“It’s not often we get two trainers willing to face us in a double battle,” said Leader Neha, one of the two leaders of Duren Town’s Gym.
“You can still change your minds if you wish,” Leader Annika, her wife, added. “A double battle takes an extraordinary amount of coordination with your pokemon – never mind introducing another person and their pokemon into the mix.”
From the legendary ‘Queens of Duren’, that wasn’t a warning to take lightly. As the joint Gym Leaders of Duren Town, they were only fourth on the Gym circuit… but they’d been the undisputed Champions of double battles for the last ten years, and with their daughter, Aanya, they were even the current Champions of triple battling.
Callum and Rayla exchanged looks. Not a word needed to be said between them.
“Nah,” he said. “We’re good like this.”
“Oh?” Annika smiled. “Well, if you’re sure, let’s have a good match.”
She nodded to the referee, and he raised his flag. “Begin!”
As befitting of a grass-type Gym, the arena was a grassy field. It had little in the way of cover – just two short hedgerows, one in upper left part of the arena from his perspective, near to Leader Neha opposite Callum, and one near to Rayla, in the lower right – but that was more than they’d had in the last few Gyms.
It was more than enough for Val and Earl to work with.
“Val, give him cover!” Callum called, as Earl slowly hopped over towards the hedgerow nearest to them.
The Leaders had released a petilil and a cottonee. Val moved to intercept whilst Earl got into position, scattering spikes around him, his back to the hedge. Val was faster and more mobile than the petilil and the cottonee, so he managed to jump around their attacks and headbutt them a few times to keep their attention on him.
Earl went clank clank with his helmet, Val’s signal. And just in time—the cottonee let out a high-pitched, melodic sound. The petilil backed away as the cottonee scrunched up its eyes and released a hail of fluff.
“Val, retreat!” Rayla shouted hastily.
It took Callum a moment or two more to place the move – cotton spore, designed to stick to the opponent and hamper their movements. Since Callum had come up with this plan and it relied pretty heavily on Val’s speed and manoeuvrability, it would’ve ruined everything if he’d been caught by it.
He nudged Rayla. “Nice save.”
Earl rattled in welcome as Val hopped, flipped and jumped through the field of spikes. Callum was pretty sure that only half of those flips were necessary at best. He still hadn’t managed to cure the karrablast of his show-off tendencies… but since their battle plan relied as much on Val and Earl knowing each other as it did Callum and Rayla directing them, he decided to let it slide this time.
…Anyway, the way that Val timed the last flip so that he landed on the lip of Earl’s closed helmet, and was then catapulted on to the top of the hedge when Earl flipped it open was genuinely impressive, to the point that Leader Annika laughed and applauded until her wife trod on her foot. Maybe Val and Earl should’ve tried joining the circus instead of a pair of trainers…
The cottonee, with the petilil not far behind it, advanced on Val and Earl’s position, but halted before the spikes. Earl had scattered them in a circle around the hedge—with his back to it, it made approaching the position impossible without great care.
The petilil made an attempt to step carefully through the spikes, but Earl quickly retaliated by shooting a glob of acid at it. The petilil shrieked as the acid wilted the leaves on top of its head. Narrowing its eyes, the cottonee tried to dive between the petilil and another acid spit from Earl, but Val leapt from the top of the hedge and landed on its head before it could get in the way.
“Pull back!” Leader Neha said. “Use distance attacks! There’s no need to get so close.”
“Take out the karrablast,” Annika added. “If the shelmet is on his own, he’ll have to come out of hiding.”
Val tried a fury cutter attack on the cottonee before it and the petilil retreated, but only ended up spitting out a few bits of its fluffy cotton.
“That stuff is surprisingly good protection,” Rayla mumbled.
Callum, meanwhile, saw the air begin to shift around the petilil and his eyes widened. He’d been working on that attack with Sabriel enough that it was impossible for him to miss it now. “Val, it’s a magical leaf attack. Retreat!”
Val seemed like he didn’t quite believe Callum until the vague shapes resolved themselves into translucent leaves, and then he scampered away at top pace. He hopped through the maze of spikes, peppered by small leaves, until he was able to dive directly into Earl’s helmet. It snapped shut around him, leave him completely protect from the leaves—apart from one or two which grazed his feet, still sticking out the end of the shell.
The petilil stopped spitting out the leaves, staring at Val and Earl until the cottonee poked it with one of its leafy limbs.
Callum could understand the confusion at Val and Earl’s… general… existence. I feel ya, little petilil. What’s even worse is that I’m used to it now.
Leader Neha pursed her lips, frowning. “Try razor leaf,” she said.
The cottonee was the one who sent the leaves shooting towards them this time, but that, too, skittered harmlessly off Earl’s helmet. If anything, that did less.
The two pokemon and the two Gym Leaders shared matching thoughtful looks as they examined the situation. Several seconds passed in silence.
Rayla clapped her hands.
Earl’s helmet sprang back open and Val popped out with a cry, flipping head over heels and bouncing off the top of the cottonee’s head to land behind the petilil. It squeaked in alarm, but only managed to turn around before Val knocked it flying with a headbutt, sending it sailing directly into the spikes. The petilil shrieked with pain as it landed at the edge of the spiked area.
Earl set up on it immediately with his acid attack. The petilil shrieked again as it was pelted with small globs of acid, still trying to extricate itself from the spikes. With an alarmed squeak, the cottonee started to fling more sharp leaves at Earl, trying to distract him, but Val crashed into it with his head before it could get out more than a dozen.
Callum and Rayla spared a moment to high five each other. Her timing was always so awesome!
The petilil staggered away from the spikes and the reaches of Earl’s acid spit.
“Watch out for the karrablast!” Leader Annika. “Drive it back!”
The leaves on the petili’s head stood up straight as it saw Val charging at it. Leaves formed in the air around it and shot towards Val, who was forced to divert. He dived back for the safety of Earl’s wall of spikes.
“Now!” Annika said.
“Oh, crud—!” Callum had a feeling Rayla wanted to use a stronger word. “Val, move—dodge—”
Callum’s eyes snapped across the field to the cottonee. He’d forgotten about it for a moment, which was a mistake.
Val looked around in confusion for an attack that wasn’t coming. The cottonee and the petilil weren’t near enough to touch him. Callum wasn’t sure what Rayla had seen.
Then a small seed landed on Val’s head.
Callum’s heart sank. Oh. Leech seed.
Squawking, the karrablast tried to scrap the seed off, even whilst he was being bombarded by the petilil’s magical leaf attack, but it was stuck fast. Then thin vines burst out of it, wrapping around Val’s limbs and squeezing him tight. He fell over with a wheeze and was only able to flop about like a magikarp out of water.
Rayla covered her face with her hands. “Oh no.”
Callum grimaced. There was no way for them to win without Val. Maybe if one of the other pokemon was already down, but…
Val let out a squeal. Earl gave a shrill, answering cry, and started to hop out of his defensive corner.
“Wait, Earl!” Rayla called. “It’s alright, we can just forfeit and then—”
Earl ignored her. He moved faster than Callum had ever seen him go before, bodily throwing himself at the cottonee as it approached Val. The shelmet was immediately pelted with a haze of leaves from both the grass-types. He fired back with acid attacks, swivelling on the spot to hit them as best he could.
“Go for the petilil first, it’s weaker!” Callum said. If Earl didn’t want to give up yet then neither should they. Maybe if they could take out one of the opposing pokemon, even the playing field, they’d still have a chance to…
Rayla frowned, but after a moment she clenched her fists and shouted. “Come on, Earl! You can do it!”
Val let out a weak noise of protest as the barrage of leaves started to make a dent even in Earl’s metallic shell. Several of the leaves snuck through the opening of his helmet to target the squishy body within, but Earl kept going.
Val started to protest more strenuously. Earl took a break from spitting acid to answer him back in a low voice.
“Watch out!” Rayla cried.
The petilil was readying some kind of extra powerful powerful attack, the air around it shimmering as though in a heat mirage. A white ball of energy solidified in front of it.
Earl jumped in fright and shot a glob of acid at it, but the cottonee intercepted the attack. At a signal from the petilil, it drifted away again, leaving a clear path between the energy attack and Earl.
The petilil sent the energy ball directly at Earl. Before it could connect, Val flexed his body and threw himself in the way of the attack. He was blasted back as it connected, crashing directly into Earl.
To Callum’s amazement, they both started to glow.
For a moment, it was like time stood still. The cottonee and petili retreated. The glow swallowed Val and Earl, growing larger and larger…
“No way,” Rayla breathed. “But… but how…”
The light settled into new, strange shapes. When it faded away, the karrablast and the shelmet were no more. In their place, Val the escavalier and Earl the accelgor stood, blinking at one another. The leech seed’s vines had broken around Val’s larger, tougher form. It was hard to imagine that anything could stand against him.
Leader Annika started to clap, and Leader Neha followed her lead soon after.
Proving they were still the same at heart, Val and Earl started to cheer. Val raised his spikes—lances?—and shook them in victory, and Earl used his new speed simply to zoom around him in a circle. Even the cottonee and the petilil shook their leaves along in celebration.
“Uh…” Callum raised his hand awkwardly. “Not that this isn’t really cool, but aren’t we still technically in the middle of a battle?”
Val froze, his lance-spikes still pointing to the ceiling. Earl forgot to change direction and, in the blink of an eye, accidentally ran straight into the wall.
“…Still the dorks we know and love, huh,” Rayla said tiredly.
There wasn’t much of a battle after that. With their evolution giving them renewed energy – even with that minor bit of self-sabotage of Earl running into the wall – Val and Earl were easily able to overpower the tired cottonee and petilil.
Leaders Annika and Neha didn’t seem that mad about it, though.
“Ironically, we would’ve had more chance if your pokemon evolved earlier,” Neha said ruefully. “I could see they were having trouble with their new bodies… make sure you take the time to get them comfortable with themselves before battling again.”
Callum and Rayla nodded.
Leader Annika grinned. “Oh, but what a privilege to see karrablast and shelmet evolve naturally! That’s a really rare phenomenon, you know!”
“…I thought you just evolved them by trading?” Callum said. He and Rayla had been talking about it, but they hadn’t been sure about broaching the subject to their pokemon.
Annika waved her hand dismissively. “It works, but it’s not natural. No, in the wild, shelmet and karrablast only evolve when they’re protecting each other—when they share a bond. It’s perhaps the most extreme example of pokemon symbiosis. And it’s becoming increasingly rare in the wild as the two species evolve further away from cooperation… Aanya would’ve loved to see it. I bet these two came to you as a pair, didn’t they?”
Callum turned to look at the pokemon with a new eye, only to find that they were facing the totally opposite direction, pretending to pay the humans no attention at all. He knew they were trying for nonchalant because Val kept trying to whistle and Earl was humming the same three notes over and over again. He never should’ve let them watch that preschooler show.
“They were probably looking for a pair of trainers who planned to stay together as long as they did,” Neha said, smiling. She opened her hands, revealing a Gym badge siting neatly in each palm. “I hope they have. It’s rare that we get a pair of trainers willing to challenge us in a double battle, and even rarer that they succeed. You two have a great way of working together. It would be nice if you could continue to develop that.”
“Perhaps you could get into double battling more seriously and challenge us for the Championship?” Annika joked. “We’re getting a bit bored.”
Callum hadn’t really thought much about it before. Double battling was still not the most popular style, and its own Championship was relatively new… but it would be a way to excel without worrying about his parents’ ghosts looming over his shoulder. A way to be just Callum.
Just the two of them.
Their eyes met and Rayla’s wicked grin was all the answer he needed.
She cracked her knuckles. “Give us a year, and you’ll regret ever asking!”
Even if a year was still a really ambitious timeline. “A year? Were you planning to train instead of sleep?”
“We can sleep in shifts,” Rayla said. Her attempt at a straight face was ruined by the corner of her mouth twitching.
Leader Annika’s eyes gleamed with new interest. “Well, if you’re serious about it…”
“We’ll look forward to battling you again,” Neha finished for her. “And we won’t be holding back this time.”
Rayla scoffed, as confident as ever. “As if that will make a difference! We’ve only just gotten started. Right, Callum?”
If it’s the both of us together, Callum thought, I know we’ll be able to do it.
“Of course,” he said. “I won’t let you down.”