ch.4 On My Own
"Just keep my mind burning strong,
Into the gapping emptiness I'll go
On my own,
On my own,
On my own,
On my own,"
~Broken Iris "On My Own"
The farther that Ray drove from the hideout, the more he allowed himself to think about what he was going to do next. He usually didn't allow himself to think too much, about anything, for very long; his thoughts would always wander back to memories that he would much rather forget, forever; no matter how hard her tried to keep them on the future, but he knew that he had to make some sort of plan. There was one thing that he already knew would be a nonnegotiable part of his plan, he would be, forevermore, on his own; he would never give his heart, what was still left of it, to another human being ever again. Other than that he really had no idea. He supposed that he would just do what he had done before Team Snagem had lured him in. But where would he go? That was his biggest question.
Up ahead, Ray could see what looked like an old train engine left stranded and forlorn in the middle of the desert. The Outskirt Stand. He had been there once before and knew that it was a favorite stop for people traveling across the Orre region.
Ray knew, from hard earned personal experience, that if he found a quiet, out-of-the-way, spot in a place with a fair amount of people and listened that he could learn a lot without ever having to ask anyone a single question. He pulled up to the dilapidated old train engine that had become the Outskirt Stand, a combination gas station, rest stop, general store and diner; deciding that he would do just that and see if he could learn anything useful.
Ray got off his bike, squared his shoulders, drawing himself up to his full height, lifted his chin, and did his best to look severe and menacing; like someone that on one else would want to be around, or mess with. Ray had learned a long time ago that no one would hurt him if no one wanted to get close enough to him to do so.
Sitting near the end of the old corroded ramp that led inside the Outskirt Stand was a smallish black truck. In the back of the truck was a large brown burlap sack, the kind one might store potatoes or rice in, but it was so big. This puzzled Ray immensely, that sac, as big as it was, would be difficult for even two people to lift; neither potatoes nor rice was light, and who would want to have to deal with that much of either of them? Oh well, it wasn't any of his concern, in any case. Just as he thought this, two young men exited the Outskirt Stand laughing and talking to each other. Something about how stuffed they were, and how there was nothing like a good meal after a job, or something close to that anyway. Ray didn't pay much attention to them; he just rolled his eyes and waited for them to get out of the way so he could go inside. He knew their type; unruly, imprudent, sharp as a volleyball, and about as bright as matte black paint. Not that Ray thought himself superior to them, just different than them, and truth be known, he would have given just about anything to be as carefree and blissfully ignorant as they were.
Once they had left, and Ray had finished coughing on the dust cloud left by their inexplicably sudden exit, he walked cautiously up the metal railed ramp that led inside, Dawn and Eve flanking his heels, but anyone watching his approach would not have described him as cautious; confident or even dangerous would have been an onlooker's choice of words. Ray was just an actor, though, and he hated it, loathed it, but for him it was a necessary evil. He was too afraid of being hurt again.
The inside if the Outskirt Stand was a bit nicer than the outside, but not by much. It still looked its age, and then some. In front of where Ray stood, in the entrance, was a bar counter, the two sides of which, that were not blocked off by the back and side walls, were bordered with tall stools. Only one of these stools was occupied, by a black haired man whose back was facing Ray. Behind the counter was the man who managed the old gas station; he was a rather large and muscular man, and nodded a greeting to Ray with a friendly smile on his broad featured face. To Ray's right was a row of booths, each one of them occupied, but, surprisingly, no one was talking. Instead all eyes were locked on the long TV, perched on the wall opposite the booths, which was blaring a breaking news story.
On the screen was a younger looking female reporter who was standing in front of the smoldering ruins of the Team Snagem hideout. Even though Ray knew that they would simply rebuild their secret hideout in a new location, he couldn't help but smirk in satisfaction at seeing Team Snagem's hideout in Eclo canyon exposed for all of Orre to see. When the reporter mentioned that one of the members had been arrested his smirk instantly faded, his satisfaction replaced by curiosity. Just how much had the apprehended member revealed? Much to Ray's astonishment the arrestee had revealed to the authorities that, not only had the Team created a portable snag machine, but also that it had been stolen. By whom; however, they had apparently not revealed. The reporter closed her coverage of the story with a statement that, hopefully, the portable snag machine would not be used for criminal purposes. Ray almost smiled at the reporter's naďve hopefulness, how he wished that he could view the world in that light, especially since, in this case, she would be right.
The breaking news story over with everyone turned back to their conversations. Ray slowly picked his way to the farthest end of the row of booths. Behind the last booth was a small table with two chairs. As he sauntered towards it, Ray listened to what the people at each booth were talking about. The first two booths that he passed housed meaningless, prattling, conversations which were most likely interrupted by the news broadcast and now being continued where they were left off by the blasé citizens. From the third booth; however, Ray heard on of its occupants, a middle aged man, tell his companion.
"If you ask me Team Snagem got what they deserved. It's about time that someone got back at those low-life Pokémon thieves."
"Yah, no kidding." His companion; a middle aged, dark haired, woman, agreed. "I wonder, though; who could have done all that?" She asked in awe.
"I don't know." The man replied, perplexed.
In the fourth, and final, booth was a single pink haired youth. As Ray passed him the young man called out.
Ray turned around, glaring slightly at the youth. On the outside Ray looked annoyed, but on the inside his heart was pounding furiously.
"What?" Ray demanded in an, intentionally, supremely annoyed tone.
The pink haired youth laughed a little.
"Yah, you'd knock us flat for sure." He remarked with a grin.
Ray raised a skeptical brow at him in a purely quizzical look. He was taken aback by the unusual teen and had no idea of how to react to him.
"I was about to say," The youth continued "that you looked like a tough trainer and that we should have a battle," He laughed again, "But I doubt I'd last five minutes against a trainer like you."
Unsettled, Ray turned around and left. When he reached the end of the old ramp; however, he was stopped by someone calling after him. Ray recognized the voice instantly; it was the pink haired teen who had spoken to him only a few moments before. Ray turned around; he was off the ramp now, to see the teen standing, oddly enough, well out of arms reach from him.
What the second boy couldn't possibly have known was that, in standing farther away from the young, strong looking, bond trainer than most people would have when talking to someone, he was doing just the right thing. The pink haired teen DID notice that the fair headed one seemed more relaxed than he had inside, when the two boys had been much closer together, and that he didn't seem at all annoyed, unlike before. So, he did not move closer to the other boy, he made sure that he stayed out of arms reach.
"I changed my mind. Care to have a Pokémon battle with me?" the pink haired youth asked with a very friendly grin. Ray glanced down at his precious Dawn and Eve who looked up at him expectantly, clearly eager to take up the other boy's offer. Looking back up, Ray nodded to the strange youth that he had met, in wordless agreement.
"Oh yah," The boy added, almost as an afterthought, putting his hand behind his head in an adorable gesture of disconcertment. "I guess I should introduce myself, huh? Name's Willie."
"Ray." Ray responded laconically, walking a bit away from the ramp so that they would have enough room for their double battle, the standard in the Orre region.
Willie plucked two poké balls from his belt and threw them out.
"Adam! Adella! Let's go!"
From Willie's poké balls appeared two lively Zigzagoons, who seemed to be just as eager and facetious as their trainer.
Taking a half step forward with his left foot, Ray flung out his left arm, a little habit he'd developed in his battles, prompting Dawn and Eve to rush forward as he called out their names.
True to Willie's prediction, their battle was short. Willie recklessly rushed in with a double headbutt, which Dawn and Eve dodged with prompt skill. Ray took hold of the obvious opening that was left as the two Zigzagoons overshot their targets.
"Eve! Use helping hand! Dawn! Confusion!" With the flawless ease of long practice Eve and Dawn did just that, and proved just how potent their combination was by taking Adam, the male Zigzagoon, down with that one attack. Willie hastily called Adam back and vainly tried to counter Ray's attack.
"Adella! Double team, then double edge!"
Normally, using double team would have been a good way for Willie to confuse his opponent and their Pokémon, but he had vastly underestimated Ray's ability to keep a cool head under pressure and to think quick as lightning.
"Dawn, use double team too! Eve, snatch!"
Adella stopped, confused that both Dawn and Eve had mirrored her move. Willie panicked, this was the last thing he would have expected, for Ray to have Dawn use double team and then use Eve's move, snatch, so that she could use it as well. Snatch enabled its user to copy any other move that another Pokémon used, but only it had the effect of raising the user's stats; double team raised the user's evasion, and therefore was eligible for snatch. Ray pounced on the huge opening left by Adella's confusion and Willie's flustered panic.
"Dawn! Psychic! Eve, use bite!"
Adella tried to dodge Eve's attack, but Dawn had come in on that same side, so Adella ran right smack into Dawn's powerful psychic attack, ending the battle. Defeated, Willie called Adella back.
"Good job, both of you." He told them before turning his attention back to Ray.
"You too." Willie added with a smile.
"Hey," Willie said, as if he had just gotten an idea, "If you want a challenge you should head over to Phenac city. The trainers there are a heck of a lot tougher than me. Plus they've got the pre-gym and a stadium so there are a bunch of strong trainers in those places too." He suggested helpfully.
Ray smiled a little, looks like he'd gotten what he came for after all.
"Thanks, I think I might just do that." Ray replied, which seemed to please the Willie very much, that he'd been able to help the other boy.
"Oh, and Willie," Ray added as he started to walk away, "You're not as hopeless a trainer as you might think. You could be really good one day, if you keep at it."
Willie couldn't have known it at the time, but Ray had been just as surprised by his comment as he was; just as Ray couldn't have known that taking Willie's advice would change his life, forever.