B1 — 7. The First Challenge

POV: Rhea Everhart (our 17-year-old protagonist about to start her Bronze-tier journey)

Pokemon Map:  I loosely follow this map as a visual guide; the creator made it in paint?!?!  It’s insane!  Some errors here and there, but I follow its design for the most part.  Areas can be further apart, come cities are in the wrong places or not listed, and the regions aren’t nearly so close.  The best map I’ve found, though!

Recap:  We discovered the current status of real animes in the Pokemon world and how bad it is for them.  Nature has a way of killing off the weak, I suppose, and humans adapted with Pokemon … or were they Pokemon … time will tell.

We got a list of the 24 Award winners, and now we get to see who is selected to be our MC’s teammates!  Who will be paired with who, I wonder?

Rhea knows most of the line-up by at least reputation.  Things could get spicy, though!  We’ve already met quite a few characters in the running to be Rhea’s two companions.  Now, let’s continue!

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Rhea glanced to her left as Jason hurried to sit down in the empty seat beside her; the Sinnoh girls on her right.  He gave her a forced smile while taming his hair, windswept after his mad dash for the building.

The other regions’ professors filled in at the back, Rowan wheeling a cart with Ultra-type pokéballs, and a Magnemite held a camera, floating along the cleared aisle between the chairs to record the professor once the broadcast started.

Everyone listened as Oak spoke, glancing between them with a serious expression.  “The live broadcast to start the International Bronze League will begin shortly, so now would be a good chance to make sure you’re presentable.”

Rhea wasn’t the only one to smooth out her skirt and adjust her position, and even the professors were taking a moment to straighten their jackets.  However, one particular pretty peach-haired woman caught Rhea’s gaze.

She was aware of all the other significant professors since most of them had worked with her mother on more than one major project over the years, but this woman was new.  She recognized Birch from Hoenn, and Elm.  Of course, Rowan was a regular mention of her mother and aunt since he was close to the family.

Rhea’s pearly blue irises settled on the handsome, shirtless figure of Professor Kukui of Alola, and despite knowing he was married, her cheeks darkened.  Her vision swiftly moved to the next person, which happened to be the lovely Professor Aurea Juniper, leaving Professor Augustine Sycamore from Kalos.

That only left two major academics missing from Rhea’s knowledge, Professor Magnolia of Galar, which likely meant this very young aqua-eyed woman, not even wearing a lab coat, was taking her place, and Professor Philena Ivy from the Orange Archipelago.

Although Ivy’s absence was expected since the Orange Archipelago’s Champion hadn’t signed off on everything needed within the United Indigo Summit like many other regions; it was expected that they’d participate in the International League initiative if this was a success.

While Rhea’s brain tried to find a place for the new professor, Oak just powered through his speech.  “With the aid of each of my esteemed colleagues,” he gestured at the small group in the back, “we pooled our resources and breeding contacts to give each of you the best Starter available, providing the most extensive list of options any singular region could offer.

“You each selected one of the many Starters that were listed upon the linked email, which was quite the sight,” he chuckled.  “Within the first fifteen minutes, almost all of you had already claimed one.”

Rhea managed to get Eevee, but her mother said she’d already taken care of any issues, and sure enough, she had Nova; so, she assumed the Starter Eevee had opened up for someone else to snatch.  It didn’t show who claimed what, only what was available, so she couldn’t be sure who had what.

“There will be many trials during this League, and some shocking additions,” he mumbled with a strained smile.  “Some I don’t agree with, but it is outside my control,” he sighed.

“In any case, your Professor has spent what time was available with your selected Pokémon to give it a basic degree of training that is normally acceptable for Starters, which will give you an advantageous edge to try and combat some of the new functions of this League.”

Rhea’s stomach swam with butterflies at the news; she heard there was going to be changes to the format, it was to be expected with an entirely new International League, but the way Oak framed it made her feel like this Award was more of a detriment than a benefit.  She didn’t seem to be the only one that noticed the Professor’s tone.

Her aunt was a part of the United Indigo Summit, which meant she had a hand in everything related to this League, but she would be a troll, and not tell her.  Rhea glanced back at Lucian; his mother was directly involved, too.

“This League will be more challenging than any past Bronze Division you’ve seen.  Now … the Professors will each hand you your Pokémon.  They’ve already been prepared for the Trading Process, which means the next person to touch them will be bonded.  Once everyone has bonded, please return the protective casing to the cart.”

Each of the professors moved between the isles, handing each person a square metallic box, likely constructed out of an Everstone alloy to shield any energy from transferring, and every eye sparkled with excitement as they received their Pokémon.

Rhea smiled as Nova somehow seemed to snuggle closer to her while sleeping inside her pokéball.  Mya was in an almost trance-like state that confused her a little; the Mawile appeared to be doing some kind of mental training within her sphere that baffled her.

Mom said Mya would be hyper-aggressive, and yeah, I felt some hot emotions from her at first, but ever since she learned there’d be a coming fight, she’s been like this.  I mean, I guess both Nova and her are at a disadvantage since the other Starters have received basic training, but … all we can do is try.  Mya certainly gives me a confident vibe.

Jason accepted his Pokémon with excitement, and every teen stiffened, vision turning vacant as the bonding took place.

“How is it?”  Rhea teased, nudging him.

Ariel was the one to respond, though, “… Wow, Rhea … it’s like he’s right next to my heart.  How is … you know, having two?”

“Yeah, what’s it like?”  Olivia pressed, leaning forward to give her a conflicted smile.  “For me, he’s … it’s like I have a piece of the ocean with me!”  She squealed with joy.  “Aww, he’s so cute…”  She whispered, glancing down at the pokéball in her hand.

“A Water-type, then?”  Mallory asked with a quiet snicker.  “Shh, don’t wanna be giving away too much!”

Olivia’s lips snapped shut, cheeks darkening.

“Mmh?”  Casey scooted forward, pulling a few silvery-blue locks behind her left ear.  “Are you a Totodile-girl?”

“N-No … maybe,” Olivia stammered, trying to constrain her blush while looking away.

Casey and Mallory giggled.

“Aww, c’mon, girl,” Casey whispered.  “Why don’t we make a little packet?  We’ll challenge one of the boy groups!  How’s that?  We’ll make it girls vs. boys!  The media will love it.”

“Can we do that?”  Amy returned with a thoughtful grin.

Mallory shrugged, eyeing Angel and Barry suspiciously as they whispered to one another.  “I don’t see why not; I mean, aren’t the challenges made by the group?  Psst, Barry, what are you two talkin’ about?”

Both boys’ lips sealed, giving her blank looks that only made Lori’s vision narrow with curiosity.  “C’mon!  Spill it out, Barry…”

She was cut off as Oak cleared his throat, saving the pair from Mallory’s hounding purple irises.  “Ahem … we’ll now move to the selection process, and once the teams are selected, the professors will leave to discuss how to proceed.

“We want to make sure everyone feels comfortable with their group; if you have any questions, then please follow us to discuss it in private.  Afterward, we will set the results and reveal them through the broadcast with my opening speech.”

Everyone held their breath as Oak stood in front of them, eyeing each boy and girl with a soft smile.  “Gah, I hate being so serious, but … this is no ordinary journey.  Each of you comes from regions with historical conflicts, some regional grudges spanning only a few generations, and this is the first attempt at trying to unify those that were willing to enter the United Indigo Summit.

“I urge each of you to please treat one another as humans, bonding with their Pokémon; the same as you, scared about traveling with girls and boys they’ve never likely ever met.  You may not understand each other’s cultures, and there may be an adjustment period.  Please … I just ask that you be patient with one another.”

A lump dropped down Rhea’s throat, but she didn’t dare glance around to see how everyone else was taking Oak’s pleas.

“… Okay.”  Oak walked to the wall behind him; it turned into a visual display before their eyes, somehow creating a screensaver that mirrored the material around it perfectly.  Even Rhea was a bit impressed by the camouflaged tech.

“The algorithm has been weighted to pair you with different regions, but it’s still possible to be banded with … oh, let’s just see what happens,” he chuckled sheepishly, pressing an app that appeared to be pre-programmed with their information.

Rhea’s tight fists pressed against her skirt as she debated if she should close her eyes or not, wondering what the others around her might think if they saw her like that.  It happened before she could decide, and the world seemed to vanish as she found her name, body going numb.

Really … really, those are the teams … that’s my team?

Female Team 1:

Female Team 2:

Female Team 3:

Female Team 4:

Male Team 1:

Male Team 2:

Male Team 3:

Male Team 4:

Lori leaned forward with a light snicker.  “Aye, look at that, you and me with the Rocket chick?  This’ll be fun!”

“Ugh…”  Len hissed, glancing back at Lucian.  “Yo, thanks for jinxing me, Casey, Muk…”

Casey chuckled softly, waving over at the Alolan and Galaran girls she was paired with.  “Hey, I was just sayin’ your chances suck, dude.”

“Hey, maybe he won’t be so bad?”  Jason whispered with a forced laugh, trying not to look too unhappy as he watched Diantha’s son glare at the information.

“… Yeah, we’ll see,” Len replied, attempting to smile.  “Yo, at least we get to catch-up, huh?  How long has it been, two years?”

“Something like that,” Jason replied, giving him a fist bump.  “I heard some of those beats you made; fire, dude!”

“Yeah, well, I still have a long way to go,” Len replied, brushing back his black, white-highlighted hair.

Amy and Olivia nudged one another with big grins.  “Yes!  On the same team!”

Professor Oak cleared his throat again.  “We will be moving to a room across the hall to discuss the groups.  If anyone wishes to speak to your regional professor in private, then please, don’t hesitate.”

The professors waved at each of them before retreating across the hall.  Rhea was slightly surprised no one rose to complain, but every regional group leaned in to whisper to each other while throwing their eyes around, and the noise picked up once the professors left.

Ariel had taken a quick look at the Galar and Hoenn girls she’d been paired with but soon turned her focus to Amira in the back, following Mallory and Rhea’s gaze.  “Are you gonna ask to be put in another team, Rhea, Lori?”  She asked.

Lori yawned with a light shrug.  “I mean, she can’t be that bad; look what the News says about Cass.”

“Right?”  Casey huffed, tossing back her hair with an indignant huff.  “Aye, Lori, you think that Alolan girl knows how to cook?”

“… Eh, ya better hope,” Mallory giggled.  “‘Cause you suck at it.”

“Yo, Sis, chill; I know my way around some Mac and Cheese…”  Casey glared.

“If it’s not from a box, then I ain’t eatin’ your cooking,” Lori doubled down with a teasing grin.

Rhea was a little surprised to see Casey fuming at her step-sister’s response.  “Man, you’re always so mean when it comes to my cooking, Lori!”

“Aye, you asked, girl!  I’m just sayin’, and you know Alolan girls are supposed to be good at makin’ food with their trail stuff.”

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Casey just glared in response.

“Yeah, that is kind of a weird system they got over there,” Jason commented, probably trying to pull the discussion away from the Kalos boys.

Rhea was only partially paying attention to the conversation; Amira was now looking at them with a deep frown.  She guessed the Rocket girl was thinking the same thing she was.

What are the chances?  Amy and Olivia got on the same team, but … in a weighted randomizer, two pairs get people from the same region.  I mean, Mallory isn’t a bad choice, but…

She peeked over at the snickering purple-haired girl as she teased Casey.

Mallory may not be as wild as Casey, but I feel like she hides her emotions and is pretty sneaky … just like Grimsley.  Then, there’s Amira … no, the media’s going to harp on our team so hard, well … at least it’s not as bad as Jason.

Jason and Len were both wearing frowns, staring at Lucian, and as far as Rhea was aware, the Kalos star had only given them a single glance, but it hadn’t been to examine his teammates.

“Psst, yo, Rhea,” Ariel whispered, drawing the other girls’ attention.  “Hey, that Lucian guy’s been eyeing you and Amira when you’re not looking.  Does he know who you are?”

Rhea’s lips pulled in, releasing a low moan while fiddling with the tail end of her braid.  “… Probably … our parents aren’t on the best terms right now.”

“Oof,” Casey leaned back to glare at the Kalos boys, each talking lowly to one another while staring at the board.  “You think he’s checkin’ ya out?  I mean, it’s a fact; we’re all pretty hot,” she said with a wink at the boys.

They were obviously keeping tabs on them out of the corners of their eyes since Jean blushed, trying not to look their way.

“Hmm?”  Mallory mused, continuing to study the three as they mumbled between each other.  Jean didn’t seem too fond of what they were talking about, shaking his head and trying to say something to Lucian, but the Active Champion’s son wasn’t having it.

Casey plucked the hem of Mallory’s high-thigh purple dress, drawing the girls’ attention.

“Hey, wassup?”  Lori asked with a slight glare at her step-sister.

The party girl was returning the glare.  “What’s up with that hum?  You don’t think some of us are hot, or are you scheming something?”

“… No, no, of course, we’re hot,” Lori rolled her eyes.  “No, I think they’re the ones scheming something.”  She explained with a smile returning to her lips.

“Like?”  Len asked.  “I mean, Jason and I are teamed with the guy…”

“Oh, not gonna get reassigned?”  Casey asked with a smirk.

“Naa, that makes me look weak to everyone,” he shrugged.  “I can deal with guys like him; besides, I can’t leave Jason to fend for himself!”  He grinned.

“Aww, thanks, bro!”  Jason laughed.  “Na, but once we get to know him…”

Everyone went quiet as Lucian rose to his feet, focus moving to Rhea.  “Why did you hide your name from the public … it was calculated, wasn’t it?  I heard your brother did the same thing.”

Jason winced.  “… Maybe I’m wrong, though.”

“Why’s it matter to you?”  Casey asked with a dry tone.

Lori shifted her chair back to straddle it, giving Lucian a testing smirk.  “Simple, Cass, he’s mad he can’t use Rhea’s family reputation to boost his own.”

“…”  Rhea sighed, scratching her neck.

So, that’s the reason he’s a bit pissed; he wanted to challenge me to get his parents’ attention?  I mean, he still can, but it won’t draw the public eye as much as it might; no Diantha’s son vs. Cynthia’s niece headline.

“Lame,” Casey said while arching her back to stretch, her sizable chest pressing against her sports bra.  “If you wanna battle, then just challenge me?”  She grinned.  “I’m up for a team match.  What do you say, girls?”  She asked, glancing at her two teammates.

Inoa looked a bit hesitant, but Ellie grinned, tossing her pokéball in the air before catching it.  “Always up for a scrapper!”  She replied in her Southern Galaran accent.

Lucian gave Casey a dirty look.  “And boost your ratings?  No, thanks.  I try not to mingle with club trash.”

“Say what … club trash?”  Casey asked, vision narrowing.

Jason’s positive tone was falling by the sentence.  “Yeah … definitely could be wrong.”

“Ya think?”  Len mumbled with a deep frown.

Lucian ignored the frowns and glares, all but forgetting Casey was there.  “No, if Rhea is going to play it this way … this is perfect.  I just need to beat the ugly red-head.”

Each girls’ eyebrows shot up with shock, sparking several scowling comments.

“Who’re you callin’ an ugly red-head?”  Kale asked, ruffling his orange hair.

“Say that to my face!”  Isabella growled, rising to her feet with the other Hoenn posse.

Victor’s sharp eyebrows were drawn, darting between the Hoenn and Kalos group.  “Aye, Lucian.  Don’t be steppin’ on toes, man, and if you’re talkin’ about me, my hair’s clearly peach, ya color blind pikey.”

“Aye, what I’m sayin’,” Catherine growled.  “The tosser be settin’ ablaze with them words.”

Everyone’s focus moved to Amira as she released a loud sighed, fiddling with the end of her glasses between her breasts.  “You’re talking about me.  Right?”

The heat in everyone’s eyes seemed to disperse as Amira smirked.  “I was told Kalos boys were supposed to be smooth with their words; consider me disappointed.”

“Hey, Lucian, you shouldn’t have called her ugly when she’s clearly not,” Jean mumbled.

Lucian’s crystal blue irises moved to Jean with a disenchanted expression.  “How else should I describe a low-tier mob boss’s brat?  Her mother is the only semi-worthy thing about her, yet she failed to get a single feature; that must reflect with her abilities, too.”

“Livin’ up to the stereotype; go you!”  Mallory giggled, moving around a fuming Casey to stand a few feet away from Lucian.  “Basically, since Amira is essentially trash in your eyes, and she’s the only one even worth challenging … what you’re really saying is that everyone here, and their Pokémon, are garbage, right?”

The dagger-like glares directed at Lucian was palpable.

Ludovic tried to laugh off the tension.  “Only about half; not everyone.”

Lori slowly clapped her hands.  “Wow … Kalos’ finest, everyone.  I’m up for the challenge; what do you say about a double, Amira?  The rabble versus the nobles?”

Jason and Len hissed a low groan.

“Don’t pull me into this, Lori!”  Len growled.

Amira giggled, pulling out her glasses to put them on before rising to her feet.  “Thanks for the support, but I’m more of a loner.  If you want a battle, then I’m ready.”

“Are you sure, Amira?”  Rhea asked, her heart burning with Mya and Nova’s flaring emotions at Mallory’s breakdown of Lucian’s declaration.

The red-haired girl didn’t look away from Lucian as the others mumbled to one another.  “No offense, Rhea, Mallory, but I can fight my own battles.”

Lori eyed her for a moment with a calculating smile before shrugging.  “Okay!  So, you gonna back out, noble boy; scared of lil’ miss Rocket?”

“That’s hilarious,” Lucian smirked.  “No, why don’t we bet half our starting funds on the victor?”

“I’m game,” Amira replied while stretching out a little, causing her tiered dress to flutter.  “And if I win, you have to apologize for making fun of my family; in front of the entire world.  Got it?”

“Oh?”  Mallory’s grin widened.  “Now it’s getting interesting!”

Casey popped her tongue.  “Still wanna deck the guy; that’d be my condition.”

“Naw,” Catherine spat, “punt em in da goolies fer ‘ol measure!”

“Lucian…”  Jean groaned.  “Quit messing it up for us.”

“Humph,” Lucian walked out, keeping his focus on Amira’s mocking grin.  “Fine, and if I win, you must tell the world you’re thug trash.”

Amira’s brow furrowed, her smile falling.  “… Let’s just make this official.”

Rhea bit her lower lip while following everyone to the room across the hall.  The professors frowned upon seeing all twenty-four participants.

“Is … something the matter?”  The peach-haired Professor asked, glancing between them; her southern Galaran accent told Rhea where she was from.

Catherine spoke up from the back.  “Aye, Professor Sonia, dis pikey’s got a mouth on em!”

“Huh?”

Professor Sycamore ran his hand down his face.  “What’s going on, Lucian?”

Lucian didn’t bat an eyelash.  “Amira Rocket and I have agreed to a battle.”

Oak glanced between the scowling teens with a soft sigh.  “… I haven’t even given my opening speech.  Please return to your seats.  Once I finish, then we can begin the challenges, starting with the two of you … does that mean both teams have accepted the respective challenge and placement?”

Rhea caught both Jason and Len eyeing each other with uncertainty.

“… I guess someone has to be teamed with him,” Jason reasoned with a forced chuckle.

“But does there really?”  Len mumbled.  “I mean, really?  I bet he’d say he’s fine soldiering it alone…”

“Of course, I would,” Lucian stated without hesitation.

“Ugh…”  Professor Sycamore ushered him to the side.  “Lucian, come with me for a moment.”

Lucian followed him out of the room and into the hall without a fight.

Sonia gave the group a strained smile.  “Is there anyone that’s having second thoughts about their group?”

Rhea saw Barry, Mark, Kale, and Hi’ilei raise their hands.  Ludovic seemed somewhat baffled, but Jean sighed with a low moan, clearing his throat.  “Umm, Barry, Hi’ilei, could I have a word, guys?”

Barry grunted.  “Ya better got somethin’ all git-out good ta say.  I ain’t dealin’ with the hissy fits.”

Hi’ilei looked at the other two Alolan Trainers before giving them a quick shrug, following Barry and Jean back into the other room.

Professor Elm left with Mark while Professor Kukui took Kale to talk about their concerns with Ludovic, leaving the boy staring after them in disbelief.

Oak motioned for the teens that remained.  “If you could each return to your seats, but … Rhea, Amira, Mallory, could you stay, please.”

The crowd left, each in their own little groups.  The Hoenn and Sinnoh girls gave them thoughtful looks while following the instruction.

Casey lingered back to whisper, “Aye, beat the Muk out of ‘em!”

Amira smirked.  “I plan to.”

Rhea was a little confused why Amira put on her glasses and still wore them in-doors, but it was only a passing thought as the remaining Professors studied them.  Both her Pokémon were still fuming, which pulled at her focus.

“Let me guess,” Oak sighed, scratching his shoulder, “Lucian said something that made everyone angry?”

Amira shrugged.  “It doesn’t matter; I expected something like this to happen.  It’s nothing I haven’t handled before.”

“Rough, girl,” Lori hummed.

Rhea rubbed her chest a little, feeling a bit uncomfortable with Nova and Mya’s indignation.  When they heard that Lucian was calling all the other Pokémon and Trainers trash, including them, they were biting at the bit to prove him wrong.  Mya was a flowing brook before, but now she was a barely contained volcano, ready to smash his face into the ground.

“… Is something wrong, Rhea?”  Professor Rowan asked, studying her fidgeting movements before his focus darted to her pokéballs.

Amira and Lori gave her a questioning look; most of the professors seemed troubled after Rowan’s concerned comment.

Rhea tried to laugh it off, holding up her hands.  “No, no … umm, my Pokémon are just really … they want to show Lucian how powerful they are.”

Amira folded her arms, head cocking a little to the right.  “Sure … but I’ve got first dibs.”

Oak’s crossed arms tightened a bit, nibbling on the inside of his cheek while listening.  “… A little competition is good, girls, but … just make sure it’s all in good fun.”

“Of course,” Amira and Lori replied with the same innocent tone that told Rhea they had no intentions of following the advice.

“…Thanks,” Rhea replied, doing her best to calm her Pokémon.

It’s okay, Nova, Mya.  We’ll get our chance; just wait.  I know he was really rude, but we’ll probably meet a lot of people like him.

Nova restrained herself much quicker than Mya; the Steel and Fairy-type Pokémon had just compressed it into a tight molten ball of emotion to release later.

“Ahem,” Oak glanced between them.  “Does this mean you three are fine with being travel companions for the League?”

Mallory nodded with a bright smile.  “Yup!  I like Amira more and more by the minute.”

“… Thanks,” Amira mumbled in a slightly awkward manner.  “Yeah, I’m fine.”

They turned to stare at her, making the hair stand up on the back of Rhea’s neck.  “Umm … yeah, I mean, I’m cool with it.”

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Amira smiled.  “Great.  Okay, Professors, could we get this opening ceremony done so we can get to the fight?”

The Rocket girl calling it a fight instead of a match told Rhea how she really felt, and the professors could clearly tell that things weren’t going the way they’d hoped but knew there wasn’t much else they could do.

Lori and Amira placed their trading cases on the cart where the others had dropped them off, and everyone returned after a few minutes, Lucian being the last to take his seat with a sad-looking Professor Sycamore.

Most tempers had settled, but the girls gave Lucian a dirty glare before Oak began his speech, and Rhea joined the searing eyes.  He’d called a girl ugly for no reason and told everyone he was better than them, which probably spiked the emotions of their newly bonded Pokemon, as well.

“Alright, cameras will be rolling in three, two, one…

“Hello, I am Professor Oak, and with my associate Professors, we have developed a new Starter Award for this League.  The teams have been solidified after some discussion.  The list should be showing on the screen, now, and will be distributed to each region’s major News networks.

“First, allow me to welcome all the excellent future star Trainers of our world to the Kanto region!  We are so thankful and humbled by the efforts made by each of your region’s representatives to make this amazing event possible.

“That being said, there will be some drastic changes made to the format of the Bronze League that you are accustomed to in your individual regions.

“Each team is given a combined record, identifying their total losses, refused challenges, wins, and many other statistics within Triple Battles, but you may only challenge Trainers within the same bracket as yourself.  Teams will not be able to advance until all respective Trainers have achieved the same badge or dropped out, the incomplete members finding a suitable replacement.

“If you have a single Gym Badge, then you will not be able to be challenged by someone with a greater number of badges; however, a person with a single badge may issue a match with a Trainer that has more, and this will all be made available through your route challenge function on the Kanto and Johto Battle App that is downloadable from the official League website.  It is no different than your own regional versions and is secured by active network administrators.

“Now, the biggest change … at the United Indigo Summit, it was proposed and accepted by every associating region to add … a bounty system to each League.  Trainers and civilians can place a credit bounty on any participating members.”

The beginning of his speech had started out just as Rhea expected, but this news turned her blood cold; the Award winners received a lot of press focus as individuals recommended by Masters and would undoubtedly top the bounty list.

“This will provide incentives for other Trainers to challenge themselves by going after those that have a positive win record.  There are limitations on how much can be placed on an individual based on their bracket and their win to loss ratio, but the added credits will also push those at the top to stay on-guard and to manage their resources wisely.”

Rhea’s legs tightened, fists pressed into her thighs while listening; she had no doubt he was saying this to them specifically.

“The International Bronze League will be the most challenging League that’s been attempted.  Only a certain number of challenges can be issued to an individual Trainer per day, and your relative location if further than a set distance is masked unless both parties accept; the standard rules apply in this regard, a refusal is calculated against your win to loss ratio, but the two metrics will be counted separately for Trainer data clarification.

“With that said, we will christen the first International Bronze League by demonstrating the capabilities of each region’s rising stars, selected by the Masters in each of your motherlands.  We already have our first match scheduled; Lucian Allard has challenged Amira Rocket, and she has accepted.

“We will now move to the Pallet Main Stadium, generously developed and donated by Amira’s grandfather, Grandmaster Giovanni Rocket, with the latest in audience protective technologies.  The seventh-generation Battlefield is equipped with force dampeners that are rated up to Master-tier matches, marking it as one of the best in Kanto.

“We will see you there.”

Oak released a long sigh as the camera’s red light cut; the last bit was definitely an Ad for Rocket, and the Magnamite left to return to his Trainer with his job finished.

Rhea was still stunned by the bounty reveal, and even Lucian seemed speechless.  She jumped as her phone vibrated; taking it out of the holster, she saw the notification that the Battle Trainer app had been activated.  She was now an official Bronze-tier Grade 1 Trainer.

Tapping on the battle app, her eyes widened, watching the numbers rise.  There was more to the system than Oak had explained; their team was also given a bounty that would be distributed if a Trainer or team managed to beat all three of them in a Triple Battle.  That reward had already spiked to 7,340 credits.

Amira and Mallory were listed inside her party, and each of their public bounties was rising rapidly; in just the first few seconds of studying the interface, Amira’s was capped at 5,000 credits, plus the 500 for being a part of the Starter Award.  Mallory’s was rising, but very slowly at a current public bounty of 1,745 credits with the 500 Starter Award.

Her own bounty hadn’t even broken 10 credits, excluding the award, but if someone wanted to get the recently maxed 10,000 Credit reward for the triple victory against each of them, then she was a target.

So, let me get this straight … people can put out targeted hits on us, which increases a ton after we get our first badge.  Then, they can also bet on our victories or losses, keeping track of our daily win to loss since it’s broadcast live 24/7, and we can bet on matches ourselves … well, it’s illegal to vote for your own loss or throw a challenge, but that’s to be expected.

Wow … the money flowing through Kanto will be … is that the point?  I just can’t imagine … no, yeah, I could see auntie loving an idea like this.  She’d love more people driving themselves to battle her; a system like this will push more people to reach higher.  And … it kind of makes us work more as a team, I guess.

Rhea gave a start when Jason nudged her.  “Hey, you ready to go see the match?  Amira and Lucian left the moment it was over.”

“Huh?”  Rhea glanced back.  Sure enough, Amira was gone, and Mallory was already at the door, waving for her to hurry up.

“… C’mon, quit staring at your fancy phone, Rhea!”  Mallory laughed.

Casey snickered as they ran to catch up, leaving their bags behind.  “How’re the bounties?”

“Crazy!”  Rhea moaned, falling in-line with them to take the underground access point to the stadium from the lab.  “Amira’s already got the max, and so is our team bounty … probably because of Amira, too.”

“Shoot,” Casey mumbled, glaring at her own phone.  “I’m only 3,469 Credits?”

Lori smiled, pointing at the number above it.  “Including the Starter Award, so you’re only 2, 969.”

“… Higher than yours,” Casey mumbled with a grunt.  “Whatever, umm, I’ma go chill with my new gang.  Later, Lori!”

“Catch’ya at Viridian, Cass.”

“See ya,” Rhea waved as she ran ahead to join Inoa and Ellie.

Len seemed to be in a bit of a foul mood, trailing behind with Jason by his side.

Mallory caught her gaze, leaned in to whisper, “Ah, he’s just pouting,” she winked.  “Len really didn’t want to be paired with the Kalos posse; he paid for a psychic reading in Goldenrod when we passed by on the way to Kanto that said he wouldn’t.”

“Oof,” Rhea winced.  “How much?”

“… Don’t ask,” Mallory giggled, brushing her hair back.

“Oh, which Pokémon did you choose?”

Mallory’s purple eyes darted left and right suspiciously, hot breath pressing against Rhea’s ear as she leaned in further.  “Froakie!  Can you believe I got him, and he’s Shiny; it said so on the selection page!  He’s so cute and evolves into a Dark-type.  I’m in love…”  She cooed, bringing up her pokéball with an adorable smile.

The party soon caught up with a few of the other groups and filed along the front-row seats beside the field; a few of the other teams were already discussing who to challenge with friendly but competitive phrases thrown around.

Rhea had never been to an actual stadium with dampeners, much less a place that could hold 8,000 spectators.  It wasn’t nearly as big as the major Gym arenas, but had the same technology with Giovanni’s donation.

All the battles she’d witnessed were held over large open areas where Trainer and Pokémon were in the crossfire of each other’s attacks, outside elements, and the possibility of wild Pokémon getting involved from Mt. Silver that could wander close by.

The competitive controlled environment was something she’d only seen online, and it wasn’t usually all that exciting to her.

So, when Rhea saw every seat filled with more standing at the railings, it blew her away.  This was the lowest of the low type of matches, Bronze-tier, and it had this kind of turn out; even if it was an International League, it just didn’t add up in her mind.

Of course, the Johto and Kanto Summer Indigo League was nearing its Opening Ceremony with the preliminaries for those that obtained the necessary badges already underway, but those would be more interesting than their battles.  Between last season’s Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum Conference competition, and the opening ceremony of the new season’s Bronze League, she expected the big matches to take priority to people.  It seemed this was a pretty big deal, though.

The field was flat and grassy, and areas were marked where each Pokémon could be thrown into the arena; it was supposed to be a form of strategy where you sent your Pokémon out to start the match.

She looked up as a host of Magneton and Magnemite, lifting dozens of displays around the higher areas while people handled massive cameras around the stadium, projecting live video around the world, and the control center swapped between feeds.

Rhea watched the platform on either side of the massive field go through a few changes, and if Oak’s statement was to be believed, the stadium was certified for even Master-tier competitions, which was insane for a city without a Gym.  Sure enough, the field lined with a rectangular box of blue honeycomb shapes as the defensive array was initiated before becoming transparent; enormous crystal-like structures jutted out of the stadium’s sides into the open ceiling illuminated with faint light, powering the barrier.

The grandeur of the whole event started to make Rhea squeamish; it was one thing to have a battle, but another entirely while having thousands of screaming people and Pokémon surrounding you.

Her focus moved to the opposite side of the arena, where people were coming out of the massive underground openings in the wall to take field-side seats.  She couldn’t identify them from this distance, but they appeared to be quite wealthy, and one massive Persian caught her eye.  The fact she could hardly detect its energy, despite its obvious power gave her the impression of Franky; even Master Trainers would have trouble handling a Pokemon of that size, which put the expected image of who was over there in her mind.

Music started to play around the speakers, showing footage of excited people and Pokémon making signs or throwing up their hands in the air to be noticed as the hired Magnemite operated cameras outside caught the reaction of thousands more visitors to Pallet, lining the streets to watch from restaurant or bar displays.

City and region flags were held up, representing different images of their representatives, and Rhea caught sight of signs with her own face on it, taken from the live footage not an hour ago, but most were for or against Amira and of Casey.  However, there were tens of dozens of other messages such as Never Give Up! or Fake Out! among many more.

The pre-recorded deep voice of the opening ceremony came on over the speakers, adjusted for the noise of the crowds; this was the first time she’d been around so much energy.

“You’ve come from all around the world … all walks of life.  All in search of that feeling … that emotion … that one thing that takes your breath away and leaves an impression that lasts forever.”

Clips of previous Bronze, Silver, and Gold-tier highlights from around the world flashed across the screen with crazed fans screaming or jumping up and down.

“The time has come once again … to gather, for that palpitating rush, now better than ever.  Buckle up, and let yourself go.  Give yourself up, and let every move take you to somewhere you least expect, in a worldwide convergence on the ultimate thrill ride.”

An announcer’s voice spoke up as past match high points continued to flash across the screen.  “Ladies and gentlemen, we all are part of history in the making; you’re a part of a new story.  Welcome to the emotion!  Welcome to the first International Bronze League kick-off!”

Rhea’s mouth dropped open when she saw Sabin’s smug camera-face pop up with his trademark opening heavy metal song.  “Sabin Mukin’ Everhart,” exploded on all the displays as it zoomed in on him with Atreyu, his Houndoom, Mega Evolved, looking menacing.  He’d had Atreyu since the start of his journey; a Houndour he’d caught with their father’s help near Mt. Silver two years ago.

The large, fully evolved Dark-type hound making Mallory squeal beside her as the music played.  After a short clip of her brother’s highlights as a new Platinum-tier Trainer and a few from his Gold-tier journey last year, it zoomed in on him with the echoing words International Bronze League Kick-off as Sabin said, “Brace yourself, this is gonna be one distorted ride.”

The camera panned out to show several other clips of Gold and Platinum-tier Trainers shouting for victory or yelling encouraging phrases to their Pokémon, leaving off with Katelin at the start of her recent Encrusted Platinum-tier Gym Badge challenge in Fushia against Janine.  “Here we go!”

Several recordings of the twenty-four Award winners popped up, commentating or shouting during matches involving their relatives as the announcer spoke their names.

Scenes of Casey in clubs were followed by Mallory on the dance floor at a big rave in Unova, with Len jumping on the DJ station to turn it up as songs pounded the powerful speakers around the stadium.

Rhea never thought something like this could get her blood pumping, but it was on overdrive with Nova and Mya experiencing it with her in stunned awe.  Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw Mallory beside her, and the professors sitting only a few seats away from her, realizing how distracted she was by everything.

The music died down a little as the ominous voice of another announcer jumped in.  “Ladies and gentlemen.  The challenger … blue star of Kalos … a man that’s on the warpath to claim the International Bronze Cup … Lucian Allard!

“And his opponent.  The princess to an empire … flaming star of Viridian … the woman that blasts past all forecasts … Amira Rocket!”

A puff of smoke exploded around the two entrances, and Rhea had to take a double-look to find Amira and Lucian on opposite sides as a song pumped the speakers.  The loud eruption from the crowd was deafening, but it was mingled with many boos.

“The match-type is Singles, Sudden Death, and the reveal will take place at the same time, beginning the battle immediately upon release!  And, of course, New Challenger rules apply; so, keep on your toes with those bets.

“We must recognize Pallet Stadium’s sponsor, philanthropist, and Gym Leader, Grandmaster Giovanni Rocket, who just so happens to be on the field to watch his granddaughter’s first match this very moment!”

Rhea wasn’t surprised to hear not a single boo that followed as the cheers roared even louder than before; everyone walked carefully when Giovanni was present, but for no other reason than he frightened people.  Every Kanto citizen dreaded his infamous Gym challenge.  There weren’t any real incidents one could point to in recent years other than his intimidating match history, but the stigma he carried was more than enough to silence negative voices.

She saw the tall, medium built, well-dressed man that managed to keep his sharp, handsome looks despite his age.  He was wearing a costly black suit with a red dress shirt and fancy black fedora to block out the overhead sunlight.

He kept a perfect pokér face, not paying the camera any mind while focused on his granddaughter.  His trademark 6’7 Persian sat beside him in the pathway leading to the underground entrance.

“And around him was the whole Rocket family to support Amira; High Master Ariana Rocket, High Master Silver Rocket, and Former Champion Lyra Rocket are in the stadium!”

On another feed, she caught Lucian’s scowl as the crowd exploded with cheers upon Lyra’s name, and even though Amira looked perfectly calm, Rhea had no doubt her teammate was screaming on the inside with her family watching.  Although, after a second’s thought, she must have expected it since they were so close to Pallet, but that made her bet with Lucian even more gut-wrenching for Rhea.

No … Amira can’t lose this match … she can’t!

Her stomach was in knots, and she couldn’t remember feeling so stressed about the outcome of a match in her entire life, and this was Bronze-tier, but putting herself in Amira’s place was maddening.

“Now, Trainers, get ready … start on one … three, two, one!”


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