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EVERYONE: Pathfinder

Chapter 1
Oct 25, 2023
Reaction score
Summary: This is the story of Penn, a young man living in Castelia City with no direction in his life. He dreams of being a Pokémon Trainer—instead, he busses tables. One fateful day, Penn quits his job and buys some Poké Balls. Who will he meet on his journey? Which Pokémon will he catch? What will his Trainer-hating family do to stop him?

Chapter 1

[Castelia City]

People walk into P.J.'s Grill. They wait, sit down, then order their food. They wait even more. They scarf down what they can, or what they feel like. They watch the waiters and servers—not as people, but as busy worker Combee who can't do anything right. They pay their bill and put out a small tip if they feel charitable. They leave their mess behind without a second thought.

That's where Penn comes in. He's worked at P.J.'s for three years. The pay is fine, but that's really it. Penn dumps the uneaten food into the trash, then stacks the dirtied plates into a black, sandpaper-textured tub. The cloth napkins go in a different bin. Looks like the staff is short again, so he'll have to wash everything too. After he clears the table, he sanitizes it with a rag that he didn't squeeze out enough. The cacophony of loud talking and louder music drowns out his thoughts. Someone at the next table over commands him to get them more soda. He hurries into the kitchen with his tub of the dirty plates, cups, and silverware. Why didn't the dishwasher show up today? Penn avoids bumping into anyone. He places his tub of dishes in the sink's first bowl and fills the third bowl with sanitizer. He scrubs everything in the second. In a few seconds another busser will need the sink, so Penn better hurry.

It's Friday. Penn has fun plans for his weekend off, but literally anything else is better than hanging out in this pile. The forecast called for clear, sunny weather in Pinwheel Forest. Also, it'll be great to—

"Hurry up, Penn," says the busser waiting behind him. Her tub of dishes is considerably fuller than his was.

He finishes up and steps aside for her. No rest for the weary, no time to think about the weekend. He places his dishes on the rack nearby for them to dry. His shift manager appears seemingly out of nowhere, almost making him slip onto the grease-covered floor, and blocking his way back to the lobby. With her diminutive height, she can sneak up on anyone even out in the open.

"What's the holdup, Truman?" she demands. "We can't seat anyone! Why? Because your section has four uncleaned tables!"

"Wait—four?" He puts his hands up to his face, faking immense dread. "Why, that's almost five…!"

"Quit sassing and get to work!"

"Yes, ma'am," he mumbles.

The rest of the workday drags on. A restaurant is nothing but a pot of flared tempers and stress, but Penn's used to it—not because he's cool and collected, but rather, this job has drained everything out of him. He doesn't smile at any passerby customers. He doesn't grumble from dropping silverware. He doesn't flinch if the water's too hot. Three years have helped him master the art of autopilot.

An eternity later, 4:00 PM hits—the end of Penn's shift, the lunch shift. If he hurries, he can get to Pinwheel Forest before nightfall. But first, he needs to get home.

He clocks out with great haste. His manager repeatedly calls out his name, but he pretends not to hear. He leaves through the back door into the alley, and from there pivots to the busy streets. Castelia is a giant city, and one of the biggest in the world. Even the easternmost edge, where P.J.'s resides, is filled with immense towers of glass and concrete called skyscrapers. With the workday nearing its end, cars begin to fill up the streets in gridlock. The buildings cover the sun, which creates an early dusk of sorts. Penn's home isn't far away: three blocks north, then four blocks west.

Like plunging into a river, he steps into the horde of people. On the way, he greets the woman running the Oran Berry stand, he says hi to the teenager selling overpriced motivational Meowth posters, he helps an old man cross the street. Some baby Rattata weave through the feet of the crowd, and Penn just chuckles while everyone else shrieks and jumps.

He soon pushes himself out of the current of Castelians and enters his apartment building. Just like that, Penn trades the stress of a dead-end job with the stress of a nearly expired lease. He often doesn't make rent in time, so it'll be a surprise if the landlord agrees to renew that lease. For now, though, Penn wants two days of solace where none of that matters. He checks his mail—nothing but junk—then climbs the stairs to the third floor. This building is…nice. Just nice, but too expensive for Penn. He unlocks the door marked "305" and steps in.

He takes a moment to look over his barebones apartment, feeling a pang of sadness in his chest. He knows this arrangement isn't permanent, and the sparsely decorated space reflects that. No TV, not even a couch. Next to the twin bed lies an array of camping equipment. Penn steps into the bathroom to wash his hands—always the first thing he does when he comes home. He looks in the mirror, frowning at the sad young man staring back at him. His blue eyes don't have the luster they used to, and the color of his short, blond hair is starting to desaturate.

He dries his hands and goes back to his bed. Resting on the pillow is a glistening red and white Poké Ball, with its center button proudly pointing toward the ceiling. Penn grabs the Ball, and suddenly a burst of energy fills him. He spins it atop his pointer finger, before letting it fall to the thinly carpeted floor.

"Come on out, pal."

The spherical contraption pops open, and out comes a Pokémon in a burst of light. The adorable creature rubs his eyes with his little paws, apparently having just woken from a nap. Penn hates keeping him cooped up in his Ball all day, but sometimes it isn't wise to let a Fighting type run around unattended.

"You ready to head out to the forest, Riolu?"

"Hwah!" the Emanation Pokémon responds, fist-bumping the air.

"All right. Let me change out of my work clothes, then we'll be off."

Penn picks out some items from his clothes drawer and makes his way back to the bathroom. Riolu watches him intently with big, gleaming eyes. Penn closes the door and steps out moments later, wearing a cobalt blue sweatshirt adorned with tiny black Poké Ball symbols, as well as faded jeans and black hiking shoes. He grasps his travel backpack—he packed it this morning—by its thick straps and pulls them over his shoulders.

"Let's go, Riolu."



Much later, within Pinwheel Forest, the two find a camping spot next to a rocky brook. Penn knows this part of Unova well. He has noticed that despite its close proximity to Castelia, not many people from the city come here for leisure. It's normally frequented by Pokémon Trainers just passing through—from Castelia to Nacrene City, or vice versa. In fact, the path between the two is a straight paved road. Deeper into the forest, nature prevails. Penn's first order of business is to get a strong fire burning in order to keep the Sewaddle and Yanma away. Once that's done, and a warm orange light illuminates the area, he gets to work on the tent.

Riolu stays by the stream—barely touched by the fire's light. He spars with a rock three times his size, pelting it with swift punches and kicks. Penn looks away from the tent to watch, and a proud smile forms over his lips. Riolu punctuates his strikes with sharp grunts. Small bits of rock fly every which way, which makes the Pokémon focus even harder. He hits harder, he grunts louder, he yells. Those small bits turn into chucks, but he keeps hitting the rock. Penn stands up, in awe at what he sees.

Without thinking, he blurts, "That's it, pal—give it one big, final punch!"

Riolu takes a charged stance as he closes his eyes and draws back his little paw. Penn feels it—that determination, that focus. A red-orange light envelopes Riolu's paw. He opens his eyes twice as fast as he closed them. But then, he stops…and just stands there, completely frozen. It takes Penn a second to realize…

"Oh, right… Do it!"


Riolu leaps forward, carried by the weight of his paw—no, his fist. With that single punch, the once-imposing rock shatters into hundreds of pieces. Riolu flies through it. Shocked by his own power, he lands face-first in the mud, with the sheer momentum sliding him several more yards. Penn bolts after him with a towel in hand and a grin on his face. It's hard to not find this a little funny. After he catches up, he rolls his dirty Pokémon onto his back. Riolu groans, reeling from dizziness.

Penn helps him sit up. "Heh. We sure showed that rock, huh?"


Penn notices the word choice. We. But he didn't do anything…did he? Yet he feels tired and out of breath, even though Riolu shattered that boulder. And he can't deny the pride burning inside him. This feeling… Is this what it feels like to be a—? Penn rids those thoughts with a shake of his head. It can never happen. He could never be…one of them.

Riolu paws at his face. "Wuff?"

"Hm? Oh. Sorry, I was just thinking about…stuff."

He gives Penn a knowing stare.

"Don't you look at me like that. It's nothing, all right?"

Riolu gives an unconvinced snort. Penn swaddles the towel around him and carries him back to the firelit campsite. They sit on a log that Penn laid out close to the unfinished tent. He sits his Pokémon on his lap and… Riolu will definitely need a bath when they get home. At least he enjoys the attention, what with all the sighing and stretching.

Penn's mind drifts back to that epic moment. "What move was that anyway?" he wonders aloud. He gets his smartphone out of his pocket and brings up the Pokédex app. Only serious Trainers seem to have this application on their phones; Penn downloaded it when that itch, that desire poked at him like it had a dozen times before. He points his camera at Riolu as the app scans him. He doesn't know how, but the Pokédex can find out what attacks a Pokémon knows.

The app's audio chimes, "Riolu, the Emanation Pokémon. A Fighting type. This Pokémon's moves are Vacuum Wave, Work Up, Quick Attack, and Rock Smash."

Riolu's stubby little ears perk up at each move's mention. "Wf?"

"Holy crap, that's a whole set!" Penn says. "Incredible. I mean— Geez, and to think I keep you couped up all day…all the…time… Oh man."

It's then he comes to a realization: Riolu shouldn't be with him—he should be out there, battling under a great Trainer. Because that's what he is. A battler, not a pet. He's great at foraging Berries; he'd be fine on his own. A Pokémon like Riolu should be free, right? Free to live its life out in the open, not stuck in some overpriced apartment. Maybe Penn should release—

As if he was reading his mind, Riolu stood up and looked Penn straight in the eye, yipping and barking in desperation. He didn't seem angry, but rather…determined?

"Think about it, Riolu—I'm making you waste your life. You're a really special Pokémon, and I'm just…some guy. You should live your own life, find your path, y'know?"

"Wuff! Hwah, guff!" he argues.

Penn's bottom lip curls in frustration. Why isn't Riolu getting it?

"Then tell me, are you really that happy?"

That shuts him up. Riolu looks to the side at the river, clearly contemplating. He then looks Penn straight in the eyes. "Hff." He feels the Pokémon's meaning: "Are you?"

"M-me? Me?! C'mon! I'm happy as a Clamperl. I wake up every morning, then I go to work. I get off at 4:00. We go camping sometimes. Once in a while, I'll dream about being a Trainer, but hey, dreams—we all get them, right? And sure, I'm…getting kicked out of the apartment soon, but no big deal. Maybe I'll move to Nimbasa! It has tons of restaurants. Maybe I'll work two jobs. My life is perfect, pal. It's honestly…so great."

Riolu rolls his eyes, hops off Penn's lap, and walks away. The human stares into the slowly diminishing fire, letting his swirling thoughts get settled and sorted. He heaves a heavy sigh as he rubs his temples with both hands.

"Who am I kidding. I'm the one who's cooped up, not you. All I've ever wanted was to be a Trainer, but Mom, she…" He sighs again. Riolu turns to face him, sensing his pain. "I'm stuck, buddy, and there's only one way that I'm gonna go. I just don't wanna drag you down with me… We'll spend one more night together, then I'll release you in the morning. After that, I'm headed back to Castelia."

Riolu opens his mouth to protest, but Penn puts his hand up. His decision is final.

He finally finishes setting up the tent. It's blue and spherical, and not to mention spacious. He pours water over the fire, and its dying sizzle gives him a sense of…finality. He crawls into the tent to see Riolu already inside, dozing on the foot of the sleeping bag. Every time he sleeps it's in a different position: sometimes he sits up, other times he curls into a ball like a cat Pokémon. Tonight, he sleeps with his arms and legs spread out, taking as much space as possible. Penn has always thought Riolu was one of the cuter species of Pokémon. He slips into the sleeping bag, trying his best not to disturb him.

Penn's night is long and sleepless. His thoughts keep bouncing between Riolu and his mom. This situation—this dichotomy—is all his fault. He tells himself, it's his fault he is where he is. He's the one who took Riolu in. Now he doesn't know what's best for the Pokémon. He's the one who settled for a job he hates. Now he wants something far greater. He's the one who chose to live in an expensive apartment. Now he doesn't know where to go.

Riolu needs to be left out of it. It's no way for a Pokémon to live.

There is no other way. …Right?


Penn must have found some sleep because he's caught off guard by the morning light reaching through the polyester of the tent. Riolu no longer sleeps at the foot of the sleeping bag, but is tucked under Penn's arm. A lump forms in his throat.

What should he cook for their last breakfast together? Riolu always loves sliced Pecha Berries over a bowl of oatmeal. Quick, easy, and not too taxing. After putting on his PJ's cap, Penn sparks up another fire, then places a heavy pot full of water on the rack that sits above the burning wood. Once the water turns to a boil, he dumps two cups of oats into the pot. He pulls out two plump Pecha Berries from his bag and begins cutting them into thin slices, stirring the pot every few seconds as he does so.

Riolu sits on the other side of the fire, unblinkingly watching the pot in anticipation. Is it hunger…or worry? Penn avoids any eye contact with the Pokémon—neither has said anything to the other. He's tempted to stop cooking, as if that can prevent what's to come next. The oatmeal hot and thick, the Pecha Berries neatly sliced, the paper bowls ready—it's time for their final meal.

They eat in silence. Penn prefers his Pecha Berries separate, but Riolu dunks his into the hot cereal. Penn detects a coldness in his chest, but, weirdly, it doesn't feel like it's really inside him. No, it's…coming from Riolu. Questions start popping in Penn's head—questions he didn't form. Why is he so deadest on ending their friendship? Why can't he see that Riolu isn't sad? Why does Riolu have to be the one looking for a better life, not Penn?

That last one stings.

Penn grabs Riolu's Poké Ball from his bag. "Okay. Let's get this over with."

"Wuwuwaff!" Riolu barks angrily. He plants his feet on the ground, crushing the paper bowl under his paw. "Wwwuff!"

"You know why I have to do this, Riolu. You'll be happier this way."

Penn slowly advances toward the Pokémon, feeling the smooth plastic of the Poké Ball under his fingers. He tells himself, whatever he does, he cannot cry. Releasing a Pokémon… All he has to do is point the ball at the Pokémon and say the words, then a blue light will come out of the button and touch the Pokémon, finally separating their link. And so, he holds the ball out to Riolu. This is it. His arm, suddenly weak, shakes violently. Riolu stares into his eyes—no fear lies in the Pokémon, only true valor and conviction. He'll be a great battler someday.

"Here… H-here goes," says Penn. "Riolu, I relea—"

"Morning, fellas!" comes a voice.

They look to the side to see a woman—probably about Penn's age—emerge from the bundle of leafy bushes. He immediately notices her big, brown hair spilling from the back of her white-colored cap.

"I—yowch, pokey branches. I wondered what that pleasant aroma was. Didn't think it'd be two buds having breakfast!" She steadies herself, then puts her hands on her hips. "Am I…interrupting anything?"

"Uh, er…" Penn realizes he's still pointing the Poké Ball at Riolu and sheepishly lowers his arm. "N-nope, we're just, um…finishing up. Nothing else going on here. That sure was tasty, right, Riolu?"

"Wff." Riolu crosses his arm and averts Penn's gaze.

"So, uh," he says, "who are you?"

The woman raises her eyebrows. "Oh! Gee, how stupid of me. Name's Hilda, from Nuvema Town."

"Nuvema? That's pretty far. Are you…a Trainer?"

"Sure am! Ten years running," Hilda says with a proud smile and a tip of her cap. "How about you?"

"Ten years? It took you ten years to get from Nuvema to Pinwheel Forest?"

She cocks her head. "Huh? …Oh, no no no, I've been all over Unova! A couple of other regions, too. When did you start?"

Penn's response is flat. "I'm not a Trainer."

"You sure? I caught a glimpse of you and the little guy last night from across the river. When he shattered that boulder—wow, that was something. What move was that?"

"The…move he used to smash the rock?"


"Rock Smash, I think."

"If you're not a Trainer, then, you wanna battle anyway?" she asks earnestly. "I've gotta see what else the little guy can do."

Penn shrugs. "Sure, I don't see why not. Maybe afterward I can lend him to you."


Riolu shoots him a glare.

He catches himself. "Um, n-nothing. I didn't say anything. Let's battle, Hinden."


"Hilda. Sorry. I'm…bad with names."

"Don't sweat it. Let's battle on the riverbank. Lots of space there."

And that's where the trio set off. Penn sees the once-mighty boulder now reduced to scattered rubble. A jolt of excitement touches him. He uses his foot to sweep some of the debris away, creating a spot for him to stand. Riolu takes his position a few yards ahead—eyes glowered at their opponent, feet planted in the sand.

Hilda pulls a normal Poké Ball from her pink bag. "You ready for this—er, what was your name?"


She holds the ball in front of her, arm rigid and straight. "Ready for your first battle, Penn? This'll be your first step to Trainerhood!"

"I'll stick with bussing tables, thanks," he says while tipping his hat. "But…sure?"

"I'll send out the newest member of my team." She winds up her arm—"Go! Pignite!"—and throws the ball like a professional pitcher.

It flies at such a high speed that it slices the air. The ball pops open, and an orange pig Pokémon emerges in a flash of light. It lands on the bank—its sheer weight flings sand everywhere Riolu shakes the dirt off his body, undeterred by the Fire type. Penn, though, is quite intimidated. This is a big step up from boulders. He guesstimates that it must be one foot taller than the Emanation Pokémon.

"Hey, Pignite," says Hilda, "this is their first battle, so go easy on 'em?"

It nods to its Trainer and oinks in agreement. "Rig!"

"Ready?" Penn asks Riolu.

"Wwwaff!" He clenches his fists, looking daggers into Pignite. Penn can feel that Riolu has wanted this for a very long time.

"Aw," Hilda chimes. "He looks so cute when he's all determined?"

Penn smiles. Yeah, he really does.

"Then let the battle begin! Pignite, use Tackle!"


It bows its head and then charges, kicking up sand as it barrels forward. It doesn't look that fast, but it assuredly packs a punch. Penn sees that firsthand as it rams into Riolu with a direct hit. He flinches as Riolu tumbles backward, flinging around just as much sand as Pignite did.

"O-oh no!" Penn exclaims as Riolu slides at his feet. "Are you okay, pal? Why didn't you dodge?"

"Did you direct him to dodge?" asks Hilda.

"Uh… No?"

"Then there ya go. In battle, a Pokémon is like an extension of its Trainer. We're in this battle almost as much as Pignite and Riolu are. A Trainer and their Pokémon—they're a team! Partners!"

Penn mulls her words over. He…understands. But he and Riolu are more than a team. They're family.

Riolu stands up, seeming only slightly dazed from the attack. He and Penn share a look, then a nod. They'll do this together, then.

He looks to Hilda. "I get what you're saying. You can have the next attack."

"Alrighty. Pignite, use Tackle!"

The Fire Pig Pokémon tucks in his head again and beelines toward its opponent.

"Okay, Riolu." Penn points forward. "Jump over it!"

He hopes for just a simple leap, but Riolu goes for style: he front flips over Pignite, and the two battlers meet eyes for an instant. Riolu lands deftly, while Pignite stumbles and screeches to a halt.

"Good, you two!" says Hilda. "Now attack while Pignite's off-balance!"

"O-okay. Use Vac— No, use Quick Attack!"

Riolu lowers his head and takes a stance similar to what Pignite had done. He spreads out his arms like wings as he dashes forward at a speed that he wasn't expecting. His technique is awkward, but he hits Pignite directly in the back. In a display of true tankiness, it only steps forward to regain its balance. They face each other—Pignite's back to Penn, and Riolu's to Hilda.

Penn feels it again. The happiness. The suspense. The thrill. He forgets everything; all that matters is here and now, winning this battle. He feels like a Trainer. No… He is a Trainer.

"Let's see how you two can fight at long range!" says Hilda. "Use Ember!"

Pignite takes a deep inhale—"Riiiiig…"—and lets out a stream of fiery sparks from his snout. "…niiiiiiite!"

"Dodge it!"

Riolu starts to run, but Pignite stays on him. He winces as a bit of the Ember singes the tip of his tail. He runs faster, but it doesn't let up.

Penn calls, "Use Quick Attack to get your speed up!"

"Good thinking!" Hilda says, and she means it.

Riolu does as he's directed. Even though his Quick Attack isn't that quick, especially with all this sand, he manages to get behind Pignite.

"Use Vacuum Wave!"

He thrusts his palms forward and sends out a blast of concentrated air. It hits Pignite's back, but the Pokémon barely flinches. It turns to face him, a proud look on its face.

"Keep it up!"

"Block it, Pignite!"

Wait. Block…?

Sure enough, Pignite covers its front with its short yet burly arms. Riolu pelts it with repeated Vacuum Waves, but he just can't break through.

"K-keep going while I try to think!"

"Hwah!" replies Riolu.

Even though things aren't going his way, Penn is still exhilarated. Sweat crawls down his forehead. His legs tremble. Riolu's enjoying this too. Maybe they could give Work Up a try? It would certainly even the odds, but it'd leave Riolu defenseless. Maybe… a distraction?

"Aim at the ground!"

Riolu fires a full-force Vacuum Wave at Pignite's feet. A huge cloud of sand erupts beneath it, making it cough, sneeze, and cover its eyes.

"Now use Work Up!"

Riolu closes his eyes and focuses. He then stamps his foot down and yells to the sky. Red-colored energy swirls and spins around his body before disappearing into him. His body glows that same red color.

"Great work, Penn!" Hilda cheers. "Now Riolu's powered up! I'd say this battle's almost done."

"I agree!" says Penn, finally getting in on the friendly trash talk. "Riolu, use Rock Smash!"

And suddenly, he's taken back to the night before. He watches as Riolu leaps toward Pignite—who may as well be a boulder—with a bright, glowing orange fist. This is it… They're going to win!

"Meet it with Flame Charge, Pignite!"

So Hilda doesn't give up. Okay, then. Flames spill out of Pignite's snout and blanket its entire body. It blasts forward—feet leaving the ground—toward Riolu. But Penn doesn't change his command; his Pokémon carries out the Rock Smash dauntlessly. His fist strikes Pignite's fiery forehead. The collision blasts a gust of sand into both Hilda and Penn. Then…deadlock. Pignite pushes and pushes against Riolu, but he digs his feet into the ground and keeps Rock Smash active. It's like an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. Riolu's body blackens with soot from Flame Charge's heat. Penn feels that heat and starts sweating. He peers through the combatants' energy at Hilda, who looks utterly awestruck. He's surprised too, mostly by how fun this all is. Riolu, despite his sweatiness and smokiness, is absolutely elated.

"Keep pushing. You can do this, pal. I believe in you."

His words are only whispered, yet Riolu responds as if they'd been shouted.

"Hwahhh!" He's suddenly engulfed in a blue, bright light—even brighter than Pignite's flames. Is he learning a new move? Already? No, Penn tells himself, this is something else entirely. Riolu begins to grow: his arms get longer, the two appendages on his head split into four, more fur grows on his upper legs. Evolution. All while keeping up his defense.

The light flashes away, and in Riolu's place stands a different Pokémon. Lucario.


Hilda cheers, "Woo-hoo! Way to go, Riolu!"

"Oh my god…" Penn says, clenching his head in his hands. Unbelievable. There's no way this is real! How could—

Pignite's Flame Charge keeps pushing—no stronger than what he'd been doing—and easily breaches Lucario's defense, landing a direct hit. He goes flying, barely missing Penn, and tumbles and rolls on the riverside before crashing into a thick bush.

"Oh no," says Penn. "H-hang on, pal, I'm coming!"

His legs wobble as he runs. His lungs burn inside his chest. Strange… Lucario was the one battling, so why does he feel exhausted? He finds Lucario still in the bush, dazed and motionless. It takes Penn all of his strength to pull his Pokémon out of there. Sheesh, Lucario must've tripled in weight when he evolved. What's more, whereas Riolu went up to Penn's thighs, Lucario almost goes up to his chest. Penn scoops him up like a full bag of Pokémon food and slowly treks back to the campsite. Hilda and Pignite catch up to them as they sit down.

"I'm so, so sorry, Penn," she says. "Pignite's sorry too."

"Rig…" It lowers its ears and avoids their gazes.

"Use this." She pulls a hand-sized pink spray bottle from her bag and offers it to him. "A Hyper Potion. It'll make Lucario well again."

"Thanks," Penn says as he takes it and sprays the medicine over Lucario's body. Immediately he perks up, eyes blinking open. Penn gets out his phone and goes to the Pokédex app. He points the camera to Lucario and lets the app scan him.

"Lucario, the Aura Pokémon," it says. "A Fighting and Steel type, and the evolved form of Riolu. Lucario uses the mysterious force of aura to battle, in addition to sensing the feelings and thoughts of others. It can supposedly detect beings who are invisible or far away."

"A Steel type," Penn says. "So that's why Flame Charge broke through so suddenly."

"So how was your first battle?" Hilda asks as she sprays a Hyper Potion over Pignite.

"It was…fantastic," he says. "I loved it. Lucario loved it. I… I think I really do wanna be a Trainer."

"Then do it. You already have all the camping equipment. Just buy some Potions and Poké Balls and you're set."

"It's just… I'd be starting a whole new life, and I'm not sure I'm ready to leave the old one behind. I mean, I nearly released Riolu."

"Well, what's your life like?"

"It's…a whole lotta nothing."

Hilda scoffs. "Psh, that can't be true. How'd you meet Riolu?"

"Wellll." Penn looks to Lucario as he begins to reminisce. "It was a couple years ago. I was at work taking out the trash, and I saw something in the dumpster. A Pokémon Egg. I climbed in there and got the Egg out, and I remember going home right after. I cleaned up the Egg, set it on the comfiest pillow I had, and…" He scratches Lucario behind the ears, which the Pokémon happily leans into. "Riolu hatched a few days later."

"Seems like it was meant to be."

Penn smiles. "Yeah. Yeah, it does."

Hilda straightens up and returns Pignite to its ball. "It was nice meeting you, Penn. Lucario too. What I think—if you wanna do something, just go ahead and do it. It's never too late to start living the life you want."

"You're a very direct person, Mildred. I appreciate that."

The two shake hands before Hilda takes off. Penn breathes a deep sigh as he starts packing up camp. Lucario stays close by, practicing his technique.

A few hours later, the two are at Castelia's southeastern Poké Mart, where Penn buys ten Poké Balls and five Super Potions.

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Chapter 2
Chapter 2

"This is an outrage. I can't believe you'd do this, Penn."

"Yeah, well, it's about time I start living for myself—finding my own path."

"Training Pokémon is not a life."

Penn looks off to the sea as his mom chastises him on the other end of the phone. This is why he never calls. He and Lucario stroll across Skyarrow Bridge—a structure that's so long that Castelia and Pinwheel Forest get veiled by the haze when the duo reach the middle. Penn always joked to Riolu that the bridge exists in its own existential plane, or that it was a gate between dimensions. Riolu never got those jokes.

Penn keeps switching hands to hold the phone. He alternates between quick power-walking and slow sauntering. Lucario keeps ahead by a few meters, undeterred by his Trainer's constant pace changing.

"Training absolutely is a life, Mom," Penn argues. "I want to see the world, I wanna grow as a person. I can't clean and set tables for the rest of my life."

"This is ridiculous… You ghost us for over a year then drop this crap on us?"

He resists the urge to chuck his phone off the bridge. "You've never cared about what I wanted to do. You—"

"Do you want to end up like your brother?"

"Wow, you're bringing Damon into this? Really?"

"Yes really!" Of course she would.

"What happened with him is way more preferable to what's happening to me! No wonder you hold on to Julianne so much—you're ashamed of me and Damon, so you wanna mold her into the perfect child!"

"She stays with us because she wants to!"

"Because you made her want to!"

"So help me, Penn, if you go through with this…"

"Well, I'm gonna. Nothing you say or do will stop me."

A pause. "Yes, well…you're too old. Trainers start at ten!"

"Anyone can start anything they want at whatever age! I'm done being a busboy. So goodbye, Mom. Tell Dad and Julianne that I said hi."

Penn ends the call and shoves his phone into his pocket. He shouldn't be surprised it ended that way. Why did he even call her in the first place? He's been on cloud nine since he bought those Poké Balls—the feeling of starting something new, the excitement and anticipation of what's to come—was that it?

"I don't know why I even bother with her, Lucario," he says. "Be glad you've never met her."

"Grff." Lucario shrugs as he turns to Penn, letting his Trainer catch up.

"This is what she does—she looks at your hopes & dreams and she scolds you for having them. Dad goes along with it, and Julie is just straight up terrified of her."

Lucario gives him a reassuring, if a little awkward, pat on the arm. Penn chuckles and returns it with a nice scratch on the head, right between Lucario's ears. The Pokémon leans into it, happy to receive.

"I, um…" Penn says. "I have a confession to make."


"This journey—I have no clue where to go or what to do."

Lucario responds with an incredulous frown.

"I know, I know, I'm an idiot. It's just that…what Hilda said really inspired me, y'know? I need to start living, not just surviving. And the life I want is being a Trainer."

Lucario gives an assured grunt, but he's clearly still uneasy.

"It'll work out, pal. Doing the Gym Badge circuit would be the safest bet, but I wanna do something else. Something more. We could be Pokémon Rangers. Or maybe we could join the International Police. Or we could show off how cool you are in Contests!" Penn finds himself staring off to the sea as ideas upon ideas swim in his head. And then… "Oh! Actually forget all that crap. Let's become…Poké super heroes."


"Blue Truth and the Mighty Lucario!"

Lucario covered his face with his paws. What had he gotten himself into…?
[Castelia City]

A man adjusts his tie as he exits the subway. He keeps the brim of his fedora tipped downward, hiding at least half his face from the countless people he passes by. He'd look just like any other ordinary person, save for two elements. One, his greasy, jet-black hair that reaches past the length of his shoulders. The men of Castelia typically have clean structured haircuts. Of course there are exceptions, so even then, this man remains unsuspicious. Two, the heavy metal briefcase he carries. When one arm starts to get tired, he switches to the other. Whatever's inside rumbles around as he walks. Some passersby take quick glances at it, noticing the strange golden symbol on its side. Some even recognize it as the logo for a company called the Aether Foundation.

The man can't believe how peaceful everything is. He's been to many places, many regions, already. They're all the same: unending peace. It sickened him at first, until he realized that it would make everything easier.

He finds himself at a pier, where nothing but the great blue sea and sky lay before him. He closes his eyes and takes in that cool, salty air.

"This world—it's like a blank canvas," he muses. "It's absolutely perfect."
[Nacrene City.]

For all the dozens of times he's been in Pinwheel Forest, Penn's never been over this side of it. For years, his world was just Castelia and the big forest on the other side of the bridge. Now, for the time in a very long while, his world has just expanded. Nacrene has no skyscrapers; the tallest structures here are the assorted lofts and warehouses. One building that catches his eye—easily the biggest in the city—is the museum. Hanging at its front are three display banners: one illustrating a Dragonite skeleton, another showing a knightly suit of armor, and a third with a teal-haired woman & her Watchog… Penn has heard of the Castelia Gym being inside an art gallery—maybe the Nacrene Gym is a similar case? He shrugs away the thought. He's not here for the Gym.

"Hey, Luke," he says to his Pokémon, "let's catch our breath at a café. Then we'll set out on Route 3. We can camp out there if we don't get to…uh…" He quickly checks the map on his phone. "…Striaton? Yeah, Striaton City. Let's just plan on going there tomor—"

"Grf." Lucario shakes his head firmly and points to the museum—to the banner of the Gym Leader.

"What, you wanna try to win a Badge?"

"Grrroof!" he says agitatedly.

"No way, pal. We're not ready for that yet. We couldn't even beat Hilda—how are we supposed to beat a Gym Leader who has, like, a full team?"

Grumbling in frustration, Lucario turns away and crosses his arms.

"If you're gonna be like that, you're going back in your ball."


"Well…fine. Return." Penn pulls the Poké Ball from his overstuffed bag and recalls Lucario. He heaves a sigh as he shoves it in his jacket pocket. "I swear. My family, then my best friend…"

He gets to the small gate building that links Nacrene to Route 3 in no time at all. He angry-walks through it, barely minding not to shove past anyone inside. He just can't believe it; this is his journey. He decides what he can and can't do.

Route 3 begins with a wide dirt road that eventually leads to a lightly forested area. Striaton should be just beyond that. After five minutes or so of walking, he comes across something…interesting. A livestock transport truck, apparently on its way to Nacrene, sits awkwardly in a ditch off the side of the road. Some boards have broken off the pen on the trailer, and a man & his Herdier struggle to keep the flock of Mareep in line.

Penn's Castelian nature tells him to ignore it and move on. He's not in the best of moods, after all. But something compels him to do otherwise.

"Uh, excuse me," he calls to the rancher. "Need any help?"

It takes the stressed-out man a second to realize someone's speaking to him. He waves at Penn dismissively. "Nah, nah, I'm fine. Just some truck trouble."

"What happened?"

"Dagnabbed cat Pokémon jumped right in fronta me, made me lose c'ntrol. Parts o' the fence flew off somehow and almost made me lose the whole doggone flock."


"Yeah, one got away and ran up the road. Musta been Lieutenant Surge. I call 'im that on account of how stupidly brave he is."

The Mareep all cry and bleat, as if calling to their lost brother. Penn notices a pink-colored one among the group. Herdier starts barking at them, making them baaa even louder.

"I could look for him," Penn says without much thought.

"Nah, don't trouble yourself. This here's my mess."

"No, I mean it. I'm headed there anyway—if I find him, I'll bring him back."

The rancher briefly watches his "mess," then takes a deep breath. "Well. Doesn't seem like I got much choice. What's your name, son?"


"Penn? Guess I'll take up your offer. You better hurry, though—the lieutenant loves gittin' inta trouble."

They say their farewells, then Penn takes off in a jog. He gets the feeling that this Mareep should stand out easily. "Lieutenant Surge" is quite the nickname for a Pokémon. He wonders if it comes from a character or person. He considers bringing out Lucario; his aura sensing abilities would be helpful. However…would he need to practice first? And for how long? Would he even want to help?

It looks like this search will be easy—a weak but visible stream of lightning erupts upward from the bundle of trees. Could it be from Surge, or just a wild Blitzle? It's Penn's only lead, so he pursues it. As he nears closer, he hears the yowls and hisses of a feline Pokémon. A vicious one at that. But it's replied with a strong, loud "Baaaa!"

Penn gets knocked to his feet when an electrified Liepard tumbles in front of him from the side. The Pokemon rolls to its feet and shakes off the electricity, then flees into a nearby bush. Penn stands up as well, wondering what the heck just happened. He gets a morsel of clarity when a Mareep emerges, its body still sizzling from that attack.

"Um…Lieutenant Surge?" he says.

The Mareep looks toward him and cocks its head. "Ba?" Funny how he knows his own nickname.

"Hey, uh… The rancher sent me. Can… Can you— Gah, this is weird. Do you wanna come back with me? Everyone really misses you."

Surge bleats in happiness and starts trotting toward Penn. That worked out really well. But once Surge reaches the center of the clearing, the Liepard leaps out from a tree—

"Look out!"

—and lands a nasty Slash attack. Its sheer, precise power sends Surge flying against a boulder, where he lies motionless. Liepard saunters toward him, ready to land the final blow. Penn knows he has to do something—anything. He quickly takes an empty Poké Ball out of his bag and takes a throwing stance. There's no way a regular ball will catch a nearly healthy Liepard, but it'll give him just the time he needs to pick up Surge and get out of there.

He aims the ball for Liepard's posterior and throws true. But something happens: he misses. Right as the ball leaves his fingers, Liepard leaps at the lieutenant with its claws out and fangs bared. The Poké Ball sails beneath its belly…and collides with Surge instead.

"…Oh crap."

The ball opens up and sucks in the energy-converted Mareep. Liepard meanwhile, with nothing to stop it, plows face first into the boulder. The Poké Ball seals shut and falls to the ground with a bounce. It shakes once, then twice…then thrice. The middle button flashes green as the ball locks with a final click.

Liepard shakes off its dazed state and focuses on Penn, no doubt angry that he made its "plaything" disappear. He immediately grabs Lucario's Poké Ball and sends out the Aura Pokémon.

"Luke, c-can you help me, please?" he begs.

Lucario smiles and gives his Trainer a firm, unconditional nod.

"…Thank you, pal. I mean it."

He takes a battle-ready stance, staring Liepard down. Undeterred, it hisses at him in response.

"Okay, let's do this—close in with Quick Attack!"

Lucario follows Penn's directions without hesitation. He dashes towards Liepard, white light trailing behind him. Just as he closes the distance, it dodges away with equal speed. Maneuvering behind him, it readies another Slash.

"Dodge it!"

This time Lucario hesitates, and Liepard strikes directly across his back. Penn winces as he remembers how that move one-hit KO'd Surge, but thankfully Lucario only stumbles forward. Thank goodness for his Steel typing. Liepard pauses; it clearly expected a different result. A chance for a perfect shot.

"Retaliate with Rock Smash!"

No hesitation this time. Penn wonders, is Lucario just better at offense than defense? To be fair, "dodge it" is not a specific command. Perhaps that was the key. Regardless, the palpable impact of Lucario slugging Liepard across the face brings Penn out of his thoughts. The feline Pokémon goes flying, kicking up clouds of dirt as it slides along the ground. For a few seconds, Penn and Lucario assume it's finally down and out…until it darts out of the dirt cloud. It flings itself at Lucario with yet another Slash attack prepared.

"Blockitwithyourarms!" he tries to say quickly.

Lucario crosses his arms in front of him and plants his feet to the ground. Liepard feebly strikes at the Aura Pokémon, only dealing minor damage. It tries again. Then again. And again, and again… But Lucario never loses his stance. Penn gets that feeling again—the one he experienced during his battle with Hilda. It's the excitement of being in sync with his Pokémon. No, his partner. It's the addictive electricity from knowing that victory is just moments away.

"Luke, push against it!"

Fatigue weighs on the wild Liepard, giving Lucario the time needed to see where the next Slash is coming from…and deflect it with a spiked fist. Minor damage becomes no damage at all. Liepard, though, still doesn't let up.

"Try deflecting with Rock Smash!"

Lucario focuses as he prepares the move, letting Liepard finally get some hits in. Penn starts to worry, but that concern dissipates as Lucario regains his composure. Liepard swings its claws from the side. Not only does he deflect it—he causes Liepard to slip backward. It's wide open. Penn nearly commands another Rock Smash, but Lucario seemingly reads his mind. He closes his fist tightly and unleashes one hell of a punch to Liepard's chest. It soars into the grove of trees, yowling in defeat, out of sight.

"Holy crap—that was incredible, Lucario!"

The two buddies embrace one another, then share a hearty fist bump. As they touch, Penn physically feels a wave of happiness & pride course through him. Lucario's body glows a dim teal, but only for a split second. Shocked, Penn pulls away, staring at his own hand, then at Lucario's. Stuff like this never happened when he was a Riolu.

Penn clears his throat. "Well. Great work, pal. Let's head back and give this Mareep back to the ranch guy." He scoops up Lieutenant Surge's Poké Ball, and the duo finally depart.
They sprint down the road of Route 3 as if the broken-down truck has somewhere else to be. Herdier and the flock are still bickering without end. The pen's been fixed—all that's left is the truck.

The rancher chortles when the two arrive. "Heh, didn't think ya'd come back!"

"Sor…sorry for taking s…so long," Penn musters through his aching lungs. After catching his breath, he holds out Surge's Poké Ball for the rancher to take. "Here's your Mareep, sir. I kinda, er, caught him by accident. He really gave that Liepard a good shock."

"Did he now?" He peers closely at the ball as Penn hands it to him. He holds it up to eye level, clearly deep contemplation. "Hrmmm…"

"Is…everything okay?"

He looks at Penn with an assured grin. "Just dandy, son. Thank you, I really appreciate it, but… I think the lieutenant would be better off with you."

"With… With m—? What?"

"Yep." The rancher jovially slaps the Poké Ball back in Penn's hand before he can protest. "Good luck on your adventure, kid. If you'll excuse, I got a truck to fix."

"What the—? Hey! Hey, wait!" Penn tries to hound out some answers, but the rancher crawls underneath the truck with tools in hand. The dumbfounded Trainer just stands there, holding Surge's ball like it's a foreign object. He looks at Lucario, desperate for some clarity, but the Pokémon only shrugs.

He thanks the rancher before making the trek back to Nacrene; Surge and Lucario definitely need healing after that scuffle with Liepard. He smiles and grips Surge's ball more comfortably—he can't wait to get to know the Mareep and start training with him.
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