Arzure finally has a chance to get back his lost time and finally be an adult. Yet, he feels hesitation. Things might not go as easy as he hopes.
Primrose Valley: Maturity
Arzure sat on the swings at the old, abandoned playground on the other side of the river. Although, given the existence of the Forest Faerie he supposed it wasn’t really abandoned. Still, it was a place to be alone. He didn’t want anyone else around when he did this. The blue and black raboot had two goals for such a long time. One of them was to prove the existence of the Forest Faerie. Considering Calex would regularly come out to play with them that one was done. The other… Well, his first encounter with Calex had been when he was a teenager. Calex didn’t seem to remember the incident, and Zeelo who was also there only had vague recollections of it. Perhaps not too surprising since both of them had wound up transformed into eggs, and Arzure himself had gone from a fully evolved teenage cinderace down to a baby scorbunny.
Ms. Foster was one of the only people who knew his story was true. She had even taken him in after his regression. He was thankful to her for that. But, it didn’t change the fact, that right now he should be an adult. He’d be in his twenties by now if that incident hadn’t occurred. Getting back to his true age was something Arzure had thought about a lot. But, he had never asked Calex to reverse the spell himself. He wasn’t sure if Calex would understand what he actually wanted. The espeon was clever, but could also be a bit dense at times. Arzure supposed that was what happened when you lived your entire life in isolation with no socialization whatsoever.
But then, last Christmas a new possibility had come up. Around Arzure’s neck was a pendant, with a carved blue stone and three bright red gems in it. Arzure held the pendant in his hands and looked at it. Supposedly, this thing was capable of casting three spells. And was strong enough to match any of the spells Calex could do. That meant he had the opportunity to become an adult right now, resume his old life, get back on track to how things were going.
So why was he hesitating? He had gotten this at Christmas, hung onto it for most of spring planning this, but never actually used it yet. Was it fear? Going to his proper age meant skipping most of his teenage years. That was going to make transitioning into an adult life slightly more difficult with just being thrusts into it with no build up. Or… Was there something else holding him back? Why? Why was the thing he wanted more than anything right in front of him and yet he kept hesitating at the thought of using it?
Was he just not ready? How could he not be ready! He had grown up twice at this point! Once to a teenager on the cusp to an adult, and a second time to a preteen. He was well over twenty years old chronologically. He had to be ready, even if he was taking a non-linear path to adulthood. And yet… Still, something felt wrong.
But… He couldn’t keep hesitating. Whatever fear or anxiety that was holding him back, if he just kept thinking on that instead of acting he’d never get back to his proper age. And so he took a deep breath to calm himself, clutched the pendant in his hands, and focused on his wish.
One of red gems on the pendant lost its luster and darkened. Then, suddenly, Arzure’s body lit up with a bright white light. He was getting older, and bigger. But not just that. He was evolving. It only took a few moments, but when the light faded there was a 28-year-old cinderace, keeping his blue and black fur.
“It actually worked!” Arzure spoke in wonder. He didn’t have any reason to doubt it would, but thinking about it and actually having it happen were two different things. Now he could finally get back to his normal life and-
And how did he do that? It suddenly dawned on Arzure that was now essentially homeless. He couldn’t exactly go back to Mrs. Foster’s house now that he was an adult. And it wasn’t as if he had any parents in town to turn to that he could move back in with. Where was he supposed to call home now? He stood up as he slowly considered his options. No more foster home didn’t just mean he had lost his place to sleep at night, but also his access to free food. So, Arzure saw there were two major priorities to get back to normal life. Finding a place to live, and getting groceries.
Both of which were going to require money.
“Okay… It’s fine.” Arzure spoke to himself calmy. He still had two wishes left. He’d simply use his second wish to get the money he needed to rent out an apartment and pay for groceries. For a brief moment, he considered wishing for a fortune, so he could live his life without having to work. He decided against it. There were going to be enough questions about him suddenly reappearing at his natural age after all these years. He didn’t them asking a ton of questions about where the money had come from too. Even if they believed him, he wasn’t sure if they would consider ‘faerie magic’ counterfeiting or not. He just needed to get enough money to pay rent and buy food till he had a job. How long could that take? Probably not too long. Maybe a couple weeks? He probably should wish for a month’s supply just to be safe. But how much was that?
Well… He had been to the grocery store as a kid, the first time, while his parents were still here. He thought he vaguely recalled things costing around $200 total. That was for a family of three, so he should pay a third of that… Except he often her adults complain about how much more expensive things were these days. Maybe $200 was a good baseline. So four weeks in a month, that was $800. How much would an apartment cost him for a month? Maybe $500-$1,000 depending on the quality. He didn’t need to live in the lap of luxury. But again better to air on the side of caution and aim at the upper end. $1,800. He’d round up to $2,000 in case there were any expenses he hadn’t considered. With that amount in his head, he gripped the stone amulet again as he silently wished that he had $2,000.
And nothing happened.
“Don’t tell me…” Arzure groaned. Calex had said the gems should be able to cast any spell that he could. It looked like creating money wasn’t one of those. Come to think of it, did Calex even understand the concept of money? Well, for whatever reason, it didn’t matter. He couldn’t wish for funds. He’d just have to earn the money himself.
Which meant he needed a job.
Arzure headed back in town. When he reached the river, he backed up, and got a running jump, leaping across the river instead of using the secret bridge he and his friends had built. He felt so much more powerful and stronger, he overshot the jump and landed several feet past the river. He wasn’t going to need any help getting back and forth anymore. Still, the other kids- Erm the kids, would still need the bridge and if any adults other than Arzure learned about it they’d probably get rid of it. The bridge in question was made from rope, and had been attached to a crank hidden in foliage that let them raise and lower it above the water lever. Arzure quickly lowered the bridge back beneath the river, and then he resumed his journey back into town.
Primrose Valley was not a large town by any means. It definitely didn’t have the population to qualify as a city. Aside from the Pokemon Gym, there weren’t a lot of major structures. There weren’t really any major businesses that had their headquarters here. Still, had to be plenty of jobs. Maybe to get something fast he’d have to take a job he didn’t want, but he was sure that once he was more settled into his adult life he could take the time to pursue his actual dream career. Right now, he just needed money fast.
He started with the supermarket. But upon inquiring discovered that had no open positions at the moment. From there, he went to a few nearby stores, most of them were in the same state. There had to be a faster way to figure out who was hiring. If he could check online… But he didn’t own a computer. Mrs. Foster did but he couldn’t go back there again. Maybe Deven or Zeelo might let him use theirs. That would work! He started to walk towards the residential district when a thought suddenly occurred to him.
How would their parents react? It was doubtful that they were going to let an unknown stranger into their house to go talk to their kids. And considering Arzure was sixteen years older than the last time he had seen any of their parents it was doubtful he could convince them of his identity. Maybe he could claim to be his own father? No, that wouldn’t work. They knew he was living at Mrs. Foster’s so wouldn’t have any parents living in town. Where else could he go then?
The library! It was so obvious he could have hit himself for not thinking about it earlier. He could use one of the public computers. Not only could he look for a job but he could take a look at local apartments as well! Feeling more confident with a plan in place, he ran to get to the library as quickly as possible.
As he walked through the sliding glass doors into the library, he became aware of how small the place was. It had always seemed so much bigger. He walked past the children’s section, glancing at it with a passing thought of if he should try to bring Calex here. Right now he needed to stay focused. There was a row of computers set up at wooden desks. Arzure found on that was unoccupied, took and seat and began his search.
It turned out, there were multiple web sites dedicated to looking for jobs! Rather than search for any specific job, he just pulled up a lost of everything within Primrose Valley. It produced five pages worth of results. Jackpot! With this many options there had to be something he could get today. He began to browse them. And as he did his heart sank. Pretty much anything that had a promising starting wage wanted at least five years of experience. Only having had thirty minutes of being an adult Arzure wasn’t going to qualify for any of those. When he filtered out anything requiring experience it left a much smaller pool of jobs. A couple of fast-food places, a few stores that he hadn’t checked in person, and then there was a janitorial position at the Pokemon Gym.
A janitor. Ugh. That was hardly the career he wanted. But, his goal was to eventually compete at the gym professionally and then live off his prize money. Working a janitor might not be glamorous, but it would give him a chance to meet the people running the gym and see a lot of matches up close so he could get an idea of how his competition fought. He pulled up that job and began to fill out an application.
There were several questions he didn’t have answers to. His home address was just the start. There was his education. Technically, he hadn’t completed high school since his initial regression had happened while still in school. So, he couldn’t put in any kind of graduation date, and definitely couldn’t talk about college. Past experiences, well he was applying for this job because he didn’t have any job experience. Then it wanted three references? Why did he need references to be a janitor!?
Arzure filled in as many fields as he could. Some places, he had to put in a placeholder such as the word ‘Pending’ because it wouldn’t let him progress. But eventually he finally completed the application. Now, all he had to do was interview and start work. Except… The submitted application informed him that if they were interested he would hear back from them in 3-5 weeks. Arzure didn’t have 3-5 weeks! He needed money for a place to stay now! And contact him how? He had an e-mail address at least, but he didn’t have a phone number. He had been forced to put in 000-0000 just to get the application to move forward. They needed someone to do the job, Arzure needed work. Why was there a waiting period?
The cinderace gave a very heavy sigh. Maybe online applications weren’t the way to go. Perhaps he should just make a list of places that were hiring and show up in person to see if he could secure an interview and start today. In the meantime, he decided to look for apartments. He started looking for two bedrooms, hoping to use the spare room as an office. Those were far outside the price range of what any of the fast food or janitorial jobs would reach. He dropped down to looking for a one bedroom and things did not look a lot better. After launching the calculator on the computer to figure out how much $10 an hour was a month, he discovered most one bedrooms would leave him with barely anything leftover to buy food with. Studio apartments were the next thing down. These were better, but still would wind up eating up the majority of his money to make rent.
He supposed there was no way around it. He picked out the absolute cheapest one. It was on the edge of town, would be quite the walk to work every day. But he was used to getting around on foot. After memorizing the address, he decided to head there next. It would be good to have a place to sleep in case job hunting took longer than expected.
“A security deposit?” Arzure asked dumbfounded as he sat in a chair opposite of wigglytuff dressed in a business suit.
“Right.” The wigglytuff explained in a cheerful voice. Then she pointed at the pile of paperwork on her desk she expected Arzure to read and sign every page. “For you to move in, we need one month’s rent in advance, a security deposit, and prorated rent.”
“What’s prorated rent?” Arzure asked in a confused tone.
“Rent is due on the first of each month. It’s currently the eighteenth.” Wigglytuff explained, never losing her cheerful tone. “So, you’ll be living here thirteen days before your first month of rent. So we’ll need the money to cover that in addition to your first month.”
“How much money do I need exactly to move in today?” Arzure tried to focus. He had been reading the papers. And there was just so much of it going on and on. Rules about what he could do, how many people could stay in the apartment, fees in addition to rent for power and water, a lease term and a warning that rent could go up after the lease term was finished. If it took this much effort to get a single studio apartment how did anyone ever manage to get a house?
“Well, after security deposit, rent and all fees total…” The Wigglytuff quickly punched some numbers into a calculator on her desk. “You’ll need $1,753.33 total to move in.”
“But… That would be more than I’d make in a month!” Arzure protested.
“Is it?” The Wigglytuff narrowed her eyes. “In addition to having the money up front you’ll also have to pass a credit check in order to move in. Where exactly do you work?”
“Um well… I haven’t really started anywhere yet.” Arzure admitted. “I was just hoping to get a place to stay and then get a job and pay the rent later.”
“Uh huh.” The chipper tone was gone from the Wigglytuff’s voice. She grabbed the paperwork she had gotten out and tossed it into the trash. “I think our business is concluded. Have a good day.”
“But… Where am I supposed to live while looking for a job?” Arzure demanded. “No place is going to pay me up front. Why is rent charged in advance when you know I won’t get paid in advance?”
“That’s what savings are for.” The wigglytuff replied coldly. “Now, as you can’t afford the move in fees, I think it’s best you leave. I need to see other clients interested today.”
“Other clients?” Arzure turned around and looked at the waiting room behind him. It was completely empty. “No one else is here.”
“That doesn’t mean they won’t be.” The wigglytuff snapped. “And there are plenty of tenants who have demands I need to attend to. If you’re done wasting my time, please leave.”
“But-“ Arzure tried to object.
“Please don’t make me force you.” The wigglytuff interrupted. “I don’t want to have to call the cops and report a vagrant.”
“Okay! Okay! I’m going.” Arzure got out of his seat. What was with this lady? She had seen so nice moments before. Then the moment Arzure talked about his situation it was like her personality had completely changed. He headed for the office front door, feeling her glare the entire team. He felt slightly panicked, and kept moving after leaving the office until he was a full three blocks away before stopping to consider his next step.
“What now?” He muttered to himself. He couldn’t get a place to stay until he had a job. But he wasn’t going to be able to work anywhere if he couldn’t stay somewhere. It was like the system was set up just to make people fail. No, he couldn’t think like that. He was running into a few hiccups, yes. He should expect that. He was lacking twelve years of experience between high school and his current age that he would have probably learned about these things. He shouldn’t expect everything to run smoothly. But, he was an adult now. That meant he could figure things out. Because adults always knew how to fix things! Right?
Money. That was the important thing. So, he decided to focus on that. He’d have to go to each of the places he had seen as hiring in person and not give up until one of them let him start today! Maybe he should start at the gym since he had already applied there. Wait… The gym! That was it!
Why didn’t he think of it earlier? The Pokemon League was in season. Tournaments were routine right now. First prize was $10,000. All he had to do was win a tournament and he’d have all the money needed to move in. Even second place gave $5,000 so would give him more than what ne heeded to move into an apartment today. But, he would try a different location than where he had been. He did not fancy talking to that two-faced wigglytuff again.
The Pokemon League was his dream anyway. He had been practicing in the junior league all the way up until he had been reduced back to a baby scorbunny. Then as soon as he was old enough, he had entered the junior league again. He had eight years of experience fighting between his two childhoods. There was no way he’d lose.
Arzure was feeling far more confident again by the time he showed up at the gym. He approached the front counter ready to register, absolutely sure he’d be walking away with the prize money.
“Alright let me get your Combatant ID.” A venosaur was at the front desk.
“What’s that?” Arzure asked not sure what to answer.
“You should have been given one when you passed your Certification Exam. It’s the number on the bottom right-hand corner of your official league card.” The venosaur explained patiently.
“And… If I didn’t have one of those, how would I go about participating in the tournament?” Arzure asked.
“You don’t.” The venosaur replied, though his voice remained patient. “It’s nothing personal. But things get rough in the league. We do are best to end fights before anyone is severely injured. But accidents happen. Sometimes a pokemon has to stay in the pokemon center after a match. So, we require you to pass a Certification Exam before you can enter. It’s to prove that you’re strong enough to compete, and that you won’t just go out there and get yourself hurt. There are quite a few dreamers who know nothing about fighting that try to enter. It would be criminally negligent to let them do so knowing they would just wind up getting themselves hurt. Actually, it is criminal. A gym that lets an uncertified fighter compete faces some pretty heavy fines and the possibility of being closed down.”
“I see.” Arzure’s shoulders sagged. Even here, he couldn’t get in right away. He had to go through a certification process. How was he going to get the money for an apartment at this rate? “So there’s really no way I can enter…”
“Well… Today might be your lucky day.” The venosaur explained. “We are holding Certification Exams today, and the tournament isn’t until the evening. If you can pass the exam today, you can enter.”
“Really?” Finally, something was working out. “Alright, how do I sign up for the exam?” He paused suspecting a roadblock. “Is there a fee?”
“Nah, the league covers the cost of the exams.” The venosaur explained. “They want to encourage as many new competitors as possible. The crowd gets bored if it’s the same people all the time. I can register you for the exam right now.” The venosaur typed a few things into the computer. “Your name?”
“Arzure.” Arzure could almost cry for joy. Things were going to work out.
“Alright then. Arzure, cinderace, fire type.” The venosaur finished typing at their computer and then a ticket printed out. “Okay, you’re going to take the door on the right over there. Follow the hall to the very last room. That’s a practice room where they’re holding the exams.”
“I know the way.” Arzure nodded. The exam was held in the same room that the junior league met in each week. He would have never guessed the same field he had practiced on was being used by professionals. Just one more advantage in his favor. He already knew the field.
After taking the ticket, Arzure quickly went down the directed hallway. His heart was racing. Was he excited? Nervous? Maybe a little of both. But he was a good fighter! Things would turn out fine. Upon opening the door he saw the familiar practice room he had seen every week for his life. The battlefield wasn’t fancy. Astroturf flooring, with a white rectangle marking the field of battle. It wasn’t as big as the real field the tournaments took place on. Those were as big as football fields to give competitors room to go all out. The arena here was about as big as a school gym.
There was a persian waiting at the door. She nodded at Arzure as he walked in and held out her hand. Realizing she wanted his ticket he offered it to her.
“Thank you.” The persian spoke with a purr as she stamped his card with a mark. “Just find a place to hangout until your name is called. There are plenty of chairs if you want to watch the other matches. Or if you’d prefer there’s another practice room opposite this one if you want to do some stretches or warm up. If we haven’t heard from you within fifteen minutes of being called we will skip you and move on to the next. You’ll have to get in line again.”
“Um… Right…” Arzure hesitated a moment. “Um… So how does the Certification Exam work?”
“Today we’re doing free matches instead of a tournament. It’s part of why there are so many.” The persian started to explain.
“Uh, why are there two different exams?” Arzure asked.
“Tournament exams are held outside the league season when we don’t have as many workers on staff. As a result, we have less people available to act as judges.” The Persian explained. “Winning a tournament means automatically passing the exam. During league season, we have official judges here to watch the exams. You’ll only have to fight in one match.”
“So, I just have to win one match and I’m in then?” Arzure was confident in his abilities. But he still felt some level of relief only having to fight one battle. Was he nervous for his first league fight? Or maybe it was just because he was concerned about saving the bulk of his energy for the tournament.
“Well, winning the battle doesn’t automatically mean you’re in for the free matches.” The persian explained. “But losing doesn’t mean you’re out either. Two judges will watch the match, one for each of you. They’ll watch every movement you make in battle. They pay attention to everything. Your demeanor, your stance, what moves you use, and how you react to getting hit. Basically, they’re judging your skill, not how strong you are. They want to make sure that you’re both capable enough to enter the league, which includes knowing how to take a blow without getting too hurt, and they’ll pay a lot of attention to your fighting style. The Pokemon League is just as much a show as it is a sport. Don’t go to fancy with your fighting where you trip yourself up, but do make sure to diversify what moves you use. Make the match as exciting as possible while minimizing your injuries as much as possible.”
“Got it.” Arzure nodded. “I’ll… Take a seat in here. I think I’d like to watch the other matches before mine.” Arzure was one of the top fighters for his age group in the junior league. He wasn’t the top student in the school… But he had been given opportunities to train with the older students at time. He didn’t always win those fights. Actually, there were a few that he had lost. But they were older and stronger than him. Now he was on even footing with the other combatants. There was no way he’d lose.
But it couldn’t hurt to watch a few fights and get an idea of what to expect.
Arzure took a seat next to the wall, and watched. He couldn’t help but notice most of the people here today were younger than him. You couldn’t enter the professional Pokemon League until you were eighteen years of age, a legal adult. The majority of the combatants were probably in their young twenties, but there were a few that were just of age entering. And there were a couple of people who looked older than Arzure also taking the exam, which helped him feel awkward about the fact he’d likely wind up fighting someone younger than him.
The fights he witnessed were pretty good. Every fighter he saw knew what they were doing. Obviously, some were better than others. But everyone here had been practicing for this day. All of them were better than the other students in Arzure’s class. That put him on edge briefly. And then he calmed down. Everyone here was older and more evolved. And now so was he. Naturally, he’d be way tougher than he had been.
Finally, his name was called. Arzure quickly ran up to the arena. There were three pokemon waiting. Two of them were a kingdra and a slowking, both wearing referee uniforms. They must have been the judges. That made the last one his opponent. A zoruark. So, a dark type. Neither one of them had a type advantage. They were on even footing. The zoruark appeared to be female. Much like Arzure she wasn’t wearing any clothing right now. That was common in the League. Most fighters wore minimal to no clothing. Clothes didn’t tend to last when you started tossing fireballs at each other. And trying to wear fire retardant clothing or other tougher forms of clothing would count as having an unfair advantage.
“Alright, combatants! Ready yourselves! Shake hands!” The judges shouted in unison.
“Right.” Arzure walked forward to greet the zoruark. He was aware that he was likely already being judged. The fights on TV often had banter between the two combatants, but things rarely escalated beyond playful bluster. They were judging if he was going to be a good sport, respectful to his opponent, and didn’t throw a tantrum if he lost. Well, that last one shouldn’t be an issue, as he didn’t plan to lose. Still, he held out his hand to the zoruark and introduced himself. “I’m Arzure. Looking forward to a fair match.”
“For a certain meaning of fair.” The zoruark gave a playful grin. “I’m kidding. Just, you’ll see when the fight starts. I’m Mirage. Or at least that’s the stage name I plan to take.”
“Huh…” Arzure looked thoughtful. “I hadn’t considered a stage name. Maybe I should try to come up with one.”
“Well, you should probably wait till after the fight.” Mirage backed away from him to get into place. “You have more important things to focus on right now.”
“Right!” Arzure took his own place.
“BEGIN!” Both judges called.
Arzure had always relied on speed in combat. This wasn’t surprising. Speed was a cinderace’s natural strength. He circled Mirage, getting behind them faster than they could move. And while neither had a type advantage in their own species, Arzure did have a fighting move that would make quick work of his opponent. Leaping at Mirage’s back he delivered a double kick.
And passed right through her body.
“Wait what?” Arzure asked as the Mirage he attacked vanished. An illusion? Well, that explained her choice of stage name. And her comment on the fair fight.
Mirage appeared inches away from Arzure, striking at him with her claws. Arzure pulled back away from the attack. He was hit across the chest, but the damage was superficial thanks to his quick footwork. Arzure kicked up a piece of the Astroturf, lifting a small bit of it out of the ground, as it burst into flames and Arzure kicked the ball of fire in Mirage’s direction. He didn’t know if he hit or not. She disappeared right as the attack should have connected. And then four of her appeared surrounding him. They began to run in circles, he tried to watch them, but it was impossible to keep an eye on all four at once. She really was making the most out of her illusion abilities.
“It’s like a shell game…” Arzure muttered. He was trying to get an idea of which zoruark was the real one. She would react slightly faster than the mirages. Much to his surprise, it turned out to be easy to identity the one that moved first, and was out of sync with the others. There was his target!
Wait… The shell game comparison made him think of how some pokemon conned others. The ‘real’ one had been awfully easy to spot. They had previously used their illusions to be invisible. Why throw a real one in at all? Arzure closed his eyes and listened. His ears weren’t just for show. She could fool his eyes, but not his hearing. None of the four images made a sound. They were all fake. But there was a rush of wind… And…
Arzure leaped straight up, just as the real Mirage appeared flying down out of the sky striking downward with her claws. She had a mild look of surprise as Arzure leaped above her, and then as she landed, before she had a chance to recover Arzure dove down into another double kick. He felt both kicks connect, so knew he got a hit this time as she was knocked to the ground.
For Mirage’s credit, she knew how to take a hit well. Rolling along the ground, then fluidly spinning back up onto her feet.
“Huh… You’re pretty impressive.” Mirage flashed a mischievous grin. “Usually, a few illusions and the fight is over. It’s been a while since anyone since I’ve fought anyone on an even footing.”
“Guess that’s what it means to be on the professional level.” Arzure replied, before bursting into sprint, using Agility to boost his speed even further.
“A contest of speed then.” Zoruark turned out to be fast as well. They both circled the arena, each trying to place themselves in a more advantageous position. Suddenly, a second Mirage appeared directly in front of Arzure, slashing at his eyes.
“Gah!” The attack went through him. It was just another illusion. He knew it was because he had never lost sight of the real one. But its sudden appearance, and the claws coming right for his eyes had been enough to make him flinch. And the real Mirage immediately closed the distance. She grabbed Arzure before leaping into the air and tossing him onto the ground. “Ugggh.” And then she landed and split into three Zoruarks. “This again?”
Arzure reminded himself not to trust his eyes. The three Zoruarks closed in around him. So where was the real one? Wait… His ears twitched. The sound of labored breathing. The real one was among them this time! It was clever, Arzure would give her that. Now that he caught on to her game, he’d be looking around for an invisible one when the real Mirage was in plain sight. He listened closely as they closed in to figure out which one was the real one.
Then, he dashed forward, fire igniting from his feet and forming a wheel that went around his entire body. He ran straight through the real Mirage. She braced herself for the hit, and managed to avoid being knocked from her feet, and only slid back a few inches as the illusions faded. Arzure wasted no time letting her recover and came in delivering another series of kicks. One of them landed, but the zoruark held her ground, and delivered a flurry of slashes at Arzure. Now in close combat, kick vs claw, the two barely had time to register each other’s attacks and try to dodge. Both Arzure and Mirage got a good number of hits in. But Arzure’s were super effective. Mirage was wearing down faster than him.
And then she vanished. No illusions appeared at all this time. She remained invisible. But her breathing was even heavier due to her injuries. Arzure heard as she ran in a circle behind him, ran forward and he immediately turned and delivered a kick right where she would have appeared. The kick went above her head! Zoruark had dropped to all fours, and struck out at Arzure. Arzure tried to land from his kick, and aim a second one downward. Both of them made contact, and both of them were knocked off their feet landing on their backs. They started to get up.
“That’s enough!” The judged shouted. “The match is over.”
“Over?” Arzure replied as he got back up. “But… No one won.”
“Yeah…” Mirage complained as she climbed to her own feet. “Things were just starting to get good.”
“We’ve seen enough to make judgement.” The first judge spoke.
“You’ve both passed certification.” The second judge replied. “There’s no reason for you to waist anymore energy, especially if you plan to enter tonight’s tournament.”
“Heh, well what do you know.” Mirage grinned and held out a hand to Arzure. “Thanks. Having you for an opponent really let me show off. Don’t know if I’d got in against someone who couldn’t hold their own. Am I going to see you in the tournament tonight?”
“You bet.” Arzure grinned and the two shook hands again. “In the tournament, we finish this for real.”
After the fight, Arzure was given an official Pokemon League card, and he was able to register for the tournament. All he had to do was win and get the prize money. But… That left him with a few hours to kill. And after the fight he was starving and had no money to buy anything with.
Maybe Zeelo could help him get something to eat. Zeelo, like Arzure was on his second childhood. Although Zeelo did not seem to have any goals of reversing his change. Then again, the former Lucario had gone all the way to a riolu egg. It was unclear how much of his original life he could remember. Either way, Zeelo had parents who lived in town. They may not have understood what had happened, but they were ready to raise him again. Perhaps, that was part of why he was in no rush to get back to normal. That didn’t really matter. What did was that Zeelo would be able to recognize him despite his older appearance.
Zeelo’s parents ran a bodega. Somce he was a friend of Zeelo’s there was a good chance they wouldn’t mind letting him take a snack for free. But, he realized even though Zeelo’s parents knew about what had happened to Zeelo, they didn’t know Arzure had it happen too. Zeelo’s memory of the incident was too vague to give details. Would they accept he was actually Arzure and help him or let him hang out with Zeelo? Or think him some strange adult trying to hang out with children and turn him away. He decided it was better not to risk it. Upon getting to the store, Arzure casually walked inside, pretending to browse the various shelves while glancing around to see if Zeelo was here. He was also keeping a look out for Zeelo’s parents, to make sure that when he finally found his friend they’d be able to talk alone. It took a few minutes, but soon he saw his friend, a riolu kid with brown stripes on his ears. Arzure quickly approached him tapping him on the shoulder.
“Okay who… Are…” Zeelo froze as he turned around staring up at Arzure. It took him a minute. It was literally a past life at this point last time he had seen Arzure as a cinderace. But blue and black were not common colors for the scorbunny line. “Arzure? What happened?”
“Look I just… Need your help!” Arzure replied. “Can we talk out back or something? I’d rather not get your parents attention.”
“Uh… Sure…” Zeelo replied as he took off an apron he was wearing and hung it on the wall. A moment later, he led Arzure out the backdoor of the store where they could talk undisturbed in the back alley.
“I need your help.” Arzure explained. “Just, do you think you could sneak some food for me? I’ll take lunchmeat, bread, really anything with calories at this point.”
“What happened to you?” Zeelo looked up at Arzure. Then he saw the pendant around his neck, and that one of the stones had lost its lust. Having received a pendant like it himself last Christmas he understood immediately. “You made yourself older?”
“I changed myself back to my normal age!” Arzure replied.
“But… Shouldn’t that be like sixteen?” Zeelo gave Arzure a confused look.
“Yeah, I would have been, twelve years ago.” Arzure explained. “But I made myself the age I’m supposed to be.”
“I see…” Zeelo crossed his arms. “But… Why are you here begging for food?”
“Because suddenly becoming an adult has had a few complications I hadn’t foreseen.” Arzure muttered. “I can’t go back to Mrs. Foster’s house like this. So, I’m out a home and food. Food being the more pressing concern right now. I don’t have any money to buy anything, and I’m starving. It’s been an active day.”
“Um… Okay… Just a second.” Zeelo disappeared back into the store. He returned a few minutes small bread loaf, a salad and some slices of lunch meat. Hardly a fast, but it would do. At this point Arzure wasn’t going to be picky. He gladly accepted the food and devoured it in an instant.
“So… What is your plan?” Zeelo asked concern in his voice. “Like, you’re basically homeless now. And you’ll have to get a job.”
“It’s okay, I have a plan.” Arzure assured him. “I’m going to win the Pokemon League tournament tonight. It’ll give me enough money to pay for an apartment and buy groceries.”
“Okay…” Zeelo didn’t sound convinced. “But what if you don’t win?”
“Well, second prize is still enough to cover the cost of moving in and immediate food.” Arzure explained. “I’ll just have to really rush on the job hunting to get a regular income going.”
“But what if you don’t place at all?” Zeelo asked.
“I… Should win easily! I mean! I have years of experience! And…” For the first time since deciding to enter the tournament Arzure suddenly felt doubt about the plan. “I mean I passed the Certification Exam, so I’m more than good enough. I just gotta win this one tournament and everything will work out.”
“If you say so…” Zeelo still wasn’t convinced. “But… Just in case it fails… What’s your plan B?”
“Uh…” Arzure wasn’t sure. He had gotten distracted from his job hunt, but he still intended to do it. But even if he got a job today he wouldn’t have the money to move in. If only Calex’s magic had been able to conjure the money. There was an idea. “I suppose… If I absolutely have to I can see if Calex will let me live in the forest till I’m on my feet.” Roughing it in the woods was less than appealing. But with the espeon’s magic it would easily be more than bearable.
“I don’t know…” Zeelo was still concerned. “Don’t you think you’re rushing into this, not giving it much thought. Even if this is the age you would be, you’re missing twelve years of experience between being a teen and an adult.”
“I’ve had a few holds ups, but I’m learning as I go.” Arzure assured him. “It’s going to be fine.”
“If you say so… But… What about the group?” Zeelo asked.
“What do you mean?” Arzure seemed confused.
“You know, you, me, Deven and Calex. If you’re all grown up you can’t really run around with kids anymore.” Zeelo crossed his arms. “People will think you’re some kind of weirdo and up to something. You won’t be part of the gang anymore.”
“Um…” The fact that becoming an adult might mean saying goodbye to his friends was something that Arzure had not thought of, nor was he ready to think about. “I’m sure… We can still hang out in the woods and stuff…” Even as he said it he sounded unsure. Calex was terrified of adults for some reason, and barred them entry from the forest. But, surely he’d let Arzure in, right? Arzure tried not to think about it so he changed his topic of conversation. “I’m registered for the tournament tonight! You and Deven should come watch!”
“Can’t.” Zeelo replied sadly. “It’s Sunday and those tournaments go late. No way my parents will let me stay out late with school in the morning.”
“Oh…” Arzure sounded dejected.
“But… I’ll call him and tell him about it and we can watch on the TV!” Zeelo tried to be encouraging. But it was obvious he thought Arzure had made a terrible decision.
“Uh sure.. That’s great…” Arzure replied as he finished his food. He felt a little better physically now that he had eaten. But he also felt completely drained for some other reason. It was as if someone had just knocked the wind out of him. Images of his friends kept popping into his head and it just made him more and more uncomfortable. “I should… Get ready.” Arzure was in a paradoxical state of both wanting to be alone and desperately needing company at the same time. But, struggling with the emotions that were now surfacing over the possibility of losing his friends, he wasn’t ready to face that reality yet. And so the desire for solitude won out over that of companionship. “I’ll talk to you later. Somehow.”
Without waiting for a response, Arzure excited the alleyway and ran as fast as he could. He wasn’t sure where he was running too. And no matter how fast he went, he couldn’t escape what he was running from. But he tried to deny it in his mind, assure himself he’d find a way to work things out.
By the time of the tournament, Arzure just felt numb. He returned to the gym, checked in at the front desk and was led to a locker room. Even from here he could hear the crowded arena packed with fans cheering. That lifted his spirits a little. He just told himself that all he had to do was win this tournament and everything would work out fine.
Why wasn’t that as easy to believe as it had been earlier?
This was the way things were supposed to be. Everything would work out.
Arzure was saved from having to face his thoughts by the announcement that he was up. As he walked out to the real grass covered arena he wouldn’t help but feel more confident hearing all the people screaming. They were ready for the next match. The arena was brightly lit. And through the opened-up roof Arzure could see that even the stars were out in full tonight. As if the world was trying to tell him to stop doubting himself. A bright future awaited him.
Then his opponent appeared. A raichu, with two extra brown stripes on his thighs and arms, and a long red ponytail.
“Gale?” Arzure blurted out as soon as he saw him. He knew this raichu. He had a pichu friend at school, Nelly. Gale was his older brother. But not only that, before Gale joined the professional Pokemon League he was in the junior league too. He was in an older age group that Arzure, and due to his skills had been brought in to help train and spar with Arzure’s age group a bit. Arzure didn’t recall anyone ever beating Gale. Apparently, just as Arzure was close to the top of class in his group, so was Gale for his. But… Gale no longer had the advantage of age and evolution. Arzure reminded himself. Now they were on even footing, so he should win.
“Eh, you know me?” Gale gave a pause and looked over the cinderace. “Those colors… You wouldn’t happen to have a little brother would you?”
“N-no.” Arzure stammered as he and Gale approached each other.
“Strange.” Gale put a hand to his chin. He had almost identified Arzure. But thanks to being older Gale apparently thought he was a relative or something. “Anyways, I guess you already know my name. Looking forward to a fair fight.” He held out his hand.
“Right! And um!” Arzure held out a hand. “And I’m… Working on a stage name, but… Don’t want to go by my real name for… Privacy reasons.” It was the best lie he could come up with. He didn’t know how Gale would react if he learned who he really was.
“Fair enough.” Gale gave him a suspicious look, but didn’t say anymore. They both walked away from themselves, and then the match was on.
The match started. Arzure and Gale started almost identically, both immediately using the power of Agility to increase their movement speed until they were running around the entire giant arena as a blur. Arzure kicked up a few pebbles, lighting them aflame and kicked them in the raichu’s direction but his reflexes were quick enough to rapidly change directions and avoid the attacks. Then, he let out a blast of electricity straight for Arzure.
Arzure leaped to the side, then leaped back to avoid a second strike. He had to close the distance. Both of them relied on speed in combat, and had been keeping their distance to start. But Gale’s electric moves traveled faster than Arzure’s fire moves. At a distance Gale had the advantage. Up close… Well, Arzure didn’t have any moves that were super effective against electric types. He silently cursed himself for not saving his allowance up to buy that Dig TM. But he had seen Gale on TV and in class. He knew how the raichu fought and that gave him the advantage.
Gale made no attempts to stop Arzure from closing in on him. Instead, he rushed in to meet him. The two met in roughly the center of the arena. As Arzure expected, Gale immediately tried to unleash a series of Thunder Punches. It was the raichu’s favorite move. Having expected them, Arzure nimbly dodged to the side while kicking Gale in the side! A direct hit! Gale was knocked to the ground! He was already-
And then suddenly Arzure was forcefully shoved into the ground.
“What?” Arzure asked in confusion. Then he felt something tug on his ankle. Looking down, he saw that Gale had hooked his long flexible tail around Arzure’s ankle and pulled him down with him. “That’s… Not a move…” Arzure started.
“I’ve learned to improvise a bit.” Gale grinned, and unleashed a torrent of electricity. Already being in physical contact, there was no way for Arzure to dodge. He took the full force of the blast. Gale then released Arzure’s ankle, before flipping back up onto his feet.
Arzure was a little slower climbing to his feet. And that proved to be his downfall. Gale didn’t give him a chance to recover. Before Arzure was fully standing up, he took a Thunder Punch to the gut. He tried to keep his footing, avoid falling down, and stumbled back a few steps. Gale maintained his momentum, unleashing one punch after another. Arzure did his best to withstand them, and try to get back into the fight. But, suddenly his entire body froze up and he fell over. He couldn’t move! He had been paralyzed.
“Okay…” Gale was panting a bit. “I… I think that might be it. I’m not going to hit a paralyzed opponent. The match is over.”
The official ref started a countdown from ten. If he reached zero and Arzure wasn’t able to get up the match would go to Gale. The first match in the tournament? He couldn’t lose here. It would ruin everything. He had seen Gale before, he knew his capabilities! How was he so much better than Arzure!?
Arzure managed to move a little, tried to push himself off the ground but a wave of residual electricity ran over his body, causing him to collapse again. There was no way for him to get up. No possible way for him to win here. He tried to push himself up again, and fell once more, feeling a sharp jab in his chest as he did. It was the pendant he was wearing.
There was a way he could win. But… He was pretty sure using magic basically amounted to cheating. It wasn’t right. He couldn’t do it. But if he didn’t, the match was over and then what? He wound up a bum on the streets. He apologized silently to Gale in his head. But he had no choice. He had to win the tournament. He made another wish.
Arzure floated into the air and back on his feet. As he did, his ears suddenly got a lot longer, now becoming lopped and traveling the entire distance of his body. He was also slightly taller too. He felt power boiling within him. A spark formed beneath him that would have become an enormous fireball. Arzure quickly consciously shut that down before he created it. That would very much give away what had just happened. And it was something that shouldn’t be possible in this region of the world. There was no way he could explain it without saying he had cheated. But he had used a wish to fill his body with Dynamax energy. And with that, he had transformed into Gigantamax Cinderace. It actually didn’t really make him much bigger. For cinderaces it was mostly the flames they created that got bigger.
“What’s going on? You were down.” Gale took a step back as looked at Arzure. “And those ears…”
“I’m sorry, but I’m not going to lose here. I can’t lose here.” Arzure kicked up rock from the ground, setting it ablaze. It was his own favored attack. And had he been a normal cinderace Gale would have easily dodged it.
But as Arzure kicked the fireball towards Gale, Gale had not been prepared for the fireball to suddenly grow drastically in size and engulf his body completely. He let out a screech of pain, but as the flames died down, he was still standing, barely. His arms hung low and his body swayed as if he might fall over at any moment. It was clear he was standing through sheer force of will.
“What… How?” Gale looked at Arzure with a mix of confusion and anger. But as he struggled to stay standing, while Arzure’s transformation had left him filled with strength he could see that he wouldn’t be able to keep up. If he had known about the fire being able to expand he might have avoided it and stood a chance. But in his current state, he was too injured to have a fighting chance. He held up a hand. “I… Concede.” He spoke at last.
“Will you look at that!” The announcer called. “This was that cinderace’s debut fight! He just got certified today! It’s been years since someone won their first fight! We may just be looking at the next champ right now! Everyone give it up for Arzure!”
“Arzure?” Gale asked, and Arzure regretted registering with his real name. Of course all the tournament officials knew it. If Gale figured out who Arzure was he didn’t say. Instead, he just stumbled towards the locker rooms, using the wall to brace himself after he was out of the arena.
“I… Did it…” Arzure said, but he didn’t sound happy. But he had won his first match. He started back to the locker rooms as well. By the time he reached it his transformation had reverted, and he was back to a normal cinderace. It seemed even Calex’s magic couldn’t keep that going for long.
There was a tray of curative berries waiting for Arzure upon his arrival. The league did their best to make sure everyone was patched up from a fight. No one wanted any lasting injuries. And of course people heading to the next round needed to be in prime condition for their fight. Arzure devoured them just happy to have a meal. Then, he just had time to wait. It would take awhile before the first round was over and the second-round matches started. So, there was just him his thoughts as he considered what he had done. As well as the possibility that later opponents might be tougher.
“Gale was a special case.” Arzure told himself out loud. “He was literally top of the class. He’s a beast of his own. The later fighters won’t be nearly as tough.” He tried to tell himself that. But he knew it wasn’t true. Arzure watched the professional league matches every time he could. He had seen Gale’s debut match, and how he had lost. And he had seen several other losses since then. At least five tournaments had passed before Gale was finally able to make it to the second round. And he had still never won a tournament. Furthest he had made it was the semifinals.
“WHAT THE HECK WAS THAT!?” There was a loud slam that woke Arzure from his thoughts. As he looked up, he saw Gale was in his locker room, having slammed his fist into the wall.
“What… What do you mean?” Arzure asked.
“You were down for the count. Then suddenly, you physically transform!” Gale stated. “Maybe the audience didn’t notice or realize it was significant, but I did. You weren’t packing that kind of firepower when the fight started. What did you do?”
“I don’t know what you mean.” Arzure sunk into himself.
“Then let me be more blatant. I’m asking how did you cheat?” Gale glared daggers at him. Of course, Gale would have noticed the change. Even though Arzure had stopped the giant fireball from forming he had been right there. “What was that? Did you somehow slip some kind of potion…” Gale shook his head as immediately as he said it. “No, you’d have had to worn some clothing to conceal it. But I know you cheated somehow.” That was right, Gale’s brother Nelly brewed potions. Gale was familiar with the magic in Primrose Valley. But only the normal magic, not the stuff that happened in the forest.
“I just managed to tap into what reserves of strength I had left.” Arzure tried to offer an explanation. But even he didn’t think he sounded convincing.
“Nonsense.” Gale huffed. “I don’t know how you did it, and count your blessings for that. If I could figure it out I would have already reported you and you’d have been disqualified. But, you’ve got five more fights between now and the finals. And you better believe I’ll be watching every single one until I know what you’re doing. Maybe you pulled it off without getting caught once. But do you think you can keep doing it all night before someone catches on?” With another huff, the raichu turned and stormed out of the locker room. He was really mad about Arzure cheating.
And he was right.
What’s worse… While Arzure might have been able to avoid getting caught, he was correct that Arzure couldn’t cheat like that in every fight. There was only one stone left. Only one wish left. Arzure could do that one more time, and then the pendant was out of power. There was no way for him to make it to the finals.
He felt his heart seek. As soon as he had the thought he knew it was true. It simply was not possible to power through like this. The professional league was nothing like the junior league. And he had just jumped right into it without thinking. Without properly training up to the level.
He had just jumped right into everything like that. He didn’t have the experience or resources to get by in the world. Even if this was the age he would have been, without actually growing up to it naturally, without learning life lessons as they occurred and starting with something to build with it was hopeless. He didn’t know how he could make this work.
He couldn’t get the money. Couldn’t get a job easily. Couldn’t get an apartment or food. And he couldn’t see his friends anymore. Except… Maybe one. Possibly the only one who might be able to help him until he got things going.
Arzure left the locker room and went to reception. There, he conceded the next fight in advance. When asked for a reason, he said he had hurt his leg too badly and wouldn’t be able to run any further tonight. They seemed to buy it. Not that it mattered anymore. It wasn’t like he was getting paid for only advancing one round.
It was a quiet night as Arzure worked his way out of town, and towards the river. Once more, he leaped over it without aid from the bridge. But, there was no sensation of joy with it this time. Instead, he just approached the woods. If he couldn’t go anywhere else at least Calex could provide him shelter.
Arzure stepped past the tree line, and suddenly found himself stepping back into the space he had just been in. He had seen something like this before. He wasn’t sure if it was something Calex consciously controlled, if the forest did it on its own, or if Calex somehow did it by instinct. But the forest could move itself around, either to draw people in, get them lost or kick them out. Regardless of how it was done, Calex at least had some ability to exert control, as Arzure had seen him force it to bring himself, Zeelo and Deven together after separating them.
“Calex! It’s me! Please let me in!” Arzure tried to walk into the forest again, and immediately was walking out of it. “It’s Arzure! You know me! I’m not… a normal adult. You don’t have to be scared.” He tried to walk in, and once more the forest rejected him. At this point he collapsed onto all fours. “Please… Calex…” Arzure felt the tears start. He tried not to, but he couldn’t. He broke down sobbing.
He had no home. No food. And now no friends. And the espeon that he had gotten to know so closely now wouldn’t even appear before him. It was too much. He couldn’t control it. He continued to stay there and sob, feeling truly and completely alone in the world.
“Arzure?” A familiar voice asked. Arzure at first thought he imagined it. But as he looked up, he saw a pair of bright yellow-green eyes staring at him from the forest.
“Calex…” Arzure looked up, and tried to stop crying to conceal his tears from the espeon, but he couldn’t.
“… Is… It really you?” Slowly, the orange espeon appeared, emerging from the tree line. Normally, he floated everywhere he went. This time, he was walking very slowly along the ground, creeping closer to Arzure as if afraid he might bite.
And Arzure understood why. Calex was afraid of him. Like he was of most adult pokemon. Arzure had been trying to help him move past that. But every improvement he had, every time he managed to avoid freaking out, it was when Arzure was at his side to help him calm down, and assure him everything would be alright. And now Arzure was the cause of his fear.
“What happened?” Calex crept closer. He was shaking.
“I… Grew up…” Arzure turned away from Calex and moved into a sitting position. He didn’t want to be seen like this. And he didn’t want to see his friend like that either. Actively afraid of him. What was he supposed to do now?
Suddenly, he felt a warm paw grip his own.
“It… it’s o-okay.” Calex spoke with a slight stammer and sat down next to Arzure. “I’m h-here. Just tell me what’s w-wrong…” Calex hadn’t lost his fear of adults, but it was clear he was making his best effort to overcome it. Because he recognized Arzure as his friend. And so he came out of his comfort zone seeing a friend in need.
Arzure would have hugged him right then and there if he didn’t think it would cause the espeon to freak out.
“I’ve… Had a very rough day…” Arzure muttered. “I… I used the pendant you gave me, to make myself an adult. I thought I could easily slip back into my old life. But everything is so complicated. Nothing prepared me for this.”
“Are… p-pokemon normally prepared for adulthood?” Calex asked.
“I…. Don’t know.” Arzure answered honestly. “But… I guess most people don’t skip twelve years of their life, so probably have more experience.” He sighed. “And now I’m alone.”
“You’re not alone.” Calex suddenly wrapped his arms around Arzure and embraced him in a hug while leaning his head into him.
“C-Calex?” Arzure asked in surprise. No matter how many times he had taken Calex out and gotten him to calm down around adults. Not a single time had he ever made physical contact with one. Just holding Arzure’s hand was more than he had ever done. And now he was hugging him. “I… You’re afraid of adults.”
“Arzure is Arzure.” Calex replied. “Even if he is a scary b-big pokemon.”
“You really are weird.” Arzure let out a laugh. He wasn’t even sure what he was laughing at. But… Calex was right. He was himself. No matter what age he was.
For so long, he had thought that he had somehow lost out on who he was supposed to be because of having to go through childhood twice. But… He was still himself. He had a home. Friends that cared about him. And was slowly growing up naturally, learning life’s lessons as they came.
“I think I did something really stupid.” Arzure gave a heavy sigh. So determined to get back what he perceived as lost, he had been blind to what he had. And blind to the fact that he actually did enjoy his life and treasure it. “Thanks Calex.” Arzure wrapped one of his own arms around the espeon. Calex flinched, but remained where he was, keeping ahold of Arzure. “I guess… I know what to make with the final wish now.”
And a moment later, there was a raboot and an espeon, sitting in the grass outside the forest, each hanging on to the other for companionship as they watched the stars in the sky. There wasn’t any need for conversation or anything like that. Right now, Arzure was just really happy to have a friend.