The gym was eerie, poorly lit and cobwebby. I wondered when it had last been cleaned. I'm sure I was supposed to be awed and intimidated by the mood it set, but I wasn't too worried. They wouldn't make someone a gym leader who attacked challengers.
"Welcome to Saffron," came a calm voice. I saw a tall young lady with long green hair. She sat cross-legged in mid-air. "I am Sabrina. You are challenging me?"
"Actually, I wanted to ask you a question."
"Can you read minds?"
She looked apprehensive. "In some cases I find it possible."
"I was wondering..."
"If I would read somebody's mind for you? I am not using my abilities for such trivial affairs. A lot of people ask me to, but it is not easy, and I think people's thoughts are best left private."
"Toldya," muttered Kerra. I nudged him in the ribs.
Sabrina closed her eyes for a moment and then looked back at me.
"Your intent is an interesting one. You wish to know what your father is thinking of you but you are afraid to find out."
"You said it's hard to read minds. How did you -"
"Children are easy. They think more freely."
I wasn't sure I liked being called a child, but perhaps she was realising that it wasn't my intent to find out some petty thing like if a guy liked me or what so-and-so thought of such-and-such. Child's things.
"I will tell you what I think," said Sabrina, "I think you should get the courage to ask your father yourself. However, I will try if you can beat me in a battle. You may use all Pokemon you have if you wish. I will use one."
"Five against one?" I said, "but isn't this gym supposed to be a really tough challenge?"
She smiled. "You may find it so anyway. I choose Kadabra."
And suddenly, we were battling.
I opened with Paras, unceremoniously plucking it from my head and putting it on the ground in front of me.
"Bug type," she said, "how amusing."
"Paras, leech life!"
Sabrina's eyes glittered, but she said nothing. Her Kadabra's eyes glowed, and as Paras ran up to it, it slammed into some sort of invisible forcefield.
"Parrr," it croaked, and slashed at the forcefield.
"Umm. Stun spore, Paras!"
Paras's mushrooms shot out twin bursts of spores that rained down on Kadabra. Such tiny things cared nothing for forcefields and seemed to have some effect. Kadabra swung its spoon and growled. Without an order - an audible one, anyway - its eyes glowed again and Paras, clicking pitifully, was flung from the ground and swung into the ceiling, before dropping back to the floor with a painful-sounding thud.
"Pararara," it groaned, before fainting.
"Darnit! Okay, return. This one won't be hurt if you slam it into the ceiling! Go, Omanyte!"
Instead of Omanyte, a red beam shot from my pocket, causing Farfetch'd to appear.
"It happened again. Did I make a mistake?"
"Far far," said Farfetch'd, swinging its leek. I remembered how Misty's Psyduck had come out of his Pokeball unwanted.
"Is this a common trait of duck Pokemon?" I asked, "and are you gonna do this all the time?"
"Far farfetch'd," began Farfetch'd, and launched into a lengthy speech in its own language. I stared at it blankly, and after it was done, said, "I didn't understand a word of that."
Sabrina spoke up. "It says Farfetch'd are thought of as weak, and those Spearow and Fearow thought it too - whatever that means. But it wants to fight a lot so it can show everyone the power of its species. It said if you're not going to choose it for battle, it will take any opportunity to go out anyway."
"Wonderful," I said, "I can choose my own strategy, you know, Farfetch'd. But now that you're out..."
"Aurora," called Kerra from the sidelines, "psychic Pokemon have bad defense!"
"Okay, hit 'em where it hurts. Farfetch'd, sword's dance!"
Kadabra and Sabrina watched, both of their mouths twitching with amusement, as Farfetch'd swung around and slashed its leek in the air. Then it flapped its wings and waited for the next order.
"Now, fly attack!"
It soared, it was looking good - and then it came forcibly crashing to the ground as Paras had, with faint traces of a blue light surrounding it. It looked rather dazed, but having more experience, crawled back up and glared at Kadabra.
"Agility! Then slash!"
Farfetch'd zipped around, causing Kadabra to look around itself in confusion, trying to see where its opponent would go. Sabrina still said nothing. Farfetch'd sped up to Kadabra, and thwapped it repeatedly with its leek. Kadabra's moustache twitched, and it reeled back, looking pained. Then, in a flash of blue, it was recovered and floating in the air.
"This is tough. Keep slashing, Farfetch'd!"
Farfetch'd tried, but as it flew in for another hit, Kadabra shot a huge blast of white light from its spoon, which hit it head-on and caused it to crash-land.
"Fetch'd far far," ground out Farfetch'd, struggling to stand, and still not willing to give up.
"Fly again! Bring your leek down when you land!"
It was, however, a repeat performance, with Kadabra using unseen power to slam Farfetch'd back into the ground. Very forceful landing, putting a slight dent in the ground. This time, it couldn't get back up.
"Return, Farfetch'd! Man, this one is kinda tough! Now, Omanyte!"
Omanyte was even less successful than Farfetch'd. Withdrawing helped it last longer, but its shell eventually cracked and I took that as a sign to quit.
I took my last two Pokeballs, one in each hand, and wondered if it really mattered what I chose next.
"Cubone, or Clefairy. Cubone, or Clefairy?"
Clefairy had lost more battles than any of my other Pokemon... but Cubone wasn't much of a good choice... I had to win this battle. I had to find out about my father.
I looked towards Kerra, who said, predictably; "neither of them has a hope". I remembered he said that about Clefairy last time. Seeing Kerra made me remember something else, and now I thought I might actually be able to win.
I had read up on psychic Pokemon before coming, and found that most people got headaches when near certain species. Yet, I didn't feel a thing...
"Your turn, Clefairy!"
Clefairy appeared and whistled. "Fairy faiiiry!" It looked pleased to be out of its Pokeball, and jumped from one foot to the other.
"Are you ready to fight?"
Sabrina smiled, completely unintimidated. "Interesting choice..."
I smiled back. "Psychic powers affect the mind, right. But my Clefairy is completely brainless. So your psychic powers won't work!"
Clefairy scrunched its face up and stuck out its tongue at me. Then it balled its little paws into fists and charged at Kadabra.
It was running too fast to stop, but whistled while in midair. As it was about to hit Kadabra, the psychic Pokemon teleported and reappeared behind it. Clefairy changed course and swung back, only to have it disappear right before the blow could connect again.
"Oh geez, am I allowed to get a hit in at all? Cleffers, don't worry, keep singing!"
Clefairy decided this might be a better tactic than losing its energy swinging doomed punches, and stood still, singing sweetly. I stifled a yawn and watched to see if Kadabra would react. It seemed a little bemused, but not as though it were about to sleep.
At another unspoken command from its trainer, its eyes flashed and it shot a burst of energy at Clefairy. Clefairy continued singing, completely ignoring the attack flying at it. I bit my lip, hoping my guess was right...
The attack hit, but Clefairy stood as though it hadn't felt a thing. It was still singing, and Kadabra dropped its spoon in astonishment. It turned to Sabrina, who also looked surprised.
"But... it can't be LITERALLY brainless," she sputtered. Her concentration was thrown now, which meant that Kadabra's was also. It yawned widely, before crashing to the ground, fast asleep.
"Gosh," said Terri, amazed, "did you really win? You couldn't have."
I turned to ask Sabrina, and sweatdropped. She was asleep too...
After Kerra had produced something called a Pokeflute, and played it - he was quite good at it, which surprised me - the duo woke up.
"How did you get a POKEFLUTE?" demanded Terri, "those things are rare. And you said you hate Pokemon."
"My secrets are my own," said Kerra, probably trying to sound mysterious. "I want to know how you managed to beat THE Kadabra with a weak Clefairy."
Clefairy predictably scratched him, but Sabrina nodded. "I don't understand it myself. What is the real reason?"
"Clefairy is resistant to psychic."
"You already said, but why?"
"I thought it might work. See, I don't have a headache, and neither do Kerra or Terri, I bet?"
"What's your point?" asked Terri, which was her way of confirming.
"Simple. Kerra, you SAID eating Exeggutor eggs would have some unknown side effects, didn't you?"
Everyone said it simultaneously as they cottoned on. I felt quite pleased with myself.
"Clefairy, I'm glad you're such a glutton," I told it, and it smirked.
"That's what this gym promotes," said Sabrina, "well, not gluttony, I mean it promotes what you just demonstrated, mind over muscle. That may be why you lost at the fighting gym, because strategy played less significance. Accept the Marshbadge."
She flicked her wrist, and a gold badge appeared in front of me. I plucked it out of the air and pinned it onto my bag where the others were.
"And for our agreement. Relax your mind for a moment. It makes my job easier."
Apprehensively, I did so, and felt a slight tingle run through my body.
"Okay. Now give me a few minutes."
Sabrina wouldn't tell me much, she said she couldn't even read much, but she said she sensed some bitterness, some sadness, some grudging respect even, although she didn't elaborate on that... She said he hadn't summoned up a search party for me or anything... I wasn't sure what to think. She didn't say why he hung up.
We were walking down the streets of Saffron. After thinking about it, I made an effort and said "after Celadon, can we think about going back to Pallet?"
"Aww, but while we're in this area I think we should head to the Safari Zone. It's not too far away. You could probably catch some good Pokemon," said Terri.
"What's your real reason for wanting to go there?"
"I heard rumours of dragon Pokemon... it might be the only place in the world where the true dragon blood lives."
"What would happen if you caught more than six Pokemon?" asked Kerra, "a trainer can only carry six full Pokeballs at a time. Any more than that will go to wherever you got your Pokedex from."
"You don't have one? How'd you get Clefairy?"
"Gary gave it to me..."
"D'you mean you don't even have a license?!"
"If you carry Pokemon without a trainer's license, people might think you're a thief."
"Stop trying to make me paranoid!"
"It's easy though."
"So you weren't serious?"
"Well, it might be a problem, I don't think you'll get arrested or anything."
"We're supposed to meet Gary here, right?"
"I can't wait to get to Celadon."
"Hope I can get another badge."
"If you're gonna face Erika, you're gonna need a lotta luck."
"Do you know what Pokemon she has?"
"Of course I do! If you ask me really nicely, I'll teach you more strategies in the car."
"Oh Kerra, most magnificent of all grass trainers... um... tell me your secrets or else!"
"Or else what?"
We mucked around for a few minutes until Gary's car pulled up. Gary jumped out, and his chaffeur, Anita, smiled at us.
"Well, Aurora," said Gary, handing me a Pokeball, "here's the Pokemon Hannah wanted you to take. Look after it. Sorry I can't stick around, I gotta class on Pokemon foods to attend."
"The 'great Gary', going to a class?" said Kerra, smirking.
"Actually, I'm teaching it. Sorry I was late meeting you, I'm a busy man... Man, I AM late! See ya guys! Good luck, Aurora! Oh, and Kerra - catch!"
He tossed something to Kerra and disappeared into a nearby building. Kerra stared into his hands in disbelief.
"What'd he give you?"
It looked like a scungy old green rock. Pretty unexciting. But he grinned in the direction Gary had left.
"Maybe that Pokemon Master's not so bad after all."
It was a Leafstone.
Anita motioned to us to get in the car.
"C'mon youse all, we gotta get goin', holidays ain't comin' my way that often."
Terri clambered over the door into the front seat next to Anita, while Kerra and I, with a bit more normalcy, opened our doors to get in.
With a slight sputter, the car's engine started and we swung off down the road and out of Saffron City.