a seat with the Sinnoh girls beside her, catching Amira sitting in the furthest chair back upon glancing around.

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“Good,” Rhea forced a chuckle while setting her bag in front of her with the others.  “That party seemed pretty crazy a few weeks ago.”

“Oh, wait ‘till ya see what I have planned next!”  She snickered while adjusting her bangs.

Len leaned forward with a wry smile.  “Cass hasn’t even told us what it is.”

“You expected her to spill this soon?”  Lori smirked.

“… Viridian, it’s the place!”  Casey whispered.  “I’ll send y’all the info when we all get there; it’s gonna set the News on fire!”

Before Rhea could say she was trying to avoid that kind of attention, everyone went silent as Professor Oak walked through a side door, taking the small platform that had been set up in the room, and just as her phone buzzed at her side, indicating the time had arrived, three boys entered the hall.

Oak smiled as everyone’s focus moved to the group.  “Ah, the Kalos group, punctual to the minute.”

“Professor,” the three handsome and well-dressed boys responded, moving to sit together in the middle row.

Casey glanced back at the boys with a snicker.  “Think the self-image posse are really wild under those suits?”  She whispered.

“Mmh,” Len followed her gaze with an appraising smile.  “I dunno; that Lucian guy seems as tight-laced as it gets, ya know?  Think they’ve even had a girlfriend?”

Lori’s smirk was still in place.  “If they pulled in a Jinx, I’d be impressed.”

Ariel, Amy, and Olivia winced at her comment, and not a few seconds later, Jason came jogging through the door with heavy breaths, completing the twenty-four attendees.

“… S-Sorry, Professor, umm … I got, got held up at the strip.”  Rhea guessed his mother had been on a picture frenzy to the very minute he had to leave.

Oak chuckled.  “I’m sure you did, Jason.  Please, take a seat.”

The Professor took a deep breath, staring around at the seventeen-year-old boys and girls, showing a proud smile.  “Each of your region’s professors will be in shortly, but I just wanted to say, it’s such a treat seeing so many Trainers from various regions coming together for a friendly competition.  Your journey marks a new beginning for your country’s relations, but don’t let that get in the way of having the time of your lives.  You’ll never get these years back; make the most of it.”

Rhea’s smile fell a little as Casey leaned to her right to whisper to Lori and Len.  “That’s what I’m talkin’ about!  Let’s get this party goin’.”

The Professor eyed the pair, making them give a small chuckle before falling silent.  “There will be plenty of time for fun, and I know you’re all antsy to receive your first Pokémon, bond with them, and feel the thrill of battling, but first, there are a few things that must be addressed…”


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