The rules for the bug-catching competition were pretty simple: hand in all your pokeballs, keep one of your pokemon (below a certain height limit) out with you for protection, go out into the park with the contest balls and prosper! …Uh, catch bug-types. Points were awarded at the end for the rarity, size, and weight of the bug-type, and whoever had the most points at the end won. You could only keep one of your caught pokemon, though, to avoid depopulating the park.
This was totally fine by Callum, who didn’t really want an entire team of bug-type pokemon, but some of the other contestants got weirdly… agitated… about it.
“Who even needs, like, sixteen caterpie?” he asked in an undertone.
“Just ignore ‘em,” Rayla said, distracted and frowning at the clefairy by her feet. She’d reluctantly taken Duster along with her since her flying-type pokemon might scare off the bugs. “And you, behave. No fighting every pokemon we meet.”
Duster flexed his arms and huffed at her.
“I meant it! Any misbehavin’ and I will ban Callum from feeding you poffins for a week.”
The clefairy’s mouth dropped open as he froze. Slowly, he turned to Callum.
Callum nodded solemnly. “I’m gonna make a new batch when we get back to the Pokemon Centre. And you know how much Sabriel likes them. Maybe there won’t be any left by the time you’re allowed them again, huh?”
Duster’s eyes went very wide. He folded his arms across his chest and tried his best, Callum assumed, to look innocent. It was slightly disturbing to see him looking like a normal clefairy.
“There we go!” Rayla bent down to pat his head. “Don’t worry, we’re lookin’ for rare ones to win! So if you see a wee caterpie or weedle or anything, feel free to just punt them away.”
Duster made a punching motion.
Lin gave Callum a worried look.
He raised a finger. “Uh…”
“…Gently. Punt them away gently.”
Duster nodded, but he was still practising his punches.
How hard could a clefairy punch, anyway? It would probably be fine. Probably?
“Keep an eye on him, Lin, okay?” Callum whispered. “I don’t want him scaring off all the bug-types.”
Callum really wanted to know where she had picked that up from, but then the bell sounded to start and Rayla grabbed his wrist. “Come on! Let’s be the first ones to catch something!”
Oh boy. Who knew Rayla had a competitive streak? Wait. She made a rivalry with me literally an hour after we met. I knew she had a competitive streak!
Lures had been set out around the park to draw wild pokemon in, but only bug-types counted for the challenge. Callum had to remind Rayla of this when she spotted an oddish and immediately chucked a pokeball at it.
“Oh.” She blinked. The oddish broke out of the pokeball and blinked back at her. “Sorry, buddy, got overexcited!”
The oddish shook its leaves at her and continued plodding towards the nearest lure.
“Look, Rayla, over there!” Callum cried, as much to get Duster glaring at the poor oddish as anything else. “A weedle!”
“That’s no good, we need one for both of us.”
He sighed and half-heartedly threw one of his own pokeballs at the weedle. To his surprise, it clicked shut basically immediately, indicating a successful capture.
“What?” Rayla demanded. “That’s not fair.”
“I didn’t mean to actually catch it,” he replied, “but it’s a competition! We’re supposed to be competing. You know… against each other.”
Rayla scowled at him and pulled a pokeball from her belt as though she meant business. “Well, fine then. Prepare to be competed!”
Duster mimicked her pose, snorting.
Lin tugged on Callum’s trouser leg and pointed at a wurmple behind a tree.
Callum brightened. “Oh! Nice spot—”
The wurmple disappeared into a pokeball.
He turned in dismay to find Rayla sticking her tongue out at him.
Ugh. He couldn’t say it wasn’t fair, but he could futilely shake his fist in her direction and pretend like he was actually mad. “I’ll get the next one!”
“Ha, no you won’t!”
Nobody got the next one, a pineco that twirled in the air and smacked both of their pokeballs away before bouncing off into the long grass before they could throw another. After that, there were three different caterpie. Rayla caught two of them but Callum caught the biggest one.
“So? I’ve caught more than you!”
“That doesn’t matter, it only matters how many points it’s worth at the end!”
Rayla frowned. “Oh, crabcakes, that is how they score. Uh… over there! I see a big one!”
Crabcakes? Callum wondered before shaking himself and running after Rayla.
It really was a big one—a pinsir that was a foot taller than either of them. It had obviously seen its fair share of battles, because one of its pinching, toothed horns was missing the tip.
Callum grabbed one of the pokeballs from his belt and threw it… at exactly the same time Rayla threw one of hers. They collided in the air and bounced off each other, disappearing into the tall grass and never coming near the pinsir at all.
It looked at them for a long moment and then pointedly turned its back and began walking away.
“…Well, I didn’t want to catch the judgemental pinsir anyway,” Callum said.
Rayla hastily nodded. “Me neither.”
The centre of the park was starting to get a bit crowded. They moved closer towards the edges of the park, near the forest, where the grass was even longer and made pokemon even more difficult to find, but at least there was less competition.
After about ten minutes, Callum realised why there was less competition. There were no lures set out here, so they hadn’t stumbled across many pokemon at all, never mind any bug-types.
“Do you see anything?” Rayla asked.
“No,” he said. He caught himself. “Not that I would tell you anyway if I did!”
“You’re such a bad liar.”
Callum sighed. I totally am. I totally would tell her.
Lin, as though sensing his thoughts, patted his leg comfortingly.
He trailed off. Did he just see a flash of yellow in the trees?
There was a paused. “What?” Rayla asked, her voice automatically dropping to a murmur. “Did you see something?”
“I dunno,” he murmured back.
His eyes were still scanning the trees. He was sure he’d seen something, but he wasn’t sure if it was a bug-type pokemon. A bush rustled. His eyes snapped over to it just in time to see it stop shaking. Callum tensed, scanning for more movement. Lin held on to Duster’s tail to stop him running into the tree line.
Rayla grabbed Callum’s arm and pointed to a spot where something filtered through the trees. “Look! There’s something…”
He squinted, but didn’t see anything, until there was a small shift of movement and then he was nearly dazzled by the sunlight glinting off something shiny.
Callum rubbed his eyes. “I saw it, but—”
Suddenly, not one, but two pokemon burst from the bushes. Callum had just a moment to identify the pink, shiny one as a shelmet and the yellow and blue one as a karrablast before they were on the offensive.
The shelmet spat a glob of purple acid at them, whilst the karrablast simply charged forward.
Rayla skipped back to avoid the puddle of acid, but a few spots splashed on her boots as the grass at her feet turned brown and dry. “Oi, watch it!”
The shelmet closed and opened its metallic shell with a clank clank and waited for Duster to put himself between his trainer and the pokemon.
“I think that was a sorry?” Callum said, watching Lin flip the charging karrablast onto its back, using its own momentum against it. Yeah, she seemed fine.
“Apology accepted,” Rayla said.
The shelmet promptly spat another glob of acid in Duster’s direction. Callum turned his head as the karrablast went sailing past in his peripheral vision. It landed in some bushes.
He put his hands on his hips and frowned at Lin. “I thought Duster was the one who needed to be told to punt the pokemon gently? Huh?”
Lin rubbed her paws together and bowed. One of her ears twitched dangerously when the quiet was broken by Duster blowing a raspberry at her.
“Duster, don’t be daft, you’re in the middle of a fight!”
The karrablast charged out of the bushes towards Lin. Callum was struck by a powerful sense of deja vu.
Rayla spared a glance at her watch. “We’ve only got ten minutes before we have to be back at the cabin for judging. Do you reckon we’ve got time to win this one?”
The shelmet and karrablast both stopped dead and looked at each other for a long moment.
Then they both rolled over and lay still. Even Duster was too confused to keep fighting.
“Uh?” Callum asked gracefully. “Are they playing dead?”
Rayla scratched her head. “Should we just… go?”
The karrablast sat up, mimed throwing a pokeball with its tiny hands, and then lay back down again as though nothing had happened.
Callum looked at Rayla. Rayla looked at Callum.
“…It’s not just me who thinks this is weird, right?”
“No,” Rayla said, “but they’re pretty rare so we should have a good chance of winnin’. Let’s just catch them.”
The karrablast gave them a thumbs up before remembering it was supposed to be ‘unconscious’.
This still wasn’t enough to win them the competition. It turned out that someone had managed to catch the monstrous pinsir, and the entire room shrank back a bit when it stood at the front of the room as the trainer celebrated their victory.
“Didn’t want judgemental pinsir anyway,” Callum muttered.
“Shh, he might hear you!”
For lack of anything better, Callum ended up calling the karrablast ‘Val’. He put his hand to his mouth and tilted his head in confusion.
“...You just seem like a Val,” Callum eventually muttered.
Strangely, the karrablast actually seemed to accept this, and clapped his hands together.
“What about you, Rayla?” he asked, leaning back so he could see her.
“Earl!” she said brightly.
“Because he looks like a knight!” Her smile dimmed somewhat and she scoffed. “Obviously.”
Well, an earl was… and knights would probably… but it didn’t really… you know what I have no room to complain about this, let’s just move on.
“Okay, well…” He shrugged. “I guess it’s time for training then.”
Val had run up to talk to the shelmet whilst Callum was distracted, but at this news he did a small dance of joy and the shelmet went clank clank… happily? There wasn’t much of the soft parts to be seen and bug-types could have really weird anatomy, but Callum thought those eye crinkles were from some kind of smile.
Hmm. Making sense of what the shelmet was saying could prove to be a problem. But importantly, that was Rayla’s problem and not his!
“So where do we start?”
Callum thought Rayla was asking a rhetorical question, so he didn’t say anything. But after a few moments the stare she was giving him turned rather flinty, and then slightly more terrifyingly Val and Earl turned their intense gazes on him as well.
…Although they didn’t seem to know why they were staring, because Earl turned to Val and made a noise by tapping his helmet-shell with something, and Val briefly broke his concentration to make a gesture that was clearly a shrug…
Then they both went back to staring at Callum with Rayla.
“Your dad is one of he best trainers in the world and uses psychic-types,” Rayla said, once the silence had had time to become really, really awkward. “You’re the expert here!”
“He’s my stepdad,” he mumbled.
It was true that Harrow was an expert in psychic-type pokemon—he had told Callum and Ezran a bit about them too. But it wasn’t really… it was hardly a lot. And psychic-types were some of the most complex around – they could use a variety of different moves, even ones they seemingly, by all rights, shouldn’t – as well as being amongst the most intelligent of pokemon. It made them very difficult opponents, especially properly trained ones, like, oh, you know… ones trained by a Gym Leader that Harrow personally taught.
How could Callum compete with that?
Rayla sighed. “Callum. Relax.”
He only then realised that he’d hunched over, balling his fists in his scarf until his knuckles had turned white. Slowly, he unclenched his fists, trying to sit up straight and ease some of the tension out of his shoulders.
“I mean—it takes years to master this stuff,” he tried to explain. “I just… I don’t want to give you bad advice, that’s all.”
Rayla came to sit next to him and patted his hands. “We talked about this, remember? You are better than you think you are. And you said you would try to be Callum, not anyone else. If Callum is unsure about a few things and gives me misleading advice… what’s the worst that could happen? We lose and have to try again?”
Out of the corner of his eye, Callum saw when Val blinked and rubbed his eyes, seemingly realising that they were no longer doing the staring thing. Earl didn’t seem to have noticed yet, eyes still boring into Callum’s soul, so Val rapped the top of his metallic shell with a loud clang.
The exchange made Callum snort a bit. It was impossible not to feel more cheerful from watching the pair of them.
Rayla was right. And he did promise.
“Okay. Okay, I’ll… I’ll do my best.”
Rayla grinned so brilliantly that for a moment Callum looked away. His fingers twitched, and he had to suppress the urge to grab his sketchbook and immortalise Rayla’s happy, proud face on the paper—just so he could look at it again when he needed a reminder.
…Actually that sounds a bit weird, I probably shouldn’t do that, it would freak her out.
He cleared his throat. Rayla was now giving him an amused, exasperated look instead, and the moment had passed. Which was good because like… weird, right?
Uh, what was I about to say?
Val and Earl had come to join in the lecture and made an attentive circle around Callum. Looking at their eager faces, he remembered what he wanted to say. He cleared his throat again, because it made him sound more official, and Rayla could stop rolling her eyes right now or she wouldn’t be getting any more battle tips from him.
“So, the most important thing to remember about psychic-types,” Callum said, “is that there are no hard-and-fast rules. Most psychic-types have weak physical defences, which is the easiest way to beat them… but not all of them. Most of them struggle to learn attacks that target bug- or dark-types because most of those moves are physical types, not special… but not all of them. And unlike most battles, you aren’t only facing a trainer guiding their pokemon. You’re often facing the pokemon’s own strategy as well – and many psychic-types are clever enough to pull that off.”
“Okay.” Rayla nodded. “So expect the unexpected, basically?”
“No!” Callum held up a finger. “This is more like… contingency planning. Because the second most important thing to know about psychic-types… is that they can actually be very predictable.”
Val shook his head rapidly and scrubbed at his ears, like he was afraid he’d misheard something. Wow, real comforting, buddy.
Rayla frowned in turn. “How so?”
“Well, actually, a lot of psychic-types’ greatest strengths are also their greatest weakness. Consider: if they’re facing a dark-type pokemon, and they have learnt a bug-type attack that plays to their strengths, like Signal Beam, what’s the first thing they’re going to do?”
She exchanged a flat look with Earl. The shelmet opened and closed the lid of his shell a few times, not quite closing it all the way, so that it made a squeaking noise.
Rayla sighed. “Use it?”
“Yes!” Callum said. She frowned as though she hadn’t expected him to say this. “Think about what I said about most psychic-types being physically weak. When facing an opponent with a type advantage, they have to take them out as soon as possible, preferably from range. But this also makes it pretty easy to predict what their first step is going to be, so you can prepare yourself for it.”
“I guess that does make sense...” she mumbled. “If they’re not physically weak, though? Some psychic-types do have tough defences, right?”
“Well, yeah.” Callum scratched his head. “That’s a different thing. You have to play the long game. But psychic-types like that are pretty rare, and normally the hardest ones to train as psychic-types…”
He could go into some of the physiology Harrow had explained to him, like that their psychic energy was used to make that physical defence which also meant they could have trouble channeling their power into offence without weakening themselves—
Rayla was already looking kind of confused, though.
“I mean, you’re not that likely to come up against one like that, so don’t worry about it.” He paused. “Until you get to Aunt Amaya’s Gym and then, like, super worry. Her bronzong is really powerful. But anyway! Psychic Gym first. The last thing is about psychic-types coming up with their own strategies.”
“You said they can be pretty clever about it?” she hazarded.
“Not quite what I said. They’re clever enough to do it, which is something that most pokemon struggle with. That’s why a lot of them want to find trainers in the first place.”
Val and Early both nodded fervently at this. Clank clank clank went Earl’s shell.
“The thing is, pokemon mainly operate on instinct.” This didn’t always go so well even against other wild pokemon, which was why a lot of pokemon were obsessed with getting stronger even before finding a trainer—so they could overpower opponents who’d normally be able to beat them. “That’s true for psychic-types too. They’ll come up with their own strategies, and they can come up with them quickly, so without the tip-off of a command from the trainer, you can easily get surprised by things. But they’ll come up with strategies that tend to match their own instincts, so if you know a bit about the pokemon, you can guess what they’re planning to do.”
Rayla snapped her fingers. “And that will clash with the trainer’s plan sometimes too, right?”
“Right! It can derail a whole strategy if the psychic pokemon decides to do their own thing.” One of Harrow’s strongest pokemon now was a delphox who, in Harrow’s own words, thought she was ‘hot shit’ (Callum was not supposed to tell Aunt Amaya he said that) when she was younger. But her arrogance meant she kept ignoring Harrow in fights, trying to do her own thing, and then getting out-thought by the opposing trainer and losing. And then Harrow had to deal with her temper tantrum after.
…He always looked really tired when he talked about training Delsie, for some reason.
“That’s all I got, though,” Callum said sheepishly.
“Are you kidding? This is amazing!” Rayla actually reached over and hugged him, making his face turn bright red. “And you were so thorough! We’ve totally got this Gym badge in the bag. I just know it.”
She had such faith in him. A warm feeling spread through Callum’s chest to match his over-warm cheeks.
Hopefully… he’d be able to live up to her impression of him.