Several hours later, Solonn stood outside with Morgan and Sei Salma in the backyard. Though evening was approaching, the sun was still hot enough and bright enough to bother Solonn. Sunlight differed from the artificial light inside the house; it possessed its own peculiar kind of harshness, even in lower quantities.
There wasn’t much that Solonn could really do about the heat, but he did at least have one option that might make him able to more easily to tolerate the lighting. He made his way across the yard at once to stand in the shade of the large sitrus tree that stood tall in the backyard. Much better,
he thought with satisfaction.
Morgan and Sei crossed the lawn to join Solonn. Sei promptly took a seat, leaning back contentedly against the trunk of the tree and opening a magazine. Meanwhile, Morgan came to stand before the snorunt, and then presented a small, cylindrical plastic case. She opened the container and produced a cyan-colored disc from it.
<I’ll bet you’re wondering what this is, huh?> Morgan said, making use of Sei’s telepathy. <Well, this is a technical machine, Solonn. From it, you can gain a new technique.>
An elemental technique being obtained from a little plastic disc. It wasn’t the
most ridiculous concept Solonn had ever heard of, although it did come very close.
<Now, we may not even need to use this,> Morgan continued. <Let’s find out if we do… Solonn, could you show me the strongest ice-type technique you know?>
<The strongest? I guess that would be this.> Solonn called on the power of his element. The glow of his eyes intensified momentarily as he gathered the ice-type energy that he would need for the technique. A second later, the elemental charge coalesced between his hands, then fired forth as a jagged, electric blue beam that blasted a flurry of frozen leaves and twigs from the branches above as it streaked off toward the sky.
<Ice beam, huh? Okay, then it looks like we will
need to use this.> Morgan knelt before Solonn, then popped open a compartment on one end of the technical machine case and slipped the disc inside. <There’s another, stronger ice technique that you’ll need to pull off your routine,> she said as she closed the compartment once more. <You’ll get that technique from this.>
Solonn eyed the case with uncertainty, his gaze caught and held by the lens that seemed to stare right back at him from the end of the case that faced him. <…This won’t hurt, will it?>
<No, it doesn’t hurt,> Sei said reassuringly. <I’ve received one myself. It’ll be a funny feeling, but one that won’t last long. You have nothing to fear from it.>
<Oh. Go ahead, then,> Solonn permitted Morgan.
With a quick nod of acknowledgment, Morgan set about activating the technical machine, bringing the lens to bear on Solonn’s forehead and pressing a button on the top of the case. It whirred to life, but apart from that nothing seemed to be happening at first—the beam projected by the case was invisible, and its initial impact was intangible.
Then, with a rather strong shudder, Solonn found himself overwhelmed by a sudden surge of power. The feeling was similar to that which accompanied the summoning of certain of his ice-type techniques, only it was stronger and seemed to all go straight to his head rather than spreading throughout his entire body. It escalated into a giddying rush, and when it reached its abrupt end, he found himself feeling incredibly lightheaded.
Solonn teetered comically for a moment, nearly falling onto his butt before managing to shake himself out of his dizzy spell. <That was weird,> he remarked. <So, that’s it? That’s all it took?>
<Mmm-hmm. You’ve just learned the blizzard technique,> Morgan confirmed as she removed the now spent and colorless disc from the front compartment and set it aside. <Go on, try it out—but be careful where you aim it, though; it can be pretty nasty.>
?! Are you serious?> Solonn asked incredulously. Morgan nodded, smiling brightly. Solonn was momentarily stupefied. It just seemed all too incredible that a simple disc could bestow any sort of power upon him, but to think that it had just given him one of the highest powers of his element…
Remaining slightly skeptical, Solonn nonetheless gave his new technique a try. Once again, he gathered elemental energy. He felt a sizable thrill as the surge of power defied his expectations and answered his summons, then manifested itself in a blast of icy wind and snow.
As the blizzard howled forth, Solonn realized with a jolt of horror that he’d forgotten to aim the attack—its present course, he realized, might well result in a decent-sized hole being blown in the Yorkes’ back fence by the fierce ice technique. Fortunately, though, the blizzard was rather underpowered, and as a result the mini-snowstorm petered out before it could wreak havoc on the fence.
Solonn stared briefly at the small pile of snow that now sat contrastingly upon the green grass, watching as it began to melt in the heat of the June afternoon. That thing actually worked…
He then laughed to himself, pleasantly bewildered.
<Not bad,> Morgan remarked. <That was just a little one, but with practice, you should be able to pull off a much more impressive blizzard. And wait ‘til you see what you can do when you combine that with other techniques!>
<You can actually do that?> Solonn asked, intrigued. He had never seen multiple techniques used in combination, not even by the glalie.
<Oh yes,> Morgan said. <In fact, artful combination of techniques is what contests are really all about. A good, creative, graceful presentation is what comes out on top every time. Now,> she went on, opening the technical machine case once more, <there’s another one of these that you won’t necessarily need, but it could still do you some good. Do you want to go ahead and take it now, or do you want to wait a little while before you take another one?>
Solonn considered the matter for a moment. He decided that there was really no reason to turn down this offer to gain a new technique. He determined also that a delay in accepting it meant a delay in training. The more training he could get in before the twenty-fifth, he figured, the better his chances of getting that first ribbon and thus taking that first step toward his return to Virc-Dho. Hence, he decided that he would not wait.
<I’ll take it,> he told Morgan. <Let’s do this now.>
The human nodded in acknowledgment and pulled another technical machine from the case, a fuchsia-colored disc this time. Solonn watched as the disc was loaded into the front compartment and activated, wondering what sort of new power it would impart upon him as he anticipated the rush of technical acquisition once more.
The process of absorbing this technique felt quite different than the acquisition of blizzard had. The sensation of connecting with the raw power of his element was absent—it was not an ice-type technique that was being bestowed upon him this time. Solonn could not even begin to guess the alien element of his new power, for the rush in his head that accompanied its acquisition was gone almost as swiftly as it had come.
<So what technique did that one give me?> Solonn asked once the sensation of learning the new ability was gone completely.
<Light screen,> Morgan answered. <It’s mostly a defensive technique, but there are also some pretty cool things you can do with it that are just for show. Try and call one up now,> she suggested. <It’s not as difficult or powerful a move as blizzard, so you should be able to pull it off now pretty easily.>
<Okay.> Seeking the new, unfamiliar element within him, Solonn found the root of his new power, then called forth his new technique. There was a peculiar but not unpleasant sensation that tingled very briefly in his head. Then he saw a bright pink aura form around each of his hands. He watched with fascination as it spread out very swiftly from them into a force field that surrounded him completely.
<Wow… this is pretty neat…> Solonn said as he gazed upon the wall of psychic energy that now surrounded him. <Wait, though… how do I get out of this thing?> he wondered aloud.
<Oh, you don’t have to get out of it. You’re not trapped in one place by that thing. It’ll follow you as you move,> Morgan said.
Solonn decided to test that claim for himself. Sure enough, as he walked across the lawn, the shield that surrounded him maintained itself and remained with him through his every movement. Then, unexpectedly, the light screen simply vanished.
<What happened?> Solonn asked.
<A light screen can only stay up for a couple of minutes at a time,> Morgan explained.
<Oh. So are there any more of these I can use?> Solonn asked then with a glance at the case.
<I’m afraid not. Nearly all of the techniques you’ll be using come naturally to you—your routine will mostly be ice-based. Anyway, it’s not really very good for you to learn so many of these moves in one sitting. You could get a nasty headache,> Morgan said.
Solonn found himself rather disappointed to hear that he would apparently not be gaining any more new abilities anytime soon. <Well, okay, then,> he said. <So now what?>
now, I’d say, nothing,> Morgan replied. <You’ve really had enough excitement for one day. You may not feel like it right now, but physically, you’ve just had quite an experience. You’ve instantly learned two moves that usually take pokémon several years and lots of hard work to learn. Give it a little while, and you’ll probably start feeling pretty tired. So let’s just take it easy for the rest of the day, all right?>
Solonn nodded in assent. In truth, he would have liked to go ahead and continue preparing for the upcoming contest, but his energy seemed to have begun to wane from the moment that Morgan had said it would do so.
<Your training will really start tomorrow,> the human then told him. <You see, there are three rounds to each contest. Each one is different, so you’ll be training in different ways.
<For the first round, we’ll just go out on stage along with all the other contestants, and the audience will basically just compare all the pokémon contestants based solely on their looks, and they’ll all vote on which one they think looks the best. You don’t really have to train for that; the pokéblocks pretty much take care of that aspect.
<The second round will be your solo performance. This is where you’ll be showing your techniques, combining them to make nice effects, et cetera. Don’t worry too much about it—you’ll be rehearsing your routine plenty every day. You’ll get it down just fine.
<Now, the third round is a battle,> Morgan told him. <Have you ever battled another pokémon before? You know, just for fun.>
<Yeah,> Solonn answered, <but not very much, though.> He recalled the matches that Zilag and a few of his friends had often held just for sport against one another. They had never really seriously hurt each other; they’d mostly just wrestled, with only the occasional, half-hearted bite or headbutt thrown in here and there. Ice-type techniques had also sometimes been thrown around in those matches, to little effect, of course. On several occasions, Zilag had invited Solonn to take part in this sport, but Solonn had only occasionally obliged. By and large, Solonn had been unenthusiastic about the sport, even though he did sometimes win those matches. As far as he’d been concerned, it had merely been something to do in the event that there’d been absolutely nothing else to do. It hadn’t exactly been his idea of “fun”.
<That’s okay,> Morgan assured him. <Some experience is better than none. Besides which, contest battling is really not the same as battling anywhere else. Your goal won’t be to hurt the opponent so much as to upstage them. You don’t even necessarily have to ‘beat’ the other guy as long as you manage to look better during the match. I’ll let you practice battling against a couple of the others here. Raze’d definitely be up for it—don’t worry, she won’t use any steel moves on you. Her style’s a little different than the one you’ll be using, but you’ll still get the gist of how to handle yourself in one of these matches. All you have to do is to keep your poise and battle with grace.>
Solonn nodded in acknowledgment, mentally reviewing what Morgan had told him that he could expect. It seemed that there was more involved with being a contest pokémon than he had initially imagined. He hoped that the span of time separating him from that first contest would be sufficient for him to adequately prepare himself for this first task that lay before him. The sooner he could get that first ribbon, that first step behind him, the better.
* * *
Each day that followed brought diligent training. Solonn spent many hours rehearsing his solo performance and practiced battling techniques with Raze and even once with Sei Salma. He also continued to receive two pokéblocks each day until Morgan told him that he had received the maximum benefit possible from the little candies, meaning that there was no point in giving him any more of them.
Solonn had assumed that these measures were the only ones that would need to be taken in order to prepare him for his debut. However, there came a night five days before the date of the next contest when one last suggestion was offered to him with the claim that it could improve his chances of winning.
He was sitting on Morgan’s bed, waiting for her to return from an errand. When the human returned to her room, the first thing she did was to take a capture ball from her belt, maximize it, and release Oth from within it.
“All right,” Morgan said to the claydol. “It’s time for you to check him out and see if he’s ready.” She gestured at Solonn.
Ready for what?
Solonn wondered what in the world could possibly be going on as Oth brought itself before him. Without any form of explanation or warning, the foremost of the claydol’s eyes dilated dramatically, and a pale red beam lanced forth from it and struck Solonn. The snorunt almost cried out but then realized a split-second later that there was no pain. Very puzzled, he merely stared at Oth as it expanded the beam and swept it up and down over his body.
Mere seconds later, Oth ceased its scan, terminating the beam of light. It turned toward Morgan (which seemed strange to Solonn given the fact that surrounded by eyes as Oth was, that action was not really necessary) and nodded as well as a claydol could manage, inclining its entire body slightly in her direction.
Morgan smiled. “Good news, Solonn. Ominous says you’re ready.”
“That’s nice, but ready for what?” Solonn asked in a quiet voice. He and Morgan had decided that it was safe enough to converse openly while within Morgan’s room so long as they kept their voices down. Solonn had also decided, though not at all hastily, that Morgan’s other pokémon could be trusted with his secret, and so he didn’t mind Oth’s presence there as he spoke with the human.
“Ready… for this!” Morgan reached into her pocket, extracted something from it, and held it out in her hand for Solonn to see. Nestled in her palm was something small in a blue wrapper. “I’d been looking around town for one, and I finally managed to scare one up.”
Solonn gazed at the proffered object for a moment, then turned a questioning gaze up toward Morgan.
“This,” Morgan explained, “is a rare candy. These give pokémon something of a boost. According to Ominous…” Morgan paused as a thrill of excitement flitted visibly across her features. “Well, this’ll give you just enough of a boost to make a huge
difference. With this… you could evolve.”
Solonn’s eyes widened. “…That thing can’t possibly
cause evolution!” he said, laughing.
“Oh, yes it can. So what do you say? Are you ready to do this?” Morgan asked.
Solonn hesitated to answer. Part of him still couldn’t believe that evolution could be induced by a piece of candy, but the part of him that did believe was possessed of a fair share of apprehension. “Is there any particular reason why I need to evolve?”
“Well, you don’t necessarily have
to do it, but it might work out to your advantage to go through with it,” Morgan said. “Your routine is based almost exclusively on your ice-type powers, after all, and glalie have more finely-tuned abilities where their element is concerned. They can handle ice-type techniques more easily than snorunt can.”
Solonn agreed with that point; he knew it from experience. Members of his species did not truly come into their ice-type abilities until they achieved evolution. Among other purposes, the glalie of Virc-Dho used their greater elemental prowess to keep their unevolved counterparts in check.
He had no doubt that he certainly could execute his routine with greater ease as a glalie, and he was certainly concerned with succeeding in the upcoming contest. Still… this was a physical transformation
that was being suggested. This was not something to be taken lightly—particularly not where his kind were concerned. Snorunt who evolved too early in life ran the risk of being corrupted by incomplete instincts, becoming feral or even wicked as had happened to glalie like Kashisha. Furthermore, the changes involved with transformation into a glalie were such that it was almost like a change into a different species altogether. Those of his kind were born as snow-eating bipeds who could become limbless, floating predators.
“The choice is yours, Solonn,” Morgan told him gently. “I won’t make you evolve if you don’t want to.”
So… am I really ready to evolve?
Solonn asked himself silently. Well… technically, I probably am,
he answered himself. He was indeed at about the age that his people considered the safest and most appropriate time to start considering evolution. In fact, once they got to be very much older than he was now, they found themselves actually having to make a conscious effort to stop the process from simply occurring on its own. So Solonn was old enough to evolve, and hence there wasn’t much of a risk of corruption.
But… do I really want to go through with this
Solonn couldn’t answer that question, though he tried. He wished that he had been given more time to consider this rather than having such a major decision dropped on him out of nowhere at nearly the last minute. In the end, he could only lower his gaze and sigh in response.
“You don’t want to do it, do you?” Morgan asked. Solonn shook his head vaguely in response. “That’s okay, Solonn. That’s perfectly fine.”
“Okay.” Solonn’s eyes followed the rare candy as it was returned to Morgan’s pocket. “Hey. Hold on to that. Just… you know, for whenever.”
Morgan nodded in acknowledgment. “Sure thing. If you ever decide that you want it, just let me know. Do you want back in the ball?” Morgan then asked Oth. The claydol nodded in its curious fashion and was subsequently recalled.
“All right, then,” Morgan said. “Now, don’t worry about your decision, okay? Like I said, you don’t really have
to evolve to do this. You’ll do just fine.”
Solonn sincerely hoped that Morgan was right.
* * *