I'm standing at the edge of the grass, on the verge of being swallowed up by the road before me. As foolish as it may sound I have never set foot beyond my quiet home of Pallet Town on my own, let alone with the knowledge that I won't be returning any time soon, if at all. But when I do... I will be the greatest trainer in the history of this world.
My name is Kuroda Akira, a Pokémon trainer.
It sounds very grand when said like that, in a voice of pristine calm, but in fact, my start so far has been less romantic. No meeting my Companion and feeling an immediate connection. No wise old man telling me he sees great things for me. No, I was worst of a good bunch.
I best explain how I actually got to this moonlit patch of grass in front of me. Of course the way it usually goes is that professor Oak, the great all knowing Poké-man, tours Kanto every half decade or so, picking the three most talented, most accomplished of the young, to bestow their first Pokémon upon, and so set them on their way to becoming the trainers of the future. The reason they pick only the best of course, is because it's a dangerous career choice. It gets glossed over in the glory stories, but think about it; ten towns take part in the tradition, that's thirty trainers every five years, plus however many do it on their own. Yet there's not many out there. The truth is the unaccounted for ones, are trapped down mines, drowned, attacked by wild Pokémon, or even killed in battle.
That's why the strongest, smartest are picked. That's why I shouldn't have been picked.
Since as early as I can remember, I've wanted to train Pokémon. But who didn't, it was all we'd play at, at school. We'd each pick a favourite, and study them (mine was always Articuno), then tell everyone how it was the best and would beat any other. I went to school at Veridean Academy. The kids there were mostly from Veridean itself, and so being used to city life followed other paths, maybe as vets, or traders, or even nothing to do with Pokémon at all. I, growing up in a sleepy town, the same town Oak grew up in incidentally, never let go of the thought of escaping.
As I said Pallet Town is small, very small. So small that there are only three in my age group: Osamu, Sophia, and me. This was why I qualified to receive a Pokémon from Oak, rather than second hand like most. If there had been another, then Oak would have taken into account more about me. I'm not particularly athletic, certainly not as physically strong as Osamu, and though I may be smart enough, Sophia outstrips both of us in tactics and knowledge. Yep, I'm the least of the three musketeers. Luckily for me the only kid left in town after us is still learning to walk, so in the end it doesn't matter... I'd just rather not be picked by default.
Obviously, us three knew that one day we would all be leaving, and we planned how we would take on the world together, the way it had always been. We used to sneak into Miss Muto's, (Sophia's mum) kitchen, and while I distracted her Osamu would give Sophia a boost onto the kitchen counters to get us biscuits. We were inseparable. When the message arrived from Oak that he would be returning to Pallet Town that fall, and that the three starting Pokémon he had allocated to us were Squirtle, Bulbasaur and Charmander, we sat together for hours each day after school disputing who got which.
Charmander was the most offensive, while Bulbasaur was the most defensive, Squirtle being a balance of the two. I wanted Charmander from the off, while Osamu and Sophia argued over Bulbasaur. One day, when the argument was particularly heated, our teacher pointed out that though grass type is very defensively strong, Squirtle is easier to train than most water type, so picking a water type starter was better in the long run. Osamu, who always associated hard work with exams, immediately switched tact to choosing Squirtle.
School finished, summer passed, and college began. Osamu, Sophia and I didn't attend. We waited... and waited. Spending so long in each other's company, tempers started to rise. Before long Sophia had made her own plans to travel, leaving Osamu and me. We didn't care. We were fire and water. As autumn drew to a close we were literally ready to explode. Then on the 12th of November, yesterday, Oak arrived.
A town dinner and party was arranged at the village hall. Oak sat at the head of the main table, surveying the three of us, who sat with our parents around him.
"This is the dawn of a new tomorrow. A new generation shall go forward and explore what we older, frailer cannot." The elders of the town chuckled. Indeed Oak was older than I'd thought, now that I could see him close up, with frosty white hair and lines around his eyes and face. Yet he emanated a youth and excitement. "Who knows, one day one of you may even unite the Legendary Birds... but for now, I think dinner will do. Let's eat!"
Much clinking of china ensued, over which Oak questioned us on our future plans. Osamu leapt at the chance to be heard, exclaiming he wanted to master all the known Pokémon, to become the greatest Pokémon trainer of all time. Sophia put on her best know-it-all voice, explaining she wanted to learn how Pokémon grew and evolved, but that she too would be taking on the Elite Four at some time. She gave Osamu and me a dark look. Oak turned on me, "and what about you Akio?"
"Akira." I mumbled.
"Akira, Professor Oak." My mother elbowed me.
Oak laughed then continued to look at me expectantly. Honestly, I wanted to crossbreed Pokémon, seeing what happened when you combined elements, but such things were seen as contamination of the spirit of Pokémon. To say such a thing, especially to Oak, could even lose me my place with Osamu and Sophia as the next generation.
I shrugged. Oak looked disappointed.
The rest of the meal passed in a similar way. Shortly after, the tables were pushed aside and the families ensued embarrassing us, and themselves, by shaking exuberantly to music. Thankfully, after only half an hour of suffering in my aunts clutches on the dance floor, Osamu dragged me aside. Facing into a corner, Osamu pulled a small bottle of sake from within his dinner jacket.
"What can they do, it's our last night here!" he retorted as I frowned.
We settled ourselves at a table out of the way of prying parental eyes, and poured ourselves some cups. It was still hot, and burned in my throat and stomach. We began talking more and more wildly about our plans to take on Kanto as the drink started to take effect, but our fun was interrupted by an old friend. Sophia flopped into the chair beside me and looked at us both hard. We stared back.
Without warning she burst into giggles. "You're drunk!"
"So are you." I said as she wobbled on her chair.
"You think I'm going to sit through this without some kind of sedative?" she flicked her hair in the direction of the adults.
We couldn't help but laugh, and like that it was like old times, for a short while. But, apparently like all good things, it wasn't meant to last. As more alcohol settled in our bellies we became more and more spontaneous, at one point Osamu even tried to get on the table to imitate Professor Oak's jigging. We, thank lord, stopped him. Moments later he leapt from his seat and ran to the toilets, a green tinge rising up his cheeks.
I'm not really sure how it happened, but when he returned Sophia and I were locked together, faces pressing into each others'. We broke apart as I heard his voice cry "Judas!" He was standing square, pointing an angry finger at me. I rose to try and calm him but he turned on his heel and stormed from the hall. I looked back at Sophia, who looked up at me and sighed. Leaving her I ran after Osamu. Evidently he knew me too well, because he was waiting outside. As I approached, a fist hit me and I toppled to the floor.
"Go with her, who cares about us. Fire and grass, the sun and the earth. The ocean needs no one!" he shouted in a drunken frenzy. And then he was gone.
As you might guess, the next day was an awkward one. We met on the steps of the town hall at five o'clock, laden with gear for the long journey ahead. Sophia was still set to go her own way, and now Osamu seemed to be thinking the same, under the impression I would follow her, not him. I looked back up the steps at Oak who was waiting with two sallow men in lab coats and a woman in a beige cardigan. Each of the assistants was holding a pokéball. Oak looked down at us and the gaggle of relatives and villagers who had gathered to watch the ceremony.
"You may be wondering what lies ahead, how you will fair in the wild on your own, how you will even survive. Fear not, for your Pokémon Companion shall defend you, and you it. A Pokémon can be your best friend as well as your prey. Care for them." Oak sighed and continued, now addressing us individually. "I have here a bag containing tokens." He held out a small velvet bag, as he now descended the steps to be right in front of us. "Each of you will pick a token to determine the order you choose your Pokémon. Osamu, you may take first."
On the far right Osamu reached into the bag and removed an amber coin shaped disc. Oak nodded then moved to Sophia in the middle, whose hand disappeared into the bag, re-emerging with a green token. She smiled. Oak now moved to me, but I did not take the remaining token straight away, knowing it would be red.
"Akio..." Oak tried to reassure me, shaking the bag slightly. I scowled at him, the forgetful old fool. He scowled back, eyeing the bruise over my cheekbone. I reached out and took the last token. "Excellent," Oak exclaimed. I didn't think it was excellent. "Sophia shall choose first, followed by Osamu, then Akio."
"Akira..." I muttered, clenching my jaw.
"The choice is: Bulbasaur, the grass-poison Pokémon, Charmander, the fire Pokémon, or Squirtle, the water Pokémon." As he spoke each Pokémon's name an assistant stepped forward and held out their pokéball. I now noticed each had a coloured rosette, green for Bulbasaur, red for Charmander, blue for Squirtle. "Sophia, you may choose." He raised a hand indicating she should step forward. She climbed and surveyed the assistants, then, as we had always planned, she stepped up to the green rosetted assistant, who bowed as he handed her the pokéball. He then retreated, indicating Sophia should stand in his place. "Osamu?" Oak now gestured to him. Osamu took a step up, then paused to consider. He then turned to look at me, a smirk on his face. Anger swept through me as I watched him climb to the woman with the red rosette, who curtsied, and gave him my Charmander. He took his place facing the crowd, still smirking.
"Akio, you may proceed." Oak looked at the remaining assistant rather than at me.
"Akira." I said again as I climbed, but he appeared not to hear. I took the Squirtle, the assistant giving me a curt nod then retreating. I turned to face at the audience, determined not to look at Osamu and Sophia.
"The choices have been made!" Oak addressed the audience. "Muto Sophia has taken Bulbasaur, the grass/poison type Pokémon. As the loyalist and most defensive, a good companion for the road ahead. Arai Osamu has taken Charmander, the fire type Pokémon. Powerful and impressive, this companion will bear even the heaviest ambition. Kuroda Akio-"
"Akira!" I snapped, glaring violently. Oak took a deep breath, returning my gaze.
"Kuroda Akira has taken Squirtle, the water type Pokémon. Modestly powerful and intelligent, this companion does not suit the more proud, but offers a more subtle support." His eyes remained locked on mine until he had finished. He then pulled a smile back to his face, "How will you name your companions?"
"Gaia." Said Sophia.
"Inferno." Said Osamu. I would have called Charmander Helios. I hadn't really thought about any names for a Squirtle… After a moment's thought I spoke.
Oak nodded in approval and opened his arms. "I wish our new Pokémon Trainers good fortune. Their journeys begin now." As one, Sophia, Osamu and I descended the steps, the sun setting to our left. At their foot I stopped while Osamu and Sophia continued through a parting in the crowd, heading for Route One.
"Osamu!" My voice escaped me, reverberating past the silent crowd. I was angry, and I needed to show it. This was the first time I'd ever wanted to hit anyone, but I had a better idea. I held out my pokéball, staring at him under a frown. "Let's fight."
The crowd immediately spread, people jostling to get out of the way. Osamu said nothing, as though he had expected the challenge. He slowly reached behind his back, to where he'd stowed his Pokémon, then held it out. We were still, like two gunslingers waiting for the town clock to strike. Then-
A red mass spread from his pokéball, a blue from mine, forming two nondescript shapes, which morphed spectacularly into two, quite unspectacular, creatures. We'd imagined a hulking giant exuding heat and an immense turtle when we'd been friends, but instead Charmander was a short lizard like creature standing on its hind legs, with a small flame flickering on the end of its tail. Squirtle was a pale white blue, with a plain brown shell and domed head. He too was on his hind legs, though he looked unsteady. The Pokémon stared blankly at each other.
"Attack!" I jabbed a finger at the Charmander. The Squirtle lowered itself to the ground and eyed the Charmander with calculating eyes, then lurched forward with surprising speed. He launched himself, colliding with the Charmander with a loud crunch. They rolled then separated, Squirtle landing on its feet, which it dragged across the ground, ready to tackle again. The Charmander twisted onto its feet, growling menacingly at Squirtle.
I heard a faint cough, and turned to see Oak still on the steps, arms folded, watching the battle with an amused look. I turned back, seeing Sophia over Osamu's back. She met my eyes, then rolled hers, turning away. She walked confidently away, disappearing up the road between the hedges.
I heard a whimper and turned back to see Squirtle under a hail of scratching from the Charmander. "Tsunami, protect yourself!" I shouted. Squirtle growled and twisted to one side so that the blows glanced off his shell. "Now attack again." Squirtle crouched, and then pounced, which was an odd thing to see a turtle do. Again they tumbled over, Squirtle quickly rising to its feet. As the Charmander rose it let out shallow breaths as though hurt.
"Inferno, intimidate him to weaken his attacks." Osamu cried out. The Charmander lowered its head and let out a deep rumbling growl that seemed to shake the air around it. Squirtle crouched slightly, but stayed where he was. "Now attack!"
They clashed together, with a horrible grind of claws on shell. Charmander was the first to rise this time. Squirtle shook as it achingly stood, its knees trembling, one line of blood drew itself down the front right leg from somewhere under the shell. I wanted to run out, but I knew that I'd be attacked myself, Squirtle could survive.
"Tsunami attack again!" I urged but he did not move. Charmander took this opportunity to rain down more scratching, which Squirtle cowered away from. Then I remembered the one item I had kept in my box, all these years. We had found a bag once Route One, Osamu, Sophia, my mother and I. Inside had been two potions, and two antidotes. Osamu took the antidotes, presumably he had them now, though that doesn't matter now because Squirtle doesn't use poison attacks. Sophia and I had taken a potion each, and mine was in my rucksack. I dropped to the floor pulling it off, then rifling around in the side pocket. Squirtle continued to back evasively away as the Charmander lunged again and again. "Tsunami!" I called, throwing a small spherical bottle at him.
It landed just to his side and lay there. I almost let out a cry of anger but it then clicked. The top half slid up revealing a little sensor that whizzed round and round the circumference, settling facing Squirtle. Then a little nozzle protruded from the top and sprayed a clear chemical all over him. Squirtle flinched, and then edged closer, its eyes locked on the Charmander which was watching the potion suspiciously. Squirtle's legs stopped shaking, and he seemed to hold himself taller.
"Now go!" I shouted, still on my knees. Squirtle hunched against the ground and let out a low rumble which grew to a threatening growl. In the blink of an eye it lunged at Charmander. This time when Squirtle rose, he stood on his hind legs over the Charmander, as though in victory. Charmander did not move. "Yes!" I punched the air, "Awesome Tsunami! Return." Squirtle dissolved again to a blue gaseous mass, which returned into the pokéball as if sucked in by a vacuum.
Osamu glared. He held out his pokéball and the Charmander was retracted into it.
"Here, son." Oak appeared at his side and held out a sphere similar to the potion, but white with a single red band rather than black with the band. "It's a revive."
"Thanks." Osamu took the revive and knocked it against his leg. It split like the potion and he held it close to the pokéball. A little nozzle appeared from the top and Osamu pressed the receiver of the pokéball to it. The receiver blinked red then went white again. Osamu replaced Charmander in his back pocket, and looked at me. Oak leant closer and muttered something to him. Osamu looked back to Oak and nodded, then with a wave to his family in the crowd, turned, and followed Sophia out of Pallet town.
I suddenly realised it was dark. Everyone was now watching at me. Oak's expression was blank. I stuffed anything that had fallen out of my bag into the pockets then slung it on my back. I was about to put Tsunami away then decided rather than put him in my bag it felt better to hold him in my jacket pocket. Trying not to look at the crowd I walked towards the gap in the foliage where Route One began. But as I got to it I saw the long grass swaying in the gently breeze, felt all the eyes on my back, and it hit me, the size of the task I was embarking on. I stood there, thinking over what I was leaving behind, and what lay ahead.
And here I am still, only a few minutes later, but it feels like hours have passed. It could be the middle of the night, how dark and still it is. I still have my hand in my pocket, clutching Squirtle's pokéball. There's something else in there too. I reach deeper and pull it out. It was the red token I'd been given by Oak. I look over my shoulder, and see all my family, and all our neighbours behind. Oak is standing to one side, watching. I look back at the road ahead.
So what, it's just a path. I'll do it, I'll catch Pokémon. I'll train, I'll battle. And I'll beat the Elite Four, before Osamu does. I will be the best. And as I slip the token back into my pocket, I take a step forward.