Rinka’s Zigzagoon didn’t stand a chance against Cho, not with the way the Spewpa was still so excited about her recent evolution. “Wow, I didn’t even get up to full speed!” the skater said in surprise. “You just might be stronger than a Gym Leader.”
Evangeline flushed and waved a hand as she called Cho back to her Pokeball. “I’m not that impressive,” she said. “You just caught me on my way inside, so the whole team is ready to go.”
That at least got Rinka to laugh, so no hard feelings. She handed over a bit of money, and then reached into her bag with a grin. “All right, here you go! One spiffy pair of Roller Skates, just as I promised.” She held up a pair of silver blades that, just like she said, Evangeline could see fitting over her boots easily. They would definitely make the walks between towns faster, though using them in tall grass or in tight quarters was probably a bad idea.
She put them away and with one last good-bye to Rinka, hurried into the gym.
And blinked at what she found.
Where were the paper screens, the tatami mats? Where were the people in mock-battles, creating a maze of people to work through? Where was the environment that obviously favored the type of Pokemon the Gym specialized in?
Instead, Evangeline had walked into a photo gallery. Artistic prints were carefully displayed on white walls, dark carpet with Flying/Bug type Pokemon and chrome lighting making it where they would be the center of attention. That, and the pole in the middle of the room, that was odd.
The only person present was a middle-aged man who waved her down. “What’s the hustle, little Crustle!” he greeted with a wide smile. “Welcome to Santalune City Gym.”
“Thank you,” she greeted, cautious. “It’s, um… Not what I expected.”
“First time challenging a Gym, huh future champ?” he teased. She stiffened, not liking it. “Thrilled? Pumped?” he asked in the same fashion.
She shrugged, wishing she hadn’t walked into this conversation now.
“Well, you should be,” he said with a boisterous laugh. “You’ve got Pokemon by your side, after all. And they’re going to be the ones doing all the battling. Am I right, or am I right?”
“Right,” Evangeline said weakly. Even though there was a chance in any battle that the Pokemon might die, if the trainers weren’t careful or an accident happened. But she wasn’t going to say that and risk making a completely stranger irritable with her.
He pointed to the out-of-place pole she’d noticed before, leading down to what she assumed was some sort of art installation more literally than the photography. “Jump on that pole there, and you’ll be on your way to where the Gym Leader is waiting for you.”
…That just sounded wrong. Evangeline gave a half-hearted wave and moved to go get a better look at it.
“Oh whoops!” the man said. “There’s something else I’m supposed to tell you.” She paused, turning her head to listen. “Everyone in this Gym uses Bug-Type Pokemon, got it?”
She refrained from rolling her eyes. Barely. “Got it,” she agreed, not mentioning she figured that out before she tried to challenge the Gym in the first place. Reaching the edge of the pit, she found it was really a hole, though the bottom was too dark for her to see what it was. Evangeline eyed the pole and shook her head. Okay, she officially missed home. The gyms made at least a little sense there.
But if it was the only way. With a reluctant sigh, she took a short jump to grab the pole, crossing her ankles so she could slide down like it was a fireman’s pole. She didn’t know why a Bug gym was underground, seemed more like a Rock-type sort of thing…
The pole slipped out from under her, leaving her to drop to the floor. Except it wasn’t a floor. It was a net…? Evangeline’s eyes widened as she got a good look at what was under her feet. “Oh no…” she breathed, standing up on tip top like it would make it better as she covered her mouth with shaking hands. It didn’t help.
Rather than a floor, the Gym was a giant spider web.
Taking quick, panicked breaths in through her nose, Evangeline tried very hard not to completely freeze. Looking up, she saw there was no way back up. She was going to have to battle her way out. That earned a whimper, and two cautious steps down the web. Nothing came crawling out…was it perhaps just a stylistic decision? They seemed to connect to wooden platforms, with large trees and under bushes on the outskirts.
And there were trainers on the platform. Great, balancing and battling on spider webs. It was something straight out of Evangeline’s nightmares.
Thankfully, the fights were easy. Using Hiromi and Ella, she quickly worked her way through the trainers who were there, learning under the Gym Leader. Like the man in the gallery had said, they all specialized in Bug types, although thankfully most weren’t far enough along in their training yet that poison or various powders were an issue yet. The last one, a Lass named Charlotte, was even nice enough to let Evangeline take a breather on the platform so she could give a Potion to Hiromi, who was looking a bit tired.
The final platform was more like a photographer’s tent out in the wild, taking photos of wildlife of all kinds. Evangeline walked up with caution, though it didn’t matter. As soon as she saw movement, Viola looked away from whatever she was working on to walk over, camera hanging from her neck. A blonde woman of fair skin and light eyes, she was a curious combination of put-together elegance and tomboy that suited her.
Coming to a stop, she tilted her head as if examining Evangline like she was a subject for a picture. “That determined expression, that glint in your eye that says you’re up to the challenge…” She burst into a wide smile, clapping her hands together. “It’s fantastic, just fantastic! You have to let me take your picture!”
Evangeline blinked, and pointed at herself. “Me? For a picture?”
“Of course!” Viola reached over and tried to tuck Evangeline’s bangs out of her face, only for it to fall back immediately. It actually made the photographer squeal. “Oooh, so mysterious, especially with your coloring. How do you feel about black?”
Like she was stealing clothes out of Mom’s closet. “I’m actually here for a Gym battle,” Evangeline said, trying to gently steer the conversation away from pictures. Besides, she sincerely doubted Viola’s taste in human models if she was picking her of all people.
“Oh, is this your first time challenging a Gym?” Viola seemed to get even more excited, if possible. “Fantastic!”
Evangeline flushed. She wasn’t getting out of here without getting her picture taken, she just knew it.
Viola nodded, doing a small fist pump. “Whether it’s the tears of frustration that follow a loss or the blossoming of joy that comes with victory… They’re both great subjects for my camera!” She grinned and took both of Evangeline’s hands in hers. “Fantastic, this’ll be just fantastic!”
She whirled away and began moving stands around, setting cameras on timers and adjusting the lighting of the tent. Evangeline covered her face with her hand. This could not be happening to her. She parted her fingers to peek. Yep, it was. She took a deep breath and forced her hands down. It wasn’t like there weren’t eccentrics among the other Gym Leaders. This was just the first taste of it.
Once satisfied with the lighting, Viola took a stance opposite Evangeline. “Now, come at me,” she demanded. “My lens is always focused on victory–I won’t let anything ruin this shot.”
Nodding, Evangeline pulled her first Pokeball out.
Viola took the chance to steal a shot, just as Henri made his appearance with a determined chirp. The battle was on! First, Viola sent out a Surskit, which made Evangeline nervous. Wasn’t that bug half Water type? It certainly looked the part, being mostly blue with long, spindly legs. Henri managed to persevere through the Water Sports and Bubbles.
But Vivillion was a different story. A butterfly looking Pokemon, it had pink and teal wings with a black body. Twice, Evangeline was forced to use Potions, but finally she couldn’t risk Henri any longer. She switched the little bird out for Hiromi. And the lion cub was having none of the giant butterfly’s nonsense.
“Wow,” Viola said in disbelief as she called back her final Pokemon. “You and your Pokemon have shown me a whole new depth of field!” She hit a button, causing the various cameras staged around to flash. “Fantastic, just fantastic,” she cheered at the idea of her shot.
Evangeline was blinking spots from her eyes.
“Young Trainer, you…” Viola shook her head. “No, it wasn’t you alone. You and your Fletchling and your Litleo have shown me a whole new depth. You more than deserve this.” She held out a brown badge with green eyes, shaped almost like a beetle. The Bug Badge.
“I also have this,” Viola said, holding up a case that Evangeline could see was meant for holding all the badges of the region. “But to get this… You have to let me take your picture with you and all of your Pokemon!”
Evangeline had to weigh if it was really worth it or not. But she hadn’t seen any badge cases in the PokeMarts, so there didn’t seem to be much of an option. With a sigh, she held up all of her PokeBalls. What followed was an agonizing bit of posing with both each individual Pokemon and the group as a team. Cho, at least, enjoyed it, and Viola was quick to coo over the one Pokemon Evangeline had that matched her Gym type.
Finally, Viola was satisfied and handed over the case with a wink. “Now, can you zoom in a bit to check out the tent behind me?” she said, pointing towards the tent panel in the back of the platform. “Take the stairs that you find beyond it, and you’ll be back up to the entrance faster than a flash!”
“Oh thank you,” Evangeline said in pure relief. “No offense, you all have been super friendly, but…”
“But not everyone takes their cues for decorating from Bug Types,” Viola said with a laugh. “No worries, you aren’t the first to be unnerved coming down here. I’m even more impressed at how composed you were, knowing that you were one of them.” She leaned over and gave Evangeline’s shoulders a quick hug. “Good luck on your journey!”
“Thank you,” Evangeline said, returning the hug and then scurrying her way around the tent panel and up the stairs. She breathed a sigh of relief as soon as the wall panel at the top slid behind her to hide the stairs again from new entrants, moving to walk back to the main door.
Unfortunately, the man from earlier was still hanging around, and saw the case under her arm, the clear top letting the badge show through. “Whoa-ho-ho!” he said, playing up his excitement just enough that she cringed a little inside. “Would you look at that Bug Badge? Nice, very nice future champ! I bet that schmancy-pants professor who gave you your first Pokemon would be amazed to see it. After you heal up your Pokemon at the Center, why don’t you go on up to the Pokemon Lab in Luminose City to show him?”
Ahh, it was a commentary on the professor, less on her. Or he didn’t know how to relate to teenagers, she was willing to bet both. “Thank you,” she said, giving him a brief bow like she would back home before she could catch herself. She then took off at a fast walk for the door clinging to her happy feeling.
Looking at the case, she gave it a smile. “My first badge…” she murmured, hugging it to her chest before taking off at a run for the Center for a quick check-up of her team.