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The New Kid in Postwick

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It was a lovely day in Wedgehurst. They’d just weathered through a patch of rain, as they always did at the beginning of summer, but the sun had finally shown its face. The clerk at the berry store was in such a good mood that he gave Sonia a discount, and the boutique had put a new pair of boots in the display window. She might be able to afford them at the end of the week if she kept running errands for her grandmother, who was home for the summer holidays.

As Sonia walked home, she watched the wind rustle the tall grass by the side of Route 2. The earthy smell of wooloo grazing in the fields was almost pleasant. Further down the path, a trainer in a bright yellow anorak hunted for wild pokémon. The weather was perfect, and it was a good day for training. Maybe she’d take Yamper out later. All the lazy sack of bones wanted to do was beg for snacks and chase her own tail. It would do her good to go out on a walk. Perhaps they could enjoy a friendly battle along the way.

Sonia’s thoughts were interrupted by a loud squawk followed by a string of curses. She was so surprised that she almost dropped her shopping bag. Was the trainer in the anorak kicking a Zigzagoon? Sonia rushed down the hill to see if she could help.

“Get away from him, you shifty brute!” the trainer yelled before aiming another kick at the wild Zigzagoon. His pokémon cowered behind him, hugging its tail for comfort.

What an absolute mess. Sonia shook her head in dismay and threw a small cheri berry into the grass behind the Zigzagoon. It stopped snarling and dashed away in pursuit of the unexpected treat.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she demanded, but the trainer ignored her as he dropped to his knees to scoop his pokémon into his arms. He had a floppy mushroom haircut that was just as much of an eyesore as his anorak, and his trousers were stained with grass and dirt. He looked just as unkempt as any other boy in her form, but his pokémon…

“Is that a Charmander?”

The trainer finally turned to look at her. “Thanks, mate. You helped us out of a tight spot. Charmander has been all cooped inside like. He hates the rain. I thought we’d have an outing, but he’s a mite tired.”

“Why don’t you return him to his pokéball?” Sonia suggested.

“I didn’t bring it with me, did I?”

What an odd thing to say. “Whyever not?”

“We don’t use pokéballs at home. Sides, this one is just a baby.” The trainer hugged the Charmander, which pressed its short snout into his neck under the fringe of his horrid haircut.

Sonia dug an oran berry out of her bag and broke off the stem before offering it to the Charmander. It took the berry politely from her hand with its teeth. “Why doesn’t your family use pokéballs?” she asked.

“It’s cruel, isn’t it?”

Why in the world would he think that? “It’s not cruel,” Sonia corrected him.

“Says who?”

“Says my grandmother, and she’s a professor.”

“Right. Well, both of my parents are doctors. That’s the same thing.”

“Oh!” It finally clicked for Sonia who this boy was. “Are you the family that just moved into the farmhouse in Postwick?”

“That’s us!” He smiled as proudly as if he had bought the house himself.

“You’re Leon, right?” Sonia’s grandmother had asked her to be nice to him if she saw him in town. “I’m Sonia. I live in the house by the lake. What are you doing on Route 2?”

“What do you mean? This is Route 1.”

“It’s really not. Route 1 is in the opposite direction, on the other side of Wedgehurst.”

“I guess I got turned around at the square in front of the station.” Leon smiled again. It was almost as if he were used to getting lost.

Sonia bit her tongue, thinking that she mustn’t tease him. “Look, why don’t I walk you back?”

“Good call. I’m rubbish at directions. It’s right nice that this lad helps out.” Leon set his pokémon down, and the Charmander immediately set off in the right direction. A small flame kindled at the tip of its tail as it slowly waddled up the hill to Wedgehurst.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Sonia sat on the shore of the lake next to her grandmother’s house. It was another beautiful day, and the sun sparkled on the clear blue surface of the water. Yamper lay in the grass next to her on its back, its paws sticking into the air. Sonia rubbed its belly as she watched Leon train his Charmander against the Magikarp he pulled out of the shallows with an old-fashioned fishing rod. She wasn’t sure how effective these training battles were, as the Magikarp didn’t fight back, but both Leon and his Charmander seemed to be having a good time.

Sonia’s grandmother had already become friends with Leon’s parents. After touring their renovated farmhouse in Postwick, she’d asked Sonia to invite Leon to their own house on Route 2. There weren’t many kids their age in such a rural area, so Sonia was happy to have someone to spend time with over the summer. Unfortunately, all Leon wanted to talk about was pokémon, training, and gym matches. It was a little tedious, but Sonia was doing her best to be nice.

He finally wore himself out and came back to sit with her in the grass. “Thanks for inviting me out here,” he said. “It’s good experience to fight against types you’re weak to, isn’t it?”

“It is,” Sonia agreed. “Have you considered using TMs? It would be more efficient to teach your Charmander a move that’s effective against water types.”

“I’ll get to that eventually. First I want to master the basics.”

“Have you been training on Route 1? There are a lot of bug pokémon in the fields along the road.”

Leon laughed at her suggestion. “That’s too basic.”

Sonia bit back her response that both Leon and his pokémon could do with more basic training and changed the subject. “Where did you get your Charmander?” she asked. She’d done her research, and she learned that the species had become popular about twenty years ago after a young trainer in Kanto brought down a crime syndicate with his Charizard. There’d been a lull in interest since then, and it wasn’t easy to come by such an exotic pokémon these days.

“My aunt has a textile import business in Saffron City,” Leon explained. “Someone gave her a Charmander when she first moved there. She brought one of its eggs the last time she came to visit, so this one was hatched right here in Galar. Speaking of eggs, I’m starved. Are you hungry? Let’s get something to eat in town. Your grandmother won’t mind, will she?”

They’d just eaten lunch an hour ago. Sonia couldn’t imagine being hungry already, but she was beginning to understand that Leon was the sort of person who had trouble sitting still. They might as well walk back to town. The only problem was that there wasn’t a single café in Postwick, not even a Yoshida Coffee. It was just fields and Wooloo as far as the eye could see. Although there was one place that might be open this early…

“We have a curry stand just outside the station. Are you all right with curry?”

“Of course I’m all right with curry.” Leon seemed surprised. “We practically invented curry where I’m from.”

“Where are you from?” Sonia asked. She immediately realized that she’d asked an extremely awkward question, but Leon didn’t appear to be bothered.

“I’m from Wyndon,” he answered. “I used to go out for curry after school with my mates. I’ve had all types! I wonder what the local curry is like in Wedgehurst. You don’t suppose they put Wooloo in it, do you?”

Leon’s smile made it clear that he was joking, but Sonia still felt small and ill at ease. Leon ate curry in Wyndon and had an interesting pokémon hatched out of an egg from a foreign region. Meanwhile, she’d only eaten boring local curry in the boring local shop, and she only had her boring local pokémon.

It was just like when she visited Kalos the previous summer, when her grandmother presented a paper in Lumiose City. Her accent felt awkward, and even her best clothing looked unfashionable. When she went out to lunch with the other children who’d come to the conference with their parents, everyone went dead silent when she ordered curry chips at a trendy café. Here she was, thinking that she was going out of her way to be nice to Leon, when he probably thought he was being nice to her.

Whatever. Leon’s Charmander wasn’t that special anyway.

Sonia stood up and brushed the dirt from her trousers. “Before we go back to Wedgehurst, why don’t we have a battle?”

“Your Yamper can battle?”

“She’s quite strong, actually. I’ve been training her against the Arrokuda that live in the lake.” Sonia clapped her hands to let Yamper know it was time to battle. It jumped to its feet and wagged its tail in acknowledgment as Sonia stepped away.

“Let me show you the move I’ve been working on,” Leon said, his eyes bright with anticipation. “Charmander, use Dragon Breath!”

As quick as a flash, the small Charmander sucked in its breath, puffed out its chest, and shot a beam of radiant blue light from its open snout. Sonia’s Yamper was bowled over from the force of the blow, but it rolled over and immediately hopped back onto its feet.

“Hey! That move should have knocked your Yamper out. How did it get up so quickly?”

“Dragon Breath doesn’t paralyze electric types,” Sonia replied. She’d learned this while reading about Charmander in her grandmother’s library. She also learned all about Charmander’s weaknesses.

“Right, it’s my turn now. Yamper! Use Play Rough.”

Yamper let out a pleased bark as it began to sparkle with fairy-type energy. The move effectively ended the battle.

“That was amazing!” Leon cheered. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Where’d you learn that move?”

Sonia was taken aback by Leon’s enthusiasm. She expected him to be at least a little disappointed, but his eyes sparkled with curiosity. Maybe he wasn’t looking down on her after all.

“I’m sure you already know this, but we live right next to the Wild Area,” Sonia explained as she removed a spray bottle of Potion from her satchel and passed it to him. “It’s a custom for trainers who hang out next to the station to trade TR discs. They’ve stopped selling them in shops, so people collect them. My mum got me TR90 the last time we went camping, and Yamper took to it in no time.”

“Do you think Charmander can learn fairy-type moves?” Leon asked as he tended to his pokémon.

“I don’t know about that, but every pokémon has its own personality. I’ve read that pokémon from different regions have different abilities. Still, I think a better strategy might be to use TM15 to teach your Charmander to use Dig. It will help you fight electric types in the future, and it’s probably good for Charmander to learn before its wings start growing. I have a copy at home, if you want to borrow it.”

“That would be great. Wouldn’t it, Charmander?” Leon raised his pokémon’s arms with his hands and mimed a motion that vaguely resembled digging. It was extremely cute.

“I don’t mind going with you if you want to spend more time training against bug types in the forest next to Postwick,” Sonia offered. The old farmhouses in Postwick were beautiful, and she always wanted to meet the woman who lived next door to Leon’s family. She was supposed to be an artist, and Sonia had even seen her garden featured in a magazine once.

“Thanks, but I’ll pass,” Leon replied. “Postwick is boring. There’s nothing there, just a bunch of farms and some stupid garden.”

Sonia’s feeling of goodwill vanished. Just when she’d felt a moment of pride about being from Wedgehurst, Leon had to go and say something rude. She’d been foolish to think that someone from Wyndon would want to be friends with her. “You know, I’m not actually that hungry,” she said. “Besides, I promised my grandmother that I’d help with chores later. I hope you don’t mind getting curry on your own. I’m sure your Charmander knows the way back.”

Leon started to say something, but Sonia didn’t want to hear it. “Come on, Yamper. Let’s go home.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Sonia walked out of the high street trainer boutique wearing a new pair of boots. They were deliciously comfortable and fit perfectly. She hadn’t spoken to Leon since their battle at the lake, but she’d found and watched some of the summer gym matches he told her about. She had to admit that they were exciting. She never seriously considered being a trainer, but she was starting to think that it might be fun to visit the Wild Area on her own. Her new boots might not be as stylish as what people wore in Lumiose City, or even in Wyndon, but they would be great for camping.

Sonia paused outside the station to study the schedule. Trains that stopped in the Wild Area departed frequently from Wedgehurst. If she could get her grandmother’s permission, it would be an easy day trip.

“Sonia!” an unfamiliar voice called out from across the square. She turned to find Leon’s mother rushing toward her, waving with one hand while clutching a briefcase in the other. “Thank goodness I ran into you! Leon isn’t with you, is he?”

Sonia shook her head. This didn’t bode well. If Leon had gotten lost, who even knew what sort of trouble he was in?

“He said he was going to train with his Charmander in the Slumbering Weald, and he should have been home an hour ago.” Leon’s mother sighed. “You know how that boy is.”

Sonia did know. “I’m not doing anything right now. I’ll go look for him,” she volunteered.

“Thank you, dear,” Leon’s mother replied while glancing at her watch. “I’d find him myself, but I need to catch a train. I’ve left a note for his father, but it’s best if you find him before he manages to get too lost. Leon says you’re a formidable trainer. I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

Sonia nodded and wished Leon’s mother well as she rushed into the station. After buying some curry sandwiches and bottled tea from the station kiosk, she took Yamper out of her pokéball and set off down Route 1.

Yamper trotted along beside her and gave a few perfunctory barks at the Wooloo ambling beside the path. Sonia wasn’t too worried about Leon. There were many legends about the Slumbering Weald, and she wasn’t sure if she believed them, but the forest had a strange way of returning people who strayed from the hiking trails.

Sure enough, Leon was sitting on the earth steps leading to his neighbor’s house wearing a Motostoke gym kit in an eyesore shade of orange. His Charmander lay on the slope next to the stairs. A few Budew from the garden gathered around it, carefully avoiding the small flame on its tail. Yamper gave the Charmander a polite sniff before plopping itself onto the grass.

“Your mum sent me to fetch you,” Sonia said as she sat down beside Leon. “She was afraid you’d lost your way in the weald. Fancy a sandwich? I brought enough for both of us.” As she offered a cellophane-wrapped sandwich and a bottle of tea to Leon, Sonia noticed that his eyes were red. “Say, are you allergic to pollen? It’s terrible this time of year.”

“No, just feeling bad for myself.” Leon twisted the cap off his bottle but didn’t drink. “Do you want to know why we moved to Postwick?”

“If you don’t mind telling me,” Sonia replied as she unwrapped her sandwich.

“Both my parents are doctors, but I’m rubbish at school. I couldn’t sit through the makeup lessons, so they hired someone to tutor me. I couldn’t sit through that either.” Leon laughed and took a sip of tea, holding the bottle above his face like a trainer on the pitch. “It’s not that I hated class, but it was more fun to talk about pokémon matches. When my auntie came to visit, she said that kids in Kanto start training as early as ten. She told me I was just the right age for a Charmander egg.

“But we couldn’t keep an untrained Charmander in the house. It would have to stay in its pokéball all the time, else it would’ve burned down the neighborhood. Besides, all the Wyndon trainers are right professional like. So my mum said, ‘Why don’t we move to the country?’”

Sonia nodded to show that she was listening and took a bite of her sandwich. Leon unwrapped his own sandwich, and they ate in silence while listening to the Cutiefly buzz in the neighbor’s garden. Leon’s Charmander had fallen asleep, and Yamper batted playfully at the Budew that wandered over to investigate.

Sonia understood what Leon wasn’t saying. His family might live in Postwick now, but his parents’ jobs were still in the city. It was nice to be out in the country, where Charmander didn’t need to be in its pokéball all day, but it was tough to feel left out and left behind.

“Have you thought about signing up for the gym challenge?” she asked. “My grandmother would sponsor us. We have a distinct advantage, you know, being so close to the Wild Area. We could train in all sorts of weather, against all different types of pokémon. I was just looking at the train schedule. The Wild Area isn’t so far away, really.”

“I bought some magazines about the Wild Area at the station the other day,” Leon replied. “You can borrow them when we pop over to bin the rubbish.”

“That would be nice. My grandmother was impressed by what your parents have done to the place.”

“Are you interested in all that? Old houses and gardens and such.”

Sonia couldn’t figure out what the polite response would be, so she decided to tell the truth. “Not so much. I just like reading the old Galar legends. There are some interesting ones about the Slumbering Weald, so I walk to Postwick every so often.”

“I didn’t go far into the woods,” Leon admitted. “Our neighbor came out and told me I better not. She let me train Charmander against the Budew in her yard instead.”

“I think I remember reading that there are Roselia in the south end of the Wild Area. If you’re up for a challenge.”

Leon clenched his fist. “I’m more than up for it. I’m going to train so hard that your Yamper won’t know what hit her! And I’ll be smart about it too. One day people are going to call me ‘the undefeated champion.’”

“If you don’t get lost on the way to the gym.”

Leon laughed, and Sonia smiled as she finished her tea. She knew that she and Yamper wouldn’t ever be serious contenders for the gym challenge, but Leon’s enthusiasm was infectious. It was comforting to think that Postwick would always be here for them, as unchanged as the trees in the Slumbering Weald, but the rest of Galar was wide open and waiting for them. The weather was lovely, her new boots were snug on her feet, and the Wild Area was right next door. Why not set off tomorrow?