I stepped from the podium and onto the path leading into the cave, stopping only on the threshhold to take one last look at my father's waving arm and smiling, round face. It was such a normal picture for me that I smiled secretly at his exuberance and happiness, then started as I realised for what seemed the first time that for a whole year I was going to have no contact with the outside world. Freezing in place on the border between the world I had known for fifteen years and the new, unknown world that I was going to enter, I had a premonition of what was to come; I saw myself stepping from the front porch with a Dragonite hovering by my side and six Pokéballs at my waist. And it was then that I decided.
I stepped into the darkness of the cave and scrunched my eyes tight.
For those of you who think that sounds weird, stepping forward then closing my eyes, you obviously do not know me well enough. For me, knowing exactly what I’m getting into takes out half the fun, so I want to make sure I open up my eyes to the new surprise and tackle it head on. But – and here’s the classic part – I also find myself fairly clumsy and had I stepped onto that slight rise into the cold cavern I would have tripped and fell in front of three hundred or more people.
And that would have taken all the fun and turned it into embarrassment.
So I hope that now you see where I’m coming from when I say that I opened my eyes in the darkness and saw something wondrous, something so astonishing that you would not believe me if I told you; I wouldn’t even believe myself if I were you. But you have to believe me.
The room was lit with tiny little Staryu flashing brilliant red light from their cores at intervals along the edges of the cavern. There were millions, I think, and I thought that it would have taken so long to befriend and train all of them to be able to perform the dazzling feats of illumination. Standing in the centre of the room, bathed in scarlet light that – now that I think about it – complemented his vibrant cape far too much to be accidental, Lance beckoned me forward.
“You’re the first person in, Mayella –“
“Call me May,” I said half-heartedly, my eyes still scanning the Staryu idly lighting up and darkening every few seconds or so.
“Right, May ... May, May, May. Alright, I’ve got it. May, you’re the first person in; that means you’re the first to choose.”
“Choose?” I said, a little worried now. “Choose what?”
“Your partner Pokémon, silly! You have to choose one of these Pokémon to become your partner for life. Every trainer has a Pokémon that they begin their journey with, and that Pokémon stays with them for their entire life, eventually passing away at the exact moment of the trainer. You must choose one of these Pokémon.”
I looked behind him for the first time. So many Pokéballs! There were shelves lined with the things, each and every one labelled, numbered and with a picture attached corresponding to their Pokédex entry. I remembered my vision, and knew instantly what Pokémon I was going to choose. I didn’t hesitate.
“A what?” Lance said, seemingly not having listened to me. He obviously thought that I would choose something cuter, or easier to raise. I shook my head.
“Nope, I’m sure. A Dratini for me.”
“You know that Dragon-type Pokémon are incredibly difficult to raise and train?” Lance said. “I know from experience. It took me more than a year to train my first Pokémon, a Bagon. And, this Dratini is shy and untamed. You will have a hard time, I can guarantee it.”
I nodded, taking in the information as I knew my father would have, had he stood here at this exact moment. “I’ve made my decision, Lance. Stop trying to turn me off it! I don’t want something cute or puffy or pink! And I don’t want something easy to train just because I can! I want a challenge, Lance, and I want to make the most of it. And I am going to walk from that Academy standing tall, with a Dragonite by my side, and I am going to make my father proud of me!”
Lance simply nodded sagely. “I know you’re going to do well. That I can see from the glint in your eyes; that glimmer? It’s success. Go out and touch the Pokéball. It will warm to your touch; if the Dratini agrees to become your life partner it will come out of the Pokéball when you call it. Try it now, May.”
I reached out hesitantly towards the Pokéball; ‘147’, it was labelled, ‘Dratini, Dragon Pokémon.’ I gulped, and closed my eyes tightly, grasping the half-white, half- red ball with my left hand, my favourite.
It warmed instantly, seemingly fitting perfectly in my large hands. I tried to speak, but only raspy noises came out.
“Don’t worry,” said Lance, “First time I tried, my Bagon came out, butted me in the stomach, and went back inside.”
I smiled at the thought – even while thinking that I was laughing at arguably the greatest trainer in the whole of Kanto – and tried again.
“Dratini,” I said quietly, “Dratini, come on out. It’s okay, don’t be scared. I want to be friends with you. I want to take care of you – hey, I want you to take care of me. I know you’re a little shy, and you’re probably afraid of me –“
I stopped there. There was a crack of light coming from the seam between the white and red sections of the Pokéball. Instantly, there was a blinding flash of white light and standing before me, a little wet, was a five-foot Dratini, smaller than average, and purple-blue all the way across the top of its snakelike back, white beneath and across the belly, and white near its snout and little wing-like ears. It made a little purring noise and sidled a little closer to me, before wrapping itself around my legs.
“You call that shy?” I said, a little embarrassed by the attention.
Lance was stunned. “I’ve never seen that happen before! You must have really connected with that Dratini. What you said must have really struck a chord ... Kudos to you! And good luck for the future!”
With that he threw a rock at me. Catching it in my left hand, while absent-mindedly stroking the Dratini’s silky flank with my right, I registered the colour of the stone – green with a red stripe – and then saw Lance coming towards me with a Salamence behind.
“Here’s your ride,” he said, unconventionally brisk for Lance’s usual vernacular. He winked and I clambered most ungracefully onto the Salamence’s back, hindered slightly by the tightly-clinging Dratini. We lumbered bumpily towards the entrance of the cave, and then took flight.
It was the most breath-taking experience of my life.
I arrived with a whoosh of air at the foot of a great hill, and looked up from my feet into the stinging sun. Shielding my eyes with one hand and standing, left foot forward and other hand behind me, crunched into a fist, I must have made a spectacular sight. The Dratini looked up also, and we took in the amazing Pokémon Academy together.
Vibrantly scarlet and gold, with arches and walls, tunnels, towers and corridors, minarets and grandiose oaken doors, it was like a fairytale. I gasped slightly as a figure brushed the doors open with a little help from his Pokémon, an Absol, white and black and menacing. The man was old, with white, wispy hair playing around his steely-grey eyes and a stoop that rivalled the Hunchback of Notre-Dame. I considered saying hello, or helping the old man down the stairs, but with barely a grunt he swept lithely down the staircase and stopped in front of me, dusting himself off.
“I am Nguyen, Groundskeeper. I am proud to make your aquaintace.”
The old-fashioned little man warmed on me, and I started talking; my life, my fears, my hopes and my dreams. He listened quietly and when I finished, gave me two pieces of advice.
“Go for your dreams, and live the best life you can, girl. That is all we can hope for.”
I thanked him and ascended the stairs, hoping to see him soon, or around the grounds somewhere, while he was completing whatever duties he held as a groundskeeper. I walked in through the big marble doors and struggled for breath.
It was beautiful. The entire Academy was like a castle; pristine, golden and elegant, I could not see how I was going to fit in with the magnificent columns, gorgeous balustrades and sweeping staircases. It nearly blew my mind.
I looked down, and realised my Dratini was off exploring. Just as I started to go look for it, I heard a slight whoosh of air and realised the second-placed applicant as here. Calling to my Dratini over my shoulder – “Come here, you playful little rascal!” – I strode back out the doors to great my new adversary.
He was tall. That was the first thing I noticed. Then I saw it; the cocky attitude, the slick, blonde hair, the horrible, horrible smirk on his face. I held back from shaking his hand, and scooped up my returned Dratini, who squiggled and squirmed until I let it get back to wrapping itself around my leg. I gulped. This was going to be one hell of a rivalry, and I was not even sure I was going to come out on top.
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